Liaofan’s Fourth Lesson – The Benefits of the Virtue of Humility

Arrogance Invites Adversity, While Humility Gains Benefits

Five Accounts Of Virtuous People

Humility enables us to preserve our good rewards. Without it, we will lose what we have accumulated and all of our efforts will have been in vain. We need to rely on humility for it enables us to preserve our goodness.

The Diamond Sutra explains that we should use endurance to preserve what we have accumulated from our practice of giving. If we cannot endure, then no matter how much we have cultivated and accumulated, all will be lost. Confucius also taught that the way to retain what we have cultivated is to practice the virtue of humility.

In the I Ching, the hexagram for humility stated that: “The laws of heaven take from the arrogant and benefit the humble. The laws of earth bring flowing water from areas that are full to those that are lower as it passes by. And the laws of spirits bring harm to those who are arrogant and good fortune to those who are modest. Even the laws of people despise those who are arrogant and prefer those who are modest.

A good example to help us understand the laws of heaven is the waxing and waning of the moon. Once the moon is full, it begins to wane. Before it becomes full again, it gets brighter and brighter each day. This gradual increase is the virtue of humility. From this, we can understand natural laws and the will of heaven.

The laws of earth are natural laws. For example, water will move from higher areas that are filled to those that are lower. The laws of spirits can be seen in the behavior of some spirits. When they see that we have become successful, they become jealous and try to cause problems for us; but, when we are destitute, they feel sorry and try to help us. People are the same. The laws of people prefer modesty to arrogance.

During the Qing dynasty, Zeng Guofan, who held the highest post as governor-general of four provinces, was almost like an emperor of a small region. Well-educated, he knew that he had already advanced very high and that this was not good, so he named his study “The Room in Which Imperfection is Sought.”

Most people seek perfection, but Mr. Zeng sought moderation. He also sought to lack a little, to not have too much. He believed that as one’s position was elevated, one should be more modest. In this way, he was able to maintain what he accumulated. Due to his accumulated merits, virtuous conduct, and the following of his teachings by his descendants, the family has remained prosperous.

In the I Ching, only the humility hexagram contains solely good outcomes.

The I Ching has 64 possible hexagrams. Every one of the explanations and predictions has the possibility of good fortune and misfortune invariable mixed. Only the hexagram for humility—High Mountain Under the Ground—has no possibility for misfortune. Thus, the higher we are, the more modest we need to be.

The Book of History also explained: “While arrogance invites disaster, humility gains benefit.”

Those who are the most modest receive the most benefits and advantages.

I often went to take the examinations accompanied by others and every time I would meet scholars who were very poor. I realized that before they passed the examinations and became prosperous, their faces radiated such humility that I felt I could almost hold it in my hands.

Based on his own experiences, Liaofan found that the I Ching and the Book of History were correct. At every imperial examination that he and his companions had attended, those who were the most modest passed. Realizing this, he could even predict who would pass.

Several years ago, ten of us from the village went to take the preliminary imperial examination. The youngest, Ding Jingyu, was extremely humble. I told one of the applicants, Fei Jinpo, that Jingyu would undoubtedly pass the examination. Fei Jinpo asked how I could tell and I told him: “Only those who are humble receive good fortune. My friend, look at the ten of us. Is there anyone as honest, generous and uncompetitive, as Jingyu? Do you see anyone who is as respectful, tolerate, careful and humble as Jingyu? Do you see anyone like him, who when insulted does not talk back or when slandered does not argue?

Any person who can achieve such humility will receive protection from the earth, heaven and spirits. There is no reason he will not become prosperous.” Sure enough, when the test results came out, Ding Jingyu had passed.

One year, Liaofan went with several others to take the examination. He commented that based on his observations, Ding Jingyu, who was the most humble, would pass despite his youth because he was respectful and modest, a rare person indeed who remained undisturbed and tolerant even when humiliated or offended. Those with great tolerance possess tremendous good fortune.

