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Changing Destiny

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The First Lesson: Learning To Change Destiny 1 Introduction 2 The First Lesson: Learning To Change Destiny 3 The Second Lesson: Ways To Reform 4 The Third Lesson: The Ways To Cultivate Goodness 5 The Fourth Lesson: The Benefits Of The Virtue Of Humility 6 Notes

In this lesson, Mr. Liaofan told his son, Tianqi, about his personal experiences and those of others. Wanting Tianqi to do his best in practicing goodness and ending his incorrect behavior, to re-create and control his destiny and no longer be bound by it, Mr. Liaofan taught him the principles of why things happen and how to change them. For example, as Pure Land practitioners, if we are able to follow this method, we are assured of attaining happy, fulfilling lives, and of being born into the Western Pure Land.

Mr. Kong’s Accurate Predictions

My father passed away when I was young. My mother persuaded me to learn medicine instead of studying and passing the imperial examinations because it would be a good way to support myself while helping others. Perhaps, I could even become famous through my medical skills; thus fulfilling my father’s aspiration for me.

In ancient China, the purpose of studying and passing the imperial examinations was to become a government official. Thus, to stop studying for the examinations was to give up any chance to work in the government. A career in medicine would enable one to have a skill that would provide a good living in addition to helping others (but it also meant that one would not be in the government).

At that time, teachers did not charge a fee but accepted whatever was offered. Wealthy families gave more; poor families gave less. As long as the student was sincere in honoring the teacher and respecting the teachings, the amount given was unimportant. The same applied to physicians. Their goal was to save lives, to do their very best to make others well. The payment for the services rendered was at the discretion of the patient. Both teachers and physicians were dedicated to helping others and were highly respected.

One day, I met an elderly but distinguished looking gentleman at the Compassionate Cloud Temple. He had a long beard and the look of a sage. I immediately paid my respects to him. He told me: "You are destined to be a government official. Next year, you will attain the rank of Learned First Level Scholar. Why are you not studying for the examination?" I told him the reason.

This segment is about a turning point: Mr. Liaofan’s opportunity to learn how to change his destiny. It described his meeting an elderly gentleman who had a handsome countenance, and was tall with an elegant celestial air, and who did not look like an average person. Mr. Liaofan naturally paid his respects to him.

Because the elderly gentleman could foretell the future, he knew that Mr. Liaofan should have been studying and needed to do so as soon as possible.

I asked the elderly gentleman for his name and where he was from. He replied: "My family name is Kong and I am from Yunnan Province. I have inherited a very sacred and accurate text on astrology and prediction. The text, written by Shaozi, is called the Imperial Standard of Governing the World. By my calculations, I am supposed to pass it on to you and teach you how to use it."

Shaozi was a scholar from the Song Dynasty. He was a well-known and highly respected intellectual of his time. The sacred text on astrology is an in-depth book that has been compiled with others into the Complete Works of the Four Treasuries.

The content of Shaozi’s book is completely in accordance with the principles in I Ching, Book of Changes and predicts the future through mathematical calculations. The predictions in the book cover numerous subjects, including changes in countries and the world. The prosperity or decline of a dynasty, the good fortune or misfortune of an individual could all be completely extrapolated from mathematical calculations. This book of profound knowledge is based on a precise science and is both logical and credible.

Everybody and everything has a set destiny. Buddha Shakyamuni taught us that this is due to the Law of Cause and Effect. As long as we give rise to a cause, be it a thought, word, or act, a result that is a set destiny will follow. Only when the mind is devoid of thought can we transcend the predetermination of the mathematics. Why are practitioners with high levels of achievement often able to transcend? Having attained the level of One Mind Undisturbed, their minds do not give rise to any thoughts. As long as we have thoughts, our fates will remain bound by the mathematics. A highly skilled person is able to accurately predict our futures through calculations.

Our lives are destined. Arhats or other sages with a higher level of spiritual enlightenment, who have already transcended the Six Realms of Reincarnation, are able to transcend their destiny.

Are the heavenly beings in the Realm of Form and Realm of Formlessness able to transcend their fate? Yes, for in their state of deep concentration, the mathematics cannot affect them. But, this transcendence is only temporary. Once they lose their state of deep concentration and give rise to thoughts, they are again bound by mathematics. This is why they have never been able to transcend the Six Realms of Reincarnation.

If the strength of their concentration enabled them to transcend the Six Realms and advance to the ninth concentration level to become non-regressive Arhats, then they would no longer be bound by the mathematics. Once we understand these principles and know that everything is fated, we will look at this world with a non-discriminatory mind. We will not feel happy in favorable circumstances or unhappy in unfavorable circumstances.

I invited Mr. Kong to my home and told my mother about him. She said to treat him well. As we tested Mr. Kong's ability at prediction, we found that he was always correct whether it was for big events or for minor everyday matters. I became convinced of what he had said and again began to think of studying for the examinations. I consulted my cousin who recommended Mr. Haigu Yu, who was teaching at the home of a friend, and became Mr. Yu’s student.

Mr. Liaofan invited Mr. Kong to his house and being a filial son, told his mother about him. She said to take good care of Mr. Kong and recommended that they test him. When someone tells us something, we would usually want to check its validity before believing it. When Mr. Liaofan did so and found Mr. Kong’s predictions to be accurate, he became naturally convinced and heeded his advice.

Mr. Kong then did some more calculations for me. He told me that as a scholar, I would be placed fourteenth in the county examination, seventy-first in the regional examination, and ninth in the provincial examination. The following year, I placed exactly where Mr. Kong had said for all three examinations.

Mr. Kong told Mr. Liaofan that he would rise through several stages of examinations to become a scholar. In the second year, the results of the examinations were exactly as expected.

From Mr. Kong's predictions for Mr. Liaofan, we can see that everything is destined. Everyday, every month, when and how we will live, when and how we will die. Regardless of how we try to plan or even scheme, ordinary people cannot escape from this reality.

I then asked him to make predictions for the rest of my life. Mr. Kong’s calculations showed that I would pass such and such a test in such and such a year, the year that I would become a civil scholar, and the year that I would receive a promotion to become an Imperial Scholar. And lastly, I would be appointed as a magistrate in Sichuan Province.

After holding that position for three and a half years, I would then retire and return home. I would die at the age of fifty-three, on the 14th day of the eighth month between one to three o’clock in the morning. Unfortunately, I would not have a son. I carefully recorded and remembered everything that he said.

The outcome of every examination turned out exactly as predicted. Mr. Kong had also predicted that I would only be promoted after receiving a ration of two hundred fifty-nine bushels of rice. However, I had received only twenty bushels of rice when the Commissioner of Education, Mr. Tu, recommended me for a promotion. I secretly began to doubt the prediction. Nevertheless, it turned out to be correct after all, because Mr. Tu’s replacement turned down the promotion.

It was not until some years later that a new Education Commissioner, Mr. Yin, reviewed my old examination papers and exclaimed, "these five essays are as well written as reports to the emperor. How can we bury the talents of such a great scholar?"

When Mr. Liaofan’s salary reached almost twenty bushels of rice, Mr. Tu approved his promotion. Mr. Liaofan began to doubt the predictions. However, either due to a promotion or a transfer, Mr. Tu was replaced by another person who disagreed with Mr. Liaofan’s promotion and overruled it. It was a few years later that another official, Mr. Yin, went through the papers of those who had failed the examination. These papers were kept and re-read occasionally with the hope of finding talented individuals who had been overlooked. He read Mr. Liaofan’s papers and was very impressed with them, saying they were as well written as official recommendations from government officials to the emperor. Obviously, Mr. Liaofan was very knowledgeable and his papers were extremely well written.

The new Commissioner wanted the magistrate to issue an order for me to become a candidate for Imperial Scholar under his authority. After undergoing this eventful promotion, my calculations showed that I had received exactly two hundred fifty-nine bushels of rice. From then on, I deeply believed that promotion or demotion, wealth or poverty all came about in due time and that even the length of one’s life is pre-arranged. I began to view everything in a detached manner and ceased to seek gain or profit.

We can see that Mr. Tu was an exceptional person for he had wanted to promote Mr. Liaofan as soon as he read the examination papers. However, his replacement overruled the promotion. It was simply a case of two people having different opinions.

Mr. Liaofan was obviously very talented. From this we learn that even a talented person is still bound by fate. Whether fate, time, or cause and condition, everything is predestined. Mr. Liaofan had to wait until another government official read his papers for the proper conditions to mature in order to receive his promotion.

From then on, Mr. Liaofan was awakened and he truly understood. All of our encounters in life, whether good fortune or bad fortune, good luck or bad luck, wealth or poverty – all are destined. Ordinary people cannot change this. If we are not supposed to have something, no amount of trying to hold on to it will succeed for long. Conversely, we will naturally receive what we are supposed to. It is not worth the effort to do what is wrong and to risk all in the hope of attaining self-satisfaction.

Understanding this, Mr. Liaofan no longer had any thoughts of demand or of gain and loss. He was truly at peace. We can say that at this point, he was a perfect "ordinary person." Today, people cannot even meet this standard for "ordinary." Why? Our minds are impure and filled with wandering thoughts. Mr. Liaofan did not have wishful wandering thoughts since he already knew everything that was going to happen in his life. Ancient sages said that a wise and virtuous person knows that everything including "one sip and one bite" is destined. However, foolish people relentlessly pursue things that are already destined to be theirs.

Ordinary people are bound by their fate. At this time, Mr. Liaofan only knew that life was destined. He did not yet know that there was a variable and that by practicing in accordance with true principles and methods he could change his fate. In this way, he could attain whatever he wished for, as he became the master of his future.

For example, if we wish to attain wealth, we practice the giving of wealth. To attain intelligence and wisdom, we practice the giving of teaching. To attain health and longevity, we practice the giving of fearlessness. This is the correct way to change our fates. By following the right principles and methods, we can even attain Supreme Enlightenment much less worldly enjoyment and happiness.

After being selected as an Imperial Scholar, I was to attend the University at Beijing. During my yearlong stay in the capital, my interest in meditation grew and I often sat in silence, without giving rise to a single thought. I lost interest in books and did not study at all.

Mr. Liaofan was now meditating daily. From this, we can see how peaceful and quiet his mind had become. When the mind is tranquil, wisdom will naturally arise. The wisdom of most people is non-functional because their minds are not pure. Mr. Liaofan was able to remain calm because he knew his entire future. He knew that it was useless even to think about it. Without wishful thoughts, his mind naturally became settled.

Master Yungu’s Advice on Changing Destiny

The Principle of Changing Destiny

The following year I went to Nanjing. Before I was to enter the National University there, I paid a visit to Master Yungu, a venerable Zen Master at Qixia Mountain. We sat in meditation, face to face in the Zen hall for three days and nights without sleep.

Master Yungu said: "The reason why ordinary people cannot become sages is because of wandering thoughts. In our three-day meditation, I have not observed a single thought arise in you. Why?"

I replied that Mr. Kong had clearly predicted the entire outcome of my life. I had seen that the time of life, death, promotion, and failure are destined. There was no need for me to think of anything. The master smiled and replied: "I thought you were someone of remarkable capabilities! Now I realize you are an ordinary person!"

Mr. Liaofan and Master Yungu sat face to face in the meditation hall for three days without fatigue or sleep. How? Because they did not have any wandering thoughts, they were able to conserve all of their energy. Master Yungu thought Mr. Liaofan to be extremely young to have achieved this difficult and rare level of cultivation.

Ordinary people are unable to become Arhats or attain higher levels of achievement because they have too many wandering thoughts. The Flower Adornment Sutra tells us: "All sentient beings have the same wisdom and virtuous abilities as the Buddha; but, because of wandering thoughts and attachments, sentient beings are unable to uncover these abilities." So, the cause of not being able to become a sage is our wandering thoughts.

Feeling confused by what Master Yungu had said, I asked him to explain. He told me that an ordinary person’s mind is forever occupied by wandering and imaginary thoughts, so naturally his or her life is bound by the mathematics of destiny. We cannot deny the fact that destiny exists, but only ordinary people are bound by it.

Destiny cannot bind those who cultivate great kindness or those who have committed flagrant wrongdoings. Since I had lived my life just as Mr. Kong had predicted and done nothing to change it, I had been bound by destiny. Thus, I was a typical ordinary person. Taken aback, I asked Master Yungu if we could change our destinies. He answered: "We can re-create our own destiny and seek good fortune. It is the true teaching and is found in Book of Songs and Book of History."

Master Yungu explained that if one has not yet attained the state without wandering thoughts, then one is still at the mercy of fate. Why? If a person had reached the state of no wandering thought, he or she would have transcended the control of fate. Did Mr. Liaofan reach this state of no wandering thought? No! He simply did not wish to think about anything because he realized the futility of doing so. But he still had wandering thoughts. He still thought: "I do not need to think about anything. My destiny has been foretold; thus, I clearly know my whole life." Having yet to reach the state of no wandering thought, we are still bound by our fates.

Profoundly deep concentration is not achievable by ordinary people in our world. When the Zen Patriarch Huang Bi was in this state of deep concentration, he was able to break through the dimensions of time and space. At this point, the past, present, and future all become one; thus, everything is perfectly visible. Using mathematics to deduce the future is achievable by ordinary people in this world. However, they are unable to actually see the past, present, and future. It requires deep concentration to reach the state of being able to see the future. This is only achievable by beings with deep concentration beyond the third stage of sagehood in Theravada Buddhism.

Master Yungu told Mr. Liaofan that although ordinary people are bound by destiny, it cannot control those who have accomplished numerous exemplary deeds. Neither can it control those who have committed flagrant offenses. Mr. Liaofan had been bound by Mr. Kong’s predictions for twenty years. He had done nothing to change them and so he was indeed an ordinary person. A person of great virtue also had a set destiny but he or she has changed it. The same applies to those who have committed excessive offenses, for they too have changed their destinies. We can see that Mr. Liaofan did not cultivate either extremely good or bad deeds since his life accorded so completely with what had been predicted.

Can fate be changed? Can we escape it? Yes. To escape is to transcend. Although there are variables in the set numbers, Mr. Kong, either not knowing about the variables or not knowing how to calculate them, had predicted just the set numbers. Since the variables are within our control, we can re-create our own destinies. We can seek our good fortune.

Before meeting with the Master, Mr. Liaofan did not know about these variables. Did the Master believe that the set numbers existed, that the future could be calculated? Yes. "Before a person achieves the state of no wandering thought, he or she is bound by destiny." Master Yungu completely acknowledged the reality of predestination. However, Buddhism is not about predestination; it is about re-creating destiny. We can only depend on ourselves to do this, to become awakened; no one else can do this for us.

"We re-create our own destinies and seek our good fortune." Since Mr. Liaofan was a scholar, he knew the teachings of Confucius and so the master cited principles from Book of Songs and Book of History to awaken him. Master Yungu understood these teachings, and confirmed that they were important and true.

In the Buddhist teachings, it is written that if we wish for and seek wealth, a high position, a son, a daughter, or long life, we can attain it. Since the Buddha told us that lying is one of the greatest transgressions, we can be assured that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas would not deceive us.

As Buddhists, we learn that in seeking wealth, one will attain wealth and in seeking children, one will attain children. Even if we were not meant to have children in this life, upon practicing goodness we can have a child. We learned from the text that Mr. Liaofan was not meant to have a long life; he was supposed to die at fifty-three (but he lived until the age of seventy-four). By cultivating according to the teachings, we will attain whatever we seek. Buddhism encourages us to re-create our destinies rather than be constrained by them.

Living Buddha Master Zhang Jia said, "in Buddhism, all of our sincere pleas will be answered." He explained that most people are unable to attain what they want because they do not accord with the teachings. If we understand the principles and methods, and have sought something in accordance with them, then we are assured of receiving a response to our sincere requests. If we do not receive the desired response after having accorded with the teachings, it is due to our karmic obstacles. Once we have successfully eradicated these obstacles, we will gain the desired results. As Master Zhang Jia said, with proper seeking, we can receive everything.

