The Third Lesson: The Way to Cultivate Kindness
Narrator: The previous chapter spoke about the many ways to correct our faults in this present life, naturally assuring that a good life will not become a bad one. However, we are still unable to transform a bad life into a good one. Though we may be good and virtuous in this life, we do not know what offenses we have committed in past lives. The retribution for past misdeeds still has to be undergone. Therefore, in order to change a bad life into a good life, we not only have to reform our faults, but also have to practice all forms of kindness and build upon our virtues.
Only in this way can we rid ourselves of the karma created in the past. Once the number of our kind deeds accumulates, our bad life will naturally turn into a good life; thus, the practice of changing destiny can be proven!
Liao-Fan: The I Ching, Book of Change states…
Narrator: “Families who perform kind deeds will accumulate good fortune, which can outlast many generations.”
Liao-Fan: Let me give an example. Once there was a family by the name of Yen. Before they agreed to give their daughter in marriage to the man whom later became Confucius’ father, they looked into the past deeds of the family. After finding the family to be one that practiced kindness and accumulated virtues, the Yen family felt assured that their daughter would be marrying into a family that would be prosperous with outstanding descendants. Sure enough, their daughter later gave birth to Confucius.
Liao-Fan: Confucius had once praised Shwun, an emperor of early China, on his filial piety, saying…
Confucius: Due to his great filial piety, Shwun and his ancestors will be known and respected by others. His offspring will be prominent for many, many generations.
Liao-Fan: These sayings were later proven true by history. Now I will show in some true stories that merits can be attained through performing kind deeds.
In Fukien province, there was a prominent man named Rong Yang who held a position in the imperial court as the Emperor’s teacher. His ancestors were boat people who made a living by helping people cross the river. Once, there was a storm, which lasted so long that fierce flooding washed away all the people’s houses. People, animals and goods were carried down river by the current.
Other boaters took advantage of the situation and strove to collect the floating goods. Only Rong Yang’s grandfather and great grandfather took interest in rescuing the drowning people. They did not take any of the goods that floated by. The other boaters all laughed and thought them to be very stupid. Later, when Rong Yang’s father was born, the Yang family gradually became wealthy. One day a saint disguised as a Taoist monk came to the Yang family.
Taoist Monk: Your ancestors have accumulated much merit; your offspring should enjoy wealth and prominence. There is a special place where you can build your ancestral tomb.
Liao-Fan: So they followed the Taoist’s suggestion and shortly after, Rong Yang was born. Rong Yang passed the imperial examination when he was only twenty years old and later received imperial appointments.
Narrator: The emperor even bestowed his grandfather and great grandfather with the same imperial honors. His descendants are still very prominent today.
Liao-Fan: Zi-Cheng Yang from the province of Ninpo, Chehkiang province is another example. Zi-Cheng worked as a member of the staff of the provincial courthouse. He was a kind, humane and law-abiding man. Once, the provincial magistrate punished a criminal by beating him until his blood spilled out onto the ground. The magistrate’s anger did not subside and as he was about to continue, Zi-Cheng knelt and pleaded with him to stop beating the prisoner. The magistrate said…
Magistrate: It is all right for you to plead, but how can I not be angry when this person has broken the law!
Zi-Cheng: When even those in government positions of prestige and power are corrupted and do not follow the Proper Path, how can one expect ordinary people to abide by regulations and laws? In addition, extreme beating can force an innocent suspect to plead guilty. Thus in a case like this we should be more understanding.
Liao-Fan: The magistrate was touched by Zi-Cheng’s speech and ceased the beating. Although Zi-Cheng came from a very poor family, he never took any bribes. If the prisoners were short of food, he would always take food from his own home even if it meant going hungry himself. This practice of compassion never ceased and eventually Zi-Cheng had two sons.
Narrator: The elder’s name was Shou-Chen and the younger was named Shou-Zi. Both sons became very prominent and held important government positions. Even the descendants of the Yang family remained prominent for a long time as well.
Liao-Fan: Here is another true story that happened during the Ming Dynasty. Once, an organization of bandits appeared in Fukien Province. The Emperor appointed General Hsieh to lead the imperial army to pacify them. General Hsieh wanted to make sure that innocents were not accidentally killed in the hunt for bandits.
Therefore, he managed to attain a list of those who belonged to the organization and commanded that a white flag be given secretly to those who did not belong with the bandits. They were told to place the flag on their door when the imperial army came to town and the soldiers were ordered not to harm the innocent. With this one thought of kindness, General Hsieh saved tens of thousands of people from being killed.
Narrator: Later, his son Chian Hsieh achieved first place in the imperial exams and later became an advisor to the emperor. His grandson Pei Hsieh also achieved high placement in the exams.
Liao-Fan: Another example is the Lin family from Fukien. Among their ancestors was an old lady who was very generous. Everyday she made rice balls to give to the poor and always gave as many as they asked for.
There was a Taoist monk who came everyday for three years and each time would ask for six or seven rice balls. The old lady always granted his request and never expressed any displeasure. The Taoist monk, who was actually a heavenly being who had come to test the depth of her kind heart, realized the deep sincerity of this woman’s kindness and said…
Taoist Monk: I have eaten your rice balls for three years with nothing to show my gratitude in return. Perhaps I can help you in this way; on the land behind your house, there is a good place where you can build the ancestral grave. If you are placed there in the future, the number of your descendants who will have imperial appointments will be equivalent to the number of seeds in a pound of sesame seeds.
Liao-Fan: When the old lady passed away, the Lin family followed the heavenly being’s suggestion and buried her at the designated place. The first generation after that, nine men passed the imperial exams and it continued that way for every succeeding generation.
Another example comes from the father of an imperial historian whose name was Chi Feng. One winter many years ago, Chi Feng’s father was on his way to school when he encountered a person frozen in the snow. Finding the man still breathing, he quickly took off his coat to wrap around the frozen man. He carried him back home and revived him. That night he dreamed of a heavenly being who told him…
Heavenly being: You helped the dying man out of utter sincerity, this is a great virtue. I will bring the famous General Han-Chi of the Sung Dynasty to be reborn as your son.
