The Paramita of Patience
In whatever we do, we need to exercise patience. As stated in the Diamond Sutra, ¡§All natural laws of the universe attribute their success to patience¡¨. Without it, we cannot succeed in anything. For example, to complete our college education, we have to be patient for four years. This audience needs to be patient to sit here for two hours listening to my lecture before you achieve perfection in this lesson. Without patience, we can never achieve anything, no matter how good our conditions are. Of the Six Paramitas, Buddha Shakyamuni in the Diamond Sutra stressed giving and patience in particular. They are the keys to success in cultivation.
It has been said that ¡§It is difficult to handle matters, but it is even more difficult to interact with people¡¨. It was not so difficult to interact with people in the past, but now, it is. Why? Education in the past taught people the proper manner and behavior in which to conduct themselves. Today it teaches people how to make a living. It is no wonder that we do not know how to conduct ourselves. We are unable to understand the changing of our own emotions, much less those of others. Therefore, it has become increasingly difficult to get along with other people.
There are three categories of patience. First, tolerate the injuries of physical and verbal abuse. Patience is a virtue. With patience, we will have a quiet and pure mind; thus, it will be easier to attain deep concentration and achievement. When we successfully practice patience, we will gain the greatest good fortune. Second, we would do well to be patient with variations of the natural elements, hot and cold, summer and winter, hunger and thirst, as well as natural disasters.
Third, be patient in the arduous course of our practice. Before attaining the joy of cultivation and before of our cultivation becomes strong, we will encounter many obstacles. However, once we get through this phase, we attain happiness. Why? Because we are on the right path. This is like traveling on an expressway. Before we can get on it, we keep circling and driving around trying to find the entrance. This is very frustrating because there are many cars in our way and we cannot drive fast. We have to remain patient. Once we get on the expressway, it is much more pleasant because traffic moves smoother and faster with no hindrances. Our practice of Buddhism is like this.
In the beginning, we move around, trying different methods and schools. Which one shall I choose? What shall I learn? Some people are fortunate because they only spend a few years to find the right method. Others are not so fortunate, and may take ten to twenty years or even a lifetime in the attempt to find the right method. Good fortune is the result of our good roots, merits and virtues, causes and conditions. With these, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will surely help us, as they never abandon anyone. And once we have the mind to accept their teachings, we will be helped by the Buddha to find awakening. Then our future will be bright.
Why, does the Buddha not simply tell us what we need to know? He did. But we did not listen. We were told the method, but instead thought to ourselves, ¡§Well this may not be a good method. I heard that another one is better¡¨. We have thus argued with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. So, they have chosen not to come to us. Please carefully consider this. We need to be very patient before we can attain achievement. Without patience, we cannot advance to a higher stage, for patience is the prerequisite for deep concentration and diligence.
The Paramita of Diligence
The Chinese word for diligence is comprised of two characters meaning perseverance in a specialized field and progress. The two need to work together. Buddhism is neither conservative nor backward, but seeks daily improvement. Some say that Buddhism is no longer relevant. These remarks are erroneous because the people who said them did not know the Paramita of Diligence. Progress is good, but more important is progress with diligence. Currently, many great scientists in the west have made many discoveries. They persevered. They did research everyday and never stopped. The same applies to our learning Buddhism. We are practicing diligence when we choose one school or method and stay focused on our selection, studying until we excel in it, before advancing to another method. It is not effective to concentrate on different methods at the same time. Once we understand one method, we will understand all of them. This is known as ¡§Once we achieve in one, we achieve in all¡¨. If we try to practice many methods before we are enlightened, they will become obstacles. Let me tell you what happened to one monk who specialized in the Buddha Name Recitation Method.
In the beginning of this century, Master Di-Xian had a student who became a monk at the age of forty so the student was almost the same age as the Master. The two had been childhood friends. Master Di-Xian, who was from a well to do family, had received a good education. However, his childhood friend was from a poor family and had received little education. When the friend grew up, he could only do manual labor and thus had a very difficult life.
One time, he went to visit Master Di-Xian. After staying at the temple for a few days, he told the Master that he too wanted to become a monk. ¡§Why?¡¨ asked the Master. ¡§Because life is too hard and I want to be a monk¡¨ replied his friend. The Master initially denied this request because he felt the rigorous training and sutra memorization would prove too much for someone who was illiterate and much older than novice monks usually are. The other monks would look down upon his friend. Feeling everything would prove too much for his friend, the Master denied the request.
But the friend persisted and so the master gave in. Master Di-Xian said to him, ¡§I will accept you as a monk. But I do not think you need take the vows of abiding by the precepts because you may not stand the rigor of the fifty-three day training. There are many deserted temples in the countryside, I will find you one to stay in.¡¨ The Master arranged for some practitioners to provide meals for the new monk. He then taught his friend to chant ¡§Namo Amituofo¡¨. ¡§Just recite this phrase over and over. When you are tired, take a rest, when rested, resume your chanting. I am sure that you will greatly benefit from this¡¨.
