1997 Keynote Speech: Wholeness and Freeness


Distinguished Guests and Members of Buddha's Light International Association from all over the world, thanks to the compassion and wisdom of the Buddha, we are gathered here in Hong Kong - the world-renowned Pearl of the Orient. As we meet here for the 6th Buddha's Light International Association General Conference, I am filled with great joy and happiness.

Through their dedication and hard work, the people of Hong Kong enjoy a prosperous economy. With rapid communication available throughout Hong Kong, this is a very progressive society where talents abound. Not only is Hong Kong foremost in economic success in Asia, it has always been an international center for trade, finance, shipping, tourism, telecommunications, and light industry. It is also considered to be one of the most open ports in the world.

The return of Hong Kong to China brings much pride and joy to the Chinese people, not only in Asia, but also throughout the world. Our meeting today marks the first major Buddhist event here since Hong Kong was returned to China, and as such, this gathering holds special meaning. If the people of Hong Kong can incorporate the true meaning of wholeness and freeness in their everyday lives and, in turn, spread it around the world, I believe that the future of Hong Kong and the entire world will be much brighter and more wonderful. It is most appropriate, indeed, that we are gathered here today with "wholeness and freeness" as the theme of this meeting.

"Wholeness" means being most natural and perfect. Wholeness is a much longed for and admired condition. Common phrases, such as "the beauty of a flower and the completeness of the moon," "a large family with lots of children," "a person fully blessed with happiness, wealth and longevity," and "a jade without flaws," are all expressions which praise the state of wholeness. However, in daily living, there are many moments when life is not "whole," when joy turns into sorrow as loved ones must part, when our emotions and feelings are mixtures of love and hatred, as well as gratitude and grudge. The sun must go through the pattern of rising and setting and the moon must go through the cycles between fullness and newness. We, too, must go through times when life tends to leave much to be desired.

When we speak of "freeness," images of birds flying freely and fish swimming playfully come to mind. From the past to the present, people have always sung praises to "freeness." Just imagine how attractive is the liberation from sufferings and afflictions, how attractive is the freeness from worries and anxieties! However, in today's society, we see the decline of peace and order, the discord within families, the instability in the political arena, and even the lack of understanding among people. Information from all directions constantly bombards us, heresies disturb and confuse our minds, and materialistic goods strongly tempt us to own more. All these make us lose our sense of physical and mental freeness.

In contrast, in Buddhism the realm of nirvana-with-no-remainder is where chaos, instability, and disorder are completely eliminated, where permanence, happiness, true nature and tranquility are found. How pure and whole that world is! The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can travel among the different worlds to help all sentient beings find liberation. How unbound and free they are! How then do we find this wholeness and freeness in our everyday lives? Let me share with you eight points.

Magnanimity of the mind leads to wholeness and freeness in the human world. In this vast world of ours, we enjoy a great diversity of peoples, lands, and cultures. If we are restrictive and discriminative in our views, we will find ourselves at odds with others, encountering obstacles at every turn.

In Chinese history, there is a famous historical figure, Hsiang Yu. He was well known for his military powers and was expected to achieve greatness. However, because of his jealous nature, he lost his opportunity to gain control over the country. Lu Pang, in contrast, had an open mind and was very respectful of the learned. As such, he was able to successfully plan and implement strategies, and eventually rose to power. During the Period of the Warring States, people of the Ch'u country were not diligent in farming and had a very poor harvest one year. Being resentful and wanting to cause trouble, they crossed the border into the neighboring country of Liang and destroyed the crops there. Surprisingly, not only were the high officials of Liang not angered, they commanded their people to help the Ch'u people till and fertilize their land. Thus, a situation with a great potential for conflict was resolved peacefully.

