Dharma Talk by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Introduction by former Bhikshuni Heng Yln (Loni Baur)
From the January 1976 issue of Vajra Bodhi Sea
On Sunday, February 15, the Master and the Gold Mountain Sangha headed for Santa Clara where Upasaka Kuo Wei Eriich and his sister Kuo Chung had invited us to speak in Central Park. Kuo Chung and her friends had been up all night, baking for the lunch, and the rotunda was filled with young people, eager to hear the Dharma.
When we arrived, the sky was heavy laden with clouds, and a light mist had just let up. After lunch, the assembly recited the Incense Offering, the Great Compassion Mantra, and circumambulated the makeshift altar reciting the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin's name. The Sangha gave short instructional talks.
Kuo Wei respectfully requested the Master to speak. As he spoke, the clouds rolled back and the sun timidly broke through. Birds began to circle curiously. Gathering on the wires atop the rotunda; they chattered and pecked, but were generally well behaved. The Master spoke to the unasked questions in our hearts. He talked about killing and violence, respect for life and compassion. He told us the only way to bring peace to the world was to bring peace to our own minds. More people joined the crowd. Adults and children, looking serious, now smiling began to draw closer, straining to hear the Master's words over the light breeze.
Then I noticed the sky was a clear, deep blue, with only a layer of fluffy white clouds resting lightly on the distant mountains all around the valley. After the last translation, everyone was silent, as if waiting, waiting to hear more. I glanced up and was struck by the image: the listeners kneeling, standing, sitting, all with bright sun shining on their smiling, attentive faces; overhead, the birds, and in the distance blue sky and white clouds.
The text of the Master's speech was as follows:
"To be here in this park speaking Dharma is an inconceivable event, especially so because it has not rained today. This is probably because all of you have causes and conditions, which have brought you together here today to look into the Buddhadharma. So on this fine day with such fair weather we have come to investigate the Buddhadharma in this delightful place.
"It is a very dangerous time in the world nowadays--when you wake up in the morning, you have no idea what to expect by the time evening rolls around. Some places have storm disasters some places have earthquakes. Here in this peaceful country, we investigate the Buddhadharma and don't have to be frightened or worried about such accidents. This shows that we are people who have affinities with the Buddha.
Originally this world was very peaceful, but because people's minds were not peaceful, the dangers grew day by day. In the very beginning, this world's wars were conducted by using earth to fight. How was that done? In the beginning there were no knives, spears, swords, or lances nor were there any bombs or guns. At that time people were compatible with each other.
Later people became greedy and decided that the world was not able to hold anyone else but themselves. This led to war. The wars at that time were fought with hands, fists, and feet. "You hit me with your fist, so I will kick you with my foot." Whoever had the most strength was able to defeat the other. This use of hands and feet in combat is called using earth to fight.
"You can see that the birds here in this park still are using earth to fight. 'You flap me with your wing and I will peck you with my beak.' Why do they do it? Because they are fighting for things to eat. People are more or less like these feathered creatures. It is also because they want to get things to eat and to derive profit and benefit for themselves that they fight among themselves.
"The first, then, is using earth to fight. After earth was used to fight, there were those who tried to think of a way--'How can I win? What method can I use? Good. There are trees,' and they took a tree or a stalk of bamboo--a very long one, thinking, 'You use your fists and feet to beat me, so I will use this stick which is longer than your reach and then I can beat you until it hurts. That way I won't get hurt.' This is called using wood to fight. Wood overcomes earth. Wood wins the battle against earth. Today I am just explaining this in the simplest way because there will not be time to go into detail.
"The long sticks used in battles with wood set some people thinking again. It was the muddled among the intelligent who thought and thought-- 'What method can I use to render your long sticks useless? What can I do to defeat you?' They thought and thought and even had dreams about it. Eventually they came up with iron. 'Oh!...if I put a piece of iron on the end of a stick...I can put a stop to your sticks. I can destroy them.' So they put iron on the ends of the sticks and came up knives, spears, swords, and lances, eighteen kinds of military weapons, and all sorts of things. At that point the simple sticks were of no further use. Adding the iron is called using metal to fight. Metal overcomes wood; wood overcomes earth, and metal then overcomes wood.
"This set people to thinking again. 'You have knives, spears, swords, and lances. What plan can I devise that will make those things obsolete?' Once again there were the stupid among the intelligent who invented guns. At first it was guns and canons and the like. Now there are machine guns and hand grenades. What is this? It is using fire to fight. Fire destroyed the iron. Fire overcomes metal.
"Each kind of fighting prevailed for a thousand years. Then there would be a change, and that particular kind of fighting would be outmoded. Fire overcame metal, and at present we have reached the point of using water to fight. So there are atom bombs and hydrogen bombs. These things use the breakdown of water through scientific methods to kill people. Fire was thus defeated. 'Your machine guns and pistols only have a range of a few miles, but using water to fight I can reach several million miles away--clear beyond this world.' At present, for instance, we on earth have reached the moon. These various discoveries have led us into the period of using water to wage wars.
"This period of time is a very dangerous one. If we want peace, how are we to achieve it? This is a real problem. There is no other way but to destroy your own thoughts of killing. You who study the Buddhadharma are merely returning to the element of earth. When you return to the earth, the earth can put an end to the use of water to fight. But when earth subdues water in this way, it is not through battle. Our belief in the Buddha represents earth.
Belief in the Buddha is the level earth. You who believe in the Buddha must not want to kill, steal, or take intoxicants. You put a stop to greed, hatred, and stupidity, and diligently cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. So now we want to concentrate on making the world peaceful. No one should be greedy. No one should kill. No one should be hateful. No one should be stupid. These various kinds of battles are the result of muddled people inventing weapons to kill other people. This will quickly lead to the extinction of mankind. In the end we will all be annihilated if we keep thinking up new kinds of weapons to kill each other.
If you want the world to be peaceful, it is simply a matter of everyone's not harboring thoughts of killing. Do not kill, do not steal, do not commit sexual misconduct, do not lie, and do not take intoxicants. If you can seriously hold to the five precepts, then this world will certainly be peaceful.
"Today I have given a very simple explanation of an extremely important principle: if people can hold the five precepts and not kill, this world will be peaceful. Therefore it is said:
The pots of stew simmered over hundreds of thousands of years
Have brewed oceans of deep resentment, boiling over into uncontained hate.
If you want to know the reason for the disaster of weapons and troops,
Try listening at the slaughterhouse door to the haunting midnight cries.
If you can understand this verse and refrain from taking life, then this world will very quickly become peaceful. Why is it still not at peace? Because you have not put a stop to your thoughts of killing. One person stops and one person is peaceful. Ten people stop and ten people are peaceful. A hundred people stop and a hundred people are peaceful. A thousand people stop and a thousand people are peaceful. Ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, a billion people stop their thoughts of killing and the world becomes peaceful.
The reason the world is not at peace is because people have not gotten rid of their greed, hatred, and stupidity. If you want the world to be peaceful, you definitely have to stop killing.