A Full Bright Moon, Radiant with Compassion

Last evening was the second time I watched ‘A Full Bright Moon’ (Yilun Mingyue) – as the opening film of a Buddhist film festival, which tells the biography of the great Great Master Hongyi (弘一大师). I had already seen the video version of it, but I wanted to see it on the big screen – because I knew the effect would be very different. Larger images plus clearer sounds equals greater spiritual impact. I was right. Below are 6 major lessons that especially resonated with me, that moved me to be teary-eyed.

[1] What is Love?

Great Master Hongyi’s ex-wife was reluctant to let go of him, and was puzzled by the nature of love. She thus asked him – ‘Please tell me, what is love?’ (请告诉我,什么叫爱?) If she really loved him, how could she let him go? Perhaps, the love she had in mind was to have and to hold on to the beloved with a closed fist, but his perspective of love had already transcended that. True Love is the ever open hand, that lets go of the beloved, that gives freely to all, and not just one, without attachment to any. 

He answers, ‘Love is compassion.’ (爱就是慈悲。) It is a short yet profound answer indeed. Compassion does not cause suffering by clinging to the beloved, while not forgoing care and concern. It was perhaps his way to urge her to compassionately transform her worldly love to True Love, by letting him go, just as he already let her go. It would be compassion for herself too, to no longer suffer with her attachment. 

[2] Great Compassion for the Weak & Small

Ven. Hongyi is renowned for his mindfulness of abiding by the precepts, and his advocating of compassion in the small details. For example, he authored the famous ‘护生画集’ (Poem & Pictorial Series on Protection of Life). When I first heard of his inspiring conduct many years ago, the anecdote that impressed me the most was how he would always make it a point to inspect chairs for the possible presence of bugs before sitting on them. This touching practice has since made me sensitive to insects since – in the positive sense. In the film, he carefully scoops a bed bug from his head, before laying it down, chanting ‘Amituofo’ (Amitabha Buddha) to bless it. I sincerely hope those who see this scene will learn to be similarly kind to animals.

[3] Treasure Your Blessings

Ven. Hongyi eats a meal with Ven. Yinguang (who is later regarded as the 13th Patriarch of Pureland Buddhism), and emulates the latter’s practice of washing down the remaining food scraps and their ‘juice’ with water in his bowl by drinking. Ven. Yinguang exclaims, ‘Yao Xi Fu Ah!’ (‘We must treasure our blessings!’) Watching this with Dad on my left, I’m grateful that he had taught me since young, on the importance of not wasting food. Coincidentally, a couple of days ago, I was lunching with a friend, who commented that finishing all of one’s food when one is already full is a kind of waste too. Indeed, overeating is wastage too. To really treasure our blessings, we should also not buy or prepare excess food beyond our needs.

[4] Frugality and Contentment

Ven. Hongyi is also known for his great frugality. He would keep using his tattered robes, towels, bedding and such. Even when friends with good will offer him newer and better items, he would politely refuse them as much as possible. It wasn’t due to pride or stubbornness, but simply because he was truly content with the little he had, that he really saw no need to exchange what was already adequate with something else, which can better benefit others. Watching the film with Mum on my right, who frequently urges me to buy new clothes to replace my worn out ones, I hope she understands why I keep troubling her to patch my torn pants and shirts. Just treasuring my blessings!

[5] Humility for Improvement

Ven. Hongyi humbly asks a student monk, who was displeased with him due to some misunderstanding, for his feedback on how he could improve his Dharma teaching. This he did first, without defending himself for his misperceptions. This is very touching indeed. As Stonepeace put it,

‘A truly great master does not see oneself as great,
while seeing how others
can help oneself master true greatness.’

This counters the usual expectation that ‘great masters’ should always present themselves as perfectly blameless or always be ready to rationalise their apparent faults. Ven. Yinguang in the story also humbly declined Ven. Hongyi’s request to be his disciple, saying that it is better that both of them be fellow Dharma co-practitioners, who learn from each other’s virtues to make up for each other’s faults. That Ven. Yinguang is later revealed to be a manifestation of Mahastamaprapta Bodhisattva (Dashizhi Pusa) makes this important lesson of humility even more significant! As Ven. Yinguang taught,

‘Constantly maintain a humble and repentful heart; even if one has upheld true cultivation, one should still feel one’s practice is shallow and never boast. One should mind one’s own business and not the business of others. Only look after the good examples of others instead of bad ones. One should see oneself as mundane and everyone else as Bodhisattvas. If one can cultivate according to these teachings, one is sure to reach the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss [Amituofo’s Pure Land].’

For the sake of completion, preceding the above teachings from Ven. Yinguang are the below from the same set:

‘Whether one is a layperson or has left the home-life, one should respect elders and be harmonious to those surrounding him. One should endure what others cannot, and practice what others cannot achieve. One should take others’ difficulties unto oneself and help them succeed in their undertakings. While sitting quietly, one should often reflect upon one’s own faults, and when chatting with friends, one should not discuss the rights and wrongs of others.

In every action one makes, whether dressing or eating, from dawn to dusk and dusk till dawn, one should not cease to recite the Buddha’s name. Aside from Buddha recitation, whether reciting quietly or silently, one should not give rise to other improper thoughts. If wandering thoughts appear, one should immediately dismiss them.’

[6] Buddhism is for the World

Ven. Hongyi meets Ven. Taixu and helps to write the music for the song ‘San Bao Ge’ (Song of the Triple Gem), whose words were written by the latter. This classic song has since become a beloved anthem for the Chinese Buddhist community. (See video below.) The great Buddhist education reformer that Ven. Taixu was reminds us that ‘Buddhism is for the world’ (not just China or anywhere alone). His words made gratitude well up in me, for his and many other great masters’ tremendous efforts, that made the precious Buddhadharma truly openly available to the masses, of which I am part of. May all great masters return time and again to Samsara out of compassion, to keep the torch of the Dharma burning bright, illuminating the darkness like a bright full moon. Amituofo!