Liaofan’s Third Lesson – The Ways to Cultivate Goodness – Part 1

The Family That Accumulates Good Deeds Will Have Abundant Prosperity

Ten Accounts of Virtuous People

We read in the I Ching; “Families who perform good deeds will accumulate prosperity that can outlast many generations.” An example is the Yan family. Before they married their daughter to the man who was to be Confucius’s father, they inquired about the family. After finding that they practiced goodness and accumulated virtues, the Yan family felt confident they were marrying their daughter into a family that would prosper and have outstanding descendants.

The I Ching introduces this principle in this lesson. A family that accumulates good deeds will have prosperity to spare. If we cannot enjoy all our good fortune, we will have enough left over for our descendants to enjoy for generations to come.

In the past, the parents and a matchmaker decided whether two people should marry. When we compare today’s freedom of love with the traditional way, the latter has its advantages. Parents who were well educated and principled chose the most promising spouse for their child. The disadvantage was that uneducated parents, who did not know better, often sold their daughters out for a good price. These children complied with their parent’s wishes, married and were unhappy for the rest of their lives. Thus, this system had both advantages and disadvantages.

The Yan family member spoken of here is Confucius’ maternal grandfather. He knew that the Shu family had accumulated virtues and practiced good deeds for several generations. This is an example of a good match made by the parents and the matchmaker.

In ancient times, all those who held power, from the emperor to a village mayor, faithfully followed three guidelines: to act as leader, as a parent and as a teacher.

In ancient times, all of those who help power, from the emperor to the village mayor, faithfully followed three guidelines: to act as a leader, as a parent and as a teacher. First, it was necessary to act as a leader of the governed area. Second, to act as a parent meant to protect and care for all the citizens that he was responsible for, as if they were his family. Third, to act as a teacher meant to touch and serve as a role model for all.

These three responsibilities fell upon the shoulders of the ruler. If he fulfilled them, then he would have performed infinite goodness. Unfortunately, these three guidelines are no longer adhered to.

In another example, Confucius had praised Shun for his filial piety by saying: “Due to his great filial piety and sincerity, Shun deeply moved even his ancestors to accept his offering. His accumulation of merits and good fortune would last for many generations.” This principle is confirmed by many examples.

Shun is unsurpassed for his great filial piety. He saw only his own faults, not those of others. For Buddhists, he exemplifies a good practitioner. In the Platform Sutra, we learned that a true practitioner does not see the faults of others. Shun accomplished just this. History has shown that the virtues he accumulated guaranteed his descendant’s prosperity. And as they continued his practice of honoring ancestors, these descendants continued to accumulate goodness and virtues. Even the ancestors of others benefited as Shun’s practices were gradually adopted by generations of Chinese.

The following are some additional examples of how merits can be attained through performing good deeds. In Fujian province, a man named Yang Rong held a position in the Imperial Court as the Emperor’s teacher. Yang Rong’s ancestors were boat people who made a living by helping people cross the river.

One year, a storm lasted so long that violent flooding swept away people, animals, houses and belongings. The other boaters took advantage of the situation to collect the floating belongings. Only Yang Rong’s grandfather and great grandfather rescued the drowning people and ignored the belongings. The boaters laughed and thought the two to be very foolish. Later, when Yang Rong’s father was born, the Yang family gradually became wealthy.

One day a heavenly being who had manifested as a Taoist monk told the Yang family that due to their ancestors’ accumulation of hidden merits, their descendants would enjoy wealth and prominence. He then suggested a special place where they could build the ancestral tomb. They followed his suggestion. Today it is called the White Hare Grave.

Feng shui is an ancient science of placing buildings, furniture and so on, in a way that will take maximum advantage of the natural energy of the land. However, receiving such good or bad advice depends largely on our good fortune, virtues and conditions. If a person knowledgeable in feng shui had advised us, it will only enable us to receive what we are destined to receive sooner rather than later. If we do not deserve good advice, then not only will we not benefit from it, it will actually bring us misfortune because we do not have the good fortune to enjoy it. Therefore, do not be too happy when good things happen. First, think whether we deserve them.

Upon reading Liaofan’s Four Lessons, we will realize that everything that happens does so for a reason and that for an ordinary person, “One sip, one bite, everything is destined.” In Venerable Master Chin Kung’s life, he had seen many things that were confirmed by Buddhist and Confucian principles. If we do not believe this, and fail to correct our faults and practice good deeds, then there will be no variables in our lives—only a constant. Only when we truly understand the way to accumulate goodness and reform our faults will we be able to change our lives.

