Many people believe that an advanced religion worships only one god. They do
not understand that Buddhism is not a religion, that we do not worship the images
of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas but rather we regard them as teaching aids, which
help us to understand the different methods of cultivation. One single image or
method is insufficient to represent all phenomena in our world, so Buddhism uses
many kinds of artistic works to represent them. Once we have understood the educational
significance of Buddhist artistry, we will naturally give rise to admiration and
All Buddhas symbolize our virtuous nature. All Bodhisattvas and Arhats symbolize
the virtue of practice. Without the virtue of practice, the innate virtuous nature
cannot be revealed. This complementary relationship is why the Buddha Table includes
both Buddha and Bodhisattva images. The Buddha represents original nature and
the Bodhisattvas represent the application of this nature. This original nature
is empty, as it has no set form. All creations or form arise from this original
nature and once there is form, there is application. The Buddha represents the
original nature and the Bodhisattvas represent form and application. This is why
in the Flower Adornment Sutra, the Buddha does not comment on the teachings, for
the original nature that is empty has nothing to say. But the Bodhisattvas do
have something to say since they apply the principles. Not only is the original
nature unexplained but also no thoughts arise from it. The saying that ¡§Whenever
I open my mouth I blunder; whenever I have an idea I am wrong¡¨ is said
in terms of original nature represented by one Buddha. Why are there two Bodhisattvas
to represent application? The infinite and innumerable form and application are
divided into two categories; wisdom and practice or understanding and behavior.
Practice corresponds with understanding. Understanding is the principle and practice
is the application.
When we see the image of Buddha Shakyamuni, usually Ananda and Kasyapa, two great
Arhats are on either side of him. Buddha Shakyamuni represents our original nature.
Ananda, who is foremost in hearing, represents understanding and wisdom. Kasyapa,
who is foremost in asceticism, represents practice. We may also see Buddha Vairocana,
the wisdom body of Buddha Shakyamuni, with Manjushri Bodhisattva and Universal
Worthy Bodhisattva on either side of him. Manjushri Bodhisattva represents understanding.
Universal Worthy Bodhisattva represents practice.
Pure Land Buddhism regards Buddha Amitabha as the original nature with Guan Yin
Bodhisattva representing compassion and practice, and Great Strength Bodhisattva
representing wisdom and understanding. Due to these profound meanings, there cannot
be two or more Buddhas and three or more Bodhisattvas.
Each Buddha represents a part of the virtuous nature. Every part of it is perfect
so ¡§One is all, all is one¡¨. Each name illustrates the
virtues. For example, ¡§Shakya¡¨ means kindness, teaching
us that we need to treat others with kindness and compassion. ¡§Muni¡¨
means stillness and purity. The whole meaning of Shakyamuni teaches us to behave
toward others with kindness and compassion, to strive for purity of mind for ourselves.
This is the meaning of Shakyamuni and is innate to our original nature. Amituofo
is a Sanskrit transliteration. ¡§Amituo¡¨ means infinite.
¡§Fo¡¨ means Buddha. What is infinite? Everything, infinite
wisdom, ability, long life, etc. But of all infinities, infinite life is the most
important for without it all other infinities are useless. With it, we can enjoy
all other infinities.
How can we gain these infinities? Infinity is none other than our self-nature,
our original true nature. The Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Master Hui-Neng said, ¡§Self-nature
is innate; from self-nature arises all phenomena in the universe¡¨.
In other words, it means infinity. What method do we use to obtain this infinity?
We practice the teachings of Guan Yin Bodhisattva and Great Strength Bodhisattva.
The former teaches us to be compassionate; the latter teaches us the single-minded
concentration of Buddha Amitabha. Great Strength Bodhisattva taught us ¡§Concentrate
solely on Buddha Amitabha, without ceasing, without intermingling with other methods,
and in this way we will surely attain wisdom and enlightenment¡¨.
Adding to this is the compassionate way of Guan Yin Bodhisattva. Behaving towards
others with compassion and chanting only ¡§Namo Amituofo¡¨
will enable us to enjoy infinite life. In this way we will develop our virtuous
nature and uncover our infinite merits and virtues. Thus, when we pay respect
to the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we need to understand that each is
representative of a way of cultivation and of the truth of the universe.
The Hall of Heavenly Guardians
Buddhist architecture is also an artistic expression. From the exterior, the main
cultivation hall appears to have two stories, but there is only one story inside.
