This English translation is rendered from the original Chinese text entitled ‘Master Chang Zhen’s Dharma Words: Questions Regarding Feng Shui, Ghosts and Spirits, and Fortune Tellers’ (昌臻法师开示：怎样看待风水问题、鬼神问题、命相问题). Master Chang Zhen delivered this lecture in around 2004 when he was 87 years old, and it addresses the important issue of how Buddhists should approach the subject of divine oracles and supernatural activity, whilst avoiding the traps of superstition and blind faith. It is a fascinating text that criticises the so-called ‘modern Buddhist’ approach to Dharma which rejects the ideals of karma and rebirth. Master Chang Zhen was born in Sichuan province to a devout Buddhist family, and was a renowned scholar who practiced both Ch’an and Pure Land Buddhism. He wrote many important works of Buddhist philosophical interest, and was the abbot of the Bao Guo Temple (报国寺 – Bao Guo Si) situated in Sichuan province. His lay-name was Zhang Yao Shu (张耀枢) and his ancestry comprised of many eminent scholars specialising in different fields of expertise. He inherited the Dharma from the most venerable grand master Li Yu (离欲上人 – Li Yu Shang Ren), who lived an incredible 124 years (1968-1992), and advocated that the love of Dharma and the love of country must be equal.
From the start, Buddhism is about how an individual behaves. It teaches that bad actions should be avoided and that good actions should be performed so that consciousness can be effectively cultivated. Through following the precepts, the root of ignorance that causes birth and death is torn apart. This is the essential truth of the Buddhist teachings (including those of the ‘Pure Land’) that heretical traditions do not follow – there is a clear divide between Buddhist thought and those practices derived from superstition.
Cause and effect (karma) lies at the centre of the Dharma. If cause and effect is not understood, then it is difficult to understand the Dharma and Buddhism becomes ineffective. This means that there is no understanding of how cause and effect can produce positive development through the discipline of Buddhist training. Master Xu Yun said: “Cause and effect (karma) are the essence of Buddhism.” He also said: “All are subject to cause and effect (karma) – the worldly and the holy – no one can escape it.”
The Teaching of the Four Noble Truths (四谛法 – Si Di Fa) explains the karmic law of cause and effect. There are two causal categories:
1) The cause of the cycle of painful suffering, which states that sentient beings suffer all kinds of confusion and distress, including illness and death. Rebirth in the six realms is created because of this polluting ignorance that repeats in a continuous cycle. Bad thoughts and actions create bad karmic fruit.
2) The cause of pure endeavour whereby bad thoughts and actions are uprooted by the pure practice of Dharmic discipline and replaced with good thoughts and behaviours. This self cultivation is based upon following the precepts and practicing meditation so that birth and death are wiped-out. Good activity bears good fruit. Master Yin Guang said: “Buddhas attain to great enlightenment, whilst sentient beings fall in three ways; neither position exists outside of cause and effect (karma).”
The following explains the three ‘falls’ or phases of rebirth (past, present and future) in relation to cause and effect (karma). The two main issues are;
1) Cause and effect (karma) is active throughout the three phases of existence without interruption. Good and bad karmic-fruit ripens according to the nature of the individual’s thoughts and actions. The resultant suffering is entirely self-imposed and is neither the product of ‘fate’ decreed by the ghosts and spirits that live in the ‘divine sky’ (天 – Tian), nor the fault of other people.
2) As long as life is being experienced in any form, there is cause and effect in operation – no life can exist outside of cause and effect. Buddhism teaches that this karma is self-produced and does not originate outside of the individual. The Buddha taught that karma can be transformed through following the Dharma. If discipline is applied to life then the experience of karma will change for the better. This is because a purified mind creates a purified environment. Deterministic fortune telling systems such as that found in the ‘Innate Destiny Theory’ (宿命论 – Su Ming Lun), or that which involve communicating through gods (such as the ‘Iron Board Number’ (铁板数 – Tie Ban Shu), are completely different as they work from the premise of a ‘fixed’ destiny imposed from the outside that can not be changed by the individual. The Dharma, however, clearly teaches that an individual’s destiny can be changed at any time through following the correct discipline, and this is achieved through the agency of ‘mind’ (心 - Xin) which is the key to Buddhist development. All things emerge from the mind, and are mind made. A mind full of greed, hatred and delusion, creates karmic suffering for the individual. In reality good and bad experiences emerge from the mind and can not be influenced by fortune tellers or Feng Shui experts. Buddhist cause and effect (karma) is not subject to the position of the stars in the divine sky, or the will of gods, it is made entirely by the mind.
