A Lecture by the Venerable Chan Master Hsuan Hua
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
February 9, 1985
(Published in Vajra Bodhi Sea: A Monthly Journal of Orthodox Buddhism, July, 2000, pp. 23-26)
In this era, when technology and materialism flourish, we want to take a careful look at the thinking of the times and ask ourselves whether or not this is a good age to live in. Science has made great advances in technology and that certainly counts as good. But we should also realize the truth in the saying,
"Anything taken to the ultimate point
transforms into its opposite."
In the case of technological advances, good things also beckon misfortune.Let's look at television, for example, I know people will object to my analysis of the TV, saying "Dharma Master, you're a throwback to another age.You're an anachronism.You're out of step with the times."Nonetheless, in my opinion, the television is a menace to human life.The television is a man-eater.Did you know that?Look at children these days.Instead of doing their schoolwork, they sit in front of the TV set.They're glued to the screen, and it eats up their very life-force.The children might as well be dead, because they will never learn the basic principles of being good people.They only learn how to stare at the television.
And what does the TV teach them?Every kind of strange and freakish behavior you can imagine.They learn precious little of value.The kids very quickly learn to enact the evil and harmful lessons they watch.In no time at all, they learn all the bad things that people can do.
Before television came into the world, the people-eater was radio. Radios sucked up humans' life-force. People used to stick a radio in their ear and completely forgot everything else.Radios made us forget about eating, sleeping, and the ordinary events of life.Now the television has confused us to the point of not knowing whether we're coming or going.
Computers have followed along right after the television.In Chinese, the word for computer translates literally into "electric brain".In the future there will be electric eyes, as well as electric ears, electric tongues, electric noses and electric bodies. Every one of the six organs will have disposable modules, likes cassettes, and will gain an electric boost.Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind will be computerized.Even the mind will tie in organically with "know-it-all computer memory banks."Is this a good time to be a person?Impossible!This is a dark age in human history.
In this benighted era, our wisdom has been stolen away by material things.Nobody has any natural wisdom to speak of.Our inherent brightness has been replaced by products and goods.And once we substitute things for wisdom, then people will grow up blank, like idiots.Wisdom will become outmoded.People will no longer serve any useful function.Mark my words: in the future, people will become obsolete.Would you say this is a serious problem or not?Look into it!People will soon be rendered useless!
For instance, some unethical scientists now are busy inventing miraculous monsters.You say it's human? It's not really human.You say it's an animal?It's not exactly an animal either.Since they graft human genes onto animal bodies and alter human genes with animals strains, this mutual genetic modification produces a freakish, mutant, hybrid that resembles neither parent.
Now people can be born with horns, or elephant-like trunks.In my opinion, a human born with a nose like a pachyderm is more a goblin than a person.These goblins and freaks are all within the realm of possibility today.
Furthermore, the range of technology has grown out of control.Within the next two centuries, telephones and the like will be totally obsolete.Televisions and computers will have disappeared.Every person's physical body will contain the capabilities of these machines.Nobody will have to bother dialing a telephone or punching a touch-tone.A person will only need to beam out the number of the desired party from his own built-in phone, with its antennae located in the eyebrows, perhaps, or from his hair, and the other person will receive the call the same built-in way."Hello! Good morning!" That's how easy it will be to place a phone call.
Somebody may be thinking at this point, "Dharma Master, that's the craziest talk I've ever heard."
Well, I ask you to consider this. How many people would have believed you if five hundred years ago you had said, "In five hundred years, there will be airplanes, television, and radios?" Everyone would have considered you insance.But all these inventions are commonplace now.
Why do I mention this topic in the first place? Because we should recognize that advances in science, and in material benefits are not necessarily good for humanity in the long run.They are incomplete, imperfect benefits.Wisdom, on the other hand, is the most thorough-going benefit for the whole world.Thinking and attitudes born of morality and virtue are thoroughly good for us all.The Buddha's Four Measureless Attitudes of kindness, compassion, joy, and even-mindedness are totally advantageous to all creatures.When we base ourselves in thoughts such as these, then we can go ahead and put technology to work for us.There's no fear that we will forget the fundamental aspects of humanity: our own bodies for example.In the future people will forget entirely what people look like.We will all become like animals. I'm not scolding you; this prediction is a cold, hard fact.
