Earlier, I talked about how books are the quintessence of wisdom and experience of those who came before us. Reading benefits people immensely, provided they read the good literature of sages and worthies. Gossip columns, sensational magazines, romance novels, horror stories and other such reading material may be not only useless, but harmful. Literature that promotes the eerie, the violent, the immoral, or the bizarre in the realm of the supernatural may damage people even more seriously! Therefore, although "It's beneficial to open up a book," you must peruse appropriate books. If you read indecent books, your thinking will be affected; everything that you perceive and hear will be slightly off. How can you expect people who wear dark glasses and plug their ears to hear well, see clearly, and perceive accurately? Thinking controls people's consciousness, and consciousness affects people's behavior. The reason that people can be sages is because they resolve to become sages. Confucius once made a reference to the poem "Wild Plums" as an analogy. The poem goes, "The pretty flowers of the wild plums sway gently in the breeze; how can I not think about picking such a fine blossom? But it's simply too far!" Confucius criticized, "They never really wanted it; otherwise it could not be too far!" Hence, thinking motivates action. The mind of a person is his master. Aspiration directs the mind. If you make the resolve to become a sage and establish the goals of sages, you have taken the first step on the road to sagehood. The next steps would be to read the books of sages and do the deeds of sages. Although being a sage is a major responsibility and the road to it is long, how can the burden be too heavy to shoulder if your resolve is firm? How can the destination be too far?
Conversely, reading indecent works may wreck and crush someone's resolve, so that one's sense of direction is confused. How can one achieve anything positive in that case? In less serious cases, such individuals become the dregs of society and needy parasites to their families. More seriously, such individuals may injure themselves and mislead others, or even ruin the family, the nation, or the world! In the last few years, not only has the teenage crime rate risen everywhere in the world, but the crimes have mostly taken place in the homes that nurture and schools that educate the young. The recent unfortunate shooting of students at a school in the United States and the young killers' own suicide resulted from a poor choice in reading. Upon reading a deplorable book they fell under the lethal Nazi influence and turned into mad killers of non-whites. This exemplifies how unwholesome books can exert a terrifying influence on a person's thinking, leading to subsequent harm on a massive scale. Thus, freedom of the press is often abused by criminals. Some use publications to corrupt and brainwash people worldwide, hoping to attract more followers and commit more crimes and atrocities. In a political dictatorship or the dark ages of religious monopoly, choices in reading tended to be few and far between. Many censored books did not benefit people, but they were not necessarily extremely harmful either. On the other hand, many good books were censored on the grounds of differing political or religious persuasions, and as a result the people could not benefit from them.
Now, in a country of religious freedom and democracy, there is freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Everyone tries to have a voice, resulting in a conglomeration of the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you criticize some extremists or evil cults, you may be accused of interfering with freedom. Many improper publications dealing with the occult attract people with their novel, esoteric, or bizarre content. In fact, such books suddenly become bestsellers. Most people read these corrupt and evil books casually just to pass the time; whatever feelings they may have flash by without too much of an effect. However, for psychologically unstable teenagers or those with insular, sadistic or abusive tendencies, this type of literature is a shot of amphetamine in the eighth consciousness that causes mental and behavioral insanity. This reveals the reality: the human race is already shackled by "freedom to do evil", and is gradually losing the freedom to "live without fear".
We should guide and educate our children well so that they have the freedom of reading selectively, reading literature that benefits the world. In that case, we not only develop ourselves, but influence the society-at-large to collectively work toward world peace. Do not neglect to perform small acts of good because you underestimate yourself and think that you cannot be a sage. At the same time, do not casually do even small acts of evil because you have given up on yourself and think that committing crimes won't affect you. With either of these attitudes, one loses the essence and the resolves of a scholar.
What are the essence and resolves of a scholar? "To remain calm despite affection or humiliation" describes the true character of a scholar. "To resolve one's mind for the sake of the universe; to arrange one's life for the sake of the populace; to perpetuate the teachings of sages of the past; to create world peace for the sake of all generations": These are the resolves of a scholar. Why should scholars make these resolves? It is because scholars are capable of great resolves, profound resolves, and steadfast resolves—resolves to perpetuate the incredibly wonderful knowledge of the universe, past and present. If you set out to bring about universal peace and blessings for every generation, you will learn with a sound mind. It is just as Buddhists must make great vows, profound vows, and steadfast vows. If you vow to be reborn in the Western Paradise and to save all living beings, you will cultivate single-mindedly. Studying and practicing with that kind of resolve, you will have enough samadhi to overcome any difficulty, and you will naturally be calm whether you are favored or ostracized. What does it mean "to remain calm despite affection or humiliation"? That means we should have a backbone. We refuse to let our aspirations erode in the face of luxurious riches or honorable position. We refuse to alter our virtuousness when facing a life of poverty or modest duties. We refuse to mentally bow down and submit in the face of oppression or violence. We must read more sagely books, emulate the virtues of sages, and learn the ways of sages. To our dying day, we shall permeate ourselves with their influence. If we study in this fashion, we will naturally possess the character of sages even if we do not reach sagehood. That's what is meant by the Buddhist phrase, "always following and learning from the Buddhas."
