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This blog is created by a Buddhist living in Singapore. He embraces the Mahayana spirit of Bodhicitta, deeply respecting all Buddhist Traditions as expressions of Kindness guiding us on the path towards human perfection ~ Buddhahood.

He likes to post stuff that he had read or think is good to share here, sometimes he adds a little comments here and there... just sometimes..

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“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”

~ Amitabha Sutra

When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.

~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Compassion and Wisdom

By Venerable Khandro Rinpoche

"The human heart is basically very compassionate, but without wisdom, compassion will not work. Wisdom is the openness that lets us see what is essential and most effective."

As human beings, we all try our best to bring about a world based on kindness and compassion. What seems to go wrong, however, is that what I want, what I personally would like, becomes more important than the benefit of the whole community.

Whether we look at religion, philosophy, science, development or politics, wherever there has been human society it has manifested wisdom and compassion. But because of our tendency to be involved with our own selfishness, our own likes and dislikes, we develop walls and isolate ourselves from others.

We do not allow the openness that can be felt between human beings to express itself because of two fundamental things: hope and fear. All of us want some happiness and no one wants to suffer, so every action we take is motivated by the thought of how can I be happy, how can I avoid pain. In a world already divided in so many ways, we create a world of our own. A very selfish attitude develops.

All philosophies and religions in the world aim to break through this wall of self-isolation, so that we can work with one another with real care and compassion. From a Buddhist point of view, we examine ourselves carefully—not as a way of blaming ourselves for having created this division, but as a way of working with the root cause of the problem.

The problem is not with the world, or with other people, but with ourselves. Wisdom is innate in us; it is not something that can be bought, heard or received from outside. But our involvement with the external environment and the distraction of our own emotions causes a kind of layering or veiling that prevents us from observing ourselves carefully. We do not give ourselves enough time and space to use our innate wisdom to observe ourselves before we act.

However, through meditation, to use an Eastern term, or examination or analysis, to use more Western terms, there exists the possibility for wisdom to arise within every human being. Meditation is the process of looking inward, of refraining from our dualistic tendency to pay more attention to external issues than to the internal issues we don’t want to work on.

A society based upon peace, harmony, wisdom and compassion is not going to come about unless each person begins with themselves. Through our ignorance, our failure to use our innate wisdom, we make many excuses for not starting with ourselves. The biggest excuse we use is that we require the other person to change before we do. So if I get up in the morning and things don’t happen the way that I want, everything gets blamed on my external world. On days when everything goes right, people look good to us and appear kinder.

If we reflect on it, we realize that our perception of the external world has much to do with our internal attitude. Our mind makes excuses based on external circumstances that reflect what we feel inside. When we see a person and he does something we like, then he is a good person. But if this same person does something we don’t like, then he is a bad person. So transforming the external environment must begin with transforming the inner self, because only when the self is tamed and a fair amount of awareness exists within us will we have the strength to relate properly with others.

The human heart is basically very good, very generous, and very compassionate. But it may not always work together with wisdom. The result is that we have many people ready to go out and change the world for the better, but who still view philosophy, religion, and politics according to what they like, according to what they want.

Even in matters of spirituality—where we struggle to attain some selflessness and to let go of attachment, ignorance and selfishness—even there we assert that what we think is wisdom is correct. We assert that what we think is compassion is the correct compassion. Even at the very peak of meditation, we may still have these same opinions, but we use the excuse that it’s for the benefit of all sentient beings. The endless struggle with the self creates this same problem over and over again.

Realizing the innate wisdom in every human being must begin with training the self. To break through ignorance requires breaking through ignorance in all of its forms.

Ignorance is not something that comes from others. Ignorance is something that comes from the projection of the self. In Buddhist philosophy, we speak a lot about illusion, which refers to how human ignorance, or the human mind, creates a lot of external phenomena, and how once that illusion is created, we see it as very solid and permanent.

In meditation, we break through that illusion of external phenomena by analyzing its dream-like nature. The first step is to understand how we create our own illusion—to see how this human mind works to create and solidify the world. If then we can let go of our attachment to that illusion, we will be free from pain, free from our own expectations, and free from our own hope and fear.

Until that level of awareness is achieved, however, every moment of your life, everything you use or consume, comes about from dependence on others. You sit on chairs which were made by other people. You wear clothes which were made by other people. You eat food cooked by other people, which in turn was grown by other people. As much as you would like to believe that you are your own person and have achieved things through your own efforts, the truth is that you are linked with all other beings.

This awareness of our interdependence leads directly to a sense of responsibility, and letting go of our self-grasping. Until we have achieved true selflessness, completely free from ignorance, we can begin in a smaller way by giving back to others what we have received in order to benefit others the best way we can.

Whether we call it compassion, love, caring or a Buddhist term such as bodhicitta, it means the same thing: that in your actions, speech and thought you put others before yourself. Some of us practice meditation to achieve this understanding; others are able to understand this without formal meditation. But no matter how good compassion sounds when you talk about it, it really comes down to practicing it. And no one understands you as well as you do. You need the wisdom to look inward to see what kind of a person you are.

Compassion means letting go of your self-identity, letting go of proving that identity all the time. Compassion means you work in the way the wind works, the sun works, or the air works. Take, for example, how the air assumes the shape of the room. The air does not say, “I will give you this breathing space provided you breathe the way I want.” Everyone enjoys the benefit of being able to breathe in the air. It is the same way with the sun: the sun does not stop shining when there are clouds in the sky.

In that same way, selflessness free from attachment, or compassion used with wisdom, means that one goes beyond the way you want to do things. If you can let go of making yourself the most important person in the world, there will be more capacity and spaciousness within you to work with others. You will find more space, time and energy within yourself.

For example, because of your good heart and kindness, you go to work in a hospital or a hospice. But you find that there are restrictions and you can’t do things the way you want to. You find yourself fighting against the system, and you reach the point where you are exhausted by your efforts. You conclude that your compassion is not being used in the best way.

What needs to be understood at this point, by applying wisdom to your compassion, is how much solidity you are bringing to the situation. Because you are holding on to how you think things should be, your feelings of frustration have overshadowed the creativity you might apply to the situation.

When we want to generate compassion, we ultimately end up working with our own emotions. We discover that any situation which overwhelms us does so to the degree that we solidify it. So without wisdom, compassion will not work. Wisdom is what enables us to be unconditioned and unbiased in our actions. With wisdom, we are not limited to a single cause or purpose; we do our best in a given situation, and then we move on.

Without wisdom, we too often become focused on one single problem or issue, which we think is the most important thing. But we live in a world that is populated by human beings, and as long as there are billions of human beings at work, there will not be a single thing that everyone accepts. There will be many things that are not done or said exactly the way that you like. If you look at different philosophies—whether Christianity, Buddhism, Islam or Hinduism—all of them arise from compassion. But I believe this one is correct, you believe that one is correct, someone else believes another is correct. Even with such a universal concept such as compassion, Buddhists feel it necessary to call it bodhicitta, Hindus feel it necessary to call it karuna, Christians feel it necessary to call it love. We stick to our own terms.

Wisdom teaches us that these differences should not cause us to pull back. They should not stop us from exercising our compassion with even greater strength and motivation. When the Buddha first gave teachings, how many people understood them? None. Because of that, he refused to give the teachings for a period of seven weeks, but then he began to teach again.

If the Buddha had refused to teach because no one listened to him, we would not have the Buddhist religion today. Similarly, if I insist that my words and my compassion have to be accepted by everyone, that really would be decadent wisdom. That would be wisdom for me and no one else. But real wisdom is letting go of the fixation on what I think is right, in order to see more clearly what is really helpful. Wisdom is the openness that lets us see what is essential and most effective, what truly needs to be practiced by all humanity. This is very necessary. This is something that we need to practice.

Wisdom requires that we work with the inner self, in order to act in accordance with the basic goodness we all have. And when we meet with obstacles or difficulties, we can use them to develop more inspiration, for if we sincerely value kindness and caring, that belief will give us the courage to overcome all obstacles. Wisdom is being able to use obstacles in this way. Otherwise, wisdom becomes some sort of museum piece, and we end up collecting philosophies, logics and teachings just like people who collect old furniture.

The wisdom of all the world’s traditions needs to be nurtured and cared for, not collected. Our innate wisdom needs to be developed, understood and sharpened. Each person must develop the quality of fearlessness so that wisdom can cut through their ignorance. The best wisdom is that which you have the courage to apply to yourself. Only then can you really understand human beings as they are. Then you can give yourself and others the chance to grow individually, to think as they want. All of us need space to develop.

We can all learn together to some degree, but the transformation of the world must begin within ourselves. Compassion and wisdom need to function together, combined with skillfulness, tolerance and patience. If we give ourselves the time and space to really observe our own thoughts and actions, good can come about. We give ourselves and others a lot of space in which to function properly; rather than act selfishly, we act selflessly.

Much of this is easy to say. Practice definitely begins with ourselves. When we look into a mirror, we usually know what we want to see, and so we see only what we want. To see what is really in the mirror, good or bad, and to work with what we see, is very important and very necessary. It takes some courage.

So think carefully, because times change. Every moment of life, we lose someone that we know. Time does not wait for anyone, and because there is change in every moment, frivolousness harms only ourselves. But if, in our short lives as human beings, we are able to be of some benefit to someone else, then that is the activity of an enlightened being.

The Ven. Khandro Rinpoche is one of the most prominent women teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. She is a holder of the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages of vajrayana Buddhism; her root teachers are the late Sixteenth Karmapa, the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and her father, Mindrolling Tichen Rinpoche. Fluent in English, Khandro Rinpoche teaches regularly in North America and Europe.

Compassion and Wisdom, Venerable Khandro Rinpoche, Shambhala Sun, July 2000.


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Wednesday, January 27, 2010
















  主持人:再一次感恩师父,更谢谢各位,阿弥陀佛。(净空法师•答香港参学同修之二十—关于禽流感、忧郁症、自杀答问 2005/11/4)









  所以古印度许许多多高级宗教统统修禅定,中国连道家也修禅定,儒家也讲定, “知止而后有定,定而后能静,静而后安,安而后虑”,它也讲这个。但是儒家讲的程度浅,不深,没有道家讲得深。讲得更深的就是佛家,佛家讲禅定,真叫甚深禅定,能把所有空间维次全部突破,它有理论,它有方法。只是现在学佛的人没去照做,还没有离开名闻利养,还没有离开贪瞋痴慢,那跟世俗人没有两样。这天台大师所讲的,这叫名字位人,有名无实,不是真修行,真修行的人不一样的。这些理事我们都要清楚、都要明了,然后你要依照这个方法去做,你有定有慧,什么问题都解决。世间人称为很复杂的问题,在佛法里看很简单,从理上讲“凡所有相,皆是虚妄;一切有为法,如梦幻泡影”。事有理无,相有性无,总不离因果。






  讲到这个地方,正好前天中国北方有个同学打电话给我,说有一位老居士(我现在还没问清楚是男的,是女的,不晓得),一生就是受持会集本,听我讲经的光盘,他很专,他就听《无量寿经》,就念阿弥陀佛,还学我念佛的腔调。我不是唱的,我念佛就是南无阿弥陀佛,南无阿弥陀佛,他就是用我这个声调去念,居然预知时至,坐着往生。他打电话告诉我,他说老居士已经坐了四十八个小时,现在还坐在那里。我听了这个事情,我说你有没有找新闻记者去看看?找电视台去拍拍这个新闻?他说去找了,找了之后,他说国内政策不报导这些,认为这个东西还是迷信。我说不要紧,你们自己晓得,录相机把他录下来,录下来送给我,我们自己华藏电视台可以播放。他告诉我录了。我说赶快去录,录了送过来。这说明什么?依照会集本修行,预知时至,坐着往生,这不是假的。反对的人你得要负因果责任,讲因果,各人因果各人负责。他做得对,做得错,都不必要干涉,各人因果各人负责,这是最正确的。(净空法师•答香港参学同修之二十—关于禽流感、忧郁症、自杀答问 2005/11/4)


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Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Dreamlike Song of Appearance-Emptiness

Appearances in samsara and nirvana, in all their variety,
Are appearance-emptiness, like a dream.

