The Record of Water Mirror Turning Back Heaven
By Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
From the 1974 issues of Vajra Bodhi Sea
Translated by Bhiksu Heng Ching
WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE MEANING
OF THE MIDDLE WAY?
"Ultimate" means final, "meaning" means what is fitting, "middle" means not going to extremes and "way" means practice. To discuss the concept of the middle further, if one does not go far enough he will not reach the goal. When he goes too far he should bring about a lessening, and when he falls short, he should increase. In either case he should avoid falling into emptiness, or grasping at existence. This is what is meant by the Middle Way, the true substance of the principle of True Emptiness. It is also called the Reality Mark, True Suchness, One’s Own Nature, and the Buddha-nature.
To put it quite clearly once again, it is like the figure O which is the sole ancestor of heaven and earth, the father of all Buddhas, the mother of all things, and the source of the most subtle of wonders. Everything in life and death comes from it and there isn ’ t anything, which does not return to it. This is what is meant by the phrase "true Emptiness is not empty. Wonderful existence is not existence." One who understands this can be called a "man of the Way who is without a mind," one who has overstepped all categories, who has been released from the suffering of the wheel, one who roams freely at leisure, who has ended birth and death, a living dead man.
PLEASURE IS THE CAUSE OF SUFFERING
The Saha World is characterized by the blazing of ten thousand sufferings. It is full of a great many evils. There are many ways to suffer - three, eight, and limitless ways - but it is difficult to discuss them; they can never be fully described. The three sufferings are the suffering within suffering, the suffering of deterioration, and the suffering of notion. The eight sufferings are those of birth, aging, sickness, and death, as well as the suffering of being separated from objects of love, the suffering of encountering objects of hate, the suffering of not realizing aspirations, and the suffering of the raging of the five skandhas.
Wearing beautiful new clothes is a great pleasure, but before long, the clothes become a yoke. When they get dirty or stained, worry arises. Would you call this pleasure or suffering?
Fine eating is foremost among pleasures, and so hundreds of delicacies have been invented. Nonetheless, a gourmand can eat only three times a day; more brings on illness and diarrhea. Would you call this pleasure or suffering?
Elegant estates are considered great pleasures. Although one may accumulate thousands of dwellings, during sleep his realm extends less than eight feet. All those houses need stewards, and caring exhausts one's mental faculties. Would you call this pleasure or suffering?
A BURNING HOUSE WITHOUT PEACE
The place where we live is forever disrupted by countless troubles. One day there are earthquakes, the next day landslides, and the next, tidal waves. All kinds of calamities follow one upon another endlessly which is why the ancients said, "The triple world knows no peace; it's like a burning house."
After he left the home life, the Great Master Lien Ch'ih often returned to visit his family. His wife, wise and wholesome, searched for a method to help him, and came up with the following means. Just inside the door she dug a pit. In it she set live coals. When the Master set foot inside the house, he stepped in the fire and let out a great yell, "Fire!"
His wife replied, "Since you know it's a fiery pit, don't come back." The Master then had a great awakening. Later he became an outstanding personage in Buddhism.
THE WAY OF FRATERNAL RELATIONS
During the Han Dynasty, the family of a four-year-old boy named Kung Yung received a gift of a box of pears. All his brothers took large ones while Kung Yung deliberately sought out the smallest. Surprised, his elders asked the boy about his behavior.
"My brothers are older than I and they should get the big ones. Since I am the youngest it is fitting that I receive the smallest," he replied. Although Kung Yung was young, he had a profound understanding of the principles of yielding and filial respect. More of such behavior would truly influence the world.
LOYALTY AND DUTY
We should have a sense of responsibility in everything we do. We should carry out our duties to the utmost. It is most important, neither to ignore responsibility, nor to conduct affairs in a slack or partial manner, nor to be remiss in fulfilling commitments.
Those who deal loyally with others will be dealt with loyally, whereas those who deal falsely with others will be dealt with falsely. The cheater cheats himself; he who does harm harms himself. If one sends out counterfeit money the same returns to him. How can we do anything but be careful?
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH
Faith is the foundation of cultivation of the Way and the mother of virtue because it is capable of nourishing wholesome roots. The Buddhadharma is like a vast sea; only by faith can it be entered. Therefore the single word, faith, is the essence of escaping from birth and death, and is the wonderful means for returning to the source. It is a precious raft in the stream of defilements, a torch in the dark cave of ignorance, and at the fork in the road, it is the road to be taken. It is a compass when foundering in the waves on the sea of affliction, and a wise guide on the way of the three paths and the eight difficulties. It is the origin of awakening for the four kinds of creatures born within the six paths. Faith cannot be ignored. An ancient author said, "If a man has no faith, I do not know what can be made of him."
Once two bhiksus were travelling to see Sakyamuni Buddha, the World Honored One. As they traveled they became extremely thirsty but could not find any water. As they walked they happened upon a human skull containing water in which some small bugs were swimming. Extremely joyful, one of the bhiksus picked up the water and offered some to his companion. The companion replied, "Although I may die of thirst, I cannot violate the precepts while I am alive." After this incident he died of thirst.
When the bhiksu who had drunk the water reached the place where the Buddha was residing, he bowed and said to the Lord, "Your disciple was travelling in the company of another bhiksu who perished of thirst on the road. I hope the Buddha will be compassionate and rescue him."
The Lord replied, "Because he stringently maintained the precepts and was so firm in his faith that he would not violate them even in the face of death, he arrived here before you and received the awesome power of the Buddha."
THE CONCEPT OF PROPRIETY
The word propriety is defined by a homonym in Chinese, which means "to set up" or "to stand." Therefore Confucius said, "If a man has no sense of propriety he has nothing to stand on." It is also said of one's parents, "Serving them with propriety while they are alive, burying them with propriety after death, and sacrificing to them with propriety is filial piety."
Confucius's disciple Tse Hsia asked about filial piety. The Master replied, "It consists of not getting angry."
When Tse Yu asked about filial piety the Master replied, "What people nowadays call filial piety is simply feeding the parents. But dogs and horses are capable of doing the same thing. If there is no respect involved, how do we differ from them?"
Yen Yuan asked about humaneness and the Master replied, "It consists of principled self-regulation." The disciple asked what was meant by principled self-regulation and the Master replied, "Look at nothing improper, listen to nothing improper, say nothing improper, and do nothing improper."