Translated By Tara Lau
It was snowing heavily in Vancouver yesterday. Because of the freezing weather, there were not many visitors coming to our temple. A lay follower made a trip to seek for advice (note) in spite of the strong wind and snow.
She told me about the recent ordeal in her family: her father pleaded to divorce her mother to end the seemingly incoherent married life. There were four siblings in the family: her younger sister and brother hated their father; she and the fourth younger sister hated their mother, the second and fourth younger sisters fight all the time. And she and her third brother argued constantly. Home does not feel like home. It is more like a hotel. They have nothing to do or say with each other and everyone seems like they are ready to leave any time. She felt like this family of hers who she’s lived with for over 20 years is about to break. She felt troubled and distressed. Luckily she has a group of friends who are supportive and made her feel a little warm about life.
With tears in her eyes, she asked me: “Venerable, I don’t understand why family resents each other and live without any affection?”
I said: “Resentment and hatred amongst families involve three lives. You don’t need to be sad and please listen calmly. All things in this world are ruled by causality. They are governed by various causes and conditions. The resentment amongst family members carries on for three lives: past life, present life, and future life. The Buddhist scriptures call it “three generations of resentment.” It is said that “Rome was not built in a day”. What you are encountering now is the collective karma of the many conflicts in your personal life, such as your personality, habits, education, work and living environment etc… I do not have the full picture, so in this regard, I cannot help you analyse the crux of the matter in details. I can only give you a general explanation based on what the Buddhist scriptures say.”
“So are you saying the resentment is related to my past life?” the lay follower asked in dismay.
I continued: “As to our past life, fathers and sons, husbands and wives brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles…all of them are destined to meet this life because of the unfinished karma planted in the previous life. In other words, we have known each other in our previous lives, and may have lived together, and have developed a lot of grievances and hatred for each other.
There is an old proverb: “We are not married by chance: it is fate and destiny that bring us together. It can be either good or bad. We cannot be father and son by chance. We are destined to either “collecting debts” or to “repay debts”, and the same goes for brothers and sisters.” Therefore, ancient scholars advised us to be careful about the karma that we created. We must do good deeds to avoid bad karma and to be rid of all evil behaviours in order to achieve good karma with the people around us.”
“Is it always a bad thing for family living together? Why some families can live in peace and harmony?”
“It is not necessarily bad, it can also be good karma! “
Record Of Great Master Yìnguāng’s Collected Writings’ Essence
said: “Family comes together as family based on four reasons: (1) repaying kindness; (2) repaying grudges; (3) ) Repaying debts; (4) Collecting debts.” Take the karmic relationship between parents and children as an example: If the children are destined to “repay kindness”, they will be respectful to their parents to repay their kindness; or they will work hard in their studies to honor their ancestors and make them proud. On the contrary, if the children come here because of “revenge”, they will behave rebelliously and refuse to listen, which make their parents worried and anxious. If the children come here “to pay off debts”, they will provide for their parents and they can enjoy the wealth; on the contrary, if they come here to “collect debts”, they will spend their parents’ money and make them suffer. In extreme cases, the parents may go bankrupt.”
Note: “Advice” originally refers to the explanation of the original intent of Buddha’s birth in the Lotus Sutra. It is intended to enlighten all sentient beings and reveal the knowledge and views of the Tathagata. Nowadays, the word “advice” carries a more general meaning commonly used in Buddhism. It refers to monks explaining relatively simple Buddhist teachings to lay followers, and to conduct informal lectures on Buddhist sutras.