Once we understand the fundamental principles, we will understand that everything in this world and beyond arises from the mind and changes according to our perceptions. If we seek to become Buddhas, we will become Buddhas. If we seek to become heavenly beings, we will become heavenly beings. Everything accords with the mind. The Flower Adornment Sutra tells us, "We should observe the nature of the Dharma Realm as everything is created by the mind." Therefore, the way of seeking is to accord with the principle that everything arises from the mind and is changed by our perceptions.

The teachings of the Buddha are appropriate and perfect. Then if we seek youth, health, eternal life in accordance with these teachings, can we attain them? Certainly! In this case, Master Yungu only taught Mr. Liaofan some of the related principles and methods because Mr. Liaofan was not very ambitious and only sought fame, wealth, and prestige.

Master Yungu told him that lying is one of the worst transgressions in Buddhism. There are four fundamental precepts: no killing, no stealing, no lying, and no sexual misconduct. Since, no lying is one of these precepts, how could the Buddha ever deceive us? Thus, the master spoke the truth when he said that whether a person sought children, wealth, or long life, all could be obtained. We will see that as Mr. Liaofan had strictly practiced according to the master’s guidance, he obtained what he sought.

I told Master Yungu that I had heard that Mencius once said: "Whatever is sought can be attained. The seeking is within ourselves." This refers to inner qualities such as virtue, integrity, and kindness. These are all values we can work toward. However, when it comes to outside factors such as wealth, fame, and prestige, how can we seek to attain them? The Master replied that Mencius was right, but that I had misunderstood his meaning.

Enhancing our intrinsic qualities to become sages and virtuous people is within our control. But how do we seek fame, wealth, and prestige? Although these are external benefits, they are also attainable through seeking. It would seem that they were destined because if we are not supposed to have something, how could we seek it. This is the general understanding of destiny, a constant in predestination. The constant is the cause that we have created in our past lives and the result that we should receive in this life. Most people do not know that there are variables within the constants and that the results will change with the addition of variables. Fame, wealth, and prestige are indeed attainable.

Master Yungu said that Master Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen School taught: "All the fields of merit are within one’s own heart. If one seeks from the true mind within, one can be in touch with all that one wishes for." By seeking within ourselves, we will not only attain the inner qualities of virtue, integrity, and kindness; we will also attain (external benefits such as) wealth, fame, and prestige. To be able to attain both inner qualities and external benefits is invaluable.

Whether attaining something outside of ourselves such as material objects or inside ourselves such as virtues, we still need to seek from within, from the mind. Seeking from the outside would be futile. Why? The outside factor is a constant; it cannot change. The mind is a variable; it changes. For twenty years, when compared to ordinary people, Mr. Liaofan’s mind was pure. Not knowing of the variables, his mind accorded completely with the constants and his life had unfolded exactly as predicted, without the slightest deviation.

Master Yungu explained that the seeking is in ourselves. Virtue, morality, kindness, and integrity are on the inside and are the cultivation of virtuous conduct. Fame, wealth, and prestige are on the outside and are the enjoyments in life. To be able to receive both kinds of benefits is of great value. As is said in the Flower Adornment Sutra, "not to be hindered in the matter of phenomena or principles" is the ultimate and perfect enjoyment. This is the great perfection of everything going as we wish, when we are satisfied with everything. This is to be liberated; it is to do all that is benevolent and noble as we wish. If we cannot attain such wonderful results, there would be no point in our practicing.

Buddhism is neither negative nor passive; it is eminently realistic and practical. Today, many people talk about practicality. Well, there is nothing more so than Buddhism for it addresses reality, something truly attainable. It is crucial that we understand its importance so as to derive its benefits. The truth is that people have misunderstood Buddhism and thus have missed its benefits. If we are able to personally experience the benefits, we will know that of all teachings, Buddhism is an unsurpassed, profound, and complete education. It is definitely not outdated. It is as appropriate now as it was three thousand years ago and it is fitting for all people whether in the east or in the west.

Master Yungu then told me that if one does not reflect inside one’s own heart; but, instead blindly seeks fame, fortune, and long life from outside sources, no matter how one schemes to pursue them, one can only attain, at most, what had been destined. Seeking from the outside, one might lose both inner purity and what one was destined to have; thus, the seeking would have been in vain.

As ordinary people, can we attain everything we want? No. When we obtain something, it is because we are destined to have it. Only when we receive what we are not destined to have, can it be said that we have gained what we sought. It does not count when we receive what we are supposed to have for we would have gained it regardless.

We have all heard of those who made millions of dollars in the stock market. But, these people simply received what they were supposed to have. Others who are not destined to make money will eventually lose it in the stock market. Not everyone profits from it. Likewise, money won from gambling is something the gambler was meant to have. Even the thief was meant to have what was stolen. If he was not supposed to have it, he would have failed in his attempt to steal it. (If he did not steal, the items would have come from another source).

The ancients said that a person of noble character and integrity is happy to be such, but it is not worth the effort for a fool to be so. Why? Because each will not be able to escape their own destiny, the constant. If we could just understand the principles, we would all be content with what we have. In this way, we would enjoy fulfilling lives, society would be stable, the world would be peaceful, and there would be no more conflicts or wars.

Buddhism teaches us to seek something not destined in our lives, not within the constant. What we attain from seeking comes from the variable. How do we seek? From within. We have not been able to seek awakening and to develop great virtue from within because we do not yet understand the principle. We have been seeking from without: working and even scheming every day. But in seeking, we need to follow the right path, for even if we have the method, the plan, and the means, we will merely attain what we are destined to. If we are not supposed to have it, we will not get it.

All that we attained was destined, our constants. Mr. Liaofan understood that there were constants; so, he did not worry or seek in an improper way. He knew his destiny. He knew that to give rise to wandering thoughts or to use whatever means possible was doomed to failure if it was not supposed to be. Seeking from without, we will be totally at a loss because our minds will be impure and we will only obtain what is destined. How could we not give rise to afflictions when such seeking is frustrated? For twenty years, Mr. Liaofan conformed to Mr. Kong's predictions. He maintained a state of contentment and a mind of purity. He had no wish to seek anything for he felt that everything was destined.

Ordinary people who do everything possible in seeking things from without will find that their knowledge and experiences are incomparable to those of Mr. Liaofan because he had achieved peace of mind. Ordinary people will end up living with afflictions and unsettled minds. Whatever they attain is something they are supposed to have; thus, they sadly lose from both within and without.

The Ways of Changing Destiny

To Acknowledge our Faults

Master Yungu next asked about Mr. Kong’s predictions for the rest of my life. I honestly told him everything. He asked if I felt that I deserved imperial appointments or a son. Reflecting on my past deeds and attitudes, I answered no I did not. Those who received imperial appointments all had the appearance of good fortune but I did not. I also did not work towards accumulating virtues to build up my good fortune. I was very impatient and narrow-minded, and would show off my intelligence and abilities by putting others down. I behaved as I pleased and spoke without restraint. These were all signs of scant good fortune and virtue. How could I possibly receive an imperial appointment?

Master Yungu did not directly answer the question. Rather, he asked Mr. Liaofan a question to teach him to reflect and to find the cause of his faults and sufferings; to determine whether he deserved an imperial appointment or not, and whether he deserved to have a son. Of course, the discussion between Master Yungu and Mr. Liaofan did not only include these two questions, but to Mr. Liaofan these two were the most important. There was no need to mention the rest. Mr. Liaofan thought for a long time about what the master had asked. He then honestly answered that no, he deserved neither an imperial appointment nor a son.

On his honesty, Mr. Xiyin You in his commentary on Liaofan’s Four Lessons stated, "honesty is the foundation in developing virtue. If a person hides or glosses over his or her faults, or covers up mistakes, how can his or her future be promising?" When we are honest and encounter benevolent teachers, they will take care in guiding us. If we are dishonest and arrogant, they will smile but will not seriously teach us.

Mr. Liaofan deeply regretted his faults and this became the key to changing his destiny. He told Master Yungu that he did not deserve an imperial appointment because he did not have the appearance of good fortune that was very important for government officials. Citizens will suffer under the rein of an official that lacks good fortune, but benefit when the official has it.

Upon examination of ancient social systems, we see that educated and logical people did not quarrel. We can also see that some emperors were very wise. For example, Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty was extremely learned, broad minded, and admired by the people. He asked: "What is so good about being an emperor? To be one is a grave responsibility. If you wish, you can take my place." As the emperor, he did not enjoy or use his position to intimidate others, but served the people and enabled them to enjoy happiness. Also, to better serve the people, he found capable scholars to work on behalf of the empire.

All caring government officials have the appearances or signs of good fortune. Mr. Liaofan at this time in his life had very little good fortune and was unable or unwilling to cultivate any. Thus, he did not even have the appearance of a government official and consequently, was inadequate to serve or to lead.

Next, Mr. Liaofan explained that he was very impatient, intolerant, and undisciplined - three serious faults. Being impatient and bad-tempered gives us the appearance of little good fortune. Being narrow minded renders us unable to tolerate others. These bad qualities would cause a person to improperly supervise, lead, or justly serve others.

Also, he frankly admitted that he was self-indulgent and liked to show off his intelligence. He did whatever he wished to. This is also something not readily endured by others. He was indiscreet and irresponsible in his speech and lacked consideration for others. All these faults bring misfortune rather than good fortune.

People who truly have good fortune are kind hearted, honest, and tolerant. Their speech and manner are calm and dignified. Confucius said, "without dignity, one is unable to inspire others." Only with dignity and the ability to inspire respect are we able to effectively interact with others. Mr. Liaofan admitted that when he was young, he simply was not calm or dignified and cited this as one of the reasons that he lacked good fortune and was thus, undeserving of an imperial appointment.

There is an old saying that "life springs from the dirt of the earth while clear water often harbors no fish." The first reason why I felt that I did not deserve a son was that I was obsessive about cleanliness. The second reason was that while harmony is the cultivator of life, I was quick-tempered. Third, although lovingkindness is the cause of fertility and harshness the cause of sterility, I was selfishly concerned about my reputation and would not sacrifice anything for others.

The fourth reason was that I talked too much and this wasted a lot of energy. Fifth, I drank too much. And sixth, I did not have a son because I often stayed up all night and wasted my energy. Aside from these, I had many other faults that were too numerous to mention.

Fish are generally not found in clear water. Why? They know that when they are seen they are easier to catch. The saying also pointed out that nothing would grow without dirt. Mr. Liaofan had an exaggerated fear of things not being clean. Being clean and neat is a good quality; however, to be overly so can become an obsession. It is not good when one cannot tolerate even the slightest bit of dirt. This was one reason why he did not deserve a son.

Harmony can help a family to prosper and friendliness is conducive to wealth. Mr. Liaofan’s bad temper was one of the reasons he was not wealthy and this placed his family in a precarious financial situation. Also, he was easily angered by the least provocation and could not tolerate anything displeasing. To behave in this manner resulted in a lack of good fortune and this was another reason he did not deserve a son.

Lovingkindness is caring for others. Mr. Liaofan understood the principles, but was unable to act on them. Why? He was a very unkind person. He overvalued his own reputation and was unwilling to help others. This was another reason why he did not deserve a son. Also, he talked too much, which wasted a lot of energy. Mr. Liaofan came up with six main reasons why he did not have children. The first three were being obsessive over cleanliness, being quick tempered, and lacking lovingkindness. These were from the aspect of intention, or the mind.

The next three were talking too much, drinking, and staying up all night. They were from the aspect of behavior, or the body. He liked to talk and criticize others. He indulged in gossiping about other’s faults and was argumentative. These harm the body and exhaust one’s energy. He also liked to drink excessively and this harms the mind and tires the spirit. Finally, he said he did not deserve a son because he spent his nights talking with friends, drinking, having a good time, and not bothering to look after his health.

By realizing that he had so many bad habits and faults, Mr. Liaofan honestly admitted and regretted all his flawed behavior. To acknowledge all of one’s offenses without hiding anything is to regret and eradicate one’s karmic obstacles. This must be done sincerely to be effective. Awakening is achieved when we are able to identify our faults. Cultivation is accomplished when we have realized these faults and corrected them. Since most people are unaware of their mistakes, they are not truly cultivating. Therefore, the first step is to recognize our bad habits. Mr. Liaofan was so unusual because once Master Yungu questioned him; he was able to carefully reflect and to discover all his faults. This is how he was able to change his future from then on.

How was he able to do this? And why are we unable to do so? Completely unaware of our bad habits, we are of course unable to correct them. Mr. Liaofan was able to reflect, uncover, and change all of his improper behavior. In this way, he attained what he sought. On the inside, he attained virtuous and caring conduct, and on the outside wealth and children. He did not seek from without. We did not see him bowing and burning incense in front of Great Compassion Bodhisattva to seek children, fame, and wealth. But today, people seek what they want by merely going through the formalities of blindly worshiping. They do not understand the principles. They seek what they desire, but just going through the formalities is the wrong way to do so and will lead to failure.

Day and night, we see countless people going to temples, burning candles and incense while asking for wealth and children, basically to attain what their destiny had already ensured them of receiving. In their ignorance, they would think what they received was granted by the grace of heaven. Practitioners need to understand the reality and to seek in accordance with the teachings. As Master Yungu said, it is to gain from both within and without. In this way, we can attain whatever we seek.

Master Yungu said: "According to you then, there are many other things in life you do not deserve, not only fame and a son! Those who have millions of dollars in this life cultivated the good fortune worthy of that amount in the past. Those who have thousands of dollars must also have the good fortune worthy of that sum. Those, who die of starvation, were in fact meant to die in that manner. The karmic result today is simply the fruit of their own deeds and has nothing to do with external powers.

This advice from the master is most important and must not be regarded as mere superstition. If we do so, it is due to our delusion and inability to believe what the sages have told us. Master Yungu taught Mr. Liaofan to honestly reflect within and doing this enabled him to recognize his many faults. The greatest virtuous deed is that we recognize and change our mistaken behavior.

Making offerings to infinite sages is also a great virtuous deed. But, we learn from the Infinite Life Sutra that it is even better to turn back from delusion and to conscientiously cultivate. Cultivation is to change ourselves. The ancient sages regarded it as the great virtue of regretting and reforming.

Master Yungu told Mr. Liaofan that apparently he felt there were many things in life that he did not deserve, not only a son or an imperial appointment. Attaining a high grade in the examinations and the resultant imperial appointment both relied on the cultivation and accumulation of merit from one’s past lives. We need the right conditions to have millions of dollars or social position. These are not randomly attained. In Buddhism, it is said that for us to possess wealth in this life, we needed to have extensively practiced the giving of wealth in our past lives. Can we force nature to give us wealth? Impossible. To try to do so will bring disaster and misfortune. "Neither misfortune nor good fortune come without reasons and conditions; we incur them."

The ancients who created Chinese characters had great wisdom. The two characters for "good fortune" and "misfortune" 禍 differ only by a little. This illustrates that a small discrepancy leads to a serious error. All this helps us to understand cause and effect. When we seek fame, wealth, and prestige in accordance with the teachings, we will find that everything is attainable.

"Millions of dollars" represents wealth of the upper class. "Thousands of dollars" represents wealth of the middle class. Because of the good causes planted in past lives, some people will possess great or moderate wealth. Those who starve to death committed numerous offenses in their past lives. Being miserly, they did not practice giving. Today unfortunately, many such people are unwilling to do the slightest of good deeds or to give even a little. While encouraging others to give, they do not follow their own advice. They will undergo poverty in future lifetimes. We reap what we sow.

Our lives are not controlled by external powers. The master said that the heavens do nothing more than punish those who are bad with the suffering they deserve and reward those who are kind with the good fortune they have earned. Some people assume that everything is arranged by the will of Heaven; but, this is not so. The true cause of everything that happens to us is our thoughts and behavior. Heaven does not have any plans for us. With true wisdom, we will clearly see the truth. To be wealthy with a good social position or to be poor with none all lies within us.

"For example, if a person has accumulated enough merits and virtues to last a hundred generations, then he or she will have a hundred generations of descendants. One who accumulates enough merits and virtues to last ten generations will have ten generations of descendants to live out that good fortune. The same applies to three or two generations. Those who have no descendants had too little merits and virtues.