Liao-Fan: Later the child was born and his nickname was Chi. Another example is of Ta-Jo Ying, the imperial secretary who lived in Taichou. When he was young, he used to study in remote mountain areas. At night, he often heard the sounds of ghosts and spirits but he never feared them. One day he heard a ghost say happily to another ghost…
First ghost: Ha Ha! There is a village woman whose husband left home a long time ago and has not returned. Her in-laws think that their son is dead and are forcing her to remarry. Tomorrow night she is going to commit suicide here and will replace me so I can be reborn. Ha Ha!
Narrator: The souls of those who commit suicide have to wait for another to die at the same place they did in order to leave the ghost realm and attain rebirth at a higher level.
Liao-Fan: Mr. Ying heard this and immediately set out to sell his parcel of land. He attained four lians of silver, made up a letter from the daughter-in-law’s husband and sent it to her home along with the silver. The father-in-law noticed that the letter was not in his son’s handwriting, but examined the silver and said…
Father-in-law: The letter may be a fake, but the silver’s not. Who would send us this much money? Perhaps our son is truly alive and well, and we should not force our daughter-in-law to remarry.
Liao-Fan: Therefore the daughter-in-law did not commit suicide and her husband returned home after all. Mr. Ying heard the ghosts converse again…
First ghost: Hah! Originally I was able to leave this place for rebirth, but Mr. Ying messed up my chance!
Second ghost: Why don’t you inflict some harm on him?
First ghost: No, I cannot. The gods have recognized his goodness and virtue and he is going to receive a prominent position in the future. How can I harm him?
Liao-Fan: Mr. Ying heard this and became even more diligent in practicing kindness and accumulating merits. Whenever there was a famine, he would use his own money to buy food for the poor and needy and was always eager to help those in emergencies. When things did not go his way, he always reflected within himself rather than complain of the outside conditions. Even today, his descendants are still very prominent.
There was another person, Feng-Chu Hsu, who lived in Changso, Chiangsu province, whose father was very wealthy. Whenever there was a famine, his father would donate his own grain and all the rent on the rice fields to the poor. One night he heard ghosts singing outside his home…
Ghosts: No kidding! No kidding! A person in the Hsu family is going to pass the imperial exam!
Liao-Fan: This went on for several days and sure enough, that year his son Feng-Chu passed the imperial exam. From then on, he was even more diligent in doing good deeds and accumulating merits. He often fixed bridges and took care of travelers and monks. One day he heard the ghosts sing again…
Ghosts: …No kidding! No kidding! A person in the Hsu family is going to pass an even higher level on the imperial exam!
Narrator: And sure enough, Feng-Chu passed the higher exam and became the governor of two provinces!
Liao-Fan: Another example is Kung-Shi Tu who lived in Chiashing, Chehkiang Province. Mr. Tu used to work in the courthouse and would spend nights in the prison cells, talking with the inmates. Whenever he found anyone innocent, he would write a classified report to the judge, informing him of these cases. The judge would then question the prisoners accordingly and clear the case.
Narrator: Through Mr. Tu’s effort, ten innocent people were released and all of them were extremely grateful to the judge praising his wise judgement. Soon after, Mr. Tu, who had quietly let the judge take the praise, also made a report to the Imperial Judge saying…
Mr. Tu: …if even in the Imperial City there are so many innocent imprisoned, there must be many more throughout the nation. I recommend that the Imperial Judge send investigators to check the prisons for innocent people every five years. The sentences can be reduced or canceled in order to prevent the innocent from remaining in prison.
Liao-Fan: The Imperial Judge took his request to the Emperor, who agreed to Mr. Tu’s suggestion. Mr. Tu was chosen as one of the special agents in charge of reducing sentences for those who may be innocent. One night he dreamed of a heavenly being who came to him and said…
Heavenly being: You were not supposed to deserve a son in this life, but this act of reducing prison sentences for innocent people is in line with the wishes of the heavens. You will be bestowed with three sons and they will all attain high positions.
Liao-Fan: After that, his wife gave birth to three sons who all became prominent men in society.
Another example of attaining good outcomes from practicing kindness is Ping Bao who lived in Chiashing. Ping was the youngest of the seven sons of the magistrate of Chichou, Anhui Province. He was sought into marriage by the Yuan family at Pinghu Province and was a good friend of my father. Ping Bao was very knowledgeable and talented, but he was never able to pass the exams.
Narrator: He put his time into studying the teachings of Buddhism and Taoism instead.
Liao Fan: Once, while traveling to Lake Liu, he came to a village and saw a temple in desperate need of repairs. He saw that the statue of Guan Yin Bodhisattva stood wet from the rain, which leaked through the roof. Ping took out all his money and gave it to the abbot of the temple, asking him to please use it to restore the temple. The abbot replied…
Abbot: It will be a very big project, I am afraid this amount is not enough to complete your wish.
Liao-Fan: Ping Bao then took out all his luxurious belongings and handed them to the abbot. His servant tried to persuade him into keeping his best outfit, but he refused, saying…
Ping Bao: It does not matter to me. As long as the statue of Guan Yin Bodhisattva remains undamaged, I do not care if I have to go without clothes.
Liao-Fan: The abbot, with tears in his eyes, exclaimed:
Abbot: To give up money and clothing is not a difficult deed to accomplish, but your deep sincerity is truly rare and precious to encounter!
Liao-Fan: After the temple was repaired, Ping Bao led his father over to visit and spent the night there as well. That night, Ping dreamed of the Dharma Protector of the temple, Chie-Lan, coming to thank him saying…
Chie-Lan: Since you have accumulated these merits and virtues, your children and descendants will enjoy having imperial appointments for a long time.
Liao-Fan: Later, his son and grandson both passed high exams and were appointed as imperial officials.
Another example is a person named Li-Zhi from Jiashan province. His father used to be a clerk in the provincial courthouse. Once, Li’s father learned of an innocent man who was given the death penalty. He attempted to plead this case with his superior. When the prisoner heard about this, he told his wife…
Prisoner: I am so indebted to this man who has spoken on my behalf but I have no way of showing my gratitude. Will you invite him over to our house and offer yourself in marriage? Perhaps this will please him and increase my chances to live.
