In ancient times, education in China was such that each succeeding generation was expected to exceed the current generation in accomplishment. If not, the education was considered a failure. People today however, are afraid that others will exceed them. When they teach others, they may hold back important information. This is called grudging teaching, which will incur the retribution of ignorance. Grudging money incurs poverty. These people are not aware how serious the retribution will be. We should strive to continuously progress in our cultivation of virtue, acquisition of knowledge, development of ability and improvement of the standard of life. Only in this way will education be successful with the entire society progressing.
It will be our responsibility in the next era to educate others. If we fail to attain virtue, knowledge and ability, we will not be able to help the next generation of sentient beings. Why? Look at today¡¦s children. The education they receive is leaning more and more towards science and technology while society is becoming increasingly complicated. Therefore, those who have vowed to help others will need to have a purer heart, greater wisdom and higher virtue to cope with the new era and opportunities. Jealousy and hatred are extremely harmful to our self-nature and hence should be extinguished. So, the virtue of being joyful over other¡¦s meritorious deeds will be even more important.
The Sixth Vow: To Appeal to the Buddha to Turn the Dharma Wheel
Since we benefit from the education we receive from the Buddha, what can we do to repay his kindness? Nowadays, most people enshrine and worship him, making daily offerings to his image on an altar. Is this the right way to repay him? No. These are only rituals to remind us not to forget the Buddha¡¦s kindness. The Buddha¡¦s wish is for all sentient beings to hear the truth, practice accordingly and receive the benefits to attain Buddhahood. The only way we can repay him is to take his heart as our own. Only in this way can we repay our respected teacher. Therefore, we can request the turning of the Dharma-wheel, in other words, we invite knowledgeable masters to teach us about the sutras. This is also the greatest good deed and virtue. Why? Because it brings the teachings to the world. But if no one invites Dharma masters to lecture, they will not have the opportunity to do so. So, people who invite them to give Dharma talks will obtain great merits.
Many people are willing to invite masters to chant or recite believing that they will receive inconceivable good fortune. But actually, they may not understand the meaning of what they are reciting. Therefore, if they invite the Dharma master to give a talk, then the good fortune, merits and virtues are even greater. The listeners will acquire a better understanding of the text and will be more inclined to recite the sutra and follow its teachings.
Unfortunately, if we want to invite a master to give a talk on the sutra today, we will find it hard to find an eligible one since there are so few. Many times, as I have traveled to give talks, I have been told that it was very difficult to find masters to speak. I have smiled and said, ¡§ Having a master to teach is a result. We need to plant the cause before we can attain this result. You are wishing for it without having planted the cause! Where on earth can we find such a deal!¡¨ What does ¡§planting the cause¡¨ mean in this instance? To help train Dharma masters.
People like to listen to talks by senior, famous masters. Younger, unknown masters are normally inexperienced so fewer people attend their talks. Thus they become discouraged and thinking that giving talks is too difficult, they return to conducting ceremonial services. What should we do to help these less experienced masters? The younger and more inexperienced they are the more we need to attend their talks. This will encourage them to continue to practice and to improve.
However, even if we attend every one of the master's talks, we should not praise them. Unfounded praise is more harmful than slander. People may become very angry when slandered but for a person with integrity and enthusiasm the slander will only serve as a stimulant. The more embarrassed he or she becomes, the more determined he or she becomes. This person will do their utmost to achieve. However, if people praise and eulogize the master, he or she will think that they are so good that further improvement is unnecessary. This thinking leads to arrogance. Therefore, we should neither praise inexperienced masters nor make offerings to them. With too much money and fame, they will soon become tainted.
A person gives rise to the Bodhisattva heart and becomes a monk or nun but later becomes corrupt due to receiving excessive praise and offerings from followers. So, these followers are to blame for ruining this monk or nun. When the monk or nun receives the retribution, the followers will share the responsibility. Then whom should we make offerings to? The person with a firm mind for he or she will neither feel excited when praised, nor troubled when slandered. Only they deserve to receive the praise and admiration for only they will not be harmed by it. We would do well to strongly recommend this master to others, so that the master can help more beings.
To accept praise and offerings is very difficult. Buddhists say that, ¡§A single grain from the donor is heavier than Mt. Sumeru. I will serve the donor like a bull in my next life if I do not transcend the six realms of reincarnation at the end of this one¡¨. So it is not easy to properly accept offerings. Even Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do not enjoy the offerings made to them, let alone we ordinary beings. However, when the donor wishes to foster good deeds and virtues, the master should accept the offerings and then pass them on to others.
Earlier in this century, Master Yin-Guang set a good example for us. His innumerable followers gave many offerings. He used all the money to print sutras. Following his example, I have also used all the money donated to print sutras. I then freely distribute the books to everybody. I had the thought that if I did not attain achievement in this life and transcend the six realms, I would at least not become a bull in my next life because everyone who had received my books would help to pay the debt for me! This is the transference of giving. In this way, everybody would share in the good fortune. This is the proper way of accepting offerings from followers.
