Liaofan’s Second Lesson – Ways to Reform – Part 1

The Reason to Reform: To Avoid Misfortunes and Accumulate Good Fortune

The first lesson, which was about cause and effect, concentrates on building up the confidence in an individuals ability to alter destiny and the ways in which to do so. The second and third lessons emphasize the methods to accomplish this; thus; they are concerned mainly with the ways to refrain from wrongdoings and the ways to accumulate virtues.

During the Spring-Autumn Period, China was divided into several small nations. Many prestigious advisors of these nations were able to accurately predict whether a persons future would be fortunate or unfortunate based on their observation of that persons speech and behavior. Many of these are recorded in Spring and Autumn Annals.

These individuals in this period had such exceptional abilities in observing others because they understood the law of causality. When our speech and actions are good, and we are dignified and considerate, it is safe to say we will possess good fortune and a promising future. On the other hand, if our speech is harsh and our actions frivolous, then our future will be dismal. Even if we seem to be doing well now, this period of success will be short-lived, like a briefly blooming flower. Since our speech and actions determine our future, we need to be cautious in everything we do.

Usually a person is more fortunate when tending towards kindness but invites trouble when tending towards cruelty. Ordinary people do not know what is really happening. It is as if their vision is blurred. Since they cannot see the truth, they clam that good fortune and misfortunes are unpredictable.

“Kindness” refers to our hearts and behavior. Truly kind people will help others even when they themselves are harmed in the process. Those who are strict with themselves but lenient with others are bound to have an abundance of good fortune later in their lives. On the other hand, a person invites trouble when he or she is cruel. Those who are self-indulgent and disdainful of of others are planting the seeds for future misfortune, but they cannot see the signs.

What Liaofan told his son is very important and we need to pay close attention and learn from it.

When we are sincere and honest, our hearts will accord with the will of heaven.

This is the main principle. We must be sincere in all our actions, neither cheating others nor fooling ourselves. The “will of heaven” is what Buddhism calls the true nature. It is the state of having no wandering thoughts, only those that are virtuous. When we are absolutely honest and truthful, our hearts will agree with the will of heaven. Even if we are presently undergoing hardships, they will soon be over and then we will enjoy abundant good fortune. Therefore, everything we think, say, and do needs to arise from sincerity.

“The sincere and honest heart” is the essence of the eight guidelines taught by Confucius. We accomplish this by severing our desires and uncovering our true nature. Failing to do this, we will be unable to accomplish ultimate sincerity. When severing desires, what are we cutting off? The Six Dusts or polluting factors of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and thought and the Five Desires for wealth, lust, fame, fortune, food and sleep. If these desires cannot be reduced, our hearts will be constantly affected by our surroundings. How can such a heart remain sincere?

Even if we cannot completely discard these desires, we can work to gradually lesson them. Most of us are immersed in wandering thoughts that accomplish nothing. If would be best if we can abandon these thoughts and some of the enjoyments that we experience through our six senses, and be more considerate of others. If we welcome others to share in our good fortune, then it will become even greater good fortune. Once we understand this, we need to act on it.

In order to gain, we must first let go. If we are reluctant to let go, then we will not be able to gain. In the sutras, we read that to give is to gain. We first give up something in order to gain something in return. Without giving, we will receive nothing. So, this lesson on reforming our destinies is all about letting go. What is we seek something? To seek also helps us to receive. But how do we accomplish this? Just let go and we will receive everything we are seeking.

First, we must let go of all our desires and wandering thoughts. Liaofan said “When we are absolutely honest, our hearts will accord with the will of the heaven.” We discard from the root: to eradicate our selfishness, we completely extinguish thoughts of benefiting ourselves. Instead, all our thoughts should be of how to benefit all living beings. Once this is achieved, we will gain infinite good fortune.

By observing our goodness, others will be able to foresee the coming of good fortune; and by observing our immorality, they will foresee approaching misfortune.

This principle of observation is applicable to an individual, a family, a society, a nation, and even to the world. As long as we remain calm and alert, we will be able to see everything clearly. Therefore, it is possible to predict good fortune and misfortune, happiness and suffering, the rise and fall of a country, and the stability or turbulence in the world.

The Ways to Reform: A Perfect Awakening of Three Hearts

Only those with pure minds and deep concentration can see signed of good fortune and misfortune. Deep concentration is not limited to Buddhists. The person can be a Taoist, a Confucian, or simply someone with a pure mind. The deeper the concentration, the deeper they will se. This is why Buddhist sutras often say that an Arhat can see 500 past lifetimes and 500 future lifetimes.

If we wish to gain good fortune and avoid misfortune, we first need to reform before we even talk about doing good deeds.

