Fellow students, I am very glad to meet all of you today. You are all young people of achievement. However, in order to be a person of achievement you must have some achievement. If you are indolent, disrespectful to your teachers and the Way, and fail to create virtue and study hard, then your achievement is no achievement at all. On the other hand, if you can respect your teachers and the Way, and strive to progress in your studies, you will have a promising future. Then you can set a good example for all families and become leaders of nations and influential people in the world.
Do you want to set a good example for all families and become leaders of nations and of the world? Now let me tell you how to do it: First of all you must be filial to your parents at home. When they call you, you should respond immediately and not take your time answering. When they ask you to do something, you shouldn’t be upset or lazy. When they admonish you and tell you to study hard, you should finish doing your homework before you go out to play. Don’t just goof off or spend the whole day watching television, neglecting your school work. When you do something wrong, you should accept their punishment obediently. As a child and a student, that is the very least that you should do. A person’s moral foundation is developed within the family.
Next, you should bring this spirit of filiality to school and be respectful to your teachers. Do not feign compliance. Do not cheat on tests. Be an honest student now and a loyal citizen when you grow up. Never look down on your teachers. They use all their energy to cultivate you young shoots, to make you thrive and grow, to make your trunk strong and branches thick so that your future will be promising. You should never fight with or bully your teacher.
The demoralization of society is now very extreme. Some elementary, secondary, and college students are already fighting their teachers. Such unscrupulous conduct is worse than that of animals. You all must have wholesome roots that enable you to come to this monastery and have such good teachers instruct you. You should cherish this opportunity and not waste precious time.
Remember that your future goal is to help society, not to make money or get a high position. First of all, you should build a good foundation of virtue. The ancients studied for the purpose of understanding principles. Nowadays people study for the purpose of obtaining fame and benefit. Understanding principles involves studying how to govern a country, how to influence the world to change its unwholesome customs and habits, and how to carry out genuine and worthwhile endeavors. In life, you shouldn’t be concerned with just your own enjoyment. You shouldn’t think: “I want to be a physician, because they make a lot of money!” Such thoughts of fame and profit are petty and useless.
If you establish a good foundation of virtue, then fame and benefit are hardly an issue. You’ll be influential people who will achieve great things in the world. Now is your golden age. Don’t let it pass by in vain, or you will regret it later. It is said,
Truthful words jar the ear, but help one to act wisely.
Good medicine is bitter to the taste, but cures the sickness.
Whether or not you care to listen, I have tried my best.
A talk given on November 1983,
At Gold Wheel Sagely Monastery, Los Angeles