Talk at the Sydney evergreen elderly center – 1999 national elder’s day in Australia

Short Talks From Venerable Master Chin Kung

Respected Elders and brothers and sisters. Today, Sydney is holding the 1999 National Elders Day. I, Chin Kung, am very gratified to have the opportunity to attend this distinguished gathering. Ancient forefathers of China have passed down through generations, for over three thousand years of history, the moral excellence of honoring the aged and the wise, and being filial and respectful towards our parents and teachers. These are Chinese virtues and also the main goal of Chinese education.

In Chinese education, Confucius had established an example for private tutoring. The policy for national formal educational institutes can be traced back to the three dynasties of Xia (2205-1751 BC), Shang (1751-1111BC) and Zhou (1122-249BC). Ancient educational system had three points.

First, it taught us to understand the relationship between human beings; how to conduct ourselves, how to interact with others. In China this is called the education of moral principles and ethics. These principles of human relations are divided into five categories. The smallest is that of spouses, for they live in the same room. Outside of the room there is the family. In the family, there are the parents and children, brothers and sister. Outside the family there is society. In society there are friends, government and citizens.

We need to be clear on these relationships, that within these relationships, there are ones of blood relations, and those of moral ethics and responsibility. Therefore, it is said that paternity and filial piety exist between parent and child; a blood relationship. Trust exists between friends and responsibilities exist between a government and its citizens. This is a relationship established on the foundation of morality and justice. Therefore, in getting along with one another, we need to be compassionate and kind to mutually respect, to take care of and help each other.

It is stated in the Infinite Life Sutra that, “People in this world, parent and child, brother and sister, husband and wife, relatives, should respect and love each other and not be jealous and hateful of each other. They should render financial assistance among good friends and not hold stingily on to things.” Human beings are social animals and should not try to break away from society, to exist by themselves. This is especially true for different groups living together. It has been like this since ancient times, today is no exception. Therefore, the diversity of culture is a natural phenomenon and not human-made. It is healthy to be able to adapt to this diversity of cultures, this multi-culture. Those who violate this natural law of multiculture may find themselves ill in both body and mind.

In addition to knowing how to conduct oneself, the second meaning of education is that we need to understand the relationship between humans and nature. Our lives depend on nature. Whether for clothing, food, shelter or travelling there is no way to escape this reality. Therefore, to get along with nature, we learn in compassionate and caring for all people and animals. How do we care for others? It is “Do unto others as we would have done unto ourselves”. In interacting with others, we need to think constantly of how others treat us. Is it appropriate, are we able to accept it ourselves? If not, then we should not use this attitude towards others. This is out of great sincere loving-kindness. Not only do we need to care for all people but all animals and in animate objects as well. This is to practice loving kindness and compassion for everyone and everything.

Third, education helps us to understand our relationship with the beings of heaven and earth. In this world, there are many religions that worship God. Since ancient times, the Chinese people have made offerings to pay respect to the beings of heaven and earth. On the first day of each year, what is the first thing that Buddhists do? The Buddha taught us to pay respect to heavenly beings. Making offerings to heavenly beings, with utmost sincerity is how we express our utmost respect to God.

This Chinese educational system continued until the last years of the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty in China. These concepts of education did not change. The foundation of education is established on filial piety and respect toward parents and teachers. Filial piety places the utmost importance on taking care of the elderly. It is the unshirkable responsibility of the children to accomplish this task. However, modern education is totally different from that of ancient China. Nowadays, young people are not filial toward parents or respectful to teachers and elders. But we cannot blame them and it would be a mistake to do so. Who do we blame? Ourselves for not educating them. In the Infinite Life Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni stated very clearly that, “their ancestor had no virtue, they did not teach them the knowledge, and there was nothing strange about it”, the previous generation did not teach the younger generation well, did not set good examples for them to follow. So, how could we blame them, how could we shirk off our responsibility and shift the blame onto them?

It could be said that my generation was lucky to have received even a superficial view of that old education, able to understand a little of these principles. Unfortunately for us today, we live in an age of tribulation and chaos. I moved away from my family when I was fourteen. After that, I had little contact with my family, unable to even visit them due to political circumstances. But, I constantly remember their kindness in raising me and their love and care during my childhood. This led me to think of what ancient Chinese sages and Buddhas taught us. In the Sung Dynasty, Mr. Zhong-Yan Fan said that, “we take care of our aged parents first and then extend this same care to all aged people. We do the same for our children and then all children.” The sutras have stated this even more profoundly, that “All men are my father, all women are my mother”. Thus, we put into practice the great non-discriminatory heart of compassion and kindness.

In light of this, the last time I visited Sydney, I was very happy to hear that the people here wanted to build a retirement home, the Evergreen Elderly Center. I am happy to do all that I can to help them. However, after my announcement, many people told me that the situation here is not ideal, that I do not want to be taken in. If every one thinks like this, then there would be no one to do good deeds in this world. Who would dare to? Like many disasters in this world, people often do not dare to pitch in to relieve the victims of disasters. Why? They are afraid that money for disaster relief would not get to the victims. So, they just stand by and watch these victims starve and freeze to death. This is being swayed by our emotions and is not a show of true compassion and kindness.