That's how the world turns. Good taken to the ultimate point turns bad.Evil, once it reaches an extreme, turns good.A person who is poor to the bitter extreme of poverty can suddenly strike it rich, while rich people can lose every penny overnight. Once born, we are tiny infants, but we grow up, grow old, get sick, and die.That's the cycle of creation and destruction rolling on in the world.It is a natural process of progressive, cyclical change.A process of progressive, cyclical change.A process of metabolism, and transformation.If we recognize the state, then getting rich won't especially appeal to us any longer.And if we should lose our wealth, then we will see things according to the proverb:
The superior person,
even in poverty,
maintains his integrity.
The petty person stops at nothing
to strike it rich.
So it is most important in this day and age of insanity not to go crazy, and not to forget what it means to be a person.We must keep in mind the original purpose and appearance of human beings.When speaking of the meaning of human life, I can say frankly, that the most beneficial things I have run across in my entire life are the Six Guidelines of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
The first of these is "not fighting." This rule applies unilaterally. I will not contend with anybody. No matter what criticism you give me. I will accept it without reservation.Call me what you will.A small cat?Fine, I'm a cat. Call me a dog? Okay, I'm a dog. However you perceive me in your mind, that's what I am. Do you see me as a Buddha? I'm a Buddha. Do you see me as a Bodhisattva? That's what I am."Everything is made from the mind alone."I am whatever you conceive me to be.
For my own part, I have my goals and purposes for being a person. What are they?Simply not contending with people, no matter who it is.You may call me what you please, and I will wear that label.I will acknowledge the name.That will be who I am. I won't contend with you.
The second rule is "no greed".Whatever you own, is yours.I don't want it.And anything of mine that you want, I will give to you. I actually will hand it over.When I give, it's not like the classic, greedy Sangha-member, who constantly tells people to "Give! Give! Give", and who mouths the platitude, "Left-home people do not crave wealth; but the more there is, the better."Any ordinary person hopes that people will give to him, yet this monk is not at all interested in being charitable towards others.This is a wrong attitude.We should avoid it.
As for "no seeking", it means don't look for opportunities to make a killing, or to score a fat profit.Everybody in the world fights for advantages.If we understand the principle of not seeking, and resting content, with few desires, then we won't contend with people any more.Someone who grasps this point truly understands the Six Great Principles.
Why don't we seek?It's because we don't want to be selfish.The only reason a person would seek for things is because of selfishness.With no self, there's no reason left to seek.And free of selfishness, one won't run after personal benefits.These two of the Six Guidelines are inter-related. No selfishness creates the condition for not seeking personal advantages.The two names: "no selfishness" and "no self-benefit" sound similar: in fact, they have distinct differences.
The last one is "no lying".The only reason a person would lie is out of fear; he's afraid of losing his selfish advantages.This fear moves him to criticize everybody else, saying, "All of you are wrong. I'm the only one who's right. "Why does he feel this way?Because he fears he'll lose his benefits to other people.Someone who didn't hanker after personal profits would have no reason to tell a lie.In the final analysis, what's a lie worth, anyway?If you can truly understand these Six Guiding Principles, then you know what it means to be a person.
If you don't understand the Six Guidelines, then you're simply running in lock-step with the rat-race of this mad age.As long as you flow with the tide of insanity, you're just another madman, as crazy as the next person.
That's my message for you all today. I hope the young people among you who hear me won't go insane. The elderly among you should even more keep a grip in your sanity.The little children here can learn along with the adults. Learn how not to go crazy.Ialways say, "Everything's okay, no problem!"
There's a bit more to add here. Don't get scared when you hear me call television, radios, and computers man-eating goblins. No need to be afraid.My hope is that you will clearly recognize these things for what they are.Once you recognize them, then electric gadgets lose their power to confuse you. That's enough to know.But if you're confused by them, then they can gobble you down.
The same principle applies to beauty.If the sight of a pretty figure has the power to confuse you, then you've been swallowed by a man-eater.If the sight of money confuses you, then you've just been devoured by a man-eater.If your purpose is to establish a big reputation and fame confuses you, then you've just be swallowed by the goblin of fame.If good food confuses you, although you feel you've just enjoyed a tasty dish, in fact, the food has eaten you.The food has eaten your spiritual soul, your Dharma-body.It has eaten up your wisdom, and left you as stupid as can be.
If sleep keeps you in a stupor for several centuries, and when you finally wake and see by your wrist watch that it's already half-past noon, and if then, you simply roll over and go back to sleep, then you've been devoured by sleep. Get the point?