This talks about the destiny of having or not having children. If we have accumulated enough merits and virtues for a hundred generations, then we will have a hundred generations of descendants. Patriarch Yin-Guang often praised Confucius, who cultivated the "virtue of a hundred generations." Confucius constantly thought of benefiting the country and its people, without the slightest thought of himself. He dedicated his life to education and passed on his ideals and hopes to his students. He was the greatest educator in Chinese history.

There have now been over seventy generations of Confucius’ descendants and his current descendant, Mr. Decheng Kong, is still respected by people all around the world. Not only the Chinese, but also others are also courteous and respectful, warmly welcoming him upon hearing that he is the descendant of Confucius. From this, it becomes evident that by planting good seeds or causes, we reap good harvests or results.

In Liaofan's Four Lessons, we read that when we accumulate enough merits and virtues for ten generations, we will have ten generations of descendants to enjoy that good fortune. Throughout Chinese history, emperors tried to establish dynasties that were able to reign for many generations, such as the Qing Dynasty that lasted for ten generations. But, if their ancestors had not accumulated enough merits and virtues then it would have been impossible.

Today, people do not know or believe this. They think all they need is ability, good political tactics, and knowledge. But they are wrong. Virtues accumulated by our ancestors plus our virtuous conduct from our past lives will result in having additional virtuous people being born into our families, assuring their continuation.

Similarly, how many generations will a family business last? In Taiwan, there is a chain of medical stores called "Universal Compassion Hall" that originated in Beijing. By the accumulation of virtues and merits, it has been in business for over a hundred years and has been passed down through succeeding generations. Compassionate ancestors, whose driving ambition was to save lives, founded it. Unconcerned about profits, they only wanted to make enough to live very simply. Their goal was not to enjoy a comfortable life, but to benefit society and to help those who were suffering. With this objective, they were able to found a business that has lasted over a hundred years. If the descendants do not deviate from their ancestor’s objectives, this chain will continue forever. They will not be like those who lack merits and virtues, and find their businesses going bankrupt after only a few years.

Some people may only have enough merits and virtues to last for two or three generations of descendants. The Chinese say that of the three serious offenses of being unfilial, having no descendants is the most critical. This lack of merits and virtues results in not having any descendants.

In the past, people were extremely concerned about this, but today things are very different. Many couples do not even want to have children, thinking they will be too much trouble. Also, we now have social welfare. Who takes care of the elderly? Countries do. With no need to rely on their children to provide for them when they become older, many couples have decided that they need not have children. They can retire in their sixties and collect social security every month from the government. This is possible because today’s social welfare system is much better than what transpired in the past, when the elderly had to depend on their children for support. Now, more governments are helping to care for the elderly. This system is more filial than many children are! However, (children need to remember that) the Law of Cause and Effect remains unchanged.

"Just as one stores up grain against lean years, one raises children against old age" has been a commonly held idea. In his commentary, Mr. You said: "Sages transcending this world consider the cultivation of ending desires and attachments, eradicating delusion to attain wisdom, and transcending the ordinary to reach sagehood to be the utmost virtue and merit. Unfortunately, this level of attainment is not understood by ordinary people."

This idea of raising children against old age still exists today. Usually when young people give rise to the compassionate heart to become monks or nuns, their family and friends try their best to stop them. Not understanding, they think that their biggest concern is not having descendants. Buddhism looks into the past, present, and future, and understands the truth of life and the universe. Ordinary people see only a tiny portion of the universe. Of this portion, they have only witnessed the human realm. Of this realm, they only see the present. They do not see the past or the future; therefore, they are unable to perceive as clearly as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do.

When someone in a family becomes a monk or nun, it is truly the most joyous occasion for this is an outstanding pursuit. However, monks and nuns must sincerely practice in renouncing worldly life for if we do not achieve, we will fall into the Three Bad Realms. In Buddhism, it is often said that an offering of one grain of rice is as great as Mt. Sumeru and not transcending the cycle of birth and death in this lifetime, consigns monks and nuns to repay the debt as an animal (in the next or following lives).

As Pure Land practitioners, we have to achieve a certain level of attainment and to transcend the Six Realms to be born into the Western Pure Land. Theravada practitioners need to reach, at the least, the level of Stream-enterer, which is achieved by severing various wrong views. It is the lowest of the four stages of sagehood in Theravada Buddhism. At this point of attainment practitioners will continue to be born into the heaven and human realms for seven more times. In this way, they are assured of attaining the state of Arhat although it may take them a long time to do so. But by not falling into the Three Bad Realms, they are considered to have achieved attainment.

According to this criterion, the minimum standard to achieve attainment in Mahayana Buddhism is to rid ourselves of a portion of our attachments, to sever the eighty-eight kinds of deviated thoughts and views. If we cannot sever these, we have not yet achieved attainment. Mahayana practitioners, who successfully sever them, reach the Initial Belief Stage. Theravada practitioners who sever various wrong views reach the stage of Stream-enterer.

Without these accomplishments, we will still be reincarnating within the Six Realms, still repaying our debts. For monks and nuns, this means we will have to repay every single offering from throughout the universe that was enjoyed during the time we were monks and nuns. These offerings given by practitioners to monks and nuns were given in expectation of rewards.

If Theravada practitioners are able to achieve the levels of Stream-enterer or if Mahayana practitioners are able to sever the eighty-eight kinds of improper thoughts and views, those who have made the offerings will receive good fortune. Then, there is no need for us to repay them because they have harvested from the fields of merit. Using these requirements as the standard, such attainment is not attainable by monks and nuns of this generation.

However, there is still another way: to seek birth into the Western Pure Land. Otherwise, attainment is not possible. If we cannot go to the Pure Land, we will have achieved nothing. Seeking birth into the Pure Land is actually much simpler than severing the eighty-eight kinds of improper thoughts and views because we do not need to sever them all, but can carry our remaining karma with us. As long as we have unwavering confidence, the vow, and proper conduct, and are constantly mindful of Buddha Amitabha, everyone will achieve attainment. The Buddha explained this to us in the Infinite Life Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra. Therefore, when we renounce worldly life to become monks or nuns, we must achieve attainment.

To Reform Faults Thoroughly

"Now that you recognize your shortcomings, you need to do all that you can to change and correct your misdeeds that caused you not to have a child or not to become an imperial official.

Master Yungu taught Mr. Liaofan how to correct his bad habits and shortcomings. Since he knew what these were, the master told him to do everything he could to improve. Mr. You said in his commentary, "each of us has our faults and weaknesses, but if we are able to calmly think and find every one of them, we will know where to begin."

Changing our conduct and improving ourselves is true cultivation. It is by no means just a formality of reciting sutras, prostrating before the Buddha, or chanting mantras. To have cultivated an entire lifetime and still be mired in the Six Realms is to have simply gone through the formalities. For others, formalities exemplify the teachings so that they might see them and begin to awaken. For us, they serve as reminders of the teachings.

For self-cultivation however, importance is not placed on the formalities but rather on discovering our faults. This is awakening. To correct our faults is to improve in our cultivation. Therefore, the most important point is for us to be calm, introspective, and be watchful of our conduct as we look for our bad habits and faults. When we know these, we will know where to begin, what to correct, and how to proceed. We can then concentrate and use all of our energy to reform.

In his commentary, Mr. You has provided us with some examples. "We can change from a miserly and greedy person to become one who is generous to those in need," was one of them. When we are miserly, we are unwilling to give to others. When greedy, we are always trying to gain what we do not have. If we find that we are habitually doing this, we can become generous through the practice of giving. What I have and others do not, I can freely give to them upon request. Or better yet, when I see others who have an urgent need, I can take the initiative and simply provide them with what they need. This is the cultivation of good fortune through the first of three kinds of giving, that of giving wealth.

This second kind of giving is teaching and is practiced when we help others by sharing our skills or wisdom. If we are good at what others are not, we can enthusiastically teach to them so they will have the skill or uncover their wisdom. The third kind of giving, the giving of fearlessness, is helping others to be calm and secure in both body and mind. It is to help relieve their uneasiness and their fears. For example, if someone is afraid to walk home alone at night, we can accompany him or her so he or she will no longer be apprehensive.

Today, many young people serve in the armed forces to protect their countries from invasion. This is another form of the giving of fearlessness because soldiers protect a country and its people, and maintain the peace by not allowing harm from foreign forces to befall its people. We can see that the scope of these three kinds of giving is extensive. With the giving of wealth, we gain wealth. With the giving of teaching, we gain intelligence and wisdom. With the giving of fearlessness, we gain health and longevity.

In many countries, freeing captured animals is another form of the giving of fearlessness. However, many improper practices have arisen because of this. Since many people wish to free captured animals, others have gone into the business of capturing them. Freeing animals in this way is not the giving of fearlessness but subjects them to harm. If we did not have the intention of freeing animals, others would not capture them. We would do well to thoroughly understand the situation so that in our attempts to be kind, we do not inadvertently cause harm instead.

In some countries, we can properly practice this giving by freeing animals that we find when shopping in the food market. We do so in the knowledge that they will be able to survive once they are freed. This is genuine compassion and kindness for it is saving those in suffering. However, we need to be aware that many pet shops sell animals that are domestically raised and therefore would be unable to survive on their own. If they were freed, they would die and our good intentions would become transgressions.

Therefore, we need to consider the consequences to everything that we do. When we do occasionally find animals in a food market and buy them to set free, the proper way to do so is to chant the Three Refuges of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and then chant a Buddha’s name. In this way, we are saving their lives.

The commentary next talks about changing from an angry and agitated person to one who is calm. Easily giving in to anger or becoming irritated is a major fault and was one that Mr. Liaofan had. The master encouraged him to remain calm instead. When we are able to accomplish this, we will naturally be gentle. Both Buddha Shakyamuni and Confucius stressed this important quality of our virtues. The students of Confucius praised his five virtues of gentility, kindness, respectfulness, thriftiness, and humility that he exhibited towards everyone and everything. Confucius did not live an extravagant life but one of simplicity. Being courteous and humble, he never argued, always accorded with others, and was a model of moral excellence.

The commentary continues with, "to change from a person who exaggerates and is boastful to one who is modest." When people exaggerate, we automatically doubt whatever they say. As a result, it is difficult for them to win our confidence because basically, they are dishonest. Therefore, we need to be modest and honest in all that we say and do.

"To change from a person who is flighty and impatient to one who is settled." If we can remain calm, we will attain purity of mind. "To change from a person who is arrogant and insolent to one who is courteous." There really is nothing to be arrogant about. If we accomplished something successfully, it was our responsibility to do so. If we did not, we should be corrected and told how to improve. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who are enlightened beings, respect everyone and everything, as did Confucius and Mencius. Given that we are far behind them in attainment or understanding, we need to regard others with respect and courtesy for these are natural virtues.

"To change from a person who is lazy to one who is diligent." Being lazy is a serious affliction for the person will not succeed in anything. Instead, we would do well to be purposeful and energetic. One of Buddha Shakyamuni’s students, Anuruddha was known for his laziness. After being reproached by the Buddha, he resolved to go without rest for seven days and nights. Due to his enthusiasm, he damaged his vision. The Buddha compassionately taught him the "Illuminating the Diamond of Delightful Observation Samadhi," a form of deep concentration that enabled him to see far better than before. Consequently, he was able to see one Buddha land, an area that is comprised of one billion galaxies.

We also need to be inspired with enthusiasm and determination. Nothing is accomplished through laziness. Not only are we unable to achieve attainment in our practice and learning of Buddhism, but we will also fail to accomplish anything in our daily lives. In ancient times or today, in the east or in the west no one has become successful through laziness. Diligence is the good cause for Mahayana practitioners and Bodhisattvas.

"To change from a person who is cruel to one who is compassionate. To change from a person who is cowardly to one who is courageous." As being overly fearful is another serious fault, we can instead endeavor to be conscientious and resolute. Mr. Liaofan admitted to having all of these faults. We would do well to be more like him and do everything we can to improve ourselves.

Next, the master taught Mr. Liaofan several essential points for his cultivation.

"You need to cultivate virtue and tolerance, and to regard others with good will and compassion. You also need to care for your health and conserve your energy and spirit.

First, Master Yungu encouraged Mr. Liaofan to accumulate merits by avoiding all that was bad and embracing all that was good. This is our foundation for improvement in Buddhism and in worldly teachings. If we do not earnestly accumulate merits and virtues by avoiding evil and practicing goodness, how can we hope to be "those who have thousands of dollars" or "those who have accumulated enough merits and virtues for a hundred generations?" An entire country respected Confucius. The entire world respected Buddha Shakyamuni. The former accumulated great merits of the world. The latter accumulated great merits of the universe.

Second, we can strive to be tolerant of others as we broaden our minds and hearts. If we do not, we will encounter more afflictions and this will present further obstacles to our cultivation. We cultivate awakening, proper thoughts, and pure minds. If we cannot attain purity of mind, then we will not be awakened. This will result in deviated thoughts. Proper and great-enlightened thoughts rely on the foundation of purity of mind. We accomplish this through tolerance.

There is no need to be overly serious or to criticize everything. As we learn in the Diamond Sutra, "all phenomena are illusory, like dreams, mirages, bubbles and shadows." Nothing is real. As the ancients said, all phenomena are as fleeting as clouds. There is nothing worthy of anger or dispute. There is no point in dwelling on things, for this will hinder our cultivation of purity of mind.

There is every point in being gentle, loving, and peaceful. Failing to be so was Mr. Liaofan’s biggest problem. We can strive to practice lovingkindness and compassion for everyone and everything. The Buddha taught that these are non-discriminatory and are to be held equally for all. Confucius also taught of lovingkindness, explaining, "the benevolent person has no enemies." If we cannot accept anything that is contrary to what we think, then we are neither kind nor compassionate. Conflict simply does not exist within the heart of lovingkindness. This is also what is meant in Buddhism as great compassion and is what we need to learn and practice to truly benefit ourselves.

In the Pure Land sutras, we read about "One Mind Undisturbed." This state is unattainable if anything exists in opposition. To have opposition is to have a mind of differentiation. Master Huineng said, "originally, our true mind contained nothing." If the mind still clings to even one wandering thought, then it is not the true but an illusory mind. The pure and uncontaminated mind will not have opposing thoughts. When there are no more opposing thoughts, the true mind can be uncovered, purity of mind can arise, and we will attain One Mind Undisturbed.

The states of One Mind Undisturbed and Constant Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha begin from here. In Constant Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha, initially the mind remembers the Buddha and does not forget. After prolonged cultivation, we ceaselessly contemplate the Buddha. If we have been chanting "Amituofo" for many years and have not yet reached the state of Constant Mindfulness, we need to determine where the problem lies and correct it.

When we have eliminated our obstacles, we will be able to achieve this state and be assured of birth into the Pure Land. Regardless of our state of cultivation, we will know when we have achieved it. There is no need to ask others.

When we are born into the Pure Land through the state of Constant Mindfulness, we will be born into the Land where Both Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together. With the state of One Mind Undisturbed in Mindfulness, we will be born into the Land Where Everything is Temporary. With the state of One Mind Undisturbed in Enlightenment, we will be born into the Land of True Reward. The level of attainment we achieve determines which land we will be born into.

There are also different levels in the state of Constant Mindfulness; thus, there are nine levels of birth. People who are born into the higher three levels of birth are able to pass away whenever they wish. At that time, they can go without any illness and may be standing or seated. If they do not feel like leaving this world yet, they can stay longer. Everything can be achieved at will. People who are born into the middle three levels of birth are able to know a few months in advance when they are going to pass away. Again, they may leave this world standing or seated. In the lower level, people will know several days in advance of their death, but they may become ill before their time of death.

People reaching the state of One Mind Undisturbed have even higher abilities. There are two levels of One Mind Undisturbed: Mindfulness and Enlightenment. These levels are not achievable by ordinary people like us in one lifetime, whereas, Constant Mindfulness is. Therefore, in this lifetime we can attain the state of Constant Mindfulness in which we will have the ability to pass away at ease, to leave whenever we wish. This is to be born into the higher three levels of birth, into the Land Where Both Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, and to carry our remaining karma along with us.

