Fellow students, friends, Today, we will resume the learning of ‘God Loves All Beings’. Why do we learn about it? It is for the convenience of those who would like to know about religion. Over the years, we have engaged in bringing religious cohesion and achieved some success. All of you are aware now that religious cohesion is essential because it helps resolve conflicts, confrontations and promote social stability and harmony.
At the age of 26, I met Professor Thomé H. Fang (Fang, Dongmei) who taught me philosophy. In the very last lesson, he taught me Buddhist philosophy. I was very surprised. I said, ‘Buddhism is a religion. How come there is philosophy in it?’ Professor Fang told me, ‘You’re still young. You do not know that Sakyamuni was the greatest philosopher in the world and Mahayana sutras are the pinnacle of philosophy in the world.’ Indeed, I had never heard comments like that before. Professor Fang was the first one who told me that.
I took on what he taught me. Towards the end of that last lesson, he summed up the entire lessons and proposed that ‘Buddhism is a philosophy, and practising the Buddha’s teachings is the highest enjoyment in one’s life’. What he said was very appealing. To young men like me, it was a topic that we want to understand better. Can practising the Buddha’s teachings truly bring us happiness in life? Is it really the highest enjoyment in life? I am 92 this year. Through 60 years of learning and practising of the Buddha’s teachings, it is proven that what Professor Fang said is true, and my appreciation and admiration for his teaching is without bound.
The founders of all faiths in the world were social educators who attained true enlightenment. I am most grateful for being Professor Fang’s student and that he taught me this particular subject. Within a short span of four months, I developed a new understanding for religion and understood that the founders of all faiths in the world were enlightened social educators. My sixty-year learning proves that what Professor Fang said is true.
‘Attaining True Enlightenment’ is a Buddhist term. It is the highest level of achievement in Buddhism. Anyone who achieves it is called a Buddha. There are four learning steps in the Buddha’s education, i.e. believing, understanding, practising and attaining. The first step is to believe. You must have sincere faith before you can benefit from it. In ancient China, this principle was a prerequisite for all education. It was not meant for religions only. Chinese ancestors attached great importance to education.
We can say, in modern terms, that Confucius started a private school over 2,000 years ago, and it was very successful. Ever since then, scholars of every generation in Chinese history took teaching seriously. For the majority of scholars, teaching was the only way of making a living. The number of students taught in private schools was not many, ranging from five to thirty. Thirty students was a large number back then. On average, a teacher taught a dozen of students at a private school. So what did they teach? They taught ethics, morality, causality and sages’ wisdom handed down generation after generation. These were the contents taught in private schools.
More than 1,000 years ago, Chinese ancestors learned from life experiences, and observed that children should receive proper education with appropriate early childhood texts. When did children back then receive formal education? Generally speaking, a child attended private school at the age of three. We are able to collect twenty-three different early childhood texts. We have compiled them into the book series ‘The Root of All Roots Of Sagely Learning’. ‘The Root’ means the foundations of education. It is like a tree. The deeper and firmer its roots are, the bigger the tree will grow. Therefore, the Chinese attached great importance to the foundations of education.
So when should a child start receiving education? It should start from the prenatal period. In other words, within the ten-month pregnancy, a mother should pay attention to how to nurture a good child. During this period, the mother shoulders a huge responsibility. She should refrain from erroneous thinking and wandering thoughts because they will have negative impact on the development of her foetus’ wisdom and virtue. Therefore, any negative thought, speech and action should be avoided. Meanwhile, the mother should take heed of the practice of ethics and morality and provide her foetus with positive influence. After giving birth to her baby, the mother is the first teacher. Her actions and speech must be dignified and she must not hold any dishonourable or vicious thought. All her actions and speech should be in accordance with propriety which is something we learned when young. We now should use it to educate the next generation. It was why in ancient China children attended private school and started formal education at the age of three. Between birth and three years old, children were taught by their parents at home.
The textbooks used for traditional early childhood education in China had a history of over 1,000 years. The more recent ones compiled in the Ming and Qing dynasties also had a history of more than 700 years. They had proved very successful. After completing primary education, children in ancient China progressed to what we call secondary school today. What did they learn at secondary school? They learned the Four Books and Five Classics which taught them how to cultivate themselves, manage their families in harmony, govern a country and bring peace to the world. All these are frequently mentioned in Confucian literature with abundant experiences. Therefore, it was an education aimed at nurturing future sages.
