“Where do I come from?” This is a question most children would ask their parents. But few could provide a true answer. As we grow up, we gradually learn more about our body and the world we live in. We learn about the sun and the moon; we learn about the four seasons; we learn about why there is rain and why there is snow. We learn about how seeds are planted and grains are harvested. We learn about human relations, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, friends and relatives. We learn about mathematics, physics and chemical science. We learn about money, trade, and the internet. But still we cannot give a correct answer to this question, “Where do I come from?”
Few people would study the Great Way of Life, which the ancient Chinese called it “Dao”. Dao is the law of the universe and truth of human life. Dao is about relations: the relation between human beings, the relation between human and its environment, relation between human beings and other living beings including ghosts and spirits. Study of these relations forms the basis of the world’s religions and philosophies which provide answers to life’s questions.
Christianity has the Bible, Islam the Koran and Buddhism many sutras. These classical scriptures all serve the same purpose as to reveal the law of the universe and truth of human life. Their great significance lies in education. They teach people moral values and encourage them to do good instead of evil. They help people to develop fine qualities and become good citizens; they help to save others from sufferings and wrong doings. This is the greatest salvation. To the question “where do human beings come from?” Different religions provide their versions of comprehension. Christians say, God created the world and human beings; Muslims say, Allah created the world and human beings. “If God has created everything, who has created God?” could we ask?
The world has many famous philosophers and great thinkers, either idealistic or materialistic. Some say that the world starts with idealistic thinking, others say that the world comes from materialistic existence. They have different arguments about the truth of the world, describing either the palm or back of the hand, like the blind men and the elephant.
Religions and philosophies come from exploration of the universe and human life. Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Sakyamuni or Lao Tsu were sages who came to this world all about 2500 years ago. Although Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism each has their different doctrines, they all tell the truth of the universe and human life. These sages have come to this world for the same purpose, to awaken people by way of education. All religions are equal. They might look different, like fingers of different length; but they are of equal importance and connect to the same palm. They are like brothers and sisters in one big family.
According to Buddhism, material existence is rooted in the mind and our mind is reflected also by material existence. Buddhist belief is both idealistic and materialistic. Give an example. When we want to build a house, it first comes from an idea, then we draw a plan: scratches, drawings, diagrams, calculations and preparation of materials: wooden pieces, iron and steel, cement, sand. When a house is built, our idea comes into reality. This is idealism. Without all those materials, we cannot build a house, this is materialism. We cannot tell which one is more important, or which one comes first. A long time ago, a western philosopher wanted to practice Buddhism; he learned about this verse, “form is emptiness”, and he threw away all his belongs and gave up everything, leaving only a mug for drinking. He lived under the sewage. One day when he was using the mug to drink water, he suddenly came to realize that he could also throw away his mug because he could just use his hands together to hold water for drinking. But his practice had gone to another extremity which was not what real Buddhists should practice in a middle way.
Our mind is the accumulation of the images about things, what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and think. When our mind connects with the outside world, it produces an understanding, tells about their differences, shows its likes and dislikes. Thus most people would think that this is the truth of our mind. These are only the six senses of our mind. We also have the seventh and eighth senses. The sixth sense of thinking is rooted in our brain; the seventh sense of transportation is rooted through the pulses from the brain to the heart; the eighth sense of storage is rooted in our heart. If we liken this to a tree. The eighth sense is where seeds are stored; the seventh sense is when the seeds absorb nourishment and start to grow. The tree trunk is the sixth sense; leaves and flowers are the five senses of eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body.
All ancient tribal peoples had some sorts of spiritual or supernatural perspective that even non-human entities possess the spiritual essence. They honored either fire or water, animals or ghosts; and their spiritual beliefs were expressed through artwork. Historically there have been numerous legendary stories of spiritual practice and how people searched for ways of immortality. The Chinese Taoist quest for immortality was one of these practices. Taoist alchemy can be divided into two methods of practice which are waidan or “external alchemy” and neidan or “internal alchemy”. External alchemy is mainly about taking traditional Chinese medicine made of herbal or chemical substances. Internal alchemy uses techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and physical movements to improve the flow of energy within the body.
