The Strength of
By the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Of people who are born into this world, some have come to repay their debts. Some have come to contract debts. Some have come to cultivate the Way. Some have come to create karma. Some have come for fame. Some have come for profit. Some have come for food. Some have come for sex. They themselves do not know the cause and effect of their past existences nor how to cut off delusions and put a stop to the flow.
Moreover, they do not wish to understand the good or evil karmic conditions of their past lives, to change their faults and turn over a new leaf. Instead they discharge their responsibilities in a perfunctory manner, and act in reckless ways.
Even for people endowed with wisdom – who wish to know their past lives and to perpetuate supreme causes – this is not easy. Nor is it easy for them to suddenly arrive at an understanding, remain forever unchanging, and endure suffering and toil. Why is this? It is because ignorance is hard to break through, and obstructions pile up layer upon layer. The outflows of existence are hard to plug up, and doubts billow like thick clouds.
Those who truly wish to understand must seek within themselves when things don’t go their way. They shouldn’t gripe to heaven or blame other people. Instead they should subdue themselves and return to propriety. They should not contend, not be greedy, not seek, not be selfish, and not seek for self-benefit. In encountering any state – even adverse conditions – they should take things in stride. Toward all people they should be friendly and humble. They should endure what others cannot endure, yield what others cannot yield, eat what others cannot eat, and accept what others cannot accept.
Moreover, you should surely know that most worldly people repay virtuous deeds with enmity. But they are the very ones who help us perfect the strength of our patience. Whenever oppressions and difficulties pile up to the point that others slander us, know that those are good knowing advisors come to aid us in increasing our virtue and cultivating the Way.
A verse says,
Face to face with adverse conditions, accept them graciously – this is Paramita.
Devadatta is just the good knowing advisor who comes to aid us.
Kindness and animosity from past lives, we ought to repay.
Grievances and feuds from distance kalpas are now being cleared up.
Acknowledge your accounts and debts; do not delay repayment.
Establish merit and atone for your offenses – do not pass your life in vain.
Clearly understand good and evil; be careful about cause and effect.
The deep abyss and thin ice – how can one easily escape them?
What are adverse conditions? They are anything that you don’t like to have happen to you; things that go against you. If there are things that you like, then they’re not considered adverse conditions. But the things that you don’t like, or the situations that go against your grain, are called adverse.
For example, there may be things you don’t like to hear but people will say exactly those things to you. There may be things you don’t like to eat, but they’ll give you that very food. There may be things you absolutely can’t bear, but you have to bear them.
Face to face with adverse conditions, accept them graciously. This means accepting them harmoniously in an according manner.
For example, if someone scolds you, you should think, “Oh, this person is singing a song for me. And I should gladly listen to this song.” What’s so bad about getting a scolding? Just accept it graciously and happily. From this you can cultivate the strength of your patience.
Adverse conditions create heroes. Situations can be either favorable or adverse. But if things go against you, they are the very things that increase your resolution and your will power, so you will bring forth the determination to be a true person. That’s the meaning behind “adverse conditions create heroes.” When you cultivate, you shouldn’t be greedy for people to make offerings to you, thinking, “Oh, if people would give me food and clothes, that’d be very good. That’s a pretty meaningless attitude.
Rather you should think, “There’s nobody making offerings to me, and I should be happy about that. If I don’t have food to eat, I’ll just go on a fast, I’ll just fortify my body so that I’m not turned by either the cold or heat. I can bear it. And if I don’t have a place to stay, I can live under a tree.” You should train yourself that way.
You shouldn’t be greedy for other people to make offerings to you. You shouldn’t be greedy for people to give you things, or get happy if you get some little thing from them. If you don’t have Way-virtue, and you accept offerings from other people, it’s not easy to digest them. So it says, “If you’re not done with the three minds, it’s hard to digest even water.” The three minds are the mind of the past, the mind of the present, and the mind of the future. If you always have those three minds and strike up a lot of false thinking, then even if you were to drink just one swallow of water offered by people, you couldn’t digest it. So it says,
“A single grain of rice from the donor is as heavy as Mt. Sumeru.
If, having eaten it, one doesn’t cultivate the Way,
One will have to repay it with a coat of fur and horns.”
“A single grain of rice from the donor is as heavy as Mt. Sumeru. If, having eaten it, one doesn’t cultivate the Way,” then in the future you will be reborn as a cow or a horse to pay back your debts. Or you’ll be a chicken and lay eggs. When a chicken lays eggs it sounds, on the one hand, like she becomes very honest and repents and reforms. But there is another way her cackle can be interpreted, too.