Appearances of enemies and friends, in all their variety,
Are appearance-emptiness, like a dream.

Appearances of joy and pain, in all their variety,
Are appearance-emptiness, like a dream.

Appearances of existence and nonexistence, in all their variety,
Are appearance-emptiness, like a dream.

Appearances of "it is" and "it is not," in all their variety,
Are appearance-emptiness, like a dream.

In sum, everything in samsara and nirvana
Is appearance-emptiness, like a dream.

When you know this, what you know is equality.
When you get used to this, equality is what you realize.
If you reflect well in this way,
That's contemplation on equality's meaning.

When you know appearance-emptiness, like an illusion,
You'll realize all the meanings of equality.

At Tekchok Ling in Nepal, Dechen Rangdrol spoke these verses extemporaneously to some Taiwanese disciples. [November 19, 2009.]

These verses were written down by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and translated by Tyler Dewar of the Nitartha Translation Network.

~End of Post~


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Saturday, January 23, 2010

To Love Abundantly: Sharon Salzberg’s Journey on the Path

How did Sharon Salzberg find loving-kindness — and in the darkest of times?

By Trish Deitch Rohrer

In 1971, a few days before eighteen-year-old Sharon Salzberg was meant to leave for India on an independent study salzberg-wordpressproject from State University at Buffalo where she was a student, she heard Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was giving a talk in town, and she went to see him. After his talk, Trungpa Rinpoche asked for written questions, and Salzberg, who’d never meditated before, had one. “I wrote out, ‘I’m leaving for India in a few days to study meditation,’” Salzberg remembers. “‘Could you suggest where I might go?’” Hers happened to be one of the questions that Trungpa Rinpoche picked out of the large pile which had accumulated in front of him. “He read it out loud,” she says, “and he was silent for a moment. And then he said, ‘I think you had perhaps best follow the pretense of accident.’”

Salzberg laughs now, sitting on her couch on a bright fall morning in Barre, Massachusetts. She lives just through the woods from the Insight Meditation Society’s retreat center, which she co-founded in 1976 with Jack Kornfield-now the founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center-and Joseph Goldstein, who lives next door to Salzberg on the property adjacent to IMS. Salzberg continues, “Trungpa Rinpoche gave me no map, no guidebook, no set of directions, no ‘Hey! My friend the lama is waiting to teach you on some mountaintop!’ There was nothing. And so I went to India, just like that.”

When asked if she knew what Chögyam Trungpa meant by “follow the pretense of accident,” she says, “No! It made no sense to me whatsoever! I thought, What does that mean?! But of course it’s exactly what unfolded. One thing led to another.”

When Salzberg was four, her father left her mother. When she was nine, her mother started hemorrhaging on the couch one night when only the two of them were home, and, though the little girl managed to call an ambulance before her mother bled to death, she died two weeks later. That night on the couch was the last time Salzberg saw her. A couple of years after that, Salzberg’s father-not the glamorous fellow she’d always imagined him-came to live with Salzberg and her grandmother, and six weeks later tried to kill himself with an overdose of pills. Eleven-year-old Sharon stood outside on the sidewalk as he was taken off in a stretcher to a psychiatric hospital. He never returned.

No one talked-ever-about any of what was happening to Salzberg: about all that profound loss and its attendant grief, shame, confusion and self-hatred. Maybe they did in whispers, but they stopped when she came into the room. So a consequence of the events of her childhood was that Salzberg felt left out of the flow of life. “Things were good for other people,” she says, “but not for me.”

About five years ago Salzberg, who had written two well- received books about Buddhism and was a teacher and inspiration to thousands of people, felt compelled to write a book about faith. Not many, however, were interested in supporting the project. Faith?! What does faith-a concept associated with theism-have to do with Buddhism? Still, Salzberg proceeded with her plan: she had a story to tell about faith in the context of her thirty-year experience as a Buddhist, and there was no way she could stop herself from doing it.

At sixteen Salzberg moved from Manhattan, where she lived with her grandmother, to Buffalo, and at seventeen, in an Asian studies class there, she heard the Buddha’s teachings for the first time.

“Here, finally,” she says, “was the Buddha saying what I longed for somebody to acknowledge: that there is suffering that exists.” Salzberg also heard the Buddha saying that no one is left out-not even Sharon Salzberg-of the possibility for the cessation of suffering. Something, in that moment, “ignited” in her.

“The Buddha’s vision of the possibility of what freedom could look like was…” Salzberg looks out the window, and says, “…tremendous.”

And so the sophomore in college, having it in her mind that Buddhist meditation was the one thing that could free her from her suffering, put together the independent study project to India, and following the pretense of accident as best she could, she set off to find a teacher.

In Salzberg’s kitchen at dinnertime, six friends are sitting around a long country table yakking away about not much, laughing, eating two kinds of ice cream and apple pie and expensive chocolates after a large meal of leftovers liberated from the industrial-sized, stainless steel refrigerators at IMS, where a handful of people are doing silent retreats.

Salzberg, though, is sitting in a chair just away from the table, in the corner, watching. Or maybe not watching-maybe she’s just being there-listening, kind of smiling, occasionally saying a few words and then falling silent again.

If you were angry, you might think she was angry; if you were sad, you might think she was sad; if you were lonely or bored or tired or scared or feeling above it all or deeply, deeply depressed or very happy, you might think she was that. Which means that Salzberg, doing nothing but quietly being there, is doing her work well: she’s being what Ram Dass says she is: a kalyanamitra, a “special friend,” a mirror that shows you-if you care to take a look on a dark Saturday night-your mind.

“This is not a drama queen,” says Michele Bohana, director of the Institute of Asian Democracy in Washington, D.C. “She has tremendous compassion, she’s extremely generous, she is a fabulous teacher, she has total commitment to the dharma, she’s extremely humble and there’s nothing fancy-schmancy about her-she’s very down to earth.” Bohana laughs. “Us American women?” she says, “We’re all very hyper. We’re all very, ‘Deadline, deadline, can’t talk now, call me back!’ Right? Well, she’s, ‘Gotta go practice.’ Quite the difference.”

Sunanda Markus, a consultant for Mirabai Bush’s Center for Contemplative Mind and Society, says, “She’s one of those people whose love of the dharma rings throughout every cell of her body. And she has an understanding that the dharma is really what has import. And that’s why she’s here. And why she went to India when she was eighteen. You might think I’m completely nuts,” Markus says, “but I actually believe that she has done many lifetimes of practice and is an incredibly evolved person.”

In Faith, Salzberg tells the story of arriving in Bodh-gaya in ‘71 and sitting next to a monk under the Bodhi tree where the Buddha was enlightened. The monk turned out to be one of the Dalai Lama’s teachers, Khunu Rinpoche.

“As I sat next to Khunu Rinpoche,” she writes, “I sensed deep within me the possibility of rising above the circumstances of my childhood, of defining myself by something other than my family’s painful struggles and its hardened tone of defeat. I recalled the resignation in my father’s eyes at the constraints that governed his life. The boundary of his autonomy was the decision about where to have lunch if someone took him out of the hospital on a pass. With a surge of conviction, I thought, But I am here, and I can learn to be truly free. I felt as if nothing and no one could take away the joy of that prospect.”

Salzberg traveled around India for a while in 1971, but couldn’t find anyone to teach her how to meditate. Finally, at a yoga conference she’d stumbled upon, she heard about a ten-day retreat in Bodh-gaya, led by a S.N. Goenka of Burma, who had started doing Vipassana meditation to cure his migraines. It was at this first retreat that Salzberg met a group of people who would become her longtime colleagues and friends: Joseph Goldstein, Ram Dass, Daniel Goleman, Mirabai Bush and Krishna Das.

“I had a great sense of discovery,” she says, “and homecoming and rightness at being there. As difficult as it was to do-I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t sit still, and a lot of uncomfortable feelings started to surface-I loved it. It was like falling in love. And, in a way, I’ve never veered from that. I do different practices or I approach the dharma in a different way, but that feeling hasn’t faded.

“I was working against so much unhappiness,” she says of her early practice, “trying to come out of it, that it was all me-me-me, all the way.” She laughs. “Perhaps it would have been healing to be able to reach out to help others, but I didn’t have it in me, even though I tried practicing generosity a lot.”

Salzberg stayed in India for a year and a half that trip, remaining in Bodh-gaya to do additional retreats with Goenka, and then moving on to meet and study with Tibetan teachers Kalu Rinpoche and the 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje. But there was something in the simplicity of the Theravadan tradition of mindfulness practice that Salzberg was drawn back to. She was drawn back to Vipassana meditation, and a practice that Goenka introduced only at the end of Salzberg’s first retreat: metta-loving-kindness practice.

One thing that makes Salzberg different from many other Western students who sat at the feet of great Indian, Tibetan and Southeast Asian Buddhist teachers in the early 1970’s and brought what they taught back home, is that Salzberg embodies a very particular piece of the dharma puzzle. She stresses one thing: that in order to be free from suffering-and therefore to be able to give abundantly to others-one must endeavor to love oneself abundantly. Even for people whose lives have been less painful than Salzberg’s, the Buddha’s teachings on loving-kindness work to connect a person to their own heart and the hearts of all other beings without exception.

The day Salzberg sat under the Bodhi tree, she made a vow to herself: she vowed to learn to love as the Buddha loved. “Loving as the Buddha loved of course meant being able to love oneself as well,” she says in her living room. “It’s not really a question of, ‘May all sentient beings be free from suffering,’” she laughs, “‘-except for me.’ It has to include oneself.” The question was how to do that.

Salzberg met two female teachers in India during that first trip who became examples to her of people who had transformed their misfortune into abundant generosity and love. The first teacher was Dipa Ma, a tiny Indian housewife living with her daughter in the slums of Calcutta. Dipa Ma had gotten so sick she nearly died of grief after losing her husband and two of her three children. According to Salzberg, when someone told Dipa Ma that meditation might save her life, she crawled-because that’s the best she could do-up the steps of the meditation center to receive instruction. Salzberg related to this story-to the way Dipa Ma used her pain as motivation to liberate herself, and then to liberate others who suffer. The intensity of Dipa Ma’s motivation, Salzberg understood, was the key.

“Dipa Ma modeled the ability to transform one’s suffering-even immense suffering-into loving compassion.” Salzberg looks at you impishly-”I always knew I wanted to be that kind of person when I grew up.”

Then Salzberg tells the story of meeting a friend of Dipa Ma’s-another female Indian teacher whose father-in-law had forbidden her to meditate. “I asked her, ‘How did you accomplish what you needed to accomplish to be a teacher?’ and she said, ‘I was very mindful when I stirred the rice.’” Salzberg looks at you with soft green eyes, raises her eyebrows and smiles. She says, “I think we have the ability to seize that possibility for ourselves, and we don’t do it.”

Salzberg came back to the States in 1974, finished school, and-because Dipa Ma told her to, saying that Salzberg “really understood suffering”-she helped Joseph Goldstein teach a class in meditation at the Naropa Institute, which had just opened its doors in Boulder, Colorado. Though Salzberg was practicing, and now beginning to teach-and even starting to lead retreats-she was still incredibly hard on herself, full of self-judgment, “straining,” she says, all the time to change herself, be better, get somewhere with her practice. Ram Dass says of Salzberg in those years, “She was quite lost.”

Ram Dass agrees, however, with others who say that Salzberg must have built up stores of merit in other lifetimes, because, though lost, straining, self-critical and at first all for herself, she worked diligently to stay on a difficult path that would eventually have a huge impact on a lot of people. When she was only 23, she and Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, joining with a group of friends, bought, with very little money, an old building from the Catholic Diocese, and started the now well-respected and very successful Insight Meditation Society.

