THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

The Record of Water Mirror Turning Back Heaven:
By Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

From the 1999 issues of Vajra Bodhi Sea
Translated by the International Translation Institute

Zheng De: A Paragon of Filial Piety

 

Text:  

There was a boy named De ("Virtue"), son of the Zheng family who lived at Wuchang County in the eastern part of Jilin Province. He had an innate understanding of how to be filial to his parents. He would inquire about their well-being in the morning and evening with utmost reverence. He would never taste any food or drink himself until he had first offered them up to his father and mother.

Commentary:  

I have spoken to you before about Zheng De. He was truly an excellent child, and so he was my favorite. He had a squarish face. His eyes, eyebrows, and all his other features were extremely fine. He had the appearance of a very blessed person. He lived in Shuangcheng County of Jilin Province, a son of the Zheng family. His father's surname was Zheng, and his name was De-Zheng De.

By the time he was five, he had an innate understanding of how to be filial to his parents. No one had to teach him this. He decided to be that way on his own. It was in his disposition to be very good to his father and mother. At night when his parents retired, he would see them to bed. In the morning, he would also go to check on them. He would make sure that they were warm in winter and cool in the summer. In wintertime, he would crawl under his parents' blankets to warm them up. In the summertime, he would chase out the mosquitoes in his parents' room before they went in. In the morning and evening upon greeting his parents, he would make a full bow to his father and a full bow to his mother. And he didn't bow casually or hastily, as if he were embarrassed to do it and wanted to get it over with. He did it with the utmost reverence. He was absolutely respectful. Whenever there was any food or drink, he would first let his father and mother eat, and after they had eaten, he himself would eat.

Take a look at this child. Without being taught, when he was only five he understood how to be respectful to his parents. When I met him, he was shelling sunflower seeds. He would give one seed to his father and then one to his mother. That was how he acted when I was there. It was very spontaneous, not at all artificial. He acted as if that was what he did everyday, making his father and mother happy as could be.

Text:  

By and by the virtue of his filial piety became known, and people near and far admired his conduct. Many heterodox teachers and exponents of deviant sects came to call at his house, wishing to recruit the boy into their camp so they could exploit him for their own advantage. Each of those teachers revealed his "indestructible three-inch-long tongue" and spouted forth glib and crafty talk that flowed like a waterfall. But their wild ravings failed to inspire faith in the pure youth's mind. And although their theories were as incessant and profuse as the waves of the Yangtze River, nonetheless, they could not move the sincere resolve of that young boy.

Commentary:  

By and by the virtue of his filial piety became known. Because he was so filial, his virtuous reputation spread afar and everyone exclaimed what a filial son he was. Soon many people knew about Filial Son Zheng. And people near and far admired his conduct. Far and near, people were amazed by the way he acted. "This five-year-old boy already understands how to be filial to his parents! Remarkable!"

Many heterodox teachers and exponents of deviant sects came to call at his house. There are many heterodox teachers in Manchuria, and the doctrines they propound are very strange. They are hucksters selling the position of emperor or president, or other sorts of good things. They say, "If you give me fifty dollars, you will definitely become the emperor in the future." "You will be an emperor in your next life." They don't say it will happen in this life, because they have no way to make it happen. They promise you will be an emperor in your next life, provided you pay fifty dollars. Some superstitious people actually give them fifty dollars and then wait to become emperors in their next lives. Other teachers say, "Give me ten thousand dollars, and you'll definitely become the President in your next life. When your children grow up, they will definitely be elected as presidents as well." And rich people will give them ten thousand dollars.

Some say, "I have such and such a marvel. I have a food-finding jewel. What is a food-finding jewel? When there is a world famine and no one has food to eat, simply put this jewel in your mouth, and you can go for days without eating and not starve. You'll be able to make it through the famine." But how much does it cost? It's not too expensive, just thirty dollars, and then you will never starve. Whether or not you have food to eat, you won't starve. Teachers of outside ways specialize in selling such things.

