Sunday, May 01, 2005

Changing Destiny: A Commentary on Liaofan’s Four Lessons

Here is a very interesting work to those interested in Buddhism; I was recently given a paper copy of it in a local Vietnamese Pure Land/Zen Buddhist temple.

That text, states explictly that no money is to be charged for the selling of the book.

One phrase from that book leaps out:

Utmost sincerity can split a stone of diamond, can evoke a response from Heaven, and can change destiny." Consider the well-known account of what happened to the famous General Guang Lee who lived during the Han Dynasty. One time he and his soldiers were on a march. On one side of the road, the grass was very long. There was a large stone partially hidden in the grass and he mistakenly thought it was a tiger. He immediately shot an arrow and it went deep into its target.

After getting off his horse and going to survey his marksmanship, he was amazed to see that it was a stone! He thought, "I must be very strong to have shot an arrow so deep into a stone!" He tried again and again, but failed to repeat his accomplishment. From this, we can see that the first shot resulted from the utmost sincerity of having no wandering thoughts.

Similarly, when Great Master Kumarajiva was about seven years old, he lifted up a great iron bowl without so much as a thought. But then he thought, "I am so small. How could I have lifted it?" He tried to do so again, but failed. General Guang Lee had mistaken the stone for a tiger and was able to shoot an arrow into it. Master Kumarajiva thought nothing of the weight of a great iron bowl and was able to lift it. Once General Guang Lee realized that the tiger was actually a stone and Master Kumarajiva realized that the iron bowl was extraordinarily heavy, they were unable to repeat their previous accomplishments. Both initially acted from the mind of sincerity that had no wandering thoughts. Thus, the stone was split open and the iron bowl was lifted up.

From these two examples, we can confirm what is said in the Flower Adornment Sutra, "there are no hindrances among phenomena or principles." This is achieved when the mind attains a certain degree of purity as we sever our wandering discriminatory thoughts and attachments. If the mind is not pure, then all phenomena present obstacles. But, when the mind is pure, there are no obstacles.

This is another way of saying prajnaparamita- the perfection of wisdom.
This purity of mind, combined with an active practice being aware of one's errors and faults and of actively, mindfully practicing meritorious deeds, is recommended to "change one's destiny."

Liaofan, the subject of the book wrote:

I wrote down my wish to pass the imperial examinations and vowed to complete three thousand meritorious deeds to show my gratitude towards my ancestors, Earth, and Heaven

I think that people who are Western Buddhists too frequently have a bit of post-Christian residue. The idea expounded in this Pure Land/Zen text - of recording instances of deliberately sought after and engaged in meritorious deeds- seems a bit obessive at first, but in reality, is quite a sure fire way to do good and cultivate loving-kindness.

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