Liao-Fan: The wife cried as she listened to his request, for she really did not want to do it. However, it was the only way she could help her husband in this time of need. Therefore, the next day when the clerk came to visit, she offered him wine and told him of her husband’s wishes. The clerk refused the offer of marriage, but continued with great effort to clear the case. When at last the prisoner was released, he and his wife both went to the clerk’s house to thank him. The man said…
Prisoner: One with such virtue as yours is truly rare to encounter these days, how can I show my gratitude? You do not have a son, please allow me to offer my daughter in marriage to you, this is the only way I can repay you. Please accept.
Liao-Fan: So the clerk accepted, and soon afterwards, she bore him his son, Li-Zhi. Li passed the higher level imperial exam when he was just twenty years old.
Narrator: Li’s son Gao, grandson Lu and great grandson Da-Lwun all passed high examinations and received imperial appointments.
Liao-Fan: The ten examples above all tell of the different deeds cultivated by different people. Although their actions differ, their intent was the same: to do good. If we were to examine goodness closely, we would find that there are many different kinds.
Narrator: There is real goodness and false goodness, honest goodness and crooked goodness, hidden and visible, seeming and unseeming, proper and improper, full and half, big and small, and finally, difficult and easy.
Liao-Fan: These different types of goodness each have their own reason, which are to be carefully learned and understood. If we practice kind deeds but do not learn the way to differentiate between right and wrong, we may end up doing harm instead of good. Now I will explain the different types of goodness one by one.
What is ‘real goodness and false goodness’? In the Yuan Dynasty, a group of scholars went to pay homage to Master Jung Feng on Tianmu Mountain. They asked…
First scholar: Buddhist teachings often speak of the karmic reward for good and bad, saying “It is like the shadow, following the body wherever it goes.”
Narrator: This is saying that doing good will always have its rewards and doing bad will always have its punishments.
First scholar: Then why is it, that there are people who practice kind deeds, but their family and descendants are not prosperous and successful? On the other hand, there are bad and wicked people who do improper things, but their family and descendants do quite well. Where has the Law of Cause and Effect gone? Is there no standard in the Buddha’s teachings?
Liao-Fan: Master Jung Feng answered him, saying…
Master Jung-Fung: Ordinary people are blinded by worldly views, they have not cleansed their minds of impurities and cannot see with true perception. Therefore, they look upon true goodness as wrongdoings and mistake true wrongdoings as goodness. This is very common nowadays! Furthermore, these people do not blame themselves for bad perception on their part, but instead blame the heavens for their misfortunes!
Second scholar: Good is good and bad is bad. How can they be mistaken for each other?
Liao-Fan: Hearing this, Master Jung Feng asked each of them to express their thoughts on what was good and what was bad.
Third scholar: To yell at and beat others is bad, to respect and treat others in a mannerly way is good.
Master Jung-Fung: …not necessarily.
Fourth scholar: Being greedy for wealth and taking another’s money is bad, not being greedy and abiding by proper ways is good.
Master Jung-Fung: …not necessarily.
Liao-Fan: The remaining scholars all expressed their own views on what was good and what was bad, but Master Jung Feng still replied…
Master Jung-Fung: …not necessarily.
Liao-Fan: Since Master Jung Feng disagreed with all of their views on good and bad, they decided to ask the Master himself.
Scholars: So what is really considered good, and what is really considered bad?
Master Jung-Fung: To do things with the intention of bringing benefit to others is good, to do things for the sake of oneself is bad. If what we do is for the sake of benefiting another, then it does not matter if we yell at or beat that person, it is still considered good. If our intention is for self-benefit, then regardless of our appearance of respect and courtesy, it is still considered bad.
Therefore, when we practice kind deeds with the sole intention of benefiting others, this is considered benefiting the public, and if it is public, then it is real goodness. If we only think of ourselves while doing kind acts, then that is considered private benefit and that is false goodness.
When kindness springs from within the heart, it is real goodness. When we do good just for the sake of doing a good deed then it is false. In addition, when we do good without expecting anything in return, it is considered real goodness. When we practice kind deeds for some other purpose than to benefit others, it is false. Those who wish to practice true kindness need to contemplate all these differences.
Liao-Fan: What is ‘honest goodness and crooked goodness’? People nowadays often look upon an extremely conservative and nice person as good and kind. However, the ancient sages and saints have shown that they prefer those who are courageous and hold high goals for themselves.
Narrator: This is because those with courage and high goals are easier to teach and guide and will someday reach accomplishment in life, while those who are overly careful and conservative will never amount to anything.
Liao-Fan: As for those who appear to be conservative and careful in their everyday actions, they may be liked by all, but because of their weak personality, they easily go along with everything, unable to think for themselves. Sages often speak of them as thieves of virtue. From this, we can see that the viewpoint of ordinary people greatly differs from that of the sages and saints.
Narrator: What ordinary people may view as goodness, a saint may in fact proclaim to be bad. What appears to be bad to ordinary people, a saint may perceive as true kindness.
Liao-Fan: This applies to other matters as well. Earth, spirits, heavens and gods all look upon good and bad from the same viewpoint as the sages. Kind people will be rewarded for kind deeds and the wicked person will suffer for their wrongdoing. Whatever the sages perceive as right, they too see the same way. They do not view things from the same perspective, as do ordinary people.
Therefore, those who wish to accumulate merits must not be deceived and affected by the sights and sounds of the world. Instead, they need to practice with a true and humble heart, not to please others and acquire respect. One would do well to protect one’s heart from deviant and impure thoughts.
Narrator: Honest goodness comes from the thought to help all others. Crooked goodness arises from the thought of greed in wishing only to please people. Harboring love for others is being honest. Harboring thoughts of hatred and jealousy is being crooked. Honest goodness is when one is respectful and crooked goodness is when one acts without sincerity.
Liao-Fan: These are all to be carefully differentiated. What is ‘hidden goodness and visible goodness’?
Narrator: When one does something good and people know about it, it is called visible goodness. When one does something good and no one knows about it, it is called hidden virtue.
Liao-Fan: Those with hidden virtues will naturally be known by the heavens and will be rewarded. Those who practice visible goodness will be known by people and will enjoy fame.
Narrator: Fame itself is good fortune, but heaven and earth do not favor fame for heaven and earth do not favor those who seek fame.
