Don't Wait Till You're Thirsty to Dig a Well

A talk given by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua on the morning of June 17, 1958 at Western Bliss Garden Monastery in Hong Kong

Who told you to behave recklessly in time when you're not sick,
when you should be taking care of yourself?

Only after being sick do you realize

the body is suffering.

Only after dying do you realize

you applied your effort wrongly.

Every living being has this problem. When you are healthy, you perceive the world as a happy and enjoyable place. When you fall ill, however, you're no longer able to eat, to move freely, to do that which pleases you, and to endure all the pain and misery. Sadly, you are too late to realize that this physical body has caused us a lot of suffering. So goes the saying,

When the horse is on the edge of the cliff,

it's too late to draw in the reins.

When the boat is in the middle of the river,

it's too late to patch the leaks.

Who told you to behave recklessly in time when you're not sick, when you should be taking care of yourself? This is true not only with sickness, but also with the important issue on birth and death.

Ponder this verse: "Only after dying do you realize you applied your effort wrongly." While alive, you failed to examine and rectify yourself. Then as you drew your last breathe, you met King Yama and realized that everything you had done in your life was improper. You slandered and scoffed at people reciting the name of the Buddha that you labeled superstitious. Now, you are to undergo the suffering of the Mountain of Knives and the Cauldron of Oil. So it's too late for regrets. As described in the phrase above, "when the horse is on the edge of the cliff, it's too late to draw in the reins. When the boat is in the middle of the river, it's too late to patch the leaks." Who told you not to prepare ahead of time?

So Zhuzi said, "Make preparations before the rainfall. Don't wait until you're thirsty to dig a well." We should think ahead about the problems that may arise when the rain begins to fall. Residents in northern China, for example, use paper windows and ensure that they are well pasted to keep the rain from soaking the goods inside the house. If we wait until the rain arrives and hasten to paste up the windows, itˇ¦s already too late. Also, in poor villages where there is no running water, you have to consider a supply of water before building a house. If you wait until you're thirsty to dig a well, isn't it too late?

When we study Buddhism, we come to understand that all things are impermanent and that death is inevitable. So why don't we first take a look into the problem of our own mortality? Consider the following verse:

If you don't want to die,

You must first work "dead hard."

Working "dead hard" is the same as taking part in this session to recite the Bodhisattva's name. We are holding this session to first pray for world peace, and then prepare for our future after this life. Thus, what we are doing is to "make preparations before the rainfall." We should participate in this session every year, and not skip a year. By then we will have created great affinities with Amitabha Buddha and Guanyin Bodhisattva. Our reciting will help us see Amitabha Buddha as our teacher and Guanyin Bodhisattva, our close friend. Being a disciple of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva in year after year, month after month, and day after day will forge into a lasting friendship. So when our life draws to a close, the Buddha and Bodhisattva will certainly come and lead us to the Pure Land in the West. No one should have doubts about it. It is said,

Cultivators should be careful not to doubt.

Once they doubt, they will be lost.

When listening to a Good and Wise Advisor, we should not harbor doubts. When the Good and Wise Advisor says that cultivation requires arduous effort, you should truly believe it. By believing it completely, you will be able to understand the mind, see the nature, and return to the source. So, we should always listen to the instructions of a Good and Wise Advisor. If he tells you to recite the Buddha's name, you should follow the instruction and recite. If he tells you not to be stubborn, then don't be stubborn. This is essential to cultivation.

Earlier we said, "Only after being sick do you realize the body is suffering." When people do not experience pain and suffering, they will not want to cultivate. They wouldnˇ¦t know about pain if they have never been sick.

It's also said, "It's hard for the rich and the honorable to cultivate." A wealthy person can have everything he wants, so why would he bother to cultivate? But poverty and illnesses are conditions beneficial to our cultivation. So when our poor health comes, we will not be depressed. When our hardship comes, we will not be worried. There's a verse which goes,

When I see someone die,

My heart burns like fire.

It's not burning because of him,

But because I know it will soon be my turn.

Succumbing to our destitution or ailment, we should quickly resolve to cultivate. Seeing others who are poor, sick, aging and dying should serve as a warning for us. Life is like an undulating waves. If we make a vow to be reborn, then we will be prepared. We won't be frantic when our time arrives, unlike people, for example, indulging in pleasures when they should instead be defending their country during a time of peace. That's the current situation in Buddhism since no one is working hard to make Buddhism prosper, thereby weakening the spirit of Buddhism even further.

You should know that not only the Bhikshus and Bhikshunis, but also all Buddhists are responsible for promoting Buddhism. If each and every one of us can assume such a responsibility, would we worry about Buddhism not thriving?

Still, there are some Buddhists who think Buddhism is not as "trendy" as other religions, so theyˇ¦re too embarrassed to admit they are Buddhist. Isn't it pathetic that some of whom would assent to others who see Buddhism as a mere superstition? In one instance, a group of non-Buddhists at Daofeng Shan in Kowloon (Hong Kong) invited and influenced Buddhist monks and nuns into forgetting their roots and eventually slandering Buddhism.

But there are those who truly believe in Buddhism. And they would rather give up their lives than change their faith. We should muster our courage, and remain committed to our resolve even when others deride us or tempt us. If every Buddhist sees himself as a Buddhist, Buddhism will certainly flourish again.

Many denominations prosper, but the way of Heaven moves in cycles. When an apex is reached, things will turn around. No one should let their resolve be affected by temporal signs of prosperity or decline. True principle is never extinguished. The flourishing of Buddhism depends on everyone's hard work!

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