The Buddhist Teachings of Compassion and Moral Education

Dear professors and students,
good afternoon. Today, while our campus is caught in the drizzle of early winter,
we are very pleased to have the venerable Khenpo Sodargye give us a lecture about
the Buddhist teachings of compassion. Compassion is the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. When there is compassion,
the world is a more harmonious and beautiful place. It is something
that everyone needs. Compassion is selfless
love and tolerance. Compassion is the greatest gift to humans,
and it can bring us perfect happiness. Now, let us welcome the venerable
Khenpo Sodargye with warm applause, and let us listen to
¡±The Buddhist teachings of compassion and moral education¡±. I am very glad to be in
the School of Life Science, of Hunan Normal University, to talk about
¡±The Buddhist teachings of compassion and moral education¡±, and to discuss the topic with
the students and intellectuals present today. Perhaps many of you know Buddhism very well, but there are still some who do not, so I would like to give a brief introduction on Buddhist compassion first. Now, young people
really need to know the Buddhist concepts of
compassion, karma, reincarnation, happiness, etc, because these concepts are
most important to human beings. Our society would become
particularly depressing, without compassion. In my mind,
Buddhist compassion is indispensable to today¡¯s world. Science and technology are developing, day by day, and many people are far more intelligent
than those who lived several decades ago. It is not hard to find many talented people
in today’s colleges and universities. So what do we lack today? It should be compassion,
and in a broader sense, moral education. Compassion has an incredible and ineffable power and influence on
our life and society. Most of you may have gained
a huge amount of knowledge previously, but you have not thought about how to be a good person,
what to do to benefit society, nor how to help other beings. As students of life sciences,
you do anatomical and biological experiments every day, but have you considered
the value of each life, and the fact that
every being is seeking happiness and shunning from pain?
Please ask yourselves this. Perhaps some of you have
heard about Bodhisattva Nagarjuna. He was a very famous master, and great thinker, after Buddha entered Nirvana
2,500 years ago. Kindness and Compassion are taught in his book, the Treatise of the Great Perfection of Wisdom. According to him, kindness is an aspiration to make all beings happy; and compassion is a wish to save all beings from suffering. Everyone, please us all take a look at our daily life,
have we sometimes cared about the people and the animals
living around us? Perhaps not.
Chances are, regarding the animals, that we always eat their flesh, skin them and wear their fur.
If we live with such a cruel mindset,
our life may not be happy. There is a saying: ¡°Watch your thoughts,
for they become words. Watch your words,
for they become actions. Watch your actions,
for they become habits. Watch your habits,
for they become your character. And watch your character,
for it becomes your destiny.¡± This means that the thoughts in our mind
have a very close connection with our life. Our society, today, cries out for
the spirit of compassion. Let us have boundless compassion
for all the sentient beings, not just for humans. If we have the mindset
and the attitude of compassion, we will improve all aspects of life,
and of the entire world. Sadly, we always find that
people are now profit-oriented and that their selfishness is particularly strong. To accomplish personal goals,
they do not hesitate to cause physical and mental harm to others. As you know,
a number of pharmaceutical factories, in their perverted ways to make money,
produce counterfeit medications, and also, many goods that
cause health hazards are produced, by manufacturers who
have no scruples about karma. The doctors and nurses in the hospitals,
who are supposed to be the ¡±angels of life¡± are now the ¡°angels of death¡±. And teachers, who should be
¡°the engineers of human souls¡±, turn out to be the culprits who
lead the younger generation astray. Such terrible things
happen today in our society. Some students may have earned
their degrees from leading universities;
but, if they lack morality, they will do evil things after graduation. Of course, most of the graduates,
from top universities such as Peking University, are excellent, but still,
some of them lack a moral education. I heard, in the news, that a student was selling pork in the market,
after graduating from Peking University. Later, the secretary of the local county Party Committee
heard about his situation and thought it was really a waste of talent,
and that it was also embarrassing. So he arranged a very good job
for the student. But this student did not even know
how to conduct himself. He was extremely distressed
at work, and did not know how to communicate,
and get along with his co-workers. Finally, he went back
to his previous job, selling pork
to earn a living. There are many other similar cases, like the ¡°the king of pig-breeders¡±, who was also a Peking University graduate; perhaps you have heard about this news, previously. I have visited many Religious Research Centers and Departments of Philosophy; I am glad to see that many students and scholars, there, aspire to fathom
the religions and truths. It is essential for the students to develop true kindness in
their character, while they are in college. But I¡¯m afraid you may not
have developed true kindness. Thus later, when you become a teacher,
you will not really benefit your students. One news caused much controversy,
both at home and abroad, a few days ago, in which some people, in Hangzhou, said that
they would rather be prostitutes than teachers. Why?
