Excerpts 16 - 20
He planted numerous roots of virtue and did not mind [his] varied sufferings. He had few desires and was content. He pursued only white dharmas and brought benefits to all beings. He was tireless in pursuing his aspirations and vows, achieving results through the power of patience. He constantly harbored compassion and patience for all sentient beings. With a kind expression and caring words, he advised, taught, urged, and encouraged them. He was respectful to the Three Jewels and attended to his teachers without any insincerity or flattery in his heart. All of his conduct was magnificent, and he was a role model in every way. He regarded all dharmas as illusory and remained in the samadhi that is eternally quiescent. He guarded well his verbal karmas and did not ridicule others' faults. He guarded well his bodily karmas and did not transgress any precept or codes of behavior. He guarded well his mental karmas and kept himself pure and uncontaminated.
The words "planted numerous roots of virtue" mean to accumulate merits and virtues. "Roots" are the foundation; they can give rise to myriad virtues. That which can give rise to something is the root. The root of virtue for the Pure Land school is this phrase: Homage to Amitabha Buddha. When one focuses on and practices only the Pure Land method, one continuously and mindfully chants the Buddha-name. This method will help us to keep our minds in an unperturbed and tranquil state from within (where no affliction arises) and not be attached to any phenomena from without. Actually, all of the eight-four thousand Dharma doors aim to achieve this state.
Of all the methods, the Buddha-name chanting method is the most convenient and the easiest in which to succeed. When one mindfully chants the Buddha-name, one's cultivation will be enhanced by the supportive powers of Amitabha Buddha and all other Buddhas in the ten directions. This is why all the other methods cannot compare with this one.
The words "did not mind [his] varied sufferings" mean that Dharmakara did not mind any of the sufferings he underwent: he accepted them peacefully. Sufferings are brought about by the evil deeds committed in the present and past lifetimes. When we understand the causes of the sufferings, we will willingly undergo them and not blame others.
How should we live our lives? We should let go of any situation or condition, whether favorable or adverse, and just concentrate on chanting the Buddha-name.
Dharmakara "had few desires and was content." When one has few desires and is content one's afflictions will be reduced. Every day, it is enough for one to have a full stomach, adequate clothing, and a place to shield one from wind and rain. A content person is often happy. When one is content, one will want few things. The less one wants, the more at ease and the happier one is. If one truly does not compete with others or crave anything, one will be happier than a celestial being.
When one has meditative concentration, one will keep the mind in an unperturbed and tranquil state from within and not be attached to any phenomena from without.
Every aspect in one's life should be simple. Simplicity leads to a long life. The ancient Chinese often said, "Illness enters through the mouth." Nowadays, many people contract strange illnesses, which come mostly from the food consumed. In the past in China, there were people in the countryside who maintained a simple diet, but they were healthy and lived a long life. This proves that the simpler the food, the healthier one is.
A pure mind with no wandering thoughts, a regular routine, a simple diet, few desires, and contentment--these are the essentials for good health.
"He pursued only white dharmas." Black signifies bad, and white signifies good. Ancient Indians used black and white, and the Chinese used bad and good. Pursuing only white dharmas means pursuing only wholesome dharmas; that is, singlemindedly seeking goodness.
What are wholesome dharmas? And what are unwholesome dharmas? The Buddha said that anything that benefits oneself is unwholesome and that anything that benefits all beings is wholesome. Why is benefiting oneself bad?
One transmigrates within the Three Realms and the Six Paths because of ego-attachment. In other words, when one's every thought is of oneself and for oneself, then one will transmigrate within the Six Paths. Arhats transcend the Six Paths by eradicating ego-attachment. When ego-attachment is eradicated, there is no more transmigration.
When dharma-attachment is eradicated, the Ten Dharma Realms no longer exist. At this point, one has enlightened the mind and seen the true nature. Dharmas-attachment is hindrance arising from the attachment to our knowledge. Ego-attachment is hindrance arising from our afflictions. When one has ego-attachment, one has affliction. When one has dharmas-attachment, one has ignorance. Therefore, when one eradicates ego-attachment, one transcends the cycle of birth and death.
