The First Lesson: Learning to Create Destiny
Narrator: Creating Destiny is about forming ones fate rather than being bound by it. The Lesson of Learning to Create Destiny discusses the principle behind fate and the knowledge necessary to change it. By relating his own experiences and trials at changing destiny, Mr. Liao-Fan Yuan taught his son, Tian-Chi, not to be bound by fate, but rather to put forth his best effort in practicing kindness and eradicating wrong-doing.
One should not reject doing a kind act simply because it seems to be a minute goodness or commit a bad deed simply because it appears to be a small wrongdoing. If one practices in a proper manner, it is assured that ones destiny can be changed. It is often said, "Refraining from all wrongdoing and practicing all forms of kindness brings about the reduction of disasters and the coming of good fortune." This is the principle behind creating ones destiny
Liao-Fan: My father passed away when I was young and mother persuaded me to learn medicine instead of becoming a scholar.
Mother: Learning medicine will be a good way to support yourself and to help others. Besides, having a skill, you will never have to worry about making a living and you can even become famous through your medical skills. This was always your fathers wish for you.
Liao-Fan: One day, at the Compassionate Cloud Temple, I met an elderly but distinguished looking man with a long beard. He had such a look of a sage that I immediately paid my respects to him. The old man told me
Old Man: You are destined to become a government official. You can attain the rank of Erudite First Level Scholar next year, why arent you studying for the exam?
Liao-Fan: So I told him of my mothers instructions to give up scholarly study for learning medicine. Then I asked for his name, birthplace and residence. He replied
Old Man: My last name is Kong. I came from Yunnan Province. I have inherited the knowledge of Mr. Shao, who developed the art of prediction very well. By calculations, I am supposed to pass it on to you.
Liao-Fan: I led Mr. Kong to my home and told my mother about him. Mother told me to treat him well and said
Mother: Since Mr. Kong is so good at predicting the future, he must also know our past. Lets ask him and test his authenticity.
Liao-Fan: Consequently, I found Mr. Kongs calculations to be very accurate, even in very small cases. After hearing his words of advice, I again thought about studying. I then consulted my cousin Shen-Chen. He recommended
Cousin: My friend, Mr. Hai-Gu Yu is teaching at the home of Yo-Fu Sheng. It would be very convenient for me to take you there for boarding and studying.
Liao-Fan: This was how I became Mr. Yus student. Once again, Mr. Kong made a prediction for me.
Mr. Kong: As a student, you will place fourteenth in the county examination, seventy-first in the regional examination and ninth in the provincial examination.
Liao-Fan: The following year, at the three places of examination, I placed exactly as he had predicted. Then Mr. Kong calculated the predictions for my entire life.
Mr. Kong: You will pass such and such a test in such and such a year, you will become a civil servant in such a year and in such a year you will receive a promotion. Finally, you will be appointed as a magistrate in Szechwan Province. After holding that office for three and a half years, you will resign and return home. At the age of fifty-three, you will die around one oclock in the morning on August 14th. It is a pity that you will not have a son.
Liao-Fan: I recorded and remembered all that he said. From then on, the outcome of every examination I took turned out exactly as Mr. Kong had predicted. Mr. Kong also predicted that I would be promoted only after receiving a salary in the weight of ninety-one dans and five dous of rice. However, I had received only seventy-one dans of rice when the senior educational official, Mr. Tu, recommended me for a promotion. I secretly began to doubt Mr. Kongs predictions.
Liao-Fan: Nevertheless, the prediction turned out to be correct after all, because the recommendation was turned down by Mr. Tus superior, Mr. Yang. It was not until several years later when Mr. Chiu-Min Ying saw my old exam papers and exclaimed
Mr. Ying: These five essays are as well written as reports to the Emperor! How can we bury the talents of such a great scholar?
Liao-Fan: Mr. Ying wanted the magistrate to issue an official order for me to become a candidate for imperial student under his authority. After undergoing this eventful promotion, my calculations showed that I had received exactly ninety-one dans and five dous of rice. From then on, whether it was promotion, rank or wealth, I deeply believed that all came about in due time and that the length of ones life is predestined.