Actually, since all living beings possess this innate ability, this is the way it should be. However, this ability has been lost because our minds are distracted. Various wandering and discriminatory thoughts, attachments, and afflictions have confused the mind and caused it to loose its natural ability. Buddhism teaches us how to eliminate these pollutants and hindrances so we may uncover our original true nature.

Once we understand the principles, we then decide how to change. There are several methods to do this. Most of us would like to attain good fortune, happiness and wisdom while avoiding adversity. Good behavior is the cause that results in good fortune, the effect. But, if we do not first eliminate our karmic obstacles, good fortune will be difficult to obtain. Thus, our first objective is to eliminate our negative karma.

Ordinary people seek outside of themselves, that is, they seek through constants, but this will not help them receive what they seek. On the other hand, we are now confident in the knowledge that variables exist. However, the variables do not surface immediately. The how do we reach our goals. We first need to purify our minds. The mind that is pure and sincere is the mind of foremost goodness. But if the mind is impure, all good deeds will be tainted and the amount of good fortune that can be received will be limited.

In other words, karmic obstacles have not been thoroughly removed. From this we can see that a virtuous and pure mind is of utmost importance. How do we return our mind to its natural state of purity? We first need to know our faults and correct them, following which we need to know the correct methods of doing good deeds

There are three ways to reform our faults. First, we must be able to feel ashamed.

Many ancient Chinese sages and virtuous people taught us that knowing shame is close to possessing courage. Confucius often spoke of great wisdom, great kindness and great courage. By knowing what is shame, we will truly reform and improve ourselves. If we do not know what shame is, we will not have good futures.

One of Liaofan’s virtues was that he did not attempt to hide any of his faults. He did not talk about other’s mistakes, only his own. As soon as he realized his faults, he immediately began to correct them. This was his strength and the crucial element that led to his later achievements.

We are clinging to worldly desires.

This is our underlying fault or ailment. We still long for and cling to “worldly desires” because our minds have been seriously polluted. Worldly desires refer to the Five Desires and the Six Dusts of form, sound, scent, taste and thought. The word dust is used here as it carries with the meaning of pollution.

For example, if we do not wipe the furniture daily, it will be covered with dust. To wipe it everyday is to rid it of dust and pollution. This is similar to our pure minds being polluted by desires and dust. Wealth, lust, fame, food and sleep are the desires that give rise to the emotions of greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance and doubt, the elements of pollution. This is why the Buddha called the external environment the Six Sense Object or Six Dusts. These impurities contaminate our pure minds and are the root of our illnesses.

If we wish to recover the pure mind of our true nature, we must let go of clinging to these desires and dusts. Letting go is the hardest thing for us to do. But, if we let go of one degree of desire, our minds will become purer by one degree. If we can let go of two degrees then our minds will become purer by two degrees, and so on.

“Improper” refers to things that we should not do: something illegal, illogical, or against moral standards or customs. Many people behave improperly and think that others will not know about it. Frankly, some people would not know. Who? Those, whose minds have been clouded by ignorance and who are deluded. On the other hand, those who posses proper thoughts, wisdom and a serene mind will be able to see. We cannot hide from them or from the beings and spirits of heaven and earth who are always present.

Instead, we are shamelessly arrogant. Shameless refers to someone who is without remorse and who ignores his or her conscience. If we feel guilty after a wrongdoing, we are still all right. Although we hide our bad deeds from others, our conscience is heavy. There is still hope for our turning back. However, if we have no guilty feelings after committing a wrongdoing, then we are hopeless. Only the person who feels ashamed of his or her wrongdoings can be helped.

At times we are in a state of bad fortune, evil spirits will start to harass us. They do not arbitrarily harass anyone, but select their targets according to the person’s behavior. They dare not bother those who will be reborn into the Three Good Paths and they are extremely respectful to people with kind hearts and compassionate behavior. But, they torment those who are evil. They will be insolent and sarcastic as they ridicule and bully such people because bad spirits know that these people will eventually fall into the Three Bad Paths.

True Buddhist practitioners understand these principles. Once we understand, we will naturally be watchful over our thoughts and behavior because not only do we not want to fall into the Three Bad Paths, we want to transcend samara. There is only one way to accomplish this in the present lifetime: we need to seek rebirth into the Pure Land. Therefore, we need to have firm and unshakable determination.

How do we attain this rebirth? Through firm belief, vows, mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha, and the cultivation of purity of mind. We should sever our worldly attachments. We do not need to completely let go of everything for if we did, we would become Buddhas. However, the more we let go the better off we will be. Sever unnecessary clinging. The focus our minds on Buddha Amitabha and transform our thoughts from those that only benefit our families and ourselves to those that benefit all others. In so doing, our minds will become pure.