And so the new monk isolated himself in the small temple and concentrated solely on his chanting. Three years later, he went to visit friends and relatives. He came back and told the woman, who had been doing the cooking for him, ¡§There is no need to prepare food for me tomorrow¡¨. The woman thought the monk, who had not left the temple for three years had decided to re-visit his friends again the following day.
The next day, she went by the temple to see if he had returned. She went to the temple and called. Receiving no reply she went into the temple and found him standing, with his recitation beads in his hand. She greeted him but received no response. When she moved closer to him, she realized that he was dead but still standing! Never having seen anything like this before in her life, she rushed off to ask the others who were looking after the monk, what to do. They sent a message to the Master¡¦s temple informing him of the strange occurrence and asking what to do.
Due to difficulties in traveling, it took Master Di-Xian three days to arrive at his friend¡¦s temple. He understood that his old friend had been born into the Western Pure Land. He looked at the still standing dead friend and said admiringly to him, ¡§You have proved that your decision three years ago to become a monk was a fruitful one. Not one of the Dharma masters or abbots at all the famous way places can match your achievement.¡¨ For three years, the uneducated monk had done nothing but recite ¡§Namo Amituofo¡¨. His single-minded, ceaseless recitation had resulted in his achievement of being freed from the cycle of birth and death and of being born into the Western Pure Land.
The practice of diligence is important regardless of what we are doing. Whether chanting ¡§Amituofo¡¨, sitting in meditation, chanting mantras, or studying sutras, we need to practice diligence. In studying sutras, if we want to help ourselves as well as others, it would be best to specialize in just one sutra for study and lecturing. In this way, each time we study and lecture, we will reach a new state of mind, we will improve each time. A person who lectures on The Amitabha Sutra for ten years will become Buddha Amitabha. A person, who lectures on the "Universal Door Chapter" for ten years, will become Guan Yin Bodhisattva. A person, who tries to learn ten sutras in ten years, will become a jack of all trades and a master of none. Now we can see how important diligence is!
Years ago, when I was a professor at the Buddha Light Temple, a Buddhist university in Taiwan, I recommended to the principal that each student specialize in only one single sutra, ¡§This way in ten to twenty years, your Buddha Light will shine over the entire world¡¨. However, my idea was not accepted. If it had been, we would now have many experts giving Dharma talks. What a wonderful accomplishment that would have been! In this way people who wanted a talk on the Amitabha Sutra, would have Buddha Amitabha to speak. People, who wanted a talk on the Earth Treasure Sutra, would have Earth Treasure Bodhisattva to speak. Every graduate from the university would have become an expert! Only in this way can Buddhism become widely accepted.
So, I hope that all those who give Dharma talks will become experts instead of general scholars. For while such students appear to be knowledgeable in many areas, actually they are incapable of mastering anything. On the contrary, students who specialize exclusively in one subject will turn out to be versatile experts. All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are versatile, but they all concentrate on their respective teaching. To be diligent is to delve deeply into one method. The virtue and benefits of practicing the Paramita of Diligence in this way are infinite.
The Paramita of Deep Concentration
The fifth Paramita is deep concentration, which includes the concentration levels practiced within the heavenly realms and beyond. The concentration of the heavenly realms is comprised of eight levels. If we succeed in our cultivation of them, we will be born into the higher heavens. Beyond the heavenly realms, deep concentration is found in the realms of Arhats and Mahayana Bodhisattvas. Finally, the highest level of concentration is that practiced by all Buddhas. The key to all methods of practice lies in deep concentration.
It is a mistake to think that only Zen Buddhism practices deep concentration. Pure Land Buddhism uses Buddha Name Chanting to concentrate the mind. Tiantai Buddhism practices tranquility and contemplation, which is another form of deep concentration. Tibetan Buddhism uses the Three Mystic Practices, the three karmas of body, mouth, mind corresponding to those of the Buddha. So, although different schools use different terms, they all practice deep concentration. Therefore, in the Six Paramitas, concentration encompasses the above forms as well as all the phenomena in our daily lives.
What is this concentration? Being the master of our mind. We have goals, which will never be changed or influenced by the environment. Scientists succeed in their research because they do not allow themselves to be distracted by other concerns. So, they attain a scientific concentration. When we successfully practice the Buddha Name Chanting Method, we will attain the Buddha Name Chanting Samadhi, as did Master Di-Xian¡¦s student. If we are able to endure, we will become patient and thus be able to persevere and progress and thus attain deep concentration, which is the essence of our practice.
In the Platform Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch, Master Hui-Neng explained that deep concentration was more than just sitting in meditation. He himself reached awakening upon listening to the Diamond Sutra. Therefore, all of his lectures were based on the principles in this sutra. He said that meditation is not being attached to any phenomena. Concentration is sustaining the mind of tranquility. In the Diamond Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni taught the proper attitude to have when encouraging others to practice Buddhism, ¡§Do not attach to changing form, maintain the mind of stillness, do not be moved¡¨.
