Earlier, I talked about how books are the
quintessence of wisdom and experience of those who came before
us. Reading benefits people immensely, provided they read the
good literature of sages and worthies. Gossip columns,
sensational magazines, romance novels, horror stories and other
such reading material may be not only useless, but harmful.
Literature that promotes the eerie, the violent, the immoral, or
the bizarre in the realm of the supernatural may damage people
even more seriously! Therefore, although "It's beneficial to
open up a book," you must peruse appropriate books. If you read
indecent books, your thinking will be affected; everything that
you perceive and hear will be slightly off. How can you expect
people who wear dark glasses and plug their ears to hear well,
see clearly, and perceive accurately?
Thinking controls people's
consciousness, and consciousness affects people's behavior. The
reason that people can be sages is because they resolve to
become sages. Confucius once made a reference to the poem "Wild
Plums" as an analogy .The poem goes, "The pretty flowers of the
wild plums sway gently in the breeze; how can I not think about
picking such a fine blossom? But it's simply too far!" Confucius
criticized, "They never really wanted it; otherwise it could not
be too far!"
Hence, thinking motivates action. The mind of a
person is his master. Aspiration directs the mind. If you make
the resolve to become a sage and establish the goals of sages,
you have taken the first step on the road to sagehood. The next
steps would be to read the books of sages and do the deeds of
sages. Although being a sage is a major responsibility and the
road to it is long, how can the burden be too heavy to shoulder
if your resolve is firm? How can the destination be too far?
Conversely, reading indecent works may
wreck and crush someone's resolve, so that one's sense of
direction is confused. How can one achieve anything positive in
that case? In less serious cases, such individuals become the
dregs of society and needy parasites to their families. More
seriously, such individuals may injure themselves and mislead
others, or even ruin the family, the nation, or the world!
In the last few years, not only has the
teenage crime rate risen everywhere in the world, but the crimes
have mostly taken place in the homes that nurture and schools
that educate the young. The recent unfortunate shooting of
students at a school in the United States and the young killers'
own suicide resulted from a poor choice in reading. Upon reading
a deplorable book they fell under the lethal Nazi influence and
turned into mad killers of non-whites. This exemplifies how
unwholesome books can exert a terrifying influence on a person's
thinking, leading to subsequent harm on a massive scale.
freedom of the press is often abused by criminals. Some use
publications to corrupt and brainwash people worldwide, hoping
to attract more followers and commit more crimes and atrocities.
In a political dictatorship or the dark ages of religious
monopoly, choices in reading tended to be few and far between.
Many censored books did not benefit people, but they were not
necessarily extremely harmful either. On the other hand, many
good books were censored on the grounds of differing political
or religious persuasions, and as a result the people could not
benefit from them.
Now, in a country of religious freedom
and democracy, there is freedom of speech and freedom of the
press. Everyone tries to have a voice, resulting in a
conglomeration of the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you
criticize some extremists or evil cults, you may be accused of
interfering with freedom. Many improper publications dealing
with the occult attract people with their novel, esoteric, or
bizarre content. In fact, such books suddenly become
bestsellers. Most people read these corrupt and evil books
casually just to pass the time; whatever feelings they may have
flash by without too much of an effect. However, for
psychologically unstable teenagers or those with insular,
sadistic or abusive tendencies, this type of literature is a
shot of amphetamine in the eighth consciousness that causes
mental and behavioral insanity .This reveals the reality: the
human race is already shackled by "freedom to do evil", - and is
gradually losing the freedom to "live without fear".
We should guide and educate our children
well so that they have the freedom of reading selectively,
reading literature that benefits the world. In that case, we not
only develop ourselves, but influence the society-at-large to
collectively work toward world peace. Do not neglect to perform
small acts of good because you underestimate yourself and think
that you cannot be a sage. At the same time, do not casually do
even small acts of evil because you have given up on yourself
and think that committing crimes won't affect you. With either
of these attitudes, one loses the essence and the resolves of a
What are the essence and resolves of a
scholar? "To remain calm despite affection or humiliation"
describes the true character of a scholar. "To resolve one's
mind for the sake of the universe; to arrange one's life for the
sake of the populace; to perpetuate the teachings of sages of
the past; to create world peace for the sake of all
generations": These are the resolves of a scholar .Why should
scholars make these resolves? It is because scholars are capable
of great resolves, profound resolves, and steadfast
resolves-resolves to perpetuate the incredibly wonderful
knowledge of the universe, past and present. If you set out to
bring about universal peace and blessings for every generation,
you will learn with a sound mind. It is just as Buddhists must
make great vows, profound vows, and steadfast vows. If you vow
to be reborn in the Western Paradise and to save all living
beings, you will cultivate single-mindedly. Studying and
practicing with that kind of resolve, you will have enough
samadhi to overcome any difficulty, and you will naturally be
calm whether you are favored or ostracized.
What does it mean "to remain calm despite
affection or humiliation"? That means we should have a backbone.
