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.

The reason this chapter is called "Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi* has to do with the extent to which Lao Zi's philosophy is evident in the Venerable Master's instructions and practices. In Reflections in Water and Mirrors Reversing the Tide of Destiny, the Master's critique of Venerable .Mahakashyapa states: Transforming and appearing as Lao Zi, he roamed through China; Welcoming those who had affinities to ascend to the other shore. Obviously the Master recognized Lao Zi to be a transformation-body of Venerable Mahakashyapa. Although Lao Zi left behind only five thousand words, they have been profoundly cherished and enjoyed by generations of cultivators and ordinary people. Much of what the Venerable Master said and did accords with Lao Zi. For instance Lao Zi said: Proper words may appear to be the opposite. Truthful words are not pretty; pretty words are not truthful. Being proper has value; being pretty is cheap. Counteracting is the movement of the Way; gentleness is the function of the Way. The Venerable Master often used reverse psychology to prod living beings. One example is when the Master was asked about exterminating house pests and insects. The Master replied:

I am an insect, I am an ant. It doesn't matter if you kill me, but you shouldn't kill them.
If you want to exterminate insects, first exterminate me. That is how based in equality the Master's compassion was!

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:

Contention, thoughts of victory and defeat, is in opposition to the Way.
Once the four marks arise in the mind; how can samadhi be attained?

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:

It's easy to get rid of other things, but our temper is hard to change. 

Those who can truly refrain from anger have attained a priceless gem.

Further, if we can not blame others, then everything will go our way.

Afflictions will never arise and so resentment will never find us. 

By always picking at others 'faults, it's impossible to end our own suffering.

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:

Let us truly recognize our own faults and not discuss the faults of others. 

Others 'faults are just our own;

to be one with everyone is great compassion. 

Everything is a test to see what we will do.

Not recognizing what's before our eyes, we have do start anew.

In the Analects and Mencius the sages tell us that when things don't go our way, we should look within ourselves. Also the superior person seeks within himself; the petty person looks at others. Also when the superior person makes a mistake, he takes responsibility for it. When a petty person makes a mistake, he blames heaven. (Xun Zi). The Venerable Master's guidance was also to turn around and seek within yourself.

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:

Before I went to Taiwan I knew that all the principles I had established from the founding of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas onward would be wiped out; I knew people would not honor them. That has caused me a tremendous lose of hope and I cannot face you all. And so I'm wearing a mask to avoid having to look you all straight in the face.

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.

As 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.

I should, for the sake of living beings, universally undergo all their sufferings on their behalf so that they will be able to quickly escape the deep abyss of endless births and deaths. I should, for the sake of living beings in all worlds and in all evil destinies, universally undergo all their sufferings on their behalf throughout all time to come.-.1 would rather undergo all beings' sufferings myself than to ever allow beings to fall into the hells. I prefer to stand in for all beings who are in the dangerous and difficult situations of being in the hells, among the animals, or among the asura kings so that I can rescue and ransom all beings in the evil paths, enabling them to escape and attain liberation.

I remember when Elder Layman Li Bingnan was still alive, one time a disciple presented a long whip and asked his teacher to beat him with it. Instead the Elder took the whip from the disciple saying: "Will everyone please rise. When the students fail to learn, it is the teacher's fault. I will take this whip away with me and beat myself with it." That. too, caused people to be profoundly moved. In the Analects. Confucius said, "Chastise yourself more and blame others less. In that way you will avoid resentment." (Venerable Weiling, Chapter Fifteen). King Tang of the Shang said as he made sacrifices to Heaven, ''Please do punish the people for my mistakes, and if the people err, the offense is mine." (Xiaoyue, Chapter Twenty) The words and actions of these sages are similar. They all act as models, subduing themselves, only in that way are they able to influence others. The Venerable Master has another verse:

Vast, proper energy Fills heaven and earth.

Transform what is great and learn from the sages and worthies. 

When you fail in your endeavors, seek within yourself. 

Turn the light around and shine within; don't exploit conditions. 

Act like an old fool; don't be clever.

Diligently sweep the dust from your mind; get rid of craftiness. 

If you can constantly spur yourself on in this way, 

It won't belong before the Buddhadharma fills the universe.

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."


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