It wasn’t until 1984 that Salzberg and Goldstein met Sayadaw U Pandita, the Theravadan teacher from Burma who would turn Salzberg’s life around once again. U Pandita had a reputation for being very, very difficult.

“Oh, boy-he was a tough guy,” says Ram Dass, who met U Pandita in Burma during an early retreat with Salzberg and Goldstein. Ram Dass laughs. “I was happy to leave there. I felt like I escaped.” Ram Dass says it was at this time, 1985, that Salzberg started doing metta intensively. “I watched her change,” he says. “She went from being in her mind, to being very soft, loving, sensual, actually. Because she was coming into herself.”

Between 1985 and 1991, U Pandita worked with Salzberg on two practices: mindfulness practice and loving-kindness practice. Though she’d been meditating for fourteen years, and had been at IMS for nine, it was a new beginning.

“I was seeing him six days a week when on intensive retreat,” Salzberg says, “and I’d go in for an interview, and describe something, and he’d say, ‘Well, in the beginning it can be like that,’ and I’d think, ‘I’m not a beginner!’” She laughs. “And I’d come in the next day and describe something completely different and he’d say, ‘Oh, in the beginning it can be like that.’ You know?!” Salzberg says, and, feigning infuriation, looks at you, “‘I’m not a beginner!’ And it went on that way for a very long time,” she says, “until I got it: It’s good to be a beginner. It’s good not to have all these ideas-‘I shouldn’t experience this, I should be doing more of that.’ It’s good to just see what’s there, to say, ‘Wow! Look at that!’”

One of the resident teachers at IMS, Amy Schmidt, is laughing about Salzberg. She’s remembering the time U Pandita came to IMS and made Salzberg slow down her mindfulness meditation to such a snail’s pace that sometimes she had to leave the shrine room two hours before lunch, in order to make it the fifty or so steps to the kitchen in time for the meal.

Salzberg rolls her eyes when she talks about this. “And there was Joseph,” she says, “walking around at his normal pace. I thought, ‘Why isn’t anybody doing this correctly but me?’”

U Pandita, though, obviously had something in mind for Salzberg. Again, he had her come in six days a week for interviews. The idea was that she would write down something she noticed about one meditation period per day, and one walking meditation.

“I’d go in there,” Salzberg says, “and before I could read my notes to describe my sitting and my walking, he’d say, ‘What did you experience when you washed your face?’ Which was nothing, because I hadn’t paid the least bit of attention to that.” Salzberg shakes her head. “And that was my interview. So I’d leave and I’d sit and walk and wash my face as mindfully as I could-I’d feel my hands in the water, and the water on my face-and I’d go in the next day and he’d say, ‘Tell me everything you noticed when you drank your cup of tea.’ Which was nothing.” Salzberg smiles, remembering.

Sometimes Salzberg would come into the room and bow to U Pandita and her hair would fall in her face and she’d brush it away with her hand and he’d say, “Did you note that?” “And I’d say, ‘No,’ and I wouldn’t get to read my sitting and walking notes that day either.” Salzberg called this experience the “torment of continuity,” but after a while she understood something more: where before she’d thought that meditation was what took place inside the shrine room, now she began to see that there was no difference between meditation and non-meditation. “We all have a tendency,” she says, “to think the real stuff happens in the meditation hall, and that if you’re drinking a cup of tea in the dining room and you get lost in a fantasy, the thing to do is throw the cup in the dishwasher and run back into the meditation hall to regroup. Well, that tendency for me was gone.

“The phrase that kept coming up in my mind during that retreat,” she says, “was from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, in which Suzuki Roshi says something like, ‘We practice not to attain buddhanature, but to express it.’ Finally I could just say, ‘O.K., I’m just expressing this right now, and right now, and right now.”

You walk with Salzberg through the woods from her house to IMS, and she just walks, hands in coat pockets, eyes on the ground. You take a stroll with her on a country road nearby, past horses, trees and a pond, and she just strolls. She’s not unfriendly-she tells stories and answers questions and smiles and laughs a lot-but she’s not busy building herself up, or entertaining you. The only thing you can do around her is let go of all expectation that something has to happen, that you have to be someone, that she has to respond as someone else.

In loving-kindness practice, a practitioner begins with him or herself, wishing four things: may I be free from danger, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I live with ease. The practitioner then moves on to wish a “benefactor”-someone who has cared for them-the same four things. Then they make those aspirations for a good friend, then a neutral person-a person they normally ignore, like the counter person at the dry cleaner-then a difficult person, and then all beings without exception. If one were doing a metta retreat, one would do this practice using the same people over and over again.

“We tend to associate love or loving-kindness with a feeling or emotion,” Salzberg says, “but I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s something deeper-it’s really about being able to connect rather than exclude.”

Salzberg tells the story of the time when Joseph Goldstein went to see the 16th Karmapa in Sikkim. “He said that the Karmapa greeted his arrival as though it was just about the most important thing that had ever happened in his life. Which one guesses it was really not. And he did that not through great pomp and circumstance, but through an absolute fullness and completeness of attention. The presence Joseph felt was the feeling of being completely loved.”

Salzberg goes on: “And when Joseph told me this story, I felt quite regretful about all the encounters that I have where I’m kind of half there and half thinking about the next person I need to talk to, or the phone call I need to make. So the first thing is that gathering of energy-when I feel like my energy is somewhere else, I go…” here Salzberg looks at you gently, but with full attention. “Here we are,” she says.

Salzberg does not seem like the mushy type. She is not, as she puts it, “sweet and feeble-minded,” qualities people often think of when they hear the word “love.” When she is there with you, she is simply there, with no pretension, no elaboration, no show. When you e-mail her, she e-mails you right back. When you call her-and she gets dozens of calls a day-she returns the call.

Talking about loving-kindness practice, she says, “I really like the ‘neutral person’ part of the practice a lot. Because here’s this person that you don’t really know, you don’t have a story about them, you don’t know about their sorrows or their joys. But you pay attention to them every day, in effect, because you’re using them as an object of meditation, and wishing them well. And by virtue of the fact that you’re paying attention to somebody rather than overlooking them or ignoring them-suddenly there’s this real caring.

“A lot of the really charming stories of loving-kindness practice at IMS come out of that phase. People will be sitting and sitting and sitting and they’ll have a neutral person who’s also a meditator on retreat and they’ll say, ‘I don’t feel anything. I’m not doing this right. I’m not good at this.’ And one day I’ll get a note saying, ‘My neutral person didn’t show up at breakfast-could you please go up and check on them?’” Salzberg laughs. “You know? Like, ‘Yeah, right-your neutral person wants me banging on their door.’” Salzberg laughs again.

Salzberg did loving-kindness practice for four years with U Pandita, and then he wanted her to stop. Metta is not the main practice, he said, mindfulness is: metta will do many things, but it won’t necessarily enhance your understanding of emptiness. “It’s not,” Salzberg says, “a liberating practice.”

On retreat with U Pandita in Australia in the late eighties, then, Salzberg, who at this point thought she knew her mind, went back to mindfulness practice-and fell into a hole: feelings about her mother’s death she thought she’d worked through resurfaced. Miserable, she once again had to reweave the threads of connection from a lonely, desolate place. As a result, her compassion grew, first for herself, and then for everyone else.

Many of her friends can describe the change. Joseph Goldstein says, “When Sharon was just starting out, she was quite an unusual yogi-it was clear that there was wisdom there. But her teaching abilities weren’t clear at that time. Now, though, she has the confidence, and is wonderfully articulate, so the wisdom really shines through.”

Salzberg was riding in an elevator in a New York City hotel a few years ago, when she realized that she was carrying her very heavy suitcase in her arms. “I had the brilliant thought,” she says, “-‘Why not put it down, and let the elevator carry it?’” That’s what it’s like for Salzberg, finally: every moment now there’s another chance to let go-not to strain to be something better, not to strive to get over anything, not to practice life in any kind of harsh, judgmental, demanding or controlling way-but to just let go, moment after moment after moment. And in that moment of letting go is kindness.

“Even if I’m teaching people just to be with the breath,” she says, “my emphasis is that the critical moment in the practice is the moment we realize we’ve been distracted. We have a phenomenal ability to begin again-when we’ve gone off somewhere, we can begin again. And in that moment of beginning again, we can be practicing loving-kindness and forgiveness and patience and letting go. That was always taught to me,” she says, “but I couldn’t hear it. So maybe my evolution has been my ability to hear those words.”

In 1985, Salzberg and Goldstein were in Nepal together, when someone asked them if they’d like to go meet the great Tibetan teacher Dilgo Khentsye Rinpoche. “We were in Bodhnath, just hanging around,” Salzberg says, “and so we said, ‘Yeah, yeah,’ you know, and we kind of went in and there he was in his state of half undress. He was eating lunch, or something like that. It was just the two of us and a translator and him, and he said, ‘Do you have anything you want to ask me?’ And we said, ‘No.’” Salzberg rocks backwards on the couch and laughs hard. “And he burst out laughing,” she says, “like, ‘You don’t know what you’re missing, you dunces!’ Six years later we were studying with Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and would have done anything to be in a room with Khentsye Rinpoche to ask him questions.”

Salzberg often tells these kind of self-deprecating stories, and you end up feeling great affection for her-she seems to have made as many mistakes as you, only she’s learned to laugh about them, tossing them off as teachings on how to give oneself a break.

Around 1991, twenty years after her first trip to India-and two years after she’d grappled, again, with the agony she felt at her mother’s death-Salzberg, still following the pretense of accident, “conceived an interest in Dzogchen”-the Tibetan Vajrayana practice of the Nyingma school. “It’s hard to even describe this,” she says, “but it was like a kind of craving, a yearning that came up. Some friends came by-students of Dilgo Khentsye Rinpoche’s-and I said, ‘Can you teach me?’ and of course they couldn’t.” She laughs. “‘Can you tell me something about it?’” she remembers saying then, “‘No.’” She laughs again. “And then Surya came.”

Salzberg asked Western Buddhist teacher Surya Das to give her some Dzogchen teachings, but he said it’d be better if he introduced Salzberg to his teachers. And that’s when she went to Nepal to meet Tulku Urgyen,and eventually to Paris where she met the late Nyoshul Khen, called “Khenpo” by his students.

Salzberg “fell in love” with Khenpo. She felt devoted to him, but it was a different kind of devotion than the one she felt for her earlier teachers. With Goenka, Dipa Ma and U Pandita, Salzberg felt a kind of dependency-after all, they were teaching very fundamental things, baby steps to being fully human. But Nyoshul Khen, up until his death in 2000, kept turning Salzberg’s attention to something she was overlooking-not his buddhanature, but hers.

“I had a different experience with him,” Salzberg says, “because I was a much more mature being at that point. I’d always been very devoted to my teachers. But with them the ground of my own self-respect was not that strong yet.”

In the last few months of Nyoshul Khen’s life, Salzberg kept looking to him as the person with the answers, with the strength, with the great love and wisdom. And he kept pointing her to herself for those things. “It turns out,” she says, “we look at the Buddha to see ourselves. And we look at ourselves, not to see ourselves as separate and more wonderful than anybody else.” She laughs. “But we look at ourselves and basically see everybody.”

Finally, after over thirty years of intense practice, of traveling all over the world and studying with what she calls an “ever-changing pantheon of teachers,” Salzberg allowed her teacher to show her what she’d vowed to learn under the Bodhi tree: faith in herself, and in her ability to love.

“From the point of view of the Buddhist teaching,” she says, “we all have that capacity to love. No experience of suffering, of loneliness or of unlovability we may have gone through or may yet go through can ever destroy that capacity. And that faith is the bedrock of loving-kindness. It’s faith in one’s buddhanature, in one’s awareness and the potential to love. It’s faith in an interconnected universe.”

Salzberg doesn’t think, at all, that this is the end of her path.

