This Shurangama and Great Compassion Dharma Assembly has already been in session for two days, but the participants are not very sincere. People are just going along with the crowd and not being truly earnest in repenting, reciting the Sutras, bowing to the Buddhas, and bowing in repentance. It seems that people are not very enthusiastic or sincere. However, when we speak the Dharma, we should deliver the Dharma into each listener's ear and heart, so that he or she will remember it. The Dharma must be spoken with a strong, resonant voice. My own voice is not very resonant at this time, because I have a cold and cannot cough out the phlegm in my throat. Taiwan's climate is different from America's, and especially at this time of year with the fluctuating heat and cold, I was caught unprepared. That's why my voice is not very clear. Since people hope I will speak, I will try my best, with apologies to my listeners.
When young people speak the Dharma, they should enunciate each word and phrase clearly. They shouldn't talk so fast that everything runs together and sounds like popping firecrackers, because then the audience won't be able to catch what they are saying. People who talk like that should not come up to speak the Dharma. Those who speak the Dharma should be serious and solemn, not sloppy and giggling and with no sense of proper deportment. If you speak in such a sloppy manner, people cannot understand what you are saying. Not to mention other people, even I couldn't hear clearly. Since I am a stupid person, if someone does not speak clearly, then I cannot hear clearly and I won't know what he is saying.
The people who come up to speak are just practicing, so they should not talk too long. If their talk is to be translated, they should talk for three minutes and leave three minutes for translation. If you don't know how to speak clearly, then you shouldn't insist on speaking. Each person's talk and translation should take a total of six minutes. Four speakers is enough for one day. The four should know how to speak well, because if they say something meaningless in front of such a large audience, people will get bored. They won't want to sit there, but they are too polite to get up and leave. Every speaker should pay close attention to this. Every single sentence you say up here has to penetrate into people's hearts. It shouldn't be that you are the only one who understands, and no one else knows what you are talking about. That's like "the Mongolian who goes to the opera and listens in vain (because he can't understand)." This is important.
Those who know how to speak should speak. Those who don't know how can learn gradually by listening to others speak. No matter where I go, the people I bring along with me are in school, and this school trains people to speak the Dharma. They practice in the monastery and also on trips. We shouldn't have too many speakers in one day. Every day, it's not for sure whether or not I will come to the Dharma Assembly. So you shouldn't expect me. If I have time, I will come, but if I don't have time, then I won't come. Though I may not come in person, my spirit will be with the Dharma Assembly. Why will my spirit be here? Because I want to see how sincere everyone is. Is everyone joyfully attending the Dharma Assembly, or just mindlessly following the crowd? At the beginning of my talk today, I said that people have not been sincere enough. It's not that you are insincere. You do have a bit of sincerity, but it's not enough.
During the Dharma Assembly, you should avoid chatting or holding small conversations because it distracts others from listening to the Dharma. Then you are not supporting the Way-place, and you are actually obstructing it. You should all know this.
Since there is not very much time, each day we should choose four people--two men and two women--to speak the Dharma. Then no one will say that the men and women are not treated equally, that only the men get to speak and not the women, or that only the women get to speak and not the men. Now, since there are fewer men and more women, we can have one Bhikshu and three Bhikshunis speak each day. Those who come up to speak should know how to speak. In speaking the Dharma, you have to use the "Dharma-speaking" voice. Your voice should be well-modulated and you should use a variation of long and short sounds, and of high, low, and medium pitches. What you say should have real meaning in it. No matter what your topic is, don't ramble. Be straightforward so that everyone can understand. That's the way to speak the Dharma to ordinary people. Don't deliberately say things in a lofty and profound way and leave everyone bewildered. That way, the more you say, the more confused people become! That's not the way to speak Dharma. Avoid being pedantic. Just speak the Dharma in plain words, and that will do. In this day and age, people have no time to listen to theoretical, rambling speeches.
In the future, when everyone comes to attend the Dharma Assembly, I will be here taking part as well, regardless of whether or not I come in person. Since I will be here, my attention will be focused here on the Dharma Assembly. It should not be that you are keen and energetic only when you think I'm here, but your head droops and you want to sleep or leave when you think I'm gone. Then you are not sincere at all. Don't be attached to appearances. It shouldn't be that when Dharma Master Hsuan Hua is here, your sincerity appears, and when Dharma Master Hsuan Hua is not here, your sincerity disappears. That's unacceptable.