Liao Fan: We can see that those who have great fame, but lack the virtues supporting it, will eventually encounter some kind of overwhelming adversity. A person who truly has not done any wrong but continues to be falsely accused by others will have descendants who will suddenly become prosperous and successful.
Narrator: From this, we can see how important it is to understand the minute differences between hidden and visible goodness. We cannot afford to mistake them!
Liao-Fan: In performing good deeds, there is also what seems to be goodness but is actually not and what does not appear to be goodness but actually is. These are known as ‘seeming and unseeming goodness’.
For example, in the Spring-Autumn Period, there was a country named Lu. Because there were other countries which took their citizens as slaves or servants, the country of Lu made a law which rewarded those who paid the ransom to regain the freedom of their fellow citizens. At that time, Confucius had a very rich student named Dz-Gong. Although Dz-Gong paid the ransom to free his people, he did not accept the reward for doing such a deed.
Narrator: He did it out of good intention, seeking only to help others and not for the reward money.
Liao Fan: But when Confucius heard this, he was very unhappy and scolded him saying…
Confucius: You acted wrongly in this matter. When sages and saints undertake anything, they strive to improve the social behavior, teaching people to be good and decent. One does not do something just because one feels like it. In the country of Lu, the poor outnumber the wealthy. By refusing the reward, you lead others to think that accepting the reward money is being greedy.
Thus, those who do not want to appear greedy by accepting the government’s reward will hesitate to pay ransom in the future. Only very rich people will have a chance to practice this deed. If this happens, no one will pay the ransom to free our people again.
Liao-Fan: Another student of Confucius, Dz-Lu, once saw a man drowning in the river and rescued him. Later, the man thanked him by giving him a cow as a token of gratitude. Dz-Lu accepted his gift. Confucius was happy when he heard this and said…
Confucius: In the future, people will be willing and eager to help those who are drowning in deep waters or lakes.
Liao-Fan: If we look from the view of ordinary people, Dz-Gong, who did not accept the reward money, was good. Dz-Lu, who accepted the cow, was not as good. Who would have known that Confucius would praise Dz-Lu and instead scold Dz-gong? From this, we can see that those who practice kind deeds must not only look at the present outcome…
Narrator: …but also consider the act’s effect in the long run.
Liao Fan: One would do well to not only consider one’s own gain and loss…
Narrator: …but look to see the impact made on the public.
Liao Fan: What we do right now may be good…
Narrator: …but with the passing years, it may bring harm to others.
Liao Fan: Therefore, what seems like goodness may in fact be the opposite and what appears to be the opposite of goodness, may someday turn out to have been goodness after all. There are other examples of seeming goodness but actually is unseeming.
Narrator: There are many things that people apparently ought to do, but sometimes these things prove to be better left undone. Forgiveness is a virtue, but it cannot be used without reason and wisdom. If we easily forgive and release a criminal when he or she has not regretted and reformed, we may be letting loose a threat to society, causing more harm than good. In this case, forgiveness would be improper and the person would be best left in his or her cell.
Liao-Fan: We all need to have manners, but they are to be carried out with good sense. Overdoing courtesy to others can result in making them proud and arrogant. In this case, it would not be a good thing.
Narrator: Keeping one’s word is a virtue, but if one causes bigger trouble through keeping a small promise, then that would be considered improper.
Liao Fan: Being loving and compassionate is a wonderful trait, but if compassion is carried out by allowing anything to be done, then the spoiled person would become daring and unrestrained, causing greater harm and trouble in the future. This would be most unmerciful.
Narrator: These are all examples of what appears to be goodness but actually is not and are to be thoroughly contemplated.
Liao-Fan: What is ‘proper goodness and improper goodness’? In the Ming Dynasty, there once was a Prime Minister named Wen-Yi Lyu, who was a just and lawful man. When he grew old, he retired to his hometown where he was loved and respected by all the people. Once, a drunken villager went to his home and proceeded to insult him. Mr. Lyu was not angered by his words but instead told his servant…
Mr. Lyu: This man is drunk. Let’s not give him a hard time.
Liao-Fan: With this, he closed the door and ignored the onslaught of insults. A year later, the same man committed a grave crime and was sent to jail with the death sentence. Upon hearing this, Mr. Lyu said with great remorse…
Mr. Lyu: If I had taken him to the authorities for punishment that day when he came to insult me, perhaps this would not have happened. A little discipline then could have prevented the great harm done now and might have saved him from certain death. At that time, I was only thinking of being kind and unknowingly nurtured a defiant and disgraceful personality. Since nothing came from his deed of insulting a Prime Minister, he grew bold and went on committing crimes, which have now brought him the death penalty.
Liao-Fan: This is an example of doing something bad while having good intentions. There is also an example of those who did good when they in fact intended otherwise.
Once, a famine devastated the land and people stole food from others in broad daylight. A rich family reported these losses from the marketplace to the authorities. However, the government, not wanting to get involved, did nothing to stop the thieves. Eventually, they grew more daring and chaos was imminent. So, the rich family took the law into their own hands and proceeded to catch and punish those who stole from them. In this way, peace resumed and people no longer stole from one another. It was with selfish intentions that the rich family acted, but the result of their deeds actually greatly benefited everyone.
Narrator: Therefore, we all know that goodness is proper and wrongdoing is improper. However, there are cases where deeds done out of good intentions resulted in bad and deeds done with bad intentions resulted in good. This is saying that although the intention was proper, it resulted in the improper. This is the ‘improper within the proper.’ However, there is also the case when the improper was intended but resulted in the proper. This is called the ‘proper within the improper.’
Liao-Fan: We can all benefit from understanding this. What is ‘half goodness and whole goodness’? The I Ching, Book of Change said…
Narrator: “People who do not accumulate kind deeds will not attain good fortune. On the other hand, people who do not accumulate bad deeds will not bring about great adversity.”
Liao-Fan: The accumulation of kind and bad deeds greatly determines our future. If we are diligent in doing kind deeds, it is like collecting things in a container. With diligence, it will soon be full and we will have our reward of good fortune. If we are eager in the accumulation of bad deeds and gather them with great diligence, then the container of bad will soon be full and disasters will surely occur.