There are many different people in the world, with each individual bearing unique characteristics. Some are rich, some are poor, others are healthy and live for a long time, whilst others suffer illness or accident and live for a short time. Some people are considered beautiful, whilst others are considered not so beautiful. How is this to be explained? Take brothers and sisters, or even twins, they may look the same and yet their lives might be very different. There is often disparity in affluence and poverty and experiences that are bitter or sweet. Genetic research can not explain why this is the case. However, the Dharma can explain this; it is because the ‘karma’ (缘 – Yuan) of these people may appear similar on the surface, but the ‘cause’ (因- Yin) that each individual has generated in the past is completely different –in this instance shared parentage is purely a secondary karmic consideration.
This physical body is created by karmic ripening – that is the ‘Sambhogakaya’ (报身 – Bao Shen). It is created by the ripening of previously good and bad karmic actions. If a scale is imagined recording every good or bad act, then it is obvious that good actions lead to longer life or a more affluent family background, with healthy children and enjoyable experiences, etc, whilst negative actions create the conditions for the opposite to be true. It must be understood that the conditions for this life have been created in the past, and that if good, kindly and charitable actions have been performed, then it could well mean that in this life one might experience an abundance of wealth and affluence, but if the opposite is true, if miserliness, selfishness, and disregard for others has been practiced, then in this life there may be poverty, deprivation and all kinds of hellish karma. When this is understood, there is no point in complaining about one’s current life. It is important that good karmic roots are sown here and now – this changes every thing for the better – and lays the foundation for future enlightenment. If good karmic roots are not sown, then as sentient beings we fall into rebirth in three ways; in the past, in the present, and in the future.
Modern Buddhism: Two Erroneous Views Regarding Causality. Error 1) The teaching of cause and effect (karma) belongs to a lower, more primitive understanding of Buddhist thought that corresponds more or less with superstitious beliefs. In the modern world this mistaken idea has led to the abandonment of the precepts. Effects are not understood to be directly related to causes and this has led to the abandonment of effective Dharma related discipline. This is entirely in opposition to what the great master Xu Yun taught, when he said that ‘without the following of strict discipline, karma can not be purified and enlightenment won.’ If karma is not accepted and understood, then spiritual development is very difficult indeed!
Error 2) Sometimes cause and effect is accepted as existing, but its working is completely misconstrued. Instead of understanding that every thing stems from the mind, it is believed that gods, spirits, fortune tellers and Feng Shui experts can create good or bad karma. This mistaken viewpoint creates fear in the mind. People are afraid of offending ghosts and spirits, and all kinds of things. In times of trouble they do not look within for the answer, but rather seek answers outwardly, through the use of divination systems. This belief and behaviour is a complete misunderstanding of cause and effect.