Also, when I'm walking, I don't want people to bow. I also don't want people to stop me and make offerings. If you want to make an offering and you are sincere, you can put it in the donation box. If you are worried that I will not know who you are, you can write your full name and your Dharma name on it, and then I will know. When I arrive, people shouldn't crowd around me so that I have no space to walk. That is the most disrespectful way to act. It is also very disrespectful for you to block my way in order to talk to me or ask a question.
Basically, you are Buddhists and you should understand the rules. There are three hundred rules of etiquette and three thousand modes of awesome deportment. You should not act recklessly or do as you please. If you do as you please, it shows that you have a lot of greed. You have come to listen to the Dharma with greedy thoughts. You aren't really coming for the Dharma. Therefore, I hope that all of you devoted Buddhists will not block my way anymore. A robber will hold someone up and rob his money; when you block my way to make offerings, it's the same the principle. If you block my way so that I have nowhere to walk, you are obstructing the Buddhadharma rather than supporting it. Every Buddhist should at least understand this much.
Today I have some feelings, and would like to tell you what has been on my mind. If you want to listen, fine. If you don't want to listen, you may leave. What is it I want to say? I have already been living in the United States for over thirty years, which is not a short time. Both Americans and Chinese people have been suggesting to me that I change my nationality and become an American citizen. They say that having an American passport makes it convenient to travel anywhere in the world. Americans are respected wherever they go, but it's different with a Chinese passport. If you have a passport from the Republic of China, the Communists will not grant you a visa to enter their country. The Communists will discriminate against you. If you have a passport from the People's Republic of China, people will be even more afraid of you wherever you go. They are afraid not because China is a big country with a large population, but because the government might give them trouble. So the best thing is to become an American citizen as soon as possible.
In these thirty-some years, both officials and civilians have suggested this to me. I am still a Chinese, regardless of how terrible and underdeveloped China might become under the Communists or the Nationalists.
The newspapers said that if it were not for the Communists, I would not be wandering abroad. Well, it certainly wasn't out of fear of the Communist Party that I went abroad. In Manchuria, when I left Harbin and went to Jilin, I was free to go. When I wanted to return, they required a special pass. Since I did not have a residence in the Communist area, I had no way to obtain a pass, so I couldn't go back. From Jilin, I went to Jinzhou. After I left Harbin, it was taken by the Communists. When I arrived in Jilin, the Nationalist Party was still in control there, but communication was cut off between Jilin and Harbin. When I went to Changchun, it was impossible to return to Jilin. I went to Liaoning and thought about returning to Harbin. Everyone was very concerned and urged me not to go back. I then went to Tianjin and stayed in the Great Compassion Temple. At that time I was still a Shramanera (novice monk). Later I left Tianjin and went to Shanghai, and afterwards to Wuchang. All along the way, as soon as I left a place, that place would be occupied by the Communists. In this way, I arrived in Guangzhou on the eighteenth of the eighth lunar month. From there I went to Hong Kong. About three days after I left, Guangzhou was also captured by the Communists, and after I arrived in Hong Kong there was no way to return to Guangzhou.
This was brought about by a combination of time and circumstance. It was certainly not the case that I was afraid of the Communists. In all my life, I have never feared heaven, earth, ghosts or spirits. Nor am I afraid of Americans who speak Chinese! I lived in Hong Kong for over ten years. I arrived in Hong Kong in 1948, and came to the United States in 1962. When I was residing in Hong Kong, I visited Australia, Burma, Thailand, and Singapore. However, I was not welcome anywhere I went. Why? I do not have much affinity with people. People see me and run far away. Left-home people and laypeople all react this way.
In 1962 I came to America, and in the beginning I lived in a basement. The basement had a door but no windows. It was dark in the daytime and even darker at night. It was like living in a grave. I made fun of myself after coming to America and called myself "The Monk in the Grave." Why did I take this name? I did not want to fight with others for fame and profit, nor triumph over them. It was just as if I were in a grave.
