Due to the large number of articles, "The Fourfold Assembly: A Review of the Rules" was not included in this issue.
Today is the last day of this year on the Chinese calendar. The Chinese people say that on this night, all the spirits and gods come out. The Kitchen God was sent to heaven on the twenty-third, and he returns on the thirtieth, which is today.
"How far is it from heaven to earth? How long is the journey?" someone might ask.
Old Mr. Know-it-All, who understands everything, says, "It's about three hundred miles from the earth to heaven."
"How do you know?" people ask.
"Well, think about it. The Kitchen God left on the twenty-third. He can probably cover about a hundred miles a day on his horse. After three days, he gets there and meets with the Lord of Heaven to report all the good and evil deeds done in the world. It probably takes him a day to report all of that. Then it takes him another three days to get back. So it's about three hundred miles going and three hundred miles returning, no more than three hundred and fifty miles at the most. He rides his horse there and back." Wouldn't you say Old Mr. Know-it-All is clever?
Actually, if we talk about going from earth to heaven, there is no journey that could be longer. We cannot get there by walking, and even if we rode a horse for our whole life, we wouldn't get there. We can't even get to heaven by taking a airplane, because the plane would be destroyed once it flew into outer space. We need to take a rocket. However, even a rocket only goes to the stars and the moon, and cannot get to heaven. Where exactly is heaven? We don't know how far away it is.
On the other hand, we could say heaven is very near. How is that? As long as our eyes are open, we can see heaven (the sky) and the
earth. If it were not near, how could we see it? If you say that it is far, well, we cannot see Japan, China, or Germany even though our eyes are open, because they are too far. But we can simply look up and see the sky (heaven). So, if we speak of heaven as being far, there is nothing farther; if we speak of it as being near, there is nothing nearer. We are included within heaven and earth, and so we are neighbors of heaven and earth. Heaven is our neighbor.
"Those on the horizon are my neighbors." "Everyone on the continent is a good friend." Everyone within the shores of this continent is an intimate friend who understands me.
Guo Ning knows the Chinese custom of sending the Kitchen God to heaven on the twenty-third. The Kitchen God is the emperor of the kitchen. When he goes to heaven, people say, "Elder Kitchen God, say good things when you go to heaven, and bring good luck to the world below." They say, "Give a good report, and leave out the bad things. When you return, bring us some luck." Since they don't want the kitchen god to tattle on them, they offer him some "kitchen candy," which is especially made for him to eat. However, when the Kitchen God is offered candy, the children benefit by getting to eat the candy. This candy is made of glutinous rice, which is sweet all right, but also sticky. Once you eat it, your lips are stuck together and you can't open your mouth.
The candy is called "kitchen candy" because it is used to send off the Kitchen God. It's made with sticky rice. What's the point of sealing the Kitchen God's lips? People don't want him to talk too much in heaven. "Here, have something to eat, but don't say bad things about us." So, they tell him, "Say good things when you go to heaven, and bring good luck to the world below. Say more of the good things, and less of the bad." That's their plea to the Old Kitchen God.
After they send him off, they put images of the Kitchen God in all the kitchen hearths and set the images on fire, saying that the Kitchen God goes through the chimney and up to heaven. That's the popular custom.
So, you see, people want to seal the Kitchen God's lips because they've done too many bad deeds and don't want the Kitchen God to report on them. It's like when we do something bad and we don't want others to know, so we buy a present for whoever knows and say, "Don't tell other people about this. Please help me out by keeping it a secret." People want to bribe the Kitchen God in that way.
I believe that if the Kitchen God were a real god, he would be furious if his lips got stuck together, and he would slap you so hard that your face would swell up. It's too bad he doesn't really know, because he's just a paper image. That's why no one has ever been slapped for following this custom. Fools cheat themselves that way. They think it's a clever method, but actually, it's just a fool's gimmick.
If you're afraid others will tell on you, then don't do bad things in the first place! If you do bad things and fear others will tell on you,
there's nothing you can do. Therefore, we should definitely get rid of this ritual of sealing the Kitchen God's lips.
The Kitchen God is a god. How can you insult a god in that way? How do you treat people? Suppose I don't want you to tattle on me. Can I seal your lips or sew them together with thread? This is a piece of Chinese superstition that should be thrown out and discarded. This custom should not be kept.
People say that on this night, all the spirits and ghosts descend into the world. Taoism also has a custom that ways, "Receive and uphold on the night of the thirtieth." This refers to receiving and upholding sutras and mantras. No matter what mantra you recite, if you recite it on that night, then it will be efficacious whenever and wherever you recite it during the next year. What if you don't receive and uphold on the thirtieth? You can't recite at home. You have to go to a solitary temple or grave to recite. A solitary temple is one where there are no people, but only ghosts and spirits. It's dark at night, and people are afraid to go. If you go to a place like that and recite a Sutra or a mantra, then that's called receiving and upholding.
All the ghosts and spirits will be at your command. Or you may go to a solitary grave, where there are no other graves around. Because there's only grave, there's only one ghost there. When you go there and recite a mantra, the ghost will become your Dharma protector. Any time you want him, he will come to you.
But this is not what Buddhism says. Rather, you can recite and uphold every day, whenever and wherever you want. That's why we recite every day.
The Chinese have another custom concerning the night of the thirtieth, which is that they do not sleep that night. That's known as: "One night connects two years; the dawn divides them." The two years are connected by that one night. In the early dawn when the rooster crows, that divides the two years. During the night, the two years are still connected, but when the dawn arrives, it divides last year from this year. This is a couplet. I'm telling you this because it's part of Chinese lore.
In most families, people enjoy delicious food on this evening. You eat whatever good food there is, the tastier the better. People who aren't vegetarian will eat Chinese dumplings stuffed with the best kind of meat on this evening. The dumplings are eaten at midnight on the thirtieth. If one eats dumplings at that time, then one will "eat ingots" all year long; that is, one will have money during the whole year. Also, in a pot of dumplings, there will be one dumpling with a coin in the filling. The person who gets that dumpling will be blessed with fortune in the next year; he or she will strike it rich.
I'm introducing this amusing Chinese custom to you tonight, so that you will know about it if you go to China in the future. Even if you don't go, you can still understand something of the customs of China.
They eat good food at twelve o'clock on this night and also the next morning. In general, during the first lunar month, people eat all the good food they can. When the month is over, they won't eat so well, because they have to go back to work. During the first month, people take a break and don't do much work.
Another custom is that one has to know the direction to go on the first day of the year to welcome the gods of wealth, happiness, and nobility. On New Year's Eve, people welcome the god of wealth. They welcome him at eleven o'clock by placing offerings on a table facing southwest and lighting a pair of candles. They also entreat the god with wine, and the whole family bows facing southwest, welcoming the god of wealth into their home.
We also welcome the gods of wealth, happiness, and nobility. Who is the god of wealth? If you don't lose your essence, energy, and spirit, then you have the god of wealth. Who is the god of nobility? If you don't lose your temper at all during the year, then you are a distinguished person. That's the god of nobility. You have to make a resolution: "Next year I will not lose my temper; I will reform my disposition." That is to have the god of nobility with you. If you are joyful and happy all the time, then you have welcomed the god of happiness. My interpretation is different from the traditional Chinese explanation.
The gods of happiness, nobility, and wealth are all here with you. However, you don't know how to use them, and so you seek them outside of yourself. Basically, they are right within you.