For parents who undertake nursing a child, the expectation was for the child to become a sage or a saintly person regardless of the child’s gender. It was the aim of education. The aim of education is different now. Education today only focusses on the acquisition of knowledge and it is for making a living. In ancient times, sages’ education was about learning to be a sage, to be a saintly person. Similarly, learning to be a Buddha is to expect oneself to become an arhat or a bodhisattva. The highest expectation is of course to become a Buddha. It is truly the aspiration.
Therefore, we can say that the founders of all religions in the world were social educators who had attained True Enlightenment. Their expectation of education was different to that of today. In the East there are Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. In the West there is religious education. With regard to religious education, the sacred texts of religions in the West are also about perfect education. We affirm that Western e religious education encompasses the elements of ethics, morality, causality and wisdom also found in Eastern education. The founders of religions and faiths were all great social educators of their times.
Arnold Toynbee said that religious education is indeed the fundamental education that is indispensable for humankind. I have studied religion for over 60 years and I think that what Toynbee said is remarkable. It is the reflective conclusion of his lifetime study of the history of human civilisations. He also said that when people lose their faith in religion, civilisation will collapse.
We have our concerns today. In 2015 I met the vice-chancellor of the University of Wales. I told him that I was deeply concerned. He asked me what my worry was. I was concerned that sinology in the East would disappear. Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism are part of Chinese traditional culture. But few studies traditional culture now. When I was young, there were perhaps 20 to 30 old professors with a solid foundation of studies in Chinese traditional culture. Most of them have since passed away and there are perhaps less than ten left now. In another ten years, there will be no one left to teach, even if we desperately want to learn traditional culture. This prospect is dreadful! Why is the world in such chaos today? It has a great deal to do with education. In the East, education had been about learning to be a good person who genuinely contributes to society and humankind. But nowadays, no one is learning such teachings. The vice-chancellor shared the same concern as mine and we spoke for a long time, over three hours.
A month later, the vice-chancellor visited me in Hong Kong together with two professors. Again, we talked about the same topic. He was very positive and proposed a programme – jointly establishing an academy of sinology, which is now the Academy of Sinology UK. It is the second academic term now. After it finishes, we will progress into the third academic term. We are recruiting a group of young people and provide them with scholarships as an encouragement to study. We hope that they will be able to inherit Chinese sages’ education of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. We must not lose these teachings.
The vice-chancellor also thought about religion. So he proposed another programme – establishing a doctorate programme training preachers and teachers of different religions. The class would recruit twenty five doctorate students who will graduate after three-year of study. At present, there are not many preachers with a doctorate degree. The programme is to elevate the qualifications of preachers and we hope that every preacher will have a doctorate degree in religion in the future. This is a good deed! I fully support it. This programme has also recently started. Wonderful!
So long as we have inheritors of these great teachings, our minds can rest in peace. We hope that every generation will carry on reviving religious education in the West and Chinese traditional culture in the East. We must restore religion as education. Why is it? It is because it will resolve conflicts. If a person has learned to be a sage and has read books on sages’ wisdom, they will not be in conflict with anyone in their life. When someone is hostile towards me, I will treat that person with goodwill in return. As a result, a great majority of people will be touched and changed. Those who are malicious will become benevolent. Those who are bad will turn good.
In the past, traditional private school teachers in China also followed the four learning steps of believing, understanding, practising and attaining. They believed that sages’ education would greatly benefit oneself. Use these teachings to cultivate ourselves and manage our families, we will attain happiness at home; use them for our careers, there will be a positive development in our endeavours. Wonderful! It then progresses to the next level. Using terms that most will understand, after graduating from primary school, children in ancient China progressed to the equivalent of secondary school today and they learned the Four Books and Five Classics which are mostly about the wisdom and knowledge of governing a country properly and bringing peace to the world. With that wisdom and knowledge, a person will positively contribute to society and their country. If you know how to govern a country properly, you will be a good member of parliament. If you know how to bring peace to the world, you will be a good national leader. This is truly hard to come by!
Hence we now have a clear understanding of what religion is. Religion is education. What does it teach? When we read the sacred texts of all religions, which word occurs most frequently? Love. Therefore I am certain that religious education is the education of love. We should learn from God and learn His universal love. After that, we should love every human being and every being on the planet on behalf of God. Such a person is a child and a student of God. Hence we need to restore religion as an education and run religious schools such as the university programme that is running. Isn’t it marvellous! What do the students study? They learn to love all people in the world and they learn to resolve conflicts.
Well, time is up. This is it for today. Thank you.