Three Problems Regarding Fortune Telling: Feng Shui explains cause and effect by taking into consideration the observation of the ‘realm of the living’ which is ‘yang’ (阳) energy, and the ‘realm of the dead’ which is ‘yin’ (阴)energy. Taken together this creates the basis for the prediction of good and bad fortune. Buddhism teaches that what is experienced is self-created and that if an individual behaves well bad karma can be transformed into blessings. However, Feng Shui believes that the environment is the cause of good or bad effects and not behaviour. This is why the Feng Shui expert says: “Fortunate people in the house make it auspicious.” He also says: “Seeking the shade is better than seeking the mind ground.” The terms ‘fortunate people’ (吉人 – Ji Ren), and ‘mind ground’ (心地 – Xin Di) are created primarily through external observations that are assumed to be associated with certain good and bad secondary effects – even though there is no proof of any connection or association. There follows three examples to illustrate the error in this belief:
During the Song Dynasty there lived a man called Fan Zhong Yan (范仲淹) who when young was poor, but later he became an official. He was a very respectful son who asked the Feng Shui expert to visit his mother’s grave. The Feng Shui expert said that his mother’s grave was on ‘heirless ground’ (绝地– Jue Di), and advised him to move the grave immediately, or his family will be left without any heirs. Not only this, but Fan Zhong Yan was also told that as the ground was so inauspicious, no one should visit the grave site again for fear of contamination. Fan Zhong Yan considered whether it would be beneficial to move his mother’s grave, but in the end decided to leave it where it was. Also at that time, Suzhou had land that the Feng Shui experts considered very auspicious – it was called ‘Southern Park’ (南园 – Nan Yuan). Fan Zhong Yan was a native of Suzhou and eventually rose to become the prime minister of the area. Many tried to persuade him to buy this auspicious land and build a large house for himself and descendents to live-in, thus ensuring prosperity for the future generations of his family as high officials. However, Fan Zhong Yan was of the opinion that the ensuring of the wealth and status of just his family was far too small an ambition, so he brought ‘Southern Park’ and turned it into the ‘Suzhou Academy’(苏州书院 – Suzhou Shu Yuan). This academy served the entire populace of the area and produced many talented people. Furthermore, when Fan Zhong Yan died, his son – Fan Chun Ren (范纯仁) – also became prime minister, and talented people were produced through the generations of the Fan family. In the 1980’s, the ‘People’s Daily’ overseas edition ran an article about the gathering of 100 descendents of the Fan family in Taipei to commemorate 1000 years since the birth of the grand ancestor of the Fan clan – Fan Wen Zheng (范文正). The great master Yin Guang observed that the Fan family had flourished for a 1000 years, he said: “When good deeds are accumulated, the family rejoices.” This observation is the best proof of the effectiveness of Buddhist cause and effect and has nothing to do with Feng Shui. Feng Shui only recognises physical objects and the importance of placement and position; it does not recognise the mind as the origin of cause and effect. How can it explain the multitude of changes that happen every day by adhering to a rigid determinism? Buddhist cause and effect is different to Feng Shui. A cause and its effect can be separated by hundreds of thousands of kalpas, but will eventually bear fruit. The Buddhist Sutra says: “Even after a hundred thousand kalpas, a karmic cause will generate a karmic effect. As soon as the right conditions come into being, the karmic fruit will manifest.” This wise quotation teaches that length of time is no barrier to a karmic seed bearing fruit. It may not bear fruit now, but when conditions are correct the debt will– either good or bad – will be paid.
In the 1930’s the warlord Zhu De (朱德) dug-up family graves situated in his home county of Yilong, Sichuan province. During the Cultural Revolution the Red Guards visited Fenghua County, situated in Zhejiang province. Here, they destroyed the ancestral graves of Jiang Jing Guo’s family. Despite these destructive acts, nothing happened. There were no reports of retribution being experienced or good fortune coming to an end. Also in the 1930’s the warlord Li Mou Mou (李某某) lived in Xinjin County, Sichuanprovince. It is said that the ancestor of Song Mei Ling (宋美龄) – Song Hao (宋灏) – was the magistrate of Xinjin Countyduring the Qing times. When his wife died, he had her buried in a greatly auspicious grave that the Feng Shui expert described as: ‘Highly suitable for princes, and princesses.’ Warlord Li heard about this auspicious grave and wanted to own it and so had it dug-up. When Jiang Kei Shi’s forces entered the area, the grave site was repaired. The Song family, however, did not report any change of circumstance, or loss of good fortune.
Our family home was in Chengdu. This house was said to be haunted by a noisy fox spirit. In the Qing times my grandfather purchased this house from some one in Jiangsu province - before he knew of the restless fox spirit. Far from being peaceful, it was discovered that the house had a reputation for paranormal activity and that some one in the past had committed suicide by hanging, etc. Situated in the garden was a structure known as the ‘Great Immortal Tower’(大仙楼 – Da Xian Lou) built in the classical architectural style. There was a window but no stairs, and trees hang down all around the area creating a certain gloomy atmosphere. My family lived in this house from the late Qing until 1950 – when the house was sold, but we did not experience any unusual activity.