I began to view everything in a more detached manner and ceased to seek gain and profit. After being selected as an imperial student, I was to attend the university at Beijing. During my yearlong stay at the capital, my interest in meditation grew and I often sat silently without giving rise to a single thought. I lost interest in books and did not study at all.
Before I was to enter the National University at Nanjing, I paid a visit to the enlightened Zen Master Yun-Gu at Chishia Mountain. We sat face to face in the Zen Hall for three days and nights without ever falling asleep. Master Yun-Gu questioned me saying
Master Yun-Gu: The reason why ordinary people are unable to attain sagehood is because they have too many wandering and false thoughts running through their minds. In our three-day meditation, I have not observed the slightest wandering thought arise in you. Why is this so?
Liao-Fan: I replied, "Mr. Kong has clearly predicted the entire outcome of my life. I have seen that the time of life, death, promotion and failure are all predestined. There is no use or need for me to think about it or to desire anything. That is why you have not seen me give rise to a single wandering thought." Master Yun-Gu laughed.
Master Yun-Gu: I thought you were someone of remarkable capabilities! Now I realize you are nothing but an average, ordinary person!
Liao-Fan: Feeling confused by what he said, I asked the Master to explain.
Master Yun-Gu: An average persons mind is forever occupied by wandering and imaginary thoughts, so naturally their life is bound by the chi of yin and yang as well as fate. We cannot deny the fact that fate exists, but only ordinary people are bound by it. Fate cannot bind those who cultivate great kindness.
Narrator: Because their virtues accrued from kind acts are so great that these acts will alter their original destiny for the better.
Master Yun-Gu: The merits accrued can actually change their destiny from suffering to happiness, poverty to prosperity and short lives to long lives. Similarly, fate cannot bind those who commit great wrongdoing.
Narrator: When a persons bad deeds are so great and powerful, they will cancel out the good fortune and prosperity predetermined in his original fate and his or her life can be transformed from good to bad.
Master Yun-Gu: For the past twenty years, you have lived your life according to Mr. Kongs predictions and did not do a thing to change it. Instead, you became bound by your own fate. If you are not considered an ordinary mortal, then who is?
Liao-Fan: Taken aback, I proceeded to ask Master Yun-Gu, "According to you then, is it true that one can change ones fate, that one can escape from it?" The Master answered
Master Yun-Gu: We create our own fate. Good or bad fortune is also determined by ourselves. When I commit bad deeds, disasters are bound to strike. When I cultivate kindness, good fortune will naturally come my way. It says so in all the great ancient books of wisdom. In the Buddhist teachings, it is written that if one wishes for and seeks wealth, position, a son, a daughter or a long life, one can attain them. One only has to cultivate kind deeds in order to escape the control of fate. Since untruthful speech is one of the greatest offenses in Buddhist teachings, we can be assured that these are not lies. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas certainly have no reasons to deceive us.
Liao-Fan: I did not quite understand what he meant by "attaining all that one wished for" and so I asked him. Mencius once said
Mencius: Whatever is sought for can be attained. The seeking is in oneself.
Liao Fan: This refers to inner qualities such as virtue, kindness and morality. These are all qualities we can work toward. However, when it comes to outside factors such as wealth, fame and prestige, how can we seek to attain them? Dont these have to be granted by others in order to be achieved? The Master replied
Master Yun-Gu: Mencius was correct, but you misinterpreted his meaning. Hui-Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen School has taught that
Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng: All the fields of merit are within ones own heart. If one seeks from within, one can be in touch with all good fortunes and disasters. The outside is merely a reflection of the inside.
Master Yun-Gu: By seeking within ourselves, we cannot only attain the inner qualities of virtue, kindness and morality, but we can also attain wealth, fame and prestige.
Narrator: If wealth, fame and prestige are embodied in ones fate, then one will attain them even without having to pursue them. If they are not, then one cannot attain them even through plotting and scheming.
Master Yun-Gu: Therefore, if one cannot reflect within ones own heart but instead blindly seeks fame, fortune and long life from external sources, then this seeking will be in vain. Just as Mencius once said
Mencius: In seeking, one needs to follow the right path. In attaining, one attains what destiny has entitled one to.
Narrator: Whatever is attained in the end is still part of ones own fate.
