Laozi composed the Article on Influence and Response, which begins with the following lines:
“The Venerable Elder Laozi says: Blessings and calamities have no door; they are brought about by man himself.” This means that blessings and calamities do not arise spontaneously. If you perform good deeds, you will receive blessings but if you commit bad deeds, calamities will befall you.
“The reward and retribution for good and bad deeds follow one like a shadow” – wherever you go, the reward and retribution for all the good and bad deeds you have done will trail you like your shadow.
“In the heavens and on earth, there are offense-presiding spirits who cut short people’s lifespans according to the gravity of the offenses they have committed. With a reduced lifespan, they suffer from poverty and loss.” There are four types of offense-presiding spirits who are known as the Four Duty Gods: the Duty God of the Year, the Duty God of the Month, the Duty God of the Day and the Duty God of the Hour. At every hour everyday in every month of every year, these spirits keep silent watch over human activities.
“Cut short people’s lifespans” means that a person who was originally destined to live a long life has his lifespan suddenly shortened. One hundred days of a person’s life is called a ‘suan’ and a period of twelve years is called a ‘ji’.
“With a reduced lifespan, they suffer from poverty and losses” – The person who has his lifespan decreased is also poor and beset by all sorts of misfortunes, calamities, illnesses and disputes. The gist of this article is that ‘where there is influence, there is penetration and absolutely all requests will receive responses’, hence the Taoist emphasis on ‘gan ying’(invoking a response).
Buddhism advocates kindness and compassion. The character 慈 [ci] refers to ‘unconditional great kindness’. ‘Unconditional’ means that you are kind and compassionate towards those with whom you have no affinities and regardless of whether they treat you well or not. It is precisely because of the absence of affinities that there is a need to practice kindness and compassion. As the saying goes:
“Being one with all is called great compassion.” So how do you achieve a mind of great compassion? It is by having a ‘sympathetic mind’. At the sight of others suffering, it is as if you yourself are suffering – this is called ‘Lamenting the state of the universe and taking pity on mankind, one practices kindness, compassion, joy, and giving’. As ‘kindness can bring happiness’, being kindhearted can bring joy to living beings; and as ‘compassion can eradicate suffering’, you are able to relieve living beings of their sufferings and afflictions by virtue of your sympathetic mind. This is in accord with the saying: “Cherishing others as you would yourself.”
April 12, 1989
Wise and Good Advisors, Teachers and Fellow Students,
Confucius once said, “While walking in the company of two people, there must be one whom I can learn from. I can select the person with good qualities and emulate him, or observe the one with bad qualities and rectify my own behavior.” It is evident from these few lines that Elder Master Kong was a great person who, as a scholar, educator, and politician, was without parallel in history. We can also infer that Confucius maintained a humble attitude throughout his life and was never arrogant and self-satisfied. Where is the justification for this? It is because he said that
“while walking in the company of two people”, he had two teachers: One was whom he wanted to emulate while the other was whom he did not want to learn from. He selected the person with good qualities and followed his example. We should learn the strengths of others and, at the same time, correct ourselves at the sight of others’ weaknesses. In other words, a person with good qualities can serve as a model for us whereas a person with bad qualities can serve as our Precept Master. If we, as human beings, can take this theory as our maxim, we would be
‘content with our lot, whatever it may be’. Such modesty was a virtuous conduct of the ancients. It was only reasonable that later generations venerated Confucius as a sage.
It is said, “Everyone is my teacher; I am a teacher to everyone.” By looking up to everyone as our professor and by teaching others as a professor would, we study and learn from one another. As for
“being a regular teacher to ourselves”, we should carry out a simple self-examination everyday to see if our conduct and actions are proper or not. Have we acted in a principled way? Are there occasions where we have acted in an unprincipled way? We should constantly reflect upon ourselves in this way.