“I have definitely remade my life,” she says. “I’ve re-parented myself with my teachers, and I’ve found a home in the dharma, and have an amazing community of friends. I have practiced. But like any person, I’m not completely free. I do have faith, though, that any of us can be.”

Trish Deitch Rohrer is the former Executive Editor of Shambhala Sun.

Originally published in our January 2003 issue.


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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons - The Fourth Lesson: The Benefit of the Virtue of Humility

The Fourth Lesson: The Benefit of the Virtue of Humility

Narrator: The third lesson taught us the ways to accumulate kind deeds. Naturally, it would be best if people would practice kindness, but as humans, we are social beings. It is impossible not to encounter others; therefore, it is important to know the ways to improve ourselves when interacting with others.

The best way to do this is to follow the virtue of humility. Humble people in society receive support and trust from the public. If they understand the virtue of humility, they also will understand the importance of constant self-improvement. This constant self-improvement not only includes the search for higher knowledge, but also encompasses the need to be more humane, to perform better in daily duties and to improve communication with friends.

Many benefits and rewards result from behaving with an understanding of humility. This lesson focuses on the benefits of virtue and humility, proven by Liao-Fan’s own experiences. A people will greatly benefit if they can thoroughly contemplate and understand these teachings.

Liao-Fan: In The I Ching/Book of Change, the hexagram of Humility stated…

Narrator: "The law of heaven takes from those who are arrogant and benefits those who are humble. The law of earth will not allow those who are conceited or self-content to always remain that way, but will bring change to them. The humble will not wither, but shall be replenished, just as flowing water fills lower places on the ground as it passes by. The law of spirits and gods brings harm to those who are arrogant and good fortune to those who are humble. Even the laws of people despise the arrogant and like the humble."

Liao-Fan: Therefore, earth, spirits, heaven, gods and people all prefer humility to arrogance. In The I Ching, Book of Change, the sixty-four hexagrams talk about the constant changes and interactions of heaven and earth, yin and yang. The book teaches a person how to become more humane. Every hexagram contains both good and bad outcomes.

The bad outcomes of a hexagram warn people to stop doing misdeeds and to practice kind deeds. The good outcomes of a hexagram encourage people to diligently improve themselves and strive to be better. Only the Humility hexagram contains all good outcomes and no bad outcomes. The Chinese Book of History has also said…

Narrator: "One’s arrogance will bring one harm; humility will bring one benefit."

Liao-Fan: I often went to take the exams accompanied by others and every time I would meet scholars who were very poor. I noticed that before they succeeded in passing the exams and became prosperous, their faces showed such humility, peace and harmony that I felt I could almost hold that quality in my hands.

Several years ago, I took my imperial exam in Beijing. Among the ten applicants from my village, Ching-Yu Ding was the youngest and extremely humble. I told one of the applicants, Jin-Po Fay, that this young man would definitely pass the exam this year. Jin-Po Fay asked…

Jin-Po: How can you tell?

Liao-Fan: I said, "Only those who are humble are qualified to receive good fortune. My friend, look at the ten of us; is there anyone as honest, generous and never tries to come in first, as Ching-Yu? Do you see anyone who is always respectful, tolerant, careful and humble like Ching-Yu? Do you see anyone like Ching-Yu, who, when insulted, does not talk back, or who, when slandered, does not argue? Any person who can achieve such a level of humility will receive protection from the earth, spirits and heavens. There is no reason he will not become prosperous."

Narrator: Sure enough, when the test results came out, Ching-Yu Ding passed.

Liao-Fan: One year in Beijing, I was staying with my childhood friend, Kai-Zhi Fung. I noticed that he always carried himself in a humble way with a kind and accommodating appearance. He was not a bit arrogant, which was an immense change from his childhood ways. Kai-Zhi had a friend named Ji-Yen Li who was straightforward and honest. Ji-Yen often scolded him on his mistakes, but Kai-Zhi always accepted the accusations calmly without talking back.

I told him, "Just as there are signs that warn of coming misfortune, we can see that prosperity comes to those who have cultivated the cause for it. Heaven will help those whose hearts are humble. You, my friend, will definitely pass the imperial examination this year!" Later, he indeed passed the exam.

There was a young man from Santong Province named Yu-Fong Zhou who passed the first level of imperial examinations before he was even twenty. Unfortunately, try as he might, he could not pass the succeeding exams. When his father was moved to another post in the government, Yu-Fong went with him, and came to greatly admire a well-known scholar in that village named Min-Wu Chian.

Yu-Fong brought his essays to this man. He had no idea that Mr. Chian would pick up his calligraphy brush and blot out his entire essay. Not only was Yu-Fong not angry, he sincerely accepted all of Mr. Chian’s corrections and immediately changed his paper accordingly.

Narrator: A young man who could be that humble and who showed such willingness to improve himself was very rare indeed. The following year, Yu-Fong passed the imperial examination.

Liao-Fan: One year, I went to the Capital to pay my respects to the Emperor. I met a scholar named Jian-Suo Hsia who had all the qualities of a great man without a trace of arrogance. I felt the intense aura of his virtue and humility all about him.

When I returned home, I told my friend, "When heaven wants a person to prosper, it will first bestow him with wisdom. Wisdom can make a person honest and well disciplined. Heaven has already bestowed Jian-Suo with wisdom, or he could not be that gentle, kind and good. Surely, heaven will now make him prosperous." Sure enough, when the test results came out, Jian-Suo had passed the exam.

There was a scholar named Wei-Yan Chang from Jiangying who was very learned and wrote good essays. He was also very well known among many scholars. One year he took his exam at Nanjing and stayed at a Taoist temple.

When the results were posted, he found that he had not passed the exam. He became furious and loudly accused the examiner of being blind for not recognizing his obvious talents. At that time, a Taoist monk stood by smiling and Wei-Yan immediately directed his anger towards the monk. The monk said…

Monk: Your essay must not be good!

Liao-Fan: Wei-Yan got even angrier.

Wei-Yan: How do you know it is not good when you have not even read it?

Monk: I often hear people say that the most important element in writing good essays is a peaceful heart and harmonious temperament. Your loud and angry accusations just now clearly show that your mind is certainly not at peace and your temperament is violent. How could you possibly write good essays?

Liao-Fan: Wei-Yan acceded to the Taoist monk’s words and in turn asked him for his advice. The monk said…

Monk: Whether you pass or not depends on your fate. If you are destined not to pass, then no matter how good your paper is, you will still fail the exam. You yourself will have to make a few changes!

Wei-Yan: How can I change something that is predestined?

Monk: Though the power to form your destiny lies in the heavens, the right to recreate it is in yourself. As long as you are willing to do kind deeds and cultivate hidden virtues, you will receive what you ask for.

Wei-Yan: I am only a poor scholar. What good deeds can I possibly do?

Monk: Practicing kind deeds and accumulating hidden virtues all stem from the heart. As long as you constantly harbor the intent to practice kindness and accumulate virtues, your merits will be infinite and boundless! Take the virtue of humility for example, it does not cost anything; why can’t you be humble and reflect on your own essay instead of blaming the examiner for being unfair?

Liao-Fan: Wei-Yan Chang listened to the Taoist monk and from then on, suppressed his arrogant ways. He became very mindful of his own actions and tried not to make mistakes. Everyday he put forth additional effort to do more good deeds and accumulate more merits.

Three years later, he dreamed one night that he entered a very tall house and saw a book that contained all the names of the applicants who passed the exam that year. He saw many blank lines. Unable to understand what it meant, he asked the person next to him…

Wei-Yan: What is this?

Person: This book contains all the names of the applicants who passed the exam this year.

Wei-Yan: Why does it have so many blank lines?

Person: The spirits of the underworld check on the applicants every three years. Only the names of those who practice kind deeds and do not make mistakes are allowed to appear in this book. The blank lines used to bear the names of those who were supposed to pass the exam, but due to their recent offenses, their names have been erased.

Liao-Fan: Then, pointing to a line, the person said…

Person: Ah-ha, for the past three years you have been very careful and have exerted such self-control that you have not made any mistakes. Perhaps you should fill this blank. I hope you will cherish this opportunity and take care not to make any mistakes!

Narrator: Sure enough, Wei-Yan passed the exam that year and placed 105th.

Liao-Fan: From the examples given above, we know that spirits and gods are always watching our behavior.

Narrator: Therefore, we must immediately do whatever is beneficial to others and avoid doing whatever is violent, dangerous or harmful to others. These are all things I can decide for myself. As long as I harbor good intentions; refrain from wrongdoings; do not offend the earth, spirits, heavens, and gods; humble myself; am tolerant and not arrogant; then the earth, spirits, heavens and gods will constantly have compassion for me. Only then will I have a foundation for my future prosperity.

Those who are full of conceit are definitely not destined to be great. Even if they do prosper, they will not be able to enjoy their good fortune for long. Intelligent people would definitely not make themselves small and narrow-minded and refuse the good fortune they are entitled to.

Narrator: Besides, those who are humble always increase their opportunities to learn. If a person were not humble, who would want to teach him or her? In addition, humble people are always willing to learn the strengths of others. When others perform good deeds, humble people will learn and follow their examples. In this way, the kind deeds that humble people can accomplish are boundless! For those who wish to cultivate and improve upon their virtues, they especially, cannot do without the virtue of humility.

Liao-Fan: The ancients had and an old saying…

Narrator: "Those who have their hearts set on attaining success and fame, will surely attain success and fame. Those who have their hearts set on attaining wealth and position, will surely attain wealth and position."

Liao-Fan: A person who has great and far-reaching goals is like a tree having roots. A tree with roots will eventually sprout into branches, leaves and flowers. A person who has set down great and far reaching goals must be humble in every thought and try to relieve another’s burden even if the occurrence is as insignificant as a speck of dust.

Narrator: If one can reach this level of humility, one will naturally touch the hearts of earth and heaven.

Liao-Fan: Furthermore, I am the creator of my own prosperity; if I truly want to create it, I will certainly succeed. Look at the applicants who sought fame and wealth. In the beginning, they did not harbor a sincere heart; it was only a passing notion. When they fancied it, they sought it. When their interest dropped, they stopped. Mencius once told Emperor Shuan Chi…

Mencius: Your Highness has a love for music. However, your love for music is only a personal pleasure. If you can expand from the heart, which seeks personal happiness to that of sharing happiness with all your subjects and make them just as happy as you are, then, surely the nation is bound to prosper!

Liao-Fan: I think it is the same for those who are seeking to improve their lives by changing their destiny. I, for example wanted to pass the imperial exams. If people can expand the heart to diligently do kind deeds, accumulate merits, and put forth their best efforts into character improvement, then both destiny and prosperity will be theirs to create.

(Article source: http://www.buddhanet.net/l4lesson.htm)

First Lesson
Second Lesson
Third Lesson
Fourth Lesson


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Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons -The Third Lesson: The Way to Cultivate Kindness

Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons -The Third Lesson: The Way to Cultivate Kindness

Narrator: The previous chapter spoke about the many ways to correct our faults in this present life, naturally assuring that a good life will not become a bad one. However, we are still unable to transform a bad life into a good one. Though we may be good and virtuous in this life, we do not know what offenses we have committed in past lives. The retribution for past misdeeds still has to be undergone. Therefore, in order to change a bad life into a good life, we not only have to reform our faults, but also have to practice all forms of kindness and build upon our virtues.

Only in this way can we rid ourselves of the karma created in the past. Once the number of our kind deeds accumulates, our bad life will naturally turn into a good life; thus, the practice of changing destiny can be proven!

Liao-Fan: The I Ching, Book of Change states…

Narrator: "Families who perform kind deeds will accumulate good fortune, which can outlast many generations."

Liao-Fan: Let me give an example. Once there was a family by the name of Yen. Before they agreed to give their daughter in marriage to the man whom later became Confucius’ father, they looked into the past deeds of the family. After finding the family to be one that practiced kindness and accumulated virtues, the Yen family felt assured that their daughter would be marrying into a family that would be prosperous with outstanding descendants. Sure enough, their daughter later gave birth to Confucius.

