First I would like to wish
all of you “Happy New Year,” and I hope you are all healthy and in good spirits. I hope you all resolve to become new people starting from today and that you will leave all of your old bad habits behind with last year, and keep them from following you into the new year. This year we want to become new people. We want to renew our lives, find new friends, and renovate our lifestyle. In every way, we want to improve ourselves, and that’s why I say,
“Happy New Year to you all!”
I want to greet all Good and Wise Advisors of different religions, of different nationalities, of different ages. And this greeting includes all brothers and sisters, big and small, and all you talented young friends with bright futures. Although we all come from different nationalities, races, and religious faiths, yet we are people, all the same. We all have our differing thoughts, beliefs, strong points, and shortcomings. Catholicism has its strengths and weaknesses; Protestantism, Islam, Confucianism, and Buddhism all have their strengths and weaknesses. What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? If you look into them, you will find each religion has both strengths and weaknesses.
The world’s five great religions─Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam─are just like the five flavors of food: sour, sweet, bitter, hot, and salty. Although bitter is bitter, some people still prefer its flavor. For example, Buddhism is very bitter, that is to say, it promotes ascetic practices. When the Buddha was meditating in the Himalayas, he ate only one sesame seed and one grain of wheat each day for six years. That’s how tough his practices were, and yet there are people who are willing to try it out. There are other religions that advocate sweetness; they tell you what benefits will come to you, and what advantages you’ll get by believing in it. Some people like to taste this flavor. In fact, it is very popular. Many people like sweet stuff and don’t like bitterness. Although food of sour taste is basically not easy to eat, some people like sour food. Still others like to eat spicy food, no matter how hot it is. Take Islamic people, for instance. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not slandering the Muslims. Islam talks about how Mohammed holds incense in one hand and a gun in the other. If he meets a good person, he burns incense for him. If he meets a bad person, he fires his gun. This is an analogy for hot, spicy food. You should eat salty foods in moderation, because too much sodium can make you sick. It can be used in small amounts to season food. Some people also like this flavor.
I use the five flavors as an analogy for the five religions. Although some of these flavors seem less palatable than others, such as hot and bitter, there are people who like these flavors best. So every religion has its strong points and its shortcomings, and people have their own likes and dislikes among the flavors of sour, sweet, bitter, hot, and salty. From my point of view, I feel this flavor is best. From your point of view, that flavor is unacceptable. Religions are just the same. The best of religions will still have people who criticize it, and the worst of religions will still have people who praise it and believe in it. This is my stupid opinion: People should follow the religion they prefer.
I recall the Catholic Cardinal from Taiwan, Paul Cardinal Yubin, who visited Gold Mountain Monastery on June 19, 1976, which was Guanyin Bodhisattva’s birthday. There were over 150 people gathered to give him a farewell party. I said to the 150 people there,
“Buddhism is an old-fashioned religion, with a history that is several thousands of years old. If you people who believe in Buddhism feel that it is too old-fashioned and not sufficiently up to date, and if you want to profess a different faith, you have an excellent opportunity before you. We have Cardinal Yubin among us today, and you can apply to transfer your belief and become a Catholic any time you like. I encourage any one of you to do so.” Having said that, I asked whether there was anyone who wanted to change his religious belief. It seems they all wanted to stick with their old-fashioned faith. I turned to Cardinal Yubin and asked him whether or not he dared make the same statement to his followers. He shook his head and said,
“No, I don’t dare to say that.” I said, “Well, then you still have a bit of selfishness left.” And he nodded. My point was not to say that he was a selfish person, and I wasn’t, but to point out that his hands were tied. He had the Pope’s supervision above him, and if he made such a statement, he could have been fired from his job. When you get right down to it, he was still fond of his
“royal” position as Cardinal. And that is why he didn’t dare to make such an offer. There is no Pope in Buddhism, and no one controls anyone else or supervises anyone, so I enjoy freedom of speech; I can say what I please.
I could also compare the five great religions--Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam─to the Five Elements that we find in the world: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Everything belongs to one or the other of them, and each element gets along in harmony, without obstructing the others. They cooperate smoothly, and penetrate and fuse with each other. The Five Elements work so that none of them ever says,
“You bumped into me, and made me angry!” Metal, wood, water, fire, and earth help each other out and also hinder each other. When they help each other out, they all have their strong points. When they hinder each other, they each have their shortcomings. All religions have their shadowy aspects, which are their weaknesses. They also have their strengths, which are bright and out in the open.