If our every thought is of ourselves, ego-attachment will worsen day by day. How then can we transcend the Three Realms? This is why the Buddha taught us to always think of benefiting all beings. This way, the thoughts of benefiting ourselves will gradually diminish and go away. Our every thought and every deed should be for all beings, not for ourselves. When all beings have good fortune, we too have good fortune, because we are also one of the beings. Similarly, we cannot avoid misfortune if all beings have misfortune.
Having all beings in one's every thought and wholeheartedly helping them is "pursuing only white dharmas." It is also "bringing benefits to all beings." "Bringing" means giving. Benefiting living beings is sacrificing oneself to benefit others.
"He was tireless in pursuing his aspirations and vows." We seek wholesome dharmas, sacrifice ourselves to benefit others, and serve them tirelessly and diligently. If we are healthy and have a long life, then this is good fortune for all beings. If we have a short life, then this is misfortune for all beings. Our physical body has no relevance to our self. It also has no relevance in any of our gains or losses, our benefit or harm. Our body is only a tool used to benefit all beings. This is the attainment of great freedom! When we complete a meritorious deed, the merit is not ours. When we fail, it is not our fault. With no merit or fault and with the benefit belonging to all beings, we will be tireless in accomplishing our aspirations and vows.
The words "achieving results through the power of patience" mean accomplishing the Paramita of patience, one of the Six Paramitas that Bodhisattva practice. One can be patient even when it is difficult to do so. Of course, one also needs to have true wisdom. When one has true wisdom, one will know how to benefit all beings. Although accomplishing a meritorious deed requires certain opportunities and conditions, procedures, and sequential order, one still must have patience to accomplish it. As the Diamond Sutra says: "All accomplishments are attributed to patience." Of the Six Paramitas, which are practiced by Bodhisattvas, the Paramita of patience is crucial to one's success or failure.
"He constantly harbored compassion and patience for all sentient beings." "All sentient beings" refers to all beings, in particular those beings who are suffering, who have committed evil karmas, and who are deluded. We should always treat them with empathy. This sentence teaches us that when interacting with people and engaging in tasks, we should do so with the mindset of compassion and tolerance.
"With a kind expression and caring words" describes the demeanor in which one presents oneself: with a pleasant expression and gentle manner. "Caring words" does not refer to pleasant words but to words that come from love and the wish to protect. These words can benefit people and help them break through delusion and attain awakening.
In the sutras, all the words spoken by the Buddha are caring words. Even a scolding or a reprimand are caring words if the words truly benefit someone. Why bother to reproach or discipline someone, if we don't truly care about that person?
"He advised, taught, urged, and encouraged them." This is using expedient means to encourage people and help them make progress.
The following examples are all wholesome dharmas, the true source of all happiness.
"He was respectful to the Three Jewels and attended to his teachers." The mention of the Three Jewels here is not just a reference to the Three Jewels of the Three Refuges: it means we need to dwell in and uphold the Three Jewels. The emphasis of the Three Refuges is the Three Jewels of True Nature--awakening, correct understanding, and purity, which are our true refuges.
The Three Jewels in our true nature are awakening, correct understanding, and purity. The Buddha signifies the awakening of our true nature, the Dharma signifies the correct understanding of our true nature, and the Sangha signifies the purity of our true nature. We should be respectful to them. Every day, in our every thought we should ask ourselves if we are awakened? Do we have correct understanding? Are our thoughts and views correct? Are our minds pure? The purpose of dwelling in and upholding the Three Jewels is to constantly remind us of the Three Jewels of True Nature.
We receive the Buddha's teaching and take him as our teacher. There are two meanings in our making offerings to a Buddha image. The first is to remember and appreciate where we come from, and to never forget. The second is to remind us of the awakening of the true nature. What does the Buddha signify? To be awakened, not deluded. From morning till night, are we awakened or not when interacting with people, engaging in tasks, and handling objects? A Buddha image constantly reminds us to be awakened, not deluded; to maintain a pure mind, one beyond pollution; and to have correct thoughts and views at all times, in all places, and in all situation, whether favorable or adverse. This is being "respectful to the Three Jewels."
