Liaofan Yuan

First Lesson - How to Create Destiny

My father passed away when I was young. My mother persuaded me to learn medicine, instead of studying and passing the imperial examinations, because it would be a good way to support myself while helping others. Perhaps, I could even become famous through my medical skills, thus fulfilling my father’s aspiration for me.

One day, I met an elderly but distinguished looking gentleman at the Compassionate Cloud Temple. He had a long beard and such a look of a sage that I immediately paid my respects to him. He told me, “You are destined to be a government official. Next year you will attain the rank of Learned First Level Scholar. Why are you not studying for the examination?” I told him the reason. I asked the elderly gentleman his name and where he was from. He replied, “My last name is Kong. I came from Yunnan Province. I have inherited a most sacred text on astrology by Shao-Zi. It is called The Imperial Standard of Governing the World. Shao-Zi developed the art of prediction very well. By my calculations I am supposed to pass it on to you and teach you how to use it.”

I invited Mr. Kong to my home and asked my mother about him. My mother asked me to treat him very well. We then tested Mr. Kong's ability at prediction. He was always correct whether it was for big events or for small everyday matters. Therefore, I became convinced of what he had said about my destiny and again began to think of studying for the examinations. I consulted with my cousin Chen Shen. He recommended a teacher Mr. Hai-Gu Yu, who was teaching at the home of a friend, Mr. You-Fu Shen. I thus became his student.

Mr. Kong then did some more calculations for me. He told me that as a scholar, I would place fourteenth in the county examination, seventy-first in the regional examination and ninth in the provincial examination. The following year, at the three examination places I placed exactly as Mr. Kong had predicted. I then asked him to make predictions for my entire life. Mr. Kong’s calculations showed that I would pass such and such a test in such and such a year, the year that I would become a civil scholar (equivalent to a high school student), and the year that I would receive a promotion to become an imperial scholar (equivalent to a university student). And lastly, I would be appointed as magistrate in Sichuan Province. After holding that position for three and a half years, I would retire and return home. I would die at the age of fifty-three, on August 14th around the hours of one to three am. Unfortunately, I would not have a son. I recorded everything that he said and carefully set it aside.

After that, the outcome of every examination turned out exactly as predicted. Mr. Kong had also predicted that I would only be promoted after receiving a ration of ninety-one dan and five dou of rice. However, I had received only seventy dan of rice when the Commissioner of Education, Mr. Tu, recommended me for a promotion. I secretly began to doubt Mr. Kong’s predictions. Nevertheless, the prediction turned out to be correct after all, because Mr. Tu’s replacement turned down the promotion.

It was not until some years later that a new Education Commissioner, Mr. Yin reviewed my old examination papers and exclaimed, “These five essays are as well written as reports to the Emperor. How can we bury the talents of such a great scholar”. The Commissioner wanted the magistrate to issue an order for me to become a candidate for “Imperial Scholar” under his authority. After undergoing this eventful promotion, my calculations showed that I had received exactly ninety-one dan and five dou of rice. From then on, I deeply believed that promotion or demotion, wealth or poverty all came about in due time and that even the length of one’s life is prearranged. I began to view everything in a detached manner and ceased to seek gain or profit.

After being selected as an imperial scholar, I was to attend the University at Beijing. During my yearlong stay in 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.

The following year I went to Nanjing. Before I was to enter the National University at Nanjing, I paid a visit to Master Yun-Gu, a venerable Zen Master at Qixia Mountain. We sat in meditation face to face in the Zen hall for three days and three nights without sleep. Master Yun-Gu said, “The reason why ordinary people cannot become sages is because they have too many wandering thoughts running through their minds. In our three-day meditation, I have not observed a single thought arise in you. Why?”

I replied that Mr. Kong had clearly predicted the entire outcome of my life. I had seen that the time of life, death, promotion and failure are all predestined. There was no use or need for me to think about it or to desire anything. The master smiled and replied, “I thought you were someone of remarkable capabilities! Now I realize you are just an average, ordinary person”!

