Four Tenets of Chung Tai

The Expedient Means of Realizing the Middle Way Reality

An Excerpt from Grand Master Wei Chueh’s Dharma Talk

中台四箴行 – 契悟中道實相的前方便


To realize Middle Way Reality we need to cultivate preparatory skillful means. When the foundation of skillful practice is established, the realization of Middle Way Reality will certainly be possible. In Chung Tai, we have condensed this foundation practice into the Four Tenets.
Grand Master Wei Chueh

Four Tenets of Chung Tai

To our elders be respectful,
To our juniors be kind,
With all humanity be harmonious,
In all endeavors be true.

To our elders be respectful

First, “To our elders be respectful,” means that we must be respectful toward our parents, teachers, and superiors. People in our present society often lack respect, and each of us has, to some extent, a mind of doubt and pride. Precisely a mind of respect can eliminate doubt and pride. Buddhism teaches, “With one measure of respect we can eradicate one measure of karmic obstacles. Eradicating one measure of karmic obstacles we can increase one measure of merits, blessings, and wisdom. With ten measures of respect we can eradicate ten measures of karmic obstacles. Eradicating ten measures of karmic obstacles we can increase ten measures of merits, blessings, and wisdom.” If everyone has a mind of respect, there will be no barriers or friction among people, and we can also improve and help ourselves to achieve a mind free of delusions and confusion.

*“Respect” means to revere, esteem, and be courteous. The opposite of respect is arrogance. By using respect to overcome pride, we can eliminate karmic obstacles, and increase our merits and wisdom.  If we are respectful toward one another, families will be harmonious, society will be peaceful, conflicts and worries among people will greatly diminish.

To our juniors be kind

Second, “To our juniors be kind,” says that we should have a mind of compassion toward our disciples, our students, our employees, and even toward lower animals. The Buddhist sutra calls this, “unconditioned mercy and all-embracing compassion.” Now in society most people lack compassion. Enmity, hatred, combativeness, and discrimination exist among people and are the reason why there is always war in the world. If we wish to achieve world peace, we must first extinguish our mind of hatred. We must use a mind of compassion to overcome hatred. If we can cultivate a mind of compassion, society will be harmonious and filled with brightness. Those who respect others will be respected by all; those who love others will be loved by all. To be compassionate toward others is to be compassionate to ourselves; compassion can unravel conflicts. First and foremost, we must cultivate ourselves to have unconditioned mercy and all-embracing compassion. In doing so, society can then look forward to the possibility of peace.

In addition, we must not only be compassionate toward other human beings but also toward all animals. In society now there are laws to protect animal rights. Therefore, through kindness and compassion, we begin to love all things. So the mind of compassion spreads from humans to animals, from animals to plant life as well as to all things. Why should we be compassionate? For example, when we see a poisonous snake or fierce beast in the mountains, we are frightened; this is because from the past to the present, we have lacked a mind of compassion. Animals act in much the same way. When two of them see each other, both are frightened. Each animal is afraid that it may be hurt or harmed by the other; therefore, one of them will try to attack first. Conflicts between people also arise in this manner. Take gangsters and wayward youth in our society as an example. With a mere look in the eye, we might unintentionally provoke an attack by them, which might cause even greater tragedies. This is all due to the lack of compassion. A compassionate mind is very important; it can also help us maintain good health and improve the integration between our body and mind. If we give rise to a mind of compassion, we will feel calm, at ease, and enjoy good health. We all have three bombs in our mindgreed, hatred, and ignorance. They may go off occasionally, causing great suffering and danger in our lives. With a mind of compassion, these three bombs can be defused before causing destruction.

A Buddhist sutra records the following story: One day when Shakyamuni Buddha and Shariputra the Elder were on a journey, they saw a pigeon being chased by a vulture. The pigeon was very clever; knowing the Buddha’s unconditioned and all-encompassing compassion, it flew to hide under the shadow of Shakyamuni Buddha. There the pigeon felt peaceful and safe. After a little while, the Buddha moved and Shariputra’s shadow fell on the pigeon. Immediately, the pigeon was very frightened and started to shiver from head to toe. What was the reason for this phenomenon? It was because even though Shariputra the Elder had already attained Arhathood and completely eradicated the six fundamental vexations, he still had the final beginningless ignorance and the subtlest hatred. But Shakyamuni Buddha had eradicated all vexations, penetrated the final beginningless ignorance, and eliminated the subtlest hatred. As a result, not only do human beings feel safe and happy to be near the Buddha, but a poisonous snake or a fierce beast also feels peaceful and safe when it is close to him.


With all humanity be harmonious

Third, “With all humanity be harmonious,” means that we should be congenial and harmonious toward all people. “When the family is harmonious, all endeavors will be successful.” Congeniality leads to true prosperity. Everyone hopes for world peace, so people ban nuclear weapons. But although they ban these weapons outwardly, they still secretly produce them because people are afraid of each other. With this attitude, it is very difficult to truly achieve world peace. If people transform their minds of greed, hatred, and ignorance into congeniality and harmony, I believe they will live harmoniously; family and society will also be more harmonious, and the world will have the possibility to enjoy peace.

In all endeavors be true

Fourth, “In all endeavors be true,” directs us to be sincere; we must not be perfunctory, take credit for others’ success, place blame on others, or shirk our duties, because with this attitude, we can accomplish nothing. If we work sincerely and realistically, we will achieve success. When doing research or studying at school, we also need to be sincere and true, not slothful or careless. For example, cheating is not honest or true. Even if we graduate from school by cheating, we will not feel solid, and when working in society, we will feel uncomfortable or even unqualified. We may often find ourselves at our wit’s end and regret not having studied harder to learn as much as we could have while at school. When doing good deeds, we also need to be sincere and use a mind of compassion and impartiality, just as the ancient sage Fan ZhongYan said, “To care before the cares of the world, to rejoice after the rejoicing of the world.” If we perform deeds with superficial intentions and with the selfish goal of obtaining fame and recognition, even if we do wholesome deeds, the results will not be beneficial for “when the cause is not genuine, the effect will be distorted.” Also, people should not attend meditation retreats just because they feel it is a fashionable thing to do. This attitude is wrong and is an example of not being true in one’s endeavors. Practice needs to be sincere and needs to come from the heart. We must eradicate our habitual tendencies. When meditating, we should let go of all entanglements, not let a single thought arise, be alert, avoid wandering thoughts, drowsiness and boredom, and maintain right mindfulness at all times.

We must be sincere and focused in all endeavors. The Buddhist sutra says, “If you keep the mind in one place, you can accomplish anything.” If we are sincere and single-minded, anything can be accomplished. Ordinary people all wish for things to happen the way they want. But using a delusive, greedy, or ignorant mind, we will never achieve that goal. However, if we use a respectful and sincere mind, the response will be favorable.

If we understand Middle Way thought, we will see everything clearly. We will be masters of ourselves and be lucid at all times. As a result, when we attain the state of Middle Way Reality, our path in life will be brighter and brighter; we will achieve more and more merits, virtue, and success in our careers. Not only will we enjoy a bright and meritorious life, but we will surely transcend the mundane and attain sagehood in the future. ☸︎