Once my mother had a dream that a woman dressed in traditional clothing flew out of the open window of the tower – she believed that this was the fox spirit. My mother was afraid and started chanting Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s name. At that moment in the dream my mother was startled by a knock on the door. Standing there was a very friendly woman dressed in traditional clothing who said: “I lived here for many years, but have now benefitted greatly from your good virtue and benevolence and it is time for me to go. I have come to say goodbye.” Then she disappeared. My parents use to teach us that the cultivation of ‘good deeds is auspicious’, and that we should ‘depend on good behaviour to change our circumstances for the better’. The above example demonstrates the power of the generation of good karma.
Problems Concerning Ghosts and Spirits. This Saha world of illusion is full of beings – both holy and ordinary – that are continuously experiencing death and rebirth, when this is understood it should not be surprising that there are ghosts and spirits everywhere. However it is commonly believed that it is the way of ghosts and spirits (鬼神道 – Gui Shen Dao) to allot rewards and punishments to living beings.
In the Daoist book entitled ‘Grand Sage Discusses Retribution Text’ (太上感应篇 – Tai Shang Gan Ying Pian) it says: “If a person appears to have a good character, but has not cultivated good deeds in the past, then this is because he is possessed by a good spirit. If a person appears to have a bad character, but has not generated negative actions in the past, it is because he is possessed by a bad spirit.” This explains how the different tendencies of human behaviour can appear to be influenced by ghosts and spirits.
As Buddhists it might be considered inevitable that on occasion we may come under the sway of ghosts and spirits. However, as Buddhists we do have the means to defend ourselves. The Buddhist teachings say that those who receive and uphold the 5 precepts do not need to have a good ghost or spirit for protection – as the 5 precepts generate good karma due to the power of Dharma discipline. As this is the case, the good karma created by the practice of the 5 precepts also protects against the influence of bad ghosts and spirits, who do not possess the power to violate these rules.
In the fourth section of the book entitled ‘Chanting Buddha’s Name; Ten Kinds of Merit’ (念佛十种条德– Nian Po Shi Zhong Tiao De) it says: ‘When the Buddha’s name is chanted the light of understanding shines for a vast distance in all directions. No bad spirits can harm the practitioner.’ In the book entitled‘ Great Master Ou Yi’s Collected Sayings’ (蕅益大师文选– Ou Yi Da Shi Wen Xuan) there is a story set in Tongcheng County, Anhui province, that involves two men which I shall call Merchant A and Merchant B. One day these two merchants travelled to a foreign land, where unexpectedly merchant A died. Merchant B brought back the cremated remains of Merchant A and gave them to his wife. However, the wife was suspicious and thought to herself that her husband was young and healthy, why would be suddenly die? She suspected that Merchant B had killed and robbed her husband. When Merchant B heard of this accusation he felt deeply wronged and offended – he went to Merchant A’s grave and wept, explaining the situation. The problem was that he could not prove exactly what had happened in a foreign land far away. Suddenly Merchant A’s voice was heard saying: “You have behaved well to me, but my wife has wronged you. I can attach myself to you, and go to your home and explain the situation.” On the way back to the house, Merchant A and B were in conversion. Merchant B could not see Merchant A, but only hear his voice. Suddenly Merchant B Stumbled and said the Buddha’s name (阿弥陀佛– A Mi Tuo Fu)! When this happened, Merchant A’s frightened voice sounded further away – he asked: “Why do you want to scare me with this light?” Merchant B chanted the Buddha’s name a few more times and Merchant A said: “When you chant the Buddha’s name, light emits from your chest and I am pushed further away from you! Tell my wife to come to my grave and I will explain the situation to her.” This merchant B did and the matter was resolved. Later, after seeing the power of the Buddha, Merchant B ordained as a monk, eventually becoming an eminent master. Chanting the Buddha’s name and following the precepts serve as a protective barrier that prevents ghosts and spirits from interfering with human beings. With such power, how can ghosts or spirits cause harm?
