Liberal Development is not Ultimate Freedom
by Venerable Hsuan Hua

In this world there are many unusual things that are beyond people's imagination. Although they are beyond people's imagination, they are partly created by people themselves, and partly by heaven. If people hadn't contributed to them, these things would not have happened. If people contribute to them, but it is not the heavenly destiny, then there will be no basis for these things to happen. And so everything in the world is relative. If there is wholesomeness, then there will be evil; if there is yin, there will be yang; if there is a right, then there will be a wrong. If there is a goodness then there is a bad. With this law of relativity, if you are capable, you can turn bad into good. If you are not capable, then good can turn into bad. Those who know how to apply effort, even if their yin energy is high, they can regulate it so that they have some yang energy. If their yang energy is too high, they can regulate it so there is some yin. Yang belongs to movement, and yin belongs to stillness. Yang belongs to hardness and yin belongs to softness. Being bad or being good is something done by human beings. And so it is said, "Getting near the rouge, one becomes red. Getting near the ink, one becomes black. If you dye something green, it becomes green; if you dye something yellow, it becomes yellow."

An example of this principle is Mencius, the second sage in China. He lost his father when he was little and so his mother raised him. At first they lived near a slaughterhouse where pigs were killed. This child imitated the practice of slaughtering animals. When his mother saw this, she thought, "I shouldn't let him develop freely. I shouldn't let him learn to kill pigs and slaughter animals," and so they quickly moved away. This time they moved next to a cemetery. Mencius learned how to dig the earth, make graves, and make sacrifices. The children would place down a bowl of things as an offering to the ancestors. Seeing people lighting incense or burning paper money, they would do the same thing. His mother saw this and thought, "This will never do! If he's allowed to develop freely, then when he grows up he will do these kinds of things, and how will that help him? We should quickly move! I can't allow this kind of independence to go on, because 'getting near the rouge, one becomes red. Getting near the ink, one becomes black.'" Thereupon she moved again. This time they moved next to a school. At school, the students bowed from the waist to the Sages when they arrived, and when they were let out of school, they also bowed from the waist to the Sages. When they returned home, they made obeisance to their parents. At school they studied well. Mencius came from a poor family. Although they had no money, he had the capacity to learn.

He imitated whatever others did. He learned how to study; he learned characters. He learned the rites and rituals. He learned many things. Watching this, Mencius' mother thought, "I'm going to stay here this time. This child is learning and becoming better. I should not allow him to develop just as he pleases." And so they settled down there. After Mencius studied for some time, he became bored and quit learning. He was very naughty and mischievous. Mencius' mother was weaving cloth. When she saw that her son quit studying, she broke the loom and stopped her work. The cloth she wove was the living for the family. When Mencius saw that his mother had stopped making cloth and that this would cut off their family income, he wondered what to do. And so he asked his mother why she broke the loom, snapped the threads, and stopped weaving. His mother answered, "Your ceasing to learn is just like the broken thread on the loom, which cannot be woven anymore." Mencius thought about that. "Oh, my not studying is just like a loom with snapped threads. This can't go on." After that, he worked hard studying and eventually became a great sage.

I am not opposing this country's way of giving children freedom, but if you give children free reign over their development, that is also a misconception. Because, children are like young trees with a lot of shoots. If you want the tree to become useful material, you have to prune its shoots and train the main trunk. Only in that way can a tree become material for a beam. If a child is correct, then of course, he can be allowed to develop freely. If the child is not doing what's right, he should be guided to change a little bit.

For instance, in this country I have found that many children are left-handed. They write, eat, and do everything with their left hand. This is not very convenient. The right hand is associated with gentleness, and the left hand with stubbornness. That is why being left-handed is not too good. When a child shows tendency to be left-handed, the family should help the child change to being right-handed while he/she is still learning to write and eat. Going clockwise is a compliant movement. Just like when we circumambulate the Buddha, we turn to the right. In all we do we move clockwise. Being right-handed is a nimble movement, more convenient both in writing, in eating, and in doing everything else. Thus, I am making this suggestion to families with left-handed children. Although I'm making such suggestions, you may still insist in allowing your children to develop freely. But if in the future, they don't listen to you, it will be a result of their free development, because they will say, "I want to develop freely. I won't listen to you. Whatever you say, I won't listen to it." After they grow up, they will become hippies, or they will do unprincipled things. From T.V., people can learn to be very bad. If you let your child watch T.V., that is also not really allowing him to develop freely! You're letting him be influenced, too! To really develop freely, what should you do? You should take him into the deep mountains where there is no telephone and no T.V.--none of those things--and have him be totally cut off from the world. Then he can develop freely there, just like the trees in the mountains, completely separated from the people of the world. That would be the way to let him develop freely, because there are no people around. When there are no people in a place, even if he didn't want to develop freely, he would have to develop freely. When we live in society where there are always people around us, then we should apply our wisdom, use common sense, and maintain a certain standard of behavior.

I am not against people who are left-handed. But left-handed people sometimes stand out as a bit unusual. They often are not too obedient. This is also a result of allowing them to develop freely. We say that the children of this country are being allowed to develop freely, but we could do a survey and study in detail how many among these children, who have been allowed to develop freely, have gone on to become President? Is it the case that if a child is allowed to develop freely, then he can become President? If that's the case, then every one of them should become President. If that is not the case, then we should guide him a little. Rendering him a little help means if he is right, you will let him grow liberally. If he is not right, you must tell him not to be like that.