The Taoist master of Lu Cunyang was said to be a practitioner of great accomplishments. He could turn his body into a bardo, a baby-like spirit that can live for a long time. He traveled about and one day came to the Yellow Dragon Mountain. There was a Buddhist temple there and the abbot was teaching the Dharma to his disciples. He turned himself into a bardo and sat at a corner in the temple hall, listening to the lecture while the audience could not see his appearance. The abbot realized his existence and shouted “you corpse-guarded ghost!” What the abbot meant was that no matter how long you could live with your bardo, you would be destined to die. You could never be immortal with a physical body. When the Taoist master came to realize this, he humbled himself and became a Buddhist practitioner under the abbot at the Yellow Dragon Mountain.
There is a common saying that reading ten thousand books is no better than traveling ten thousand miles. It tells that it’s better for us to learn about this world by walking into the mountains and rivers and see things with our own eyes. This way we can have a better understanding about the truth of the earth. And we shall always open our mind for new ideas. The purpose of education is to gain the right understanding and knowledge of the universe and to equipped ourselves with the right tools and techniques to improve the quality of our life. Learning from classical books is one way. But a better way is through practice, mental or physical. Traveling can have both mental and physical significance; a thousand miles journey starts with a step forward.
Christianity teaches us to love the world and the people. Islam tells us to share. Buddhism gives us compassion and loving-kindness. Taoism tells us not to compete with each other but to tranquility with a simple life. All religions honor doing good for others and harmony for the whole world. We know that the world is one. People of different backgrounds live together, sharing things that this world has to offer. Recently the French government made a law to prevent Muslim women to wear burqa or hijab on their beaches in the wake of a series of terror attacks, and the Chinese government even has law to prohibit religious activities including lectures in schools and universities. This world we live in now has entered the age of “declining dharma”, according to Buddhism, that people have been confused with what is right and what is wrong. All bodhisattvas are in sadness when they are so helpless in this world of declining morality and with such ignorance and arrogance of politicians.
We now live in a world of strong governments and chained citizens. The population of all countries are made into classes of different social status. Each government taxes its people to a level of extremity and form bureaucracies for the benefits of certain groups. In the name of the people, they build a strong force of police. In stead of keeping the society in good order, these police armed with short guns, long guns and even heavy weapons walk about the streets daily, causing fear and anxiety among all neighborhoods. These innocent policemen know nothing about the immorality of their actions; few of them would realize that the moment they are holding guns against people walking down the streets, their own parents, brothers and sisters are treated the same way somewhere on the other end of the streets.
Spiritual beliefs bring about this world more good than bad. Each human being is different in appearance and living conditions, the result of their kharma effects from their past lives. People with wealth and honor have accumulated more merits than people with poverty and disgrace. But as human, each person shall be equal in terms of dignity and right for freedom, and shall be treated equally regardless of their races, colors, and cultural backgrounds. Any kind of discrimination does no good to harmony of human society. When we are open minded, we can see there is me in you and you in me, one is many and many is one, the whole world is but one entity, and every beings or non-beings are all inter-related and depends on each other to survive.
There are many reasons about things in this world but the essence is but one. Every being or non-being has an equal share of the right for existence, and shall be equally respected. As Lao Tsu put it, “The heaven is great, the earth is great, and man is also great. Man follows the law of the earth, the earth follows the law of heaven, and heaven follows the law of the nature.” According to Buddhism, a Bodhisattva has many manifestations; he may take the forms of a king, a lay practitioner, a baby or even a rock to spread the message of the Buddha. But he is a sage like Lao Tsu to save people from miseries. Many people who don’t have a deep understand of Buddhism may regard Bodhisattva as a legendary or fictional figure; but to a Buddhist practitioner, a Bodhisattva can be anyone, like you and me.
Lao Tsu had been a government official for some years before he gave everything up and went into wandering towards the west. He knew he could do nothing against the world declining morality and his give-up attitude showed his disappointment. We did not know if he wanted to become a hermit or was just going west looking for a way to save this world of declining morality. He just disappeared in this world after leaving behind five thousand words about life and nature, about the Great Way and ideal human moralities.
Nowadays, when we walk about country towns in Australia or the United States, we can see more and more deserted churches. Younger generations born with the technology and information age no longer have strong belief in Christianity or other religions, and fewer and fewer people would go to church services on Saturdays or Sundays. And schools only teach our kids about knowledge and how to compete for a better grade; the teaching of moral values and morality of teachers are becoming less important and may soon be completely out of schools. There is less and less trust in human relations. These are clear signs of declining morality and it’s not good for human beings.