The master told Mr. Liaofan that he should care for his health and conserve his energy and spirit. Because Mr. Liaofan liked to sit up all night and did not know how to take care of himself, he needed to pay special attention to caring for his health and energy.

"Live as if everything in the past dissolved yesterday and a brand-new future begins today. If you can accomplish this, then you are a person born anew, a person of virtue and sincerity.

Everything that happened yesterday is in the past. Do not dwell on it. If we do, it is as if we have committed or undergone them again. To do so will leave additional impressions in the Alaya Consciousness. Therefore, let bygones be bygones and forget them. The important thing is to correct what is in the present and what will be in the future. Doubts and regrets are afflictions that are conditions or causes of grief and distress that disturb the body and mind.

The Buddha taught us not to dwell on the past. We read in Mr. You's commentary, that this is the key to changing destiny for the Perfect People. The Perfect People are those with higher levels of wisdom and who are awakened. There are six steps to accomplish this, beginning from the need to cultivate and accumulate merits and virtues, and culminating in becoming "a person born anew, a person of virtue and sincerity." These are the keys to changing destiny.

Mr. You said in his commentary, "The first step in changing destiny is to correct our faults. To brush away all the accumulated bad habits one by one and to pull out the roots of our problems one by one. At all times and in all places, to be constantly vigilant of our every thought, word, and act. We restrain and discipline ourselves. We protect our innocent and the virtuous as we would a newborn baby." The full responsibility for changing destiny is in our hands, not in the hands of heavenly or enlightened beings. People of utmost virtue are no longer bound by destiny.

We need to be strict with ourselves. If we constantly forgive ourselves, we will limit our futures. However, while we are exacting and stern with ourselves, we ought to be generous and lenient with others. We need to protect those who are pure, virtuous, and innocent. What is innocence? It is to not have any selfish thoughts. If we constantly have wandering thoughts, then we lose our innocent, true, and pure minds.

The responsibility for changing what is predetermined is entirely up to us. Once we understand the truth about re-creating our futures, we will no longer need to ask psychics or fortunetellers what the future holds. We can carefully reflect to know what it is supposed to be and how to change it. Knowing this, others would no longer be able to deceive us.

Previously Master Yungu told Mr. Liaofan about people who were of the utmost virtue. In the Pure Land sutras, we learn that they live in the Pure Land. People of utmost virtue are able to feel regret and reform. In the Western Pure Land, they do so daily, until there is nothing left that requires correction. Then they become Buddhas.

Even the highest-level Bodhisattvas still have faults. What kind? They still have one degree of ignorance yet to be broken through. If Equal-enlightenment Bodhisattvas still need to regret and reform, we can imagine how much we need to do! From now on, we need to have the compassionate heart to feel remorse and change for the better. Even upon reaching the level of Equal-enlightenment Bodhisattvas, we will still need to do this. Only when there is nothing left to correct will we become Buddhas. We cannot attain supreme enlightenment if we still have one remaining fault.

Enlightenment is to know and correct our faults. Bodhisattvas are enlightened sentient beings. We are also sentient beings, but are unenlightened since we do not know our faults and thus do not know to correct them. We believe that we are already correct. We question, "do I have any faults?" and think for a long time without finding any. Thus, it is said that ordinary people do not have faults while Bodhisattvas have many. They constantly watch over their every thought, word, and deed, knowing that they have many shortcomings, continuously correcting them and doing so for three great eons. When we think about how many faults there can be, how can we possibly think that as ordinary people we do not have any!

What is the difference between "enlightened" and "unenlightened"? One who knows that they have many faults is an enlightened being - a Bodhisattva. One who does not know they possess numerous faults is unenlightened - an ordinary person. Bodhisattvas are not deities, but are beings who know their faults and constantly strive to correct them. If we were to improve, not only would we correct our faults, but we would also give rise to the vows of Buddha Amitabha and this would be the most remarkable way of changing our destinies.

We recite the Infinite Life Sutra daily to be very familiar with it, but this is only the initial step. The second step is to use the sutra as a mirror, reflecting once with each recitation to make a comparison and to find our faults. By looking at reflections in a mirror, we can see what parts are soiled and immediately clean them. To clean is to correct. We recite the sutra to find the pollution in our mind that we are not yet aware of. The sutra is like a mirror that sees and reflects what parts of our minds have faults so that we may immediately correct them. Therefore, we initially become familiar with the sutra and then we accord with its teachings.

In cultivation, first we give rise to vows. We need to think carefully if we have given rise to the forty-eight vows of Buddha Amitabha, to adopt these vows as our own, and to be of one heart and vow with him. Then, we will be the same as him and become his manifestation. He is our role model to help us to mold and transform ourselves to be the same as him. This is to be of one mind, one heart, and one vow. How could we not be born into the Pure Land when our hearts and vows are the same as his? When this happens, we will think, speak, and act the same as Buddha Amitabha as we relate to other people and circumstances, become constantly mindful of Buddha Amitabha, and always remember to encourage others to chant Amituofo.

When our three karmas of body, speech, and mind are the same as Buddha Amitabha, we become his manifestation. We return to this world to fulfill his original vows. This is even more remarkable than being a person of virtue and sincerity. Originally, we reincarnated into this world to repay our karmic debts, but now each of us is Buddha Amitabha coming to this world through the strength of our vows! This is the most remarkable and unsurpassable method in changing our destinies.

"If even our body is governed by destiny, then how can a body of virtue and sincerity not evoke a response from Heaven?

Here Master Yungu was talking of wandering thoughts and attachments. Our bodies really have nothing to do with destiny. What matters is the mind, for it influences the body. To be honest, the minds of most people are selfish and thus, they are governed by destiny. We also fall under the control of destiny when we use the conscious mind or our Eight Consciousnesses.

Enlightened beings are able to transcend because they have turned their Eight Consciousnesses into the Four Wisdoms. Not using the Eight Consciousnesses, enlightened beings are not controlled by destiny. After we have reached a certain level of enlightenment, we too will use our enlightened mind. Currently, we are using deluded feelings. If we used our enlightened wisdom, how could we not "evoke a response from Heaven"?

In the commentary, we learn: "Utmost sincerity can split a stone of diamond, can evoke a response from Heaven, and can change destiny." Consider the well-known account of what happened to the famous General Guang Lee who lived during the Han Dynasty. One time he and his soldiers were on a march. On one side of the road, the grass was very long. There was a large stone partially hidden in the grass and he mistakenly thought it was a tiger. He immediately shot an arrow and it went deep into its target.

After getting off his horse and going to survey his marksmanship, he was amazed to see that it was a stone! He thought, "I must be very strong to have shot an arrow so deep into a stone!" He tried again and again, but failed to repeat his accomplishment. From this, we can see that the first shot resulted from the utmost sincerity of having no wandering thoughts.

Similarly, when Great Master Kumarajiva was about seven years old, he lifted up a great iron bowl without so much as a thought. But then he thought, "I am so small. How could I have lifted it?" He tried to do so again, but failed. General Guang Lee had mistaken the stone for a tiger and was able to shoot an arrow into it. Master Kumarajiva thought nothing of the weight of a great iron bowl and was able to lift it. Once General Guang Lee realized that the tiger was actually a stone and Master Kumarajiva realized that the iron bowl was extraordinarily heavy, they were unable to repeat their previous accomplishments. Both initially acted from the mind of sincerity that had no wandering thoughts. Thus, the stone was split open and the iron bowl was lifted up.

From these two examples, we can confirm what is said in the Flower Adornment Sutra, "there are no hindrances among phenomena or principles." This is achieved when the mind attains a certain degree of purity as we sever our wandering discriminatory thoughts and attachments. If the mind is not pure, then all phenomena present obstacles. But, when the mind is pure, there are no obstacles.

"Utmost sincerity thus evokes a response from Heaven." Confucianism speaks of wrestling with materialistic desires, teaching us to let go of and no longer be influenced by desire. Utmost sincerity can change destiny. It is the true mind as explained in the Visualization Sutra. It is the Bodhi mind: the mind of utmost sincerity, profundity, merit dedication, and vow generation.

As is said in the ‘Tai Jia Chapter’ in Book of History, ‘one may run away from the retribution of Heaven, but one can never escape the retribution for one’s misdeeds.’

To say that we may run from the retribution of Heaven means that although we had committed offenses in former lifetimes, the retribution for them is changeable by our current cultivation, and the accumulation of merits and virtues in this lifetime. The retributions of Heaven are destined and changeable.

"But one can never escape the retribution for one’s misdeeds" is about the offenses of this lifetime. The retributions of Heaven are meted out for offenses of past lives but they are changeable, as are our destinies. However, nothing can be done regarding the retribution for the misdeeds that we commit in our present lifetimes. And if we continue to commit these, then we will be unable to regret and reform, unable to change our destinies.

When bad causes created in the past, encounter present adverse catalytic conditions, the retributions for these wrongdoings mature. However, if we refrain from committing further misdeeds, we can suppress the adverse conditions. The bad causes still exist but without the catalytic conditions, they will not mature. The principle in changing destiny is based on this conditional aspect of the Law of Cause and Effect. Cause is what was created in the past and is unchangeable; but condition is changeable and controllable.

We reap what we sow. We can plant melon and bean seeds that are causes. When we do so, we will grow the melons and beans that are fruits. However, we cannot grow beans from melon seeds or melons from bean seeds. Cause is a constant here. What we will harvest depends on the conditions. If we would like to harvest beans, we plant the seeds for them and put away the melon seeds. For a cause to come into effect, appropriate catalytic conditions are required. For example, seeds need the right conditions, which are good soil, fertilizer, sun, and water to grow well. Even after the seeds are planted and the cause is created, we can prevent them from maturing. We simply withhold the water and sunlight. They will not grow. The seeds will not mature into fruits because they do not have the right conditions.

Therefore, although we have created bad causes in our past lives, if we refrain from wrongdoings in this life, end our erroneous behavior, and cultivate kind deeds, we will not provide the bad conditions for these causes to mature. Surely, we also created some good causes in our past lives. How could a person have only committed bad deeds or only performed good deeds? Such a person simply does not exist. Therefore, life after life all of our deeds have been a mixture of good and bad. Sometimes more good; sometimes more bad.

We do not need to be afraid that we have committed more transgressions as long as we refrain from committing any more. If we can block the bad conditions, although we may only have a small amount of good deeds, these will blossom and mature.

"It is said in Book of Songs, ‘to permanently accord with the mind of Heaven and to seek our own great good fortune.’"

This reveals the real purpose of our morning and evening classes. The morning class serves to remind us of Buddha Amitabha’s vows. The purpose of the evening class is to look back on the day to see if we had followed the sutra’s guidance and whether we had been watchful over our thoughts, words, and deeds. Thus, it is meaningful to participate in both. In Buddha Shakyamuni’s time, the content for both morning and evening classes was the Three Refuges from the "Chapter of Purification of Conduct" in the Flower Adornment Sutra: "To the Buddha I return and rely, vowing that all living beings will profoundly understand the Great Way and bring forth the heart of great understanding."

Ancient virtuous people compiled our current recitation handbooks and the content was suitable for the people practicing together at that time. But is this recitation suitable for our current practice? If not, the handbooks need to be modified so that they will allow us to continue to benefit from them by correcting our faults. The same applies to repentance ceremonies. If we participate in these and do the many prostrations with an impure mind, not only will we not eradicate our karmic obstacles, we will increase them.

This is similar to taking medicine when we become ill. If the medication proves ineffective, we have to change prescriptions. The purpose of sutra recitation and repentance prostrations is to treat the illness in our minds to cure our afflictions. If they are ineffective, we need to find a better prescription. This is why the Jewel King Samadhi Repentance Ceremony compiled by Mr. Lianju Xia is more suitable than other similar books in treating our current problems. Upon careful reading, we will understand that many of its phrases are appropriate today. Hence, we need to choose the morning and evening recitations based on our illnesses and problems.

For the morning and evening classes, many Pure Land practitioners now recite the Infinite Life Sutra to cultivate concentration. If we do not have enough time to recite the entire sutra, then we can recite chapter six that comprises the forty-eight vows for the morning, and chapters thirty-two to thirty-seven for the evening. These six chapters talk of cause and effect, and of learning how to change ourselves. Doing this, we will permanently accord with the minds of Heaven and seek our own great good fortune.

"The minds of Heaven" means the original True Nature; it does not literally mean Heaven, Earth, and celestial beings. If we can accord with this Nature, we will achieve the basic virtue and return to it.

The master then told me: "Mr. Kong had predicted that you would not receive an imperial appointment or have a son. These are the retributions of Heaven, but even they can be changed. You only need to develop your virtue, diligently strive to practice goodness, and work to accumulate many hidden merits and virtues.

Master Yungu told Mr. Liaofan that not receiving an imperial appointment or not having a son were the consequences of his accumulated negative karma from previous lifetimes. However, these were changeable for while destiny exists, it is not fixed. What is from the past is a constant: what is done in the present is a variable.

Master Yungu explained that to change what is supposed to happen we begin from our hearts and develop our virtues. From this, we can see that if we are to seek and change only from without, we will be "at a loss, within and without." We have seen people who try to improve their environment by changing the placement of doors, windows, etc. all to be at a loss, within and without. On appearance, they seemed to gain, but actually what they gained was what they were destined to have. It was still within their destiny, a constant, and not a variable.

We need to change from our minds and hearts, to refrain from wrongdoings and to cultivate goodness. The master also said "work to accumulate many hidden merits and virtues." These are good deeds that others do not know about. If we did something that was good and then made it widely known, so that others praised us, we would lose our merits and virtues as these have now turned into praise. To do what is good but to cancel its benefits at the same time will prevent us from accumulating merits and virtues. It is much better to practice goodness without letting anybody know and even better if some people reproached us, for this will help to reduce our negative karma. It would be best if our negative karma and retributions were reduced and even eradicated, while our merits and virtues remained hidden.

Today, when we do good and are criticized or even slandered, we feel it is undeserved. Why do we have bad consequences when we do good? Actually, these are good consequences. If we are immediately complimented upon doing good deeds, we will lose our merits and virtues. Therefore, we can strive to accumulate merits and virtues while hiding them from others, for only then is this truly a good deed.

"These are your ways to re-create good fortune. How then is it possible that you will not get to enjoy it?

We will be able to enjoy all the good fortune that we have created in this life. The sutras tell us, "cause and effect are linked through the past, present and future." What we undergo in this lifetime are the consequences of what we had done in our previous lifetimes, while what we do now will determine what we undergo in our future lifetimes. If we cultivate very diligently, we need not wait until our next lifetimes to reap our rewards; instead, we may see our deeds bear fruit in this lifetime. Due to this principle, Mr. Liaofan completely changed his destiny. He had accumulated so many good deeds that he did not have to wait until his next life to enjoy the results.

"I Ching, Book of Changes, was written to help people accrue good fortune and to avoid adversity. If everything is destined with no room for change, how can we hope to do this?

The I Ching is considered by many to be the earliest philosophy book in ancient China and teaches people to become sages and virtuous people. It accomplishes this through mathematics and the use of sixty-four six-line figures representing all possible combinations of broken and unbroken lines. There are three hundred and eighty-four possible predictions. Changes as small as those that affect individuals to those that affect countries and even the world can be deduced from these figures. The book uses mathematics to determine the natural course of cause and effect.

What Master Yungu said regarding the surpassing of mathematics is where the techniques of I Ching fail. I Ching works well with constants, but although it understands that there are variables, it fails to work with them. This teaches us to accumulate merits and to avoid bad deeds. One virtuous thought is a plus and one negative thought is a minus. So, every day is simply a matter of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. If the margin of change is not too much, others can foretell our destinies with a reasonable degree of accuracy. This is how Mr. Kong foretold Mr. Liaofan’s destiny.

For twenty years, Mr. Liaofan neither increased nor decreased his bad or good thoughts and deeds, but completely accorded with his destiny. For most people there are usually some variances - one virtuous thought, one unkind deed. Mr. Liaofan, who had no interest in doing either good deeds or bad deeds, maintained constancy for twenty years; thus, his destiny was remarkably accurate. If the variance is large, we will surpass the constant to "accrue good fortune and avoid adversity."