We need to begin from here and practice earnestly, to set our sights far ahead and to not only consider our immediate future or even just this lifetime, for they are illusory and impermanent. The Diamond Sutra said it well, “Whatever takes form is an illusion.” Nothing is permanent or worthy of worry. As for family members and relatives, we can share with them the proper teachings and encourage them to practice accordingly.

We need to know how to use the strength from the Triple Jewels and to give up relying on just our own because we cannot achieve in this way. We need to use our pure minds to seek help from the Triple Jewels. When we do this, we will attain inconceivable help from them. This is very important. We need to use the variable, not the constant that is destine. The variable can be used to recreate our destinies.

What is important now is for us to recover our original pure minds. Master Huineng said: “Why bother to seek outside ourselves when everything already exists within the true nature. Since everything exists within our true nature, if we seek inwardly, we can attain everything. When there is a sincere request, a response will follow.”

The Triple Jewels act as a catalytic condition. We seek and attain something our true nature originally had. If it were not already within the true nature, even the Triple Jewels could not help us. In Buddhism, it is said that whatever is properly sought will be attained. If we believe that whatever is sought will be attained, then certainly everything else can be attained. If we believe that whatever is sought will be attained, including the vow to become a Buddha, then certainly everything else can be achieved.

There is nothing else in the world that calls for more shame and remorse than behavior such as this. Mencius once said “Shame is the most important word in a person’s life.” Why? Because one who knows shame will put forth his or her best efforts into correcting faults and will eventually attain sagehood or become a virtuous person. One who does not know shame will be just like an animal: unrestrained and immoral. This is the key to correcting our faults.

It is shameful for us to still be mired in samsara while others have become Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Nothing is of greater shame than this. The word shame has a very close connection with humans. Why? By being ashamed, we can become a virtuous person or a sage. By being unashamed, we will doubtlessly fall into the Three Bad Paths. So, we can see how closely connected the word shame is to our future. By knowing shame, we will tirelessly strive to eliminate it and replace it with the inspired enthusiasm to become a sage or a virtuous person.

A Fearful Heart: From Fear Comes Sincerity and Respect

The second way to reform is to know fear. Celestial beings and earthly spirits hover over our heads in observation. There is no way for us to deceive them.

Constantly having this fearful mind will enable us to discipline ourselves so that we will no longer dare to commit wrongdoings. It will help us to be constantly apprehensive. What are we fearful of? Above us, there are celestial beings with extraordinary abilities of clairvoyance who see very clearly our every every movement. Below us, there are earthly spirits who also have five extraordinary abilities (clairvoyance, clairaudience, knowing one’s own past lifetimes, physical abilities and knowing the minds of others). Although their abilities cannot compare with those of the celestial beings, their senses such as hearing and sight are much keener than ours.

We need to remember that all around, there are spirits and ghosts that are perfectly aware of our every thought and our every act.

Even when my wrongdoings are done in a concealed place, the beings and spirits of heaven and earth are present. They see all my faults. If my bad deeds are serious, then all kinds of adversities will befall me. If my fault is minor, it will still reduce my current good fortune. How can I not feel fear?

Even if we are committing small faults in the most concealed place where nobody can witness them, the beings and spirits who are clairvoyant can clearly see everything. This is terrifying! But the abilities of these beings are still not great, for their abilities are incomparable to those of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Fortunately, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have great compassion, loving-kindness and purity of mind. When these compassionate beings witness our wrongdoings, they will not cause problems for us.

Even when we are alone in our room, the beings and spirits watch us very carefully and record everything. Even if we try to conceal our improper acts with clever speech, the spirits and celestial beings can see into our hearts as clearly as seeing into our lungs or liver. We are just trying to deceive ourselves and others. In actuality, others have seen through us, and we thus become worthless (in their eyes). When we think about this, how can we not be afraid?

We may think that we have secrets, but we are only deceiving ourselves for the spirits of heaven and earth can see through everything. Any attempts to hide our faults are useless. Realizing this, how could we not be fearful?

However, as long as well still have one breath left, we have the chance to regret even the worst deeds.

When we are ashamed, our hearts are respectful and fearful. This will enable us to reform and eradicate our bad deeds. Many Buddhists attend repentance ceremonies throughout their lives trying to repent and eradicate karmic obstacles. Not only do some fail to eradicate such obstacles, but the more ceremonies they attend the ore their karmic obstacles increase. Why? They do not know to sincerely regret, but instead conceal their bad deeds even more. To truly cultivate is to be able to feel ashamed, to have respect, and to know fear. It is essential for us to understand this and to change our improper thinking.

There are two ways to be reborn into the Pure Land. One way is to cultivate and accumulate merits and virtues daily and to follow the regular way of practice to seek rebirth into the Pure Land. The other way is for those who have committed egregious evil deeds to be deeply remorseful at the last moments of their life.