"Attended to his teachers" is respecting one's teachers and their teachings. Like Confucianism, Buddhism is also founded on filial piety to one's parents and respect for one's teachers. Confucian teaching flourished because of this foundation, as did the Buddha's teaching. Filial piety is thus very important, for only when one is filial will one respect teachers. If one truly respects one's teachers, one will receive the Way taught by the teachers. If one does not respect one's teachers, they will not be able to teach one anything no matter how good they are. Why? Because one will not believe them nor be willing to learn from them. When one respects one's teachers, one will listen to their teaching and diligently practice accordingly, thus receiving merits and benefits. Respecting one's teachers is respecting the Way and receiving it.
The words "without any insincerity or flattery in his heart" teaches us to not only treat the Three Jewels and teachers with sincerity, but also all beings. We should cultivate this habit in daily life.
"All of his conduct was magnificent and he was a role model in every way." The word "magnificent" conveys the "truth, goodness, and beauty" that ordinary people often speak of. But such "truth, goodness, and beauty" exists as a concept, not a reality. On the other hand, truth, goodness, beauty, and wisdom truly exist in the Western Pure Land.
When we abide by the Buddha's teachings, and interact with people and handle matters with a sincere, respectful, pure and great compassionate heart, our minds and conduct will be "magnificent." So, when we mindfully chant "Amituofo," we must take Amitabha Buddha's causal vows as our causal vows.
Dharmakara "was a role model in every way." He was a role model not only for practitioners but also for the general public. The meaning of these words is infinitely profound and broad.
Whatever our occupation or status in society, we should set a good example for everyone, especially our peers. In the chapter "Sudhana's Visits to Fifty-three Wise Teachers" in the Avatamsaka Sutra, of the fifty-three Bodhisattvas, five appeared as monastics and the others as men and women of all ages and all walks of life. Their behavior set good examples for society.
Bodhisattvas not only teach by words. Their every action is also a good example for others. This shows the Bodhisattva' great compassion. Only by doing so can they change prevailing habits and customs for the better, and encourage and reform people. To encourage and reform people, one teaches not only by words: one's every action and thought should also be for the benefit of them. If a lay practitioner, regardless of his or her occupation, works for the benefit of society and all beings, he or she is a Bodhisattva, a role model.
"He regarded all dharmas as illusory and remained in the samadhi that is eternally quiescent." This sentence describes Dharmakara's inner state. All phenomena, whether mundane or supra-mundane, are illusory. As the Diamond Sutra says: "All conditioned existences are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, or a shadow." Why take them seriously?
"Samadhi" is a Sanskrit word. The Chinese translation is "proper enjoyment." The "proper enjoyment" of Bodhisattvas is purity, quiescence, and Nirvana. Purity, quiescence, and Nirvana are the enjoyment of Buddha and Mahasattvas. Lay Bodhisattvas can also enjoy them.
Some practitioners have built up large businesses. They tell me, "Master, I am in great suffering. Employees do not follow my orders and it is hard to do business. I have a lot to worry about every day." Actually, what is there to worry about? The Buddha taught us to "regard all dharmas as illusory and remain in the samadhi that is eternally quiescent." If we truly practice this, we will lead a very happy and very free life! How then can there be suffering?
There are many entrepreneurs who learn Buddhism. But their learning is not thorough enough. They do not thoroughly understand the principles taught by the Buddha. If they truly understood, their situations would be different.
In Chinese history, the prosperity in the early years of the Qing dynasty was unprecedented. The flourishing age during the rule of Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianglong lasted for more than one hundred and fifty years. During these years, each emperor would lead all the government officials and military officers in chanting the Infinite Life Sutra every day at the imperial court. They abided by the Buddha's teachings and practiced accordingly.