Even if this money was embezzled by others, when we act out of good intentions, the Buddha said that our merit is still perfect. This is true compassion. The Surangama Sutra said it very well, “when our intentions are true, we will achieve perfect merit.” Those who do good deeds and cultivate good fortunes will rise to the heaven, will become Buddhas. Those who steal disaster relief assets and cause victims to starve and freeze will fall into heli. Their fall into hell is not due to our deliberate intention of sending them there. But if we do have that intention, to want to cause harm to that person, to send that person to hell, to deliberately donate money for them to embezzle, then we ourselves have done bad deeds. We do not harbor these bad intentions.

In Mahayana Buddhism, it is the thought that counts not the act in regards to committing transgressions. Once we have understood this, we can rest assured and boldly tackle the matter, to put our best effort into doing virtuous charitable deeds. What we have is a pure and virtuous heart, a sincere loving heart.

I regard these aging senior citizens as my parents. Today, somebody has the great heart to build a retirement home, so many people will take care of the elderly on my behalf. It is all that I could ever wish for, they have my utmost gratitude. How could I not dedicate all my heart and energy to accomplishing this task? I cannot say that I am helping them because taking care of the elderly is my responsibility, our responsibility. If every one of us could think like this, then the elderly in this world would be very fortunate indeed.

Most of us will become seniors. If we are able to respect, love, care and provide for the elderly, then naturally what we receive in return will be outstanding. On the other hand, if we are overly cautious, and dare not do anything, then when we become old, in return no one will take care of us. By then, we will be miserable, and it will be too late for regrets.

What is most precious is this bit of good will, this sincerity. Financial capability is not precious, merely worldly possessions. It is this one thought of sincerity, one thought of faith that is precious. To believe in whom? In ourselves. Therefore, we see very clearly. There are only a few who possess this self-confidence and faith, thus making it very hard to achieve in the learning and practicing of both worldly teachings and Buddhism. Without self-confidence, it will be very difficult to believe in others. Master Ou-I discussed belief and confidence in the Essence of Amitabha Sutra. First, is to believe in ourselves. Second, is to believe in the Buddha. This principle is very profound and we need to think about it carefully, to comprehend and practice it.

Even if this world is to have disasters, those who are confident will be helped. Therefore, to do this good deed today, we definitely do not want to be overcautious, to be swayed by anything or anyone around us. If this deed is accomplished successfully, great. If not, also great. God, beings of heaven and earth and the Buddha know that we are sincere. Therefore, in Singapore, we are currently preparing to build an Amitabha Village, to help the aged, so that everybody can live together, and that their latter years will be most meaningful, fulfilling, happy and full of promise.

I am very interested in the welfare system in providing care for the elderly. As I travel to different countries, I visit those who are involved in the welfare for the elderly. Indeed, in this area Australia has achieved the best. However, it is a pity that even here the elderly are lacking in spiritual life. Therefore, in addition to looking after the physical concerns of the elderly, it is my heartfelt wish that the Evergreen Elderly Center would enhance their spiritual living as well.

The Chinese often say, “In our youth, we should cultivate good fortunes and virtues. In our middle years, we should exert ourselves to serve the community and the people in creating good fortunes. In the latter years, we can enjoy our good fortune”. Thus, we hope that this elderly center will be a place for the elderly to enjoy good fortune in their latter years. If we cannot achieve this, then we have seriously erred.

As for an Amitabha Village in Singapore, all staff members and volunteers are to treat the elderiy with filial piety as they would their own parents and to respect them as they would the Buddha. Only by doing so are we really students of the Buddha, to wholeheartedly do our best in serving these elderly. At the retirement home, we would provide Dharma lectures and cultural entertainment programs. These entertainment programs will accord with Confucius’ principle of, “with no ill-thinking”, to enable the residents able to dwell in the proper thoughts and view points of the ancient sages and the Buddha daily.

Therefore, as I have mentioned before, homes for the elderly is a most meaningful and promising endeavor. Because they need to experience a transformation at this point of life. How to change? From an ordinary person to a sage. For religious practitioners, it will serve as a place to prepare to go to heaven. For Buddhists, it will serve as a place for us to prepare to become a Buddha. How outstanding this endeavor will be? What could be more promising or outstanding than this?

Sutras tell us that filial piety is a virtue of nature. If we could treat every elderly person with filial piety, to respect them as we would the Buddha or God, then it would naturally bring out our virtuous nature. Once this virtuous nature is uncovered, this person will then become a Buddha, a Bodhisattva. So where do we go to cultivate to become a Buddha or Bodhisattva? We can achieve this at the retirement home, to become Buddha, Bodhisattva, to cultivate the Bodhisattva way there.

Today, I have this rare opportunity to be here upon invitation at this distinguished gathering. People have asked me to say a few words. With these, I encourage all ladies and gentlemen participating in this conference to bring forth the great heart, the great loving-kindness to care for society, for all people. To live up to the purpose of this 1999 Sydney’s Elder’s Day, we need to put our best efforts into making this endeavor of caring and providing for elders a success. I wish to encourage everyone to strive to work together in accomplishing this worthy endeavor. Thank you all.