Master Yun-Gu: If one tries to seek these qualities from the outside and even goes to the extent of committing bad deeds for them, then one will not only lose ones inner qualities of virtue and kindness, but predetermined good fortune as well. Furthermore, wrongdoing committed in ones greedy mind to obtain more can reduce the good fortune of ones original fate. From this, we can see that no benefit is derived from blind seeking. What were Mr. Kungs predictions regarding your entire life?
Liao-Fan: I told him in detail, from the placement positions in the examinations, to my appointment as an official and finally, the date of my death.
Master Yun-Gu: Do you feel you deserve imperial appointments or a son?
Liao-Fan: I reflected upon my previous deeds and attitudes in the past for a long time. Then I answered him saying, "No, I do not feel I deserve an imperial appointment or a son. Those who receive imperial appointments all have the appearance of good fortune and I do not. I do not work towards accumulating virtues to build up my good fortune, either. I am very impatient, intolerant and undisciplined, and speak without any restraint. I also have a strong sense of pride and arrogance. These are all signs of scant good fortune and non-virtue. How is it possible for me to receive an imperial appointment?"
Narrator: Next, we will see why Liao-Fan has no children. Liking cleanliness is a good thing, but it can become a problem if one becomes obsessive about cleanliness. There is an old saying, "Life springs from the dirt of the earth and water too clean often harbors no fish."
Liao-Fan: The first reason why I feel I do not deserve a son is that I am overly attached to cleanliness, resulting in the lack of thoughtfulness for others. The second reason is that Narrator: harmony is the cultivator of all life.
Liao-Fan: But I have a quick temper and easily become angry. The third reason is based on the principle that
Narrator: loving-kindness is the basis of reproduction and harshness is the root of sterility.
Liao-Fan: I overly guard my own reputation and cannot sacrifice anything for the sake of others. The fourth reason is that I talk too much which wastes a lot of chi, or energy. The fifth reason is that I also delight in drinking alcohol and that depletes my spirit.
Narrator: To remain healthy, one does not sleep during the daytime and stay up through the night.
Liao-Fan: The sixth reason I do not have a son is my habit of staying up nights, not knowing how to conserve my energy. Aside from these, I have many, many, other faults, which are too numerous to mention. Master Yun-Gu then said
Master Yun-Gu: According to you then, there are many things in life you do not deserve, not only fame and a son!
Narrator: Both good and bad fortune are formed from ones heart. Wise people know that everything they achieve or fail at in life are only consequences of their own actions and thoughts. Only an ignorant person assumes that all is the work of fate and destiny!
Master Yun-Gu: Those who have millions of dollars in this life must have cultivated the good fortune worthy of that amount in the past. Those who have thousands of dollars must also have good fortune, which is worthy of generating that sum. Those, who die of starvation, in fact were meant to die in that manner. We must understand that their own past thoughts and actions created the fate of these people; the karmic result today is simply the fruit of their deeds. Heaven does nothing more than punish bad beings with the suffering they deserve and reward kind ones with the good fortune they deserve.
Narrator: The following section is Master Yun-Gus advice to Liao-Fan, using the views of ordinary people, persuading him to cultivate virtue.
Master Yun-Gu: Bearing children is similar to bearing fruit from seeds. If the seeds are planted well, the fruits will flourish. If the seeds are not planted well, then the fruits will become malnourished. For example, if a person has accumulated enough merits and virtues for a hundred generations, then he or she will have descendants to last a hundred generations.
One who accumulates enough merits and virtues to last ten generations will then have ten generations of descendants to live out that good fortune. The same goes for three generations or two generations. For those who have no descendants at all, it is because they have not accumulated enough good merits and virtues. They may have amassed offenses instead!
Now that you recognize your own shortcomings, you can work to change and reform the misdeeds, which cause you to not have a child or become an imperial official. You would do well to cultivate virtue and tolerance and to treat others with compassion and harmony. Also, care for your health and conserve your energy and spirit.
Live as though everything of the past dissolved yesterday and all of the future begins today. If you can accomplish this, then you are a person born anew. If even our physical body is governed by the law of fate, then how can a mind of virtue and discipline not evoke a response from heaven? As said in the Tai Ja Chapter in The Chinese Book of History
Narrator: "One may run from the decrees of heaven, but one can never escape the retribution for ones own wrong deeds." In other words, one can alter the retribution due from past deeds, but if one continues to behave immorally, then there is no chance of avoiding disaster.