Feeling confused by what Master Yun-Gu said, I asked him to explain. He told me that an ordinary person’s mind is forever occupied by wandering and imaginary thoughts, so naturally their life is bound by chi, the energy of yin and yang as well as destiny. We cannot deny the fact that it exists, but only ordinary people are bound by it. Destiny cannot bind those who cultivate great kindness. Nor can destiny bind those who have committed flagrant bad deeds. He told me that for the past twenty years, I had lived my life just as Mr. Kong had predicted and had done nothing to change it. Instead, I became bound by destiny. If I was not considered an ordinary person, who was. Taken aback, I asked Master Yun-Gu if it was true that we can change our destiny. The Master answered, “We create our own destiny. We seek our own good fortune. It is the true teaching and says so in the Book of Songs and the Book of History”.

In the Buddhist teachings, it is written that if we wish for and seek wealth, position, a son, a daughter, long life, we can attain them. Since lying is one of the greatest offenses in the Buddha's teachings, we can be assured that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have no reason to deceive us. I then said I had heard that Mencius once said, “Whatever is sought can be attained. The seeking is in ourselves”. This refers to inner qualities such as virtue, responsibility and kindness. 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? The Master replied that Mencius was correct, but that I had misinterpreted his meaning.

Master Yun-Gu said that Master Hui-Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen School taught, “All the fields of merit are within one’s own heart. If one seeks from the true mind within, one can be in touch with all one wishes for". By seeking inside ourselves, we will not only attain the inner qualities of virtue, responsibility and kindness, but we can also attain wealth, fame and prestige. To be able to attain both on the inside and on the outside is beneficial to our reward.

Master Yun-Gu then told me that if one cannot reflect inside one’s own heart but instead blindly seeks fame, fortune and long life from outside sources, although one may pursue them by using intelligence, one can only attain at most what destiny had entitled one to. To do otherwise, one might lose both inner purity and what one was predestined to have. Then this seeking will have been in vain.

Master Yun-Gu then asked what were Mr. Kong’s predictions regarding my entire life. I honestly told him the whole story. He then asked if I felt that I deserved imperial appointments or a son. I reflected upon my previous deeds and attitudes in the past for a long time. Then I answered him that no, I did not feel that I deserved an imperial appointment or a son. Those who received imperial appointments all had the appearance of good fortune and I did not. I did not work towards accumulating virtues to build up my good fortune, either. I was very impatient and narrow-minded. Sometimes, I would show off my intelligence and talent in putting down others. I also behaved arbitrarily and spoke without any sense of restraint. These were all signs of scant good fortune and virtue. How could I possibly receive an imperial appointment?

There is an old saying, “Life springs from the dirt of the earth. Clear water often harbors no fish”. The first reason why I felt that I did not deserve a son was that I was overly attached to cleanliness. The second reason was that harmony is the cultivator of all life. But I was quick tempered and easily became angry. The third reason was based on the principle that loving-kindness is the root of reproduction and harshness is the root of sterility. I overly guarded my own reputation and could not sacrifice anything for the sake of others. The fourth reason was that I talked too much, which wasted a lot of chi or energy. The fifth reason was that I indulged in drinking. The sixth reason that I did not have a son was my habit of staying up nights, not knowing how to conserve my energy. Aside from these, I had many other faults that were too numerous to mention.

Master Yun-Gu then said, “According to you then, there are many things in life you do not deserve, not only fame and a son! 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 were in fact were meant to die in that manner. The karmic result today is simply the fruit of their deeds. Heavenly beings do not have any intentions for us”.

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.

“Now that you recognize your own shortcomings, you need to put forth your utmost efforts into working to change and reforming your misdeeds, which cause you not to have a child or become an imperial official. You need to cultivate virtue and tolerance and to treat others with compassion and harmony. Also, to 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, a person of virtue and sincerity”.

“If even our body is governed by destiny, then how can a body of virtue and sincerity not evoke a response from heaven? As is said in the ‘Tai Jia Chapter’ in The Book of History, ‘One may run away from the retribution of heaven, but one can never escape the retribution for one’s own wrong deeds.’ “It is also said in the Book of Songs, ‘To remind us to permanently accord with the mind of heaven and to seek the great good fortune by our own’”.