She says, “Kuo Ta!” Kuo Ta! can mean, “my offenses are too big.” She’s saying, “my offenses are too big!” When the hen lays eggs, that’s what she says, “Kuo Ta, Kuo Ta! My offenses are really big!” That’s how it sounds on the one hand, that she’s admitting that her offenses are great. But does she really understand? No. She’s not really admitting that her offenses are great. Actually she’s saying, “The eggs that I lay, are larger than everybody else. “Kuo Ta – oversized. My eggs are really big! “ So she’s still telling a lie She says, “Kuo Ta! Kuo Ta! Kuo Ta! – really big, really big, super big!” But you should know that when a chicken lays eggs, she’s paying back for the offerings she received from other people in the past.
To “cultivate the strength of your patience,” means you train yourself to take things that go against you. You fortify your strength of patience to the point that you can endure what you cannot endure. So the essay says,
“OF PEOPLE WHO ARE BORN INTO THIS WORLD, SOME HAVE COME TO REPAY THEIR DEBTS.”
This means in the past they overspent; they overdrew from their accounts. As a result they have to come to this world to pay back their debts. All of us have come to this world to repay our debts.
What debts? If you are somebody’s son, you are repaying debts by being a son. If you are somebody’s father, you are repaying debts by being a father. If you are someone’s husband, you are repaying debts of being a husband. If you are someone’s wife, you are repaying debts by being a wife. And if you are my disciple, you are repaying debts by being a disciple. But if you don’t want to repay that debt, it’s okay.
Then, SOME HAVE COME TO CONTRACT DEBTS. They want to take out some more loans. So, what do they do? They are always trying to get off cheap. Always mooching off from the other person. They will never take a loss. People who are not willing to take a loss are here to contract more debts. Then, SOME HAVE COME TO CREATE KARMA. There are people who come to this world to kill, to commit arson, and steal. All that creates karma.
I’m just speaking in a very generalized way, but if you analyze this in depth, you can see that the variations are many. So many people have come to create offense karma.
Moreover, SOME HAVE COME FOR FAME. All day long they want to be number one, they are trying to buy a name and fish for a reputation. They want a false name. SOME HAVE COME FOR PROFIT. Some people have come into this world just to strike it rich. They just want to make money. They don’t know about anything else. You tell them about something else and they say, “I don’t care about that. Just as long as I have money, that’s fine.” For money they’d do anything. Once the rooster crows and they get out of bed, the only thing they have in their mind is to rake in the dollar bills.
SOME HAVE COME FOR FOOD. They say, “If a person lives for his entire life and doesn’t eat, he’s really an idiot. I’ve got to eat delicious food, fragrant food, every day!” If the food they eat is delicious, then they won’t want anything else. Just take a look at the way pigs eat soybeans. If you feed them soybeans they just shove their noses right into the soybeans, flapping their ears up and down. In the past, I’ve fed pigs and I know the way they eat. The way chicken eat is that they peck at their food non-stop, to the point that they just plainly forget everything else.
SOME HAVE COME FOR SEX. They think that the pleasure between men and women is the greatest pleasure, that there’s nothing higher. If they can’t enjoy that pleasure, they feel they might as well die. THEY THEMSELVES DO NOT KNOW THE CAUSE AND EFFECT OF THEIR PAST EXISTENCE, NOR HOW TO CUT OFF DELUSIONS AND PUT A STOP TO THE FLOW – the flow of birth and death. They aren’t willing to cut that off.
MOREOVER, THEY DO NOT WISH TO UNDERSTAND THE GOOD AND EVIL KARMIC CONDITIONS OF THEIR PAST LIVES – that is, what karma they created, and what results they reaped. For instance, a good act will reap a good result, and an evil act will reap evil result. But these people do not wish to know those things. They just go about life in a very muddled way. They don’t want to change their faults and turn over a new leaf. They won’t say, “The reason why I’m going through so much suffering now is because in the past I didn’t cultivate. So I’ll change my faults and really cultivate well.” They won’t do that. INSTEAD THEY DISCHARGE THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES IN A PERFUNCTORY MANNER, AND ACT IN RECKLESS WAYS They say, “Oh, we’ll just let another day pass. Let’s just muddle through it.” They’re really sloppy.
EVEN FOR PEOPLE ENDOWED WITH WISDOM – WHO WISH TO KNOW THEIR PAST LIVES…people with some wisdom may want to know about their former lives. They may find out that in their last life they were a dog, because in the past they always liked to fight with people; they like to bite people. If they are wise people, they may want to know their past lives, AND TO PERPETUATE SUPREME CAUSES. Say in the past they planted supreme causes and so in this life they want to perpetuate those causes. But, THIS IS NOT EASY. NOR IS IT EASY FOR THEM TO SUDDENLY ARRIVE AT AN UNDERSTANDING – to suddenly understand their past lives – or to REMAIN FOREVER UNCHANGING.