Shortly after, Yang Rong was born. He passed the imperial examination when he was only twenty years old and later received the imperil appointment of Master. The emperor even bestowed the same imperial honors on his grandfather and great grandfather. Today, his virtuous and prosperous descendants are still prominent.

Since males became adults at the age of twenty, this passage reveals how unusual it was for someone so young to pass the highest-level imperial examination, the Jinshi. Today, this would be equivalent to earning a doctorate degree. His appointment was likewise extremely high, similar to that of a national affairs advisor. As an advisor to the emperor, his was obviously a very prestigious position. Later, he received the rank of imperial teacher.

Due to Yang Rongs achievements, the emperor also conferred the same honors on Yang Rong’s deceased grandfather and great grandfather. This was the traditional way to honor and pay respect to ancestors when an individual became an imperial official.

Today, we also reward outstanding actions as governments commend people for their accomplishments. But frankly, the methods used in the past were more effective because they had a deeper educational meaning. As the ancestors had indirectly contributed to the country, the emperor would bestow the same honor on the three previous generations as well as on the individual.

Yang Rong’s descendants held official positions and were prosperous and prominent even in Liaofan’s time. This was the result of generations of ancestors accumulating goodness and building a solid foundation and of generations of descendants having virtue.

Yang Zicheng, from the county of Yin in Zhejiang province, is another example. He worked in the county courthouse and was kind, fair and honest. Once, the county magistrate punished a criminal by beating him until he was bleeding profusely.

Zicheng knelt and pleaded with him to stop. The infuriated magistrate retorted “It’s all right for you to plead, but how can I not be angry when he has broken the law!” Zicheng replied when government leaders do not follow the proper path, ordinary people will loose their way. Realizing this, we should feel sorrow and not pleasure [at solving the case]. And we should certainly not become angry. A case like this called for more understanding. Moved by Zicheng’s plea, the magistrate ceased the beating.

Mr. Yang Zicheng, who was generous and impartial, had a low-level position in the county courthouse. When the criminal refused to tell the truth and even talked back, the magistrate became enraged and beat him for the extremely serious offense. When Zicheng saw this, he compassionately pleaded with the magistrate to stop.

When Zicheng spoke of government leaders, he was referring to provincial and city magistrates. He said they did not follow the “Proper Path,” meaning that the government failed to properly educate the citizens. What is the proper path? It is when the ruler follows the Three Guidelines of acting as leader, parent and teacher. When a district official in charge of local administration did not meet these guidelines, then he had not properly looked after the people and this was why broke the law. This was why Zicheng said that when leaders did not follow the proper path, the citizens would become lost because they had no guidelines to follow and no one to advise them. If the administration behaved properly, then the people would have a standard to follow.

During the Han dynasty, the teachings of Confucius and Mencius replaced those of hundreds of scholars. Confucianism thus became the basis for the educational system. Before this time, during the Spring-Autumn period, there were so many philosophies that it was difficult for people to know which ones were appropriate. All of the books written by hundreds of scholars had their own distinct points of view. Each seemed to make sense; however, people were at a loss as to which to choose.

It became crucial to select one as the model while keeping in mind that the chosen teaching had to be widely accepted by people with different cultural backgrounds. Once this model had been chosen, the works of other scholars were used for reference. Through this process, the educational objectives were established.

This system of moral standards became the basis of the teachings for the Chinese and was used from the Han dynasty until the beginning of the 20th century. Confucius and Mencius taught us the Five Human Relationships and the Ten Moral Responsibilities, which are the proper path. The Five Human Relationships concentrate on the relations among people and the responsibilities that people are obligated to fulfill. They include those between husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, friends and political leaders and the public.

The first is the basic relations between married couples. A husband should fulfill his responsibilities as a husband and a wife should do likewise for the couple to remain harmonious. This is the basis of all prosperous families. Next is the family, in which parents hold a position over us, children under us and siblings around us. Each different role has its own responsibilities that are innate moral principles and are not created or assigned by another.

Beyond the family are society and the country. At the head is the leader of the country and below the leader are government officials. Our friends are on the same level as us. When we expand these five relationships to include everyone, we will see that we are all brothers and sisters. Therefore, the five relationships unite the country as one big family and are the proper path.

The basic educational goals in Confucianism are to sever material desires, obtain awakening, uphold a sincere mind and a virtuous heart, develop self-discipline, have a harmonious family, govern a country and foster world peace. Today, schools do not emphasize these principles or the humanities, but stress technology. No wonder our thoughts and behavior have no guiding principles. We are not taught that when we see the misdeeds of others, we are to take a hard look at ourselves and see if we have fulfilled our duties as leaders.