In Manchuria, I had another name after I left home, which was "The Living Dead Person." This is because although I was alive, I did not fight with others for name and gain. I was not greedy. In all my life, no matter what work I do, I have never asked for wages or taken any money. That is why I was called "The Living Dead Person." Even though I was alive, I was as good as dead. In America, I called myself "The Monk in the Grave." When I was invited to lecture at the universities, I used the name "The Monk in the Grave."
After a time, in 1968, I met a person who is in the delegation--Professor Epstein, Dr. Epstein, Upasaka Epstein--I don't know what I should call him. Actually it was 1965 or 1966 that I met him, but I do not remember exactly when. Then he came to Taiwan to study Chinese. I told him to look for a Good and Wise Advisor in Taiwan and to take refuge with the Triple Jewel, for he was Jewish. I introduced him to several Dharma Masters in Taiwan, and he visited them, but felt no affinities with them. It wasn't the people that he felt no affinities for, but the money. All the Buddhist activities in Taiwan require money. No matter what teacher he wanted to take refuge with, he was expected to give a donation (in a red envelope). Since he hardly had any money, he didn't take refuge. He returned and asked to take refuge with me. I told him to wait awhile.
Later on, in 1968, he brought more than thirty people from Seattle, some of whom were candidates for Ph.D., Bachelor's, and Master's degrees. Others who were not students also joined the group. He had pretty good affinities with Americans, and he invited them to hear my lectures on the Shurangama Sutra. I lectured on the Shurangama Sutra for ninety-six days during summer vacation (1968). Later, some of the students from Seattle transferred to San Francisco, including Dr. Epstein.
They moved to San Francisco, and I was lecturing on the Sutras and speaking the Dharma every day. My vow is that as long as I have one breath left, I will lecture on the Sutras and speak the Dharma. When I have no breath left, I will stop speaking. So even though I am sick now, I still put forth my greatest effort to speak the Dharma for everyone. I know everyone doesn't necessarily want to listen to the Dharma I speak, but I can't keep silent even if the majority of the people don't want to listen. As long as one person wants to listen, I will speak the Dharma. Even if there is no one listening, I will still speak for the benefit of the ghosts, spirits, and all spiritual beings. That is my intention in general.
The newspapers say that Hsuan Hua is a vagabond. That's right, I am a vagabond, because the Republic of China (Taiwan) doesn't necessarily want me as a citizen, nor does the Communist Party (Mainland China). I am not a significant addition or a significant loss to either country. I am a Chinese person, and I care about my roots. I am a person who cannot forget the past, so I wrote a few simple words, which cannot be considered poetry.
I have come to Taiwan from the United States, not to lecture the Sutras or propagate the Dharma. I have come to visit and to learn from all the Venerable Sanghans and Greatly Virtuous Ones. I myself am neither a Venerable Sanghan nor a Greatly Virtuous One. The newspapers have given me those names, but I do not deserve them.
In my youth, I wanted to start a revolution. I never succeeded in doing it, and afterwards I paid no more attention to the political situation. I was already a "Living Dead Person" and a "Monk in the Grave" and could not be compared to ordinary monks. Ordinary monks have virtue in the Way and are able to propagate the Buddhadharma. I do not have the status to propagate the Buddhadharma, so I want to learn from everyone else.
Now I want to speak about the simple lines that I wrote.
China has been in turmoil for decades.
Anguished by the affairs of the times,
my tears flow like a river.
I regret that in this life,
I haven't been able to turn the tide of events.
In the past, I failed to play the lute of the setting sun.
The roads of the world twist and turn,
as people and ghosts deceive each other.
The sea of politicians surges and rolls,
as they fight each other.
Though I've left the home-life,
I haven't forgotten my heart's allegiance.
Not changing my nationality,
I trace my roots back to their source.
China has been in turmoil for decades. This says that the Chinese people, not realizing that they are living in deep waters and hot fires, still do not know to be loyal to the country. I say that Taiwan is like a pile of eggs; do you know why? Every person is out for himself. They are not united. The business people who have struck it rich and made a lot of money should loyally do all they can to repay the kindness of the land. None of them believe in the country. What proof is there? They invest all their money in other countries, thus scattering the wealth of their own country abroad. So the business people are not loyal enough. Even if you're as wealthy as everyone else put together, if you have no sense of loyalty to your country, then you are still a poor person! You are a person who does not understand principle, who does not love his country, and who knows only to be selfish and self-benefitting. That's one point.
