Debts Made in Confusion
A Talk Given by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, June 16, 1980
For people to become family members in this life,
there must be causes and affinities from their past lives.
Everyone has a different appearance. In addition, their causes and effects vary, and their debts accumulated from past lives are also different. Some people owe so much that they can’t even pay off their debts in this lifetime. It is said that these individuals are “building a high mountain of debts.” This mountain is also a mountain of karmic obstacles, which is getting higher day by day. With new debts added on old debts, the debtors get even more entangled. Why is that? It is because these individuals specialized in usurious practices in the past. They were so greedy that they charged excessive interests and thought they were making a profit at their borrowers’ expense. However, they were actually hurting themselves, because their karmic offenses were getting heavier every day. Eventually these karmic offenses became so heavy that they couldn’t pull themselves out of the resulting retributions.
Some people repay their karmic debts by becoming their creditors’ father, mother, husband, wife, son or daughter. It is said that “parents endure hunger as a way to repay their debts to their children.” Various kinds of causes and conditions have shaped our destinies in this life. However, most people do not understand that everything occurs due to prior causes and resulting consequences. Therefore, instead of owning up to their inescapable karmic debts, sometimes they don’t even acknowledge their debts to others; instead, they try to renege. Such unreasonable actions cause many troubles in the world -- you have your trouble, I have mine and they have theirs. Everyone has both wholesome and unwholesome causes and conditions, which are entangled and difficult to separate. Once in a while, when people encounter Buddhism, they will understand the truth a bit.
However, while being clear about the truth today, they get confused by tomorrow; being clear the day after tomorrow, but a day later they get all mixed-up again. They go back and forth between clarity and confusion until they have as much wisdom as delusion. When muddled, they don’t want to cultivate the Bodhi Path; in moments of clarity, they are willing to cultivate. Unfortunately, the time spent cultivating is a lot less than the time spent being confused. As a result, what they gained from cultivation is a lot less than what they lost due to confusion. Day by day, their wisdom decreases as their delusion increases. Driven by their ignorance, they end up engaging in all sorts of mixed-up conducts. With confused minds, their bodies also become confused; harboring greed, hatred and delusion in their minds, they use their bodies to commit killing, stealing and sexual misconducts. They create an innumerable amount of karmic debts while they are confused, and these debts are really hard to repay!
Given all these debts, sometimes disharmony arise among one's family members -- between father and son, mother and daughter, husband and wife, elder brother and younger brother, elder sister and younger sister, or a brother and a sister. However, despite these family problems, one still refuses to acknowledge one’s mistakes and settle one’s debts; instead one feels he or she has been wronged somehow. Actually, all of this can be explained by the unchanging principle of cause and effect -- due to the causes one planted in the past, one reaps the consequence now. So, what is there to complain about? It is said that “If you understand cause and effect, you would not stand next to a crumbling wall.” In fact, we should not “complain to the heavens or blame others” for our misfortunes. Instead, we need to understand the principle of cause and effect, and plant pure and wholesome causes instead of confused ones. When our actions accord with the Bodhi Way, we should proceed; otherwise, we should retreat. Do not confuse good with evil any longer, or mix up the right with the wrong. If we can distinguish black from white and be clear on what’s true and what’s false, then we have an opportunity to return to our inherent nature, our wondrous Buddha nature, which is pure and bright.