Zeng Zi once summarized the doctrines of his teacher Confucius by saying, "The Master's teaching does not go beyond loyalty and reciprocity." How could loyalty and reciprocity encompass all the principles of dealing with people and handling affairs? It seems too simple! Actually, this is a common truth which a three-year-old child knows, but a ninety-year-old man finds difficult to practice. How do we define loyalty and reciprocity? Loyalty means doing your best. Reciprocity means not doing to others what you wouldn't want done to yourself.
What does it mean to do your best? Let us look at the structure of the characters. "Loyalty" is composed of the characters for "middle" and "heart/center." To stay in the middle in what we do, without being biased or partial, is loyalty. If we do not favor any side, including our own, then we are doing our best to fulfill our basic human duties.
The character for "reciprocity" is composed of the characters for "like/as" and "mind/heart." It means to always think on behalf of others, love others as oneself, and maintain the attitude that, "When others are drowning, it is as if I am drowning; when others are starving, it is as if I am starving." Although reciprocity is a Confucian concept, it is fully realized only in Buddhism. Buddhism teaches us not only to regard all people as equal, but to regard all living beings as equal. Not only must we refrain from doing to others what we wouldn't want done to ourselves, we must do whatever we can to give living beings what they want. This is "great kindness for those with whom we have no affinities, and great compassion of being one with all." When we see living beings undergoing suffering which they loathe, we feel as if we are suffering with them, and we try to alleviate their suffering in an egalitarian manner. Regardless of how close to or far from living beings we are we bestow upon them equally the things that bring happiness. When we resolve to eliminate the sufferings of living beings and give them every sort of joy, we are in effect resolving to seek wisdom, acknowledging our past mistakes and starting anew. We are making the aspiration for Bodhi. (Bodhi is a Sanskrit word meaning enlightenment or wisdom.) This is the aspiration of a Bodhisattva, and it plants the holy cause for Buddha- and Bodhi-sattvahood. We could be considered Bodhisattvas in the causal stage. To become Bodhisattvas in the stage of fruition, we must never for a moment forget our Bodhi resolve, and we must at all times practice the Bodhisattva conduct in a down-to-earth manner.
Once we are born into the world, we come into contact with others, and giving and taking naturally take place. In the process, there are inevitable feelings of like and dislike. People get entangled in the bonds of love and hate, and there is endless affliction and suffering. This is because wisdom has been buried and cannot manifest. If we wish to renounce the conditions of love and hate, we must first be able to accept things.
During the Liang Dynasty (of the Five Dynasties Era in China), there was a monk named Qi Ci who was tall and had big ears and an even bigger belly. All day long he went around carrying a big cloth bag and wearing a big grin on his face, collecting donations. Everyone called him the Cloth Bag Monk, and after a while his real name was forgotten. If people gave him food, clothing, or articles, regardless of whether they were good or poor quality, he would put them in his bag. Strangely enough, the bag was never too full and never less than full; it was neither big nor small, neither fat nor thin—it stayed the same.
People asked him, "Hey, Cloth Bag Monk, what treasures have you got in your bag? How come it never gets full?"
With a smile the Cloth Bag Monk would reply, "This bag is like people's minds, which are never satisfied. It can never be filled."
One day, he met the Venerable Baofu and asked for a donation of one cent. The Venerable Baofu decided to test him and asked, "If you can give a good answer, I'll give it to you."
The Cloth Bag Monk smiled, set his bag down, and stood there with his hands on his hips. The Venerable Baofu asked, "How would you describe living beings?" The Cloth Bag Monk smiled and picked up his bag.
"What is the essential meaning of the Buddhadharma?" asked the Venerable Baofu. The Cloth Bag Monk smiled and set his bag down again. Then Venerable Baofu knew that he was a highly qualified Sanghan who had enlightened to the Way.
After the Cloth Bag Monk passed into stillness, people discovered from a verse on a broken-down wall that he was Maitreya Bodhisattva, who will be the next to achieve Buddhahood in this world. The Cloth Bag Monk taught Dharma through his actions. He was telling us that we first have to be able to take all the things of this world; if we cannot take them, we will not be able to renounce them—then how could we talk about transcending the world, entering the Way, and becoming a Buddha?