There are also vendors of door plaques. When you nail such a plaque on your door, the military will not come to bother you. It will keep your family safe. There is also a password. They say, "This password is not being used yet. In the future there will be a military division, and their password will be such and such. If you buy it now, you will have it when the time comes, and then they won't bother you." That's what heterodox and deviant teachers talk about.

When they meet women, they might say, "Do you know how Wu Zetian got to be the Empress? It was because she bought this marvel. She paid such and such an amount for it, and then she got to be the Empress."

This one came and that one came to see Zheng De, all wishing to recruit the boy into their camp, so they could exploit him for their own advantage. They thought that if they could convert this filial son to their own religion, it would raise their own reputation. They could then say, "Even Filial Son Zheng has taken refuge with our sect. He is a disciple of ours." Their fame would grow and they would be able to exploit the situation.

You American young people have no conception of the problems in those religions; you don't have any experience with this. At present you cannot distinguish heterodox teachings from the right path; you cannot distinguish Buddhas from immortals from other entities. You have no idea. And so when you went to that place to meditate, before meditating they told you to make a half bow and you got confused as to what was what.

Each of those teachers revealed his "indestructible three-inch-long tongue." Every one of those deviant teachers was a skilled talker. Their tongues were three inches long, from the root to the tip. Their tongues are said to be indestructible, but they certainly rotted after they died. Their tongues didn't rot when they were still alive. The word "rot" sounds like the word "reckless" in Chinese. Basically one should not speak recklessly, and then one's tongue will not rot. But when people die, their tongues rot all the same. The only exception was Dharma Master Kumarajiva.

And these teachers spouted forth glib and crafty talk that flowed like a waterfall. Their doctrines were not correct. What they spouted was pure nonsense. The analogy of a waterfall implies that their talk went on and on without end, like the continuous downward flow of water in a waterfall. They craftily fabricated reasons where there were none, and they were not honest and straightforward. They beat around the bush and were slippery in their arguments.

But their wild ravings failed to inspire faith in the pure youth's mind. The boy did not believe in their nonsense. They could not convince him to have faith and join their sects. They had no way with him.

And although their theories were as incessant and profuse as the waves of the Yangtze River, nonetheless, they could not move the sincere resolve of that young boy. The waves of the Yangtze River follow one upon the other, and their talk was the same way. But after they finished saying what they had to say, the boy would ask them something that would render them speechless. For example, if the teacher said, "If you join my sect, you can become a king in the future," the boy would say, "I am filial to my parents right now. Why would I want to be a king? What use would that be?" The teacher would have nothing to say. Rendered speechless, he would come up with another idea. One wave had passed and one theory had been discussed, and then he would find another theory. Such a dialogue resembled waves following one after the other. When he ran out of principles, he would find yet another principle to talk about. That's called "talking in waves." You don't understand? Of course you don't! I made up this term myself.

Since you've never heard it before, you don't know what I'm talking about. With all those theories, they were unable to sway the boy's sincere resolve. Now do you think there's anything you could have said?

Text:  

Of these teachers, some would claim, "My path is number one. In the future the ten thousand teachings will all return to this one path, and all people will become my disciples. If you enter my path now, in the future you will be the elder disciple."

To this Zheng De would reply, "Since I am still young, first I have to fulfill my filial duties and bring joy to my parents. When I grow older, I shall select a wholesome path and pursue it."

Commentary:  

Of these teachers of outside ways, some would claim, "My path is number one. All other paths fall into second place. In what way is it number one? In the future the ten thousand teachings will all return to this one path of mine, and all people will become my disciples. If you enter my path now, in the future you will be the elder disciple."

To this Zheng De would reply, "Since I am still young, first I have to fulfill my filial duties and bring joy to my parents. When I grow older, I shall select a wholesome path and pursue it."

