Non-attachment, the letting go of our desires, is a central teaching of Buddhism. As long as we crave, we suffer. We need to learn to let go of our desires in order to eliminate suffering that results from craving. The truth is simple to understand, but nowhere near easy to practice. As Venerable Master Hsing Yun points out in this book, it is not just attachment to things, but even to our own views that prevents us from making progress.
"Of all the sickness in the mind", he writes, "none is worse than wrong views". Prejudice, panic, envy and moodiness are contrasted with respect, harmony, broadmindedness, tolerance, and flexibility. By developing right views, the Master says, we can learn to "view all sentiment being with compassion", and practice the "Three Gods" of saying good words, doing good deeds, and thinking good thoughts. By cultivating our speech, our bodies, and our minds, we can begin to rise above our own concerns and reach out to others with compassion and loving kindness.
Through simple acts-asking others "How are you?" or offering something to eat; calling a troubled friend to offer encouragement; listening to the problems of other-we can let go of our attachments, of our greed and ignorance, and move on into lives of contentment and ease.
Since the inauguration of the daily paper, the Merit Times in Taiwan on April 1, 2001, I have been writing an article each day for the column "Between Ignorance and Enlightenment." It is now nearly two years and I am still writing.
In the beginning, I was only trying it out, thinking I would finish in a couple of months. However, the response from readers has been very enthusiastic, and I just could not stop writing.
The staff at the Merit Times reported that many people subscribed to the paper because they wanted to read the "Between Ignorance and Enlightenment" column. Some readers also indicated that after reading the column, their interests and skills in writing had improved. They were even able to gain acceptance to a university with their polished writing skills. Other readers made scrapbooks of the articles and used them as bedtime reading.
In addition, after reading the column some people who previously had numerous unwholesome habits have changed for the better. For instance, they have quit smoking, drinking, and gambling. There were also cases where family members had problems getting along with each other and they were inspired by the articles to improve their relationships. Thus, their families have become harmonious and joyful, filled with laughter and warmth. Some students wrote reports based on the articles and obtained high grades and commendation from their teachers.
These responses from different walks of life greatly reinforced my sense of duty in writing for the column. Because of this mission, I am motivated to write each and every day. Regardless of how busy my schedule in propagating Dharma and in other ways may be, I can always find time during the day to make connections with the readers through my writing.
The English section of the American edition of the Merit Times is also publishing the articles translated by Hsi Lai Temple. Many study groups organized by members of the Buddha's Light International Association are using the articles for their discussions. Numerous readers have since called for a collective publication of these articles, and so I have tried to fulfill their earnest requests.
The meaning of "Between Ignorance and Enlightenment" is actually reflected in our everyday life where there are inevitably many situations involving both "ignorance" and "enlightenment." Sometimes, those directly affected are deluded, while those around them may see through the situation very clearly. Therefore, a few appropriate words will be of much help in pointing the way to a breakthrough, providing food for thought at the right time.
In reality, the gap between ignorance and enlightenment lie in just a thought! A thought of ignorance may cause sorrow and pain, while an inspiration of enlightenment can bring out the sun of wisdom. Just as Buddhist sutras indicate, "Troubles are bodhi, and bodhi is trouble!" The sourness of pineapples and grapes can be turned into sweetness with sunshine and warm breezes. Therefore, by being able to reflect and contemplate on the sourness of our ignorance, we can taste the sweetness of enlightenment right here and now.
This short publication is the fifth in a projected series of at least ten volumes. Through "Between Ignorance and Enlightenment," I wish to share and to grow with all my readers!
In my recent book (Humanistic Buddhism for Social Well-being. An Overview of Grand Master Hsing Yun's Interpretation in Theory and Practice, Los Angeles, Buddha's Light Publishing, 2003), I have the following assessment of the Venerable Grand Master's original and innovative strategy as a teacher of Buddhism and Buddhist activist:
Grand Master Hsing Yun developed his strategy around learning and scholarship, research and contemplation, systematic planning and deliberate but cautious activism. He was a visionary with his head above the clouds but his feet secured firmly on the ground. He chose to appeal to the intellect of the people rather than to their emotions. H¢ acquired knowledge for himself but readily shared it with others using every available opportunity and modality. He taught; he wrote; he spoke; and he broadcast. In every way he captured the attention of his audience, whether in a modest classroom or in a radio talk reaching thousands or in millions of households where people switched on their televisions to his transmissions on Humanistic Buddhism.