What does it mean to be able to take things? It means to do a good job of fulfilling one's human obligations. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas all started out as people. If we aren't able to fulfill our human obligations, how can we attain Buddhahood? There is a saying, "The understanding of worldly affairs is genuine knowledge. The skill of developing good human relations is comparable to that of writing an essay." Once we perfect ourselves as people, we will have no hindrance in whatever we do. Then how could we not succeed in cultivation? On the other hand, if we say we're cultivating, but do a lot of unreasonable things that make others afflicted, we would be fortunate if people didn't retreat from their Bodhi resolve—how could we encourage people to bring forth the resolve?
Therefore, Bodhisattvas cultivate in the world and attain a transcendental fruition. First they work on human relations, and then they cut off ties of love and enmity. We shouldn't try to skip stages or to fly before we can walk. Before we have cultivated worldly blessings and virtue, how can we expect to attain transcendental enlightenment? The cultivation of worldly blessings and virtue happens through practicing humaneness. To be humane means to be human, to be a person with an attitude of loyalty and reciprocity. As a human, our first priority is to understand how to give and take, and to be clear about love and enmity.
What does that mean? To understand how to
give and take means, as an earlier line of text says, that
"when giving you should be generous; when taking you should
take a little less." It also means to "distribute the wealth
to help the needy." This is a joyful practice which makes
both the giver and the receiver happy. In order to practice "distributing wealth to help the needy," we must first live frugally ourselves. Otherwise, even if we overcame our greed, we would not have any surplus to give to the needy.
To be clear about love and enmity, our method should be: "When giving, think nothing of it. When receiving, do not forget the kindness done to you." A saying goes,
Having received kindness equal to a drop of water,
You should try to repay it with a bubbling spring.
Our resolve to reciprocate should be long-lasting. When we do others a favor, we should do so impartially and think nothing of it. Not only should we forget about it, but we should never demand that others reciprocate the favor. Otherwise, even if nothing disastrous happens, we will not be able to live in peace. Being clear about love and enmity at another level simply means, "to repay kindness with kindness, and to repay enmity with justice." It does not mean to be lenient with people no matter what. The repayment of kindness with kindness does not refer to a one-time gift or favor; rather it involves mutual exhortation so that both parties grow in virtue and reap boundless blessings in the future. Therefore the text says, "Kindness should be cherished forever." To repay enmity with justice means to let the public judicial system decide how to handle the matter, instead of dealing with it personally and seeking vengeance in an underhanded fashion. Therefore, the text says, "Let grudges be quickly forgotten."
Do sages also seek revenge? Sages have no personal grudges. However, on rare occasions when they are unable to teach and transform evil people, they must see to it that these individuals receive their just punishment, so that the society will not be endangered or terrorized. Such is the manner in which superior people respond to enmity. If they did not respond, they would not be acting in justice. In actuality, even if wrongdoers escape visible punishment at the hands of the law, they cannot escape their karmic retribution, which is invisible.
In general, the great men of old would not slander those with whom they had severed relations. This exemplifies the principle of reciprocity as well as being clear about love and enmity. If people slandered their former friends or forgot about past favors in light of new grievances, enmity would deepen day by day, planting the seeds of turmoil.
Consider the following story of the elephant who sought revenge: Once there was an man in India who owned a very obedient pet elephant. Every day when the elephant felt thirsty, he would walk to a small river. Along the way, he would pass by a tailor's shop, and the tailor would feed the elephant some tidbits. One day, the elephant inserted his trunk into the window as usual, wanting food, but the tailor happened not to have any food at hand and could not interrupt what he was doing, so he ignored the elephant. The elephant, perhaps thinking that the tailor had not noticed him, banged on the window with his trunk, making a racket. The tailor turned around and pricked the elephant's trunk with his needle, and the elephant, smarting in pain, quickly curled up his trunk and left.
Walking to the river, he drank his fill of cool, refreshing water, then filled his trunk with water and walked back to the tailor's shop. Sticking his trunk through the window, the elephant sprayed the tailor until he was soaked. The fine cloth on his table also got wet.
As highly intelligent beings, we should not be like the elephant, who, not knowing how to forgive or reflect upon himself, forgot about the kindness done him in the past after one unpleasant experience.
Vegetable Root Discourses has a saying, " For those who reflect upon themselves, every situation serves as a medicine. For those who complain about others, every thought is a spear." If people could always look within themselves and be considerate of others, not doing to others what they would not like done to themselves, they will naturally open a path of wholesome goodness and stop all evil at its source. In such a situation, how could there be ceaseless turmoil, wars, and disasters?