By Master Sheng-yen. Chan Magazine Winter edition 1993
"Living beings" means all sentient beings. Harmonising with living beings means giving to sentient beings whatever they wish. Even so, if they ask for your head, do you give it to them? If they ask for your body, do you give it to them? If they ask for your money, what then?
You give - but only when it is appropriate. It depends on whether sentient beings really need these things. Often it takes the wisdom of a Bodhisattva to decide properly on this question. Sometimes sentient beings ask for heads, bodies and money but the Bodhisattva in return will give them a scolding or a beating or lock them in jail. These are all expedient means of teaching. Harmonising with living beings entails judging needs in terms of the teaching and helping appropriately.
In the T'ang Dynasty of China, Master Hsuan Tsang had a devoted disciple, K'uei Chi, who later also became a great master. When Hsuan Tsang asked him if he would become a monk. K'uei Chi said, "Monks are not allowed to eat meat. If I become a monk I want to continue eating meat". "All right," said the Master. "No problem. I give you permission to eat meat". K'uei Chi continued, "Monks are not allowed to marry. If I become a monk I would like to marry too." Hsuan Tsang answered , "You have my permission." K'uie Chi added, "Monks cannot wear beautiful clothes. I must be allowed to dress handsomely." Hsuan Tsang said. "OK, I also give you permission to do that".
When it was time to have his head shaved, K'uei Chi demanded beautiful clothes, a wife and meat.
Hsuan Tsang said, "No, even though you have shaved your head, you are not yet a monk. Wait till then."
Later on K'uei Chi repeated his requests.
Hsuan Tsang said, "Still you have not fulfilled the requirements of being a monk. When you are a good monk you may do all of that."
So K'uei Chi worked very hard becoming an excellent practitioner.
One day Hsuan Tsang asked him, "Do you want to marry?"
K'uei Chi said, "Well, I am a monk now. I don't need to get married."
Hsuan Tsang asked him, "Do you want to eat meat?"
K'uei chi replied, "I am a monk now, how can I eat meat?"
No longer did K'uei Chi have an interest in these things. Hsuan Tsang harmonised with the needs of K'uei Chi. Through the Master's promising him what he wanted K'uei Chi gradually discovered what his real needs were. Other ways of harmonising are through introducing people to the Dharma in four ways. The first is making offerings. The second is through kind words. The third is through helpful action and the fourth lies in sharing activities that lead to proper practice.