That is, they may think, “No matter whether I get a response or not, I’m still going to cultivate. I’m going to be forever unchanging.” But it’s not easy for them TO ENDURE SUFFERING AND TOIL. Most people would say,” I’ve already taken too much of a loss.” They don’t wish to endure suffering. WHY IS THIS? IT IS BECAUSE IGNORANCE IS HARD TO BREAK THROUGH. Ignorance is very hard to smash, AND OBSTRUCTIONS PILE UP LAYER UPON LAYER.
There are many obstructions that impede your cultivation. THE OUTFLOWS OF EXISTENCE ARE HARD TO PLUG UP; it’s like a bottle that’s constantly leaking. You fill the bottle up, and then the water leaks out on the other side. AND DOUBTS BILLOW LIKE THICK CLOUDS. You talk to people about the Buddhadharma, and they start having doubts. They say, “Is it really that way?” Their doubt is as thick as clouds. You talk to them about the truth, and they don’t want to believe. So just now somebody said they doubted whether Way virtue was true or not, and that’s a real pity.
THOSE WHO TRULY WISH TO UNDERSTAND, MUST SEEK WITHIN THEMSELVES WHEN THINGS DON’T GO THEIR WAY. When things are going the wrong way, for example, when people are not treating you well, you should “return the light and illumine within.” Always return the light. “Seek within yourselves.” This means to find your own faults; not to blame others. THEY SHOULDN’T GRIPE TO HEAVEN OR BLAME OTHER PEOPLE. They shouldn’t say, “heaven is unfair, people are unjust. Why is it that I’m so poor and he’s so rich?” INSTEAD THEY SHOULD SUBDUE THEMSELVES AND RETURN TO PROPRIETY. This means they have to restrain their selfish desires and always comply with proper principle
THEY SHOULD NOT CONTEND, NOT BE GREEDY, NOT SEEK, NOT BE SELFISH, AND NOT SEEK FOR SELF-BENEFIT. IN ENCOUNTERING ANY STATE – EVEN ADVERSE CONDITIONS – THEY SHOULD TAKE THINGS IN STRIDE. TOWARD ALL PEOPLE THEY SHOULD BE FRIENDLY AND HUMBLE. Being friendly doesn’t mean that one fawns on people, trying to pat the horse’s behind, so to speak, like when one sees rich people come, one makes bows and drools over them, fawning on them in a very disgusting manner. But when one sees poor people come, one won’t even look at them. One won’t play the least bit of attention to them. That’s not the way to be.
THEY SHOULD ENDURE WHAT OTHERS CANNOT ENDURE, YIELD WHAT OTHERS CANNOT YIELD, EAT WHAT OTHERS CANNOT EAT, ACCEPT WHAT OTHERS CANNOT ACCEPT. MOREOVER, YOU SHOULD SURELY KNOW THAT MOST WORLDLY PEOPLE REPAY VIRTUOUS DEEDS WITH ENMITY. Worldly people are common people and the better you are to them, the more animosity they feel towards you. So they repay kindness with enmity. Now, why do they do that? This is just an example of the stupid conduct of people. That’s how they are when they’re stupid. The kinder you are to them, the more they will repay your kindness with resentment. But although it is that way, we still have to be kind to people.
We should still behave virtuously towards people. So you just let them be. It’s said that you have to address yourself to the Way on one side, but that principle can be discussed from two sides. That means, everyone has his or her reasons behind what he or she does. When you cultivate you have to focus your attention on one thing -- make sure that you yourself are doing the correct things. But you don’t’ have to pay attention to whether other people are doing correct things or not. It suffices that you yourself do the right things. Whether other people are good to you or not doesn’t matter, for these people who repay virtue with enmity. ARE THE VERY ONES WHO HELP US PREFECT THE STRENGTH OF OUR PATIENCE.
If you are good to people, you shouldn’t seek a reward from them. So, when you bestow kindness, you don’t ask for recompense. And after you’ve given something to other people, you don’t regret it. If you are kind to people, you don’t want them to pay you back. Why is that? You should say, “It’s because I’m representing the Sages. I’m representing heaven and earth to maintain true principle.” Do things that benefit people. You don’t’ have to make other people benefit you. “I want to help others; I don’t need other people to help me.” If you want other people to help you, then you are a spineless person. Only people who don’t have resolve will keep on asking others to help them. They drag their feet in the mud, so to speak, and are very unenergetic. They just can’t get their energy up.