Of course, even if we do not uphold the precepts the influence of good spirits can leave us and the influence of evil spirits can take their place. This can leave us open to attack from bad spirits which is a common experience. In the text entitled the ‘Buddhist Dharma Discipline Record’ (緇门法戒录 – Zi Men Fa Jie Lu) there is a story about an eminent Song Dynasty monk who was sat meditating in the hall. When it was time to walk around the temple he came across two monks engaged in conversation. Some ghosts who happened to be passing had knelt down in a respectful manner to listen to the monks. Then suddenly the mood changed and the ghosts started to glare and criticise the monks. The monks got up to go and the ghosts left the area. When asked what happened, the two monks explained that initially they were discussing the Dharma, but then they started discussing mundane matters. The monks were ashamed to say that this lack of discipline allowed the ghosts to attack them.
The great master Lian Chi (莲池大师 – Lian Chi Fa Shi) recalls in his ‘Bamboo Window Essays’ (竹窗随笔 – Zhu Chuang Sui Bi) a story about a monk living in a temple who was dying. When his end was approaching, the inhabitants of the temple performed the ‘Flame Mouth’ (焰口– Yan Kou) ceremony. At that time some ghosts approached and said to the Vajra master that his vows were not pure, and that this ‘Flame Mouth’ ceremony was ineffective. They said that they had come here to request assistance so that they can transcend their situation, but have found not the slightest help. The ghosts then dragged the monk from his Dharma-platform and took him away. This situation shows that if the practice of the Dharma is pure, ghosts can not harm the practitioner, but if the practice of the Dharma is not pure, then there is no protection from the ghosts and spirits.
When I first came to the Bao Guo Temple I heard much talk about ghosts, spirits and other strange phenomena. Others use to say that the atmosphere in the abbot’s room was very negative and that ghosts resided there. Some said that they saw a spirit dressed in a white gown fly down to the temple from the divine sky and disappear down a well. A former assistant at the temple once informed me that he had heard the pitiful cries of a ghost, and other weird things. I have been here 11 years and have never seen or heard a ghost. In this Saha world of death and rebirth, there are 6 realms of transmigration – that is 6 places where rebirth can take place. Therefore it is true to say that ghosts and spirits must exist everywhere and that the Bao Gou Temple can not be an exception to this reality. How should the subject of ghosts and spirits be viewed by Buddhists? As disciples of the Buddha it is important that we do not fall into heretical ways and that we follow the Buddhist teachings carefully and without error. We should not fall into blind faith, or superstitious thinking.
With regards to dreaming it is important to understand that dreams in the unenlightened state represent the delusive mind of the dreamer. This means that the content of these dreams will be motivated by greed, hatred, and delusion to varying degrees, depending upon the character of the dreamer – whatever particular delusive trait is the strongest, such as hatred, or sexual desire, will lead to dreams full of horrific images, or dictated by obscenity. However, if the Dharma is embraced and a sincere practice established, these bad dreams will start to diminish. Those who effectively practice meditation sweep all delusion away, if they ‘see the Buddha, they chop him down. If they see a spirit they cut it to pieces.’ This is because all that ‘arises in the mind (before enlightenment) is a product of delusion.’ There is a Pure Landmeditational practice that makes this kind of vow: ‘When sleeping soundly may a state of profound meditation prevail and the golden body of Amitabha Buddha manifest. May I experience Amitabha Buddha’s respectful reverence for the Earth; may he protect me with nectar-like empowerments, may his hand touch my head in blessing and may the bright light that emanates from his body bathe my entire being.’ If this type of dream can be manifest, a better rebirth is guaranteed. This is a good practice, but if there still exists attachment to delusions, then bad dreams will persist and no progress will be made.
Above are my personal views regarding Feng Shi experts, fortune tellers and ghosts and spirits. I relate them here for your consideration and as a means to encourage further discussion. It is important to be able to understand what is correct and what is not correct in relation to Buddhism. What is Buddhism? What is superstition? What are the differences between the various practices? How should we approach Feng Shui experts, fortune tellers, and ghosts and spirits? We must take time to discuss these issues and then come to a consensus of opinion. Such knowledge enables practitioners to avoid bad pathways and to cultivate the good. This is because the various schools that cultivate the ‘Daoist Tradition’ (道风 – Dao Feng) can be very useful if used correctly, but must not be sullied by superstition.