Modern society is morally bankrupt today. In many colleges, the students¡¯ minds are full of desires of
making money and being rich. They seldom think of, nor get the education about,
how to be responsible for the next generation, and
to pass on valuable knowledge. Let us
consider one thing: what do you think
our society lacks the most, nowadays? A heart
of kindness, I think. A person¡¯s actions and speech
follow the lead of his/her mind. Every person, around the world, guided by the kindness in their mind,
can work for worthwhile causes, and the streams of their work will finally converge and form an ocean, from which the whole world
and the whole of society will benefit. As you are aware, the main topic today is Buddhist compassion, which is different from worldly kindness, and does no harm
to any sentient being. As is taught in Mahayana Sutralamkara Tika,
the Buddhist compassion is totally different from the ¡°compassion¡± taught in Christianity and Confucianism. Buddhist compassion never allows for any harm to be done to
any sentient being. ¡°Sentient beings¡± means
life forms other than plants. As students majoring in life science,
surely you understand that what differentiates animals from plants
is that they have feelings just like humans; Plants do not have feelings,
though they may react to their surroundings. People can do
a lot of damage to both
mankind and to animals, when they are
controlled by greed. A greedy person will harm many living creatures out of his/her desire and ignorance, so it is taught in sutras. In today¡¯s world, some people do a lot of unthinkable harm to other sentient beings. I think that the lack of moral education
will cause demoralization, harm the public, and damage our nation
and society. Former President of the United States, Mr. Roosevelt, also said that, ¡°To educate a man, in mind and not in morals, is to educate a menace to society.¡± He was quite right. So let us introspect into our own minds: do we have compassion for others? Being harmless to
every sentient being is the essence
of Buddhism. The true Buddhist spirit is
not harming sentient beings, and having ultimate wisdom. This very important
viewpoint is taught in Four Hundred Verses on the Middle Way, a work by the great master Aryadeva: ¡°The Thusly Gone (Buddhas) have said that the (practice of) Dharma is, in short, doing no harm (in order to attain a higher status rebirth) and (realizing) voidness, the (natural) state beyond sorrow (in order to attain liberation or enlightenment). In this (Buddha-Dharma), there are only these two.¡± This viewpoint is very clear in Buddhism. Perhaps you will find it
hard to understand Initially. You may not find
such teaching in Confucianism. What in their teachings are
¡°Benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, and trust¡±¡­¡­. In Confucianism value system, the ¡°Benevolence¡±
is based on ¡°trust¡± and is the supreme state. But in their ¡°Benevolence¡±,
people kill fish and other animals to nourish
themselves and their relatives. This is unreasonable. In Tibetan medicine
and treatments, we never dissect animals nor kill them,
to get medical materials. Still, Tibetan medicine
cures diseases effectively. I remember Sun Simiao, who was known as the “King of Medicine” of the Tang Dynasty, And who wrote in his book Essential Formulas for Emergencies [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold that, ¡°You are further removed from living if you try to prolong your life by killing.¡± Perhaps you have heard this saying before. What does it mean? From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is impossible to achieve longevity by killing and eating animals. Today, people eat chickens, ducks, fish, crabs , shrimps, etc., to nourish themselves. But their health
only gets worse. Most of us are unaware of
respecting animals¡¯ lives, because we are brought up in an education system,
and a society, that see the animals as food. But in fact,
if you eat other living sentient beings, it will not cure your disease,
nor make you live longer. It will only
do more harm than good to your body. This is not a view held by the minority of Buddhists,
but is a law of nature. Many intellectuals in scientifically
developed countries now agree with
