The True Meaning of Honoring Elders:
To Be Young at Heart
Venerable Master Hua: April 5, 1970
At the Jewish Home for the Aged
Today we meet with many of long life, the worldís most honorable people. This is not to say that they honor themselves, but that they receive the respect of others. Out of respect and kindness, they have been gathered to live together as one big "long-life family," and are happy because they live in peace."
"People in old age" is a principle taught by Confucius in China, but I hope that you will not acquiesce to it. Instead, you should have "youth in old age," and as you grow older, grow younger. Donít be satisfied with growing old; as you grow older, grow stronger, so that the older you grow, the stronger you become. How does one grow stronger? By benefiting the world. Do whatever work you can for the common good of all humankind. People age, but youth and old age are basically identical. In both youth and old age, you are still the same person. Having been in the world for a time, you feel old, but your mind is always young. So donít retire and say, "Iím old." Say instead, "I am young!"
If your heart is young, age will depart because it cannot affect you. Buddhism teaches that, "everything is made from the heart alone." You have been in this world for seventy, ninety, or even a hundred years. This is actually a short period of time, the blink of an eye, but you feel old because you mistake this short time for a long time. I hope that each of you will resolve to make your heart young. Turn away from old age and return to youth, to childhood. You need only not think of yourself as old and then there is hope. Be young in your old age.
You might be thinking, "A moment ago you told us to work for the world, but I canít. I want to work, but my hands wonít help me; I want to look, but my eyes wonít help me; I want to walk, but my legs give me no support. Although I want to listen, my ears wonít hear, and as for eating good food, my teeth refuse to co-operate; with so many complications, how can I help the world?"
Your objections are well founded, but I have a plan by which you may help the world. Five of your sense organs, your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body, refuse to work, but the sixth organ, your mind, is still strong. Your mind has no youth or age, no beginning or end. It can always work, and so now I am going to give you a job. This job requires no effort, no exertion, and no particular religious affiliation: according to the teachings of your own religion, PRAY FOR WORLD PEACE. You of long life are well able to do this work. Pray for a world of peace, a world without murder or war. This is the most important work there is.
If you are a Buddhist, be mindful of the Buddha. Recite, "Homage to the Greatly Compassionate bodhisattva Who Observes the Sounds of the World" or "Homage to the Buddha of Infinite light." If you are a Catholic, pray to God and say, "Lord Almighty, Jehovah, rid the world of war. Do not allow so many men to be killed. Let there be no misfortunes or natural disasters, no earthquakes, avalanches or tidal waves." If you are a Protestant, pray to Jesus: "Jesus, Son of God, help the world. I know that you all-powerful and that you can put an end to war." If you are a Muslim, pray to Mohammed: "Allah, let there be peace!" and, if you are a Jew, well, you understand your own religion. You have a method for prayer. Pray in your own way and pray every day. Do not concern yourselves with obtaining a response, simply go ahead and pray. Your daily prayer will help the world. It will also greatly benefit your own children and grandchildren, for if there is no war, your children will never be shot, bombed, or gassed. This great, unselfish, public work benefits you and insures happiness for your children and grandchildren.
Thus in your old age, you contribute to world peace. But if you cannot do this work, if you cannot bring peace to your family or to the world, then there is no "peace in old age." It is because old age is basically not a peaceful time that we speak of "peace in old age," and it is because the world is not at peace that we pray for world peace. If the world were peaceful, we would not have to ask for "peace in old age."
You should, therefore, spread peace throughout the world, in the nations, in the cities, and in your homes. I hope that every country will build homes for the aged and invite billions of old people to live in them as little homes in every village, all working to make the world peaceful.
One elderly man here objects. He thinks, "I refuse to do this work. I have no sons, no grandsons, no daughters and no granddaughters. Why should I make the world peaceful? I just live from day to day and world peace doesnít concern me in the least." You are wrong! Whether or not you have sons or daughters, you are still a part of the world. Perhaps you will have children in your next life, and if you work now, they will receive the benefit. Do not selfishly refuse to see beyond the tip of your nose; look into what I have taught you.
Others object: "Pray for world peace for our children? Not a bad idea. However, my children have been extremely unfilial. They donít treat me as a parent should be treated. They sent me away to this old folks home and not only donít they visit me once a month, they donít even come once a year. Why should I pray for such stingy and ungrateful children?" Your own children may be unfilial, but what about the children who are filial? What about the children who built this rest home and invited you to live there, who help you to get up in the morning and to sleep at night, who bathe and dress you every day? If you cannot pray for your own children, surely you should pray for those who are even closer to you than they.
Ask yourself, "Why are my children unfilial? Is it not because I myself was unfilial to my own parents? How shameful! Whether or not they are good to me, I will be good to my children, and to all the worldís children. I shall revere all elders as my elders, and treat all children as my children. As an elderly person, I should revere all old people. I should love all children as I love my own. In this way the world will quickly become peaceful." The world is not at peace because people are too selfish, too greedy and too hostile. Manís spectacular stupidity has brought strife to the world. The work I have given you to do is the highest work, the work of sages. Whether you like it or not, you must do this work; happy or unhappy, you must do this work. I hope that tomorrow the world will be at peace and that there will be no earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, or calamities. May there be no disasters involving earth, air, water, or fire. When you are all at peace, then I will be peaceótogether we will be at peace. What great joy! May each of you live for three thousand, five thousand, ten thousand time, and although you have enjoyed listening, no doubt your bodies have grown tired. Therefore, I shall not continue to be rude to you. Thank you.