The Flower Adornment Sutra tells us of the fifty-three visits of Sudhana. When Sudhana went to visit Yuxiang, a venerable sage who practiced deep concentration, the boy could not find the old man. Where was he? The sage was not found to be sitting in meditation at home or in the way place. He was found roaming around a market. What was he doing there? Maintaining the mind of tranquility by practicing deep concentration and the principle of not attaching to phenomena. He was not sitting cross-legged facing a wall for hours, a position we often admire and expect of a master. We often find ourselves looking down on the Master of deep concentration whom we see bustling around in excitement. We do not yet realize that such a Master has reached a much higher level of attainment than many practitioners we see in the lotus position. A higher level of deep concentration or Samadhi can exist in all acts.
Why is deep concentration so important? Why did the Buddha caution us to stay away from form and to remain unmoved in our heart? Because all phenomena are illusory, like dreams, bubbles and shadows. They are unattainable. The Buddha sees through everything and urges us not to give rise to any discriminatory thoughts and attachments. If we can do so, then we will uncover our true self-nature and attain the Buddha's understanding of all things in the universe. This is the Paramita of Wisdom.
The Paramita of Wisdom
The Sixth Paramita is intuitive wisdom. We apply it in our daily lives, as we learn the Bodhisattva way. We know everything around us but we do not cling to it as we do our best to help others. Why? This act of helping others originates from the thought and practice of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, ¡§Unconditional compassion for all others as we are all one entity¡¨. This is like a person naturally using the left hand to brush away a mosquito that is biting the right hand. Would the left hand ask why it should help the right hand? Of course not. They are part of the same body.
Today, we have temporarily lost our self-nature, not knowing that all beings and we are one entity. So we discriminate between others and ourselves becoming perplexed and obsessed, spreading confusion, committing wrongdoings and thus bringing sufferings to others and ourselves. The Buddha taught us how to break through delusion so that we would awaken to the truth that helping others is helping ourselves. Such a heart of compassion is unconditional because it originates from understanding of ¡§Unconditional compassion for all others as we are all one entity¡¨.
In conclusion, everything has its own methods and continuity. This is abiding by the precepts. With endurance and perseverance, we will have patience. To specialize without slacking is diligence. To be master of our mind and not to be swayed by external condition is concentration. To thoroughly understand all phenomena is wisdom. Therefore, the Buddha taught us to adopt the Six Paramitas of giving, abiding by the precepts, patience, diligence, deep concentration and wisdom into our daily lives. In this way, we will be practicing the Bodhisattva way. It is a mistake to think that once we have accepted the Bodhisattva precepts, we will automatically become a Bodhisattva. If we are ignorant of the Six Paramitas and thus cannot apply them, then even if we have accepted the Bodhisattva precepts, we will be no more than clay idols unable to even help ourselves.
The Ten Great Vows of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva
Only when we have applied the first four of the Five Guidelines, the Three Conditions, the Six Principles of Harmony, the Three Learnings and the Six Paramitas will we truly be a student of the Buddha and thus be close to Bodhisattvas. Based on the foundation of the Six Paramitas, we can progress to the next level of our practice, which is comprised of the Ten Great Vows of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva. These vows were taught to us by the Buddha in the Flower Adornment Sutra. This is the last stage of our cultivation leading to Buddhahood. We cannot practice the Six Paramitas and advance to the Ten Great Vows until we fulfil the first four guidelines. The main characteristic of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva is an immeasurably broad and compassionate heart. Every one of his vows is complete and perfect.
The First Vow: To Pay Respect to all Buddhas.
Who are Buddhas? We read in the Flower Adornment Sutra that ¡§Sentient or insentient, all attain wisdom¡¨. So all beings that have self-awareness and all things such as plants and minerals are Buddhas-to-Be. With respect for all beings and things, not just the present Buddhas, we will foster the heart of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva. His heart is different from that of most Bodhisattvas.
Buddhist practitioners are respectful to the Buddha, but this respect may not be completely sincere. Why not? If we are listening to a lecture, but suddenly think of an important appointment or have a call on our telephone or pager, what will we do? We will leave the hall immediately go to attend to business or the telephone call! So, our respect and belief are not genuine. If we were truly sincere and respectful, we would regard attendance at the lecture as our prime concern. But in fact, if we are listening to a talk on the sutra and someone tells us that there is a business opportunity that will make us one million US dollars, we will immediately leave the lecture hall. Our respect and belief are not genuine enough.
The profound respect of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva is perfectly genuine, regardless of whether it is for Buddhas, sentient beings or insentient objects. Why? He understands that they all have a Buddha nature. Therefore, offending a sentient being is offending a Buddha. Thus, we too should respect all beings.