If we are somewhat lazy in our collecting of either kindness or misdeeds, then the container will be left half filled and neither good fortune nor adversity will come swiftly. This is one explanation of whole goodness and half goodness.
Once there was a poor lady who went to visit a Buddhist temple and wished to make a donation. However, she was so poor that she had only two cents but she gave these to a monk. To her surprise, the temple’s abbot himself came forth to help her regret for past offenses and dedicate her merits in front of the Buddha.
Later, the same lady was chosen to enter the imperial palace and became a concubine to the emperor. Clad in her riches, the lady once again went to the temple to donate, this time bringing thousands of silver pieces to give. To her dismay, the abbot only sent another monk to help her dedicate her merits. The lady did not understand and questioned the abbot…
Lady: In the past, I only donated two cents, yet you personally helped me express my regret. Today I come with great wealth to give and you will not help me perform my dedication. Why?
Abbot: Although the amount of money you gave in the past was small, it came from a true and sincere heart. It was necessary for me to repay your sincerity by personally performing your dedications. Today, although your donation is much more, the heart of giving is not quite as true and sincere as before. Therefore, it is fitting and enough that my student performs your dedications for you.
Liao-Fan: This is an example of how thousands of silver pieces are only considered as half goodness and two cents as whole.
Another example is of Li Jung, an immortal of the Han Dynasty. He was teaching his student, Dong-Bing Lyu, the art of transforming steel into gold. They would use this gold to help the poor. Dong-Bing asked his teacher…
Dong-Bing: Will the gold ever change back to steel again?
Li Jung: After five hundred years, it will return to its original form.
Dong-Bing: In that case, I do not want to learn this art, it will harm those who possess the gold five hundred years from now.
Liao-Fan: In actuality, Li Jung was only testing the goodness of his student’s heart and happy with the results, he said…
Li Jung: To become an immortal, one must complete three thousand virtuous deeds. What you have just said came from a truly kind heart; your three thousand deeds are fulfilled!
Liao-Fan: This is another example of whole goodness and half goodness. When we perform a kind deed, it is best if we can do it out of our innermost sincerity, not seeking rewards or noting in our minds how much we have done. If we practice in this manner, then all our good deeds will reach fulfillment and success.
If, instead, we always think of the deeds we have performed, looking for a reward of some kind, then no matter how diligently we practice, even for an entire lifetime, the deeds will still be considered as half goodness.
Narrator: For example, when we donate money to the poor, we can practice what is called ‘pure donation.’ In this type of giving, we do not linger on the thought of ‘I’ who is giving; dwell on the importance of the object I am giving away; or think of who the receiver is. We are simply giving and it is out of true sincerity and respect. When we give with ‘pure donation’, then one dou of rice can bring boundless good fortune and the merit from giving one cent can wipe away the transgressions of a thousand eons.
Liao-Fan: If we always keep in mind the good we have done and expect rewards for our actions, then even a donation of two hundred thousand gold pieces would still not bear us the reward of a fully good fortune. This is another way of explaining whole goodness and half goodness.
What is ‘big goodness and small goodness’? Once there was a high ranking official named Jung-Da Wei, who was led into the spirit world to be judged for his good and bad deeds. The judge ordered his records of good and bad to be brought out. When the records arrived, Jung-Da was astounded at the courtyard full of his bad records and at the single scroll, which contained his good deeds. The official then ordered the two to be weighed. Surprisingly, the bad records, which had filled the courtyard, were lighter than the single scroll of good deeds, which was as thin as a chopstick. Jung-Da asked the judge…
Jung-Da: I am barely forty years old, how could I have committed so many wrongdoings?
Judge: When you give rise to a single thought that is improper, it is considered a bad offense there and then, it does not have to be carried out through action to be counted as a wrong. For example, when you see a pretty woman and give rise to improper thoughts, that is considered an offense.
Liao-Fan: Jung-Da then asked him what was recorded in the single scroll of good deeds, which outweighed the bad deeds. The judge replied…
Judge: Once the Emperor planned to build a great stone bridge but you proposed against the project due to the hardship and toil it would cause the tens and thousands of people needed for the work. This is a copy of your proposal to the Emperor.
Jung-Da: I did make the proposal, but the Emperor dismissed it and began the project anyway. My proposal had no effect on the matter at all. How can it bear so much weight against my numerous offenses?
Judge: Although the Emperor did not accept your suggestion, that one thought of kindness you bore for the tens and thousands of people was very great. If the Emperor had listened to you, then the good performed would have been even greater.
Liao-Fan: Therefore, when one is determined to do good for the benefit of all people, a small deed can reap great merits.
Narrator: If one thinks only about benefiting oneself, then even if many deeds of kindness are performed, the merits would still be small.
Liao-Fan: What is ‘difficult goodness and easy goodness’? The knowledgeable scholars of the past used to say…
Scholar: When one wishes to conquer one’s greed and desires, one should start with what is most difficult to overcome.
Liao-Fan: Fan-Chr, a student of Confucius, once asked his teacher how to cultivate one’s humanity to it’s fullest…
Confucius: Start with what is most difficult to practice.
Liao Fan: What Confucius meant by the most difficult, was to sever the selfish mind. One practices that by conquering what is most difficult for one to conquer. We can practice like the old teacher, Mr. Su of Chiangshi, who gave two years worth of salary to a poor family who owed money to the government. Thus he saved them from being torn apart should the husband be taken to prison.
Narrator: Another example is Mr. Jang from Herbei. Mr. Jang saw an extremely poor man who had to mortgage his wife and child, and then had no money for their redemption. If he was unable to pay for their return, the mother and child could both lose their lives.
Liao-Fan: Therefore, Mr. Jang gave his ten years of savings to the poor man so the family could be reunited.
Narrator: Such examples as Mr. Su and Mr. Jang are rare, for they gave what is most difficult to give. What others could not sacrifice, they did so willingly.
Liao-Fan: Another example is Mr. Jin from Chiangsu Province. He was old and without any sons, so his neighbor offered their young daughter in marriage to him, to give him descendants to carry on his lineage. But Mr. Jin could not bear to ruin the otherwise bright and long future of this young girl, and so refused the offer and sent her back home.
