If You Avoid Wine, Lust, Wealth, and Anger, You Will Attain Genuine Freedom and Longevity

A talk given by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, on October 28,1990, at Avalokiteshvara Temple in Paris, France

Wine, lust, wealth, and anger are the four walls;
Many confused people are trapped inside.
If one can leap outside these walls,
One will enjoy eternal life and never grow old.

This verse talks about the five worldly desires for wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep, which turn people upside-down and cause them to live as if drunk and die dreaming, too confused to turn back. In addition, there are wine, lust, wealth, and anger. Those who like wine constantly think about drinking wine. Those who crave sex have thoughts about sex all the time. Those who covet wealth are always trying to think of a way to get rich. Those who like to get angry are always losing their temper over matters great and small. These four things are like four walls that trap people within, so the verse says:

Many confused people are trapped inside, There is no knowing how many people live inside those walls.

If one can leap outside these walls: If a person can refrain from drinking wine, indulging in lust, being greedy for money, and getting angry,

One will enjoy eternal life and never grow old: If you are not moved by wine, lust, wealth, or anger, you will definitely live a long time.

Although Buddhism teaches us not to be attached to the mark of a life span, if you don’t lose your temper, don’t drink wine or take intoxicants, and aren’t greedy for sex or wealth, then you pretty much have control over your own life span. If you want to live a little longer, you can. If you don’t want to live to be too old, you can go to rebirth whenever you wish. You are free and at ease. This is true self-mastery. Self-mastery means that you are always in control, not mastered by others. What is mastery by others? If you give rise to discursive thoughts all the time, that is being mastered by others. What is self-mastery? If you have no discursive thoughts, it is self-mastery .If you want to be the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates with Self-Mastery [Avalokiteshvara], you must not have any discursive thoughts. When you break through all discursive thoughts and attachments, that is self-mastery; that is the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates with Self-Mastery. That is also illuminating the five skandhas and seeing that they are all empty, and passing beyond all suffering and difficulty.¨ [Heart Sutra]

Wine, lust, wealth, and anger have been the downfall of countless Buddhist disciples. Wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep have also ruined the future of countless potential sages and worthies. Yet people still do not wake up. They still spend their lives in a drunken state and die dreaming, not knowing how to turn around. How foolish, how pathetic! That's why, when I was young, I considered wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep to be extremely unclean, like excrement or dirt. I regarded wine, lust, wealth, and anger as external things that had nothing to do with my body, mind, or life. I began to search for a way to leave the five desires behind and leap outside the four walls. That's when I decided to leave the home-life.

After leaving home, I wanted to help others, so I used the Great Compassion Mantra, the Forty-two Hands and Eyes and the Shurangama Mantra to save people. I saved many people, but in doing so I also provoked many demons, ghosts, and other strange creatures. Some of these creatures were from the heavens; some were from the human realm and some were sea monsters who lived in the water. Because I had offended so many heavenly demons, goblins of the hills and rivers and so on, I almost drowned when I went by boat from Tianjin to Shanghai.

I remember the trip from Tianjin to Shanghai should have taken only three or four days (this was over forty years ago). But the boat I took was on the sea for over half a month. All the food and water on-board had been consumed, but the boat only sailed in circles on the black expanse of sea. None of the engines worked, and there was no way to reach the shore. There were several hundred passengers on the boat, and they kept vomiting. When the boat pitched forward, one end would rise several dozen feet high in the air. When it rocked back, it would sink several dozen feet down the water. The boat rocked back and forth in the black waters and nearly capsized. At that time, reciting the Great Compassion Mantra didn't work, and reciting the Shurangama Mantra didn’t work either. I had vomited up everything in my stomach, and was lying on the deck unable to move. I knew the boat couldn’t move because of the sea monsters that were fighting me, trying to capsize the boat and drown me. I had vomited up everything, even bile fluid, and I had no strength at all. I thought of voluntarily jumping into the sea, so that many other people wouldn’t be harmed on account of me. But I still had a thread of hope: I prayed to Guanyin Bodhisattva. I said, Guanyin Bodhisattva, from the time I was born I have wanted to work for Buddhism. If I can still be of use to Buddhism, please extend your holy hand to calm the waves and guide the boat to Shanghai. If you cannot stretch out your holy hand to save me, then I shall jump overboard now, so that all these people won't have to die because of me. I am willing to take my retribution.¨

When I finished my prayer, the violent wind and the turbulent waves calmed down. After fourteen days, the boat finally arrived in Shanghai. If it had been delayed for just a few more days, people would have been so famished that they might have started eating one another, and there would have been unforeseeable consequences. That is the kind of trouble I got into for getting involved in people’s affairs and trying to help them. From that time on, after I went to Hong Kong, I didn’t dare to interfere too much in the affairs of others. Even now, I don’t get too involved. If people are sick and I am able to help them, I do so quietly; if I cannot help, then there is nothing I can do. Now that I recall my youthful days, I realize how audacious I have been. I was unmindful of danger from the skies above or from the earth below. The result of this is I offended countless mountain and sea monsters. I am telling you this today so that you can learn from me and not put your nose in other people’s business.