We refuse to let our aspirations erode in the face of luxurious
riches or honorable position. We refuse to alter our
virtuousness when facing a life of poverty or modest duties. We
refuse to mentally bow down and submit in the face of oppression
or violence. We must read more sagely books, emulate the virtues
of sages, and learn the ways of sages. To our dying day, we
shall permeate ourselves with their influence. If we study in
this fashion, we will naturally possess the character of sages
even if we do not reach sagehood. That's what is meant by the
Buddhist phrase, "always following and learning from the Buddhas."
To follow the Buddha is to learn from the Buddha. If you are
merely believe blindly in the Buddha and think that you will
never become a Buddha, you are cutting yourself off from
Buddhahood. You may cultivate arduously, participating in a
hundred ceremonies daily, bowing to ten thousand Buddhas
monthly, but ultimately you're simply indulging in an idle
dream, as if hoping to make rice by cooking sand! Similarly, if
you worship sages and worthy ones, but write yourself off as a
potential sage or saint, you are actually deserting the sages
and worthy ones. You may study arduously for decades upon
decades in miserable conditions, but ultimately you are no
better than the ant that gnaws on the watermelon rind, unable to
taste the fruit! Hence Yan Hui resolved, "Who were Shun and Yu
In other words, anyone can be Yao or
Shun; all living beings can become Buddhas. However, the road to
Buddhahood is long; it takes more than a few steps to reach your
aim. The key to the sentence "We all can gradually learn to
become worthies and sages ourselves" is the word "gradually".
"Gradually" means in the natural course of things; there's
nothing forced here. You do not speed forward out of greed for
merit, for you would fail to reach your destination due to your
eagerness. Although I said that aspiring to sagehood and making
the resolves of a sage is the first step, you may also take the
next step by reading the books of sages and doing sagely deeds.
However, this next step is actually numerous steps. You must
take one step at a time, exerting your- self without rushing or
TheDiscourse on the Roots of
Vegetables states, "Saw the wood with a rope, and the tree
will fall. Drip water on a rock, and a hole will form. Students
of the Way should apply themselves similarly. When water flows,
a brook is formed. When the melon is ripe, the stem breaks off.
The achiever of the Way shoulders the secrets of the universe."
That is to say, you should work hard for the long term: Study
and cultivate day by day and month by month. You would rather be
dull and steady than clever and futile. For example, if you
tried to saw wood with a piece of rope, you would halve the log
after a while. If you tried to pierce a rock with drops of
water, you could eventually penetrate the rock. When you are
exerting yourself, do not think about your exertion. That way,
you will not become restless. Un- perturbed, you will strengthen
your skill in the course of time. When the time and conditions
are right, the lacquer barrel [i.e. our ignorance] bursts apart
with a boom. You will then "see the full moon in the middle of
the sky"; you will naturally realize the Way. Just as flowing
water naturally forms a stream, when the melon is ripe, it
naturally breaks at its stem. Everything is a divine secret; it
cannot be obtained by force or predicted.
In the latter part of the Song Dynasty,
the kingdom of Yuan invaded. As a scholar, Wen Tianxiang
fearlessly expended all of his assets to organize a defense
force of guerilla troops to fight against the villain, King Qin.
Wherever he went to call on the people, his power and reputation
grew. After several years of war, the kingdom had had three
emperors, yet Wen continued to defend the nation loyally and
bravely. Tireless, he submitted several proposals to Minister Yo,
Minister Zuo and National Advisor Xing. Finally, he was defeated
and captured. The King of Yuan appreciated Wen's talent and
couldn't bear to kill him. He tried several times to make Wen
surrender, using both threats and bribes, but Wen was not moved.
Jailed in the state of Yan for three years, Wen vowed that he
would die rather than capitulate. Finally, he was executed.
During his imprisonment, Wen wrote "The Song of Righteousness,"
which contained historical and contemporary references. Rich in
sentiment as well as expression, the last four lines say, "It's
been long since the days of the wise ones. They are role models
from the past. Under the awning I read these classics; indeed,
the ancient Way illumines the true colors of all." The tone of
the Song's initial section is one of awe-inspiring
righteousness; the middle section is impassioned and poignant,
while in the end he returns to a firm steadiness and sense of
freedom, ready to face death head on. This no doubt illustrates
a scholar's true character and displays a great hero's ways!
After Wen Tianxiang died, a note was found in his belt with the
words, "Confucius realized humaneness while Mencius apprehended
justness. It is only because one has attained humane- ness that
one is replete with justness. What else is there to learn from
the books of sages? Henceforth, I have no regrets." We students
must "emulate ancient and modern models of perfection, relying
on the righteousness of the universe." Whether studying or
cultivating, we should always be vigorous and courageous from
start to finish, picking ourselves up each time we stumble and
fall. If we can do that, we can honestly declare before we die,
"I have done everything I wanted to do; I have no regrets!"