Venerables, fellow students, warmest greetings to you all. This is my first speech delivered at the Association of Master Chin Kung’s Friends at UNESCO. I would like to give you a brief introduction.
Last March, we invited UNESCO ambassadors to experience religious and ethnical cohesion in Toowoomba, Australia. They were all very pleased with what they saw. In the past we reported on religious and ethnical cohesion on quite a few occasions. Although the reports were very detailed, no one quite believed what was reported. Only until the ambassadors returned to UNESCO and delivered a formal report, a gleam of hope of religious and ethnical cohesion was affirmed. What the ambassadors did was remarkable and wonderful. In the report, they suggested UNESCO to offer us an office. We accepted the offer and therefore formally entered UNESCO. With everyone’s help and support in the past half a year, the Association of Master Chin Kung’s Friends at UNESCO was established and the recording studio is also in use.
This lecture is our first today. It is a good start that religious organizations have entered UNESCO. UNESCO confirms that religions around the world are forms of education. Many friends of mine asked, ‘Is religion education?’ as they find the concept strange. I replied to them, ‘You see, similar to Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of every religion in the world devoted themselves in teaching.’ At the age of 30, Sakyamuni Buddha attained Enlightenment and thoroughly understood everything about the universe and life. After that, he went to the Deer Park, found his five colleagues and delivered his first report. From then on, Sakyamuni Buddha started his teaching career and the Buddha’s teaching has been passed down for 3,000 years. Let us take a close look at other religions. Many religions that emerged later than Buddhism were also spread gradually across the world in the past 1,000 years. Up until now, more than ten religions that we are familiar with have successfully taught generations of people. We must have a proper understanding of the word ‘religion’. In Chinese language, Zong-Jiao means religion. So what does the word mean?
Chinese characters are unique in the world and they also manifest the excellent traditional culture of China. They are not alphabetic writing and each character is embedded with profound meanings. The character ‘宗’ (zong) has three meanings: principal, important and revered. The character ‘教’ (jiao) means education, teaching and transformation. Religion in fact encompasses all of these meanings. Therefore, when combined, Zong-Jiao , means principal education, important teaching, and revered transformation for humankind. Is it really the case? If you still have doubts, let us take a closer look.
Buddhism has been taught in China for 2,500 years and, indeed, it has a place in traditional Chinese culture. The Chinese have preserved the richest collection of Buddhist literature called ‘The Great Canon’, and it has a considerable place in traditional Chinese culture. Throughout Chinese history, Buddhist patriarchs and virtuous Buddhist masters were not different from what Sakyamuni Buddha did and they had all engaged in Buddhist education in their lives. In every dynasty and every century in the history there were outstanding Buddhist masters, either ordained monks and nuns or lay Buddhists. All of these recognized masters were the evidence of religion being education.
Now, we may ask: ‘Since religion is education, what does it teach? And what does its curriculum include?’ In every classical Buddhist text there are ethical education, moral education, education of causality and that of wisdom. When a person is fully enlightened, it is the perfect wisdom of their True Nature at work. In Buddhism it is called attaining the fruits of Enlightenment.
Buddhism was introduced to China in the Eastern Han dynasty which was about 2,000 years ago, and the time frame was closer to when Confucius and Mencius were alive. Buddhism later became an indispensable part of traditional Chinese culture. Having said traditional Chinese culture, we have to mention Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. All of them impart ethics, morality, causality and the teaching of sages. After attaining enlightenment, the saints and sages of the three teachings devoted themselves in education and left behind much information and wisdom.
At the beginning of the Tang dynasty, Emperor Taizong (599 CE) commissioned five best sinologists in the country to compile the book ‘The Governing Principles of Ancient China’ for him. What is the book about? It is a collection of the essence of traditional Chinese culture. Emperor Taizong used the book to cultivate himself, manage his family in harmony, govern his country and bring peace to the world. The 300-year history of the Tang dynasty was in fact an experiment in traditional Chinese culture, and it was really effective. It was effective then, and it is also effective today. I believe that any leader who applies the wisdom found in ‘The Governing Principles’ to govern their country will result in excellent governance and will also become great role model for other political leaders around the world.