Although Zicheng’s family was poor, he refused all bribes. If the prisoners were short of food, he would take some from his own home to give it to them even if it meant going hungry himself.

One day, it was time for several newly arrived prisoners to be fed, but Zicheng himself had little food. If he gave the prisoners what he had, his family would go hungry; if he kept the food for his family, the prisoners would have nothing to eat—an appalling dilemma. He felt that the prisoners needed the food more than his family did. He discussed it with his wife who asked where the prisoners were from. Zicheng told her that they were from Hangzhow.

Although Zicheng only held a very low rank in the county government, he refused all of the gifts that were offered to him. Sometimes relatives of the prisoners would offer him bribes in exchange for a lighter sentence or preferential treatment. However, he refused all of these offers and always acted fairly although it was very difficult to be honest in such a tempting environment.

Later, Zicheng had two sons. The elder son, Shouchen, and the younger one, Shouzhi, both held important government positions. Zicheng’s eldest grandson became vice minister in the Ministry of Justice and his second grandson was a highly placed member of the government staff in Sichuan province. They too were prominent. Today, their descendant Yang Chuting, also a government official, is known for his virtuous deeds.

The two sons received good fortune accumulated by their parents. Their government department was one of six ministries. Today for example, there are over a dozen such ministries in Taiwan. Thus, the positions held in ancient times were higher and entailed greater responsibilities than those of today. This account illustrates that the goodness accumulated by this couple benefited their descendants.

Another prime example of the law of causality is the famous General Guo Ziyi who lived during the Tang dynasty. Due to his accumulation of goodness and virtues, his descendants prospered. During the Song dynasty, there were two generals under the leadership of Emperor Taizu: Cao Han and Cao Bin. The descendants of Cao Han had so little good fortune that it did not even last three generations. The daughters became prostitutes and many family members became destitute. Cao Bin, on the other hand, was a very caring general who did not kill innocent people. His descendants were all prosperous.

Another example is the Lin family from Putian in Fujian province. Among their ancestors was a very generous elderly lady. Every day she made rice balls for the poor and gave away as many as they wanted. An immortal who manifested as a Taoist monk came daily for three years and always asked for six or seven. Her ceaseless generosity convinced him of her deep sincerity.

This is another example of an ancestor who accumulated good fortune for her descendants. She treated everyone equally and gave the rice balls to whoever asked for them. It is easy to be good occasionally, but to do so every day is very difficult. The heavenly being knew that she was tireless in her good deeds and that she sincerely wished to help those who were poor. Sincerity is an accumulation of virtues and giving is an accumulation of goodness.

He told her: “I have eaten your rice balls for three years and have done nothing to show my gratitude. Perhaps I can do so now. On the land behind your house is a good place for your grave. If you are placed there when you die, the number of your descendants who will have imperial appointments will equal the number of seeds in a pound of sesame seeds.” Her son followed his recommendations.

The Taoist knew feng shui and suggested a good place for her grave. If his advice was followed, then an unimaginable number of her descendants would receive imperial appointments. Just imagine how many sesame seeds there are in a pound!

The first generation after that, nine men passed the imperial examinations and it continued that way for generations. It was said in Fujian that the surname of Lin was always on the list of those who had passed the imperial examinations.

Because of the good fortune that the elderly lady had accumulated, not only did she have many descendants but they were prosperous and became the largest family in the province. This is the effect garnered from the cause of sincerely giving away food to the poor.

Also, there was Mr. Ying, a minister who lived in Taizhou. When he was young, he studies in remote mountain areas. At night, he often heard the sounds of ghosts and spirits but was never afraid of them. One night, he heard one ghost happily say to another: “There is a village woman whose husband left a long time ago and has not returned. Her in-laws think that their son is dead and are forcing her to remarry. Tomorrow night, she is going to commit suicide and will replace me. Then I will be reborn!”

In the past, scholars often lived in temples, because only temples had extra rooms and a good library, usually called the Sutra Collection Chamber. At a time when there were no public libraries, the temple library usually had the Four Books, the Five Classics and probably material from the numerous schools of thinking from the late Zhou dynasty. Most scholars preferred to reside in these temples, which were usually located in the mountains or in wooded areas, for these provided a quiet and refreshing environment for study.