We read in the commentary: "Because all thoughts and behavior are changeable, so all the consequences of gain and loss, joy and pain seem flexible and changeable. These consequences can be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided: gained and lost in accordance with the behavior of the individual."

A constant is the cause. A variable is the condition. The key to changing destiny is determined by the condition and this is what Buddhism stresses. "All the infinite creations in Heaven and on Earth arise from conditions." All existing things arise from the condition, which is a variable. By controlling this variable, we can change destiny. Then, we can pursue our wishes and goals to gain remarkable, perfect results. The Buddha also told us in the sutra, "impermanence, no ego, Nirvana." Understanding this principle, we can become virtuous people and sages, Arhats, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas.

"The first chapter of I Ching said, ‘families who often perform good deeds will have an excess of good fortune to pass on to the following generations.’ Do you believe this?" I replied, "yes."

From this, we know that those who wrote I Ching understood the constant that is the cause in this world and throughout the universe. They also knew that there is a variable that is the condition. By controlling this variable on a small scale, we can change our own destiny and on a larger scale, we can pursue lasting stability and peace for our world.

The I Ching is truly extraordinary; however, it is a pity that now it has virtually become a fortune-telling book. As Mr. Guangxi Mei said in the preface of the Infinite Life Sutra: "Originally, the Amitabha Sutra was a teaching that helped us to transcend the cycle of birth and death to become a Buddha. But now it has become something for people to recite at memorial services to send off the deceased!" That the Amitabha Sutra has been reduced to this sad state is just like I Ching being reduced to a book for telling fortunes! It is a sad reflection of our times.

I Ching was intended to teach us how to obtain happiness, world peace, and stability; to change our destinies by accumulating merit and virtue. To do this, we first need to regret and reform. The master asked Mr. Liaofan if he believed that a family, which practiced good deeds, could have so much good fortune that it would be passed on to the following generations. Mr. Liaofan replied that he did.

The reason why Mr. Liaofan was able to change his destiny was due to his good roots and good fortune, thus enabling him to believe in good advice. His meeting with Master Yungu was the ripening of the appropriate conditions. As the Buddha told us, "when our good roots, good fortunes and right conditions mature, how can we not change our destinies?

Mr. You told us in his commentary: "One who hears good advice from sages and slanders them has committed a bad deed; doubt is one of the fundamental afflictions." Good advice is the teachings of the sages of this world and beyond. Later generations called these teachings sutras. The sutras speak of truths that do not change with time. The truth that surpasses time is the same now, as it was thousands of years ago; it never changes whether in the east or in the west.

The writings and teachings of sages did not come from their personal experiences and opinions, for if they did they would be biased or inappropriate. History is not made up of opinions but of accumulated experiences whereas sutras contain the truth that arises from the original True Nature. Thus, the teachings in the sutras are the absolute truth that surpasses time and space.

We will benefit and improve if we believe in the teachings, but if we do not, then we will miss these remarkable benefits. This is why we say that doubt is one of the six fundamental afflictions of greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, doubt, and deviated views.

The commentary also stated: "One who hears kind words of advice and gives rise to belief will nurture the appearance of good fortune and merit. This belief is the mother of good fortune." "Mother" means to give rise, to grow. All good fortune and merit arise from belief in the teachings of the sages. If we are able to believe in the words and teachings of the sages, we will find that infinite good fortune and merit are generated from this. Mr. Liaofan was indeed a rare person: to deeply believe upon hearing the master’s advice.

To Surpass Destiny by Cultivating

Good Fortune and Accumulating Virtues

I gratefully accepted his advice and paid my respects to him by prostrating. Then I began to regret all my past wrongdoings, large and small, in front of the Buddha’s image. I wrote down my wish to pass the imperial examinations and vowed to complete three thousand meritorious deeds to show my gratitude towards my ancestors, Earth, and Heaven.

Here we see Mr. Liaofan’s sincerity in honoring the teacher and revering his or her teachings. He did not casually say, "I believe and will follow you instructions" and then forget all about it after a while. He earnestly complied with them after he had unreservedly regretted each of his wrongdoings in front of the Buddha. He expressed his sincere repentance and asked the enlightened beings to be his witnesses.

We next read in the commentary, "it is a serious mistake to fear that others will know our misdeeds." If we conceal our faults, they will increase at an alarming rate. If we are smart, we will let them be known. Then, when we are criticized and corrected, our karmic obstacles will be gradually eradicated. If others speak out about our mistakes, be grateful even if we have not done what they said we did, for to be wrongly accused by others will also eradicate our karmic obstacles. There is no need to refute or defend ourselves in the face of undeserved accusations. When we are defensive, others will not want to help us correct our faults. Then the offense will become even more serious. Taizong, a great emperor who lived over a thousand years ago during the Tang Dynasty is remembered for being wise and accomplished. Why? Since he did not cover up his shortcomings, anyone could talk to him about them. Even as emperor, he did nothing to retaliate knowing that he still had faults to correct. (Also, if he retaliated, no one would dare to advise him again.)

Mr. Liaofan sought to pass the imperial examinations although Mr. Kong had not destined this for him. He vowed to complete three thousand meritorious deeds to show his gratitude. To gain what we wish for when it has not been destined is truly to have sought and gained.

Upon hearing my vow, Master Yungu showed me a merit-fault chart and taught me how to keep a daily record of all the good and bad deeds I had done. He warned me that bad deeds would neutralize the good ones.

The merit-fault chart provided for the entry of both merits and faults and was very popular during the latter years of the Ming Dynasty. Scholars as well as Buddhists used the chart in their cultivation of morality. Great Patriarch Lian Qi drew up a merit-fault chart called the "Self-reflection Record" that totally derived its standards for good and bad behavior from Buddhism. It was thus especially helpful for Buddhists to use for ending faulty behavior and cultivating kindness. There are several versions of merit-fault charts that have been passed down over the years that can be used for our reference.

Mr. Liaofan lived five hundred years ago. His background and manner of living were very different from ours. However, we can still abide by the principles, using our wisdom to determine how we can adapt the charts for modern usage. Although no one has come up with a more current chart, its principles remain valid.

The master also taught me to recite the Zhun Ti Mantra. Only with a mind of purity and concentration could I attain what I sought.

In Esoteric Buddhism, Zhun Ti Bodhisattva is a manifestation of Great Compassion Bodhisattva. Why did the master teach Mr. Liaofan to chant a mantra instead of reciting a sutra? The purpose of the chanting is to uncover our pure minds to eradicate wandering thoughts. Since mantras are transliterated from Sanskrit, we only repeat their sounds, not analyze them. As we continue to chant over a long time, our minds will become pure, or at least our wandering thoughts will be suppressed.

The goal remains the same whether we are reciting sutras, chanting mantras, or chanting a Buddha’s name. It is important that we teach others the method that is most suitable for them. For example, if the master had taught Mr. Liaofan to recite sutras, he would have been tempted to analyze their meaning (and thinking while chanting obstructs our cultivation of purity of mind). Thus, he was taught the mantra. There is a Buddhist saying, "reciting a sutra is not as good as chanting a mantra and chanting a mantra is not as good as chanting a Buddha’s name." All these emphasize actual cultivation.

Today, we lack the fundamental education that our ancestors received, so it will be helpful for us to follow this advice of ancient people, "it is not too late to mend the fold even after the sheep are lost." To make up for our lost fundamental education, for the first few years of our practice, we can concentrate on memorizing the Infinite Life Sutra. This is especially practical for young people as the best time to learn is before the age of twenty. If we are able to memorize the sutra and recite it by heart, we will benefit from it for the rest of our lives.

Buddhism is the ultimate perfect wisdom; thus, reciting sutras by heart is a very important foundation. If we are able to end our erroneous ways, practice goodness, and cultivate purity of mind, then in due time whatever we seek will be attained.

Master Yungu explained that it had been said by specialists in drawing talismanic figures, "Those who are considered experts in the art of drawing charms but do not know the right way to do so will be laughed at by spirits." The key to drawing charms is having no thoughts from beginning to end. Understanding this, begin the first stroke with a still mind after the primal darkness. In the process of drawing, one must let go of all wandering thoughts. Only in this way can a charm be effective.

Drawing talismanic figures is a form of ancient skill in Taoism similar to chanting mantras in Buddhism. The secret to drawing talismanic figures is to have a mind that is devoid of thoughts. We can use the Great Compassion Mantra to illustrate this. The Great Compassion water, which is consecrated by chanting the mantra, can be very effective for some, but not at all effective for others. Why? In chanting the mantra, the former did not have a single wandering thought from start to finish. If during the chanting a wandering thought arises, then the mantra will be ineffective. Therefore, the longer the mantra, the more difficult it is to successfully chant it. The Surangama Mantra can be very effective, however, few people today are able to benefit from it. Why? The vast majority of people have many wandering thoughts while chanting, and it only takes one such thought to render their efforts ineffective.

The same applies to sutra recitation. If as Pure Land practitioners, we recite one round of the Infinite Life Sutra without having any wandering thoughts, it would be wonderful! Our minds would be in accordance with the mind of the Buddhas throughout the universe in the past, present, and future. Therefore, we need to recite the sutra with a mind of purity, equality, sincerity, and respect. But, if we recite the sutra while having wandering thoughts, our minds will not be the mind of a Buddha.

From this, we can see that the shorter the mantra the easier it will be for us to recite and to concentrate on. And chanting "Namo Amituofo" is even shorter. If we think that this is too long, Patriarch Lian Qi taught us to chant just Amituofo. If we chant this without one single thought, it will be effective. It would be just like sending a fax to Buddha Amitabha and having him receive it. But, if we add one wandering thought, then the message will not go through.

"When one prays for and seeks for something or tries to change one’s fate, it is important that one does so without giving rise to a single thought. In this way, one will easily receive a response.

When we seek something from the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or the beings of Heaven or Earth, we need to do so without having any thoughts for our seeking to be effective. To achieve this, our minds need to be truly pure, without any wandering thoughts. This is to have the mind of sincerity, purity, and respect. Only when we appeal to the enlightened ones using the mind of utmost sincerity will we attain what we wish for.

The same principle applies when some people make offerings to their ancestors as they appeal in front of the ancestral plaque. It would be useless to do so with an impure mind. Therefore, in the past, making offerings to ancestors was a very special occasion. For example, those who officiated at the ceremony fasted and bathed for three days before. They cultivated purity of mind by shutting themselves in a small room to try to let go of attachments. They conducted the ceremony as if the spirits of their ancestors were present. Buddhists would call this "Visualization." By sincerely honoring them at the time of the ceremony, the spirits will appear.

When we pay respect to the enlightened beings at Way Places, are they present? Not necessarily. The presence of their images does not mean they themselves are there. If the practitioners, whether monks, nuns or lay people, are sincere and pure in mind, then enlightened beings will be present. Otherwise, more often than not there will be some demons impersonating enlightened beings. This is explained in the Surangama Sutra.

"Mencius wrote, ‘There is no difference between long life and short life.’ At first glance, one would find it hard to understand how they can be the same; however, when there is no thought, there is no duality in short or long life.

Short life and long life are completely different, why regard them as the same? Duality only exists when there are wandering discriminatory thoughts and attachments. Only when the mind is pure do we see non-duality.

Short life and long life are the same because everything in the universe is one. In Buddhism, this is called "entering the state of non-duality." The state of non-duality is mentioned in the Speech of Vaisali Sutra. In Pure Land School, this is known as One Mind Undisturbed. In the Flower Adornment Sutra, this is known as the One True Dharma Realm, the state where all Buddhas dwell. This is the state of mind of Bodhisattvas above the level of ground states.

"Upon careful analysis, there is also no duality between good or bad harvest. Understanding this, we will be content with our present situation, be it one of wealth or poverty."

If we are content with things as they are, we can settle down and get on with our work. It is said, "if the rich were content to be rich and the poor were content to be poor," then society would be stable, the world would be peaceful, and everyone would be happy. What is being happy? Not having any wandering thoughts, worries, or afflictions. If a beggar were able to understand that his or her current condition was a matter of destiny, then he or she would also be contented.

A good example of this occurred in the early part of the twentieth century. A man in a village in Jiangsu Province begged for food during the day and slept in old deserted temples at night. In this way, he was contented. His son, after experiencing business success, became rich and influential but then found himself being admonished: "How can you be such an unfilial son? You have such great wealth but you let your father continue to beg for his food?" The son felt ashamed after hearing this and sent people to search everywhere for his father and brought him home to care for him. But, after a month of living in his son’s home, the father slipped out to resume his life as a beggar.

People asked the father, "Wouldn't it better for you to enjoy good fortune at your son’s home?" He replied: "I was very uncomfortable there! Now, in the daytime I can travel anywhere I want and enjoy visiting beautiful scenery. At night, I can make any place my home. There is nothing more joyful than to live as freely as this. To have to remain at home is suffering for me!" He was contented with his condition so he could let go and attain true liberation. He was not at all affected by the five desires of wealth, lust, fame, food, and sleep. Rather, he was happy and had purity of mind. He preferred to be on the sidelines, regarding this world as a play, while everybody else was busy pursuing prestige and wealth.

This was no ordinary person, but a model of wisdom and contentment. Most people pursue a happy and fulfilling life, not realizing that these are not necessarily synonymous with wealth or social position. Therefore, we need to understand destiny, need to be able to adjust to accord with the wishes of sentient beings and be joyful over other’s meritorious deeds. Only in this way will our lives be happy and fulfilling.

"And with understanding that there is no duality between poverty and wealth, our minds will be content with our present status in society, be it high or low. Also, there is no duality between long and short lives. Understanding this, we will be content with our existing lifespans, be they long or short. The most important concern for humans is that of life and death. Thus, early death and longevity subsume all conditions, whether they are favorable or unfavorable, and whether of gain or loss.

This speaks of according with all conditions. Regardless of favorable or unfavorable conditions, we will be completely at ease as everything becomes clear and logical. We can have good fortune and attain the great liberation. This is true living. True happiness is not achievable without great knowledge and effort in practice. We can now clearly see that only awakened people can settle their minds and re-create their destinies. It is pointless to behave immorally and to become increasingly deluded. Thus, the Buddha often referred to those who were deluded as "pitiful beings."

"We have to wait until our cultivation reaches a certain level, then our destinies will change. This change depends on the accumulation of merits, on seeking a response from the heavens. When cultivating, we need to be aware of our faults and resolve to correct them as if we were curing a sickness."

We cultivate while waiting for destiny to be re-created; however, this is not accomplished overnight. It takes a long time. We need to cease our laziness, and confidently and diligently strive to improve. We need to be awakened and not be deluded, to do what is proper and not deviated. In time, we will attain the desired result. Cultivation is correcting our faults in the three karmas of improper thoughts, words and deeds, and adopting whatever ways are necessary to remedy these faults.

"While waiting, let go of the thought of desiring something that we are not supposed to have and the thought of wishing for a reward.

It is a wandering thought to hope for an early harvest of rewards for our goodness, for such thinking can create obstacles. We are only to ask about the cultivation, not the harvest. As long as we diligently cultivate, the harvest will naturally follow, why bother to constantly seek it? This is the true way of cultivation: to not seek anything. Just concentrate on ending improper behavior and cultivating goodness; eventually, we will obtain whatever we desire. When we seek, our gains are limited, for most likely we will only receive what we request, as our cultivation of virtues is not in accordance with our virtuous natures. Without seeking, everything is a manifestation of and in accordance with our virtuous natures.

Actually, what Mr. Liaofan achieved was cultivated virtues. It was not yet virtuous nature, because he still sought. Initially, he sought scholarly honor and official rank, then, he sought children. Whatever he sought was accomplished. If he had not had one thought of a request, if he had solely cultivated and accumulated virtues, everything would have turned out perfectly. He did not seek longevity and yet he lived longer than destined. He was supposed to die at the age of fifty-three, but lived to seventy-four.

We will benefit if we cease our requests and affinity seeking, and only have sensible wishes like those in which we ask that our lives be smooth, that we have enough to eat, a safe place to live, and adequate clothing. It is enough to live simply and comfortably with minimal expenses in a small house. But most people want to possess luxuries and to impress others, not knowing the price they have to pay for these extravagances. They lose more than they gain. If instead, we share our good fortune with others then our good fortune is the accumulation of merits.