The external two stories represent ¡§absolute truth¡¨ or
the true reality of life and the universe, and ¡§relative truth¡¨
or worldly views still clouded with delusion. The interior single story illustrates
that both are the same truth. To the deluded, the two appear distinct and different;
however, to the enlightened, they are one and the same.
Upon entering a way place, we first see the Hall of Heavenly Guardians. In the
center of the hall is Maitreya Bodhisattva. To his left and right are the four
Heavenly Guardians or Dharma Protectors. Maitreya Bodhisattva, known as the ¡§Happy
Buddha¡¨ in the west, is represented by the image of the historical
monk Bu-Dai, a manifestation of Maitreya Bodhisattva. Maitreya Bodhisattva has
a big smile that conveys ¡§Want to learn Buddhism? Be happy and greet
everyone with a smile. Do not constantly lose your temper or else you cannot learn
Buddhism¡¨. This Bodhisattva also has a huge belly representing great
broad-mindedness and equality of mind, teaching us to treat everything and everyone
with generosity, patience and serenity. Only by emulating such qualities can we
learn and practice Buddhism. Therefore, Maitreya Bodhisattva sits facing the door
to tell all who enter, ¡§only those who can accomplish this are eligible
to learn Buddhism¡¨.
Standing beside Maitreya Bodhisattva are the four Heavenly Guardians or Dharma
Protectors. They are symbolic guardians of the practitioners of the Buddhist way.
Whom do they protect? They protect us by reminding us to educate ourselves and
to safeguard the proper knowledge, which we should learn. Each guardian portrays
a different aspect of thought or action.
The Eastern Dharma Protector symbolizes responsibility and safeguards the territory,
which means that all of us are responsible for ourselves, our family, society
and the country as a whole. How do we fulfill this responsibility? If each of
us performs our duties well, fulfilling our obligations, we support each other
and ourselves as well. In this way, society will be harmonious and the country
will be prosperous and powerful.
The Southern Dharma Protector symbolizes progress and teaches us diligence. It
is not enough to just meet our responsibilities. We need to make progress with
each passing day for no progress means we regress. He emphasizes the importance
of constantly cultivating and advancing our virtue, conduct, wisdom and ability,
and to improve performance in our duties and our standard of living. From this,
we can see that Buddhism is progressive, always leading the times.
The Western Dharma Protector symbolizes comprehensive vision and knowledge gained
through exposure to the world. He represents the need to open our eyes to observe
nature and humanity, to refine what we see and learn, and to distinguish good
from ill. The Northern Dharma Protector symbolizes comprehensive study and learning.
Both teach ways of practice and how to achieve the goals in responsibility fulfillment
and self-improvement. As the ancient Chinese said, ¡§To read ten thousand
books and to travel ten-thousand miles¡¨. Reading is the means for accomplishing
the fundamental knowledge. Traveling ten thousand miles is to learn from observation.
Through travel we see advantages of others and learn from them.
We also see their shortcomings, which can in turn serve as a warning to us so
that we constantly improve ourselves. In this way, we can build a prosperous society
and a safe country. In so doing, we safeguard the Dharma. So, the images of the
Bodhisattvas and Dharma Protectors remind us to be diligent in the pursuit of
our goals and responsibilities. So, we can see that Buddhism is neither a religion
The Four Dharma Protectors hold various objects to symbolize different aspects
of the Dharma. The Eastern Dharma Protector of Managing the Nation holds a lute,
which symbolizes the principle that we need to refrain from acting with undue
haste but should keep to the middle path. It is like playing a lute, if the strings
are too loose, it will not play. If they are too tight, they will break. We need
to be responsible in our duties and do things in a proper, balanced way.
The Southern Dharma Protector of Growth holds the sword of wisdom that cuts away
all troubles and worries. The Western Dharma Protector holds a dragon or snake
that is twining around him. The dragon or snake symbolizes change. Today, everything
is constantly changing, only when we can see the truth will we be able to interact
with ease and serenity. The Northern Dharma Protector holds an umbrella symbolizing
protection from all the pollution that is around us. While learning, we need to
safeguard our pure mind and quiet heart from becoming polluted. Furthermore, we
need to understand the true reality of life and the universe, to have the wisdom
and ability to properly interact with all people, matters and objects.