The Master told me, "Mr. Kong had predicted that you would not receive an imperial appointment or have a son. These are the retributions of heaven, but even they can still be changed. You only need to develop your virtue, diligently try to practice kind deeds and work to accumulate many hidden merits and virtues. These are your own transactions to create good fortune. How is it then possible that you will not get to enjoy them?"

“I Ching, The Book of Changes, was written to help people bring about good fortune and to avoid adversity. If everything is predestined with no room for change, then how can we improve upon our good fortune and avoid adversity? The very first chapter of I Ching, The Book of Changes also said, ‘Families who often perform kind deeds will have an excess of good fortune to pass on to the next generations.’ Do you believe this”? I replied “Yes”.

I gratefully accepted his advice paid my respects to him by prostrating. Then I began to regret all my past wrongdoings, whether large or small, in front of the Buddha’s 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 merit-fault chart and taught me how to keep a daily record of all the kind and unkind acts I did. He told me that bad deeds would neutralize the good ones. The Master also taught me to recite the Zhun Ti Mantra. Only with a pure and concen-trated mind could what I seek for come true. Master Yun-Gu explained that it had been said by specialists in drawing talismanic figures, “Those who are considered experts in the art of drawing charms but who do not know the right way to do so will be laughed at by spirits”. The key to drawing charms is having no thoughts from start to finish. With this understanding, start with the first stroke, which is called a good beginning. In the process of drawing, one must let go of all wandering thoughts. Do not even give rise to a single thought of goodness. Only under these circumstances can a charm be effective.

Master Yun-Gu continued, “When one prays for and seeks for something or tries to change one’s fate, it is important that one does so without giving rise to a single thought. In this way, one will easily receive a response. Mencius discussed in 'Learning to Create Destiny' that, 'There is no difference between a long life and a short life.' At first glance, one would find this hard to understand. How can long life and short life be the same? In fact, when we do not give rise to thought there is no duality in short or long life”.

“Separately analyze re-creating destiny. When there is no duality between wealth and poverty we will be able to create and form our own destiny. When there is no duality between failure and success, then we can control the fate of prestige and lack of position. When there is no duality between short life and long life, then we can control the destiny of life and death. The most important concern for human beings is that of life and death. So talking about early death and longevity encompass all conditions, whether favorable or unfavorable, whether gain or loss”.

“We have to wait until our cultivation reaches a certain level then our destiny will change. This change depends on the accumulation of merits, on seeking a response from the heavens. When cultivating, one needs to be aware of one’s own faults and resolve to correct them just as in curing a sickness. While waiting we should let go of the thought of desiring something that we are not supposed to have and the thought of wishing to receive a reward”. It would be quite an accomplishment in achieving these teachings to be able to reach the innate ‘State of No Thought’. It is the actual learning and practice of wisdom.”

Master Yun-Gu told me “I know that you are still unable to accomplish the ‘State of No Thought’, but you can practice reciting the Zhun Ti Mantra continuously without counting the number of recitations and without interruption. When you reach a higher level of constant mindfulness, you will be able to achieve the level of ‘to not recite when reciting and to recite when not reciting’. When you no longer give rise to wandering thoughts, the mantra will become effective and successful.”

My name used to be Xue-Hai, which means “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 could create our destiny and that I did not wish to be like ordinary people, who were controlled by their destiny. From then on, I began to be very cautious and careful in whatever I thought or did. Soon I felt quite different from before. In the past, I was careless and had no self-discipline at all. Now, I found myself being naturally cautious and conscientious. I maintained this attitude even when alone, for I know that there are spirits and heavenly beings everywhere who can know my every action and thought. I am cautious to not offend them with my thoughts. Even when I encounter people, who dislike or slander me, I could take their insults with a patient and peaceful mind and do not feel compelled to quarrel with them.

The year after I met Master Yun-Gu, I took the preliminary imperial examination in which Mr. Kong had predicted that I would come in third place. Amazingly, I came in first! Mr. Kong’s predictions were beginning to lose their accuracy. He had not predicted that I would pass the imperial examination at all, but that autumn, I did!