Although some of the citizens have come to believe in Buddhism, there are still many who do not, and that is a great loss to the country. If the ordinary citizens truly believed in the Buddha, bowed to the Buddha, and understood cause and effect, they wouldn't go out to commit murder, set fires, rob, or deal in drugs. They would not be opportunistic and play the lottery or stock market. They wouldn't engage in such activities. The fact that they do is an unlucky sign for the country.
Moreover, students have totally forgotten about education and work only at a superficial level. They have pushed the teachings of Confucius to the back of their brain, and no one advocates filial piety, fraternal respect, loyalty, trustworthiness, propriety, righteousness, incorruptibility, a sense of shame, and the principles of being loyal to the country. Instead, everyone puts their efforts into seeking fame and profit. That is another unfavorable sign for the country.
If people do not cherish their own lives and wealth, and spend them recklessly, that is very bad for the country. It is said,
The people are the foundation of the country.
If the foundation is solid, the country will be at peace.
This behavior is unfavorable and unbeneficial to the country in many ways. That's why I say Taiwan is like a pile of eggs. It is in a dangerous situation. I'm not talking big in order to make people excited to listen, and I'm not saying this just to scare people. That's not my intent. I said, "China has been in turmoil for decades." Among those who have made big fortunes, who has been able to offer all his wealth to the country? Those who have small assets don't count. I'm talking about those who have great fortunes. In Taiwan, I haven't heard that anyone has contributed all his money to the country. People are all out for themselves--selfish, self-benefitting, leaving their wealth to their children and descendants.
If the son is as capable as the father,
Why should the father leave wealth for the son?
If your son has more ambition and skill than you, then he must be able to make even more money than you, so why should you leave so much wealth for him? It is also said,
Your children have their own blessings. There's no need to be a slave for them.
No matter how much money you have, you can't take it to the grave when you die. Everyone knows this, but no one pays any attention to it. Everyone has forgotten it and just goes on fighting, being greedy, seeking, being selfish, pursuing personal gain, and lying. I'm talking about the vast majority, not just a few people. Don't say that there are those who are willing to give all their wealth to the country. Such people are rare. There are not many at all. That's why I say: "China has been in turmoil for decades."
Anguished by the affairs of the times, my tears flow like a river. Saddened by the times, I lamented the affairs of the world. Many intelligent people do not do intelligent things. Instead, they do muddled things. Many muddled people want to do intelligent things, but they don't know how. This is a sad situation.
I regret that in this life, I haven't been able to turn the tide of events. In this life, I have no way to turn back the tide of destiny. If I did, I should want to enable both the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China to know how to govern the country and deal with the world, and how to have the deportment of a great country.
In the past, I failed to play the lute of the setting sun. Why did I want to start a revolution? I saw China being invaded by Japan and felt that it was too unjust, so I wanted to lead a revolt against Japan. I was never able to carry out my plans, so later I put the world's affairs behind me.
I also saw that: The roads of the world twist and turn. In this world, the roads are crooked and hard to travel. They are very dangerous. As people and ghosts deceive each other. The Chinese people would cheat the foreigners any way they could. The foreigners learned the tricks from the Chinese and cheated the Chinese in turn, "taking a tooth for a tooth." People cheated each other and the world became a place of mutual deceit.
The sea of politicians surges and rolls, as they fight each other. The politicians formed cliques and excluded those who were different. They promoted those of their own group, out of selfishness and desire for personal gain. Those of other cliques were left out and frustrated in their attempts to realize their aims. So "the sea of politicians surges and rolls, as they fight each other." Political leaders harassed and tormented one another.
Though I've left the home-life, I haven't forgotten my heart's allegiance. Although I've left home, I haven't forgotten my loyalty to the country. I am Chinese, and I'll always be Chinese. In every life, in every place, I am Chinese. When China truly becomes great and strong, I may or may not be around. Whether I am still living or not, I hope that throughout my life, at the very least, I will not change my nationality. I am not greedy for convenience. Therefore, I said, "Not changing my nationality, I trace my roots back to their source." I will not change my citizenship, and I will not forget my roots. Now all of you can probably understand a bit about me.
A talk by the Venerable Master Hua on January 12, 1993,
at the Taipei County Stadium in Banqiao, Taiwan