The sayings "The ocean is enormous because it accepts water from hundreds of rivers; the mountain towers because it does not reject any type of soil," "The mind encompasses the space of the universe," and "Each thought traverses three thousand chiliocosms" all succinctly illustrate the ideals of the magnanimity of the mind. Consider the many and varied forms in this world, the red flowers and the green willows, and also the manifestations of diverse capacities, the flying birds and leaping fish. It is only by looking at everything with magnanimity that we can see the meaning of life, enjoy the happiness of life, and have wholeness and freeness in our life.

Contentment in daily living leads to wholeness and freeness in the human world. The greatest pitfall in our lives is the incessant desire that stems from greed; when we get one of something, we want ten; when we get ten, we want one hundred. As a result, people feel overwhelmed and exhausted both physically and mentally. In more serious cases, some people surrender completely to their desires, becoming infamous for tens of thousands of years. Why do we bring this upon ourselves!

It is said in The Sutra of Buddha's Bequeathed Teaching, "The way of contentment is where wealth and stability reside." It is also said, "A person who is content though sleeping on the ground still enjoys peace and happiness. A person who is not content though living in heaven is still in hell." There is another saying, "A person who is not content though rich still feels poor. A person who is content though poor still feels rich." For example, there was a man named Hui Yen. He lived in a slum, just barely surviving, yet his circumstances did not reduce his happiness at all. In another example, a man named Ch'u Yen who tactfully declined an offer made by King Hsuan from the country of Ch'i to become a high-ranking official said, "Eating only when hungry makes my food taste exquisite. Peaceful walking serves as my carriage. Not committing a crime is nobility. I find happiness in clean and pure living." People of a later time praised Ch'u Yen by saying, "In returning to his original self and realizing truth, he never had to bear insult."

Mahakashyapa cultivated asceticism among graves and slept under trees to such an extent that the Buddha shared his seat with him to commend his diligence. Master Hung Yi once said, "Even saltiness has its own unique flavor; even blandness has its own unique taste." Because of their deep spiritual cultivation, the masters and sages of the past had few desires and were content; they could transcend worldly material goods and have compassion for all sentient beings. Through owning nothing, they had everything. They truly knew boundless Dharma delight. Contentment is wealth; contentment is having; contentment is wholeness; and contentment is freeness.

"Owning nothing" does not mean "having nothing." It is through owning nothing that we can enjoy the immeasurable and boundless realm of the Dharma, that we can identify with the countless and limitless sentient beings. It is through owning nothing that we will neither shun nor crave the delusions of the five desires, that we do not detest this world nor demand anything from it. In order to emancipate all sentient beings, and to benefit societies and nations, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have spoken the following wise words: "One finds lasting happiness within contentment; one finds peace within patience." Even in a world where imperfection and suffering abound, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas find peace. They see every place as the Pureland.

I hope that all members of the Buddha's Light International Association can emulate the sages of the past and practice simplicity and contentment as a way to experience wholeness and freeness in the human world. When we can apply the practice of finding lasting happiness within contentment, we can build for ourselves lives full of wholeness and freeness.

Equality among people leads to wholeness and freeness in the human world. Everything in this world is originally whole and free. However, our ignorance and delusion give rise to perceptions of dualities, such as superior and inferior, coming and going, with and without, arising and ceasing, large and small, internal and external, good and evil, wise and dull. Such distinctions, subsequently, cause continual fighting among people, deepen antagonism among people, increase animosity among races, and escalate warring tensions among nations.

The chapters in history of the French Revolution, which espoused freedom, and the American Revolution, which embraced democracy, are examples of people fighting for equality, wholeness, and freeness for all. In Chinese history, one of the main reasons for the revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen to overturn the Manchu Dynasty was to have other nations of the world treat the people of China with fairness and equality.