Narrator: This is another example of being able to overcome what is most difficult to conquer in oneself. Therefore, the heavens showered down good fortune, which was especially good for these three old men.
Liao-Fan: It is easier for those who have money and power to accumulate merits and virtues than for those who are poor. However, if one refuses to cultivate kindness even when it is easy and when one has the chance to do so, then it would truly be a shame. For those who are poor and without prestige, doing kind things for others is very difficult. However, if in this difficulty one can still manage to help others, then it is a great virtue and the merits gained will be boundless.
To be a moral person when interacting with others and affairs, we help whenever the opportunity presents itself. Helping others is not an easy task but there are many ways to do it. In short, the ways of helping others can be simplified into ten important categories. The first is ‘supporting the practice of kindness’.
Narrator: When we see people trying to show kindness, we can assist them and help their kindness to grow. When we see others who wish to do good but cannot accomplish it on their own, we can lend a hand and help them to succeed. This is the way we can cultivate ‘supporting the practice of kindness’.
Liao-Fan: The second category is ‘harboring love and respect’.
Narrator: We can harbor respect towards those who are more knowledgeable, older or in a higher position than we are. For those who are younger, less fortunate or of lower position, we can harbor a mind of loving care.
Liao-Fan: The third category is ‘helping others succeed’.
Narrator: When we see others who are considering whether or not to do a good deed, we can persuade them to put all their effort into doing it. When others meet with difficulties in practicing kindness, we can help think of ways to overcome the difficulty and guide them to success. We must not be jealous at the accomplishments of others nor try to sabotage their good acts.
Liao-Fan: The fourth category is ‘persuading others to practice kindness’.
Narrator: When we meet a person who is doing wrong, we can point out that doing wrong will only result in great suffering and painful retribution, and that he or she needs to avoid doing so at all costs. We can tell people who refuse to practice kindness or are only willing to practice a little kindness, that doing kind deeds will definitely have its rewards. Kindness not only has to be cultivated, but also is to be cultivated constantly and on a large scale.
Liao-Fan: The fifth category is ‘helping those in desperate need’.
Narrator: Most people tend to give when there is no need to give and do not give when there really is a need. When we meet people who are in great difficulties, emergencies or dangers, we can lend them a hand and assist them in whatever way we can to help them out of their difficulties. The merits accrued from helping others in times of desperate need are boundless. However, one must not become proud and conceited because of doing such deeds.
Liao-Fan: The sixth category is ‘developing public projects for the greater benefit of the people.’
Narrator: Projects, which will bring great benefit to the public, usually have to be performed by those with great influence and power. If a person has this capacity, such as rebuilding the water system or assisting a disaster area, then it ought to be done for the benefit of the public. Those without such influence and power can do great deeds, too. For example, when one sees a small leak in a dam, one can use pebbles and dirt to stop the water and prevent disastrous flooding. Though this act may be small, the effect will not go unnoticed.
Liao-Fan: The seventh category is ‘giving through donation.’
Narrator: People of this world love, seek and even die for money. Who is actually willing to help others by giving their own money away? When we recognize the difficulty involved in donation, we can come to appreciate the rarity of the person who is willing to give to help others in need. This person is even greater in the eyes of the poor.
According to the Law of Cause and Effect, “those who give will in turn receive”, and “those who refuse to give will not receive.” When we cultivate one share of kindness, we will receive one share of good fortune, there is no need to worry about having nothing left when we give to help others.
Liao-Fan: The eighth category is ‘protecting the proper teachings.’
Narrator: We must be able to differentiate between proper teachings and deviant teachings. Deviant teachings do great harm to people’s minds and hearts and naturally are to be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, teachings with proper wisdom and views, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, the Ten Commandments, etc., which promote kindness and goodness in society, are to be supported.
Almost every culture has these basic proper teachings. If one happens to see others in the act of destroying such proper teachings, one must put forth every effort to protect and uphold these teachings.
Liao-Fan: The ninth category is ‘respecting our elders.’
Narrator: Anyone who is deeply learned, knowledgeable, has high prestige, or is older than us can be considered an elder and is to be highly regarded and respected.
Liao-Fan: The tenth category is ‘loving and cherishing all living things.’
Narrator: We should feel sympathy for all living creatures, even the tiny ants, who know of suffering and are afraid to die. How can we kill and eat living beings and not feel the least bit sorry?
Liao Fan: Some people even say that these things were meant for human consumption…
Narrator: …but there is no logic in this argument and it is only an excuse for those who desire to eat meat.
Liao-Fan: I have only explained the above ten categories in summary, now I will explain each in detail and give examples. What does ‘supporting the practice of kindness’ mean?
In the Yu Dynasty, there once was an emperor by the name of Shwun. One day, before he became emperor, Shwun was watching some fishermen on Lake Leize. He noticed that all the younger and stronger fishermen took the spots where the water was deep and the fish were abundant, while the older and weaker fishermen were left with the rapids and shallow water, where there were very few fish.
When Shwun saw this situation, he felt sympathy for the older and weaker fishermen and thought of a way to turn the situation around. He decided to join in the fishing party to set an example for the others. Whenever he saw fishermen plunder good fishing spots, he would conceal their faults and never even spoke of their selfishness. When he saw those who were humble and yielding, he praised them everywhere he went and even followed their humble and polite ways. Shwun stayed and fished like this for a whole year until the other fishermen got into the habit of yielding good fishing spots to others.
Narrator: This story of Shwun is only an example to show how a person influences others through his actions and not through his speech. It is not meant to encourage people to fish, because fishing is an act of killing. Please refrain from sports, which take the lives of others.
Liao-Fan: A wise and intelligent man such as Shwun could have easily influenced others with a few words of advice. Why didn’t he just say something instead of personally joining the gathering?
Narrator: Shwun did not want to use words, but preferred to set an example for others through his actions. Shwun wanted those fishermen to feel ashamed of their own selfish behavior and change on their own accord. This shows how deep and sincere Shwun’s wish was for others to practice kindness.
Liao-Fan: In today’s era of low morality, social breakdown and loss of proper thinking, it is most difficult to find a good standard of behavior. Therefore, when those around us have shortcomings…
Narrator: ….we do not use our good points to highlight their deficiencies.
