HOW I CAME TO BELIEVE IN BUDDHISM
By Upasaka Tsang Kuang-en
Translated by Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih
Three or four years following my graduation from college I was a confirmed atheist and did not believe in God, how much the less a soul. When friends would discuss these things with me, I would explain them away in psychological terms as being illusions or fantasies. I thought my explanations were very satisfactory.
Once I had graduated and was out in the world, I met with an unusual opportunity. I personally, saw a power above and beyond the power of man alone. It was something I personally witnessed, was not accidental or temporary, and could appear at any time. Because of this I had no alternative but to change my former opinion. I prostrated myself before the soul and was ashamed that for more than twenty years I had been confined to the limited scope of scientific knowledge. How much harm it had done me! What is more, it causes all mankind to be unaware of the existence of the soul, not to speak of gods or Buddhas.
In general it all came about like this: from ancient times onward in China there has been one main means of communication between the human and spirit worlds. It has been handed down through the generations of Taoist ancestors. The method uses a pen made out of bamboo or some other wood. Two people hold the pen as it writes words in sand placed on a flat tray. After each single word is written, it is recorded elsewhere, and a flat board is used to wipe the sand clean before the next word is written. Continuing to write out the words in this way an article or poem soon emerges.
The first time I participated in this I did it out of curiosity, for, of course, I did not believe in it. But as I read the articles, which appeared, I knew that it was not within the power of the people holding the Pen to write such things. So little by little I was moved to believe. As I continued the investigation, I found that every time an article or poem appeared, its content dealt with Questions from another world. The worlds were those of someone who had descended from above. For the most part, those who came were famous personages in Chinese history, immortals, sons and daughters, or sometimes relatives or friends. The written communications often concerned something which only one particular individual knew about--someone other than the persons holding the pen. Sometimes immortals or gods would even scold someone, and tell him to quickly change his ways and repent. The people holding the pen could not stop writing out the message, even if the scolding was directed at them personally. They just flushed with embarrassment as they were forced to write it out. Witnessing these events has left me with no way to say that there are no ghosts, gods, or dark spirits which reside among us, and I can no longer deny the existence of the awesome great power of the gods, immortals, and Buddhas.
Sometimes newly departed souls would come and speak about the things, which transpired after their deaths. Others would come and talk about the five major religions of the world today, causing us to have no way not to bow our heads in respect. On one occasion, a ghost who had committed suicide by hanging himself came a year after he had died to talk with us. He discussed religions and the question of rebirth in the heavens. He said that Chinese Confucianism advocates loyalty to the country and filiality to one's parents. That many highly respected Confucians have died for the sake of their country is a fact well recorded in history. He said that those who practice loyalty and filiality can be born in the heavens; although Confucius did not speak of ghosts or spirits or birth in the heavens, if they comply with the Confucian principles in developing their virtue, and are concerned about the welfare of the society, they can quite naturally be born in the heavens.
"As to Mohammedans," he said, "they solely practice killing, holding the Koran in one hand and a Knife in the other. Can one be born in the heavens like that?
"Christianity talks about love. But the disciples are not full of love: they just talk about it. It is not easy for them to be born in the heavens.
"Taoists discuss the 'unconditioned' and 'spontaneity.' But the Taoists of China just talk about the 'unconditioned' while in their hearts there are 'conditions.' What 'conditions'? Fame and profit. So it is not easy for Taoists to be born in the heavens.
"The best method for getting to the heavens is Buddhism. Buddhism teaches people to 'offer up all good conduct and to avoid doing anything evil.' It teaches one to stop killing and to liberate the living. This way a person quite naturally has good causes and effects."
Upon receiving this instruction, I became aware of the vast scope of Buddhism. The instruction was something I personally witnessed. In fact, I was holding the pen. I have no way to doubt its authenticity, because when I was writing, I had no idea what I was writing, but was simply being moved by some force to write.
Once someone said, "If the soul survives death, when why can't Sun Chung-shan, the Father of the Republic who has died, come and talk with us?"
Shortly thereafter Sun Chung-shan came. He used the name "Sun Wen" which was his real name. When he began he said, "When I was alive I did not advocate Buddhism. It was not that I did not believe in Buddhism. It was my fear that if everyone believed Buddhism no one would protect the country. After all, the Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty left the home life three times, and yet he starved to death at T'ai Ch'eng, and the Liang Dynasty ended. India is the homeland of Sakyamuni Buddha, but now (1939) India is a colony of Britain. It is not that the Buddha is not efficacious and could not save his countrymen, but rather that the Buddha is transcendental and does not regard worldly matters as the most important. He regards cause and effect as important. His concern is the universal public good without any private interests.
Then someone asked, "Mr. Sun, you are a Christian. Why do you come here today to talk about Buddhism?"
He replied, "Christianity's scope goes so far as to tell people how to get to heaven. If I were to say that there is just one God in the entire universe I would be deceiving you. Everything is fixed by cause and effect, which never is off by, even a hair's breadth. Doing good brings good rewards and doing evil brings an evil retribution. If the Chinese are good then they can be victorious over the Japanese. (At that time we were in the midst of war.)
"What is war all about?" Sun said, "It eradicates those who should die." He continued, "You should not continue to play these games with ghosts and spirits. It is a waste of precious time. Instead you should save the country and the people." At the last he said, "You should use the Buddhadharma's true principles to cultivate your own virtuous conduct, and use the Confucian will to save the country. In this way you can cultivate yourselves and rescue the country."
Then, too, another reason why I believe in Buddhism stems from a visit from an immortal Buddha, the Patriarch Lu, the renowned and honored Chinese immortal of the T'ang dynasty, who first studied Confucianism and then Taoism. After he became an immortal, he turned to study the Buddhadharma. He sincerely gave us the following instruction: "Buddhism is great and awesome. It is the highest and most ultimate teaching. From Confucianism I went to Taoism. From Taoism I entered Buddhism." When this instruction was given to me, I decisively turned to Great Vehicle Buddhism and did not waste any more time.
Thirty years have passed since then, and now I deeply understand to whole gamut of life. But unfortunately I have "clearly known and deliberately violated." I have continually vacillated and been unable to make a firm decision to leave home and cultivate the Way. I see this as a most shameful and painful circumstance.
Upasaka Tsang Kuang-en is Professor Emeritus of Chinese Philosophy and Literature at several universities in Japan and Taiwan.