All of this can be learned from visiting the Hall of Heavenly Guardians. If we
regard the Protectors as deities with magical powers who will protect us if we
burn incense, prostrate and offer flowers and fruit praying for protection and
safety we will be sadly mistaken. This is superstition. All the facilities, images
of Buddha and Bodhisattvas and any offerings made are teaching tools designed
to inspire our mind and wisdom. They also serve to remind us of the importance
of being enlightened instead of deluded, virtuous instead of deviated, pure instead
of polluted. These are the three principles of Buddhist teaching and practice.
Therefore, everything in a way place serves as a teaching aid. Even the offerings
are educational. A container of water symbolizes the Dharma. The water is clean
symbolizing that our minds need to be as pure as the water. It is calm without
a single ripple, symbolizing the tranquility in our hearts. It is to have purity
and equality of mind. Flowers symbolize the ¡§cause¡¨ as
the blossoming of flowers results in the bearing of fruit. Flowers symbolize the
Six Paramitas. Fruits are not offered to the Buddha or Bodhisattvas to eat. They
remind us that if we want the sweet fruit or the good result, we must cultivate
and accumulate good deeds, the cause. Thus, everything we see in the way place
is a teaching aid. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas neither smell nor eat, they want
We also see lamps, which symbolize wisdom and brightness; incense sticks, which
symbolize self-discipline and deep concentration. You will not see anything in
the cultivation and lecture halls that do not symbolize some teaching. However,
it is a sad loss that many Buddhists are totally ignorant of the educational significance
of these objects. They do not know why they burn the incense or why they make
offerings to the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Their belief is actually
superstition. Some people criticize Buddhists as being superstitious. These critics
are right. Too many Buddhists are confused about Buddhism.
We need to be clear on what we are learning and explain this to the skeptics and
critics, then I believe they will also want to learn. I have introduced Buddhism
to people in China in this manner. After hearing my explanation, they said they
had been ignorant of such a good thing and wished to learn more.
In conclusion, it is the genuine wisdom and infinite enlightenment in Buddhism
that helps all sentient beings obtain true benefits and happiness. The Buddha
teaches all beings with his boundless, compassionate heart. Throughout history
Buddhist practitioners, whether they be of the Esoteric, Zen or any other School,
have made great achievements following these principles and methods. Today, however,
people know very little of the genuine principles and methods, so few have any
In our Dharma-Ending Age, people have overwhelming obstacles from their accumulated
karma. Under these circumstances, the Buddha Name Recitation Method is most effective
due to its simplicity and expediency. It neither takes a long time nor requires
special rituals. Anyone can practice it any time, any place. This is why so many
people have achieved attainment. Taiwan is neither large in population nor in
size, but in the last forty years, by my most conservative estimate, at least
five hundred people have attained birth into the Pure Land to become a Buddha
in one lifetime.
To succeed, we accord with the teachings in the five Pure Land sutras and one
commentary, generate the Bodhi-mind and concentrate on mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha.
The Awakening of Faith Sastra stated that, ¡§Enlightenment is innate,
delusion is not¡¨. Therefore, we definitely can uncover our innate Buddha
nature and proper viewpoints. We definitely can discard what is not innate, our
delusion, deviated viewpoints and impurities. Thus, we recite sincerely ¡§Amituofo¡¨
to rid ourselves of our negative karmas and habits, to live simply and to practice
diligently to attain the Buddha Name Chanting Samadhi. Then, finally we will attain
freedom in body and mind, and understand the true reality.
We are free to go whenever we wish. If we choose to remain here for a longer time,
that¡¦s all right. Since so many have achieved, why can¡¦t
we? We have not sincerely chanted long enough. How long is long enough? According
to ancient records, many have achieved after three years. After that, we no longer
have any fears. We will feel perfectly safe and our minds will be at ease. If
the Third World War were to start today and a nuclear bomb was to explode, we
would simply say that it was time to go to the Pure Land. No pain, no fear, true
freedom. This is what the Infinite Life Sutra said is ¡§the true benefit
given to all sentient beings¡¨.
Adopt whatever teachings and practices are beneficial and effective. There is
only one ultimate goal for us; benefiting all sentient beings, helping them free
themselves from delusions and sufferings, and enabling them to attain happiness
and enlightenment. If badgering or sternness works, use it. If gentleness works
use it. But be aware that falsehoods, attachments, emotions and delusions have
nothing to do with Buddhism or achieving our goal. I hope everyone will attain
the goal of freedom from delusion, attachment and suffering, to attain happiness,
tranquility and the perfect complete enlightenment.
By: Master CHIN KUNG