In the sixteenth century in China, Mr. Liao-Fan Yuan wrote Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons with the hope that it would teach his son, Tian-Qi Yuan, how to understand true face of destiny, tell good from bad, correct his faults and practice good deeds. It also provided living proof of the benefits from practicing good deeds and cultivating virtue and humility. In relating his own experience in changing destiny, Mr. Liao-Fan Yuan was an embodiment of his teachings.
The title of this book is Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons. “Liao” means understanding and awakening. “Fan” means that if one is not a sage such as a Buddha, Bodhisattva or Arhat, then one is an ordinary person. So, “Liao-Fan” means to understand that it is not enough to be an ordinary person, we should be outstanding. When unvirtuous thoughts arise, we need to gradually eliminate them.
There are four lessons or chapters in this book. The first lesson shows how to create destiny. The second lesson explains the ways to reform. The third reveals the ways to cultivate goodness. And the fourth discloses the benefits of the virtue of humility.
This first lesson of learning to create destiny is a topic of interest to many people who believe that wealth or poverty, long life or short life, all is predestined. If someone had accomplished good deeds in his or her past lives, then naturally in this life he or she would live a wealthy and long life. On the other hand, if someone had been a bad person and committed bad deeds in his or her past life, then in this life he or she would live a poor and short life. However, there are exceptions. Destiny can be changed.
If we were originally destined to be rich with a long life, but had committed excessive offenses, then without having to wait until the next life to bear the consequences, we would become poor with a short life. On the other hand, if we were originally destined to be poor with a short life, but had accomplished exemplary deeds, then without having to wait until the next life, we would become wealthy with a long life. From ancient times until now, there have been many examples of this in history. Although everything that we are subjected to in this life is the result from our behavior in our past lives and has already been predestined; it is not necessarily constrained by destiny. We can still modify it with our current behavior.
Although Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons is not a Buddhist sutra, we need to respect and praise it as one. In the early part of this century, Great Master Yin-Guang, the Thirteenth Patriarch of the Pure Land School dedicated his whole life to its promotion and oversaw the printing of millions of copies of it. Not only did he unceasingly advocate this book but he also studied it, practiced what it taught and lectured on it.
As Buddhists, we are taught to refrain from all that is bad and to do all that is good, to purify our minds. This is the Dharma Seal, the criteria we can use to determine the genuineness of Buddhist teachings or truths. Buddhist sutras, which speak of principles and reasoning, are spoken by five types of people: Buddhas, in this case Buddha Shakyamuni, his students, heavenly beings, immortals and manifested beings.
As long as what has been said has the same meaning and objectives as those of the Teachings of the Buddhas and does not contradict them, the Buddhas with their great broad-mindedness would recognize them as sutras. Thus, we should regard and respect as a sutra, any work that conforms to the principles in Buddhism. And this is especially so for this book, which was certified and advocated by Great Master Yin-Guang. It can help to serve as our foundation in learning Buddhism. But even more important, it can also serve as a foundation for non-Buddhists in helping them to learn how to change their destiny.
There is much to learn about creating destiny, including principles and methods, all of which are contained within this book. Small in size, its impact can be far-reaching. Therefore, if we would like to create our destiny or to truly achieve attainment through the practice of Buddhism, we need to accord with the principles and methods contained within it.
Humility enables us to preserve our good rewards. Without it, we will lose what we are trying to accumulate and all of our efforts will have been in vain.
If we were to examine goodness closely, we would find that there are many different kinds. There is real goodness and false goodness, honest goodness and crooked goodness, hidden and visible, apparent and actual, proper and improper, full and half, big and small, and finally, difficult and easy.
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.