If we cultivate and accumulate enough virtue to last for a hundred generations, then our descendants would have good fortune. If we are truly intelligent and wise, we will surely want to share our good fortune with others. Therefore, be patient. Why seek for the early arrival of good fortune when it will come in good time?

"At this level it would be a state of reaching the ‘innate nature of no thought’ that is the actual learning and practice of wisdom." Master Yungu told me: "I know that you are still unable to accomplish the state of no thought, but you can practice reciting the Zhun Ti Mantra continuously without counting the number of recitations and without interruption. When you reach a higher level of constant mindfulness, you will be able to achieve the level of ‘To not recite when reciting and to recite when not reciting.’ When you no longer have wandering thoughts, the mantra will become effective."

Learning and practice of wisdom are true knowledge. Innate nature is "returning to the original state." This revelation of our original True Nature is not the state of an ordinary being. The original state is true happiness for it is to be filled with the Dharma joy and to truly abandon suffering for happiness. This is what awakened people seek.

This method called "perfect practice with perfect attainment" was taught by Master Yungu and it enables us to practice concurrently the Three Learnings of abiding by the precepts, deep concentration, and wisdom. In the Flower Adornment Sutra, it is explained as, "one is all, all is one. To cultivate one method is to cultivate all methods." The essence of the practice is to do so without interruption, and without intermingling with other thoughts or other methods.

Do we need to count the recitations? Master Yungu did not tell Mr. Liaofan to do so, but rather to recite continuously. Many ancient sages required practitioners to begin their chanting practice by counting the number of recitations. Why? Like us, they were lazy. So it was helpful for them to have a daily goal, such as chanting a Buddha’s name ten thousand times a day. Meeting this goal helped to counteract the bad habit of laziness, for if they did not count they might have forgotten to practice.

However, for someone as honest and earnest as Mr. Liaofan, there was no need to keep track of the recitations. For him, that would have been intermingling of thoughts. His cultivation was truly learned and diligent; thus, he practiced without interruption, and without intermingling with other thoughts and methods.

All methods are equal: no one is different from the others. Attainment lies in delving deeply into only one method for a prolonged time. In the past, people generally practiced sutra recitation. But whether reciting sutras, chanting mantras or a Buddha's name, we do so with the mind of purity, equality, and respect. When we practice continuously, we will truly benefit from it.

The state of "No Thought" is essential. It is to not have any wandering thoughts, discriminatory thoughts, or attachments. Although Mr. Liaofan had not given rise to any wandering thoughts for three days while he was meditating with Master Yungu, he had not yet reached the state of No Thought. He had used belief, not concentration, to suppress his afflictions. He believed that all was destined. He believed in cause and effect. Therefore, the master taught him a way to move on to the next level, to cultivate concentration. To recite the Zhun Ti Mantra is to continuously cultivate concentration. By ridding ourselves of wandering thoughts and attachments, our True Nature will be uncovered.

The Buddha often spoke of "the original nature as it is." Pure Land practitioners call this the true and perfect achievement of "One Mind Undisturbed." It is the goal of our practice. It is to reach the attainment of "to not recite when reciting and to recite when not reciting." This is often explained as "to not be attached to the act of chanting; thus, to not chant when chanting and to chant when not chanting." We do so whether we are chanting the Buddha’s name or reciting the sutra. When we recite the Infinite Life Sutra without attachment, we will first achieve Constant Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha, then One Mind Undisturbed. Although the methods may differ, the principles and the goal are the same. When we reach the state of No Thought and the reciting becomes second nature, it will naturally become effective.

There are three levels of achievement. The upper level is One Mind Undisturbed in Enlightenment, the middle level is One Mind Undisturbed in Mindfulness, and the lowest and initial level is Constant Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha. We cannot be proud when our attainment reaches a certain level for doing so will prohibit us from further advancement.

Reaching the upper level in Constant Mindfulness, we may have the ability to transcend this world at will, to leave anytime we wish. Whenever we want to go, Buddha Amitabha will come to escort us to the Western Pure Land. Although we have reached this level of attainment and are able to pass away with ease, it is best to stay longer in this world. Why? We read in the Infinite Life Sutra that to practice in our World of Suffering for one day is the same as practicing in the Pure Land for one hundred years. We stay here to train our endurance.

Even more importantly, we stay to encourage more people to go to the Pure Land. It is remarkable that we ourselves are able to go, but it will be even better if we can help others to be born there as well! Thus, we can concentrate on helping, educating, and encouraging others. When we ourselves cultivate and inspire others to do likewise, our merits are perfect. In so doing, we are able to pay back the great kindness that enlightened beings have shown us.

My name used to be Xuehai, which means "broad learning." But after receiving these teachings from Master Yungu, I changed it to Liaofan, which means "transcending the ordinary."

In the past, Chinese people could have three sets of names: their formal name, courtesy name, and assumed name. Their formal name that was given to them by their parents expressed their aspirations for their children. Changing this name was tantamount to ignoring this aspiration, truly an unfilial act. Upon reaching adulthood, age twenty for males and sixteen for females, people were no longer addressed by the formal name for to do so was disrespectful. At this time, they underwent a ceremony to be initiated into adulthood. During this ceremony, people of the same generation or older like siblings, schoolmates, and friends, would provide the courtesy name that would be used for the rest of their lives. If in the future a person became a government official, even the emperor, people addressed him by his courtesy name. If an adult was addressed by his formal name, then most likely he had committed a crime, and was to be sentenced and punished.

To be even more respectful, people would address an individual by the assumed name or by his or her birthplace. This indicated that he was a highly respected important person from a particular place.

Liaofan and Xuehai were Mr. Liaofan’s assumed names. Only one’s parents and teacher would use a person's formal name after they reached adulthood; even grandparents, uncles, and emperors used the courtesy name. Thus, society accorded the same gratitude and respect to teachers as it did to parents.

It signified my understanding of the fact that we could re-create our destinies and that I did not wish to be like ordinary people who were controlled by destiny. From then on, I began to be very cautious in whatever I thought or did. Soon, I felt quite different from before. In the past, I had been careless and without self-discipline. Now, I find myself being naturally watchful and conscientious.

This segment talks of Mr. Liaofan’s determination and cultivation in correcting his errors and making a fresh start. First, he changed his assumed name from Xuehai to Liaofan. "Liao" means understanding and awakening. "Fan" means to be an ordinary person. Liaofan means to understand worldly phenomena and that we can re-create our own destinies.

At that point, he understood everything in regards to worldly matters and was awakened. He truly knew that only the individual could change and re-create his or her own destiny. He understood the principles and methods, and knew that from then on he did not have to passively accept his destiny because it was not fixed.

After his resolution to reform, his feeling towards everything changed. From that point on until the end of his life, he was constantly aware of his thoughts and behavior, always alert, and no longer deluded. In the past, he had been unrestrained, doing things as he pleased, drifting aimlessly through each day. How did he live his life? He had no idea for he had no direction or goal. To live this way is to be bound by fate, unable to re-create a bright future.

After reforming, he found himself being naturally cautious and careful in thought, speech, and behavior. In other words, after turning over a new leaf, his beliefs and views regarding life and the universe changed dramatically. Previously, he had thought that everything was bound by fate. But, now he knew that he could re-create destiny and thus, he became determined and optimistic.

I maintain this attitude even when alone, for I know that there are spirits and heavenly beings everywhere who can know my every thought and deed. I am cautious not to offend them with my thoughts. Even when I encounter people who dislike or slander me, I bear their insults with a patient and peaceful mind, and do not feel compelled to quarrel with them.

The reason why ordinary people cannot reform is that they do not understand this. Those who are more familiar with the Infinite Life Sutra are able to understand and to be even more careful with their thoughts, speech, and behavior than Mr. Liaofan.

The population of the Pure Land is beyond calculation. Even if we used every computer in the world, we cannot calculate the number of beings there. Each of them possesses the same abilities as Buddha Amitabha. Each has heavenly eyes to see all, heavenly ears to hear all, and the ability to know every thought of every being throughout the universe in the past, present, and future. So, Buddha Amitabha, Great Compassion Bodhisattva, Great Strength Bodhisattva, and all the beings in the Pure Land know our every thought and wrongdoing.

Even when we are alone, where no one else can see us, we still need to restrain ourselves and not give rise to a single improper thought. In so doing, we will truly achieve self-discipline and control. As Pure Land practitioners, we seek birth into the Pure Land and to achieve in our virtuous conduct. But, if we continue to deceive ourselves, we will not achieve anything. As Confucius said, a decent person is cautious even when alone. Living by ourselves, we can still be disciplined and not self-indulgent. In this way, we will truly be cultivating. Ordinary people constantly indulge themselves without any real restraint. When in public, they may appear careful and self-restrained, but when alone they again do as they please.

This is one of the reasons why Way Places of the past had many practitioners sharing one room. If there was only one person in a room, he or she would be unable to achieve in cultivation. With more than ten people in a room, everyone will behave well at all times. The purpose of this was to force people to discipline themselves.

Today, very few people are willing to restrain themselves, but are intent on enjoying comfort. Fine! We can enjoy ourselves in this life and then we can also leisurely enjoy ourselves in the Three Bad Realms in the upcoming life, having not succeeded on the path to enlightenment!

When living within a large group, everyone needs to work together. There are some single rooms at Way Places, but they are especially for those cultivators of advanced years. Also, those who hold high positions and who have many responsibilities, like abbots or the leading monk or nun need to have a room of their own. This will allow then the convenience of overseeing matters at all hours without disturbing others. Therefore, true cultivators practice "living together harmoniously," one of the Six Harmonies.

It is inappropriate for an individual to have a single room. If a person thinks it is uncomfortable to have two or three people living together in a room, it then becomes easy for them to think, "I do not want to live with that person." Then he or she will be unable to achieve the state of Constant Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha. Why? They have discriminatory and impure minds; the mind that still has dislikes and evades unpleasantness. How can that person achieve anything? Where then and how do we cultivate? We cultivate purity and the non-discriminatory mind in the place we dislike the most.

It is wrong for us to be unwilling to live with or get along with someone. Mr. Liaofan had discovered his own faults and sincerely corrected them. But, in dealing with our own faults, we continuously excuse ourselves instead of correcting them. When we do this, how can we hope to succeed in our cultivation?

Within a Sangha, a starting point for our cultivation is the Six Harmonies, which are the basic guidelines to follow when living together in a group. All the individuals can abide by the Five Precepts and Ten Virtuous Conducts. In the past, Way Places used the Novice Precepts and the Guidelines for Dignified Behavior as the standard. This included the ten precepts and twenty-four kinds of dignified manners. Today, we do not need to be that strict. It is enough for us to use the Five Precepts and the Ten Virtuous Conducts as the standards for both laypeople as well as for monks and nuns. However, the standards cannot be lower than these.

To live harmoniously in a group, it is necessary to abide by the Six Harmonies to correct our faults and bad habits and to learn to get along with others. Mr. Liaofan found that he no longer minded when he encountered those who disliked or even slandered him. He could patiently bear their insults with a peaceful mind and no longer felt compelled to quarrel with them. His mind had become calm, unlike before, when he was flighty and impatient, unable to endure the slightest inconvenience or wrong. Here we can see his improvement from cultivation. Therefore, a true Buddhist practitioner needs to learn how to get along with everybody regardless of whether they are enlightened beings or demons and ghosts. We need to find our inner peace and to hold on to it, regardless of the environment or circumstances.

After the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Master Huineng, became enlightened, circumstances found him acting as an attendant to a group of hunters. Daily, he witnessed their hunting and killing. He served meat and cared for them. The hunters were his masters; he was their servant. He did this for not just a short time, but for fifteen years.

Could we have endured this? He not only endured but was contented and did not have any wandering discriminatory thoughts and attachments. These were fifteen years of true cultivation. He reached enlightenment when he was in Huangmei, in the southern part of China. Whether under favorable or adverse circumstances, he cultivated his mind of purity, equality, great compassion, and lovingkindness. There is nothing more important to our cultivation than these four qualities and these were what he practiced.

Today, when we interact with others and with circumstances, are we cultivating purity of mind under favorable or adverse conditions? If we are not cultivating purity of mind, then we are not properly practicing Buddhism and will not benefit, for it has become merely an academic pursuit. Even if we spend everyday reading the sutras and become extremely articulate in explaining them, our afflictions will still increase. In this way, we will end up in the Three Bad Realms. This is obviously wrong! True practitioners do not attach to words, to what has been said, specified, or thought. They use their intuition. They seek purity of mind, the non-discriminatory true mind that is our original True Nature. They seek supreme perfect enlightenment.

For Pure Land practitioners, it is also our goal to attain Constant Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha: the mind of purity and equality. To have constant mindfulness is to have an uncontaminated and non-discriminatory mind. There is no barrier within the true mind. If we still have discriminatory thoughts and attachments, then we are unable to achieve constant mindfulness. Sever these discriminatory thoughts and attachments, and we will be able to achieve constant mindfulness. This is true cultivation.

The year after I met Master Yungu, I took the preliminary imperial examination in which Mr. Kong had predicted that I would come in third place. Amazingly, I was first! Mr. Kong’s predictions were beginning to lose their accuracy. He had not predicted that I would pass the imperial examination at all, but that autumn, I did!

Mr. Liaofan was destined to place third in the examination. But by cultivating kind deeds and accumulating merits and virtues, he was able to improve his placement from third to first. As Mr. Kong’s predictions began to lose their accuracy, Mr. Liaofan saw first hand that he was able to change destiny. He saw first hand that there were variables and not just constants.

Next, he made the wish to pass an even higher level of examination and again his wish came true. To gain something we were not destined to have is to truly have sought and gained.

Although I had corrected many faults, I found that I could not wholeheartedly do the things I ought to. Even if I did do them, it was forced and unnatural. I reflected within and found that I still had many shortcomings, such as seeing an opportunity to practice kindness but not being eager enough to do it or having doubts when helping others.

Sometimes I forced myself to act kindly, but my speech was still uncontrolled and offensive. I found I could contain myself when sober, but after a few drinks, I would act without restraint. Although I often practiced kind deeds and accumulated merits, my faults and offenses were so numerous that they seemed to outweigh the good that I did. A lot of my time was spent vainly and without value.

We should not expect any reward when we help others, for it is our responsibility to do so. Confucius and other sages taught us the five human relationships and ten moral responsibilities. The five human relationships, which are founded on traditional moral principles, include those between husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, friends, and leaders and followers.

Practicing what we ought to is a virtue of our natures. It is naturally within our responsibility as parents to be protective, to care for and guide our children. It is naturally within our responsibility as children to be filial, to honor and respect our parents. Whether as siblings or friends, all should be respectful towards one another. Friends should be trustworthy, honest, and reliable for we are naturally obligated to be so. And all of us should be mutually caring, respectful, and helpful to each other.

Mr. Liaofan understood, although he did not yet practice perfectly and purely, for these actions were still intermingled with personal advantages and disadvantages. If we question whether helping another will adversely affect us, then our thoughts and actions are impure, and we will be unable to wholeheartedly assist others. From this, we know that although we may do kind deeds, we still have not done enough.

Confucius taught of the virtue in "assisting others in achieving goodness" and that goodness is a virtue. When we find others practicing goodness, we need to help them to accomplish their goal. Why? A good deed can benefit a local community and even the whole society.

For example, when a road needs to be fixed and a person volunteers to repair it, we can enthusiastically assist that person to complete the work. This kind of good deed that benefits society needs support from all of us. Mr. Liaofan was able to go along in helping others, but he did not do so wholeheartedly. He was only a little bit willing. He still had doubts when helping others in need.

It is good to help people in trouble, but many of us question whether we should do so. In today’s society, we frequently encounter people asking for help. Some of them are frauds asking for money that they will squander on self-indulgence. When this happens, our kind deeds become transgressions. Thus, it is very difficult to do good, for doing so requires both compassion and wisdom. Compassion is the genuine driving force behind our assisting others but wisdom will help us to examine and judge whether we should help or not. If yes, then we can do so. If however, they are trying to cheat us and we know what they are doing, we need to guide them. If they are not old or ill, but are healthy and able, then we can encourage them to engage in proper work instead of using devious means to make a living.