Although I had corrected many of my faults, I found that I could not wholeheartedly do the things I ought to. Even if I did do them, it was forced and unnatural. I reflected within and found that I still had many shortcomings. Such as seeing an opportunity to practice kindness and not being eager enough to do it or having doubts when helping others in need. 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 unable to dedicate the merits from these three thousand good deeds at a temple until I returned to my hometown in the south, a few years later. At that time, I had the opportunity to ask two monks to dedicate them for me.

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-Qi. Every time I performed a good 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 good deed she did. Sometimes she gave food to the poor or bought living creatures from the marketplace and freed them 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 invited the same two masters to make 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 highest level of the imperial examination. I also vowed to complete ten thousand meritorious deeds. After three years, I attained my wish and passed the examination. I was also made the mayor of Baodi County.

Then I prepared a small book to record my merits and faults and called it the Book of Cultivating the Mind. Every morning, when I started to work in the office my servant would bring the book and have the guard place it on my desk. I would record my every deed, good or bad, no matter how small. At night I set an altar in the courtyard and put on my official uniform to emulate the way of Mr. Zhao, an officer in the Song Dynasty. I burned incense and reported all my deeds to the heavens.

Once, your mother was concerned when she saw that I had not accumulated much merit. In the past, she was able to help me in our accumulation of good deeds and we were able to complete three thousand meritorious deeds. Now, I had made a vow to complete ten thousand good deeds and there were fewer opportunities to practice them at the government residence. She worried about how long it would be before my vow could be fulfilled.

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 good deeds. The heavenly being told me that when I became mayor, I had reduced the taxes on the farmlands. That was a great good deed and that deed itself was worth ten thousand merits. My vow was already fulfilled! As it turned out, the farmers in Baodi County had to pay a very high tax and when I came to office, I reduced the taxes on the farmlands by nearly half. But still, I felt strange and bewildered. I still had doubts and wondered how a single deed could be worth ten thousand merits.

Coincidentally, the Zen Master Huan-Yu was traveling from Wutai Mountain and stopped in Baodi. I invited him to the government residence, told him of my dream and asked whether it was believable. Master Huan-Yu said, “If one does a good deed with such a true and sincere heart without expectation of reward, then one deed can indeed be worth the merits from ten thousand good deeds. Besides, your act of reducing the taxes in this county benefits more than ten thousand people.” Upon hearing his words, I immediately gave all my savings for him to take back to the Wutai Mountain. 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 without illnesses although I did not ask the heavens for a longer life. Now I am sixty-nine. The Book of History explains that, “Destiny exists but is difficult to be believed by most people because it is very changeable”. “Destiny is not set, but is only created and determined by ourselves”. These are all true. I came to understand that both good fortune and misfortune are incurred by our own actions. These are truly the words of sages and virtuous people! 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-Qi, 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. When things are going your way, be mindful of adversity. And when you have enough food and clothing, be mindful of poverty. And when loved and respected by all, remain careful, apprehensive and conservative. When the family is greatly respected and revered, carry yourself humbly. When your learning is extensive and profound, always think that the more that you learn the less you feel that you know. When thinking of the past, we can advocate the virtues of our ancestors. When thinking of the present, we can conceal the faults of our own parents. When thinking of the country, we can think of how we can repay its kindness to us and when thinking of the family we can think of how to bring about our families’ good fortune. When thinking of the outside, think of how to help those in need around us and when thinking of within think of how to prevent improper thoughts and actions from arising.

We need to be able to find one’s faults everyday and to correct them everyday. If we are unable to detect any faults in ourselves then we will think that everything we do is all right. Then, we will be unable to correct our faults and improve-ment will be out of the question. There are many intelligent people in the world who cannot make improve-ments in cultivating morality and virtue. Nor can they make improvements in their work. Their failures in this life are owed to a single word. Laziness.

Tian-Qi, the teachings of Master Yun-Gu are truly the most worthy, profound, real and proper teachings, and I hope that you will be well-versed in them and practice them diligently. You must use your time wisely and not let it slip by in vain.