Buddhist culture is deeply rooted in China. After the introduction of Buddhism, emperors of almost every dynasty respectfully followed the Buddha’s teaching. Ancient Buddhist monasteries preserved in China are the witnesses of that part of history. So what did Buddhism teach? As mentioned before, Buddhists taught ethics, morality, causality and the wisdom that they had obtained from self-cultivation. What they taught was not only useful for their times, but also applicable for generations to come.
‘The Governing Principles of Ancient China’ has been translated into more than ten languages. I believe, if every national leader reads this book, they will not only strengthen their country but also use true wisdom and lessons learned in history to resolve disasters caused by antagonism and wars. The book can help govern a country and bring peace to the world. World peace is what we all pursue. All of us hope for stability, harmony, mutual prosperity and coexistence. The book has its real merits! Religious education and what is taught in the book complement one another. We print and circulate the book in a great number in the hope of promoting and introducing it to people across the world.
To do that, we should first of all have a healthy mind and body. I have not given Dharma talks for almost two months, and I would like to apologise to fellow practitioners. What did I do in the past two months? I recuperated for a while. It was effective. Chinese ancestors said, ‘Time spares no man.’ It is true indeed. I am 92 now and aging is taking its course. My vision is not as good as before. In the past I did not need glasses when reading. But now I cannot read without them. I also need to wear a hearing aid. As for writing, I can now truly experience what the ancients said ‘forgetting words when about to write’. It is not just me. I have another two old classmates, Professor Xu Xingming and Professor Jiang Yizi. When we gathered together last time, all of us felt deeply that we are getting old! Our energy and strength are worse off than previous couple of years. So I stopped giving Dharma talks for a while and recuperated. Not bad, it has its effects.
Beyond my expectation, UNESCO assigned us a task of helping the world resolve conflicts and antagonism and bring cohesion to religious and ethnical groups. I hope that everyone can open up their mind, be more accommodating and accommodate different religions and ethnical groups. We are all in fact a big family. Therefore, in the past two months I revisited the sacred texts of different religions.
The book ‘Scriptures 360’ is a collection of the most essential teachings found in the sacred texts of different religions. Their core religious thought is the focus of our learning and we aim to grasp it. So what is the core teaching? It is one word, ‘love’. In the sacred texts of all religions, there is mentioning of universal love, love of benevolence and love of humility. Therefore, the sentence ‘God loves all’ encompasses all of them, and this is the core thinking of religious education.
We should regain our love, which is unbiased and exactly the same as the love of God, and keep it in our hearts. We should throw away deluded minds and erroneous thinking, keep our true minds and love, and love everyone in the world on behalf of God, Buddhas and bodhisattvas. This is religious education. It has four modules, that is, ethical education, moral education, the education of causality and that of sages’ wisdom. These teachings are what religious education is all about. We must learn and practise it properly. When we throw away ethics, we must find it and bring it back. If we want social stability and world peace, we must bring such teachings back.
Chinese ancestors had always attached great importance to education, which also included the four areas mentioned before. Therefore, when Buddhist education was introduced to China, the Chinese easily accepted it. Why? What it teaches is very close to traditional Chinese education. In this era, science and technology are highly developed, but the four areas of education are missing. Science is relatively closer to wisdom, but causality, morality and ethics are missing. It is why in today’s world the rich are not happy and those of high social status are not respected. What is considered as the most Important thing? Money. Under this circumstance, how can society stay away from chaos?
Therefore, we do not want to disappoint UNESCO’s affection and friendship for us and for religions in the world. We are most grateful that UNESCO offered us an office. We hope to bring back sacred religious education, and learn and practise it properly. We will first learn and practise our own religion and then learn from other religions in the hope of seeking common grounds and putting aside differences. Our ultimate goal is that there will never be conflicts, antagonism and misunderstanding in the world, and that true love of benevolence and peace will be realised on Earth.
So in this first lecture I shared with you, the understanding of the true meaning of word religion”. This is it for today and thank you.