Using the offerings for personal use is absolutely wrong and immoral. Even if the money is used to build a way place, the way place has to be used to promote Buddhism. Only in this way can the donor receive the merits and virtues. Otherwise, without propagation and cultivation, the way place will become a place of competition and conflict. Therefore, we must be very careful if we want to build a way place. My late teacher, Mr. Lee, once said, ¡§When building the way place, everybody is a Bodhisattva doing their best to complete the work. But after the way place is built, everybody becomes a demon.¡¨ Why? Because they are all trying to grab power and profit. They have forgotten their initial genuine intention in building the way place.
We have to be very careful when making offerings to a Dharma Master. The Buddha told us that there were four kinds of offerings that could be made to monks and nuns. The first is food and drink, without which they cannot survive. The second is clothing. If it becomes worn, provide new ones if there is not another one available. The third is medicine to be provided upon illness. The fourth is bedding.
Nowadays, followers offer monks and nuns houses and whatever good things they can afford. Then they live such a comfortable life that they no longer want to go to the Pure Land! The present life becomes so satisfactory that the goal to transcend the cycle of birth and death to attain Buddhahood fades. This is very harmful to their cultivation. They have left their secular home behind. To present them with a house is to urge them to return home. Isn¡¦t this harmful to them? Having received ownership of a house, they have again acquired property. This is regression of their cultivation.
The follower is then actually a criminal who will ruin the master. These people do not understand that this is harming Buddhism and damaging the spirit of the Triple Jewels. They think they are doing a good deed and accumulating much merit. When they see the King of the hell realms after they die, they will feel bewilderment at their punishment. We must have true wisdom to cultivate good fortune, merits and virtue in Buddhism. Followers need to be told of this but many masters are reluctant to tell them so because then they may not receive offerings.
What about me? I am determined to go to the Pure Land. I will not remain in this world to continue to bear the suffering. Thus, to tell the truth, I do not care whether you make offerings to me or not. It would be even better for me if you did not for it would save me a lot of trouble. Because of this, I started the Corporate Body of the Buddha¡¦s Educational Foundation, which is devoted to the printing and distribution of Buddhist books. I told the manager ¡§Print more if there are more offerings. Print fewer if there are fewer offerings. There is no need to print any if there are no offerings, which is best¡¨.
When too many offerings are received, we have to take the trouble to select among all the Buddhist books to determine which ones are most suitable to print and then decide how best to print them. With no offerings, there would be no worries, no troubles. So we should not seek offerings, seek a way place or ask for anything. Then we will have a pure mind and a quiet heart on our path to enlightenment. Cultivating a pure mind and a quiet heart, helping others to cultivate the same and staying away from fame and profit is true cultivation.
We need to foster novice monks and nuns by placing them in hardships. If we cannot bear to see them experiencing hardship, we are harming them. When Buddha Shakyamuni was in this world, all of his students had only one meal a day and spent the night sitting under trees. Is this not a life of hardship? If we had been there, felt sorry for them and helped them out of their hardships, how could they have attained enlightenment?
The Buddha taught us to regard hardship as our teacher. Only by living most simply and frugally can we acquire a true Dharma heart and be firmly determined to transcend this world. So, hardships are good for us. If we are not willing to undergo hardship ourselves then we can at least respect those who are and not try to extricate them from their difficulties. Only when we sincerely help inexperienced monks and nuns to improve will we have good masters promoting Buddhism.
The Seventh Vow: To Request the Buddha to Reside in this World
The main purpose of the sixth vow is to introduce Buddhism to all people. If we hope to have accomplishment in our cultivation, the vow to request the turning of the Dharma wheel is not enough. Have you seen anyone attain enlightenment simply by listening to a talk on the sutra only once or twice in his or her lifetime? If this could happen, then enlightenment would be obtainable only when the Buddha was in the world and unobtainable when he was not. However, with our limited abilities we cannot do this, so we need to request the Buddha to reside in this world. In other words, we need a teacher who is with us every day so that we can be under their constant guidance and thus be able to reach enlightenment.
Years ago, I was asked by Professor Lee about my aspirations. I told him that I wished to travel around the world encouraging others to practice Buddhism. He nodded and told me that this was good, that I could achieve but I could not help others to do so. I asked why. He replied that I could only propagandize. He said that he had lived in Taizhong for more than thirty years and therefore many people had attained achievement. He went on to explain that if he had not lived in Taizhong but had simply visited to lecture once or twice a year than nobody would have had any achievement. To be able to help another, there needs to be an existing affinity. Without this affinity, even a Buddha cannot help us. By travelling around the world propagating Buddhism, we meet many people but the affinities with them are lighter. Staying in one place to conduct regular teachings needs stronger affinities.
I have benefited greatly from my travels as I have been freed from the concept of home. Every day I was either on the road or in a hotel. Where is my home? No home at all. Although I have places to give talks, I usually do not stay there for longer than a few weeks. The shattering of the idea of home has proven to be an escape for me.