Therefore, correcting our faults to begin anew is not something readily accomplished, but requires time and continuous effort. In the beginning stages, difficulties are unavoidable. To behave in a courteous in manner while being careless and thoughtless in speech is a bad habit. Since ancient times, speech has been considered the source of both good fortune and misfortune, so we need to be constantly aware of our speech.

Confucius taught us four studies, the first of which is virtuous conduct that is basic to being a decent person. Today, we would call this moral education. However, this kind of education rarely exists in our society, as people today are less concerned about it. The second study is speech. Confucius stressed the importance of our speaking properly and respectfully so that we would not harm others with our lack of consideration.

We often hurt others with our careless speech. Those we hurt may take offense and bear grudges, and in the future will seek revenge. Thus, many problems are created out of misunderstandings and resentments arise because of what we have said. "The speaker had no such intention, the listener interpreted it to be so." We need to be careful and restrained in our speech. And frankly, there is no need to talk a lot. In talking less, we will commit fewer mistakes.

For our self-attainment, chanting "Amituofo’ is enough. We should also encourage other Pure Land practitioners cultivating purity of mind to chant "Amituofo" as well. In this way, when we find ourselves subjected to hearing gossip, we would just respond with Amituofo. If they gossip more, then again say, "Amituofo." Let them hear this several times. After they are finished talking, we will have listened but disregarded what they said. We will only have chanted "Amituofo" to them. This is good for it is best not to say much. We have seen that Mr. Liaofan had the bad habit of talking too much.

The restriction on intoxicants is one of the five major precepts in Buddhism. The Buddha prohibited alcohol because most people behave foolishly when intoxicated. Therefore, the precept clearly states that we are not even supposed to take one drop. Why? There was the fear that we would lose control and this leads to problems such as breaking additional precepts. If we can drink a moderate amount of alcohol and not become intoxicated, then there is an exception to this precept.

In the past when I was studying in Taizhong, Taiwan, my late teacher, Mr. Bingnan Lee lectured on Book of Rites. Mr. Kangcheng Zheng, a learned scholar who lived during the East Han Dynasty, wrote a commentary on Book of Rites that combined insight with virtue. Mr. Zheng was a student of Mr. Ma Rong who in his own time was also an exceptional scholar. However, being narrow-minded, Mr. Ma would become extremely displeased whenever one of his student’s achievements surpassed his and Mr. Zheng’s achievements did precisely that. Unabled to resign himself to the situation, Mr. Ma hired someone to kill his outstanding student!

When Mr. Zheng took leave from his teacher, Mr. Ma took all his students to a pavilion several kilometers out of town for a farewell gathering and encouraged everyone to start toasting. Eventually, Mr. Zheng drank three hundred toasts! Mr. Ma had planned to get Mr. Zheng drunk, to make it much easier for the killer to carry out the plan. He had no idea that alcohol would have no effect on Mr. Zheng, who remained courteous and proper. Mr. Lee said that if everyone was able to drink this much without being affected, then Buddha Shakyamuni would never have needed to establish this precept!

We need to understand why Buddha Shakyamuni gave us this as well as other precepts. When lay Buddhist practitioners cook, it is all right to use cooking wine for flavoring, because we will not become intoxicated. Also, as alcohol can improve poor blood circulation, it is permissible for the elderly to drink a glass at mealtimes. These are simply exceptions, not violations of the precepts.

Similarly, there are five pungent vegetables that Buddhists are discouraged from eating: onion, garlic, chives, green onions, and leeks. Garlic especially. Why did the Buddha prohibit these? The Surangama Sutra explains that purity of mind is most important in our cultivation. However, if we have not reached a certain level of attainment, our intake of food and drink can adversely affect our judgment. Once we have achieved a certain level and are master of our minds, we will be able to affect the environment instead of being affected by it. Then there will be no obstacles.

The Buddha told us that when we eat these five vegetables raw, it increases our irritability. Eating them cooked can increase our hormone production and sexual urges. So, there are reasons why the Buddha set up these precepts. Whether eaten raw or cooked, the five vegetables are forbidden because they increase afflictions.

Some laypeople have said that if they cannot eat these five vegetables, then they are not interested in becoming vegetarians. We need to understand the purpose behind this prohibition. If these vegetables are used as seasonings, like when we use one or two cloves of garlic to flavor our cooking, then it will not cause any harm. Thus, when we understand the reasoning, we will see that Buddhism is very logical, flexible, and sensible.

There are exceptions to strictly observing the precepts even after we have received them. These exceptions enable us to introduce Buddhism to others and to get along happily with everyone. Therefore, at certain functions, we need to behave wisely, to adapt ourselves to the circumstances. Because it is an unimaginably rare opportunity for one to encounter the teachings, we should make use of any and all opportunities to introduce the teachings to others. Even over drinks and during mealtime, we can explain Buddhism to them, to plant the root of goodness. These are rare educational opportunities not to be wasted.

It took me more than ten years to complete the three thousand meritorious deeds I had vowed to do. I was unable to dedicate the merits from these three thousand good deeds at a temple until I returned to my hometown in the south, a few years later. At that time, I had the opportunity to ask two monks to dedicate them for me.

Because Mr. Liaofan had a post with the army that required constant traveling, he did not have a chance to dedicate the merits. It was not until the year after he had fulfilled his pledge of three thousand good deeds that he had the chance to do so. He engaged the services of some monks at a temple to dedicate the merits on his behalf. When he had made his pledge, he expressed his sincerity and earnestness in turning over a new leaf and in accumulating merits and virtues. Upon completion of his three thousand virtuous deeds, he dedicated them to repay his gratitude and for the fulfillment of his wish.

Then, I made my second wish and that was for a son. I vowed to complete another three thousand good deeds. A few years later, your mother gave birth to you and named you Tianqi.

Mr. Liaofan was not destined to have a son, but having made the wish for one, found it was fulfilled. "Proper seeking will enhance the gain." He attained his wish due to correct seeking and cultivation. Before he had completed the second three thousand good deeds, his wife gave birth to their first son, Tianqi. From this, we can see that if we sincerely and properly make a wish, it will come true. Although he had gained a son before completing his pledge of the three thousand good deeds, he still honored it. It was the same as what had previously transpired. He took the imperial examination, but before he could fulfill his pledge, he came in first instead of the destined third place. This is to be in accordance and the results from such accordance are truly inconceivable.

Every time I performed a good deed, I would record it in a book. Your mother who could not read or write would use a goose feather dipped in ink. She made a red circle on the calendar for every good deed she did. Sometimes she gave food to the poor or bought living creatures in the marketplace and freed them in the wild. She recorded all of these with her circles on the calendar. At times, she could accumulate more than ten circles in one day!

If we have the heart to free captive animals, we need to be careful not to be deceived. Many people go to pet stores to buy the animals just to release them. However, these animals were specifically captured for this purpose. If we did not create the demand, the stores would not try to fill it by capturing more. This puts increased numbers of animals at risk and causes more harm than good. As a result, we accumulate offenses rather than merits and virtues.

Therefore, when we want to free animals, we need to do so only with those that we inadvertently come upon when we go grocery shopping. Do not seek them deliberately for to do so is to have an intention instead of doing it naturally. As we happen to come upon one, we need to determine if it will be able to survive on its own. If not, it would be best not to buy it but instead use the money to accomplish some other merits and virtues. We need to act wisely, not impulsively or emotionally.

The meaning of freeing captured creatures does not just include setting animals or birds free. It also includes becoming a vegetarian and encouraging others not to kill living beings but to care for them. For example, we can print and freely distribute copies of the book called the Love of Life. This book can help more children nurture their love for living creatures. Doing this, we will truly achieve the essence of freeing living creatures.

We need to understand the spirit and the profound meaning behind what we are taught, not just do something for the sake of doing it. As for the practice of giving, there are many kinds, including the giving of wealth, teaching, and fearlessness. Each has its own inconceivably vast and profound meanings.

Both Mr. Liaofan and his wife had refrained from wrongdoing and practiced good deeds. Obviously, they were accomplishing their goals much faster than before when they were sometimes unable to accomplish one good deed a day, but took several days to do so. This is why it took ten years to complete the first pledge of three thousand virtuous deeds. But now they were able to accomplish more than ten a day, which was a vast improvement. It is very difficult to reform but they both had the perseverance and the patience to do so. Without the willpower and the determination, it is not easy to eradicate our bad habits and faults, and this is why many of us regress more than we progress on the path to enlightenment.

Everyday we practiced like this and in four years, the three thousand deeds were completed. Again, I invited the same two masters to make the dedications, this time at our home. On the 13th day of the ninth month of that same year, I made my third wish and that was to pass the highest level of the imperial examination. I also vowed to complete ten thousand meritorious deeds. After three years, I attained my wish and passed the examination. I was also made the mayor of Baodi County.

It only took four years, from 1580 to 1583, to complete the second pledge of three thousand good deeds, whereas it had taken over ten years to accomplish the first similar pledge.

Mr. Liaofan was not destined to pass this particular examination. His destiny also did not include having a son but he attained one through his seeking and practice. It would also be a variable if his wish to pass the examination were to come true although he was not destined to pass it. Everything that Master Yungu had taught him proved to be true. Now he pledged to complete ten thousand good deeds. In 1586, only three years after his pledge, as expected, he attained his wish in passing the examination.

After this, he was assigned by the imperial government to be the mayor of Baodi County, which was close to Beijing. This position had not been in his original destiny. Previously, he had been destined to be a magistrate in a county in Sichuan County, in southwest China, far from Beijing.

I prepared a small book to record my merits and faults, and called it Book of Cultivating the Mind. Every morning, when I began work in the office, my servant would bring the book and have the guard place it on my desk. I would record my every deed, good or bad, no matter how small. At night, I set up an altar in the courtyard and put on my official uniform to emulate the way of Mr. Zhao, an officer in the Song Dynasty. I burned incense and reported all my deeds to the heavens.

This helps us to understand how he felt about managing public affairs after he came into office and of his wish to create good fortune for others. At the time, city or county mayors were not elected but were chosen by the imperial government. Mr. Liaofan was a very good county mayor. He refrained from wrongdoing, cultivated good deeds, and accumulated merits and virtues. At the beginning of his term of office, he prepared a blank book and named it Book of Cultivating the Mind. He used it every day to record his good or bad thoughts and deeds, so that he could be watchful over them to see when he would be able to fulfill his pledge of ten thousand good deeds.

At night, he openly reported to the gods and spirits everything he had done throughout the day, a practice followed by many people. To be pure in body and mind, they would honestly admit to everything. Buddhists call this "confessing and apologizing to the public."

Once, your mother was concerned when she saw that I had not accumulated much merit. In the past, she was able to help me in our accumulation of good deeds and we were able to complete the three thousand meritorious deeds. Now, I had made a vow to complete ten thousand more deeds but there were fewer opportunities to practice them at the government residence. She worried about how long it would be before my vow could be fulfilled.

Before he became a government official, Mr. Liaofan was not as busy with work. It was also easy for his wife to assist him in doing good acts. But, as an official, he and his wife lived in a government residence. At the time, there was little contact between those in the official residence, especially their family members, and the public. Therefore, his wife was no longer able to help him in his cultivation and accumulation. She worried when they would be able to fulfill the pledge.

That night, I dreamed of a heavenly being and told him of my difficulty in completing the ten thousand good deeds. The heavenly being reminded me that upon becoming mayor, I had reduced the taxes on the farmlands. That one good deed was worth ten thousand merits. My vow was already fulfilled!

When I became mayor, the farmers in Baodi County were highly taxed so I reduced the tax by nearly half. But, I felt bewildered and still had doubts. How could just one deed be worth ten thousand merits?

The tax reduction was substantial and had benefited all the farmers in the county. Actually, far more than ten thousand farmers in the county had benefited; thus, this had easily fulfilled the pledge. However, he was uncomfortable for two reasons. How had the heavenly being known what he had done and how could this one act have been worth so many merits and virtues?

From this, we can see why it is said that a position in the government is a good place to accumulate merits and virtues. Average people usually do not have this kind of opportunity to cultivate such good fortune and merit. If Mr. Liaofan had not become a county mayor, how many years would it have taken him to complete his pledge? At that time, he had the opportunity to benefit thousands of farmers with one deed because he held a government office. Thus, his one good deed was equivalent to ten thousand.

It is easy to accumulate merits and just as easy to commit wrongdoings. If a public policy does not benefit people, but proves harmful, this act will become ten thousand offenses. Good fortune or misfortune depends on our thoughts. The higher our position, the greater are the possibilities for creating good fortune or misfortune. For example, a leader of a country can implement one policy, which if it proves beneficial to all the citizens, will actually and accomplish thousands, even millions of good deeds. On the other hand, if the leader implements a policy that proves harmful, then he or she will have committed thousands, even millions of bad deeds.

As most people’s opportunities are more limited, they are restricted in the good or bad they can do. If a person has position and status, and thus has the opportunity, he or she needs to be cautious in his or her every action. By cultivating good deeds, he or she will have bright futures. To do otherwise will ensure that he or she will fall into the Three Bad Realms to suffer there. Why? Due to his or her high position and status, the results from that person’s actions are more far-reaching than those of average citizens.

Coincidentally, the Zen Master Huanyu was traveling from Wutai Mountain and stopped in Baodi. I invited him to the government residence, told him of my dream, and asked whether it was believable. Master Huanyu said: "If one does a good deed with such a true and sincere heart without expectation of reward, then one deed can indeed be worth the merits of ten thousand. Besides, your act of reducing the taxes in this county benefits more than ten thousand people!"

Not long after he had his dream, he happened to meet a Zen Master and asked him if the fulfillment of the pledge was possible. It would have been wonderful if his pledge was indeed completed! If it was not true, then he would gradually work to accomplish these deeds. Master Huanyu told him yes, one deed sincerely done can be worth the merits of ten thousand good deeds.

This principle, "to cultivate one is to cultivate all" was explained in the Flower Adornment Sutra. It is the learning and cultivation of non-hindrance. Everything arises from our True Nature. If the cultivation is in accordance with the True Nature, then it can be regarded as cultivating all. If we do good deeds that are not from our True Nature, and because we are seeking, we will only receive what we seek and nothing more. If we seek from the True Nature, then not only will we attain what we seek but also we will gain infinite benefits.

What is the nature of the mind? An example, which is easy to understand, is called purity of mind in the Pure Land School. When our minds are pure, all of our deeds will be good. Thus, we will accumulate far more than just ten thousand good deeds. Buddha Amitabha is a name of millions of virtues. As we gradually come to understand the true reality, we will realize that what Patriarch Ou-Yi said was logical, that Buddha Amitabha encompasses all the infinite ways of practice. He said: "If we are able to be mindful of Buddha Amitabha, then we will understand all the wisdom of the Great Buddhist Canon. We can also attain awakening with the guidance of the seventeen hundred stories of the Zen School."

The practice of Zen Buddhism and the other schools all are encompassed within Amituofo. Patriarch Ou-Yi also said that three thousand kinds of dignified manners, eighty thousand minute courtesies, and three divisions of precepts are all within Amituofo. All the precepts, all the Buddhist teachings, all worldly teachings are also included within Amituofo. All methods, all ways of practice are within this name for "one is all, all is one." When we have achieved purity of mind, then we will have perfectly achieved innumerable methods. There are still many who do not yet know the infinite advantages found in the name Amituofo.

When we give rise to thoughts, all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and spirits of Heaven and Earth know them. Since the true mind has no limit or boundary, when we do even the slightest good deed, and if this one thought arises from our True Nature, it will accord with the true mind. Then, no matter how small the deed, the result will benefit the entire universe. Mr. Liaofan had yet to reach this state of mind. He had only benefited the public in the phenomenal aspect.