More than 2,500 years ago, Buddhism had already championed the ideals of "All beings already possess the wisdom to realize Buddha nature" and "Be kind to everyone without conditions; be compassionate, as we are the same entity." In this way, Buddhism has not only advanced the importance of mutual equality, but the teachings have also given us the most complete definition of equality in this universe. Within the sangha of the Buddha, the spirit of equality is captured in the statement, "All the rivers flowing into the ocean have only one taste? the taste of saltiness. When the four castes join the sangha, they all become family members of Shakyamuni." Consider the following: compassionate Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva comes to help us, Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva goes into hell to save suffering beings, and Never Disparaging Bodhisattva treats all sentient beings with utmost respect. The sravakas and arhats paid respect to the eight-year-old Dragon Girl who came from afar, and Kumarajiva of Mahayana tradition and P'an-t'ou-ta-tuo of Theravada tradition learned from each other. Pious householder Vimalakirti preached at the local tavern, and a master who was well respected for his ascetic practice of fetching water chose to live among the beggars. All these are demonstrations of the true meaning of equality among people. Actually, treating the rich and the poor equally is respect for moral character; treating self and others equally is harmony between you and me.

I hope that all members of the Buddha's Light International Association can treasure life, commit their efforts to the Four Great Vows, practice kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, lead righteous lives, give peace and happiness to the living, and provide hope and comfort to the dying. This is what we mean by continually applying the wholesome actions of the Six Paramitas and being freed from the cycle of rebirth and death. If we can uphold these great vows to bring about such equality, how can life not be whole and free?

Prajna of conducting ourselves in life leads to wholeness and freeness in the human world. We often hear people lamenting, "In this world, to do the right thing is difficult; it is even more difficult to treat people right." The truth is that this problem arises because we often do not have the mind of prajna wisdom. Therefore, we tend not to be skillful enough in handling matters or dealing with others. What is prajna? Prajna is being sensible and acting according to the circumstances; prajna is being nimble and discerning; prajna is turning ordinary consciousness into wisdom; and prajna is achieving a true understanding of the ultimate reality of suchness.

When we have prajna, we can know that all beings are fundamentally one entity; we then will aspire to the ultimate awakening and make Bodhisattva vows, benefit ourselves and others, help ourselves and others to reach true understanding, and cultivate the causes and conditions for wholeness and freeness. When we have prajna, we can clearly recognize that all phenomena of the universe are empty in nature, and we can then tranquilly settle our bodies and minds. We can be in accordance with our conditions without letting our beliefs be swayed, be steadfast in our faith in Buddhist teachings, while being in harmony with our circumstances, and achieve the wonderful way of being of wholeness and freeness. When we have prajna, we can be far removed from confusion and rid ourselves of delusive thoughts and differentiation, thereby freeing ourselves from all afflictions, worries, and ignorance. We can then stride the bright open path towards wholeness and freeness. When we have prajna, we can completely eliminate the duality of self versus others, bring unification to all differences and conflicts, transcend disputes and discord with others, and start the brilliant life of wholeness and freeness.

Prajna is not something we search for outside ourselves, because prajna is actually the natural outflow of wisdom and skillful means that comes from the ultimate true nature within ourselves. Prajna is not something faraway that we seek; prajna is right here, to be understood and appreciated in our daily activities of walking, standing, sitting and reclining. In the opening section of the Diamond Sutra, we see that in every moment the Buddha emanated the infinite radiance of prajna, whether speaking or being silent, while in the midst of action or being still. When the Buddha put on his robe or held his almsbowl, his hands emanated the radiance of prajna; when he went on his alms round begging for food, his body emanated the radiance of prajna; when he washed his feet, his feet emanated the radiance of prajna; when he arranged his mat and sat down, his entire body emanated the radiance of prajna; and when he expounded the Dharma for the benefit all beings, his mouth emanated the radiance of prajna.

Additional examples can be found in the replies of famous Ch'an Masters: Ch'an Master Yun Men's "Sesame bread," Ch'an Master Chao Chou's "Drink tea," Ch'an Master Ta Chu's "Eat food when hungry, sleep when sleepy," Ch'an Master Lung Ya's "Besides sweeping floors, brewing tea, and mending clothes, there is nothing else to be concerned about." All these are wonderful applications of the illuminating radiance of prajna.