this point of view. You may have heard about this news: a few days ago, in November, a TV presenter and famous actress in London, whose name was Ms. Sarah Honeywell, went into the street, stepped into and lay down, half naked, in a huge plate, with some vegetable sides. Why did she do so? It is to call for people¡¯s compassion for animals killed for food, and to upgrade our moral standards. The organizer of the campaign, PETA, ´°Ì嶥¶Ë
the world’s largest animal protection organization with over 2 million members, expressed their intention to organize the campaign. What did they say? Many people from both East and West, no matter whether they are
religious or not, put their health above
the lives of animals. It is such a brutal
and cruel action to sacrifice the very precious
lives of animals, just for the sake of our health. To some extent,
this campaign shows that our attitude towards animals is
an assessment of our behavior. I don¡¯t know if you have heard a saying of the pacifist, Mahatma Gandhi. What did he say? He said: ¡±The greatness of
a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.¡± This quote
has a profound meaning, indeed. Whether a country can improve the morality of its people, or not, depends on the people¡¯s love and compassion
towards animals. The compassion that we talk about today, is not just towards human beings. Our compassion extends to the animals around us. If you have not realized this point by now, perhaps you will see it
when you are older. I met a university professor,
the day before yesterday, when we were performing life-releasing,
together, in a public park. She told me that
she recalled a memory from the same place, 20 years ago: She was not a Buddhist then.
She was having her wedding ceremony in the park. At that time, they killed a lot of animals for food. In that same park, she realized
she had done something wrong previously, and wanted to pay back. Many people today, in their youth, do not believe in such truths,
, but gradually,
some of them will see their mistakes, and then will begin to repent; while some
others will not. Anyway, the point, today,
is whether we can develop some spirit of compassion, or not.
Let us be harmless towards all sentient beings,
and always care about them. This is very important. The compassion
taught in Buddhism is deeper, and
more rigorous than that of Confucianism. For instance, Confucianism attaches
great importance to filial responsibility; but, as many Buddhists leave home and become monks and nuns, the public may think that they are not dutiful to their parents. This is indeed a
misunderstanding of Buddhism. The media today mislead the masses,
giving them no positive but a lot of negative
and false views of Buddhism. Filial respect in Buddhism does not coincide with many worldly people¡¯s values. Actually human life
is not limited to one lifetime.
It is extremely long, in reality. To be devoted to our parents, it is not advisable for us
to provide them with just money, wealth, and status. Instead, we should be caring about their future lives. This truth is also written in
Sutra Told by Bodhisattva Incredible Light: Can we repay our parents¡¯ kindness
by just offering them food and money? Hardly. If we could lead them to
Buddhism and the truth, we can really repay their kindness. Master Lian Chi said that: if we can guide our parents away from killing, teach them to cherish the life of others, to abstain from negative deeds, to practice virtuous deeds, and finally let them be good people, then this is the best filial piety. Filial piety has different levels:
ordinary, good, and excellent. To practice ¡®excellent filial piety¡¯,
we should lead our parents away from suffering, and toward happiness – the true happiness that is free from all suffering. So I recommend that all of you get to know Buddhism, from all aspects. This is important. It is a pity that, basically, no concept
of Buddhism is taught in today¡¯s schools, for various reasons. In Thailand, they combine
Buddhism with their education system. Many schools¡¯ consultants
and chief supervisors are monks and nuns. They integrate the Buddhism teachings and
regular education. Their students
participate in meditation and sutra-chanting
each week, and gradually the Buddhist doctrines are spread. And eventually,
the young generation grow into the people of compassion and love.
The education system works like that
in Thailand. It is really important to
apply such a teaching philosophy to colleges and universities. In England, as you know, now Buddhism is a legal subject. All the schools there can teach Buddhism in the classroom. One director of
religious education said that, Buddhism is highly welcome
in middle schools. Why? Because, first, the core theories of Buddhism,
such as dependent origination and Four Noble Truths, are consistent
with modern science. Second, the Buddhist rules of conduct, such as the three refuges, five precepts,
the Six Paramitas, and the four attractive qualities, can also be fully integrated
into the norms of behavior that are advocated in higher education. Third, the concepts of non-violence,
peace, and kindness , etc, proposed by Buddhism,
are indispensable to today¡¯s society. They can enhance moral standards,
stablize society, and bring many other benefits. Now, many celebrities and prominent figures
agree that it is harmful for
both the society and individuals to overlook the education of loving-kindness,
and thus they do not understand this concept. If we live with a selfish mind, and are attached to
ourselves, every day, our careers and many other pursuits
may not be successful. Of course, I know many of you must be more interested in the topic of how to make yourself healthier, or what should you do to reduce your work stress, and so on. I understand that. So, when I
talk about compassion, and how it is nurtured on
the basis of morality, many people may be
uninterested. This has everything to do
with our moral education. I think that, in the future,
when you enter society, no matter what you do,
the most important thing to you will be caring for others. We should not link caring
with material returns. If we care about
nothing but status, fame, wealth, self-development,
etc, every day, then we are
humans without sublime goals. Once, I read
Stages of Moral Development, which says that:
If a nation or country completely discards morality,
a lot of conflicts will happen
among individuals and the community, and these conflicts will
then develop into social confusion and turmoil. That is why in Mahayana Buddhism,
we emphasize mostly compassion for
all sentient beings. Although
many of you may feel that it is difficult to follow the Buddhist compassion,
as it is a sublime spirit, as human beings, we are all born with
this good nature. Every one of us should think about
how to boost, and spread, compassion
throughout our society. Students in colleges,
especially, need to know some Buddhism. The in-depth
knowledge of every subject of study can be
found in Buddhism. Buddhism gives an especially
detailed explanation of everything from its origin to extinction. Modern people need a Buddhist spirit
to face the complicated world. The essence of its spirit
is compassion. Compassion can be
categorized into unconditional compassion, compassion to sentient beings,
and compassion through Dharma teaching, etc. If you look into the Treatise of the Great Perfection of Wisdom
and other
Mahayanistic sutras, you will find a lot of related teachings, which can help you
to acquire a better understanding. If it is somehow impossible
for you to understand them, you should at least know that
Buddhism now has a history of 2,500 years, and it covers
geography , astronomy, cosmology, and also today¡¯s quantum mechanics and medicine , etc. All of these subjects can find accurate answers to their questions in Buddhism. Today, in our society, researchers in life sciences and many other scientific fields cannot work out a final
answer to their research. As scholars of Buddhism,
we can say that you will find, in Buddhism, the answers to everything.
Why is it so? We know that, as a researcher, when you cannot find answers in one field,
looking into another field might work. In fact, Buddhism is profound, and is indeed worthy of
the intellectuals¡¯ serious studies. Take my advice
and you will get many benefits, and there are nothing harmful,
or with side effects, in Buddhism. ´°Ì嶥¶Ë
Some people think that
learning a lot of Buddhist doctrines will produce negative effects.
This worry is actually unnecessary. For lay Buddhists, they can
study and receive Buddhist education at home. For monastics who have renounced the world,
there is also another way to learn. Buddha did not say that,
if anyone wants to follow him, s/he must let go of everything, and go to the mountains to practice.
It is not like that. So, in this sense, I hope
that the intellectuals who had many misconceptions of
Buddhism before, will learn some Buddhist sutras, shastras,
and doctrines properly. As a matter of fact,
the three main religions in China, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism,
which also constitute much of the traditional Chinese culture,
have many similarities, as well as a lot of differences. The differences are the
unique teachings that are explained in detail in Buddhism. So the scholars in the Education circle
should spend some time walking through the Buddhist idea of
compassion. Without compassion, people
think only about themselves and many unfortunate things happen one after another.
For example, a few days ago, about 60 pupils of a primary school
were riding a school bus, which was seriously crowded and overloaded.