When we do a good deed with a sincere heart, this deed can indeed be worth the merits of ten thousand good deeds. Master Huanyu told Mr. Liaofan that his act of reducing the taxes in the county had relieved the suffering of heavy taxes on all the farmers and had benefited more than ten thousand people. However, Mr. Liaofan had yet to understand this, as his completion of the ten thousand good deeds was done from the phenomenal aspect. If he had done so from his True Nature, that is if he had cultivated from his true mind, then that one good deed would not have been worth just the merits of ten thousand but of innumerable good deeds.

If we see a beggar on the street and freely give him one dollar, then the merit of this accords with our True Nature because at that time we did not have differentiating thoughts of others and us, of beggar and donor. We did not distinguish between receiver and giver. We were not attached. In this way, the merits from giving one dollar are infinite for they are the uncovering of our virtuous natures.

The merit from giving millions of dollars may be less than that of one dollar sincerely given. Why? We may have given this money from our Eight Consciousnesses. This mind of discriminatory thoughts and attachments is limited and thus, we are unable to break through this obstacle of discrimination.

The reason why our merits cannot compare with those of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is the differences in our minds, in our intentions. The environment changes according to the mind. As ordinary people, we are very narrow-minded; thus, no matter how much good fortune or how many merits we cultivate, we are bound by our discriminatory thoughts and attachments. But these no longer bind Bodhisattvas and Arhats. Even when they perform a small deed, their merits are infinite. In understanding this principle, our every thought will be perfect, and our merits and virtues will be infinite. Mr. Liaofan could not yet even imagine this state of mind. So, he practiced from the aspect of phenomena, and thus, he benefited only ten thousand people.

Upon hearing this, I immediately gave all my savings for him to take back to Wutai Mountain. I asked him to use the money for a food offering for ten thousand monks and to dedicate the merits for me.

It was rare to see a person like Mr. Liaofan, who without having to think gave his savings to provide meals for ten thousand monks. Usually, when laypeople wished to be generous they would provide meals for one thousand monks or nuns, but Mr. Liaofan wanted to do so for ten thousand, to fulfill his great vow of ten thousand good deeds.

Mr. You explained in his commentary: "Someone who makes such a quick decision to give generously, without the slightest reluctant or miserly thought, will gain infinite good fortune in return." Such spontaneous generosity showed that Mr. Liaofan was an honest official and not at all corrupt, for he gave all of his savings to provide food for ten thousand people. How much money could he have had? He came from a poor but honest family. And he was so unusual in that he deeply understood and believed in the Law of Cause and Effect. He would never have taken anything that was not his, something not readily achieved by most people. While we do good, most of us do very little. In this case, we might give one hundred dollars to a good cause and feel very pleased with ourselves. Mr. Liaofan gave everything he had. He was a very rare person indeed.

Mr. Kong had predicted that I would die at the age of fifty-three. However, I survived that year without illnesses although I did not ask the heavens for a longer life. Now I am sixty-nine.

Mr. Liaofan was destined to die at the age of fifty-three. It was an extremely accurate prediction. After encountering a severe misfortune, he would die in his home on the 14th day of the eighth month between one and three o’clock in the morning. Mr. Liaofan wrote his book at the age of sixty-nine. He had not sought to live beyond fifty-three but he passed that year in good health without encountering any severe misfortune.

Obviously, the issues of birth and death, and of long life, are of the utmost importance in our lives. If long life can be sought, what is there that cannot be sought? Without long life, it would be difficult to seek the attainment and enjoyment of fame, wealth, prestige, and children. This seeking has to be done properly, in accordance with the teachings, from the mind and heart of utmost sincerity. In this way, everything can be attained.

If we were to seek from outside of ourselves, then as Master Yungu said, we would lose from both within and without. Everything that is properly and sincerely sought is attainable, whether we are Buddhists seeking good fortune, wisdom, and birth into the Pure Land or others seeking good fortune, long lives, and birth into Heaven. Indeed, we can seek to attain more good fortune, an even longer life, and grandchildren. Nothing is unattainable. We have seen that Mr. Liaofan gained good fortune, long life, and children to totally surpass the constant in his destiny. These were what he gained through cultivation, not because they were destined.

Book of History explains, "destiny exists but it is changeable."

Book of History is China’s oldest historical record of the systems of decrees and regulations in ancient times. Our destinies can be accurately foretold, by the calculation of the numbers. The constant, predestination, does exist, but it is very difficult to believe that it will stay that way because there are variables due to addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Mr. Liaofan had refrained from committing wrongdoings and began to cultivate good deeds, thereby gradually decreasing his bad deeds and increasing his good ones. His act of reducing taxes became one of multiplication not addition. Thus, ten thousand good deeds were perfectly completed in a matter of days.

If however, he had done much evil, then in an instant, it would have become an act of division not subtraction. Therefore, there are indeed actions resulting in addition and subtraction as well as those resulting in multiplication and division that result from our thoughts and actions. These are what create considerable variances. There are constants, but they are not fixed; they change.

Book of History explains that destiny exists but is difficult to be believed by most people because it is changeable. Accounts of Request and Response further explains, "neither misfortune nor good fortune will come without reasons and conditions; we incur them." In other words, they are the retributions and rewards from our past actions.

"Destiny is not set, but is created and determined by ourselves." All this is true.

This is also from Book of History and stresses the importance of virtuous cultivation and of how variables can surpass constants. The teachings of ancient sages and virtuous ones are the truth and therefore are unchangeable. Then as now, we call them "sutras." When we apply the teachings today, they are still true.

If we do not believe in them and choose instead to follow our opinions and thus commit wrongdoings, we will only increase our offenses. Even if we were to gain some small benefit, we would only gain something that we were destined to have. If we do not know how to cultivate virtues, then we will not be able to keep what we attain. Not only can we not hold on to our wealth, we cannot even hold on to our lives! And if we cannot hold on to our lives, then what is the use of having great wealth?

This world may be beset with disasters anytime. We may lose our lives any moment. Think about it, what is the point of having anything else? It would all be useless, even if we owned everything. It is clearly expressed in "Universal Worthy Bodhisattva’s Conduct and Vows" from the Flower Adornment Sutra. As we breathe our last breath, we are unable to take anything with us to the next life, whether it is family members, friends, prestige, or wealth; we take none of these! What we are able to take with us are the Ten Great Vows of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, to constantly keep them with us and to guide us to the Pure Land.

It is said in Buddhism that "nothing can be carried over to the next life except our karma." These are critical words of caution. Knowing that our karma will follow us like a shadow, we need to be diligent in cultivating good deeds and not to carry our negative karma with us, for to do so will lead us into the Three Bad Realms. Good karma will lead us to be born into the Three Good Realms. And pure karma from Constant Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha will lead us to be born into the Western Pure Land. From this, it is clear what we need to do in this life. We need to broaden our perceptions and expand our thinking instead of being concerned with trivialities or calculating our gains and losses. Life is very short. It would be of tremendous merit, if in this life we were to do more goodness, to benefit more people.

If after reading the teachings of ancient sages and virtuous people, we are able to believe, accept, and abide by them, then we will receive inexhaustible merits and benefits. If we are unable to believe in the teachings, thinking that they are unreliable fairy tales, then this is due to our karmic obstacles. Because of this, we will miss this unsurpassable and outstanding opportunity.

I came to understand that both good fortune and misfortune are the results of our own actions. These are truly the words of sages and virtuous people! If someone said that good fortune and adversity are determined by the heavens, I would consider that person ordinary.

These were Mr. Liaofan’s words of awakening. Great sages and virtuous people have true wisdom and are able to clearly see the true reality. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are unsurpassed sages.

This statement talks about a constant. What Mr. Kong had foretold of Mr. Liaofan's destiny was based on common theories. What Master Yungu taught him for changing his destiny were the teachings of sages and virtuous people. Knowing this, why would we need to have our fortunes told? Do we need to seek advice from geomancy masters? Of course not! We need to believe in the teachings of sages and virtuous people, to know that our destinies are within our control and that we can re-create our futures to be bright and splendid.

Tianqi, my son, I wonder what your life will be like? We should always prepare for the worst. Therefore, even in times of prosperity, act as if you were not. When things are going your way, be mindful of adversity. When you have enough food and clothing, be mindful of poverty.

Mr. Liaofan’s destiny had been accurately foretold but his son’s was not; thus, he did not know what would happen to him. In actuality, there was no need to know. Mr. Liaofan taught him that it was important to remember that even in times of prosperity, he was to act as if he was not. Even if he obtained great wealth and social position, and became a high-ranking official with power and influence, he needed to remember the times when he had none. Why? Because in the future, even if we become prosperous, we will be able to remain humble and courteous, and not arrogantly think that we have wealth and prestige while others do not. If we can remain modest then we will nurture true virtue and good fortune.

Even when everything is going very smoothly, we need to remember the difficult times. In this way, when things are going our way we will remain cautious. Today, even when we have more than enough food and clothing, we need to be thrifty. If we constantly do this when we have wealth and prestige, then we will be able to improve both our moral and caring conduct.

A good example is Mr. Zhongyan Fan who was from a very poor family. When he was young and studying at Way Places, he had little to eat. Living in a state of impoverishment, he cooked a pot of porridge every day, divided it into four portions, and ate one portion a meal. When he prospered later in life and became a Prime Minister, he was under the direct supervision of the emperor and was in a higher position than everyone else. But he still maintained his simple manner of living and changed very little. When he earned more, he thought of those who were poverty-stricken and helped them. From his biography, we know that he supported over three hundred families! With his income helping to provide for so many, we know that he must have lived in impoverished conditions.

He was truly one of China’s great sages. The esteem that Master Yin-Guang had for him was second only to Confucius. Mr. Fan’s descendants continued to prosper until the early part of the 20th century because he had fostered merits and virtues to last over one hundred generations. The family of Confucius is foremost as an old and well-known family, followed by that of Mr. Fan whose family lineage remained strong for eight hundred years due to his exceptional cultivation and accumulation of merits. His descendants continued the family tradition of helping others. Throughout Chinese history, few families have accumulated this much great virtue.

We need to understand that great good fortune is that which we share with others for in this way our ensuing good fortune will become inexhaustible.

When loved and respected by all, remain apprehensive and conservative. When the family is greatly respected, carry yourself humbly. And when your learning is extensive and profound, always feel that the more you learn the less you know.

There is an old saying in China about being overwhelmed by an unexpected favor. It is good for others to love and protect us. However, we need to think. Are we worthy of this care and respect? We need to be constantly apprehensive about our deficiencies, to constantly reflect, to progress in our cultivation of virtues, and not disappoint other’s expectations of us.

Being humble and feeling that we are not knowledgeable enough will help to eradicate our arrogance. Arrogance is one of the five major afflictions and is related to the other four of greed, anger, ignorance, and doubt. We can practice humility to begin eradicating afflictions. If we do so completely, we will be able to uncover our virtuous natures and to truly achieve in our cultivation of merits.

For the past, we can think of how to advocate the virtues of our ancestors. For the present, we can think of how to conceal the faults of our parents. For the country, we can think of how we can repay its kindness to us and for the family we can think of how to bring about its good fortune. For other people, think of how to help those in need around us and for within ourselves think of how to prevent improper thoughts and actions from arising.

Here, Mr. Liaofan gives us an important key to re-creating destiny. Our thoughts will provide the guidelines for increasing our virtues and morality, and for developing good deeds. In the past, Chinese education taught of the relationships between humans, between humans and spirits, and between humans and nature. It taught us to constantly think far into the past to honor and make known the virtues of our ancestors. If we are respected by society for our moral principles, knowledge and work, then we are honoring our ancestors.

In today’s society, what is the driving force behind hard work? Wealth, fame, and prestige. Most people will do whatever is necessary to acquire these. If there were no wealth to gain, how many would be willing to work so hard? Very few! In the past, the driving force behind people’s hard work was filial piety. In their mindfulness of ancestors and parents, they did their best to accumulate merits and virtues on their behalf, and to honor them. This driving force is much worthier and nobler than that of wealth, fame, and prestige. This has been the tradition of Chinese culture and Confucian teaching for several thousands of years.

Buddhism is also based on the foundation of filial piety. Thus, the ritual of making offerings to ancestors and the establishment of ancestral memorial halls are highly regarded, as filial piety is the ultimate root and foundation of Chinese culture. If we are able to be filial towards parents and ancestors, able to remember our roots, then we will naturally be able to think and conduct ourselves properly and to refrain from wrongdoings.

"For the present, we can think how to conceal the faults of our parents." This refers to those who are close to us. When the children are filial and have contributed to society, then even if the parents had committed minor offenses, people will overlook these and praise the parents for having raised such filial children.

"For the country, we can think of how we can repay its kindness to us." Above us is the country or government, which has the mission of being a responsible leader, parent, and teacher to its citizens; of providing a place where people can live and work in peace and contentment. In return, the citizens can be loyal, patriotic and dedicate themselves to their country.

"For the family, we can think of how to bring about its good fortune." Below us is the family. Being mindful of the family does not just mean the nuclear family, but the extended family as it was thought of in the past. As a member, we need to be mindful in creating family good fortune for the whole, not just for the immediate part. Therefore, when one person achieves good fortune, the extended family can also benefit from it.

"For other people, think of how to help those in need around us." Always bear in mind the interests of society. We need to do all we can to serve society and to create good fortune for all others. Today, the most urgent need is reviving and developing the education of morality.

"For within ourselves, think of how to prevent improper thoughts and actions from arising." We need to suppress wandering and deviated thoughts, be mindful of what we are supposed to do, and let go of excessive ambitions. If all of us can do so and fulfill our responsi-bilities, society would be fortunate and harmonious, and the world would be at peace. Mencius explained, "if people of noble character and integrity can meet their responsibilities, then the truth can be revealed."

In Confucian teaching, this accountability refers to the five human relationships including those between husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, friends, and leaders and followers. We need to fulfill our responsibilities towards society and others earnestly and diligently in order to create good fortune for our family and society.

We need to find our faults daily and to correct them immediately. If we are unable to detect our faults then we will think that everything we do is right. When we are unable to correct our faults, improvement will be impossible.

Awakening - the beginning of enlightenment - is being able to detect our faults daily. We begin this process when we first bring forth our vow to become an equal-enlightenment Bodhisattva. As we discover our faults daily, we need to correct them. This is cultivation. It is the true achievement in the cultivation of great sages and virtuous people and is the key to changing our destinies, to leaving suffering behind, and to attaining happiness. When most people are unable to become virtuous people and sages in one lifetime, and are unable to achieve in their cultivation, they will find that the problem lies here.

To know our faults daily is to awaken daily. Once we discover a fault, we sincerely correct it; this is how we will build our strength of cultivation. We need not do much. If we were to find and correct one fault a day then we would become a sage or virtuous person in three years.

As practitioners who chant the Buddha’s name, if we are able to correct one fault daily and be mindful of Buddha Amitabha, then in three year’s time we will achieve birth into either the high or middle birth levels of the Pure Land. This is the way to cultivate to become a Buddha. The question is whether we are willing to do so earnestly. We are fooling ourselves if we are unable to find one fault daily. In failing to know them, we will fail to correct them. How can we hope to improve in this way? When there is no improvement, there is regression. To regard ourselves as infallible and that everything we do is correct is the most horrible way to live.

There are many intelligent people in the world who cannot improve in either their cultivation of morality and virtues or in their work. Their failures in this life are owed to a single word: laziness.

If we live for the present and are lazy, we will remain bound by our fates. How we are born and die, where we will go after we die all accords with our destinies. Master Yungu called people like this ordinary, philistines who blindly follow what has been destined. They are what the Buddha called "pitiful beings." These principles that Mr. Liaofan taught his son are the principles for worldly education as well as Buddhism and must not be ignored.

Tianqi, the teachings of Master Yungu are most worthy, profound, real, and proper. I hope that you will learn them well and practice them diligently. Use your time wisely and do not let it slip by in vain.

Mr. Liaofan carefully wrote down the principles and methods that the master had taught him in changing his destiny and passed them on to his son, hoping that he too would cultivate following this method. Mr. Liaofan had received remarkable results from this practice and thus firmly believed in all the principles and methods that the master had taught.

We need to be very familiar with Master Yungu’s teachings, to ponder and appreciate them. When we are constantly mindful of the teachings, we will savor them, use them as the basis for our behavior, and practice them diligently. Do not waste this lifetime