A humane person loves people, and is kind. People express their humaneness by being kind and considerate towards others. As it’s said, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself.” If you do to someone else what you wouldn’t want done to yourself, you aren’t being humane.
A humane person is able to take losses and to endure insults. This may be difficult to do at first, but gradually you get used to it. In the beginning you may feel awkward and uncomfortable, but after a while it becomes natural and isn’t the least bit forced on your part.
In practical terms, humaneness involves being patient and doing things to just the right degree. There’s a saying,
If you want to be perfect at something,
You’ve got to work hard.
When you’ve mastered the skill,
Other things also become easy.
In everything you do, continuously seek to refine your work until you achieve the ultimate perfection and beauty. How can you do that? It takes bitter effort. What kind of bitter effort? It can all be summed up in one word: endurance. The Chinese character for ‘endurance’ (忍) is a picture of
a heart (忍) with a knife (忍) stuck in it. This means we have to endure pain, suffering, and all kinds of things－hunger, thirst, wind, rain, heat, and coldness. We’ve got to endure, endure, and endure! Endure all the things that cannot be endured. In all we do, we’ve got to bear the difficulties and apply bitter effort. Then when our skill is ripe, we’ll naturally succeed. At that point, we’ll be able to hear one thing and understand ten others. We will have opened the gate to wisdom, and all things and principles will immediately be completely clear to us－we can take in the whole picture in a single glance.
The analogy of seeds can also be used to explain humaneness. When planting the various grains, we must choose the large seeds, because they will produce strong sprouts and will yield a bountiful harvest in the autumn. Farmers understand this. If good seeds are not selected, and the fields are not tilled, irrigated, and fertilized, then come autumn there won’t be any harvest. “Each bit of tilling yields a bit of harvest.” This can also be applied to the situation of students studying in school. If you study hard and understand the principles in your textbooks, you will surely be able to make useful contributions in the future. On the other hand, if you are sloppy in your studies and do just enough work to get by, after you graduate you won’t have the skills to help you make a living. You’ll become a burden to your family and a parasite of society, and others will look down on you.
There are two types of seeds: sentient seeds and insentient seeds. Sentient seeds give rise to living beings born from wombs, eggs, moisture, or by transformation. Insentient seeds produce plant life such as grass and trees, and minerals such as metals and rocks. Sentient beings possess emotions and a nature; insentient beings lack emotion but do possess a nature. It is said, “Sentient and insentient beings together perfect the Wisdom of All Modes.” The natures of sentient and insentient beings are interconnected. They were originally one. Insentient beings are that way only temporarily; if they could return to their origin, they would become sentient. However, that’s not easy to do. They have to wait a long, long time before they have a chance to return to their origin. That chance is as minute as a speck of dust in the trichiliocosm. And even when insentient beings do become sentient, they are still primitive animals such as ants, worms, or mosquitoes.
Even though we are sentient beings now, this is also only a temporary state that may not last. If we don’t do a good job of being people, our natures will dissolve and transform into insentient vegetation. That’s why large trees often have ghosts and spirits living in them; it’s because there’s a close connection between large trees and ghosts and spirits. People and ghosts are connected as well; there is no real barrier between them. Cultivators had better understand this principle and avoid falling into the plant kingdom. Although plants do have a nature, it’s hard for them to become sentient beings.
Fellow students! Every one of you can return to your origin and become a Buddha, as long as you bring forth the resolve for Bodhi soon and work hard at your cultivation. However, if you fall into the insentient realm and and become plants, it will be difficult for you to cultivate. You may be sorry, but by then it will be too late!
A talk given on March 6, 1984