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Once upon a time, during the Jin Dynasty, there lived an eminent monk named Master Dao’an, a great leader and teacher. Wishing to preserve Buddhism, Master Dao’an sent his disciples to many different places to spread the Buddha’s teachings. Among his many disciples, Fayu was especially talented and well-learned. The relationship between the master and his disciple was one that went beyond words, and Fayu often understood his master’s teachings without need for further explanation.
Eventually, Fayu was appointed abbot of a monastery, leader of a community of 400 people. He was respected and known for his strict monastic discipline. Many people came to seek his teachings. However, there were times when some members of the monastery did not strictly follow the precepts as laid down by Fayu.
One day, after breakfast, one of his disciples said to him, “Abbot, there is a problem I am unsure whether to bring to your attention or not.”
“If speaking up leads to the improvement of our community, please go ahead.” Abbot Fayu said.
“Yes, master. There have been rumors that one of our members has broken the precepts by getting drunk. It seems he’s been out and about in town till late, drinking with townsfolk and socializing too much.” The disciple reported.
The Abbot was silent for a while and then said, “I see...Please ask this disciple to come to see me.”
Soon after, the disciple appeared and said, “Abbot, you asked for me?”
“Yes, please take a seat.” Gesturing for him to sit in front of him, the Abbot continued, “How long has it been since you renounced?”
“Nearly 10 years.” The disciple replied.
“In your 10 years of practice, what can you share about the Five Precepts?” The Abbot asked.
“First is refrain from killing; second, refrain from stealing; third, refrain from sexual misconduct; fourth, refrain from lying; and fifth refrain from intoxicants.” The disciple replied.
“You know the five precepts very well. Do you practice them diligently?” Abbot asked.
“Well...I think that perhaps maybe not...” The disciple muttered.
“Is it true that not long ago, you broke one of the precepts?” The Abbott asked with a firm voice.
The disciple stayed still and quiet, and the Abbot continued, “As a monastic, you cannot forget your precepts and vows. As monastics, we must guard our behavior and be conscious at all times that we do not break the precepts we have taken. Guarding our body, speech, and mind is essential! If you choose to behave like a layperson, then you do not qualify to be a monastic. Do you understand?”
“Yes, master.” The disciple replied softly.
“In observing strict monastic discipline, breaking the fifth precept, refraining from intoxicants, is considered a serious issue. Since this is your first mistake, I shall not expel you from the monastery. However, this is your final warning. Do you understand?” The Abbot said.
“Yes, master.” The disciple replied.
Since that day, though lectured by his master, the disciple, deep down, had no intention to change. He continued to sneak out of the monastery to go into town.
His unruliness and continued transgressions soon reached the ears of Master Dao’an.
“Master, news has spread about Master Fayu’s disciple. He broke his precept regarding taking intoxicants, often getting drunk. This disciple was once so hungover that he forgot to attend to his duties in the Main Shrine. As a rule, he should be expelled. Yet all Master Fayu did was scold him. What are your thoughts on this?” One of Master Dao’an’s disciples asked.
Master Dao’an thought for a while and replied, “Fetch me a cane and a hollow bamboo stick.”
The disciple did as he was told. Master Dao’an then carefully placed the cane inside the bamboo stick, and then on the outside he simply wrote, “To Fayu.” He then instructed his disciple to send it right away.
Soon after, Fayu received the bamboo stick sent by his master. He unwrapped it to find only a cane inside without a note or explanation.
Knowing exactly what his master meant, Fayu called everyone in the monastery to gather in the shrine. The shrine attendant lit the candles and incense as Fayu placed the cane on the altar in front of the Buddha. When everyone had arrived, Fayu walked up to the altar and prostrated to the Buddha three times. He then addressed everyone, “As the leader of this monastery and teacher to you all, I have failed in my duty to guide you in observing strict monastic discipline. I deserve to be punished.” He then instructed the Disciplinarian to hit him three times with the cane sent by Master Dao’an. Master Fayu’s disciples sat in shock. Not only did they witness their master’s sincere repentance, but they had also learned an invaluable lesson in taking responsibility for one’s actions.
Seeing his teacher’s self-imposed punishment, the disciple who had broken the fifth precept felt deep remorse and vowed to never break any precept again. From that day on, everyone in the monastery practiced diligently and observed strict discipline.
This story highlights that teaching by example is more important than teaching by words. As a teacher, parent, or leader, we ought to teach and lead by example rather than through words. If one cannot walk the talk, why should anyone follow? If one leads by example, not only will they be respected, others will surely willingly follow them too.
Whenever one’s students, children, or subordinates refuse to learn and be taught, it is good for teachers and leaders to stop and reflect: Have my actions exemplified my words? Do my actions match what I have said?? As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”
In this story, although Fayu was the abbot of the monastery, he bravely accepted Master Dao’an’s punishment in front of everyone. His courage in admitting and repenting his faults gained the respect of his disciples. Fayu knew he had failed as a teacher in guiding his disciples correctly. All were deeply moved, and respected him for being honest and taking responsibility for his actions. As a result, he was able to lead his community unhindered, peacefully, and in harmony.
Just as Venerable Master Hsing Yun says,
A mediocre teacher lectures.
A good teacher explains.
An excellent teacher demonstrates.
A great teacher inspires.