Liao-Fan: Confucius had once praised Shwun, an emperor of early China, on his filial piety, saying…

Confucius: Due to his great filial piety, Shwun and his ancestors will be known and respected by others. His offspring will be prominent for many, many generations.

Liao-Fan: These sayings were later proven true by history. Now I will show in some true stories that merits can be attained through performing kind deeds.

In Fukien province, there was a prominent man named Rong Yang who held a position in the imperial court as the Emperor’s teacher. His ancestors were boat people who made a living by helping people cross the river. Once, there was a storm, which lasted so long that fierce flooding washed away all the people’s houses. People, animals and goods were carried down river by the current.

Other boaters took advantage of the situation and strove to collect the floating goods. Only Rong Yang’s grandfather and great grandfather took interest in rescuing the drowning people. They did not take any of the goods that floated by. The other boaters all laughed and thought them to be very stupid. Later, when Rong Yang’s father was born, the Yang family gradually became wealthy. One day a saint disguised as a Taoist monk came to the Yang family.

Taoist Monk: Your ancestors have accumulated much merit; your offspring should enjoy wealth and prominence. There is a special place where you can build your ancestral tomb.

Liao-Fan: So they followed the Taoist’s suggestion and shortly after, Rong Yang was born. Rong Yang passed the imperial examination when he was only twenty years old and later received imperial appointments.

Narrator: The emperor even bestowed his grandfather and great grandfather with the same imperial honors. His descendants are still very prominent today.

Liao-Fan: Zi-Cheng Yang from the province of Ninpo, Chehkiang province is another example. Zi-Cheng worked as a member of the staff of the provincial courthouse. He was a kind, humane and law-abiding man. Once, the provincial magistrate punished a criminal by beating him until his blood spilled out onto the ground. The magistrate’s anger did not subside and as he was about to continue, Zi-Cheng knelt and pleaded with him to stop beating the prisoner. The magistrate said…

Magistrate: It is all right for you to plead, but how can I not be angry when this person has broken the law!

Zi-Cheng: When even those in government positions of prestige and power are corrupted and do not follow the Proper Path, how can one expect ordinary people to abide by regulations and laws? In addition, extreme beating can force an innocent suspect to plead guilty. Thus in a case like this we should be more understanding.

Liao-Fan: The magistrate was touched by Zi-Cheng’s speech and ceased the beating. Although Zi-Cheng came from a very poor family, he never took any bribes. If the prisoners were short of food, he would always take food from his own home even if it meant going hungry himself. This practice of compassion never ceased and eventually Zi-Cheng had two sons.

Narrator: The elder’s name was Shou-Chen and the younger was named Shou-Zi. Both sons became very prominent and held important government positions. Even the descendants of the Yang family remained prominent for a long time as well.

Liao-Fan: Here is another true story that happened during the Ming Dynasty. Once, an organization of bandits appeared in Fukien Province. The Emperor appointed General Hsieh to lead the imperial army to pacify them. General Hsieh wanted to make sure that innocents were not accidentally killed in the hunt for bandits.

Therefore, he managed to attain a list of those who belonged to the organization and commanded that a white flag be given secretly to those who did not belong with the bandits. They were told to place the flag on their door when the imperial army came to town and the soldiers were ordered not to harm the innocent. With this one thought of kindness, General Hsieh saved tens of thousands of people from being killed.

Narrator: Later, his son Chian Hsieh achieved first place in the imperial exams and later became an advisor to the emperor. His grandson Pei Hsieh also achieved high placement in the exams.

Liao-Fan: Another example is the Lin family from Fukien. Among their ancestors was an old lady who was very generous. Everyday she made rice balls to give to the poor and always gave as many as they asked for.

There was a Taoist monk who came everyday for three years and each time would ask for six or seven rice balls. The old lady always granted his request and never expressed any displeasure. The Taoist monk, who was actually a heavenly being who had come to test the depth of her kind heart, realized the deep sincerity of this woman’s kindness and said…

Taoist Monk: I have eaten your rice balls for three years with nothing to show my gratitude in return. Perhaps I can help you in this way; on the land behind your house, there is a good place where you can build the ancestral grave. If you are placed there in the future, the number of your descendants who will have imperial appointments will be equivalent to the number of seeds in a pound of sesame seeds.

Liao-Fan: When the old lady passed away, the Lin family followed the heavenly being’s suggestion and buried her at the designated place. The first generation after that, nine men passed the imperial exams and it continued that way for every succeeding generation.

Another example comes from the father of an imperial historian whose name was Chi Feng. One winter many years ago, Chi Feng’s father was on his way to school when he encountered a person frozen in the snow. Finding the man still breathing, he quickly took off his coat to wrap around the frozen man. He carried him back home and revived him. That night he dreamed of a heavenly being who told him…

Heavenly being: You helped the dying man out of utter sincerity, this is a great virtue. I will bring the famous General Han-Chi of the Sung Dynasty to be reborn as your son.

Liao-Fan: Later the child was born and his nickname was Chi. Another example is of Ta-Jo Ying, the imperial secretary who lived in Taichou. When he was young, he used to study in remote mountain areas. At night, he often heard the sounds of ghosts and spirits but he never feared them. One day he heard a ghost say happily to another ghost…

First ghost: Ha Ha! There is a village woman whose husband left home 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 here and will replace me so I can be reborn. Ha Ha!

Narrator: The souls of those who commit suicide have to wait for another to die at the same place they did in order to leave the ghost realm and attain rebirth at a higher level.

Liao-Fan: Mr. Ying heard this and immediately set out to sell his parcel of land. He attained four lians of silver, made up a letter from the daughter-in-law’s husband and sent it to her home along with the silver. The father-in-law noticed that the letter was not in his son’s handwriting, but examined the silver and said…

Father-in-law: The letter may be a fake, but the silver’s not. Who would send us this much money? Perhaps our son is truly alive and well, and we should not force our daughter-in-law to remarry.

Liao-Fan: Therefore the daughter-in-law did not commit suicide and her husband returned home after all. Mr. Ying heard the ghosts converse again…

First ghost: Hah! Originally I was able to leave this place for rebirth, but Mr. Ying messed up my chance!

Second ghost: Why don’t you inflict some harm on him?

First ghost: No, I cannot. The gods have recognized his goodness and virtue and he is going to receive a prominent position in the future. How can I harm him?

Liao-Fan: Mr. Ying heard this and became even more diligent in practicing kindness and accumulating merits. Whenever there was a famine, he would use his own money to buy food for the poor and needy and was always eager to help those in emergencies. When things did not go his way, he always reflected within himself rather than complain of the outside conditions. Even today, his descendants are still very prominent.

There was another person, Feng-Chu Hsu, who lived in Changso, Chiangsu province, whose father was very wealthy. Whenever there was a famine, his father would donate his own grain and all the rent on the rice fields to the poor. One night he heard ghosts singing outside his home…

Ghosts: No kidding! No kidding! A person in the Hsu family is going to pass the imperial exam!

Liao-Fan: This went on for several days and sure enough, that year his son Feng-Chu passed the imperial exam. From then on, he was even more diligent in doing good deeds and accumulating merits. He often fixed bridges and took care of travelers and monks. One day he heard the ghosts sing again…

Ghosts: …No kidding! No kidding! A person in the Hsu family is going to pass an even higher level on the imperial exam!

Narrator: And sure enough, Feng-Chu passed the higher exam and became the governor of two provinces!

Liao-Fan: Another example is Kung-Shi Tu who lived in Chiashing, Chehkiang Province. Mr. Tu used to work in the courthouse and would spend nights in the prison cells, talking with the inmates. Whenever he found anyone innocent, he would write a classified report to the judge, informing him of these cases. The judge would then question the prisoners accordingly and clear the case.

Narrator: Through Mr. Tu’s effort, ten innocent people were released and all of them were extremely grateful to the judge praising his wise judgement. Soon after, Mr. Tu, who had quietly let the judge take the praise, also made a report to the Imperial Judge saying…

Mr. Tu: …if even in the Imperial City there are so many innocent imprisoned, there must be many more throughout the nation. I recommend that the Imperial Judge send investigators to check the prisons for innocent people every five years. The sentences can be reduced or canceled in order to prevent the innocent from remaining in prison.

Liao-Fan: The Imperial Judge took his request to the Emperor, who agreed to Mr. Tu’s suggestion. Mr. Tu was chosen as one of the special agents in charge of reducing sentences for those who may be innocent. One night he dreamed of a heavenly being who came to him and said…

Heavenly being: You were not supposed to deserve a son in this life, but this act of reducing prison sentences for innocent people is in line with the wishes of the heavens. You will be bestowed with three sons and they will all attain high positions.

Liao-Fan: After that, his wife gave birth to three sons who all became prominent men in society.

Another example of attaining good outcomes from practicing kindness is Ping Bao who lived in Chiashing. Ping was the youngest of the seven sons of the magistrate of Chichou, Anhui Province. He was sought into marriage by the Yuan family at Pinghu Province and was a good friend of my father. Ping Bao was very knowledgeable and talented, but he was never able to pass the exams.

Narrator: He put his time into studying the teachings of Buddhism and Taoism instead.

Liao Fan: Once, while traveling to Lake Liu, he came to a village and saw a temple in desperate need of repairs. He saw that the statue of Guan Yin Bodhisattva stood wet from the rain, which leaked through the roof. Ping took out all his money and gave it to the abbot of the temple, asking him to please use it to restore the temple. The abbot replied…

Abbot: It will be a very big project, I am afraid this amount is not enough to complete your wish.

Liao-Fan: Ping Bao then took out all his luxurious belongings and handed them to the abbot. His servant tried to persuade him into keeping his best outfit, but he refused, saying…

Ping Bao: It does not matter to me. As long as the statue of Guan Yin Bodhisattva remains undamaged, I do not care if I have to go without clothes.

Liao-Fan: The abbot, with tears in his eyes, exclaimed:

Abbot: To give up money and clothing is not a difficult deed to accomplish, but your deep sincerity is truly rare and precious to encounter!

Liao-Fan: After the temple was repaired, Ping Bao led his father over to visit and spent the night there as well. That night, Ping dreamed of the Dharma Protector of the temple, Chie-Lan, coming to thank him saying…

Chie-Lan: Since you have accumulated these merits and virtues, your children and descendants will enjoy having imperial appointments for a long time.

Liao-Fan: Later, his son and grandson both passed high exams and were appointed as imperial officials.

Another example is a person named Li-Zhi from Jiashan province. His father used to be a clerk in the provincial courthouse. Once, Li’s father learned of an innocent man who was given the death penalty. He attempted to plead this case with his superior. When the prisoner heard about this, he told his wife…

Prisoner: I am so indebted to this man who has spoken on my behalf but I have no way of showing my gratitude. Will you invite him over to our house and offer yourself in marriage? Perhaps this will please him and increase my chances to live.

Liao-Fan: The wife cried as she listened to his request, for she really did not want to do it. However, it was the only way she could help her husband in this time of need. Therefore, the next day when the clerk came to visit, she offered him wine and told him of her husband’s wishes. The clerk refused the offer of marriage, but continued with great effort to clear the case. When at last the prisoner was released, he and his wife both went to the clerk’s house to thank him. The man said…

Prisoner: One with such virtue as yours is truly rare to encounter these days, how can I show my gratitude? You do not have a son, please allow me to offer my daughter in marriage to you, this is the only way I can repay you. Please accept.

Liao-Fan: So the clerk accepted, and soon afterwards, she bore him his son, Li-Zhi. Li passed the higher level imperial exam when he was just twenty years old.

Narrator: Li’s son Gao, grandson Lu and great grandson Da-Lwun all passed high examinations and received imperial appointments.

Liao-Fan: The ten examples above all tell of the different deeds cultivated by different people. Although their actions differ, their intent was the same: to do good. If we were to examine goodness closely, we would find that there are many different kinds.

Narrator: There is real goodness and false goodness, honest goodness and crooked goodness, hidden and visible, seeming and unseeming, proper and improper, full and half, big and small, and finally, difficult and easy.

Liao-Fan: These different types of goodness each have their own reason, which are to be carefully learned and understood. If we practice kind deeds but do not learn the way to differentiate between right and wrong, we may end up doing harm instead of good. Now I will explain the different types of goodness one by one.

What is ‘real goodness and false goodness’? In the Yuan Dynasty, a group of scholars went to pay homage to Master Jung Feng on Tianmu Mountain. They asked…

First scholar: Buddhist teachings often speak of the karmic reward for good and bad, saying "It is like the shadow, following the body wherever it goes."

Narrator: This is saying that doing good will always have its rewards and doing bad will always have its punishments.

First scholar: Then why is it, that there are people who practice kind deeds, but their family and descendants are not prosperous and successful? On the other hand, there are bad and wicked people who do improper things, but their family and descendants do quite well. Where has the Law of Cause and Effect gone? Is there no standard in the Buddha’s teachings?

Liao-Fan: Master Jung Feng answered him, saying…

Master Jung-Fung: Ordinary people are blinded by worldly views, they have not cleansed their minds of impurities and cannot see with true perception. Therefore, they look upon true goodness as wrongdoings and mistake true wrongdoings as goodness. This is very common nowadays! Furthermore, these people do not blame themselves for bad perception on their part, but instead blame the heavens for their misfortunes!

Second scholar: Good is good and bad is bad. How can they be mistaken for each other?

Liao-Fan: Hearing this, Master Jung Feng asked each of them to express their thoughts on what was good and what was bad.

Third scholar: To yell at and beat others is bad, to respect and treat others in a mannerly way is good.

Master Jung-Fung: …not necessarily.

Fourth scholar: Being greedy for wealth and taking another’s money is bad, not being greedy and abiding by proper ways is good.

Master Jung-Fung: …not necessarily.

Liao-Fan: The remaining scholars all expressed their own views on what was good and what was bad, but Master Jung Feng still replied…

Master Jung-Fung: …not necessarily.

Liao-Fan: Since Master Jung Feng disagreed with all of their views on good and bad, they decided to ask the Master himself.

Scholars: So what is really considered good, and what is really considered bad?

Master Jung-Fung: To do things with the intention of bringing benefit to others is good, to do things for the sake of oneself is bad. If what we do is for the sake of benefiting another, then it does not matter if we yell at or beat that person, it is still considered good. If our intention is for self-benefit, then regardless of our appearance of respect and courtesy, it is still considered bad.

Therefore, when we practice kind deeds with the sole intention of benefiting others, this is considered benefiting the public, and if it is public, then it is real goodness. If we only think of ourselves while doing kind acts, then that is considered private benefit and that is false goodness.

When kindness springs from within the heart, it is real goodness. When we do good just for the sake of doing a good deed then it is false. In addition, when we do good without expecting anything in return, it is considered real goodness. When we practice kind deeds for some other purpose than to benefit others, it is false. Those who wish to practice true kindness need to contemplate all these differences.

Liao-Fan: What is ‘honest goodness and crooked goodness’? People nowadays often look upon an extremely conservative and nice person as good and kind. However, the ancient sages and saints have shown that they prefer those who are courageous and hold high goals for themselves.

Narrator: This is because those with courage and high goals are easier to teach and guide and will someday reach accomplishment in life, while those who are overly careful and conservative will never amount to anything.

Liao-Fan: As for those who appear to be conservative and careful in their everyday actions, they may be liked by all, but because of their weak personality, they easily go along with everything, unable to think for themselves. Sages often speak of them as thieves of virtue. From this, we can see that the viewpoint of ordinary people greatly differs from that of the sages and saints.

Narrator: What ordinary people may view as goodness, a saint may in fact proclaim to be bad. What appears to be bad to ordinary people, a saint may perceive as true kindness.

Liao-Fan: This applies to other matters as well. Earth, spirits, heavens and gods all look upon good and bad from the same viewpoint as the sages. Kind people will be rewarded for kind deeds and the wicked person will suffer for their wrongdoing. Whatever the sages perceive as right, they too see the same way. They do not view things from the same perspective, as do ordinary people.

Therefore, those who wish to accumulate merits must not be deceived and affected by the sights and sounds of the world. Instead, they need to practice with a true and humble heart, not to please others and acquire respect. One would do well to protect one’s heart from deviant and impure thoughts.

Narrator: Honest goodness comes from the thought to help all others. Crooked goodness arises from the thought of greed in wishing only to please people. Harboring love for others is being honest. Harboring thoughts of hatred and jealousy is being crooked. Honest goodness is when one is respectful and crooked goodness is when one acts without sincerity.

Liao-Fan: These are all to be carefully differentiated. What is ‘hidden goodness and visible goodness’?

Narrator: When one does something good and people know about it, it is called visible goodness. When one does something good and no one knows about it, it is called hidden virtue.

Liao-Fan: Those with hidden virtues will naturally be known by the heavens and will be rewarded. Those who practice visible goodness will be known by people and will enjoy fame.

Narrator: Fame itself is good fortune, but heaven and earth do not favor fame for heaven and earth do not favor those who seek fame.

Liao Fan: We can see that those who have great fame, but lack the virtues supporting it, will eventually encounter some kind of overwhelming adversity. A person who truly has not done any wrong but continues to be falsely accused by others will have descendants who will suddenly become prosperous and successful.

Narrator: From this, we can see how important it is to understand the minute differences between hidden and visible goodness. We cannot afford to mistake them!

Liao-Fan: In performing good deeds, there is also what seems to be goodness but is actually not and what does not appear to be goodness but actually is. These are known as ‘seeming and unseeming goodness’.

For example, in the Spring-Autumn Period, there was a country named Lu. Because there were other countries which took their citizens as slaves or servants, the country of Lu made a law which rewarded those who paid the ransom to regain the freedom of their fellow citizens. At that time, Confucius had a very rich student named Dz-Gong. Although Dz-Gong paid the ransom to free his people, he did not accept the reward for doing such a deed.

Narrator: He did it out of good intention, seeking only to help others and not for the reward money.

Liao Fan: But when Confucius heard this, he was very unhappy and scolded him saying…

Confucius: You acted wrongly in this matter. When sages and saints undertake anything, they strive to improve the social behavior, teaching people to be good and decent. One does not do something just because one feels like it. In the country of Lu, the poor outnumber the wealthy. By refusing the reward, you lead others to think that accepting the reward money is being greedy.

Thus, those who do not want to appear greedy by accepting the government’s reward will hesitate to pay ransom in the future. Only very rich people will have a chance to practice this deed. If this happens, no one will pay the ransom to free our people again.

Liao-Fan: Another student of Confucius, Dz-Lu, once saw a man drowning in the river and rescued him. Later, the man thanked him by giving him a cow as a token of gratitude. Dz-Lu accepted his gift. Confucius was happy when he heard this and said…

Confucius: In the future, people will be willing and eager to help those who are drowning in deep waters or lakes.

Liao-Fan: If we look from the view of ordinary people, Dz-Gong, who did not accept the reward money, was good. Dz-Lu, who accepted the cow, was not as good. Who would have known that Confucius would praise Dz-Lu and instead scold Dz-gong? From this, we can see that those who practice kind deeds must not only look at the present outcome…

Narrator: ...but also consider the act’s effect in the long run.

Liao Fan: One would do well to not only consider one’s own gain and loss…

Narrator: …but look to see the impact made on the public.

Liao Fan: What we do right now may be good…

Narrator: …but with the passing years, it may bring harm to others.

Liao Fan: Therefore, what seems like goodness may in fact be the opposite and what appears to be the opposite of goodness, may someday turn out to have been goodness after all. There are other examples of seeming goodness but actually is unseeming.

Narrator: There are many things that people apparently ought to do, but sometimes these things prove to be better left undone. Forgiveness is a virtue, but it cannot be used without reason and wisdom. If we easily forgive and release a criminal when he or she has not regretted and reformed, we may be letting loose a threat to society, causing more harm than good. In this case, forgiveness would be improper and the person would be best left in his or her cell.

Liao-Fan: We all need to have manners, but they are to be carried out with good sense. Overdoing courtesy to others can result in making them proud and arrogant. In this case, it would not be a good thing.

Narrator: Keeping one’s word is a virtue, but if one causes bigger trouble through keeping a small promise, then that would be considered improper.

Liao Fan: Being loving and compassionate is a wonderful trait, but if compassion is carried out by allowing anything to be done, then the spoiled person would become daring and unrestrained, causing greater harm and trouble in the future. This would be most unmerciful.

Narrator: These are all examples of what appears to be goodness but actually is not and are to be thoroughly contemplated.

Liao-Fan: What is ‘proper goodness and improper goodness’? In the Ming Dynasty, there once was a Prime Minister named Wen-Yi Lyu, who was a just and lawful man. When he grew old, he retired to his hometown where he was loved and respected by all the people. Once, a drunken villager went to his home and proceeded to insult him. Mr. Lyu was not angered by his words but instead told his servant…

Mr. Lyu: This man is drunk. Let’s not give him a hard time.

Liao-Fan: With this, he closed the door and ignored the onslaught of insults. A year later, the same man committed a grave crime and was sent to jail with the death sentence. Upon hearing this, Mr. Lyu said with great remorse…

Mr. Lyu: If I had taken him to the authorities for punishment that day when he came to insult me, perhaps this would not have happened. A little discipline then could have prevented the great harm done now and might have saved him from certain death. At that time, I was only thinking of being kind and unknowingly nurtured a defiant and disgraceful personality. Since nothing came from his deed of insulting a Prime Minister, he grew bold and went on committing crimes, which have now brought him the death penalty.

Liao-Fan: This is an example of doing something bad while having good intentions. There is also an example of those who did good when they in fact intended otherwise.

Once, a famine devastated the land and people stole food from others in broad daylight. A rich family reported these losses from the marketplace to the authorities. However, the government, not wanting to get involved, did nothing to stop the thieves. Eventually, they grew more daring and chaos was imminent. So, the rich family took the law into their own hands and proceeded to catch and punish those who stole from them. In this way, peace resumed and people no longer stole from one another. It was with selfish intentions that the rich family acted, but the result of their deeds actually greatly benefited everyone.

Narrator: Therefore, we all know that goodness is proper and wrongdoing is improper. However, there are cases where deeds done out of good intentions resulted in bad and deeds done with bad intentions resulted in good. This is saying that although the intention was proper, it resulted in the improper. This is the ‘improper within the proper.’ However, there is also the case when the improper was intended but resulted in the proper. This is called the ‘proper within the improper.’

Liao-Fan: We can all benefit from understanding this. What is ‘half goodness and whole goodness’? The I Ching, Book of Change said…

Narrator: "People who do not accumulate kind deeds will not attain good fortune. On the other hand, people who do not accumulate bad deeds will not bring about great adversity."

Liao-Fan: The accumulation of kind and bad deeds greatly determines our future. If we are diligent in doing kind deeds, it is like collecting things in a container. With diligence, it will soon be full and we will have our reward of good fortune. If we are eager in the accumulation of bad deeds and gather them with great diligence, then the container of bad will soon be full and disasters will surely occur.

If we are somewhat lazy in our collecting of either kindness or misdeeds, then the container will be left half filled and neither good fortune nor adversity will come swiftly. This is one explanation of whole goodness and half goodness.

Once there was a poor lady who went to visit a Buddhist temple and wished to make a donation. However, she was so poor that she had only two cents but she gave these to a monk. To her surprise, the temple’s abbot himself came forth to help her regret for past offenses and dedicate her merits in front of the Buddha.