Ghosts not only exist, they live among humans. They usually appear in sparsely populated areas or when a person’s energy is low. As Mr. Ying’s mind was pure and honest, he neither paid much attention to them no feared them. One day he overheard one ghost telling another that a young woman was going to commit suicide. Anyone who has committed suicide needs to find a replacement before he or she can be reborn. If no replacement can be found, the ghost will undergo much suffering.

It is necessary for the replacement to commit suicide in the same spot and manner for the ghost to be set free. The same applies to car accidents. Although the deceased did not commit suicide but was an accident victim, he or she would also need to find a replacement.

This example is about a ghost who had hung himself, when he was a human. He knew in advance of the death of the young woman whose husband was long overdue from a business trip. The parents, knowing nothing of their son’s whereabouts, were forcing his wife to remarry. She did not wish to and planned to commit suicide in the same spot the next day. The ghost’s chance for freedom was soon to materialize because she was to be his replacement.

Upon hearing this, Mr. Ying immediately set out to sell some land that he owned. He received two hundred grams of silver for it. He then made up a letter from the daughter-in-law’s husband and sent it to her home along with the silver. The parents knew that the letter was not in their son’s handwriting, but examined the silver and said: “This letter may be false, but the silver is not. Perhaps our son is alive.” Consequently, the daughter-in-law was not forced to remarry. After a while the husband returned home and the couple resumed their lives together.

Mr. Ying saved the breakup of a family, an act of great merit. When he sold the land and sent the money, he was not thinking of accumulating merit. He simply acted out of compassion by wanting to help the woman, to save her life and to keep the family intact. He thought no further of what he had done and returned to the temple to continue his studies.

Next, Mr. Ying heard the ghost say, “Originally, I was supposed to leave here and be reborn, but Mr. Ying messed up my chance!” The other ghost asked: “Why don’t you get even with him?” The first ghost replied” “I can’t. The heavenly beings have recognized his goodness and he is going to receive a prominent position and he is going to receive a prominent position in the future. How can I hurt him?”

Since the heavenly beings had already recognized Mr. Ying’s goodness, the ghost could not do anything. From this, we know that if a spirit or a heavenly being can harm us, it is because we have done something to deserve it. If we have not done anything wrong, then the spirits are unable to hurt us.

Seeing Mr. Ying’s goodness, the heavenly beings had already planned for Mr. Ying to hold a prominent position in the government as a minister. Later in his life, Mr. Ying did indeed hold the position of minster. Having overheard the ghost, he knew some of his future in advance.

Upon hearing this, Mr. Ying became even more diligent in practicing goodness and accumulating merits. Whenever there was a famine, he gave grain from his storehouses to those who needed it. He always helped relatives in emergencies. When things did not go his way, he always reflected within himself rather than complain to others. Thus, he always quietly complied with conditions. Even today, his descendants are prominent.

If people were rude or took advantage of hi, Mr. Ying always examined his own actions to see if he was at fault. Tolerant and able to take everything in stride, he was never argumentative or resentful. Not only did he become a minster, his accomplished and virtuous descendants also prospered. All this was the result of his keeping a family together.

Another person, Xu Fengshu, lived in Jiangsu province. Whenever there was a famine, his wealthy family would be the first to waive the rent on the rice fields, hoping that other wealthy people would follow suit. He also donated grain from his storehouses to those who were hungry.

One night, he heard ghosts outside his home say, “A county scholar in the Xu family is going to pass the provincial imperial examination!” This went on for several nights and indeed that year his son Fengzhu passed the examination. After that, Fengzhu’s father became even more diligent in accumulating good deeds.

He paid for the repair of roads and bridges and provided food for monks as well as for the poor. He did all he could to help others. Sometimes later, he heard the ghosts again. They said, “The provincial scholar from the Xu family is going to hold a high position in the government.” Eventually, Fengzhu became the governor of Zhejiang province.

Sometimes ghost can be clearly seen or heard. Outside the house of the Xu family, ghosts sang that a family member was going to pass the provincial imperial examination. Later the son Xu Fengshu did so. Good fortune is the reward for good deeds. Those who understand this will try even harder to accumulate goodness. The ghosts also sang that Fengzhu would receive a high position in the government. He eventually became an imperial judge in the Supreme Court, then governor of Zhejiang province. This was the result of sincerely helping the poor.

Another example is Tu Kangxi who lived in Jiaxixng, Zhejiang province. Mt. Tue worked in the courthouse and would spend nights in the prison cells, talking with the inmates. Instead of making a name for himself, he would write secret reports to the minister of justice of justice, telling him why certain prisoners were innocent. The minister would then question the prisoner accordingly and clear the cases. Through Mr. Tu’s efforts, more than ten innocent people were released and all of them were extremely grateful to the judge praising the minister of justice for his wise judgment.