Text:  

Another teacher would say, "My path is the greatest. The patriarchs of the Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist religions are my sons and grandsons. You should now recognize your master and return to your clan. That way you will be the most filial descendant of the Buddha."

To this De would reply, "My thinking is still naive and immature, and I am not yet qualified to walk the Great Way. This is like studying. A person would certainly have to attend elementary school before going to a university."

Commentary:  

He would turn around, and another teacher would say, "I have come to find you. My path is the greatest in the world. The patriarchs of the Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist religions are my sons and grandsons. The Protestant and Catholic religions are very small, as are the teachings of Confucius. Shakyamuni Buddha is not great either. The Taoist philosopher, Laozi, is also very small. The patriarchs of these religions are my sons and grandsons." He claims to be the father. "You should now recognize your master, your true lord, who is the lord of heaven, earth, people, and everything else, and return to your clan. You should rely upon my doctrine. That way you will be the most filial descendant of the Buddha. That is the greatest filial piety. Being filial to your parents is a small matter. You ought to join my religion and be a filial son in the Buddha's family."

That teacher claimed that his path was the greatest, that there was no greater path in the world. To this Zheng De would reply, "I am still young. My thinking is still naive and immature, and I am not yet qualified to walk the Great Way. The Great Way is too great, and I am not ready to learn it. I can only study a small path. Let me give you an analogy. This is like studying. A person would certainly have to attend elementary school before going to a university. No one would go straight to college without first attending elementary and secondary schools." His argument left the teacher speechless.

Text:  

Another teacher would say, "My path is the most fundamental. It is the mother of the ten thousand teachings. They all return to my path, just as falling leaves all return to the root. This teaching is the original source of all has, and nothing lies outside of this path. You should quickly enter my path."

De would answer, "What I consider fundamental is some­what different from what you, sir, consider fundamental. You Zi said, 'The superior person attends to the root, and when the root is established the Way will come forth. Are not filial piety and fraternal respect the root of humaneness?'"

Commentary:  

Another teacher would say, "You know what? You have very many good roots, and my path is the most fundamental; it is like the roots of a tree. It is the mother of the ten thousand teachings. Regardless of what teachings they are—including outside ways and all the religions that the previous teacher claimed were his sons and grandsons—they all return to my path, just as falling leaves all return to the root. When you enter a path, you have to enter the fundamental path if you want to realize Buddhahood. This teaching is the original source of all Buddhas, and nothing lies outside of this path. You need not seek outside of this teaching for any other religion. You should quickly enter my path and become my disciple."

Zheng De would answer, "What I consider fundamental is somewhat different from what you, sir, consider fundamental. How is it different? I have heard that You Zi said, 'The superior person, one of virtue, attends to the root, to the fundamental principle, and when the root is established the Way will come forth. Are not filial piety and fraternal respect the root of humaneness?' It is every human being's obligation to fulfill his or her filial and fraternal duties."

Text:  

Another teacher would say, "My path is the most efficacious. With the eight hundred great points on the body, you can foretell the future without resorting to divination. There is no event throughout the past, present, and future that you are not aware of. You shouldn't believe in other teachings, but should enter my path. Then you will become a living sage."

De would reply, "I heard that Confucius said, 'To apply oneself to heretical doctrines is injurious indeed.' To startle worldly people is not something that benevolent ones do.' It is also said, 'The straight mind is the Way-place.' I do not intend to study this non-ultimate dharma which is a function of the conscious mind."

Commentary:  

Another teacher would say, "My path is different from other paths. While other paths are not efficacious, my path is the most efficacious. How so? With the eight hundred great points on the body, you can foretell the future without resorting to divination. There are eight hundred points on your body, and from them you can foretell the occurrence of certain events in certain places. Without using the methods of divination, you can foretell storms and rain, visitors, floods, fires, and every kind of event. You can foretell eight hundred kinds of events without relying on oracles. There is no event throughout the past, present, and future that you are not aware of. For example, if friends or relatives are coming tomorrow, you will know it today. You shouldn't believe in other teachings, but should quickly enter my path. This is a good opportunity. If you enter my path, then you will become a living sage. You won't have to wait till you die to become a sage. You can be a sage when you're still living.