Later, the same lady was chosen to enter the imperial palace and became a concubine to the emperor. Clad in her riches, the lady once again went to the temple to donate, this time bringing thousands of silver pieces to give. To her dismay, the abbot only sent another monk to help her dedicate her merits. The lady did not understand and questioned the abbot…

Lady: In the past, I only donated two cents, yet you personally helped me express my regret. Today I come with great wealth to give and you will not help me perform my dedication. Why?

Abbot: Although the amount of money you gave in the past was small, it came from a true and sincere heart. It was necessary for me to repay your sincerity by personally performing your dedications. Today, although your donation is much more, the heart of giving is not quite as true and sincere as before. Therefore, it is fitting and enough that my student performs your dedications for you.

Liao-Fan: This is an example of how thousands of silver pieces are only considered as half goodness and two cents as whole.

Another example is of Li Jung, an immortal of the Han Dynasty. He was teaching his student, Dong-Bing Lyu, the art of transforming steel into gold. They would use this gold to help the poor. Dong-Bing asked his teacher…

Dong-Bing: Will the gold ever change back to steel again?

Li Jung: After five hundred years, it will return to its original form.

Dong-Bing: In that case, I do not want to learn this art, it will harm those who possess the gold five hundred years from now.

Liao-Fan: In actuality, Li Jung was only testing the goodness of his student’s heart and happy with the results, he said…

Li Jung: To become an immortal, one must complete three thousand virtuous deeds. What you have just said came from a truly kind heart; your three thousand deeds are fulfilled!

Liao-Fan: This is another example of whole goodness and half goodness. When we perform a kind deed, it is best if we can do it out of our innermost sincerity, not seeking rewards or noting in our minds how much we have done. If we practice in this manner, then all our good deeds will reach fulfillment and success.

If, instead, we always think of the deeds we have performed, looking for a reward of some kind, then no matter how diligently we practice, even for an entire lifetime, the deeds will still be considered as half goodness.

Narrator: For example, when we donate money to the poor, we can practice what is called ‘pure donation.’ In this type of giving, we do not linger on the thought of ‘I’ who is giving; dwell on the importance of the object I am giving away; or think of who the receiver is. We are simply giving and it is out of true sincerity and respect. When we give with ‘pure donation’, then one dou of rice can bring boundless good fortune and the merit from giving one cent can wipe away the transgressions of a thousand eons.

Liao-Fan: If we always keep in mind the good we have done and expect rewards for our actions, then even a donation of two hundred thousand gold pieces would still not bear us the reward of a fully good fortune. This is another way of explaining whole goodness and half goodness.

What is ‘big goodness and small goodness’? Once there was a high ranking official named Jung-Da Wei, who was led into the spirit world to be judged for his good and bad deeds. The judge ordered his records of good and bad to be brought out. When the records arrived, Jung-Da was astounded at the courtyard full of his bad records and at the single scroll, which contained his good deeds. The official then ordered the two to be weighed. Surprisingly, the bad records, which had filled the courtyard, were lighter than the single scroll of good deeds, which was as thin as a chopstick. Jung-Da asked the judge…

Jung-Da: I am barely forty years old, how could I have committed so many wrongdoings?

Judge: When you give rise to a single thought that is improper, it is considered a bad offense there and then, it does not have to be carried out through action to be counted as a wrong. For example, when you see a pretty woman and give rise to improper thoughts, that is considered an offense.

Liao-Fan: Jung-Da then asked him what was recorded in the single scroll of good deeds, which outweighed the bad deeds. The judge replied…

Judge: Once the Emperor planned to build a great stone bridge but you proposed against the project due to the hardship and toil it would cause the tens and thousands of people needed for the work. This is a copy of your proposal to the Emperor.

Jung-Da: I did make the proposal, but the Emperor dismissed it and began the project anyway. My proposal had no effect on the matter at all. How can it bear so much weight against my numerous offenses?

Judge: Although the Emperor did not accept your suggestion, that one thought of kindness you bore for the tens and thousands of people was very great. If the Emperor had listened to you, then the good performed would have been even greater.

Liao-Fan: Therefore, when one is determined to do good for the benefit of all people, a small deed can reap great merits.

Narrator: If one thinks only about benefiting oneself, then even if many deeds of kindness are performed, the merits would still be small.

Liao-Fan: What is ‘difficult goodness and easy goodness’? The knowledgeable scholars of the past used to say…

Scholar: When one wishes to conquer one’s greed and desires, one should start with what is most difficult to overcome.

Liao-Fan: Fan-Chr, a student of Confucius, once asked his teacher how to cultivate one’s humanity to it’s fullest…

Confucius: Start with what is most difficult to practice.

Liao Fan: What Confucius meant by the most difficult, was to sever the selfish mind. One practices that by conquering what is most difficult for one to conquer. We can practice like the old teacher, Mr. Su of Chiangshi, who gave two years worth of salary to a poor family who owed money to the government. Thus he saved them from being torn apart should the husband be taken to prison.

Narrator: Another example is Mr. Jang from Herbei. Mr. Jang saw an extremely poor man who had to mortgage his wife and child, and then had no money for their redemption. If he was unable to pay for their return, the mother and child could both lose their lives.

Liao-Fan: Therefore, Mr. Jang gave his ten years of savings to the poor man so the family could be reunited.

Narrator: Such examples as Mr. Su and Mr. Jang are rare, for they gave what is most difficult to give. What others could not sacrifice, they did so willingly.

Liao-Fan: Another example is Mr. Jin from Chiangsu Province. He was old and without any sons, so his neighbor offered their young daughter in marriage to him, to give him descendants to carry on his lineage. But Mr. Jin could not bear to ruin the otherwise bright and long future of this young girl, and so refused the offer and sent her back home.

Narrator: This is another example of being able to overcome what is most difficult to conquer in oneself. Therefore, the heavens showered down good fortune, which was especially good for these three old men.

Liao-Fan: It is easier for those who have money and power to accumulate merits and virtues than for those who are poor. However, if one refuses to cultivate kindness even when it is easy and when one has the chance to do so, then it would truly be a shame. For those who are poor and without prestige, doing kind things for others is very difficult. However, if in this difficulty one can still manage to help others, then it is a great virtue and the merits gained will be boundless.

To be a moral person when interacting with others and affairs, we help whenever the opportunity presents itself. Helping others is not an easy task but there are many ways to do it. In short, the ways of helping others can be simplified into ten important categories. The first is ‘supporting the practice of kindness’.

Narrator: When we see people trying to show kindness, we can assist them and help their kindness to grow. When we see others who wish to do good but cannot accomplish it on their own, we can lend a hand and help them to succeed. This is the way we can cultivate ‘supporting the practice of kindness’.

Liao-Fan: The second category is ‘harboring love and respect’.

Narrator: We can harbor respect towards those who are more knowledgeable, older or in a higher position than we are. For those who are younger, less fortunate or of lower position, we can harbor a mind of loving care.

Liao-Fan: The third category is ‘helping others succeed’.

Narrator: When we see others who are considering whether or not to do a good deed, we can persuade them to put all their effort into doing it. When others meet with difficulties in practicing kindness, we can help think of ways to overcome the difficulty and guide them to success. We must not be jealous at the accomplishments of others nor try to sabotage their good acts.

Liao-Fan: The fourth category is ‘persuading others to practice kindness’.

Narrator: When we meet a person who is doing wrong, we can point out that doing wrong will only result in great suffering and painful retribution, and that he or she needs to avoid doing so at all costs. We can tell people who refuse to practice kindness or are only willing to practice a little kindness, that doing kind deeds will definitely have its rewards. Kindness not only has to be cultivated, but also is to be cultivated constantly and on a large scale.

Liao-Fan: The fifth category is ‘helping those in desperate need’.

Narrator: Most people tend to give when there is no need to give and do not give when there really is a need. When we meet people who are in great difficulties, emergencies or dangers, we can lend them a hand and assist them in whatever way we can to help them out of their difficulties. The merits accrued from helping others in times of desperate need are boundless. However, one must not become proud and conceited because of doing such deeds.

Liao-Fan: The sixth category is ‘developing public projects for the greater benefit of the people.’

Narrator: Projects, which will bring great benefit to the public, usually have to be performed by those with great influence and power. If a person has this capacity, such as rebuilding the water system or assisting a disaster area, then it ought to be done for the benefit of the public. Those without such influence and power can do great deeds, too. For example, when one sees a small leak in a dam, one can use pebbles and dirt to stop the water and prevent disastrous flooding. Though this act may be small, the effect will not go unnoticed.

Liao-Fan: The seventh category is ‘giving through donation.’

Narrator: People of this world love, seek and even die for money. Who is actually willing to help others by giving their own money away? When we recognize the difficulty involved in donation, we can come to appreciate the rarity of the person who is willing to give to help others in need. This person is even greater in the eyes of the poor.

According to the Law of Cause and Effect, "those who give will in turn receive", and "those who refuse to give will not receive." When we cultivate one share of kindness, we will receive one share of good fortune, there is no need to worry about having nothing left when we give to help others.

Liao-Fan: The eighth category is ‘protecting the proper teachings.’

Narrator: We must be able to differentiate between proper teachings and deviant teachings. Deviant teachings do great harm to people’s minds and hearts and naturally are to be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, teachings with proper wisdom and views, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, the Ten Commandments, etc., which promote kindness and goodness in society, are to be supported.

Almost every culture has these basic proper teachings. If one happens to see others in the act of destroying such proper teachings, one must put forth every effort to protect and uphold these teachings.

Liao-Fan: The ninth category is ‘respecting our elders.’

Narrator: Anyone who is deeply learned, knowledgeable, has high prestige, or is older than us can be considered an elder and is to be highly regarded and respected.

Liao-Fan: The tenth category is ‘loving and cherishing all living things.’

Narrator: We should feel sympathy for all living creatures, even the tiny ants, who know of suffering and are afraid to die. How can we kill and eat living beings and not feel the least bit sorry?

Liao Fan: Some people even say that these things were meant for human consumption…

Narrator: …but there is no logic in this argument and it is only an excuse for those who desire to eat meat.

Liao-Fan: I have only explained the above ten categories in summary, now I will explain each in detail and give examples. What does ‘supporting the practice of kindness’ mean?

In the Yu Dynasty, there once was an emperor by the name of Shwun. One day, before he became emperor, Shwun was watching some fishermen on Lake Leize. He noticed that all the younger and stronger fishermen took the spots where the water was deep and the fish were abundant, while the older and weaker fishermen were left with the rapids and shallow water, where there were very few fish.

When Shwun saw this situation, he felt sympathy for the older and weaker fishermen and thought of a way to turn the situation around. He decided to join in the fishing party to set an example for the others. Whenever he saw fishermen plunder good fishing spots, he would conceal their faults and never even spoke of their selfishness. When he saw those who were humble and yielding, he praised them everywhere he went and even followed their humble and polite ways. Shwun stayed and fished like this for a whole year until the other fishermen got into the habit of yielding good fishing spots to others.

Narrator: This story of Shwun is only an example to show how a person influences others through his actions and not through his speech. It is not meant to encourage people to fish, because fishing is an act of killing. Please refrain from sports, which take the lives of others.

Liao-Fan: A wise and intelligent man such as Shwun could have easily influenced others with a few words of advice. Why didn’t he just say something instead of personally joining the gathering?

Narrator: Shwun did not want to use words, but preferred to set an example for others through his actions. Shwun wanted those fishermen to feel ashamed of their own selfish behavior and change on their own accord. This shows how deep and sincere Shwun’s wish was for others to practice kindness.

Liao-Fan: In today’s era of low morality, social breakdown and loss of proper thinking, it is most difficult to find a good standard of behavior. Therefore, when those around us have shortcomings…

Narrator: ….we do not use our good points to highlight their deficiencies.

Liao Fan: When the other person is unkind…

Narrator: …we do not use our kindness to measure or compare ourselves to them.

Liao Fan: When others are not as capable as we are…

Narrator: …we do not purposely surpass them with our abilities.