One year in Beijing, I stayed with a childhood friend, Feng Kaizhi. Always humble, he had a kind and accommodating appearance. He was no longer the arrogant person I had known years ago. His friend, Li Jiyan, was very blunt and outspoken and often scolded him for his mistakes, but Kaizhi just calmly accepted the accusations without talking back.

Fend Kaizhi had become a completely different person. Li Jiyan, a good friend of his would immediately criticize as soon as he noticed any faults. It did not matter to Kaizhi whether Jiyan was right or wrong in correcting him, for he accepted everyone’s criticism.

If we have a fault we need to correct it, if we do not we need to guard against it and correct any mistakes we made. When corrected for a non-existent fault, we should not become resentful because it is good to be admonished. Actually, only those who reproach us genuinely care about us. We would reproach our children if they make mistakes. So why do we not admonish those of our neighbors? Remember that although an accusation may be unjust, it still comes from a heart of loving-kindness. We need to accept criticism willingly and to be grateful for the teaching.

I told Kaizhi: “Just as there are signs that tell of coming good fortune or misfortune, we can see that prosperity or adversity come to those who have cultivated their causes. Heaven will help those who hearts are humble. You, my friend, will doubtless pass the imperial examination this year!” Later, he did just that.

Liaofan told him that good fortune and misfortune could be predicted. Liaofan had mastered the art of prediction. But knowing how to predict a person’s good fortune or misfortune is still secondary. When we end our erroneous ways and accumulate merits and virtues, we rewrite our destinies.

There was a young man from Shandong province named Zhao Yufeng who passed the preliminary level of the imperial examinations before he was even 20. But, try as he might, he could not pass the succeeding examinations. When his father moved to Jiashan to accept another government post, Yufeng went with him and came to greatly admire a well known scholar in the village named Qian Mingwu.

Yufeng brought his work to Mr. Qian who picked up jis calligraphy brush and made many corrections to the essay. Not only was Yufeng not angry, he gratefully accepted all of Mr. Qian’s corrections and immediately made the recommended changes. The following year, Yufeng passed the imperial examination.

If this happened to us, we would probably feel terrible or become offended. Even if our work were not that good, surely it would not deserve that many corrections! Not only did Yufeng not become angry, he was extremely grateful and humble, for he sincerely wanted to learn from Mr. Qian. Because of his modesty, respectfulness and diligence, he made significant improvement and passed the examination the following year.

One year, I went to the capital to pay my respects to the emperor and met a scholar named Xia Jiansuo who had all the qualities of a great man without a trace of arrogance. I felt the intense aura of his virtue and humility. When I returned home, I told a friend” “When heaven wants a person to prosper, it first bestows him with wisdom that can make a pompous person honest and well disciplined. Jiansuo will now make him prosperous.” Sure enough, when the test results came out, Jiansuo had padded the examination.

It was in the year that he went to meet the emperor that Liaofan met Xia Jiansuo and was struck by his humility and respectfulness. The important message in this account is that before heaven gives us good fortune, it first gives us wisdom. If we lack wisdom, then regardless of our cultivation, we will not accumulate good fortune. There is real and false good fortune as well as half and full. If we fail to understand the differences between them, we will commit serious offenses, all the while believing that our efforts are worthy of merit.

The most important point is to learn and understand what a field of merit is so that we will know how to properly accumulate good fortune. Once we uncover our wisdom, we will naturally restrain ourselves, as we become calm and dignified, kind and modest, respectful and gentle. By possessing these characteristics, Xia Jiansuo passed the examination.

There was a scholar named Zhang Weiyan from Jiangyin who was well educated, wrote good essays and was well known among scholars. One year, while taking his examination in Nanjing, he stayed at a temple. When the test results were posted and he found that he had failed, he became furious and loudly accused the examiner of being blind to obvious talent.

A Taoist monk who saw this began to smile. Weiyan immediately redirected his anger towards the monk who said the essay must not be good. Weiyan got even angrier and demanded how he knew it was not good when he had not even read it! The Taoist replied that he had often heard that the primary element in writing good essays was a peaceful mind and a harmonious disposition. Weiyan’s loud and angry accusations clearly showed that his mind and disposition were violent so how could he possibly write well. Weiyan accepted this and asked for the Taoist’s advice.