Zheng De would reply, "I heard that Confucius said, 'To apply oneself to heretical doctrines, to bizarre and esoteric theories in which you can know everything—how could that be possible? Actually, to believe such theories is injurious indeed.' It causes too much discursive thinking. All day long, you are thinking about who will come tomorrow and what's going to happen." To startle worldly people is not something that benevolent ones do. These esoteric and mysterious doctrines amaze people and make them think you have spiritual powers. Everyone is afraid of you. I don't like to inspire this kind of fear, and I don't want you to fear me. I don't want to startle worldly people. Cultivators, people who are kind and benevolent, should not do such things. It is also said, 'The straight mind is the Way-place.' If you know, you know; if you don't know, then you don't know. What is there to talk about? If you don't know, what's the point of claiming that you do know? If you know, there's no need to say anything. If you talk about it, you are just trying to get people to believe in you. You scare them into believing, saying that you will give them a little trouble otherwise. The straight mind is the Way-place. The crooked mind is the hells. I do not intend to study this non-ultimate dharma which is a function of the conscious mind. These spiritual powers are nothing but a function of the conscious mind. They are not real. I know that they are not the ultimate, true Dharma."

Those teachers of outside ways hoped to make Zheng De their disciple, but Zheng De did not believe in them.

Text:  

When De reached the age of eleven, I came to hear about his virtue and filial piety, and I went to pay a visit at his home. I had just entered the courtyard, when he saw me through a crack in his window and said to his mother, "Today my teacher has come."

His mother asked, "Who is your teacher?"

The boy said, "He has already come into the yard," and immediately went out to welcome me as if we already knew each other.

Commentary:  

When Zheng De reached the age of eleven, I came to hear about his virtue and filial piety. I heard that there was a child named Zheng De who was extremely filial to his parents, and I went to pay a visit at his home. I had some friends in Shuangcheng County who were followers of outside ways, and they had tried to convert the boy to their faith without success. The boy's answers had left them speechless. Thus, I also went to meet this boy. I had just entered the courtyard, when he saw me through a crack in his window. In northern China, most houses have yards around them, and one must go in before one can see the house itself. Zheng De was looking through a crack in his window. In northern China the windows are covered with paper. He peered out through a tear in the paper and said to his mother, "Today my teacher has come."

His mother asked, "Who is your teacher?"

The boy said, "He has already come into the yard," and immediately went out to welcome me as if we already knew each other. He ran outside and quickly took my bag from me. Even at such a young age, he knew how to welcome guests. He acted as if he knew me from before.

Text:

I entered the door and took a seat on the brick bed, and chatted with him. I asked him, "Who taught you to bow to your parents every day?" De replied, "We have a relative by the name of Wang, whose family lives in Shuangcheng County. That county has had fourteen filial sons, all of whom adopted the practice of bowing to their parents. Therefore, I resolved to emulate them."

I then asked his parents, "What secret acts of virtue have you performed in order to be blessed with such a filial son?"

His father said, "I do not recall having done any good acts in my life. Perhaps it is on account of my ancestors' cultivation of blessings and virtue that we are now rewarded with such a filial and worthy offspring. He causes my wife and me to be free from worries, cares, and afflictions. Our family is happy, the Buddha's light protects us, and our house is always as if filled with the spring sunlight."

Commentary:

I entered the door and took a seat on the brick bed, and chatted with him. I had a face-to-face chat with the boy. I asked him, "Who taught you to bow to your parents every day starting from the age of five?"

Zheng De replied, "We have a relative by the name of Wang, whose family lives in Shuangcheng County and has been there for several generations—his grandfather and the father also lived there. That county has had fourteen filial sons, all of whom adopted the practice of bowing to their parents in the morning and in the evening. Therefore, I resolved to emulate them and perfect the practice of filial piety."

