There is an expression in the Daodejing. It's a good passage that the Master used to teach us a lesson once. When we were traveling with the Venerable Master to Hong Kong, Heng Sure Shi and I were left behind by the Master to take care of Hong Kong. We were supposed to give lectures—teach and transform the Hong Kong disciples.
Well, first of all, teaching and transforming the Hong Kong people is "bu ke si yi" (inconceivable). It's really hard. I think the Master went off to Taiwan or Indonesia. He was going to leave us there for a couple of weeks to run the show by ourselves. We noticed that when the Master was with us, he was very kind, talking and laughing. When we got to Hong Kong, the Master was stern. When people came up and made offerings, he would say, "I don't want that. What are you giving that for?" They came up with red envelopes. He said, "Just what are you thinking?" And he screamed, "I don't touch money—the less the better."
We had just been in another place, another country, where people were giving offerings, and the Master was saying, "Oh, it's good to plant blessings with the Triple Jewel," and so on. When we got to Hong Kong, it was totally the opposite. And he would scold people. Endless people would come up with things and he'd say, "What are you bothering me with that for? What you do in Hong Kong is think about more, more, more, more. You're all going to fall." It went on non-stop like this. So Heng Sure Shi and I were watching this and thinking, "Ah, that's the method!" So when disciples came up, "Rrrrrrrrr"—we were doing the same thing. We did this for a couple of days, and then when we were at the airport with the Master, he came up to us and said, "What are you doing?"
"Master, we're teaching and transforming."
"Stupid," he said, "Do you think I'm really angry when I do this?"
I said, "No."
He said, "It's just like a game for me. I can use this as a medicine to help these people. Why do they keep coming back after I scold them like that? Why are they still happy to be around me? You scold them and they run away and never come back. I can scold them because they have deep roots, deep affinities in life after life. Affinities have been gathered, so now even if I scold them, it's medicine for them. You guys don't have the affinities and virtue that allow you to do that. Do you have absolute control of your emotion? Can you use anger and think, 'I'm not really angry'? Once you start it, can you stop it? When you use this technique on people, is it really 'fang bian --expedient? Are you really skilled at this?" He added, "You can't imitate me. Don't even try. You two should use kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity."
He continued, "To be able to pull off this technique of using scolding in anger, you have to really have it together. And you have to have deep affinities with people in order to do that." Then he gave a quote from
Daodejing. "When the apprentice takes the sharp tool from the master carpenter, he should be careful not to cut off his own hand." The master carpenter has this razor-sharp instrument that he uses, and the little novice is going to "boom!" and cut off his hand. In the same way, use a Dharma as the measure according to ability and wisdom. You can't just imitate the master and say, "I'm going to scold people, and I'm teaching and transforming them." You have to know when and with whom. You have to be absolutely sure that your scolding is coming from great compassion and not selfishness or anger. You're thinking, "Someone has been really getting on my nerves" and then, when the time comes, "Rrrrrr." Are you being expedient like the Master? Not necessarily, it could be driven by anger or by habit.
That was a lesson. We thought we were doing a great job, not realizing that we were just taking a sharp, sharp tool and swinging it around, cutting other people's heads off and slashing ourselves in the process. It was a real lesson. You can't imitate someone and think, "Oh, I'll imitate someone and do it that way." You really have to
know how to use this kind of skill-in-means. So in your lectures, in how you are with people, how much you smile or don't smile, how close you draw, whether you accept to go to a house to speak Dharma or don't accept the offering--all those things have to come from wisdom. You can't just say, "Well, the teacher did this." That doesn't make sense.
For example, once we were traveling in Malaysia with the Master, and we were all really hungry. We traveled for a long time without food. We came to this place, and somebody was going to give a dana (offering) at home. They were rich people, and the table was full of really delicious food for all. The Master waited, and he talked to people. Food was there on the table, and people were getting nervous. We were thinking, "Master! Eat first, speak Dharma later." He was going on and on and pretty soon we were thinking, "Oops, it's getting to be almost noon. Oops, it's getting past noon." The Master said, "Oh, we only have a few minutes to eat. We'll just eat a little bit. We're not really hungry." So we all got these little bowls of food—it was almost nothing. The Master was just dangling the donor. He didn't want anyone to indulge and brag, "I gave this meal offering and the Dharma Masters filled themselves with good food," So with all this good food there, the Master just said, "I'm not very hungry. I don't have the blessings to eat that kind of food." The donor was thinking, "Huhhh??"
Two days later, we went and had a meal at the monastery. It was good meal and we were full. The Master said, "Oh, so and so out in a village is giving a
dana (offering). We have to go out." We said, "We already had our meal." He said, "No, this is a 'fangbian,' (expedient) because this person is really sincere." We went out to a very small village. It was a poor family - they didn't have much, but they had saved all this to make a very rare offering. It wasn't rich food, it wasn't good food, but there was a lot—more than what they would have in a whole year. And so the Master said, "I am as hungry as I have ever been," and he said, "Eat 'em." We said, "But, The Master..." and he said, "Eat 'em!" So we ate and ate, and the donor was just so happy. The Master spoke a long lecture, gave a wonderful teaching, and we were thinking, "Wait a minute now, one day we're really hungry and we had good food, but we only got a little bit. The next day we're full, we ate bad food and we had a lot. What's going on here?" And then we started to think—behind it was wisdom. For normal people, it would be, "We're hungry, there's good food, and so we eat a lot." The second time, their thinking would be, "We had enough; we'll do the Dharma later." The Master's way was totally different. He ate more of the bad food and less of the good food.
To apply this technique, you really have to have a kind of wisdom. You can't fake it. One day I was with the Master and we had two
danas. So you go out and when there's good food, rich food, you just think, "I'm being with the Master," but you're not. Even if you think you understand, it's not necessarily the case that you do. So you always have to say, "Is there the slightest bit of greed? Is there the slightest bit of seeking, the slightest bit of self-benefiting?" and so forth before you act. Even then, it's easy to be kind of tricky with yourself.
When this kind of thing (happens), you have to be really, really very careful. You have to have wisdom. You can't attach to any one example and think, "That's the way to do it." There are no fixed dharmas. The only thing that's fixed is that you have to be drawing on that to the side— when to be stern, when to be kind, when to be happy, when not to smile, when to accept an offering, when not to, what Dharma to speak and when. You can't just say, "I'm going to Malaysia and give all my lectures," and then get out there and give lectures. You can't do that.
We went to Malaysia, and the Master said, "We're going to be talking at a university, so think about what you want to say." So we prepared this lecture for the scholars of the university, on science and Buddhism and so forth. Later, the Master said, "I'm going to lecture at the university. You guys do this lecture over here, a little fishing village off the coast of Malaysia." So we had to change our topic to cause and effect. We couldn't lecture on quantum physics and Buddhism. That's what I mean by no fixed dharma. You can't really prepare.