Master Yun-Gu: It is also said in the Book of Poems
Narrator: "People should often reflect upon their own thoughts and actions to see if they accord with the ways of heaven. If one practices in this way, then good fortune will come without being sought. The choice to seek good fortune or to bring about adversity is all up to the individual."
Master Yun-Gu: Mr. Kong had predicted that you would not receive an imperial appointment or have a son. We can think of these as the decrees of heaven, but even that can still be changed. You only need to reform your improper ways, practice kind deeds and work to accumulate merits and virtues. These are your own transactions to create good fortune, no one can take it away. How is it then possible that you will not get to enjoy it?
Narrator: The I Ching, Book of Change, was written to help kind people bring about good fortune and avoid adversity.
Master Yun-Gu: If everything is predestined with no room for change, how can we improve upon our good fortune and avoid adversity? The very first chapter of The I Ching, Book of Change also said
Narrator: "Families who often perform kind deeds will have an excess of good fortune to pass on to the next generations."
Master Yun-Gu: Do you believe in this?
Liao-Fan: I understood and believed the Master and gratefully paid my respects to him. Then I began to regret all my past wrongdoings, whether large or small, in front of the Buddha image. I wrote down my wish to pass the imperial examinations and vowed to complete three thousand meritorious deeds to show my gratitude towards ancestors, earth and heaven. Upon hearing my vow, Master Yun-Gu showed me a chart and taught me how to keep a daily record of the kind and unkind acts I committed. He told me that bad deeds could neutralize the merits I had accrued from good deeds. The Master also taught me how to recite the Jwun Ti Mantra; a way to train my mind for single-minded concentration. Only with a pure and unscattered mind could what I seek for come true. Master Yun-Gu then said
Master Yun-Gu: It is said, "Those who are considered experts in the art of writing mantras but do not know the right way to do it will be laughed at by spirits and gods." The secret behind writing mantras is the absence of thought from start to finish. In the process of drawing, one must not give rise to a single wandering thought; even kind thoughts have to be let go of. Only under these circumstances can a mantra be successful. When one asks for or seeks something in terms of changing fate, it is important that one does it when the mind is still. In this way, wishes will be easily fulfilled.
Master Yun-Gu: Mencius stated in his "Principle of Forming Destiny" that
Mencius: There is no difference between a long life and a short life.
Master Yun-Gu: At first glance, one would find this hard to understand. How can long life and short life be the same? In actuality, when we look within our hearts, we will find no duality, no difference. We will see everything with eyes of equality and live morally regardless of good or bad times. If one can practice accordingly, then one can master the fate of wealth and poverty. Therefore, when we are able to create and form our own destiny, it does not matter whether we are presently rich or poor.
Narrator: Just as a wealthy person would do well to not become careless in thoughts and actions because he or she is rich, a poor person would not resort to committing improper deeds due to poverty. In either case, one needs to meet ones responsibilities and to be a virtuous person.
Master Yun-Gu: If one can practice morality regardless of conditions, then he or she will surely change a poor life into a prosperous one, and a prosperous life into an even longer lasting prosperity. One should also look upon long life and short life equally. A person who knows he or she is short-lived should not think, "I am going to die anyway, so theres no point in being virtuous, I should steal and kill for my benefit while I can."
Narrator: Instead, one who already knows he or she has a short life to live can be even more diligent in cultivating kindness, hoping to gain a longer life next time and then perhaps the merits from practicing kindness can even lengthen the present life.
Master Yun-Gu: One who is long-lived should not think, "I have all the time in the world, it does not matter if I do something bad once in while."
Narrator: A long life does not come easily. It is to be cherished and used to cultivate even more kindness and virtue. Otherwise, we may very well use up our long life all too soon.
Master Yun-Gu: One who understands this principle, will be able to change a short life into a long life through virtuous behavior.
The issue of life and death is the most critical issue of ones life. Therefore, long life and short life is also the most important issue to us. The same applies to wealth and poverty, good or bad reputation. The issue of long life and short life encompasses all of these.
Narrator: That is why Mencius did not need to mention the latter in his principle of creating destiny, since he had already spoken about long and short life.
