People who are learning and practicing the Buddhadharma are sowing seeds in the ground. Once the seeds have been sown, will they sprout? It depends on various conditions. When all the right conditions are present, the seeds will sprout and grow in due course. If the various aiding conditions are not all present, the sprouts may wither and the seeds may go bad. It also depends on whether we sowed our Bodhi seeds deeply and firmly enough when we made our resolve for Bodhi.
If we sowed them deeply and firmly enough, the seeds will surely take root and sprout in the future. However, if you want to reap the Bodhi fruit, it will take considerable time, and it depends on how well you apply effort. If your cultivation advances well, and you become enlightened, realize the fruition, and accomplish the Way, then you have reaped the harvest.
During the process of taking root, sprouting, growing leaves, flowering, and bearing fruit, a considerable time of care, watering, and adding fertilizer is needed. What is the fertilizer? It is studying morality. Every aspect of cultivation must be based on morality. "Not going against morality" should be our fundamental precept.
A Confucian maxim says: "Virtue is fundamental. Wealth is incidental." Virtuous conduct is the foundation of a person, while wealth is an insignificant thing. Cultivators should always be thrifty and avoid wasting money or resources. That way, over the days and months, they can foster their practice of virtue. Then the branches and leaves will grow abundantly, and fruits will accumulate. If you don't add fertilizer, and you make no effort to care for and water the plant, it will be easy for the branches, flowers and fruit to wither and die. Therefore, the foremost precept for cultivators is to place emphasis on virtuous conduct.
Virtuous conduct begins in small places. "Do not think a good deed is too small and fail to do it." Don't wait around for a big good deed to do, because there aren't that many big good deeds. A mountain is an accumulation of specks of dust. Although each speck is tiny, many specks piled up can form a mountain. Virtuous deeds may be small, yet when many are accumulated, they will form a mountain of virtue.
Not going against what is proper and right is known as virtuous conduct. Not hindering others is morality. In whatever you do, you should make it your obligation to help others. If you hinder others and cannot benefit them in terms of profit, time, culture, wisdom, or any other aspect, you are acting contrary to morality. Therefore, in every move and action, every word and deed, we should always make "not going against morality" our basic rule. If you want to cultivate the Way, you must first foster virtue. Without virtuous conduct, you cannot cultivate. Some people who want to cultivate will encounter demonic obstacles as soon as they start. That is due to a lack of virtuous conduct. So it is said, "Virtue is fundamental. Wealth is incidental."
Morality is equivalent to the sun and moon, to Heaven and Earth, and to our very life. Lacking morality is equivalent to being without life, without the sun and moon, and without Heaven and Earth. What is morality? Morality means to take benefiting others as most important, and to take not hindering others as our principle. It is fill our minds with humaneness, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness.
1. Humaneness: Having a heart of humane benevolence, you will not kill.
2. Righteousness: Endowed with common sense, everything you do will be just right, exactly in accord with the Middle Way, neither too much nor too little, and neither too far to the left nor too far to the right. All affairs will be carried out in accord with the Middle Way. If you understand what is right, you will not steal. People who value righteousness will not steal what belongs to others.
3. Propriety: Propriety is a kind of courtesy and etiquette. If you honor the rules of etiquette, you will not be lewd. Stealing and lewdness are phenomena which occur because one is not in accord with righteousness and propriety, and because one is acting contrary to the rules of proper conduct.
4. Wisdom: Wise people will not recklessly drink or take drugs. Only stupid people will do all sorts of upside-down things.
5. Trustworthiness: Trustworthy people will not tell lies.
When the five qualities of humaneness, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness are replete and perfect, that is morality. Thus, morality is produced from the mind. Its source is in our mind, but when produced, it has a kind of coloring. The coloring is neither blue, yellow, red, white, nor black. Rather, it is a manifestation of virtuous conduct; it is the luster of virtuous conduct. Thus, Han Yu wrote in his essay "The Fundamental Way," "Compassion which does not discriminate is called humaneness. When humaneness is applied appropriately, that is called righteous-ness. When it is put into practice, that is called the Way. When one finds contentment within oneself and does not seek outside, that is called virtue." Mencius also said, "Humaneness, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom are rooted in the mind. When they manifest in the body, a mild harmony appears in the countenance, and a rich fullness in the back. They spread to the four limbs, and the four limbs communicate it without words." People who have virtue not only show it in their face, their back is also suffused with the glow of virtue, and it may even appear in the four limbs. Although the appearance of virtue cannot be described, people all understand what it is. The manifestation of virtuous conduct is the true sign of cultivation and learning. That kind of virtuous conduct cannot be feigned. What is false can only fool people temporarily, but not in the long run.