I then asked his parents, "What secret acts of virtue have you performed in order to be blessed with such a filial son? What good deeds have you done?"

His father said, "I do not recall having done any good acts in my life. Perhaps it is on account of my ancestors' cultivation of blessings and virtue that we are now rewarded with such a filial and worthy offspring. My ancestors must have done some good deeds of virtue, and so now they have such a filial and worthy descendant. He causes my wife and me to be free from worries, cares, and afflic­tions. Our family is happy, the Buddha's light protects us, and our house is always as if filled with the spring sunlight. Our house is also full of joy and happiness."

Text:

After the chat I was about to rise from my seat. Right then De quickly snatched away my shoes and went to hide them in his room. Then he came back and knelt before me, saying, "Today my teacher has come to De's home for the first time. I pray that you will grace our house and stay for lunch. I do not have any good food to offer, but can only invite you to partake of our ordinary, simple fare." I nodded to show my consent.

After the meal I told Zheng De to return my shoes. Then I asked him, "Today you have taken refuge with me and call me your teacher. Do you wish to listen to your teacher's instructions, or do you want your teacher to listen to your instructions?"

The boy answered, "I will obey my teacher's instructions and do as he says."

Then I said to him, "When you asked me to stay for lunch, why did you first hide my shoes? By trying to force me to stay here, you were being blatantly disrespectful toward your teacher."

De immediately knelt on the floor, bowed and repented, and vowed never to make the same mistake. I then taught him to specialize in cultivating the Pure Land Dharma door, to diligently spur on his three karmas, and to singlemindedly recollect the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. I advised him to nurture a serenity of the spirit, and, besides attending to his school work, to use every spare moment to recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha" without cease.

Commentary:

After the chat I was about to rise from my seat and put on my shoes. Right then, seeing that I was about to stand up, De quickly snatched away my shoes. I thought he was going to help me put on my shoes and was being especially courteous. But instead, he grabbed the shoes and went to hide them in his mother's room. Then he came back and knelt before me, saying, "Today my teacher has come to De's home for the first time. I pray that you will grace our house and stay for lunch. I do not have any good food to offer, but can only invite you to casually partake of our ordinary, simple fare." I nodded to show my consent.

After the meal I told Zheng De to return my shoes. Then I asked him, "Today you have taken refuge with me and call me your teacher. Do you wish to listen to your teacher's instructions, or do you want your teacher to listen to your instructions?"

The boy answered, "I will honor and obey my teacher's instructions and do as he says."

Then I said to him, "When you asked me to stay for lunch, why did you first hide my shoes before you gained my consent? By trying to force me to stay here, you were being blatantly disrespectful toward your teacher. That was a forceful maneuver. You wanted to keep me here for lunch and was afraid I might not agree, so you took my shoes away. You thought you were acting on good intentions, but what you did was most disrespectful to your teacher."

Zheng De immediately knelt on the floor, bowed and repented, and vowed never to make the same mistake. He promised to never, ever behave that way toward his teacher again. I then taught him to specialize in cultivating the Pure Land Dharma door, to diligently spur on his three karmas, and to singlemindedly recollect the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. I advised him to nurture the serenity of the spirit, and, besides attend­ing to his school work, to use every spare moment to recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha" without cease.

I then spoke a verse for him:

If in reciting the Buddha's name you can recite without a break,
while your mouth is reciting "Amitabha," you'll become one with him.
When confused thoughts do not arise, one attains samadhi,
and will certainly have hopes to be reborn in the Pure Land.
All day long you should grow weary of Saha's pain,
and lessen your desires for the red dust.
Instead, strengthen your intent to seek rebirth in the Pure Land.
Put down defiled thoughts: just that is pure thought.

previous * next * Contents * Preface

return to top