If we want to reach any achievement, we need to request the Buddha to remain in this world. The Buddha himself is no longer here but his followers are, be they monks and nuns or laypeople. Those who are knowledgeable and virtuous can be invited to reside in our town or city to give teachings. In this way, we will be constantly under their guidance. It is easy to provide for masters of virtue and character because they lead simple lives. However, the Lecture Hall should look magnificent so that the listeners will like it and will thus develop respect for the way place. However, if the appearance of the hall is mediocre they might look down on the way place. People often set store by appearance and pay less attention to content. Although a person who knows the true value of things does not attach much importance to appearance, a splendid and imposing looking Lecture Hall is necessary for people to see initially.
Although the Lecture and Cultivation Halls are very impressive, the living quarters of the monks and nuns are very simple. If we look at the temples in China, we will understand. Even the head monk lives in a small room. The luxurious exterior rooms are only for laypeople and visitors. By carefully observing this we will know the right manner we need to have and the right methods we need to adopt. Doing so properly will enable Buddhism to take root, grow, blossom and bear fruit wherever we live.
From the above, we can see that among the Ten Great Vows of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, the first seven are for a Bodhisattvas vows and conduct and the last three are the ways to dedicate all merits.
The Eighth Vow: To Constantly be a Diligent Follower of the Buddha¡¦s Teachings
Although the Buddha no longer resides in this world, we still have his sutras to follow and study. Following the sutras is the highest standard in our learning and practicing Buddhism.
The Ninth Vow: To Accord with all Sentient Beings
We need to accord with the wishes of all sentient beings in the universe. This is extremely difficult to do and is why the Chinese say that filial piety and according with others go together. Learning Buddhism is to honor filial piety and to accord with the being's wishes. While according, we need to look for the right opportunities to try to encourage people to stop committing wrongdoings. This will help them to break through delusion and attain enlightenment. However, to do this perfectly, we need to recognize the right way and time and for this, we need wisdom, expediency and flexibility.
The Tenth Vow: To Dedicate all Merits
This means dedicating all of our good deeds and merits to all the sentient beings in the universe. It means broadening our hearts so that the entire universe becomes one entity. Only when we have reached this state can we be said to have attained the Great Perfection.
In our learning and cultivation of the Pure Land, we use the five sutras and one sastra:
1. The Buddha Speaks of the Infinite Life Sutra of Adornment, Purity, Equality and Enlightenment of the Mahayana School,
2. The Amitabha Sutra,
3. The Visualization Sutra,
4. ¡§The Chapter of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva¡¦s Conduct and Vows¡¨ from the Flower Adornment Sutra¡¨,
5. ¡§The Chapter on the Perfect Complete Realization of Great Strength Bodhisattva through Buddha Name Recitation¡¨ from the Surangama Sutra and
6. Vasubandhu Bodhisattva¡¦s Report on the Way to Reaching the Pure Land.
We practice the Five Guidelines:
1. The Three Conditions,
2. The Six Harmonies,
3. The Three Learnings,
4. The Six Paramitas and
5. The Ten Great Vows of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva.
Very simple, very clear, not at all complicated. If we consistently follow these in our learning and cultivation, we are sure to succeed. In doing so, as an ancient sage said, ¡§If ten thousand practice, ten thousand will succeed.¡¨ Now we have the principles and methods of learning and cultivation. How do we interact with people, matters and objects in our daily lives? If we follow the above five guidelines, single-mindedly chant the name of Buddha Amitabha and seek birth into the Pure Land, we will definitely succeed.
CHAPTER SEVEN THE RIGHT ORDER OF LEARNING BUDDHISM
Belief, Understanding, Practice and Attainment
We have looked at the basis for learning and cultivation and have had a brief introduction to the main practice guidelines. Now, let¡¦s look at the creative teaching methods of Buddhism. As Master Qingliang explained, in the Flower Adornment Sutra learning and cultivation can be divided into the four stages of belief, understanding, practice and realization.
The first stage is belief. When we are able to believe, then our conditions have matured. There is a saying ¡§The Buddha is unable to help those who have no affinity with him¡¨. What is affinity? It is being able to believe. Even a Buddha cannot help someone whose conditions have not yet matured. However, when they have matured, the person will have belief. Then the Buddha can help. Religions are different from Buddhism in that once the believers have faith, they are saved, whereas, the belief in Buddhism, means that we believe in the benefits of Buddhism and accept one of the many methods.
Once we have the belief, we have to have understanding. Buddhism explains the truth of life and the universe. Only after we have acquired a true understanding of it can we begin our practice. Therefore, practice is based on understanding. If we do not understand the principles and methods, how can we practice? True practice is based on the foundation of principles and correct methods. The ultimate goal of practice is to achieve attainment, to attain the real benefit. What is attainment? It is the application of what we believe, understand and practice in our daily lives, to attain the ultimate enjoyment in life. For example, what we find in the Infinite Life Sutra is just what we think and practice. What we think and practice in our daily lives conforms to the sutra. This is attainment and true reality and this is what makes Buddhism so valuable.