The Sages have warned us that, no matter what we are doing, “Don‘t rush, because if you rush you won’t reach your destination.” In any endeavor, if we plan things well before we start, proceed in a systematic way, and give ourselves plenty of time to complete each step, then even if unforeseen circumstances arise, we will not be thrown into confusion. On the other hand, if we are overly impulsive and don’t plan things out in advance, we will panic at any unexpected change and become anxious. The more anxious we get, the more confused we become, and the more confused we become, the more mistakes we make. As a result, it’s difficult to accomplish anything. It is said, “If you rush, you tend to make more mistakes.” Have you noticed that the people who run red lights and get into car accidents are the kind who never think things out before they act or leave enough time and space for themselves? People who are rash and careless tend to lack virtue, and never succeed at anything. People who are calm and composed naturally obtain plenty of help and blessings. This applies to human conduct and work, as well as to studying and cultivation. We should always have an ordinary attitude and do things methodically. Then we will have some true attainment in our mind. Success cannot be rushed.
Once there was an expert swordsman in Japan who saw that his son was a failure and threw him out of the house, disinheriting him. As a result, the boy developed a burning aspiration to become a first-rate swordsman. He went to all kinds of trouble and climbed deep into the mountains to bow to Wuzang, a famous swordsman of the time, hoping to train under him. But Wuzang felt that he was a hopeless case. The boy didn’t give up hope, but persisted in asking, “If I work hard, how many years would it take me to become a great swordsman?”
Wuzang shook his head slightly. Maybe ten years.”
The boy said, “My father is already old. I must succeed sooner. If I double my efforts, how long will it take me?”
Wuzang shook his head and said, “Then it’ll take thirty years.”
The boy anxiously asked, “I’m willing to take any kind of hardship, but I must finish my training in the shortest time possible.”
Wuzang couldn’t help laughing and said, “With your attitude, it might take you seventy years before you succeed.”
In doing work, we should maintain an ordinary state of mind and make constant progress. When we have put in enough effort, we will naturally succeed. If we rush in our work and try to make a quick profit, we won’t have any success. This does not mean we should take it easy and not work hard. An ordinary state of mind means the state that our mind is in as we go about our daily affairs. There is nothing contrived or artificial about it. It is a state of not fearing difficulty and not scorning easy things. In this world, timid people are afraid of hard things, and people with a sense of self-importance tend to overlook simple things. To constantly maintain an ordinary state of mind is not at all easy.
I often see young people who think they know everything. If asked to do their homework or to do some other task, they casually shrug it off as not challenging enough, so they don’t want to study or do the work. In the end they don’t accomplish anything, and then they complain and blame others, acting as if no one recognized their talent. They don’t understand that “Advice from others may help one overcome one’s defects.” If they master one field of knowledge, they will naturally understand all fields. If they possess talents or academic degrees but lack the foundation of hands-on experience, their situation is that of having great aims but poor abilities; they end up learning nothing and accomplishing nothing. Confucius said that he was not born with much talent and wisdom; it was just that he had to do lots of menial chores because his family was very poor. In order to develop children’s wisdom, we should start by training children to do a good job in the trivial affairs of daily life.
An old saying goes, “He who draws near vermillion becomes red; he who draws near ink becomes black.” A person’s surroundings can make a great difference! Mencius’ mother moved three times only because she wanted to provide a proper environment for her son to grow up in. Young children are curious about everything and quickly learn to imitate what they see. If they are in a bad environment, they might get into trouble or even follow the bad examples of others and never be able to get themselves out of there. When one gets near a dyer’s shop or falls into a vat of dye, how can one expect to stay clean and white?
Confucius said, “Don’t look at improper things; don’t listen to improper things; don’t say improper things; and don’t do improper things.” “Proper” means in accord with principle. “Improper things” refers to things that do not accord with principle. In particular, when we encounter cruel, violent, weird, or scary things, we should plug our ears and zip our lips. Why is that? Because in this age when demons are strong and the Dharma is weak, the ways of asuras are popular and cultivators who crave spiritual powers are everywhere. If you get too close to these people or learn too much about their secrets, you will become possessed or get into trouble sooner or later. Be careful!