Then a car accident happened, the bus was crushed
and about 20 kids died on the spot. It is said in the news, yesterday, that
people were trying their best to save the remaining 40 students. At that time, many unsafe school buses were
revealed in the light of the accident, and the people in-charge were punished. As a result, the security of school transportation
has been widely discussed all over the news. I think that, as human beings, we all have a conscience. But this precious human nature
is not regarded as important, in today¡¯s schools. They place money before life, on their list. We should care for
everyone, whether s/he is poor or rich. Thus a beneficial circle will exist in our society. Although it is impossible to eliminate all the evil,
with our efforts, less and less
will happen in society. Many of you will become teacher, in the future, there will be a number of
meaningful things waiting for you to do. Now, your motivation,
your thoughts, and your behavior, should not be limited
only to yourself and your family. Being selfish
may not be beneficial to our society. One would think that,
¡°It doesn¡¯t matter whether I can benefit society or not. The things that are important to me
are finding a perfect wife/husband, buying a comfortable house,
earning a lot of money… As long as I have them all,
I will have no other pursuits.¡± It is also taught in Confucianism that,
¡±A gentleman makes money in the right way¡±. People who are truly wise do not set material comfort as the goal of their life. At least, people of ancient times were not like that. In ancient times,
people aimed to accumulate knowledge rather than wealth. That is why,
in contrast, we have seen no great litterateurs
in the recent five to six decades. Although there are some modern litterateurs,
none is as talented as those in times before. It is an obvious fact that now most people are working
just for money. They work
day and night, indefatigably. What do they eventually get? They appear to have
obtained material prosperity. But inside,
they are facing unprecedented pressure, as you often say, ¡°the mountain-high pressure¡±. People say that the pressure is like
a huge mountain, even the earth, which carries 7 billion humans,
cannot support it. But on the other hand,
every one of us has to deal with pressure
in our life. Where does pressure come from? It is from the
social environment, the education system, and our deteriorating conscience. The unhealthy food we consume today
causes our health problems, so we have to
go to the hospital to get some treatment. Similarly, the lack of moral education will lead to our unwholesome
psychology, which cannot be cured in any hospital
or by any medicine. As students of a normal university, you will have the responsibility
to educate a lot of students, in the future. What kind of people will you shape your students into? Just like you,
or your teachers before? Ask yourself this question,
do you have any other goal, apart from making money?
Many people in our society, today, only care about making money. I have met many people before,
it seemed that they had no interest in seeking knowledge. What will this
indifferent attitude towards knowledge and
morality cause? Isn’t it obvious? I think everyone here should pay attention to
moral education in the future. And we should start from the early ages of the young generation,
from the primary schools, middle schools, and up to colleges, beginning with how to
conduct oneself, and how to be a kind-hearted person. There are plenty of such teachings in our traditional culture: Lao Tze gave great praise to water in his book Tao Te Ching,
because ‘Water benefits everything, without evoking conflicts or resistance.¡± There are similar sayings from
Confucius and Mencius. But today¡¯s education circle has not
paid much attention to the traditional culture. As for how to conduct ourselves, we can start by
learning our traditions and Buddhism, and combining these two together. Our education should be
successful when everyone in school, through our education.
becomes a good person, who never hesitates
to help others and is spontaneously devoted to his/her parents. If, on the contrary, each of us is selfish, our life will be as messy
as a traffic jam, where everyone is stuck,
and wastes a lot of time. In such a situation, who pays the price?
We do. As talented college students,
what you need most, for now, is compassion. We need an education of
goodness and filial piety. We can obtain such knowledge from books, such as Standards for being a Good Pupil and Child, Three-Character Classic, Thousand-character Classic, Filial Piety, and The Analects of Confucius, as well as other traditional books; Also, in Buddhism, Singalovada?Sutra, Ullambana Sutra, and The Sutra About The Deep Kindness of Parents And Difficulty of Repaying It are sutras about filial piety. After studying these classics, we should be able to
change society for the better. ´°Ì嶥¶Ë
In the beginning of today¡¯s lecture, the presenter mentioned
the mind of kindness and compassion. Actually, it is a mind of selflessness
and tolerance. It is the most beautiful thing and
the best gift in the world. It is a path
towards the truest happiness. I wish
that everyone here, together with
every student you teach in the future, will have the light of compassion to shine in the world, and the lotus of wisdom will
bloom in the heart of each of you, bringing joy
and happiness to the whole world. That¡¯s all. Thank you.

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