Part Four: Chapter on Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi
by You-Bin Chen
Excerpted from "A Discussion of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua's Contribution to Buddhism" by You-Bin Chen - Vajra Bodhi Sea Monthly Journal from June, 1966 to October, 1997.
All his life the Master used the Six Great Principles of not fighting, not being greedy, not seeking, not being selfish, not pursuing self-benefit, and not lying to teach and transform living beings. (Actually these are the Five Precepts). Many people didn't take them seriously, thinking that even a child of three knew those things. What need to discuss them? Still, I don't know how many times the Master said, "Any success that I have had in my life is due to abiding by these Six Great Principles. Anyone who wants to cultivate the Way should follow these Six Great Principles." Didn't Lao Zi also say, "My Way is easy to understand and easy to practice and yet there isn't anyone who understands and practices it!" He also said, "People say that my Way seems unfathomable, but that's because they have just discovered it. If they acquaint themselves with it for longer, they will fathom its subtitles." He also said, "The Great Way is level, easy for everyone to traverse."
Basically cultivation is quite simple: 'The Way is right there with you; don't seek afar for it." But people are always looking for shortcuts; they scout around trying to find "secret dharmas" to cultivate. It's really a case of people getting more and more muddled. Shouldn't we realize that "the secret lies with us." It's in being able to pursuit of material desires and attachments of the discriminating mind; it's in refraining from anger and refusing to lie. Those are instantaneous "secret dharmas"; that is the Way!
Those Six Great Principles, experienced by the Master through his lifelong asceticism, were fervently set forth by him with the hope of contributing to the good of the world and the benefit of humankind. But people did not take them seriously; even made fun of them. It is truly as Lao Zi put it in Chapter 41: "When the superior person hears of the Way, his is moved to practice it. When a mediocre person hears of the Way, he accepts and rejects at random. When an inferior person hears of the Way, he makes fun of it. The Way is found in not ridiculing and not being self-satisfied."
Throughout his life, the Venerable Master advocated a philosophy of non-contention that was identical to Lao Zi's non-contention. The Master often mentioned the verse:
Those who are truly non-contending don't get angry. They have reached the level of being able to forgive and are truly forgiving. The Master brings up another verse:
Now isn't that an extremely simple instruction? True non-contention amasses boundless and infinite merit and virtue. But the Venerable Master would no doubt omit Lao Zi's conclusion: "Rare are those who know me; honored are those who can fathom me; such is a sage's rare jade that he keeps wrapped in coarse cloth."
In addition to the Master's Six Great Principles, there are two verses worthy of believing and putting into practice. They are:
It's true that people were sometimes stunned by the Master's teachings, like the time on February 10, 1993, when he wore masks during his visits to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. It turned out to be because his disciples had violated the practices of taking only one meal a day at noon and always wearing the precept sash. It was with a sense of grief that the Master wore the masks when he returned to the City. He commented:
The Master's stance is unprecedented in Buddhist history. Never has a teacher donned a mask. Actually it is we disciples who violate the precepts who should be covering our faces, not our teacher. My own aside on this is that it verifies that the Venerable Master has reached the state of "no self."
Another example of teachings that stunned the disciples took place in the spring of 1992 at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas when an unprecedented "The Unrestrained Great Assembly" was organized. During that meeting the Master said: I painfully beat myself. I have beaten myself several times to the point of knocking my self unconscious. Because I lack virtuous conduct, the disciples I teach end up like this. If the power if repentance and reform is real, then whatever mistakes have been made, I vow to take upon myself. But if you don t speak truthfully, and are only hoping to fall into the hells a little faster, then I have no way to save you. Tell the truth; use your true mind to repent and reform and then all the retributions for offenses that you should have to endure in the hells I will count as mine.
far as I know, there has never been a teacher who beat himself because his
disciples were not filial. It really leaves a person profoundly grieved and
pained at heart. The Venerable Master's practical application of the
principle: "Others' mistakes I take as my own; to be one with everyone is
called Great Compassion" can be perceived at a glance. It is just as
described in the Twenty-fifth Chapter of the Flower Adornment Sutra.
Finally, let's discuss the Master's philosophy of kowtowing. The Master once remarked that the secret to his life's cultivation was bowing to others and taking losses. The Master often would say to his new disciples in refuge, "As my refuge disciples, you must learn to be patient and not to contend. If people beat you, you should buy to them. If they scold you, you should bow to them. Always be willing to take a loss." "If people scold me, you ought to bow to them. No matter who slanders me, you shouldn't defend me."
The Master frequently bowed to his own disciples in America. If his disciples were disobedient, he would kowtow to them, and then they would behave. In his early years in the United States, one night when the Master was giving a lecture at Wonderful Words Hall in the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, not a single left-home person was willing to go up on stage to speak. After the lecture was over and the assembly was filing out of Wonderful Words Hall and returning to the Buddha Hall, the Master knelt by the door and watched everyone walk out. He was reproaching himself and giving a wordless teaching. That's really "Space Age cultivation," where the teacher bows to his disciples. It shows the Master has realized the spirit of nonself. Moreover, the Master often led the assembly by personally kneeling to listen to lectures given by guest Dharma Masters at the Sagely City. He certainly was not haughty, as certain rumors might say. The Master started bowing to all living beings from the time he was twelve (he wasn't bowing to the Buddhas). Every day he bowed to heaven, earth, his parents, teachers, elders, insects, ants, and so forth, making a total of 1,670 bows. This was certainly not something ordinary people could do.
Nowadays Buddhists only know how to bow to the Buddhas outside. They don't bow to the Buddha in their minds, nor do they repent and admit their errors before their parents and all living beings, thus their practice is not perfect. We ought to learn to bow to our parents and ail living beings every day. We should constantly "seek within ourselves, reflect upon ourselves, and listen to our own natures" Let us "strive to emulate those who are worthy, and examine ourselves when we see those who are not worthy."