“Life is like the tide”, writes Venerable master Hsing Yun, “rising and falling with its pulses and minuses.” This reflects the Buddhist concepts of impermanence, or constant change. Some Changes, the Master says, are for the better, so they are easy to accept. But even changes for the worse-“minuses”-have their place. Life setbacks can improve our characters. And we experience them we can learn to realize that minuses prepare the way for better things. “Without destruction there is no new construction.” the master writer,” and we do not get plus where there is no minus.”
In the essay in this book, the Master demonstrate with warmth and wisdom how to put the Buddha’s teachings into practice in order to be positive force in the world. He writes about the potential of one seed, ‘and how hardship and sickness can be vehicles for a better life: “Without suffering,” he quotes, ‘ one cannot attain Buddhahood.”
As in all the Master’s works, these essays contain fascinating illustrations and tidbits of historical fact. Information on pioneering Chinese monastics like Xuanzhang and Fahsien; glimpse of the life of the Buddha; lessons learned from the history of China; reference to the fabled Shaolin Monastery-the Master weaves together modern life and ancient wisdom into a fabric of challenge an encouragement.
Since the inauguration of the daily paper, the Merit Times in Taiwan on April 1, 2001, have been writing an article each day for the column “Between Ignorance and Enlightenment.” It is now near 1y two years and I am still writing.
In the beginning, I was only trying it out, thinking I would finish in a couple of months. However, response from readers has been very enthusiastic, and I just could not stop writing.
Among the feedback from our readers, the staff at the Merit Times reported that many people subscribed to the paper because they wanted to read “Between Ignorance and Enlightenment.” Some readers also indicated that after reading the column, their interests and skills in writing had improved. They were even able to gain acceptance to a university with their polished writing skills. Other readers made scrabooks of the articles and used them as bedtime reading.
In addition, after reading the column some people who previously had numerous unwholesome habits have changed for the better. For instance, they have quit smoking, drinking, and gambling There were also cases where members had problems getting along with each other and they were inspired by the articles. Their families have become harmonious joyful, filled with laughter and warmth. Some students wrote report based based on the articles and obtained high grades and commendation from their teachers.
These responses from different walks of life greatly reinforced my sense of duty for the column. Because of this mission, which I feel I must shoulder myself, I am motivated to write each and every day, regardless of how busy my schedule in propagating the Dharma may be I can always find time during the day to make connections with the readers through my writing.
The English section of the American edition of the Merit Times is also publishing the articles translated by His Lai Temple. Many study groups organized by members of the Buddha’s Light International Association are using the articles for their discussions. Numerous readers have since called for a collective publication of these articles, and their earnest requests are now fulfilled.
The meaning of “Between Ignorance and Enlightenment” is actually reflected in our everyday life where there are inevitably many situations involving both “ignorance” and “enlightenment.” Sometimes, those directly affected are deluded, while those around them may see through the situation very clearly. Therefore, a few appropriate words will be of much help in pointing the way to brcakthrough, providing food for the same time.
In reality, ignorance and enlightenment lie in just a though! A thought of ignorance may cause sorrow and pain, while an inspiration of enlightenment can bring out the sun of wisdom. Just as Buddhist sutras indicate, “Troubles are Bodhi, and Bodhi is trouble!” The sourness of pineapples and grapes can be turned into sweetness with sunshine and warm breezes. Therefore, by being able to reflect and contemplate on the sourness of our ignorance, we can taste the sweetness of enlightenment right here and now.
This short publication is the fourth in a projected series of at least ten volumes. Through “Between Ignorance and Enlightenment,” I wise to share and to grow with all my readers !
Tradition records that Sakyamuni Buddha, wherever he was, met his disciples daily each evening and delivered a discourse on a topical subject. “What were you discussing while waiting for?” he would ask them. According to their replies, he formulated a new discourse, an explanation of a knotty point in his teachings, or narrated a story of strong didactic significance. Each one of them was of immediate interest and timely. The Sangha preserved them in their memory, transmitted them orally from generation to generation for half a millennia, and eventually wrote down in books with their own commentaries and interpretations. Thus we have a vast literary heritage recording the sublime teachings of the exalted teacher, the Buddha.
It is the Buddha himself that Venerable Grand Master Hsing Yun emulates teacher of Buddhadharma. Daily he seeks out disciples to share his views on topical issues. Unlike the historic Buddha, the Grand Master has the enormous advantages of high-tech modern media. He addresses classes of his monastic disciples, teaches the Dharma in simple language to his every-expanding congregations of the laity, broadcasts by radio and television to captive audiences in their own homes, and writes for perpetuity the quintessence of his wisdom. He is an indefatigable teacher who is constantly exploring ways and means of teaching out to as large an audience or readership as modern technology permits.
