Destiny and Causes and Conditions

Speaker: Ven. You Wang

Fo Guang Shan I.B.P.S. New York

I. Introduction

Auspicious greetings, everyone. Welcome to a new episode of Fo Guang Shan English Dharma Service. I am Venerable You Wang from Fo Guang Shan IBPS New York.  Today, I’d like to discuss with you Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s “Destiny and Causes and Conditions” in the book, Buddha-Dharma: Pure and Simple.

II. Destiny

A large percentage of people in the world, when they encounter setbacks and feel as if they have bad luck, would want to know what their futures hold. Will it get better? But some people think that their fate is already predetermined. When they experience difficulties, they may give up instead. They accept the terms of their fate and surrender hope on determining their own futures, no longer wishing to engage. It can be painful to think this way.

When I was learning English, my English teacher helped us to learn the language through lyrics of popular songs. Here’s one from 1956. The song is about a young girl who wants to know the future.

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, "What will I be?
"Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?"
Here's what she said to me:
"Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be."

After you learn the Dharma, you know that the future—that is, our destiny—is actually in our hands. The future is to be created by yourself. As long as you’re willing to work hard, you’ll change your destiny.

In this piece, Master Hsing Yun stated that, “There’s no way to happiness or misfortune, but that every person brings it onto themselves.” One’s destiny and one’s inner feelings of what is good or bad are related to the accumulation of virtues. Therefore, one’s destiny is not controlled by others or conforms to stereotype. How we believe, behave, desire, and feel can change, transform, and influence our destiny. So: Repetitive behavior becomes a habit; habits become a personality; the quality of the individual, good or bad, will determine one’s destiny.

Recently, I shared a story of how a beggar changed his destiny in a class at the Buddha’s Light “Three Goodness” children’s summer camp in New York. The story goes like this.

III. Story of a Beggar

i. The Beggar and a Mouse

 Once upon a time, there was a beggar who went out every day to ask for food. He wanted to live a normal life, so he tried to save the food he received. For a long time, he tried saving, but his storage only had a little rice. 

One night, he quietly hid in the corner, and—as expected—a big mouse came, to eat his food! He shouted angrily at the mouse, “There’s so much food at the homes of rich people, but why do you steal the food that I, a poor beggar, have saved?”

Unexpectedly, the mouse replied: “Your life only contains eight centimeters, yet you’ll walk everywhere and not be satisfied.” The beggar asked the mouse what that meant, and the mouse said, [Slide 10] “I don’t know, but you should go ask the Buddha.”

ii. The Beggar and the Official

The beggar was determined to go to the Western Pure Land to ask the Buddha about why his life was the way it was. He set off the next day. He begged all the way; at nightfall, he came upon a family’s home. He knocked on the door, and the housekeeper came out to greet him. The beggar asked for food. During this time, the owner of the house—an official—also happened to come out and see him.

The official asked the beggar why he was out so late. In response, the beggar shared his story and said that he was on his way to the Pure Land to see the Buddha. Upon hearing this, the beggar was quickly invited inside and given food and money. The beggar didn’t understand why. The official explained that he had a daughter who was sixteen but unable to speak, and he wanted the beggar to add this question—why was his daughter mute?—on the quest to see the Buddha. Since the beggar was headed to the Pure Land anyway, he agreed.

iii. The Beggar and the Old Monk

The beggar hiked up a mountain, where he saw a temple. He went in to ask for water. Inside the temple was an old monk leaning on a tin stick—elderly but energetic. The monk gave the beggar some water and spoke to him, “Where are you going?”

As the beggar explained his reason for travel, the monk took his hand and said, “Please help me by going to Xitian and asking the Buddha this: I’ve been cultivating for more than 500 years, and I should have ascended to Heaven a long time ago. Why am I not yet a heavenly being?” The beggar agreed to the monk’s request. But as he walked farther, he encountered another challenge.

iv. The Beggar and the Turtle

He came upon the shore of a wide river, with no boat in sight. He was in a hurry and doubted what he could do. How would he get across? He began to cry, feeling that his life was hard. Suddenly, a large turtle floated to the surface of the water. “Why are you crying?”

The beggar explained to the turtle why he was going to Pure Land. The turtle said, “Well, I’ve been cultivating for more than a thousand years, and I should have become a dragon and flown up into the skies a long time ago. Why is it that I’m still here, an old turtle? If you go to Pure Land and ask the Buddha this, for me, I’ll carry you across.”

v. The Beggar and the Buddha

The beggar happily agreed. But after the river, he walked for many more days, and the Buddha was nowhere in sight. “I should’ve arrived at Pure Land a long time ago; where is the Buddha?” He thought to himself. The beggar was sad and tired. He rested and soon fell into a dazed sleep.

As the beggar slept, the Buddha appeared in his dream.

“There must be something very important for you to come this far,” the Buddha said.

“Yes, Buddha. I have a few questions to ask the Buddha,” the beggar replied.

“Of course. But there’s only one condition: You can only ask no more than three questions.”

The beggar agreed, but he had to think about which three questions to ask. “Well, the old turtle has been cultivating for more than a thousand years. It hasn’t been easy for the creature.” He asked the turtle’s question aloud, on why the turtle was not yet a dragon after so long of a time of cultivation. The Buddha responded that the turtle was reluctant to let go of the shell on his back.

The beggar thought, “Well, the old monk has been cultivating for more than 500 years. It’s not been easy for him, either.” So he asked the old monk’s question aloud, on why the monk had not yet ascended to Heaven after so long of a time of cultivation. The Buddha responded that the monk was reluctant to let go of his tin cane.

The beggar thought, “Well, the official’s daughter hasn’t had it easy, surely! If she is mute, how will she marry or have a life?” He asked the official’s question aloud, on why the girl could not speak. The Buddha responded that if the girl meets a person she could love, she would be able to speak. The Buddha disappeared. The beggar woke up and, to his disappointment, realized that he forgot to ask his own question. “Well, I’ll be a beggar forever,” he thought. “I’ll have to head back now.”

vi. The Beggar’s Destiny

On his return, he came to the river. The old turtle asked him anxiously, “Do you have an answer for me?”

The beggar asked to be carried across first: “And then I’ll tell you.” On the opposite shore, he asked the turtle, “Why are you so reluctant to let go of your shell?”

The turtle shook itself and removed the shell, handing it to the beggar. There were twenty-four priceless pearls inside. “This is a treasure, but it’s useless to me now. I’ll give it to you because you helped me.” The turtle turned into a dragon and flew away.

The beggar came to the mountain, where he met the old monk. The monk asked him anxiously, “Do you have an answer for me?”

He asked the old monk, “Why are you so reluctant to let go of the tin cane you’re using?”

Stunned, the monk gave the stick—which was silver, not tin—to the beggar. He ascended to the Heavens on a cloud.

As the beggar came to the door of the official’s house, out ran the girl who couldn’t speak. She shouted, “The one who went to see the Buddha has returned!” Overjoyed that his daughter could now talk, the official agreed that his daughter and the beggar could marry.

We come to the end of the story. The beggar didn’t ask the Buddha anything about his destiny, but all the answers were there for him in the process. Due to his compassion, kindness, and consideration for others, he changed his destiny.

IV. Conclusion

Through this story, we may affirm the Venerable Master’s teaching that as long as a person is compassionate and kind and accumulates virtues, the person will build good relationships and be able to change his or her destiny. That’s why the Venerable Master says, “Good affinities bring beneficial results!

I hope that you today can cultivate your destiny and create infinite light and hope for your future.  Thank you for joining this episode. If you would like to listen to more Dharma teachings, please like and subscribe.