What Mr. Tu did was very rare. He would spend nights with the prisoners to learn everything about each case. When the prisoners were questioned in the courtroom, they sometimes became so frightened that they could not adequately defend themselves.

Similar to Liaofan, Mr. Tu was not destined to have sons. Liaofan sought a son and received one. Mr. Tu received three sons due to his accumulation of good deeds.

Another example of attaining good results from practicing kindness is Bao Ping who lived in Jiaxing. Ping was the youngest of seven sons of the magistrate of Chizhou, Anhui province. He married into the Yuan family in Pinghu county, Zhejiang province, and was a good friend of my father. Bao Ping was knowledgeable and talented, but always failed in the examinations. He spent his time studying Buddhism and Taoism.

Once, while traveling to Lake Mao, he came to a village and saw a temple in dire need of repair. The status of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva was wet from the rain that leaked through the roof. Ping took out all of his money and gave it to the abbot, so that he could restore the temple.

The abbot replied: “It is a major project, I am afraid this is not enough.” Bao Ping then took out all of his expensive clothes and handed them to the abbot. His servant tried to persuade him to keep his best outfit, but he refused, saying: “It does not matter to me. As long as the statue of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva Remains undamaged, I do not care if I have to go without clothes.”

Ping, who had failed to pass the examinations, had given up the hope of a government career. Fortunately, his father was head of the local government so the family’s finances were adequate. Once, when he saw a Buddhist temple in need of repairs, his immediate thought was to help. He took out sixteen ounces of silver, which was all the money he had and gave it to the abbot—an act of pure sincerity. When told that it was not enough, ping took out four bolts of clothes and some clothing from his luggage so the abbot could trade them for silver.

The abbot, with tears in his eyes, exclaimed, “To give up money and clothing is not difficult, but your deep sincerity is truly rare.” After the temple was repaired, Bao Ping asked his father to visit it and together they spent the night there. The temple’s Dharma Protector, Qielen, came in his dream to thank him and said: “Since you have accumulated many generations of descendants who will receive imperial appointments.” His son and grandson both passed high examinations and were appointed as imperial officials.

Like the other examples, the good fortune he received was also rewarded to his descendants.

Zhi Li from Jashan county, in Zhejiang province is another example. His father used to be a clerk in the provincial courthouse. Once, when Zhi Li’s father learned than an innocent man had been given the death penalty, he tried to save the man’s life. When the prisoner heard about this, he told his wife: “I am greatly indebted to this man who has spoken on my behalf, but I have no way to show my gratitude. Will you invite him to our house and offer yourself to him? Perhaps this will please him and increase my chances to live.”

Zhi Li’s father, knowing of the prisoner’s innocence, sympathized with him and pleaded with his superior to spare the inmates life. If he could save the prisoner, he would also save the family.

The wife cried as she listened to his request, but there was no other way to help. The next day when the clerk came to visit, she offered him wine and told him of her husband’s wish. The clerk refused, but continued to do all he could for the man. When at last the prisoner was released, he and his wife went to the clerk’s house to thank him. He said: “One with such virtue as yours is truly rare these days, how can I show my gratitude? Since you do not have a son, allow me to offer my daughter in marriage to you. Please accept for this is the only way that I can repay you.”

Zhi Li’s father refused the prisoners offer of his wife because he did not wish any reward. He had acted out of a sense of morality and justice, feeling that it was part of his job. Married for many years, he and his wife had no sons. So the prisoner offered his daughter to be a second wife to the clerk hoping that she would be able to bear him a son and continue the family name, an accepted custom at that time.

The clerk accepted and soon afterwards, she bore him his son, Zhi Li. He passed the highest level of the imperial examinations when he was just twenty years old and later was appointed to an important government position. His son Gao, grandson Lu, and great grandson Dalun, all passed the examinations and received imperial appointments as well.

These ten examples all tell of the deeds cultivated by different people. Although their actions differed, their intent was the same—to perform goodness.

Zhi Li’s final appointment was similar to a First Secretary today, a prominent position. This was his reward for saving an innocent life. In this lesson Liaofan provided ten examples of how fortune is the result of accumulating goodness and is not a coincidence. These events were close to Liaofan’s time. Some he knew of personally while others were related to his family. All of them are about cause and effect: goodness will result in good fortune and evil will result in misfortune.