I hope all of us can cherish this priceless treasure within our hearts and minds, apply prajna in our conduct and in dealing with others, and let all of this world reach the realm of wholeness and freeness.

Peace and stability in society leads to wholeness and freeness in the human world. In our current society, problems, such as uncontrolled guns, drug misuse, irresponsible sex, and violent behavior, are escalating in severity everyday. People live in fear: they cannot find peace and security in everyday life, let alone wholeness and freeness. When we look around, we can see people privately harboring bitterness and even publicly protesting in the streets. I do not believe that these are ways that can ultimately solve our present problems.

Chinese proverbs, such as the following remind us of the importance of stability in a society: "There are no intact eggs under a toppled nest," "When skin is no longer present, can hair still remain securely attached?" and "When lips die, teeth are exposed to coldness." Actually, we are all responsible for both the stability and the chaos in our society and nation. Consequently, we should all be conscientious citizens by following the law and upholding justice. We should all do volunteer work to help and support each other. We should all become "Good Samaritans" offering our services and motivating others to also do good deeds. We should all be upright citizens by shouldering our responsibilities. It is only when society is peaceful and stable that wholeness and freeness can truly be part of our lives.

Since this past May, the Republic of China chapter of the Buddha's Light International Association has organized a series of events in support of the "Compassion and Loving Care Campaign" throughout Taiwan. On October 5 of this year, eighty thousand people participated in the pledging ceremony for "People of Compassion and Loving Care." Included among the attendees were people of diverse social backgrounds and representatives from various religious denominations. Together, they all loudly proclaimed, "Purify the mind, re-establish morality, rediscover conscience, and stabilize society!" As of today, there are two thousand "People of Compassion and Loving Care" teachers who are promoting the ideals of compassion and loving care throughout many cities. Their efforts have been very well received.

I hope that all of us Fo Guang Buddhists can vow to be forerunners for societal peace, to make our mark on history, to share our kindness and compassion with the public, to create a whole and free pureland in this world, and to build a whole and free society.

Harmony within the family leads to wholeness and freeness in the human world. The family is the refueling station in the journey of life, a safe harbor where we can take a respite from distress and tend to injuries, a sanctuary for warmth from loved ones, and a rest station for the enjoyment of happiness. Family harmony is a crucial element in the physical and mental growth of family members, and it has a direct impact on the peace and stability of society. When we look around today, we can see many children roaming the streets after school looking for a home outside of their own because their parents are fighting with each other at home. Similarly, there are many adults who, because of discord in their families, spend time on the streets drinking, eating, and indulging in amusements after work rather than going home. The hardships and wounds these children and adults have sustained in their families can become our future social problems and national ills.

Buddhism places a great deal of emphasis on the happiness of the family. In sutras, such as the Upasika-sila Sutra, Yu Yeh Sutra, Maharatnakuta Sutra, and Mahaparinirvana Sutra, not only did the Buddha teach devotees how to live according to family rules, he also explained how to manage family finances. In keeping with the times, the relationship between parents and children now emphasizes communication and cooperation. Nowadays, family members must respect and yield to each other, just like partners dancing in a tango. Family members should know how to see things from each other's points of view, and also know how to be caring and considerate. Family members should compliment, encourage, support, and comfort each other often.

Family members should learn to exercise a sense of humor and build a warm and pleasant atmosphere. There is an old saying: "The beauty of expertly prepared soup comes from the blending of the different ingredients; the mutual benefit of a well-adjusted group comes from everyone working together." It is only when there is harmony that we can achieve mutual benefits, that there can be happiness. Suppose we all emphasize and actively pursue harmony within families and further broaden our efforts, then how could it be possible to find any place that lacked wholeness and freeness in life?

