Young friends! You should take the sages, worthy ones, great men of indomitable spirit, and ancient and contemporary heroes of all countries as your role models. Emulate them in their character, their virtue, their knowledge, and their Buddhist deeds.
You are now in the stage of learning: In the classroom you acquire knowledge and skills, and outside the classroom you develop your virtue and character. Expand your knowledge and strengthen your integrity, and in the future you’ll accomplish great things and contribute to the happiness and welfare of all humankind. As it’s said,
“Tactfulness in human relationships is also a form of knowledge.” You must gain experience in all aspects of life; be capable and make progress in all areas. Don’t be afraid of failure, for failure is the mother of success.
Young people should have a heroic spirit and a gallant and noble bearing. That way you will certainly become great speakers and outstanding propagators of the Dharma.
Now is the time for you to build your foundation. You should build a good foundation not only of knowledge, but also of character. The foundation of your character is more important than the foundation of knowledge. The ancients said,
“Sages never die, and chaos never ceases.” People who have knowledge but lack good character will be rebellious, and that will harm the country and cause chaos throughout the world. We must develop a noble character, so that in the future we can serve humanity and definitely benefit living beings.
To establish the foundation of character we should first of all speak truthfully, never falsely. Remember this! Don’t say things just to please people, and don’t say anything that goes against your conscience. When it’s time for you to talk, then talk; when it’s time for you to remain silent, don’t talk. You should know that
“he who talks a lot, errs a lot.” It’s also said, “Diseases enter through the mouth; misfortunes issue from it.” So be careful!
Mencius set three great standards for character. He said,
When wealthy, I will not indulge;
When poor, I will not compromise my principles;
When intimidated, I will not submit.
When you are wealthy, be self-disciplined and refrain from licentiousness. When in poverty, don’t alter your resolve; that is, don’t be influenced by circumstances. When oppressed by those with power, don’t cower or surrender. Faced with the lure of fame or benefit, don’t compromise your integrity. With such adamantine determination to be an ethical person, you will be able to make useful contributions to the world.
A talk given on September 4, 1983,
to students at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas