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The Record of Water and Mirror Turning Back Heaven

By Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
Translation and Commentary by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching


Born in this age, we must establish the will to be new and great people. The engraving of T'ang says, "If once made new, every day renew: Let there be daily renewal." The announcement to K'ang says, "Make a new people."

Look into modern science. It is new every day and different every month. Military weapons are new every day and different every month. Wars are new every day and different every month. Although it is called progressive change, it does not differ from advancing cruelty. It takes human life as a child's play, an experiment. It uses strength and force to fill its great desires and aims.

Why not think instead of washing clean the body and mind, of brushing away the accumulated dirt, of producing great shame and painfully changing the former wrongs. To create a new life, be a new and imposing person, full of grand power. Establish merit for the sake of beings of the Dharma Realm. Take all countries as brothers and establish virtue. Establish a model for all under heaven. This is called mercifully representing heaven in widely transforming. With loyalty and filial piety, for the sake of the country, teach the people.

Born in this age. "Born in this age one should be of this age; the practice of good is what is needed," said Mencius, over two thousand years ago. Today is today and its questions are not those of two hundred years ago. Just as today grows from the past, so too does tomorrow come from today. Last autumn's seed is this year's sprout and next winter's flour. One cannot ignore the present and live in remembrance of things past, nor can one fritter away a life in idle dreams of the alabaster cities of a brave new world.

New and great people. That which is new is startling and fresh. One must be a new man in new times, always aware and responsive to what is occurring in the world. One must be imposing and establish a great model for all to see. One must make an impression, which has a deep, and lasting effect, not the surface impressions of new styles and fads. This impression must be made not in ephemeral newsprint, but in the long lasting annals of the history of mankind. If one must adopt a style, only that of the true heroes of mankind is worthy of emulation. One must change his own faults in order that he may rectify government, know himself in order to be able to dispense justice and establish harmony. One must pacify himself in order to insure domestic tranquility.

The engraving of T'ang. The Emperor T'ang, called the Perfector, founded the Hsia Dynasty some 3,700 years ago. On his ritual bronze bathing tub was engraved, "If once made new, every day renew; let there be daily renewal." Thus, in his daily bath, the Emperor was reminded of the need to constantly examine and cleanse his conduct. On this principle he founded a Dynasty which ruled for over four centuries.

The announcement to K'ang...This passage is selected from the Book of History.

Look into modern science. It is new every day and different every month. The progress of modern science has been incredibly rapid. Two hundred years ago, industry, transportation and communications, although a bit more efficient than they had been two hundred years earlier, still remained essentially as they had been since the dawn of man. Energy was obtained through muscle power or by harnessing wind and water. People seldom traveled more than a few miles from their birthplaces. The Industrial Revolution had not yet broken out, and houses twelve miles from Philadelphia were considered to be in the wilderness.

When steam was harnessed the need for coal arose. Within a generation, little smudges began to appear on the landscape as whole populations shifted from the country to the new industrial centers. Cities rapidly turned sour. Technology progressed and soon electricity and internal combustion were in use. Night was broken so that factory hands might work in twelve-hour shifts. Technology had illumined the night and cast a pall over man's free spirit.

A few moments after the appearance of electricity and internal combustion came the radio. The invention of the vacuum tube came an instant later, and the transistor appeared faster yet. We are progressing into the realm of Z-guns and micro-miniatures, which, it is said, will replace present day technologies. In the space of a flash, foot and horse cart travel has yielded to journey by supersonic jets flown almost entirely by computer. We have walked off rural lanes and onto the freeway, progressing from the world within arms reach to the moon. Man has multiplied from a small species capable of maintaining itself into a vast mob, a substantial portion of which suffers starvation resulting from overcrowding.

Extending present trends toward the future, it is predicted that technology will "progress" at a pace that will far outstrip the horse and buggy technologies of the past.

Military weapons are new every day, and different every month. Wars began when one person hit another with his hand. Although it was not comfortable for either party, the general agreement was that it was a definitive way to deal with problems. The first weapons were bodies, which belong to the element earth.

Later, a combatant picked up a stick and found that by wielding it skillfully, he could remain out of reach of his opponent, yet still inflict harm on him. With the invention of the club, the age of earth came to an end and the age of wood began. This is simply in line with the sequence of the elemental action. Each of the five elemental actors produces another, which in its turn is overcome by yet a different element. Wood is victorious over earth. The successive action of the elements may be arranged like this:

Each element produces the one following it in a clock-wise order, and is victorious over the next but one in sequence. Thus earth produces metal and overcomes water, metal produces water and overcomes wood, water produces wood and overcomes fire, and so forth. This production and vanquishing of the five elemental actors is correlated to the changes of seasons, to colors, compass points, and many other phenomena. From its profound study, we can understand many otherwise insoluble problems of nature and history.

So it was that metal was found to be malleable and an excellent substance for blades which could be fixed to wooden lances and thrown from afar. Warfare continued to evolve under the influence of metal. The limits of that element were reached when men totally encased themselves in armor so as to be immune from arrows and spears.

Fire overcomes metal. Gunpowder, which had existed as a plaything for years, was harnessed, and made to send pellets of metal at great speed through the air to penetrate the suits of protective armor. Warfare raged under the influence of fire.

It seemed as though the end of military progress had been reached until the element water began its ascent. Fire is overcome by water, and thus the influence of water has grown ever heavier, and under it new weapons have emerged. The science of chemistry is under the dominion of water, and atomic energy, which utilizes water, is an outgrowth of chemical transformation. The influence of fire in warfare is still paramount, but that of water grows. As this happens what can be done?

If we add load after load of earth to a pool of water, we will make mud. Add more earth and we shall finally arrive at level and dry ground, soil in which we may plant and harvest, on which we may build. How do we accomplish this? We use what belongs to earth, use our bodies. With the body we can cultivate the ground, and step by step overcome the age of water and create dry land.

The Buddhadharma is of the earth. It is here, among living creatures in the world, that Dharma is taught and practiced, not elsewhere in some starry abstract heaven. Dharma is taught according to the needs of beings. Since we are here, Dharma appears here as it does. To the inhabitants of heavens, it appears in an appropriate form.

Now we are on the earth. Buddhism is of the earth, which is why it is represented by a tawny color, the color of earth. The Sixth Patriarch said,

"The Buddhadharma is in the world,
Not apart from the world is Enlightenment.
To leave the world and seek for Bodhi
Is like seeking for a horned hare."

The earth can be used for fighting, and can be used to cultivate.

The above paragraphs dealt with the defeat of the elements by one another; the order of their production also has great meaning for society. Yellow earth produces metal, whose color is white. On the surface of a metal mirror one may condense water, which in depth is black. Water nourishes and produces green wood, which when dry, puts forth crimson flames. Fire bakes blocks of clay into a new, durable, and useful kind of earth.

In the earth of Buddhadharma is forged a Vajra body, like metal but stronger. With the perfection of the Vajra body, the great depths of the waters of compassion may be fathomed. These waters nourish the tree of Bodhi, which grows and flourishes to bear its fruit and flowers. Its wood is able to support the heat of samadhi which fires the molded earth, burning out all impurity, and producing a pure and durable building material.

Although it is called progressive change, it does not differ from advancing cruelty. "Progressive change" continues and more species are daily threatened with extinction. Progress rolls on and leaves in its exhaust, a host of bizarre new diseases. Progress poisons with insensate cruelty and brings along with its questionable benefits more untold sufferings, many of which are so new and subtle that it is only years or even centuries later that they will become fully manifest.

It takes human life as a child's play, an experiment. Although the material values and quality of human life may be said to improve with technological progress, the value placed on life itself declines. Industrial civilization deals in terms of masses and relegates the individual to a secondary status. Populations may starve and waste, and countries be razed for the goals of such a civilization. Human life has little meaning and is treated as a toy. Whole peoples and cultures, not to mention individual persons, are directed like so many actors in a play. Science not only experiments on lower animals and inflicts great suffering on them in the name of humanity, but uses the primates and makes supposedly harmless tests with human volunteers. Experiments on whole people, in fact, a well planned and executed "scientific solution" to the "human dilemma", is but a very short step away. What, in the final analysis, is the actual outcome of these tests?

It uses strength and force to fill its great desires and aims. The technology of science is employed by most societies. Nations desire each other’s lands, men desire each others homes, the poor desire the goods of the rich, the rich desire more, and all use violent means to obtain them. The goal we seek in every case the same: our own benefit and happiness.

Why not think instead of washing clean the body and mind, of brushing away the accumulated dirt, of producing great shame and painfully changing the former wrongs. We should note that the Emperor T'ang's engraving was on a great washbasin. We must clean our bodies of all accumulated habitual activity, and wash habitual thought and bad karma from our minds. We must right the errors in ourselves so that we may be able to see the errors in society. This requires an act of great courage, for though it is easy to admit that the system is composed of individuals, it is not so simple to admit that we, with all individuals, are the ones guilty of offenses. Mountains are made of great accumulations of dust motes. The wrongs of the system are composed of the accumulated wrongs of you and me. When we are able to see this, we should produce a feeling of great shame, for it is from painful realization of truths that change and reform come.

To create a new life, be a new and imposing person, full of grand power. There is no use in retreating to the comfortable shell of isolation, or of withdrawing to idyllic or artificial social structures. There are problems, and they must be faced. One must awake from lethargy and become an outstanding figure full of great power. Mencius said of such power, "...it is extremely great and extremely strong and yet does not harm; thus it fills the space between heaven and earth. This energy is the companion of Righteousness and the Way. Without it there is starvation. It is born from constant Righteousness, not grabbed by surprise attacks of Righteousness." Such vast power is only produced through constant proper conduct in our daily activities, not through hypocritical fits of goodness. Without it, comes starvation in man's nature.

Establish merit for the sake of beings of the Dharma Realm. Because we are alive now and undergoing similar events together, we can be said to share collective karma, the result of all our past activities. In addition to the interaction of our collective karmas, we each have individual karma and thus, though all sharing the common traits of humanity, we each have special abilities. As we change and rid ourselves of the acquired trash in our minds, and begin to see our basic potentials, each person should find what he can do well and use that ability to teach living beings to awaken, to cease doing evil, and to turn toward good. The more we practice, the more we are able to understand what must be done to turn back the disasters, which we and our "progress" have made for ourselves. Each must apply effort in his own way, to rid himself of faults and channel his energies to showing others how to do the same.

In general we must all realize that our past doings have often been motivated by other than pure principle. We must all, young and old, statesman and citizen, renounce what is unprincipled and apply the true principles of human life to society.

Take all countries as brothers and establish virtue. Establish a model for all under heaven. Our reforms cannot be one-sided political changes. We cannot represent parties and factions, and sects and divisions can no longer exist. All countries are our brothers, all men and beasts are in the end born of the same womb. Now it becomes ever more clear that, "No man is an island unto himself." Once we have done the basic work, we may begin to remodel our own lives as models of principle and reason for all to emulate.

This is called mercifully representing heaven in widely transforming. Heaven is impartial, yet favors life. We must act on the behalf of heaven and spread the principles of kindness and compassion in the world.

With loyalty and filial piety, for the sake of the country, teach the people. Loyalty and filial piety are basic and fundamental virtues of mankind. We must use these teachings of heaven and earth to establish society on a firm foundation.

The task, one no smaller than totally transforming the entire world, seems hopeless to most. It is only in this way, however, that we can turn back and avert the calamities, which await us, calamities which, like flowers in a mirror, like the moon in water, have no real substance but are only appearances. We must avert the inevitable disasters even though we know them to be unreal, simply because everyone takes appearances as reality. Knowing the difficulty and the seeming contradiction, we nonetheless must go forward, and the illusory "I" must stop the illusory "disaster".

This is the theme of this book and the heart of the Great Vehicle.


法界佛教總會 Dharma Realm Buddhist Association© Vajra Bodhi Sea