Therefore, Zeng Zi said, “Everyday, I carry out three introspections: Am I honest in my dealings with others? Am I trustworthy to my friends? Have I put into practice what I have learned?” He once declared that he was not a very intelligent person. There is a passage in
The Classic of Filial Piety that reads: “Confucius was sitting at home with Zeng Zi in attendance. Confucius said: “The kings of the past possessed the loftiest virtue and an important rule of conduct, which they promoted throughout the land. In this way, people lived together harmoniously and there were no grievances amongst those of high or low status. Did you know about this?” Thereupon, Zeng Zi rose from his seat and respectfully replied:
“Shen (Zeng Zi himself) is slow-witted. How could I have known this?” This rule of conduct, which enabled people of all levels of society to live in harmony without any grievances or animosity, was an excellent method for managing the state, cultivating oneself and regulating the family. Zeng Shen said that he lacked the intelligence to have known about this.
Confucius continued: “Our bodies, including our hair and skin, were bestowed to us by our parents. We must take care not to injure them. This is the beginning of filial piety.” In the
Analects, it is said, “A superior person devotes himself to the foundation. When the foundation is established, the Way will come forth. Filiality and fraternal respect are the basis of humaneness.” A superior person devotes himself to the foundation. What a superior person should learn and devote himself to are the fundamental principles.
When the foundation is established, the Way will come forth. If the foundation is established firmly, the roots will be strong and the branches will be full of lush green leaves. The Way will come forth because the foundation is established.
Filiality and fraternal respect are the basis of humaneness. The foundation of being a person is to return to the origin. As human beings, we should be aware of the need to pursue the fundamentals. Well, what is the foundation? It can be summed up by the two characters: ‘xiao’ [filiality to one’s parents] and ‘ti’ [fraternal respect for one’s elders]. This is the topmost priority of being a person. Our most important objective is not to earn lots of money after completing our studies, but rather to perfect the qualities of filiality and fraternal respect.
If people, as sons and daughters, are not filial to their parents, that means they have forgotten their roots. Such people do not have an inkling of what it means to be a human being. Therefore, the first requirement of being a person is to be filial to one’s parents. In Western culture, the principle of filiality to one’s parents is not explained in explicit terms. To be filial to our parents means to repay a debt of gratitude and to requite our roots – this is what all of us ought to do. We must protect our bodies and ensure that we stay healthy both in body and mind, as they were given to us by our parents. Furthermore, we must not use this body of ours to commit crimes or engage in immoral activities, but should instead be proper individuals who obey the moral rules and regulations and follow the prescribed order.
What is the foundation of being a person? It refers to virtues such as loyalty, fraternal respect, humaneness, and righteousness. This is what each and every one of us, while under the influence of all manner of sights and sounds since the time of our births, should pay attention to. If you were to fulfill your filial obligations, then the Heavenly Lord, as well as the bodhisattvas and Buddhas, would be delighted. If you could practice filiality, your parents would surely not lose their tempers with you and you would not engage in sibling rivalry. Filial conduct is the soul of heaven and earth – one of the pillars of humanity!
Loyalty means being loyal to our country. In this respect, we have to be selfless and just, upright and impartial. To love and protect our nation is to be loyal, while constantly harboring thoughts of invading other people’s countries is to be disloyal. Why? This is because you will first have to mobilize your fellow citizens and your own country’s financial and material resources in order to wage wars with other countries and kill their people. As it is said:
“Battling over territories, bodies of the vanquished lie everywhere. Battling over cities, entire cities are massacred.” This is called
‘devouring human flesh all over the land’, a crime for which even death cannot atone. This is being disloyal to one’s own nation and acting foolishly towards other countries.
As human beings, we must at all times cherish everything with a kind heart, treat everyone with benevolence, and exercise proper judgment in whatever we do. By extension, this is to fulfill the fundamental requirements of being a person and to build upon the foundation of humanity. In doing so, you will achieve a most fulfilling life, a healthy body, and a happy spirit. You will not be overcome by worries and afflictions such that your hair turns white, your eyes grow dim, and your ears become deaf. If you do not awaken but remain ignorant and confused even till the very end, then you have lived your life in vain.