Understanding this, we should not even think of counting on our luck as we continue to commit transgressions, thinking that we can always regret at the last moment and still be reborn into the Pure Land. Such thinking will guarantee our falling into the Three Bad Paths. It is extremely difficult to accomplish this last-minute change of heart. A deluded person who is able to maintain a clear mind during his dying moments is someone who has deeply cultivated the roots of goodness in his previous lifetime.

If a person can have a determined and courageous kind thought at the most important moment, it can cleanse away hundreds of years of accumulated offenses. this is like only needing one lamp to bring light into a valley that has been dark for a thousand years. It does not matter how long one has been committing misdeeds. If one can reform, he or she is exceptional.

We only need one lamp to light a valley that has been dark for a thousand years. This compared the lamp and the brightness to our bravery and determination in reforming and in our ability to wash away long-accumulated misdeeds. thus, regardless of how serious our bad deeds are or how long we have been committing them, what is important is that we reform.

We live in a constantly changing and chaotic world. Our bodies. made of flesh and blood, are perishable. If our next breath does not come, then this body will no longer be a part of us. The, even if we want to reform, it will be too late.

This encourages us to grab hold of the opportunity, to regret and reform while we still can. this is an ever-changing world. The sutras tell us that life is only a breath. If our next breath does not come, this life is over and the next one has begun. Then it will be too late for regrets. Knowing that this is our most crucial concern, we need to treasure this opportunity and not waste any more time. Reflect daily, regret earnestly and reform. This is true cultivation.

The second way to reform teaches us to have a fearless heart. We cannot hide even the slightest of our faults from the beings and spirits of heaven and earth, much less from all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. So, even in a dark room, we would do well not to give rise to deviated thoughts. In this way, we naturally will not commit any bad deeds. This is simply the truth! When we regret and reform, we need to begin from our hearts. When our hearts and minds are virtuous and kind, our speech and behavior will naturally be likewise. When our hearts are immoral and uncaring, regardless of how well we pretend, our speech and behavior will still be false.

A Determined, Courageous Heart: From Courage Comes Inspiration

The third way to reform is to have a determined, courageous heart.

We need to be courageous in regretting and reforming. The first way to reform, which is to know shame, is close to being courageous. Having a sense of shame is to be deluded. Therefore, a sense of shame is the condition for diligent cultivation. Feeling ashamed is awakening from within ourselves. Having a fearful heart is the external force that helps us refrain from wrongdoing; this also reflects the deep shame in our true nature.

A minor fault is like a thorn piercing our flesh and should be quickly removed.

Because a thorn piercing our skin is very painful, we will do whatever we can to quickly extract it. But a minor fault on our mind is even more painful. We need to become aware of it as well. Remaining unaware is like having no sense of feeling, not knowing that something is piercing our body and is causing us pain. Now, it is our conscience not our flesh that is numb.

If we can follow the three ways of shame, fear and determination to reform, then we will surely be transformed.

In reforming, we need to have shame, fear and courageous determination. To have a shameful heart is to be awakened. To have a respectful heart is to be awakened. To have a respectful heart is to be conscience-stricken. Only when we have both of these, do we give rise to the courageous and determined heart that enables us to regret and reform. Realizing this, why are we unable to correct our faults? Since we have yet to posses a shameful and fearful heart, we do not have the motivation that gives rise to a courageous and determined heart. If we do not know shame, then we will not be afraid of being laughed at by others so there is little incentive for us to cultivate kindness.

There is no need to worry. It will happen as assuredly as the spring sun will melt a thin layer of ice.

If we have these three qualities, we will immediately amend our faults. It is as natural as the ice in springtime becoming thinner as the weather becomes warmer. As we amend our faults, our wisdom will grow and our karmic obstacles will be eliminated.

Three Methods of Practicing in Reforming

Changing through Behavior

There are three methods of practice to help us reform. The first is changing through behavior, the second is changing through reasoning, and the third is changing from the heart.

Since the methods are different, the effects will also be different. For example, if I used to kill living beings in the past, I vow never to kill them again. If I used to get angry and yell at others in the past, I vow never to do so again. This changing through behavior by refraining from repeating a wrongdoing committed in the past and vowing to never do it again.

What is important is the state of mind. To change from the mind as well as through behavior is the best way.

Trying to force ourselves to suppress our faults is extremely difficult because we have not permanently uprooted our faults, merely temporarily curbed them. Therefore, changing through behavior cannot help us to permanently eliminate our faults.

The root of our problems lies in our minds. If we only suppress our faults instead of eliminating them, they will simply reappear at another time. Therefore, changing through behavior is a short-lived solution that only treats the symptoms. This like treating the head when there is a headache or treating the foot when there is foot pain. The behavior seems to be correct but the mind is till polluted because the root problem remains.