If the owner and the employees of a company know the wondrous benefit of doing this, and they chant a sutra for fifteen to twenty minutes every morning, then they are abiding by the Buddha's teachings. They are the Buddha's students, and they are practicing accordingly. So how can the company not flourish? Doing this is establishing consensus based on the Buddha's teaching.
It requires wisdom to "regard all dharmas as illusory." When one understands the truth of everything, it will be easy to handle matters without making any mistake. Because one does not understand the truth, wrong steps are taken and one ends up making mistakes.
"He guarded well his verbal karmas and did not ridicule other's faults." This describes Dharmakara's external behavior. The sentence "He regarded all dharmas as illusory and remained in the samadhi that is eternally quiescent" describes his attainment and wisdom. "Regarding all dharmas as illusory" is wisdom. "Remaining in the samadhi that is eternally quiescent" is meditative concentration.
When one truly has meditative concentration and wisdom, one's external behavior will reflect that--"he guarded well his verbal karmas and did not ridicule other's faults." When seeing the faults of others, one does not talk about them.
The Platform Sutra says: "If one is a true practitioner, one will not see the faults of others." Why will one not see the faults of others? Because one regards all dharmas as illusory! There is no fault. There is no merit. There is no good and no evil. One's mind is impartial: without discrimination or attachment, there is neither good nor evil, neither right nor wrong, and neither true nor false. One will naturally not speak of the faults of others. Therefore, good or evil, right or wrong, and true or false--these are unfounded discriminations formed by people in this world.
"He guarded well his bodily karmas and did not transgress any precept or codes of behavior." Simply put, one's demeanor and behavior naturally conform with proper customs: there will be no lack of courtesy; there will be no wrongdoing.
"He guarded well his mental karmas and kept himself pure and uncontaminated." Of the three kinds of karmas, the hardest to guard is one's mental karmas, and the easiest bad karmas to commit are verbal karmas. This is why verbal karma is listed first.
In the title of this sutra are the words "purity, impartiality, and enlightenment." Purity, impartiality, and enlightenment are one in three and three in one. When the mind is pure, it is also impartial. Since it is pure, it must also be enlightened. When the pure mind is functioning, that is enlightenment. An enlightened mind is definitely pure and impartial.
In learning Buddhism, one needs only to cultivate a pure mind. When one has a pure mind, one will naturally be impartial and enlightened. At all times, in all places, and in all situations, whether favorable or adverse, one needs to maintain a pure and uncontaminated mind.
The mind will naturally be pure when (1) internally, greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance do not arise in one, and (2) externally, one is not attached to any environment, good or bad. A pure mind is the true mind and is true wisdom. When handling any situation, one will do it correctly and completely, without any mistakes. All mistakes arise from desire and thoughts of gain and loss.
Always using the practice of the Six Paramitas of giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom, he taught and transformed beings to help them steadfastly establish a Bodhi mind.
"Always" means forever and never changing. One should follow these six principles at all times.
The first paramita is giving. For us, this means letting go and helping others. There are three kinds of giving: the giving of wealth, the giving of teachings, and the giving of fearlessness. Giving is a karmic cause. If we want to have wealth, we should practice the giving of wealth. If we want to be intelligent and wise, we should practice the giving of teachings. If we wish to have good health and a long life, we should practice the giving of fearlessness. In the giving of fearlessness, the most important thing is not to harm any being. In addition to not killing beings, we should not even cause them to have afflictions. A vegetarian diet is a form of the giving of fearlessness: We do not eat the flesh of animals or cause them to have afflictions. To be more proactive, we should free captured animals.
I was supposed to be a person with little good fortune and a short life span. But I have lived to this age and my good fortune seems to increase year by year. Both are the rewards from my learning the Buddha's teaching and practicing it accordingly in this lifetime.
One should not enjoy the good fortune oneself because one will use it up very quickly. When one has good fortune, one should share it with others. This way, one's good fortune will never be used up. This is the truth.
As I gained more wisdom, I saw the ins and outs of everything more clearly than before. Thus, I was able to do things that benefited others in a more appropriate and perfect way. Moreover, I did not ask to have my life extended but it was. This is true freedom!