To follow the Buddha is to learn from the Buddha. If you are merely believe blindly in the Buddha and think that you will never become a Buddha, you are cutting yourself off from Buddhahood. You may cultivate arduously, participating in a hundred ceremonies daily, bowing to ten thousand Buddhas monthly, but ultimately you're simply indulging in an idle dream, as if hoping to make rice by cooking sand! Similarly, if you worship sages and worthy ones, but write yourself off as a potential sage or saint, you are actually deserting the sages and worthy ones. You may study arduously for decades upon decades in miserable conditions, but ultimately you are no better than the ant that gnaws on the watermelon rind, unable to taste the fruit! Hence Yan Hui resolved, "Who were Shun and Yu [ancient sage-emperors]? Anyone who aspires to can be like them!" We should imitate likewise.
In other words, anyone can be Yao or Shun; all living beings can become Buddhas. However, the road to Buddhahood is long; it takes more than a few steps to reach your aim. The key to the sentence "We all can gradually learn to become worthies and sages ourselves" is the word "gradually ". "Gradually" means in the natural course of things; there's nothing forced here. You do not speed forward out of greed for merit, for you would fail to reach your destination due to your eagerness. Although I said that aspiring to sagehood and making the resolves of a sage is the first step, you may also take the next step by reading the books of sages and doing sagely deeds. However, this next step is actually numerous steps. You must take one step at a time, exerting yourself without rushing or dallying. The
Discourse on the Roots of Vegetables states, "Saw the wood with a rope, and the tree will fall. Drip water on a rock, and a hole will form. Students of the Way should apply themselves similarly. When water flows, a brook is formed. When the melon is ripe, the stem breaks off. The achiever of the Way shoulders the secrets of the universe." That is to say, you should work hard for the long term: Study and cultivate day by day and month by month. You would rather be dull and steady than clever and futile. For example, if you tried to saw wood with a piece of rope, you would halve the log after a while. If you tried to pierce a rock with drops of water, you could eventually penetrate the rock. When you are exerting yourself, do not think about your exertion. That way, you will not become restless. Unperturbed, you will strengthen your skill in the course of time. When the time and conditions are right, the lacquer barrel [i.e. our ignorance] bursts apart with a boom. You will then "see the full moon in the middle of the sky"; you will naturally realize the Way. Just as flowing water naturally forms a stream, when the melon is ripe, it naturally breaks at its stem. Everything is a divine secret; it cannot be obtained by force or predicted.
In the latter part of the Song Dynasty, the kingdom of Yuan invaded. As a scholar, Wen Tianxiang fearlessly expended all of his assets to organize a defense force of guerilla troops to fight against the villain, King Qin. Wherever he went to call on the people, his power and reputation grew. After several years of war, the kingdom had had three emperors, yet Wen continued to defend the nation loyally and bravely. Tireless, he submitted several proposals to Minister Yo, Minister Zuo and National Advisor Xing. Finally, he was defeated and captured. The King of Yuan appreciated Wen's talent and couldn't bear to kill him. He tried several times to make Wen surrender, using both threats and bribes, but Wen was not moved. Jailed in the state of Yan for three years, Wen vowed that he would die rather than capitulate. Finally, he was executed. During his imprisonment, Wen wrote "The Song of Righteousness," which contained historical and contemporary references. Rich in sentiment as well as expression, the last four lines say, "It's been long since the days of the wise ones. They are role models from the past. Under the awning I read these classics; indeed, the ancient Way illumines the true colors of all." The tone of the Song's initial section is one of awe-inspiring righteousness; the middle section is impassioned and poignant, while in the end he returns to a firm steadiness and sense of freedom, ready to face death head on. This no doubt illustrates a scholar's true character and displays a great hero's ways! After Wen Tianxiang died, a note was found in his belt with the words, "Confucius realized humaneness while Mencius apprehended justness. It is only because one has attained humaneness that one is replete with justness. What else is there to learn from the books of sages? Henceforth, I have no regrets." We students must "emulate ancient and modern models of perfection, relying on the righteousness of the universe." Whether studying or cultivating, we should always be vigorous and courageous from start to finish, picking ourselves up each time we stumble and fall. If we can do that, we can honestly declare before we die, "I have done everything I wanted to do; I have no regrets!"
The End of the Explanation of Rules for Being a Student