The Master emphasized the education of children because he saw that the failure of ducation has caused a decline in the intellectual, cultural, ethical, and moral standards.
May 26 is Cherishing Youth Day. As a teenager in his native village in Manchuria, China, the Venerable Master started a free school for the village children who otherwise had no opportunity to study. The thirty-some students who attended the tuition-free school were taught by the Venerable Master himself. Since the students varied widely in age and intelligence, the Master used different methods to teach them. Classes started at seven o'clock in the morning and continued until six o'clock in the evening—the Master taught all day long without rest. The students studied diligently and made rapid progress. At the end of the winter semester, they all received good grades. Due to the Master's hard work, they all learned to read and write many characters.
The Master emphasized the education of children so much because he saw that in many countries, the failure of education has caused a decline in the intellectual, cultural, ethical, and moral standards. In bringing the Buddha's teachings to Western soil, the Master also sought to reform education. In order to encourage the younger generation, he initiated the custom of celebrating Cherishing Youth Day on the last Sunday of May each year. The Master often spoke to young people. The following are some excerpts from his talks.
Young friends, you should take the sages, the virtuous men and women of indomitable spirit, and the great heroes of the past and present heroes as your role models. Emulate their character, their virtue, their erudition, and their contributions to Buddhism. Young people should carry themselves with a heroic spirit. You should be filled with great, proper energy.
Now is the time for building your foundation. You ought to build a good foundation not only in academics, but also in terms of character. In fact, a good foundation in character is more important than a good academic foundation.
Young friends, as you know, a skyscraper is built from the ground up. A tree grows inch by inch until it becomes tall. In the same way, a person grows and matures day by day. When you are young, you should set your goals and then work towards them step by step. If you don't have any goals to guide you, you'll be like a blind man riding a blind horse along the edge of a cliff in the middle of the night. Very dangerous, wouldn't you say?
You should understand how to practice filial piety. That means you should do as your parents tell you when you are at home, and listen to your teachers' instructions at school. Concentrate in class and study hard. Don't goof off and get into mischief. Don't let the time go by in vain. Instead, you should diligently apply yourself to learning every subject and skill. Time is precious; don't waste it. If you can learn a new word and a new grammar rule every day, then that's also a way of being filial to your parents.
Study hard; don't just try to get by. Don't let even a single minute go to waste. This should be your motto:
Diligence is the only path through the mountain of books.
Bitter effort is the boat that takes you across the boundless sea of learning.
Apply yourself to your studies with perseverance and determination. Don't be lazy and try to take it easy. Learn to be thrifty. Cherish the things you use; don't casually throw away even a single sheet of paper or pen. Discipline yourself to rise early and go to bed early. Watch less T.V. and read more good books. Be sure to finish all your homework each day. Always review what you've learned. As it's said, "Reviewing old material yields new insights." Each time you re-read the material, you learn something new. Don't spend all your time reading comics or other unbeneficial books.
Young friends, do you want to save the world and its people? Then first of all you should develop a good character and establish virtue. How can you have a good character? In order to be a person of great learning and integrity, you should refrain from smoking, drinking, taking drugs, gambling, and all other bad habits. Don't be like those ignorant people who carelessly break the rules and feel no sense of obligation to their society or country. Such delinquents are the "black sheep," asuras who constantly fight and don't know how to live in peace; they are nothing but a great burden to the nation.
Right now you are just like flourishing young saplings, which must constantly be pruned so that they can grow into great, tall trees and eventually be used as good lumber. There's a saying: "It takes ten years to grow a tree, but a hundred years to educate a person." Right now you are in the stage of learning. Take care not to pick up bad habits. Cultivate a good character and behave with integrity. Then, in the future, you can be a leader for the world's people.
What does it mean to establish virtue? It means being filial to one's parents. There's a saying, "Filial piety is the foremost of all virtues." People who aren't filial to their parents will be useless even if they bow to the Buddha every day. You should pay close attention to this, young friends!
Your virtue is increasing day by day, and your character is becoming more and more stable. When it's time to talk, you should speak decently and with reason. I hope you will all study hard so that you can become useful and productive people in the world. I certainly hope you don't grow up to be bad people.You should understand that this is a Buddhist school. It specializes in educating people to become good and useful in the world. I hope that in the future you'll try to work for the welfare of all people in the world and not mess things up. That is our hope at this school.
You are all very fortunate to have been born in this affluent country with its peaceful living conditions and abundant resources. If you don't study hard in this fine environment, you will surely disappoint your parents' and teachers' expectations. In this country, which is like the Land of Ultimate Bliss, we need good, kind, and sensible people who love their country and know how to be good citizens. You now study in a Buddhist school, and in the future you should be role models in the society, leading everyone onto a good path. Take as your standard the six guiding principles of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas: no fighting, no greed, no seeking, no selfishness, no pursuit of self-benefit, and no lying. If you can truly practice these six principles, you will surely become outstanding individuals. I hope you'll all become perfect people who can influence others to mend their ways. I hope you'll bring forth great compassion, make living beings happy, and get rid of their sufferings. If everyone can do this, great peace and harmony will certainly prevail in the world.