Questions About Fortune Telling. Fortune teller theory is derived from the ‘Zhou Yi’ (周易), or ‘Book of Changes’. In the Song Dynasty, the scholar Chen Xi Yi (陈希夷) wrote a well known article entitled ‘Mind Manifestation Text’ (心相篇- Xin Xiang Pian), and the scholar Shao Kang Jie (邵康节) wrote the text entitled the ‘Highest All-encomposing Fate’ (皇极数), but there are many other such texts. Generally speaking, by observing the health, age, and facial shape of an individual, good and bad fortune is ascertained. It is interesting to compare whether these methods, which are widespread amongst the people, actually work. These methods only analyse surface appearances and can not penetrate to the essence of the matter. Even if predictions appear to be correct, no real understanding as to why this is the case is presented by the fortune tellers. The Buddhist teachings however, clearly explain why things happen through the teaching of karma, karmic retribution, and rebirth. Things that appear bad on the surface can be put right by changing thought and behaviour through Dharma discipline. Fortune tellers, by way of contrast, explain the surface but can not explain the essence – this is a futile practice. Here are three of examples to illustrate this point:
In the Ming Dynasty a person called Yuan Le Fan (袁了凡) met a fortune teller in Yunnan, named Mr Kong (孔先生 – Kong Xian Sheng). Kong appeared to describe Yuan’s life with amazing accuracy. Later, Yuan learned from Ch’an master Yun Gu (云谷禅师)the method of studying the Dharma to accumulate good karma and virtue. This training changed the second half of his life completely to such a point that Mr Kong’s predictions no longer made any sense. Mr Kong said that Yuan did not have the talent to sit the scholarly examinations, and yet Yuan did sit the examinations. The prediction said that Yuan would not rise beyond the rank of County Magistrate, when in fact he rose to a government position in the Ministry of War. He was told that he would have no children, and yet he had two sons who survived into maturity. Mr Kong told him that he would live to 53 years old, when in reality he lived to 74 years old. Mr Kong studied and applied the method of Shao Kang Jie’s ‘Huang Ji Shu’ mentioned above, and was considered a very capable master of fortune telling. Why could he predict Yuan’s earlier life, but fail to predict his later life? If fortune telling really works, then why did the fortune teller fail to see the changes that were to come? Why couldn’t this method adjust to new circumstance?
This story is contained within the Ming Dynasty text known as the ‘Morality Education Ancient Reflections’ (德育古鉴 – De Yu Gu Jian) and conveys the story of a tea merchant named Wang Zhi Ren (王志仁), who at 40 years of age had no son. As the New Year approached, he went to a famous fortune teller to see what the future held for him. He wanted to ask whether he would have a son in the next year. The fortune teller said do you really want a son? You can not even celebrate the New Year or there will be a disaster and you will die. When he heard this, Wang was shocked and rushed outside to pay and leave. He goes to stay at an inn, but finds that he is so restless and worried by the prediction that he can not relax, and so goes for a walk by the river to calm down. Suddenly he saw a young woman carrying a child in her arms and crying – she ran up to the water’s edge and threw herself and her child into the deep water in an attempt to kill them. As soon as Wang saw this dreadful sight he called-out ‘help the people’, ‘help the people’! Now people did jump into save the woman because Wang the tea merchant offered the large sum 20 pieces of gold to the rescuer (although a lot of gold pieces, at the time gold pieces were not very pure). When asked why she had tried to kill herself, the woman said that she had sold a pig and had been deceived –the money paid to her turned-out to be fake and not real silver. If she went home her husband would punish her, so she thought that it was better to end every thing. After hearing this story, the tea merchant gave her the price of the pig. The woman was very grateful and after finding out the tea merchant’s name, she went home. The next day the woman explained the situation to her husband who doubted what she said and demanded to be taken to the tea merchant. The woman found the tea merchant’s home when it was very late. She knocked on the door, but the tea merchant said that as she was a woman on her own, and he was a single man, it would be incorrect for him to open his door to her. However, the woman explained that she was with her husband, so the tea merchant got out of his bed to answer the door, and as he did so the bed structure collapsed and crashed to the floor! Every one present was shocked, but the tea merchant celebrated: he realised that if you do some thing good you can avoid disaster! At the time of the New Year, the tea merchant again visited a fortune teller who said that due to a great hidden virtue that Wang possessed, his life would be long and prosperous. Indeed, the tea merchant did not die young but went on to live into his 96 year. In that time he had 10 children and his life was full of good fortune.
