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Good and Evil Are Not Beyond a Single Thought

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua

"Do no evil deeds; practice all good deeds; purify your own mind: this is what all Buddhas teach." This is the truth of Buddhism. The world is a mess because, although everyone understands the above statement, nobody puts it into practice.

In this mediation retreat, we are engaged in reforming our evil ways. This is a perfect chance to turn over a new leaf and start anew. A single thought of evil can cause gales, deluges, and tragic disasters. Yet if every person in the world could uphold the Five Precepts and practice the Ten Good Deeds, the world would enjoy seasonal rains and gentle winds, and all nations and their citizens would be at peace. To put it simply, if everyone from the national leaders down to the ordinary citizens could observe the Five Precepts and practice Ten Good Deeds, they would surely be blessed with ample clothing and sufficient food, and their lives would be satisfying and happy. But any country whose people break the Five Precepts and violate the Ten Good Deeds will, beyond a shadow of a doubt, be full of broken families and civil strife; it will be a poor and weak nation whose citizens suffer deprivation and hardship.

Investigating Chan is simply a process of refraining from killing, stealing, lustful, conduct, lying, and using intoxicants. In the meditation hall, we concentrate our minds on the investigation: raising a question, then letting it go. We busily ask the question "Who?" And look into it all times, putting a stop to all other thoughts. Doing this is nothing less than holding the Five Precepts and putting into practice the Ten Good Deeds. Thus, as soon as we sit down in the meditation hall, we are replete with the Five Precepts and the Ten Good Deeds. For this reason we must not waste time on useless idle thoughts. We should instead seize the time and ask, "Who is mindful of the Buddha?"

During your meditation, you should work hard and advance with determination. Reflect inwardly; seek your true self. Ask yourself, "How many evil thoughts have I created? How many good thoughts? How many idle thoughts have I let arise?" Take an inventory.

Bring forth the good thoughts that have not yet arisen;

Increase the good thoughts that have already arisen.

Suppress the evil thoughts that have not yet emerged;

Wipe out all the evil thoughts that have already occurred.

This is the foundation of a beginner’s career in cultivation.

The world faces imminent destruction because peoples’ evil thoughts outnumber their good thoughts. A thought of goodness increases the proper energy in the world; a thought of evil increases the world’s bad energy. We want to transform bad energy into auspicious, peaceful energy. Bad energy refers to noxious, toxic energy. Each thought of greed increases the harmful energy in the universe. Each thought of hatred increases the harmful energy in the universe. Each thought of stupidity increases the harmful energy in the universe. If we do things using greed, hatred, and stupidity, then the world will be a murky, dark place, and disasters will occur. If we use Precepts, Concentration, and Wisdom to solve our problems, then heaven and earth will be pure and peaceful. That’s why it’s said that whenever evil people prevail, calamities will abound. Whenever good people prevail, good fortune will abound. In general, both disasters and good fortune are made by people.

The ancients had a saying that goes, "Good and evil are two different roads; you cultivate the one or commit the other as you walk." People who cultivate goodness can leave the Triple Realms; evil doers can fall into the Three Evil Destinies. Both good and evil lie with a single thought. Wisdom is the occurrence of good thoughts; stupidity is the occurrence of evil thoughts.

All things in the world are constantly expounding the Dharma. Some things expound wholesome dharma, while others expound unwholesome dharma. Some things speak of the deviant knowledge and views of heretics and cultists; other things speak of the proper knowledge and views of the Ultimate Meaning of the Middle Way. In other words, those that speak wholesome dharma teach people to see through things, to let them go, to become free. Those that speak unwholesome dharma teach people to preserve their illusions and cling tightly to them. They do not allow people to get free. Why are people muddled and disoriented? It’s simply because they’re attached and unable to let go of things. An ancient verse reads,

How many of the great heroes from times past

Are lying in the mud beneath the mountains.

So think it over carefully, all of you, and take a good look: of all the people in the world, who can avoid entering the gate of death? Our lives are spent in seeking good reputations; but after we die, where does a good name go? We long for a powerful political office; but after we die, that position vanishes. Everything returns to the void.

The First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty of China built the Great Wall to protect his descendants, so that they could continue as emperors for many generations. Unluckily for him, the rule passed only into the next generation, when his son Hu Hai lasted a mere three years as emperor before being murdered by Zhao Gao, the Prime Minister. Wouldn’t you call this a waste of effort?

From ancient to modern times, from East to West, people who strike it rich or who occupy high status, for the most part, run through their lives in confusion, striving for name and gain and creating huge karmic obstacles in the process. But when they die, they go empty-handed to pay a visit to King Yama, Lord of the Underworld.

When we look at it from this perspective, it compels us to work hard here in our Chan meditation. We must not be lax, nor can we be careless, or else we will miss our chance, and our regrets will come too late. It’s said, "An instant of time is an instant of life." Someone may suggest, "Wait until I make a name for myself and get some success, and then I can put it all down and concentrate on cultivating the Way." Unfortunately, time does not wait for people; by then it will be too late.

Whether you practice Chan meditation or recite the Buddha’s name, what matters is that you get serious about your cultivation: then any method can lead you out through the gate of birth and death. Then, when you approach your end, your body will suffer no sickness, your mind will not be fettered by craving, you’ll be as if in Chan samadhi, and you’ll go off to rebirth with a smile. That’s called taking charge of your own birth and death!


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