It’s said you should have a firm will. Adverse conditions make for great people. When people are not good to you, it’s because they’re testing to see whether you are true. If you are true, and are not seeking for any reward, what does it matter if they are good to you or not? So you better not believe principles I tell you. Because once you believe them, you will always be taking a loss.
WHENEVER OPPRESSIONS AND DIFFICULTIES PILE UP. That means when people are really piling it on thick, such as being very discourteous to you, TO THE POINT THAT OTHERS SLANDER US – you should KNOW THAT THOSE ARE GOOD KNOWING ADVISORS COME TO AID US IN INCREASING OUR VIRTUE AND CULTIVATING THE WAY. They are helping you foster your blessings and wisdom and accomplish your Way-virtue. They are actually helping you out.
I always say to you there are many people who scold me, and slander me. Most people who scold me are left-home people. I’m telling you the truth. Some people say, “I haven’t seen left-home persons scold you!” Well, how many left-home people have you seen? Actually, there are many lay-people who slander me, as well. So there’s a saying that goes,
“If you do not attract jealousy,
Then you are somebody with very ordinary talents.”
But we should investigate, “Why are people scolding me?” It’s because they’re afraid their Dharma Protectors will believe me and that they won’t have anything to eat. They think if they scold me, then their Dharma Protectors will protect their Dharma, and then they will have food to eat, is that not saving a person’s life? Isn’t that good? So, because they scold me, they obtain benefits, that’s very good! In Buddhism, we talk about compassion. So this is okay; I’m helping them.
What follows is a verse and I call it a gatha or a verse. It’s not a poem. The words don’t have to rhyme, and it doesn’t have to adhere to a fixed meter. I’m just very casually speaking eight lines as a gatha which has a much looser structure.
FACE TO FACE WITH ADVERSE CONDITIONS, ACCEPT THEM GRACIOUSLY – THIS IS PARAMITA.
This is a method of crossing to the other shore.
DEVADATTA IS JUST THE GOOD KNOWING ADVISOR WHO COMES TO AID US.
Shakyamuni Buddha himself said. “Devadatta is the very one who helped me realize Buddhahood.” Devadatta was willing to fall into the hells himself, so as to help the Buddha realize Buddhahood.
KINDNESS AND ANIMOISTY FROM PAST LIVES, WE OUGHT TO REPAY.
Whether people are kind to you or unkind to you, that’s all because of conditions from past lives. Now you have to pay them back; clear your accounts. So if somebody says, “ I don’t believe in past lives,” well, do you believe there was a yesterday? “Yes, I do.” Well, do you believe there was a last year? “Yes, I do.” Well, if you believe that, that’s just past lives. Say, last year you killed a person and this year, somebody else kills you. You kill someone’s father; somebody will kill your father. If you kill someone’s brother, somebody will kill your brother. If you scold people, then people will scold you back. If you kick somebody with your foot, then another person will slap your face. That’s called repaying in kind. You say you don’t believe in past lives, but if I hit you now, does it hurt? Well if it hurts, that’s also retribution. Then it says,
GRIEVANCES AND FEUDS FROM DISTANT KALPAS ARE NOW BEING CLEARED UP.
Past feuds and grudges are being cleared up.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR ACCOUNTS AND DEBTS; DO NOT DELAY REPAYMENT.
People are too concerned about progress. But can it end birth and death? If you can progress to the point that you don’t’ have to die, that’s real progress. “Well,” somebody says, “I don’t believe in the principle you are talking about.” I didn’t ask you to believe in something that a stupid person like me says.
ESTABLISH MERIT AND ATONE FOR YOUR OFFENSES – DO NOT PASS YOUR LIFE IN VAIN.
So, own up to your debts – pay them back. Don’t drag them on. Don’t seek foreign aid, so that you accumulate more debts. Instead you should establish merit to redeem the offenses you created in the past. Don’t pass your life in vain.
CLEARLY UNDERSTAND GOOD AND EVIL; BE CAREFUL ABOUT CAUSE AND EFFECT.
You should understand that if you do good, you’ll get a good reward, and if you do evil, you’ll get an evil retribution. Such is the cause and such is the effect.
THE DEEP ABYSS AND THIN ICE—
HOW CAN ONE EASILY ESCAPE THEM?
It’s as if you were approaching a deep abyss or treading on thin ice. It’s very difficult to get out of cause and effect. You have to be very careful. Now someone is saying, “Dharma Master, what you said today, I just can’t believe – not a single sentence!” Then, I haven’t uttered a single sentence.