Cultivating the Way means to cultivate true morality by not obstructing others and not being afraid of being obstructed by others. No matter who obstructs you, you should accept it. "When adversity comes, compliantly accept it." Anyone who is unkind or unreasonable to you is just your Good and Wise Advisor. If you can compliantly accept adversity and calmly handle unexpected or unreasonable situations, then your skill in patience can be seen. Don't be moved because of a single sentence that someone says. Some people think "being unmoved" means to be without shame and remorse, but that's wrong. The kind of "being unmoved" you should cultivate is being able to endure what others cannot endure--that's true skill. Otherwise, you will have to start cultivating all over again.
Taoists take the state in which "the three flowers gather at the summit, and the five energies return to the origin" as the perfect manifestation of morality. To certain Buddhists, those two expressions sound like "external" teachings. Actually, what is an external teaching? What is an internal teaching? These expressions aren't really external or internal teachings in themselves. They just describe the fruition which results from a certain kind of cultivation. The "three flowers" are the essence, energy, and spirit when they are transformed into a kind of glorious light. When the five energies of humaneness, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and trustworthiness are all fully perfected, that's known as "the five energies return to the origin."
In Buddhism, when one's morality is perfected, one attains the Wisdom of the Great Perfect Mirror, the Wisdom of Equal Nature, the Wisdom of Wonderful Contemplation, and the Wisdom of Accomplishing What Is Done. If one lacks any of the Three Bodies, Four Wisdoms, Five Eyes, and Six Spiritual Powers, there is no way one can attain that kind of state. Thus, Buddhism is adorned with the ten thousand virtues and encompasses all religions. All other religions are but a part of Buddhism. That's why I often say Buddhism can be compared to a college curriculum, while Taoism and other advanced religions can be considered high school, and worldly religions such as Confucianism are merely at the elementary school level.
Whether you are in elementary school, high school, or college, you are still a student. No matter which religion of the world you belong to, you are still a religious believer. Therefore, you should not categorize and discriminate, praising a religion when you are within it, but criticizing it when you meet up with other religions. This is known as "enslaving yourself to it when you are in it, but denouncing it after you abandon it." Such ideas are wrong. The right outlook is to see all religions as a part of Buddhism, because the Buddha said, "All living beings have the wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata, and all can become Buddhas." All living beings have the Buddha-nature. Followers of other religions are also living beings and also have the chance to become Buddhas, so why should they be left outside the door? Buddhism pervades space and encompasses the Dharma Realm. It has no boundaries and no factional or personal prejudice. Therefore, we who study Buddhism should expand the measure of our minds and not be narrow-minded or petty.
In Taoism, virtuous cultivators have a characteristic look that even ordinary people can recognize: a hoary head with a youthful face. Although their hair is mostly white, their face is smooth and delicate like a child's. Why? Their moral virtue has induced this change. Although their hair is white, it is very glossy, not at all dry. (But it's not because they applied hair wax.) The hair on their head can emit light. Those who have skill in cultivation, or who have opened the Five Eyes, can recognize them right away.
Buddhism is a level higher because it includes the state where not only the hair on the head gives off light, the whole body emits light. The tip of every hair on the body can send out light, and each hairpore is different from ordinary hairpores. Skilled cultivators in Buddhism can cause white hair to turn black again, and new teeth to grow in where the old ones have fallen out. In Taoism, the phenomenon of teeth growing in again also occurs, but they cannot make all the hairpores emit light. That's one difference. Do you know how to tell if someone is a Good and Wise Advisor? You don't have to open your Five Eyes. If you're an expert, you can tell if he's a Good and Wise Advisor, a virtuous person, just by using your ordinary eyes. If a person has no virtue, his facial muscles will typically be contorted into a very disagreeable expression.
A talk given on the evening of December 17, 1982,
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas