About the Translators
When young, I often read from Hong Zicheng’s Caigentan, Known in English as Vegetable Root Sayings, and became quite familiar with it. Later, when teaching the Dharma, I found myself often quoting from it. The Caigentan is not only brief, to the point, tactful and charming, but also rich in philosophical and literary elegance; it is popular and yet august. The literary and artistic meaning is so deeply profound and lasting that each saying can serve as a motto for interacting with people and conducting affairs in daily life.
For more than seven decades, everything I have done has been to teach the Dharma. Much of what I teach is similar in style to the Caigentan, and I thought that a collection of my words could be offered for young people to cultivate. Joyfully aware of this possibility, Fo Guang Shan sangha members began compiling my lectures, diary entries, Dharma talks and speeches– more than 3,000 items in all. The Foguang Caigentan has been published in several English- language versions all under the title Humble Table, Wise Fare.
I have four sincere hopes for readers of these verses. The first is that I wish all people will feel the benefits of purifying the body and mind, and, consequently, pass these blessings on to society. The second is that, because I have traveled worldwide teaching the Dharma to groups of thousands of people, I regret having had no means of talking with each and every person directly. By dedicating this book to them, I hope that these words can serve as a bridge to connect our heart and to some degree diminish my regret. Third, I hope that all youth can use this book as a guide for cultivating the mind, and that it will have a profound influence on their futures. Lastly, just like the Caigentan, the Humble Table, Wise Fare books are not delicious gourmet food, but rather the plain vegetables that go with a simple meal. I hope readers can be spiritually satiated and invigorated at this humble table.
This beautiful and convenient mini-book that you are holding contains 108 inspirational verses that use an economy of plain language to express the profound wisdom of the Dharma. Culled from the perennially popular Humble Table, Wise Fare series and arranged by topic for speedy access, the sayings are pragmatic, universal and timeless. They are truly wise fare for those either supping solo or sharing a simple repast with family and friends.
Hong’s Vegetable Root Sayings, an inspirational book for Venerable Master Hsing Yun, has been compared to such classics of Western literature as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and La Rouchefoucauld’s Maxims. The title is from a proverb by Zhu Xi, a well-Known Song dynasty Confucian scholar: fiaode caigen, baishi kezuo. The proverb literally means “chewed vegetable roots, one hundred matters accomplished,” or figuratively “experiencing hardship prepares one for anything.” The compound caigen refers to the inedible root of a vegetable, especially a cabbage stalk, and it is a metaphor for “bare sub-sistence.”
While Shakespeare was busy penning his first drama, Hong, on the opposite side the globe, was brushing down his 360 adages of wisdom. Hong’s Caigentan was a watershed work for its time, because it synthesized longstanding competitive aspects of Chinese society: Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Both writers left for future generations invaluable insights into the nature of the human condition.
This minibook can be conveniently taken along in your back-pack, purse or pocket while on the go and opened in those fleeting, yet precious, spare-time moments throughout the day. The verses can bring you serenity when things are hectic, as well as provide you with inspiration when meeting the tough challenges of life. They are at times quite brusque, which can be a bit of a “wake up call” when you get “stuck” and are in need of motivation to get back on right path. Whether subtle or direct, they are always satisfying. I invite you to enjoy sitting down to this humble table again and again to savor the plain– yet truly inspiring– flavor of the timeless Dharma.
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