Liao Fan: When the other person is unkind…
Narrator: …we do not use our kindness to measure or compare ourselves to them.
Liao Fan: When others are not as capable as we are…
Narrator: …we do not purposely surpass them with our abilities.
Liao Fan: Even when we are intelligent and competent, these skills are to be kept hidden and not boasted of. Instead, we then behave even more humbly than ever. We thus look upon our skills and abilities as unimportant, false and unreal. When someone makes a mistake, we tolerate it and conceal it, giving him or her a chance to reform without losing their self-respect.
When we let the person keep his or her dignity, this person will be even more careful of actions in the future. When we see strengths and kindness in others, we can learn from them, praise them and make their goodness known to others. In daily life, we can refrain from speaking and acting with selfish intentions, but instead seek to benefit society and the public. We can make beneficial laws and regulations for the public to follow.
Narrator: These are the qualities of a great person, who thinks of the public welfare as more important than his or her own.
Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘harboring love and respect for others’? Sometimes it is hard to tell from appearance whether one is an honorable person or a fraud, since frauds can pretend to be honorable. The difference lies in their intentions. An honorable person’s intentions are good while a fraud’s intentions are bad. There is a great distance between the two and they are as different as black and white. Mencius said that…
Mencius: The difference between truly honorable people and ordinary people lies in their intentions.
Liao-Fan: A truly honorable person’s heart is only filled with love and respect for others. There are thousands of different types of people in this world, some close to us, some strangers, some in high positions and some in low, some smart while others are not, and some virtuous and some corrupt, but nevertheless, they are our fellow humanity.
They are like us, alive with flesh and blood and with feelings. There is not a single person whom I should hate or disrespect. When our hearts are full of love and respect for others, it is the same as if our heart is full of love and respect for the saints and sages. When we understand others, it is the same as if we understand the saints and sages. Why?
Narrator: Because all the saints and sages want the people on this earth to lead happy and productive lives.
Liao-Fan: Therefore, if we can love and respect people and help them to be peaceful and happy, we are doing the job of a sage or a saint.
What does ‘helping others to succeed’ mean? If we cast away raw jade, then this stone would be like any other worthless stone.
Narrator: But if we were to carve and polish it, it could be transformed into a priceless jewel.
Liao Fan: It is the same with people. A person needs to be taught and guided, just as jade needs to be carved and polished. When we see people whom we feel have good potential for doing a good deed or working towards a proper goal, we can guide, support, praise and encourage them, helping them succeed in their endeavors.
If another ever wrongly accuses them, we can try to clear their name and share their burden of slander. Only when we have helped them stand on their feet and be a part of good society will we have fulfilled our responsibility in helping others to succeed.
Most people dislike those who are different from them, such as a fraud versus an honorable person and a bad person versus a good person. In villages, there are usually more bad people than virtuous ones.
Narrator: Since there are always more bad people around, good people are often taken advantage of. Therefore good people often has a hard time standing on their own.
Liao Fan: Frankness and modesty are the usual characteristics of good people. They usually do not care much for their appearance. On the other hand, an average uneducated person often only pays attention to another’s appearance. They like to gossip and make accusations; so, striving to do good turns out to be quite a challenge. A good person can easily be wrongly accused. When this happens, it is entirely up to the goodness and virtue of an elder to correct the actions of those who are bad and guide them back to the right track.
Narrator: It is also up to these elders to protect and help those who are good and need to stand on their own. Those who can preserve good and be rid of wrongdoings achieve the highest merit.
Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘persuading others to practice kindness’? We all have a conscience, but chasing after wealth and fame has kept us constantly busy and forgetful of our good conscience. We have become willing to stoop very low, as long there is something to be gained from it. When a friend is about to ignore his or her good conscience to do something unworthy, we can remind and warn this friend, hoping to wake him or her from this muddled state of mind.
Narrator: It is like waking up someone when they are having a nightmare, it is up to us shake them into reality. When a person is undergoing a long spell of depression, we can pull this person out of it and help to clear his or her mind.
Liao Fan: We are most virtuous if we can treat our friends with such kindness. A scholar named Han once said…
Scholar Han: By word of mouth, one can only persuade and influence another momentarily. It is easily forgotten with the passing of time and events. No one else would have heard what we have said. If we can persuade and influence others through written works, our words can be passed on for hundreds of generations around the world. Therefore, writing to promote virtue is an act of great speech and is a most virtuous deed.
Liao-Fan: We can persuade others by word of mouth as well as by writing books to promote virtue. Compared with the previous category of helping others to succeed, this is much more direct and obvious. However, the treatment of an illness with the right medicine sometimes proves to have special effects; therefore, we cannot give up.
Narrator: It is also important how we do it. For instance, if a person is too stubborn, we do not persuade him or her with words. If we do, then we are wasting both our words and energy. If a person is gentle and willing to listen, but we fail to persuade him or her, then we have just missed an excellent opportunity to do good.
Either way is because we are not wise enough to tell the difference. We should then reflect to see what we did wrong so the next time we will do it right and will not waste any more words nor lose another opportunity.
Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘helping those in desperate need’? During one’s lifetime, people will often suffer from serious problems, financial troubles or separation from loved ones. If we meet someone like this, we can help that person as if we are the one who is experiencing the suffering. We immediately come to this person’s aid. If a person has been wrongly accused or convicted, we should plead for this person’s innocence as well as provide aid in any way we can. Scholar Suai once said…
Scholar Suai: It does not matter whether a favor is big or small; what counts is that it is done at a time when others need it most.
Liao-Fan: What humane words! What is meant by ‘developing public projects for the greater benefit of the people’? Small construction works are needed for villages and big construction jobs are needed for cities. Public projects are anything that need to be constructed for the public welfare…
Narrator: Such as irrigation systems for farm lands, dams, bridges, or giving food and water to those who are hungry or thirsty.
Liao Fan: Whenever we have the opportunity, we need to persuade others to do their share as well. Even when others slander or talk behind our back we should not be deterred. Do not be afraid of what others might say and do not get scared when the job becomes difficult. Do not let people’s jealousy and hatred shake our resolve to do kind deeds.
Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘giving through donation’? In Buddhism, giving is considered foremost in all practices of kindness. When one truly understands the meaning of giving and is willing to give away all worldly belongings, even to the point of donating parts from one’s own body, then this person is walking the way of the Buddha. A person who understands this principle would be willing to give away anything, even to the point of donating eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.
Narrator: For instance, in a past life, Buddha Shakyamuni offered his own body as food for a hungry tiger.
Liao Fan: One can also give away sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and Dharma. There is nothing a person cannot give away if he or she is willing.
Narrator: If a person can do this, then he is on his way to gaining purity of mind and body. He will have no worries or afflictions, just like the Buddha.
Liao Fan: When we find ourselves unable to give away everything, we can start by donating money. Worldly people treat their clothing and food as dearly as their lives. Therefore, monetary donation is most important for them.
Narrator: When we practice giving without hesitation, we can cure stinginess and at the same time help others in need.
Liao Fan: However, for many it is not an easy thing to do. It is difficult at first, but becomes more natural the more we give. From cultivating giving, peace of mind can be attained, and then there is nothing we cannot give away. This is the best way to cure a bad case of selfishness and an opportunity to change our attitudes toward money and worldly possessions.
Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘protecting the proper teachings’?
Narrator: For millions of years, proper teachings have been a standard of truth and a spiritual guide for all living beings.
Liao Fan: If we do not have good strong beliefs, how can we join in and support the interaction of heaven and earth? How can people of all walks of life succeed in their endeavors without a standard to live by? How would we be able to escape from delusion and life’s confinement? How would we create and arrange worldly affairs and transcend the cycle of birth and death?
Narrator: These all depend on good and proper teachings as the lighted path.
Liao Fan: Therefore, whenever we see temples, memorials of past saints or sages, pictures of sages, or Buddhist texts, we should be respectful. If they are in need of repair, we should repair and put them back in order. We can especially tell people about the teachings of the Buddha and widely spread the proper teachings. We can let others know of its value, in this way we are also showing our gratitude towards the sages and the Buddhas. We need to do all we can to reach this goal.
Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘respecting our elders’? It is making an extra effort in showing our attention and respect towards parents, elder siblings, the governor, our superiors or any elders of high virtue, prestige and learning.
Narrator: When taking care of parents at home, we are to do it with love in our hearts and a gentle, accommodating appearance. We should not raise our voice but maintain a peaceful bearing. As we cultivate these virtues, they will become a part of us and we will change into a mild-mannered person. This is the way we can touch the hearts of heaven and evoke a response.
Liao Fan: When carrying out deeds for our superiors or the government, we should follow the rules even when we are not obliged to. We should not try to slack off just because our superiors do not know what we are doing.
Before we convict someone of a crime, regardless of whether the crime is serious or not, we should investigate carefully and handle the case with justice. We should not abuse the power and rights given to us by our superiors.
Narrator: When one faces the emperor, one should show him the same respect as if one were facing the heavens. This is the correct behavior handed down from our ancestors. It has a direct and important effect on one’s hidden goodness.
Liao-Fan: Look at all the families who practiced loyalty and filial piety. Their descendants prosper for a long time and have bright futures. Therefore, we can follow their example and practice with caution.
Liao-Fan: What is meant by ‘loving and cherishing all living things’? A heart of compassion is what makes a good person. Mencius once said…
Mencius: A person is not human if he or she does not feel compassion.
Liao-Fan: A person in search of the virtues of mercy and kindness looks out for his or her heart of compassion. A person who wants to accumulate merits also cultivates a compassionate heart. A person with compassion is a kind, virtuous and merciful person, while one without compassion for others is unkind and without morals. It is stated in The Ethical Code of the Chu Dynasty:
Narrator: “In January, when most animals are bearing young, female species are not to be used for sacrificial purposes.”
Liao-Fan: Mencius once said…
Mencius: An honorable person will not live near the kitchen.
Liao-Fan: This is to protect a compassionate heart, since a lot of slaughtering is done in the kitchen. Therefore, our ancestors did not eat meat under four circumstances. First is if they heard the killing, second is if they saw the killing, third is if the animal was raised by them and fourth is if the animal was killed for their sake. If you are not vegetarian but wish to cultivate compassion, then you can learn from our ancestors by eating less meat.
Narrator: According to the Buddha’s teachings, living beings are born as animals as a result of having accumulated bad karma in their previous lives. After they pay their debt in retribution, they can be born as humans again. If they are willing to cultivate they can even become Buddhas. The meat I eat today may be the flesh of a future Buddha. An animal we see today was formerly a person. It is then possible that this animal was my parent, wife, son, a relative or a friend.
Presently, I am human and they are animals. To kill and eat them would be making enemies of those I used to love. If I eat them today, in the future they may become a human again when I become an animal due to my violations of killing. In their revenge, I will have to undergo the same suffering of being killed and eaten.
When we think this way, how dare we kill? How can we swallow a piece of that flesh? Besides, even if the meat does taste good, the taste only lasts from the mouth to the throat. After we swallow, there is nothing left to taste. There is no difference between eating meat and vegetables, why would we want to kill when there is no good behind it?
Liao-Fan: Even if we cannot stop eating meat immediately, we can still try to gradually reduce our meat intake until vegetarianism is accomplished. In this way, we can reach a higher state of compassion within our heart. Also, we need to refrain from killing any living creature, even insects. Man makes silk from the cocoons of silkworms. The cocoons have to be boiled in water first, with the silkworms inside. Think about it, how many silkworms lose their lives in the process?
When we cultivate the land for farming, how many insects have to be killed? We need to be aware of the cost in lives involved in our everyday food and clothing. We kill to provide for ourselves. Therefore, we need to be conservative and value the food and clothing we have. To waste them would create the same violation as killing.
How often have we unknowingly harmed or stepped on a living creature? With a little awareness, we can prevent this from happening. Tung-Pwo Su, a great poet from the Sung Dynasty once wrote…
Tung-Pwo Su: In love of the mice, we often leave him some rice. In pitying the moth, we won’t light the lamp.
Liao-Fan: What a kind and compassionate statement! There are infinite types of goodness. I cannot mention them all. As long as we can expand on the ten previous categories, we can make them into a multitude of good deeds and virtues.