In no other sphere of activity does this doyen of modern exponents of Buddhism, the foremost interpreter of the universal and perennial applicability of the precept and example of the Buddha to human life today, demonstrate his ingenuity than in the mini-discourses he has contributed daily to Merit Times. Already three handy volumes have been devoted to enable these timely teachings to be available permanently. This is the fourth volume. It has a most intriguing title: A Life of Pluses and Minuses. This, too, is a collection of eighty mini-dis-courses.
“Life is like the tide, rising and falling with its pluses and minuses,” he says in this cover article. Ever mindful of the importance of lucid directness, he explains, “Life is sometimes smooth sailing. For instance, we can be happy in love, prospering in our careers, and having our wishes fulfilled. These are all the pluses in life. However, we may experience setbacks in our careers, enmity with others, boredom with life, and regrets with our friends. They are the minuses in life.” if this was merely a philosophical discourse on reconciling to realities of life, the Venerable Grand Master would have been another theoretical philosopher. To the Grand Master there is a lesson to be drawn from life’s pluses and minuses, Reminiscent of the Buddha’s statement in the Mahamangalasutta of Suttanipata, “Putthassa lokadhammehi cittam yassa na kampati” (Being unshaken in mind when touched by realities of the world), the Grand Master admonishes us: “Worldly affairs can defeat one who has neither courage nor resolve… Life’s delight, sorrow, and joy all have their pluses and minuses. In understanding them we can truly appreciate the meaning and flavor of life.”
A corollary to this article is the one entitled “A Life of Mountains and Water.” Here eulogizes mountains and water with the admonition: “If the youth and practitioners of today can incorporate mountains and water into their hearts, daily activities, and human relations, they will enjoy a most beautiful and peaceful life.” The emerging message underscores our responsibility to preserve ecological balance. The Grand Master says,
The distant mountains smile at us and are a constant symbol, reminding us to be strong, ready, and persevering. The flowing water is sentimental and is always speaking the Dharma to us. We need mountains and water in our lives, and we should work hard to safeguard them.
What else does the Grand Master in his serene wisdom urge us to do? The very listing of titles is all that is necessary to find this out: he says, “Discover the treasure within our minds and the incense of the says, “Discover the treasure within our minds and the incense of the heart; act immediately and create life force; be free of worries; look at both sides; enhance one’s looks and mind; manage your emotions and clean out the garbage; boycott temptation and prevent leaks and outflows; have a hobby; climb mountains and cross rivers and be prepared for everything; improve nutrition and do not skip breakfast; downplay one’s accomplishments but compare oneself to another; change tracks; be farsighted and do not be calculating; speak out but be a small screw and cherish conditions.” In a little over a page he justifies his counsel with quotes from the Buddha, stories from Buddhist literature and Chinese folklore, and plain and simple common sense.
With equal sagacity, the Grand Master lists the qualities whose efficacy he demonstrates with his own life achievements: “Charisma, humor, the power of a smile, high efficiency, fortune and merit, lifelong learning, integrity, diligence for the ordinary, and taking initiative.” He counsels against a jealous temperament, the malice of anger, and addiction. It is the Grand Master’s in-depth understanding of human nature which every single mini-discourse an invaluable reminder of what to do and what not. His most powerful points are made by challenging the reader to think.
When we encounter matters that we do not understand or know clearly, we look for advice from and gods. In that manner. we lose control of our lives.
An alternative to fortunetelling which he has already implemented is the provision of “Dharma Words of the Buddha,” through which afflicted a person turns to the principles of causes, conditions, and effects, or “even our own intelligence and wisdom.” He urges us to choose our time for action as well as inaction, saying, “We need to train our minds to be calm when our bodies are moving, and our bodies to be at ease when our minds are racing.” Similarly, he argues that hardship is a tonic for success. Equally paradoxical is his assertion that sickness is the best medicine:
When we are sick and outside care is necessary, we should consult real physicians for treatment. Other than taking what the doctor prescribes, we should also have confidence in ourselves. If we can become our own best doctor and be our own medicine, then we need not fear any sickness.
I have read this collection of mini-discourses with increasing admiration for the Venerable Grand Master’s contagious optimism and indisputable wisdom. Every essay is a gem of the highest enlightenment. As we enjoy these is a gem of the highest enlightenment. As we enjoy these wonderful glimpses of life in its entirety, we own a word of gratitude to Venerable Miao His and Cherry Lai for an exceedingly readable translation.
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