The Taoist explained that good writing only comes from a peaceful and harmonious mind but Weiyan was bad tempered and arrogant. Fortunately, Weiyan was also intelligent so he recognized the logic in what the Taoist said and asked for his advice. From this, we can see that Weiyan was capable of change once he realized that he was at fault. This is true learning and practice.

The Taoist said that whether or not one passes depends on destiny. If someone is not destined to pass, then no matter how good the paper is, he or she will fail.

The law of causality is infallible. Whether we pass or fail depends on our destinies not only the quality of what we have written. It is the same with wealth, fame, and so on, for everything depends on our destinies and not on how we plan and manage our lives. When people are destined to be wealthy, it does not matter whether or not they know how to obtain wealth; they will just receive it. If they are not destined to become wealthy, the regardless of what they do, they will fail.

Today, people who do not know of or believe in destiny, think that they can commit all kinds of offenses, and still obtain good results and good fortune. Where is the logic in that! Why is it that in ancient times, most people could see the results from their offenses quickly, while today, we do not seem to suffer from our wrongdoings? People are committing so many offenses that there are too many to let us receive our retributions one by one, so the debts will be collected all at one time.

Our education, abilities, good fortune, long lives, a peaceful death—everything—depends on destiny and changing it is the wisest thing we can do. If we fail to understand and seek what we are not meant to have, then all of our time and efforts will be wasted. This would be tragic.

When the Taoist concluded that Weiyan needed to make some changes. Weiyan asked how he could change destiny. The Taoist replied that although the power to form our destinies lies in the heavens, the right to change them lies within us. As long as we practice goodness and cultivate hidden virtues, we will receive what we seek.

If Weiyan wanted to change his destiny, he had to do just as Master Yungu had taught Liaofan. Liaofan had learned that he alone could change his destiny. If we break the bad habit of committing offenses and instead cultivate goodness and accumulate merits, then we create the variable to change destiny. But, if we fail to do this, we will remain bound by destiny.

Weiyan said that he was only a poor scholar and questioned his ability to practice goodness. The Taoist explained that practicing goodness and accumulating hidden virtues depended on the heart. As long as one intended to practice goodness and accumulate virtues, the merits would be infinite! He used the example of the virtue of humility that cost nothing. Weiyan needed to look within instead of berating the examiner for being unfair.

The Taoist said the money was not necessary to practice goodness. Very often, those who are poor are able to accumulate great merits while the wealthy may not necessarily do do. The Taoist used Weiyan’s behavior as an example, saying that Weiyan had been very arrogant. If he could instead be modest, then he would be virtuous and it would cost him nothing. When he failed an examination, he should not blame the examination official, but reflect upon himself and change. It is obvious that good or bad, good fortune or misfortune, it all lies in an instant of thought.

Weiyan listened to the Taoist monk and from then on suppressed his arrogance. Every day, he tried harder to practice goodness and to accumulate more merits.

One night, three years later, he dreamt that he had entered a very tall house and saw a book with many names as well as many blank lines. He asked the person next to him about it and was told that the names belonged to the applicants who had passed the examination that year. When Weiyan asked about all the blank lines, he was told that the spirits of the underworld checked on the applicants every three years. Only the names of those who were faultless and practiced goodness remained in the book. The blank lines had contained the names of those destined to pass, but due to recent offenses, their names had been removed.

The person pointed to a blank line and said that for the past three years Weiyan had been very careful and so disciplined that he had not made any mistakes. Perhaps his name would fill the blank. He hoped that Weiyan would value this opportunity and continue his faultless behavior. That year, Weiyan passed the examination and placed one hundredth and fifth.

Humility and Modesty are the Foundation for Good Fortune

We now know that spirits and heavenly beings are three feet above our heads. Obtaining good fortune and preventing misfortune is up to us. As long as we have good intentions, refrain from wrongdoings, do not offend the beings and spirits of heaven and earth, are tolerant and not arrogant, then the beings and spirits of heaven and earth will feel compassion for us. Only then will we have a foundation for future prosperity.