Liao Fan: Even when we are intelligent and competent, these skills are to be kept hidden and not boasted of. Instead, we then behave even more humbly than ever. We thus look upon our skills and abilities as unimportant, false and unreal. When someone makes a mistake, we tolerate it and conceal it, giving him or her a chance to reform without losing their self-respect.

When we let the person keep his or her dignity, this person will be even more careful of actions in the future. When we see strengths and kindness in others, we can learn from them, praise them and make their goodness known to others. In daily life, we can refrain from speaking and acting with selfish intentions, but instead seek to benefit society and the public. We can make beneficial laws and regulations for the public to follow.

Narrator: These are the qualities of a great person, who thinks of the public welfare as more important than his or her own.

Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘harboring love and respect for others’? Sometimes it is hard to tell from appearance whether one is an honorable person or a fraud, since frauds can pretend to be honorable. The difference lies in their intentions. An honorable person’s intentions are good while a fraud’s intentions are bad. There is a great distance between the two and they are as different as black and white. Mencius said that…

Mencius: The difference between truly honorable people and ordinary people lies in their intentions.

Liao-Fan: A truly honorable person’s heart is only filled with love and respect for others. There are thousands of different types of people in this world, some close to us, some strangers, some in high positions and some in low, some smart while others are not, and some virtuous and some corrupt, but nevertheless, they are our fellow humanity.

They are like us, alive with flesh and blood and with feelings. There is not a single person whom I should hate or disrespect. When our hearts are full of love and respect for others, it is the same as if our heart is full of love and respect for the saints and sages. When we understand others, it is the same as if we understand the saints and sages. Why?

Narrator: Because all the saints and sages want the people on this earth to lead happy and productive lives.

Liao-Fan: Therefore, if we can love and respect people and help them to be peaceful and happy, we are doing the job of a sage or a saint.

What does ‘helping others to succeed’ mean? If we cast away raw jade, then this stone would be like any other worthless stone.

Narrator: But if we were to carve and polish it, it could be transformed into a priceless jewel.

Liao Fan: It is the same with people. A person needs to be taught and guided, just as jade needs to be carved and polished. When we see people whom we feel have good potential for doing a good deed or working towards a proper goal, we can guide, support, praise and encourage them, helping them succeed in their endeavors.

If another ever wrongly accuses them, we can try to clear their name and share their burden of slander. Only when we have helped them stand on their feet and be a part of good society will we have fulfilled our responsibility in helping others to succeed.

Most people dislike those who are different from them, such as a fraud versus an honorable person and a bad person versus a good person. In villages, there are usually more bad people than virtuous ones.

Narrator: Since there are always more bad people around, good people are often taken advantage of. Therefore good people often has a hard time standing on their own.

Liao Fan: Frankness and modesty are the usual characteristics of good people. They usually do not care much for their appearance. On the other hand, an average uneducated person often only pays attention to another’s appearance. They like to gossip and make accusations; so, striving to do good turns out to be quite a challenge. A good person can easily be wrongly accused. When this happens, it is entirely up to the goodness and virtue of an elder to correct the actions of those who are bad and guide them back to the right track.

Narrator: It is also up to these elders to protect and help those who are good and need to stand on their own. Those who can preserve good and be rid of wrongdoings achieve the highest merit.

Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘persuading others to practice kindness’? We all have a conscience, but chasing after wealth and fame has kept us constantly busy and forgetful of our good conscience. We have become willing to stoop very low, as long there is something to be gained from it. When a friend is about to ignore his or her good conscience to do something unworthy, we can remind and warn this friend, hoping to wake him or her from this muddled state of mind.

Narrator: It is like waking up someone when they are having a nightmare, it is up to us shake them into reality. When a person is undergoing a long spell of depression, we can pull this person out of it and help to clear his or her mind.

Liao Fan: We are most virtuous if we can treat our friends with such kindness. A scholar named Han once said…

Scholar Han: By word of mouth, one can only persuade and influence another momentarily. It is easily forgotten with the passing of time and events. No one else would have heard what we have said. If we can persuade and influence others through written works, our words can be passed on for hundreds of generations around the world. Therefore, writing to promote virtue is an act of great speech and is a most virtuous deed.

Liao-Fan: We can persuade others by word of mouth as well as by writing books to promote virtue. Compared with the previous category of helping others to succeed, this is much more direct and obvious. However, the treatment of an illness with the right medicine sometimes proves to have special effects; therefore, we cannot give up.

Narrator: It is also important how we do it. For instance, if a person is too stubborn, we do not persuade him or her with words. If we do, then we are wasting both our words and energy. If a person is gentle and willing to listen, but we fail to persuade him or her, then we have just missed an excellent opportunity to do good.

Either way is because we are not wise enough to tell the difference. We should then reflect to see what we did wrong so the next time we will do it right and will not waste any more words nor lose another opportunity.

Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘helping those in desperate need’? During one’s lifetime, people will often suffer from serious problems, financial troubles or separation from loved ones. If we meet someone like this, we can help that person as if we are the one who is experiencing the suffering. We immediately come to this person’s aid. If a person has been wrongly accused or convicted, we should plead for this person’s innocence as well as provide aid in any way we can. Scholar Suai once said…

Scholar Suai: It does not matter whether a favor is big or small; what counts is that it is done at a time when others need it most.

Liao-Fan: What humane words! What is meant by ‘developing public projects for the greater benefit of the people’? Small construction works are needed for villages and big construction jobs are needed for cities. Public projects are anything that need to be constructed for the public welfare…

Narrator: Such as irrigation systems for farm lands, dams, bridges, or giving food and water to those who are hungry or thirsty.

Liao Fan: Whenever we have the opportunity, we need to persuade others to do their share as well. Even when others slander or talk behind our back we should not be deterred. Do not be afraid of what others might say and do not get scared when the job becomes difficult. Do not let people’s jealousy and hatred shake our resolve to do kind deeds.

Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘giving through donation’? In Buddhism, giving is considered foremost in all practices of kindness. When one truly understands the meaning of giving and is willing to give away all worldly belongings, even to the point of donating parts from one’s own body, then this person is walking the way of the Buddha. A person who understands this principle would be willing to give away anything, even to the point of donating eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.

Narrator: For instance, in a past life, Buddha Shakyamuni offered his own body as food for a hungry tiger.

Liao Fan: One can also give away sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and Dharma. There is nothing a person cannot give away if he or she is willing.

Narrator: If a person can do this, then he is on his way to gaining purity of mind and body. He will have no worries or afflictions, just like the Buddha.

Liao Fan: When we find ourselves unable to give away everything, we can start by donating money. Worldly people treat their clothing and food as dearly as their lives. Therefore, monetary donation is most important for them.

Narrator: When we practice giving without hesitation, we can cure stinginess and at the same time help others in need.

Liao Fan: However, for many it is not an easy thing to do. It is difficult at first, but becomes more natural the more we give. From cultivating giving, peace of mind can be attained, and then there is nothing we cannot give away. This is the best way to cure a bad case of selfishness and an opportunity to change our attitudes toward money and worldly possessions.

Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘protecting the proper teachings’?

Narrator: For millions of years, proper teachings have been a standard of truth and a spiritual guide for all living beings.

Liao Fan: If we do not have good strong beliefs, how can we join in and support the interaction of heaven and earth? How can people of all walks of life succeed in their endeavors without a standard to live by? How would we be able to escape from delusion and life’s confinement? How would we create and arrange worldly affairs and transcend the cycle of birth and death?

Narrator: These all depend on good and proper teachings as the lighted path.

Liao Fan: Therefore, whenever we see temples, memorials of past saints or sages, pictures of sages, or Buddhist texts, we should be respectful. If they are in need of repair, we should repair and put them back in order. We can especially tell people about the teachings of the Buddha and widely spread the proper teachings. We can let others know of its value, in this way we are also showing our gratitude towards the sages and the Buddhas. We need to do all we can to reach this goal.

Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘respecting our elders’? It is making an extra effort in showing our attention and respect towards parents, elder siblings, the governor, our superiors or any elders of high virtue, prestige and learning.

Narrator: When taking care of parents at home, we are to do it with love in our hearts and a gentle, accommodating appearance. We should not raise our voice but maintain a peaceful bearing. As we cultivate these virtues, they will become a part of us and we will change into a mild-mannered person. This is the way we can touch the hearts of heaven and evoke a response.

Liao Fan: When carrying out deeds for our superiors or the government, we should follow the rules even when we are not obliged to. We should not try to slack off just because our superiors do not know what we are doing.

Before we convict someone of a crime, regardless of whether the crime is serious or not, we should investigate carefully and handle the case with justice. We should not abuse the power and rights given to us by our superiors.

Narrator: When one faces the emperor, one should show him the same respect as if one were facing the heavens. This is the correct behavior handed down from our ancestors. It has a direct and important effect on one’s hidden goodness.

Liao-Fan: Look at all the families who practiced loyalty and filial piety. Their descendants prosper for a long time and have bright futures. Therefore, we can follow their example and practice with caution.

Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘loving and cherishing all living things’? A heart of compassion is what makes a good person. Mencius once said…

Mencius: A person is not human if he or she does not feel compassion.

Liao-Fan: A person in search of the virtues of mercy and kindness looks out for his or her heart of compassion. A person who wants to accumulate merits also cultivates a compassionate heart. A person with compassion is a kind, virtuous and merciful person, while one without compassion for others is unkind and without morals. It is stated in The Ethical Code of the Chu Dynasty:

Narrator: "In January, when most animals are bearing young, female species are not to be used for sacrificial purposes."

Liao-Fan: Mencius once said…

Mencius: An honorable person will not live near the kitchen.

Liao-Fan: This is to protect a compassionate heart, since a lot of slaughtering is done in the kitchen. Therefore, our ancestors did not eat meat under four circumstances. First is if they heard the killing, second is if they saw the killing, third is if the animal was raised by them and fourth is if the animal was killed for their sake. If you are not vegetarian but wish to cultivate compassion, then you can learn from our ancestors by eating less meat.

Narrator: According to the Buddha’s teachings, living beings are born as animals as a result of having accumulated bad karma in their previous lives. After they pay their debt in retribution, they can be born as humans again. If they are willing to cultivate they can even become Buddhas. The meat I eat today may be the flesh of a future Buddha. An animal we see today was formerly a person. It is then possible that this animal was my parent, wife, son, a relative or a friend.

Presently, I am human and they are animals. To kill and eat them would be making enemies of those I used to love. If I eat them today, in the future they may become a human again when I become an animal due to my violations of killing. In their revenge, I will have to undergo the same suffering of being killed and eaten.

When we think this way, how dare we kill? How can we swallow a piece of that flesh? Besides, even if the meat does taste good, the taste only lasts from the mouth to the throat. After we swallow, there is nothing left to taste. There is no difference between eating meat and vegetables, why would we want to kill when there is no good behind it?

Liao-Fan: Even if we cannot stop eating meat immediately, we can still try to gradually reduce our meat intake until vegetarianism is accomplished. In this way, we can reach a higher state of compassion within our heart. Also, we need to refrain from killing any living creature, even insects. Man makes silk from the cocoons of silkworms. The cocoons have to be boiled in water first, with the silkworms inside. Think about it, how many silkworms lose their lives in the process?

When we cultivate the land for farming, how many insects have to be killed? We need to be aware of the cost in lives involved in our everyday food and clothing. We kill to provide for ourselves. Therefore, we need to be conservative and value the food and clothing we have. To waste them would create the same violation as killing.

How often have we unknowingly harmed or stepped on a living creature? With a little awareness, we can prevent this from happening. Tung-Pwo Su, a great poet from the Sung Dynasty once wrote…

Tung-Pwo Su: In love of the mice, we often leave him some rice. In pitying the moth, we won’t light the lamp.

Liao-Fan: What a kind and compassionate statement! There are infinite types of goodness. I cannot mention them all. As long as we can expand on the ten previous categories, we can make them into a multitude of good deeds and virtues.

(Article source: http://www.buddhanet.net/l3lesson.htm)

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