In today’s society, people compete with one another for interests, profits and resources. In these pursuits, everyone is busy, making a living, superior or humble, the younger or elder, men and women, all they think every day is how to make more money. They are working for more and better housing, better cars and other material things, with endless worries and afflictions. Everyone wants more, likes to compare with one another in terms of materialism. When they have gained some material wealth, they are scared of losing them, afraid of thieves, fires, floods and other disasters that may take their belongings away. Almost everyone has become a slave of their greed and selfishness. Few people would think of how to benefit others, whether to have a lofty goal in life, how to work hard for the well-being of the general public. Few people know the real meaning of life and uphold positive moral values.
Although trade is very popular but it’s getting more and more difficult, because people have no trust to each other. The seller is scared that he may not be able to receive payment after he sends his goods away; the buyer is also worried that he may not get the goods right after he makes his payment. When trust is broken between traders, friends, and even family members, no only business is hard, life is getting hard too. To build trust is not an easy thing, but to break it, it takes only days or instantly. When our trust is broken, a society shall be in chaos and everyone shall suffer. But not only trust, other moral values like justice are declining as well. That’s why Buddhism has said we are living in an age of declining Dharma.
We all have worries, and the greatest worry of all is that we are scared of death. So every one values his own physical body a lot. Because we have this physical body, we need to eat well, dress well and play well, in order to satisfy its needs, wants and desires. But this body of us is doomed. It deteriorates year after year, day after day, or even minute after minutes. We all know that we are going to die and this body of us is going to collapse, and none can prevent this to happen. With this body, we all live with fears. Knowing about the facts of our own body is the way to awakening.
We are a traveler in this world. We may live for sixty or eight years on this earth. This earth is our hotel. If you are well off, you live in a five-star hotel; and if you are poorer, you live in a one-star hotel. Even though you bought your own house, made your decorations and have lived there for twenty years now, you don’t know when you will be moved out. It’s not your home, it’s only one of hotels in your life journey. Your physical body is also your hotel, the real you live there as a guest, and soon he will leave and continue with his journey.
When we do not have peace in mind, we are at war every day. There are all kinds of wars in this world, war by one country against another, by one nation against another, by one state against another. There are also wars of one family against another, by one clan against another, by one religion against another. There are wars in the same town, the same village, the same family. When we have too many wants and desires, we can also be at war with our inner self. Wars cause breakage of family and loss of lives. War is killing. When we are at war with ourselves, the whole world is at war. And we are doomed to suffer.
Lao Tsu said:”The highest goodness is like water; water benefits all beings and it does not compete”. Water is weak but also the strongest; it humbles itself but has the power to destroy everything. We shall learn after Water and try to obtain its fine qualities. The finest quality of water is found when it is peaceful. Water is the best resource on earth that all living beings rely on. It supports our lives. It has all the simplicity and importance in its simplicity. People of wisdom are those who have obtained awakening. They have peace in mind and at the same time the ability to solve all human conflicts. So the best way to lead people onto the way of awakening is through education.
But some people cannot be educated; and at this age of declining dharma, there is a tendency that more and more people cannot be educated. When they hear of the Great Way and practice towards enlightenment, they just laugh. Jade should be polished to be of good use; although all human has the shining qualities of jade, the polishing process is getting harder. This polishing process is our education. It’s like a tree. When the roots have become rotten, it’s very difficult to revive the trunk and leaves. Today’s governments like to educate its people with strict laws and severe punishments. This has brought about even worse results. When world leaders and politicians think more daily of their own interests or interests of their small group, there will no longer be any good news for general public.
Actually, nothing is good or bad of this world. Once there was a Buddhist traveler who came for shelter under the roof of a butcher’s shop. A customer came and said to the butcher, “give me a kilo of lean meat, no fat”; the butcher cut a loaf of lean meat and the customer was happy with that. Minutes later another customer came and said to the butcher, “I want to buy a kilo of fat meat, not lean”. The butcher cut a loaf of fat meat and the customer was happy with that. Again minutes later, a third customer came and said to the butcher, “I want to buy a kilo with both lean and fat meat”. The butcher did that and the buyer was happy. The butcher said at last, “see here, all my meats are good”. When the Buddhist traveler heard of this, he suddenly realized the truth of the world and attained awakening.
As time goes by, we are further and further away from the Great Way, the law of the universe. This is an age of declining morality and we need to look for ways to save our souls in drowning.