There are beings and spirits of heaven and earth who constantly watch us. We alone are responsible for our every good or bad deeds and every good or bad result, so we need to be awakened in every thought. Buddha Shakyamuni taught us to be awakened instead of deluded, to be proper instead of deviated, and to be pure instead of polluted. We are also to sever all attachments and to practice giving. We need to be extremely careful in our every thought, word and deed and to accord with the teachings and codes of behavior. Practicing Buddhism is setting a good example for all sentient beings. To perfectly have a kind heart, do kind deeds, say kind words, and to be a good person is to be a Buddha, a Bodhisattva.

Since we choose to practice the Pure Land method, we need to incorporate the teachings from the Infinite Life Sutra into our thinking and behavior. Then, there truly will be no difference between Buddha Amitabha and us. This is practicing the true teaching of the Buddhas for we mold ourselves by according with the mind, vow, understanding and conduct of Buddha Amitabha.

Liaofan’s Four Lessons can be an invaluable aid in our learning while the Infinite Life Sutra is our main course of study. When we abide by the precepts and practice Buddha Name Chanting, we are practicing both the primary and supporting learning’s. This will assure us of being reborn into the Pure Land, where we will never again regress, and where we will become Buddhas, and never reduce our eagerness to benefit all beings.

Those who are filled with conceit are not destined for greatness. Even if they do prosper, their good fortune will be short lived.

When we look at wealthy people around the world, we see that few of them are genuinely happy or know how to properly use their wealth. Some live in hiding to feel safer. Such wealth is suffering not joy. Living a truly happy life is genuine prosperity and enjoyment.

Intelligent people would never be narrow-minded and refuse the good fortune they are entitled to. Those who are humble always increase their opportunities to learn and in this way, their good deeds are boundless! Those who wish to cultivate and improve their virtues cannot do without the virtue of humility.

It is essential for us to learn modesty for it is the key to cultivating and improving our virtue. We need to realize that others are better than us and that they excel in what they do. When we are false and conceited, other people may not see this; however, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and the beings and spirits of heaven and earth see us very clearly. Thus, our modesty must be sincere and come from deep within.

We are not better than others and if they accumulate merits and we do not, then they are better than us. Even when we dare not commit offenses, others are still better than us. This is perfect modesty and it is the practice of the teaching of humility in the Avatamsaka Sutra. I am the only student; everyone else is my teacher. Sudhana learned about humility from the 53 visits and perfectly attained Buddhahood.

The ancients said: “Those who have their hearts set on success and fame, will surely attain them just as those who have their hearts set on wealth and position will attain what they wish for.” A person who has great and far-reaching goals in like a tree with roots. They must be humble in every thought and try to relieve other’s burdens even if the occurrence is as insignificant as a speck of dust.

If we can reach this level of humility, we will naturally touch the hearts of heaven and earth. I am the creator of my own prosperity. Look at the applicants who sought fame and wealth. Initially, they were insincere and what they sought was a passing impulse. When they wanted something, they sought it but when they wanted something, they sought it but when their interest waned, they stopped seeking it.

Mencius once said [to Emperor Xuan of Qi]: “If you can expand from the heart that seeks personal happiness, to sharing happiness with all your subjects and make them just as happy as you are, then surely the nation will prosper!” This is also true for me in seeking to pass the imperial examination. [I alone can seek and thus change my destiny.]

Once we set our goals, we must work towards their accomplishment. If we do so, the naturally, our humility will touch the hearts of heaven and earth and we will attain what we seek. Liaofan used a quote from Mencius for his conclusion. When we are enjoying our happiness, why not share it with others for to do so is genuine happiness and good fortune.

Today, many people are caught up in the drive to obtain wealth. The governments of the world would do well to realize this and join with people to create wealth, prosperity and happiness so that all can enjoy it together. “To like what others like and dislike what others dislike.” In so doing, we will be according with the hearts of all beings. We should use wisdom as we accumulate merits to create wealth so we may help those who have none, for if we only accumulate wealth for self-enjoyment then trouble lies ahead. This is a most important and worthwhile endeavor, and it is worthy of our sincerest efforts.