In all his communications Grand Master Hsing Yun has been self-searching. He reviews his life experiences to illustrate how Humanistic Buddhism affected his thinking and actions. He draws lessons from things that happened to him and to others. He finds inspiration from whatever source where humanity has risen above pettiness and disharmony to kindness, compassion, and peaceful coexistence. He distills his brand of Buddhism in action through his concern for the well-being of every man, woman, and child throughout the world.
Grand Master Hsing Yun's intellectual commitment has no boundaries. He has a message for the scholar and the activist; the passive contemplator and the aggressive agitator; the self-effacing monastic and the most worldly seeker of pleasure. This unique universality of intellectual approach, thus, gives him pride of place within his own religious order. Millions of adherents to his teachings on all continents of the world look to his guidance. He is their acknowledged leader, mentor, guide, and friend. The power of his message and the universality of intellectual approach has earned him respect and influence far beyond the reaches of Buddhist traditions. No Buddhist leader of modern times has risen to such heights of popular acceptance solely by dint of his own personal effort and achievements.
As already elaborated in the two prefaces to volumes three and four of this series of his mini-discourses from the daily column in Merit Times, this volume, too, illustrates the depth and breadth of the Grand Master's erudition, the versatility of his pedagogical skills, and the mastery he has of the issues which affect human life on diverse fronts. The topicality, the timeliness, and the intrinsic relevance of his analysis, diagnosis, and solution are beyond question. Once again, it is with grateful admiration that I read each mini-discourse avidly. It is with the same enthusiasm that I call upon readers to share in a rare and certainly unique intellectual treat.
This volume, too, contains eighty essays, each a little over a page, bringing the total in the series Between Ignorance and Enlightenment to four hundred most insightful examples of the lofty thinking, con- firmed convictions and entertaining presentations of the Venerable Grand Master. Once again, he excels as a storyteller who delves deep into human experience recorded in diverse form and enriches his prescriptions with laudable common sense. He endorses heartily family education, forgiveness, domestic and racial harmony, gratitude, a calm mind, even temperament, empathy, courtesy, fairness, a clear and rational mind, excellence, contentment, tolerance, fearlessness, human connections, open-mindedness, caring, humility, broad-mindedness, generosity, viewing all beings with compassion, getting along with others, flexibility, correction of mistakes, looking for shortcomings, holding no fixed views, giving up prejudice, seeking order in chaos, being mindful of others, love and respect, discovering problems, giving gifts, dealing with problems, and proceeding hand in hand toward harmony. What an impressive array of ideals to aim at!
With equal concern and enthusiasm, he advocates environmental protection (see "The Value of a Drop of Water"), establishing for one-self a good image, filial piety, speaking in positive and uplifting language, learning respectfully without envy and jealousy, having reason and principles in dealing with the public and issues of morality, understanding and appreciating the hardships of others (especially one's mother), deepening of friendships with mutual understanding based on morals and knowledge, giving up prejudices and looking at people and things without taking standpoints prematurely, and seeking order in what seems to be in chaos. He stands firmly against moodiness, emotional outbursts, stubborn prejudice, indecisiveness, panic, and malice.
He discusses a very Wide range of subjects. He shares his views candidly. In practice he underscores his own precepts. He talks of war and peace from the Buddhist perspective. He laments that war is cruel for its destructive power and it destroys individuals, families, and countries. "We all hope and pray for peace," he says. But he is realistic and recognizes that war is a cruel reality that is difficult to avoid and the history of the world is a history of war. He even condones war as the only strategy sometimes to stop a war. But the Venerable Grand Master's unequivocal prescription is for peace as the manifestation of the positive and bright side of human nature. He contrasts Asoka the conquering warrior of his early days with Asoka the Buddhist pacifist:
Wherever Asoka went all he could see was hatred in the eyes of the conquered citizens who lined up to receive him... When he became a Buddhist later, he governed the kingdom with Buddhist teachings... So, when King Asoka traveled around his empire again, his subjects lined the roads and cheered him wholeheartedly.
His concluding exhortation is direct and cogent: "It is only through selflessness that we can conquer selfish desires so as to achieve a free, democratic, and peaceful world for all."
My favorites in this volume are the touching stories of a mother's unfathomable sacrifice ("A Story of Leftovers"), the beauty of being childlike throughout life ("The Heart of a Child"), the importance of even the smallest component in society ("Dust and the World") and the sound of the crow. This raconteur par excellence has so much wit and humor to season his most serious discourses on matters of utmost concern to humanity.
Hence do I ask for more and express my deep gratitude to the translators, Venerable Miao Hsi and Cherry Lai.
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