Rising up early in the morning,going to bed late at night,for whom are we busy?Living beings are hard to save:it's pretty sad.Confused by the wearisome dust,their natures are upside-down.Boxing their ears and commanding them directly,there is still no way to teach them.
Getting up early in the morning and going to bed late at night, many people are busy all day doing all kinds of work. For the sake of whom? In the last analysis, is the person busy for the sake of himself? Is he busy for your sake? Or is he busy for the sake of others? I believe that a lot of people can't come up with a satisfactory answer to this question; even to the point that some people make a point of flippantly saying “busy doin’ nothin’.”
Ha! That's strange. But indeed, there are people who do things without really knowing why. For example, some people spend every waking moment intent upon their business, almost to the point of perpetual insomnia. This is being busy from morning till night for the sake of money. And so it is with scholarship, farming, laboring, business: if we want any accomplishment, then we can't do as we please or be our own boss, but instead we must get up early and retire late.
As a passage from the Book of Odes says,
The cock has already crowed!The morn is already full!Oh, that's not that cock that's crowedIt's just the buzzing of a fly.
In ordinary language, we could paraphrase the poem, “It seems that the cock has already crowed. Is it morning already? Oh! That wasn't the cock crowing, it was just the sound of a fly buzzing.” This is describing one of the virtuous and wise emperors of old. As an emperor, he didn't sleep easily at night. The whole night long, he thought of nothing but the dawn, when he could get on with the day's business. In his anxiety for the night to pass, he rested so fitfully that he started at the sound of a buzzing fly and mistook it for the cock's crow. This is an instance of being busy from morning till night for the sake of the people. It is said, “If there is a single man with blessings, the masses will put their trust in him.” If there is a humane ruler who is worthy and intelligent, the populace will be able to put away their weapons, let their horses out to the pasture, and live in peace. However, the emperor himself must rise early and retire late, working for the prosperity of the people. How can he not do that?
We who cultivate the Way should also be busy from morning till night, not for the sake of profit, nor for the sake of fame, but for the sake of the Dharma. We should “serve the Buddhas without laxness in the morning and evening.” We should get up early in the morning and go to bed late at night, and every day bow to the Buddhas and recite sutras to display our devotion and sincerity as Buddhist disciples. It should not be that we say the right things but our hearts are false. It should not be that we can talk but not practice.
When we bow to the Buddhas, we should concentrate single-mindedly and show respect with our bodies. Bowing to the Buddhas can eradicate obstructions which result from offenses. It is said“To bow before the Buddhas can eradicate offenses as numerous as the grains of sand in the Ganges.” It is a good thing offenses are formless. If they were solid objects they would fill up worlds as numerous as the Ganges’ sands. Therefore, from morning till night, we should bow to the Buddhas and recite the Buddhas’ names to eradicate our obstructions from offenses, and we should be busy for the sake of the Dharma.
But living beings’ dispositions are extremely difficult to fathom. For instance, if they like to eat sweets and you give them something sour, it makes them unhappy. But on the other hand, if you give sweet things to people who like to eat sour things, then they get upset. That's the way they all are. If you don't understand each individual's disposition, you will have no way to save people. Only the Buddha's wisdom is sufficient to be familiar with living beings’ basic natures, and because of that, the Buddha can offer teaching that is appropriate to each one. He constantly travels and roams about, accepting toil and suffering in order to save living beings. But even that doesn't suffice to move living beings. They still will not accept the teachings of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. So it is said, “Living beings are hard to save: it's pretty sad.” “Sad” means deep regard to the point of grief. Because living beings are so stupid and upside-down, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas constantly give rise to hearts of great compassion on their behalf.
Why are living beings so hard to save? “Confused by the wearisome dust, their natures are upside-down.” That's one answer. Because throughout limitless eons, living beings have become deeply stained by the six defiling objects, the six dusts, they constantly bob around in the sea of suffering, sinking, thrashing, totally upside-down. They take suffering for bliss and the false for the true. Thus people of today become so caught up in “fashion,” that even when the current styles are unattractive and may lead to undesirable reactions, they still compete to stay in fashion. People don't know that the sea of suffering is boundless, but a turn of the head is the other shore. Take military weapons for instance: not only do people fail to get rid of them, they seek to break their own records. Great effort is exerted as they seek to invent new weapons for killing people─the more outrageous the better. If that isn't upside-down, what is?
In order to put an end to living beings’ upside-downness, sages and wise advisors earnestly admonish us and repeat their exhortations over and over in order to guide us pitiful creatures. They are like elders who pull on the ears of their youngsters and admonish them directly. But living beings ignore those messages as if they hadn't even heard them, to the point that they employ thousands of methods and hundreds of schemes to hide away their offenses so their teachers and elders won't find out about them. This is truly a case of “boxing their ears and commanding them directly, there is still no way to teach them.”
Ah! The talent living beings have for committing offenses is truly endless! Even the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas feel it is hard to save us pitiful creatures. What a sad situation!
A talk given on the morning of June 16, 1958