The following is my own experience. When I was 12 years old, my father and grandfather took me to see the well known fortune teller named Wang Yu Xi (王玉溪), who was known to be very learned. He would study the client’s physical features, such as the shape and complexion of the face, and then write down his judgement, giving it an official stamp, as if passing judgement, when he finished. The procedure appeared to mimic that of the ancient courts of China that one reads about in novels, with the fortune teller behaving like a judge and passing ‘live’ or ‘die’ sentences upon the enquirer, as if he were a powerful god. On this occasion the fortune teller said that I would die young, and not live beyond 15 years old. My father asked whether doing good deeds would prolong my life, or whether praying to Buddha and the Bodhisattvas would help. (In the past, other fortune tellers had said that I would die young, so I had been taken to the Wen Shu Temple (文殊院 – Wen Shu Yuan) to take refuge in the Buddha, and undergo the monk ceremony of ‘leaving home’ (出家 – Chu Jia) to help the situation.) After considering the question, Wang Yu Xi said that such action would only prolong my life into the 20th year. When asked about the possibility of extending my life further, Wang remained quiet. This made my father and relatives very anxious and fearful! The elders at home taught me to read the ‘Great Compassion Mantra’ (大悲咒 – Da Bei Zhou), and recite the name of Guan Yin Bodhisattva (观世音菩萨 – Guan Shi Yin Pu Sa). I was warned to keep my mind focused and repeat the words with meaning and not fall into a deadly laziness, and was encouraged to perform all kinds of merit-making activities, such as releasing animals, etc. At the same time, my maternal grandfather told me about the experiences of his youth, and taught me to use education to transform my destiny with confidence.
Near the end of the Qing Dynasty my maternal grandfather lived in Kaifeng. He was a scholar who took the ‘Lift the People’ (举人 – Ju Ren) imperial provincial examination. Afterwards he was walking down the street and he saw that there were many fortune tellers doing a very good trade. He asked around to see which fortune teller was the best? In Beijing he was told that it was Qing Yun Zi (庆云子). After hearing this he arranged an appointment to have his fortune told and lined-up to wait his turn at the house of Qing Yun Zi. As soon as he entered the door, the old man became possessed by a spirit, who looked at my grandfather for a minute or two. Then the said: “Congratulations! You have passed the exam!” The spirit added: “You will have a short-life of just 36 years.” After hearing these two statements, my grandfather paid the bill and left. He thought that it was just a lot of deceitful nonsense and regretted consulting a fortune teller. He returned home and gave the matter no further thought. After two months my grandfather received official notification that he had passed the imperial examination. Then he suddenly remembered the prophecy of Qing Yun Zi that linked success in the imperial examination with a shortened life-span! At this time his father and elder brother taught him to study and become the master of his own fate and create benevolence and merit in the world. He listed the good things he had done and took photographs, placing them on his desk so that he could look at them at any time. Slowly, over-time his mind became settled and anxiety dropped away. When it was his 36th birthday he was invited out for a celebration. Whilst riding comfortably in a sedan chair, the supporting rods broke and he crashed to the ground. At this exact moment he awakened to the understanding that through his self-cultivation he had managed to transform a potentially dangerous karmic experience into a less dangerous occurrence!
Looking back over my life, I am now 87 years old. I encountered the teaching of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as a means to avoid an early death, and because my parents and relatives cared for my well being. However, because of this I am convinced that the Buddhist precepts and discipline bring benefit to all beings and can protect us from bad karma by cultivating positive trends of thought and behaviour. All is well when the Dharma is followed. I am convinced more than ever that ‘The mind manifests all things; the mind transforms all things.’
'Licchavi Vimalakirti came to the foot of that tree and said to me, ’Reverend Sariputra, this is not the way to absorb yourself in contemplation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that neither body nor mind appear anywhere in the triple world. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest all ordinary behavior without forsaking cessation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature.' Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra