A Chinese proverb says: "Propriety requires that we return the favor." If someone wishes us well, we should return the courtesy. If others smile at us, we cannot frown back. This is very natural in human relationships, especially in the relationship between a kind father and a filial child. If our parents love us and take care of us, it's only right for us to be filial to them; we certainly cannot consider ourselves extraordinary filial children for doing so.
However, if we are able to be filial, caring, and obedient to our parents when they fail to care for us and may even hate us, then we are truly exceptional and virtuous. Worldly affairs occur in the realm of dualities. Ordinary people are always either "returning the gift of a peach with a plum" or "taking a tooth for a tooth."
"Returning the gift of a peach with a plum" comes from a story in the Book of Odes and represents mutual kindness between friends. "Taking a tooth for a tooth" refers to mutual revenge between enemies. Led by the law of dualities, we are forever entangled in the karmic web of kindness and enmity. Since time without beginning, we have gone through life after life, sometimes playing the role of friend, sometimes being the enemy. We are mortals subject to birth and death.
If we can smash through dualities and use a heart of total kindness and vows of constant compassion to respect and bring joy to others, to encompass, rescue, and help others, without grudges and regret, then we'll will transcend the world! If we can view enemies and friends the same way, gradually getting rid of past karma and refraining from creating new karma, how can we remain in the turning wheel of birth and death?
If we wish to seek Buddhahood and end birth and death, we first have to learn how to be a proper person. The first principle of being a proper person is to be filial. If we can fulfill our filial duty regardless of whether our parents are kind and loving, we will have taken the first step.
Since ancient times China has emphasized filiality. "Of the hundred good deeds, filiality is foremost." "Among the ten thousand practices, filial piety is ranked first." There are countless stories of filial children. One example was Min Ziqian. When his father discovered how cruel his stepmother had been to him and wanted to throw her out, Min Ziqian interceded on her behalf. And although Great Shun's stepmother had deluded his father into plotting to kill him, after inheriting the throne from Emperor Yao Great Shun continued to serve his parents with great filiality.
Although the terms "filiality" and "cause and effect" are not well-known in Western culture, the concept of filiality is not wholly unfamiliar, for it is included in the idea of kindness. The moral of goodness being rewarded by goodness is also illustrated in Western fairytales such as "Cinderella" and "Snow White." In "Jack and the Beanstalk," although Jack was cheated by his parents and two clever elder brothers, who drove him out of the house, he didn't mind. When, as a result of his goodness and generosity (in clever people's eyes, he did what only fools would do), he found himself married to a princess and becoming the king, he invited his parents and brothers to share in his fortune.
Nowadays, in contrast, children often give up on themselves and bear grudges against their parents, blaming their parents for neglecting them or for failing to understand them. How far this is from the moral values of old!
Even though these are merely children's tales, if they can instill the qualities of kindness and humaneness in our children--the future leaders of the country--then there is still hope for averting the crises of violence in our society. A proverb says: "Calamities and blessings are not fixed; we bring them upon ourselves." Many people who enjoy blessings are filial children. Those who can repay malice with kindness and be filial to hateful parents are the most filial of filial children, and Heaven will never forsake them!