Health of the body and mind leads to wholeness and freeness in the human world. A healthy body and mind is the most important prerequisite for wholeness and freeness. Just imagine, if the four great elements of the body were not in harmony, our bodies would not feel well tuned and we would find ourselves sick in bed. Under such circumstances, we would not be able to serve others; in fact, we would need others to take care of us. How then can we have wholeness and freeness? When greed, anger, and ignorance flare up in our minds, we are opening the doors of hindrance. When we are tempted to commit transgressions, not only are we unable to conduct ourselves peacefully, we need consolation from others. In extreme cases, some people end up committing all kinds of atrocities, eventually being arrested and imprisoned. They bring humiliation to their families and disruption to society. Under these circumstances, how can there possibly be wholeness and freeness?

Buddhism teaches us that our thoughts and our actions are equally important and stresses the importance of a healthy body, as well as a healthy mind. The consumption of plain and simple vegetarian meals can nurture our spirit of compassion, bring out the gentler side of our character, strengthen our patience, and build our physical health. Various precept retreats can instill discipline in our daily lives and cultivate our practice of self-reflection. The Buddhist manners of conduct, such as practicing the Five Contemplations at mealtimes, standing like a pine, walking like the wind, sitting like a bell, and reclining like a bow, also serve the same purposes. In addition, the practices of making pilgrimages, paying homage to the Buddha, studying Ch'an, sitting in meditation, reciting the Buddha's name, chanting sutras, repenting for harmful behavior, making vows, treasuring blessings, and being appreciative of kindness can cleanse us of the grime of worldly worries and greatly advance our efforts towards purifying our hearts and minds.

I hope that all Buddha's Light International Association members can have health of body and mind. Let all of us progress a step further so that radiance may emanate from our bodies and minds, that we may continuously have the commitment and dedication to serve others, maintain the spirit of giving and self sacrifice, and join in activities that benefit the public. In this way, we can spread the joy of the Dharma and let all beings experience wholeness and freeness.

Self-liberation leads to wholeness and freeness in the human world. The Fourth Patriarch of the Ch'an school, Ch'an Master Tao Hsin once asked the Third Patriarch, Ch'an Master Seng Ts'an, "How do I attain liberation and freeness? " Ch'an Master Seng Ts'an asked him in return, "Who is binding you?" With such a rhetorical reply, enigmas that have existed since the beginning of time instantly become clear. We cannot help but applaud and exclaim. Indeed, the ones in this world who can bind us are none other than ourselves. When we are attached to wealth, wealth has a lock on our minds and will power. When we are attached to power, power can shroud our hearts. As in the ancient saying, "Fame shackles and wealth binds," many people have toiled exhaustingly for fame and wealth.

A fist that clenches candy tightly can never be pulled through a narrow jar opening; a foot that is tightly retracted can never step forward. It is only when we can let matters go that we can truly pick them up. To achieve liberation and freeness, we have to learn to let go of everything, open our minds, expand our horizon, and see the big picture. In the course of history, all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have demonstrated how they can let go of personal gain to benefit all sentient beings without hesitation, even at the cost of their own lives. Without reservation, all past and present heroes are able to give up their personal safety and security for the welfare of the public at large. While they relieve the sufferings of others, they also attain freeness and liberation for themselves. Under democratic constitutions, Britain and the United States have been able to unite their countries and better serve the needs of everyone. When individual, narrow perspectives are abandoned and everyone abides by the law, all can live harmoniously. Is this not a perfect example of how to start from self-liberation to reach the level of wholeness and freeness for all?

The above eight points suggest how we can achieve wholeness and freeness in the human world. Throughout the course of Chinese history, the chaos of wars has displaced many individuals and torn numerous families apart. Presently, our leaders all maintain an open and broad outlook, actively participating in the international arena, building a society that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, and bringing wholeness and freeness to all.

Let us, all members of the Buddha's Light International Association, wholeheartedly offer incense and pray for peace and unity in the world, the prosperity of all nations, and security for all people. Let us realize wholeness and freeness in society, wholeness and freeness within families, and wholeness and freeness in our hearts and minds!