Personally, I like Buddhism because it regards everyone as being equal. From the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and gods above down to the ghosts below, those in the Ten Dharma Realms are equal. Within the Ten Dharma Realms there are the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, those Enlightened to Conditions, and Hearers─these are the Four Dharma Realms of Sages. There are also the Dharma Realms of gods, of humans, of asuras, of hungry ghosts, of hell-beings, and of animals. Each of them has its boundaries. When we understand one another, we will see that humans are all in the Ten Dharma Realms, in the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom. The amount of your wisdom determines the Dharma Realm you belong to. If you have the Buddhas’ wisdom, then you are a Buddha. If you have the wisdom of Bodhisattvas, then you are a Bodhisattva. Those with the wisdom of the Dharma Realm of Hearers are Hearers. Those with the wisdom of the Dharma Realm of Pratyekabuddhas are Pratyekabuddhas. It’s all a question of your wisdom. Those who possess great wisdom are truly enlightened, and are the equal of the Buddhas. Those who lack wisdom and are stupid are the equal of living beings and belong in the realm of living beings.
There is a saying in
Buddhism that goes, “All men are my fathers, and all women are my mothers.” People who miss the principle will surely say,
“Hey, how can all men turn into my father? How can all women turn into my mother? Exactly which mother and which father is mine?” The meaning here is that all men might have been my fathers in lives past, and all women might have been my mothers in lives past. Throughout countless lives in the past, they may have been my parents. We have experienced rebirth, and our names and faces have changed in the process, and so we no longer recognize each other. The teachings of Buddhism are vast and great, not narrow and small, not limited in any way, measureless and unbounded, equal, free, and comfortable. Such a teaching you might say is the smallest, yet it is also the greatest. It has no past and no present, no high and no low. It is both extremely vast and yet also ultimately fine. You could say that Buddhism is as small as an ant or mosquito, and you could also say it is the greatest─measureless and unbounded.
When the sages and saints founded each religion, their goal was for people to be good. They wouldn’t have wanted people to slander one another. But people of later generations misunderstood the meaning of the teaching, the intent of the sages, and the principles upon which the religion was founded, and they pursued nothing but self-interest. They began to attack one another. For instance, I strike out at you and you retaliate. In the Buddhist teaching, for me to attack you is the same as attacking my own father. If you attack me, it’s the same as attacking your mother. We should not do this to each other. That is why I said earlier that every religion has its strong points and its shortcomings. We must get rid of our shortcomings and maintain our good points. In this way, we are disciples who truly understand our religion. We are true followers of the founder of our religion. Why has Jesus’ teaching spread so far and wide? It’s because his disciples were eloquent preachers of his Gospel. For example, Matthew and Luke made a great contribution to Christianity.
I am reminded of one time when Cardinal Yubin came to my place and a layman invited him to a vegetarian lunch. We discussed the matter, and Cardinal Yubin agreed to go. We arrived at the layperson’s home, and when it came time to eat, a platter of chicken drumsticks appeared on the table. Cardinal Yubin was embarrassed, and said to the host who offered the meat,
“They invited me to a vegetarian meal today. Why are you serving chicken drumsticks?” I said,
“You folks can all take advantage of the Cardinal’s presence here today. You are all Buddhists, and I don’t know if you ordinarily eat only vegetarian food or not, but this is a good opportunity for anybody who wants to eat chicken legs to help yourselves. I will permit it today, and any bad karma that results will come to me instead of you.” Cardinal Yubin said,
“You will have to take the first bite, or else none of them will dare to eat the chicken.” He put me on the spot like that. So I answered,
“Please represent me, and eat my share of the chicken drumsticks for me.” Cardinal Yubin said,
“Fine.” And so those who wanted to eat chicken drumsticks ate drumsticks, and those who didn’t want to eat chicken drumsticks ate feathers.
The very first time I met Cardinal Yubin, I said,
“You should be a Buddhist among the Catholics.” He opened his eyes wide and stared at me, thinking that my statement was very strange. I said,
“There’s nothing strange about that. I will be a Catholic among the Buddhists. When we can share and exchange our ideas in this way, then there will be no more wars in the world. Do you believe it?” He thought it over for about five minutes and then slapped his thigh and said,
“That’s fine with me. Let’s do it!” After that, he bowed to the Buddhas. That’s how I took Paul Cardinal Yubin across. He made it possible for Catholicism and Buddhism to cooperate and get along together. This made me very happy indeed.
He and I felt an instant affinity with each other, since our thinking was so much alike. What a shame! Just as we were on the point of uniting our two religions, he was called back by God. After he died, I cried for a long time. I wrote a poem in his memory, too. I might as well tell you all today what I said at that time. I said,
“God in Heaven! O God! Why don’t you understand our feelings? I just made such a good friendship with a comrade in arms who truly understood my heart. Why have you called him back so soon?” But God paid no attention to me, so all I could do was cry.
Okay, I’ve said a lot today. When my own father and mother died, I didn’t cry. But when Cardinal Yubin passed away, I really cried. I didn’t even cry when my parents died. That is just how unfilial a person I am. Well, I’ve been blowing my own horn today, and I don’t know if it’s been of any value to you or not, so I’m going to stop here.
With humane hearts and humane practices,
Universally save all with kindness and compassion,
Guiding those with affinities to return to the sea of enlightenment.
With skillful teachings and skillful transformations,
Equally moisten all with the Dharma rain,
Leading those without sentience to enter the flow of sagehood.
──Venerable Master Hsuan Hua