Liao-Fan: Master Yun-Gu then told me about Mencius teaching on cultivating the self.
Master Yun-Gu: One who wishes to cultivate needs to do so daily and to be mindful of his or her conduct every moment, ensuring that no transgressions are made. As for changing ones destiny, that depends on the accumulation of merits, seeking for a response from the heavens. When cultivating, one needs to be aware of ones own faults and resolve to correct them just as in curing a sickness.
Perseverance is required and attainment comes when ones practice matures and ripens. In that case, ones destiny will most definitely change for the better. We should work toward severing all bad habits and thoughts. It would be quite an accomplishment for the true benefits of these teachings to be felt once one reaches the state of no thought.
The actions of worldly people usually follow their thoughts. Whatever has to be thought is not considered natural. I know that you are still unable to accomplish the state of no thought, but if you practice reciting the Jwun Ti Mantra continuously, it will help you to overcome scattered thoughts. When you recite, you must not think of reciting, but recite consciously and diligently without any attachment. When the reciting becomes second nature, it will be effective.
Narrator: The essence of this practice can only be understood after one practices it.
Liao-Fan: My name used to be Shuei-Hai, which meant broad learning, but after receiving these teachings from Master Yun-Gu, I changed it to Liao-Fan, which means transcending the ordinary. It signified my understanding of the fact that we create our destiny and that I did not wish to be like worldly people, who allowed destiny to control them.
From then on, I began to be constantly aware of my thoughts and actions. I was very cautious and careful in whatever I thought or did. Soon I felt quite different from before. In the past, I used to be careless and lived my days in distraction and had no self-discipline at all.
Now, I find myself being naturally respectful, careful and conservative in my thoughts, speech and actions. I maintain this attitude even when I am alone, for I know that there are spirits and gods everywhere who can see my every action and thought. Even when I encounter people, who dislike or slander me, I can take their insults with a patient and peaceful mind and not feel compelled to quarrel with them.
The year after I met Master Yun-Gu, I took the preliminary imperial exam in which Mr. Kong had predicted I would come in third place. Amazingly, I came in first! Mr. Kongs predictions were beginning to lose their accuracy. He had not predicted I would pass the imperial exam at all, but that autumn, I did! None of these were part of my original destiny. Master Yun-Gu had said that
Master Yun-Gu: Destiny can be changed.
Liao-Fan: And now I believe it more than ever! Although I had corrected many of my faults, I found that I could not wholeheartedly do the things I ought to do. Even if I did do them, it was forced and unnatural. I reflected within and found that I still had many shortcomings.
Narrator: Such as seeing an opportunity to practice kindness and not being eager enough to do it, or harboring doubts when helping others in need.
Liao-Fan: Sometimes I forced myself to act kindly, but my speech was still untamed and offensive. I found I could contain myself when sober, but after a few drinks, I would lose self-discipline and act without restraint. Although I often practiced kind deeds and accumulated merits, my faults and offenses were so numerous, they seemed to outnumber my good deeds. A lot of my time was spent vainly and without value. It took me more than ten years to complete the three thousand meritorious deeds I had vowed to do.
I was not able to dedicate the merits from these three thousand kind deeds at a temple until I returned to my hometown in the south a few years later. Then I made my second wish and that was for a son. I vowed to complete another three thousand good deeds. A few years later, your mother gave birth to you and named you Tian-Chi.
Every time I performed a kind deed, I would record it in a book. Your mother, who could not read or write, would use a goose feather dipped in ink and make a red circle on the calendar for every kind deed she did. Sometimes she gave food to the poor or bought living creatures from the marketplace to free in the wild. She recorded all of these with her circles on the calendar. At times, she could accumulate more than ten red circles in one day!
Everyday we practiced like this and in four years, the three thousand deeds were completed. Again, I made the dedications, this time in our home. On September thirteenth of that same year, I made my third wish and that was to pass the next level of the imperial examination, the Jinshr level. I also vowed to complete ten thousand meritorious deeds. After three years, I attained my wish and passed the Jinshr level. I was also made the mayor of Baodi province. While in that office, I prepared a small book to record my merits and faults, and called it The Book of Disciplining the Mind.
Narrator: The book was called Disciplining the Mind in hopes of helping him avoid selfish and improper thoughts.
Liao-Fan: From that day, I recorded all my good and bad deeds in that book and kept it on my desk. Every evening, I would burn incense and make a report of my deeds to the heavens at the little altar in the garden. Once, your mother was concerned when she saw that I had not accumulated much merit and asked
Tian-Chis Mother: In the past, I was able to help you in your accumulation of kind deeds and we were able to complete the three thousand meritorious deeds. Now, you have made a vow to complete ten thousand kind deeds and there are fewer opportunities to practice them here at the government residence. How long will it be before your vow can be fulfilled?
Liao-Fan: That night, after your mother spoke these words, I dreamed of a heavenly being and told him of my difficulty in completing the ten thousand kind deeds. The heavenly being said to me
Heavenly being: When you became mayor, you reduced the taxes on the rice fields; that was a great kind deed and that deed itself was worth ten thousand merits. Your vow is already fulfilled!
Liao-Fan: As it turned out, the farmers in Baodi province had to pay a very high tax and when I came to office, I reduced the taxes on the rice fields by nearly half. But still, I felt strange...
Narrator: how did the heavenly being know about the tax reduction? Liao-Fan still held doubts and wondered how a single deed could be worth ten thousand merits.
Liao-Fan: Coincidentally, the Zen Master Huan-Yu was traveling from the Five-Plateau Mountains and stopped in Baodi. I invited him to the government residence, told him of my dream and asked whether it was believable. Mater Huan-Yu said
Master Huan-Yu: When doing kind deeds, one must be true and sincere and not seek any rewards or act with falsity. If one does a kind deed with such a true and sincere heart, then one deed can indeed be worth the merits from ten thousand kind deeds. Besides, your act of reducing the taxes in this province benefits more than ten thousand people; you have relieved the suffering of heavy taxes on all these farmers. The good fortune you will gain from this act will surely be great!
Liao-Fan: Upon hearing his words, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and immediately gave all my savings for him to take back to the Five-Plateau Mountains. I asked the Master to use the money for a food offering for ten thousand monks and to dedicate the merits for me.
Mr. Kong had predicted that I would die at the age of fifty-three. However, I survived that year with no illnesses although I did not ask the heavens for a longer life. Now I am sixty-nine and I have lived sixteen more years than what was destined! The Chinese Book of History had said
Narrator: "The way of the Heavens is not determined and neither is ones destiny. Destiny is not set, but is only created and determined by oneself."
Liao-Fan: These are all true, and I have come to understand that both good fortune and adversity are results of ones own doings. These are truly the words of sages and saints! If one were to say that good fortune and adversity are all determined by the heavens, then I would consider that person to be ordinary.
Tian-Chi, my son, I wonder how your life will be? In any case of destiny we should always prepare for the worst; therefore, even in times of prosperity, act as if you were not and when things are going your way, be mindful of adversity. When you are wealthy, be mindful of poverty and when loved and respected by all, remain careful and conservative. When the family is greatly respected and revered, carry yourself humbly. When your learning is broad and deep, always think of it as slight and keep it humbly within.
Narrator: If one can cultivate the mind, then virtue and morality will grow and good fortune will increase on its own.
Liao-Fan: When mindful of the past, we can spread the virtues of our ancestors. When mindful of the present, we can conceal the faults of our own parents. This is what Mencius called
Mencius: Parents caring for children and children caring for parents.
Liao Fan: When mindful of the nation, we can think of how we can repay its kindness to us and when mindful of the family, we can think of how to bring about good fortune. When mindful of the outside, think of how to help those in need around us, and when mindful of within, think of how to prevent wrong thoughts and improper actions from arising.
Narrator: These six contemplations are all positive ways to cultivate good character. If one can practice accordingly, one will surely become a truly honorable person.
Liao-Fan: One needs to be able to detect ones faults everyday in order to correct them everyday. If one is unable to detect any faults in oneself, then improvement of character is out of the question. There are many intelligent people in the world who refuse to cultivate morality and virtue, and cannot put forth diligent effort in their work. Their failures later in life are owed to a single word - laziness.
Tian-Chi, the teachings of Master Yun-Gu are truly the most worthy, profound, real and proper teachings, and I hope you will study them closely and practice them with all your effort. You must use your time wisely and not let it slip by in vain.