In the Bodhisattva practice, giving is listed first. My rewards from the three kinds of giving can be clearly seen by everyone.
The second paramita is precept observation. We should observe the precepts and codes of behavior that the Buddha laid out. The teachings in the sutras that the Buddha earnestly and patiently taught us should be followed too. We should also abide by the laws and customs of our countries. If we abandon the precepts, then the practice and upholding of the Buddha's teachings will disappear. So even if we lecture on the Dharma, and study and discuss it every day, it will be futile. Why? Because our lives are disconnected from the teachings, we are not applying what we are learning. No matter how profoundly or how well we can lecture on Buddhism, nothing will be achieved. That is why Buddhism has always emphasized practice.
The Buddha taught "three cumulative pure precepts." "Three cumulative" means three main categories.
The first category is "uphold precepts and codes of behavior." This encompasses all the teachings that the Buddha taught in the sutras. We should practice all that the Buddha wants us to do and not otherwise.
The second category is "uphold precepts by practicing virtuous dharmas." A deed that is good should be done. A deed that is bad should not be done. We should know that the spirit of the precepts is to prevent wrongdoing or stop evil conduct; it helps us to end wrongdoings and to practice virtuous conduct.
Even though the Buddha did not list everything we should or should not do, we need to adhere to the spirit of his teachings. For example, the Buddha did not tell us not to smoke, but we know that smoking is not good for us or for others. Therefore, we should not smoke. Things of this nature fall under "uphold precepts by practicing virtuous dharmas."
The third category is "uphold precepts by bringing lasting benefits to all sentient beings." When a deed benefits beings, we should do it. There are three kinds of beneficial deeds. The first kind is the deed that will bring immediate benefit but will have a harmful effect in the future. This kind of deed should not be done. The second kind is the deed that will bring benefit not only now but also in the future. This kind of deed is truly beneficial. The third kind is the deed that will not bring immediate benefit but will bring great benefit in the future. This kind of deed is also beneficial.
This shows that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas look far ahead, not only at the immediate future.
The third paramita is patience. (The cultivation of this virtue involves two aspects: to be patient without anger in the face of harm done by others and to endure various afflictions and suffering and to be unafraid of the implications of such Mahayana teachings as emptiness.) To accomplish any undertaking, one needs to bear any hardship that one encounters. In the process of cultivation, one will surely encounter frustration. The more diligent one is, the greater the amount of frustration one faces. Why is there so much frustration? Because of the evil karmas that one has committed over countless kalpas, obstacles from karmic forces are unavoidable. The only solution is to tolerate any hardship. This will decrease karmas. If one has meditative concentration, it can eliminate karmas. One should face obstacles with wisdom, resolve them with forbearance, acquiesce, and make diligent progress. Only with the Paramita of patience will one be able to improve. If one is not patient, one will encounter obstacles.
The fourth paramita is diligence. The Chinese term for "diligence" is jingjin. Jing means "pure and unadulterated" and jin means "making progress." For Bodhisattvas, diligence is their only good root.
Nowadays, many Buddhist practitioners make the mistake of learning too many different things, resulting in a mixture. Although they make progress every day, their progress is adulterated. They spend a lot of time and effort but their accomplishment is very limited.
The little achievement I have in this lifetime is due to having a good teacher. He forbade me to proceed in an unfocused and random way. I learned from Mr. Li Bingnan in Taichung for ten years. His teaching method was that even if a student was very smart and had an exceptional capability, he or she could simultaneously learn only two sutras at most. If the student wanted to learn three sutras [at one time], he would not teach this student. Students who did not have a good capability learned only one sutra. Only when Mr. Li considered that a student had learned a sutra well enough would he teach the student a new one. Otherwise, he would not allow the student to learn a new sutra. During my ten years with Mr. Li, I learned five sutras, whereas in a Buddhist college, the students study more than five sutras in one semester.
The first sutra I learned was the Sutra on Ananda Asking about the Good Fortune and Misfortune of Learning the Buddha's Teachings; the second was the Amitabha Sutra; the third was the "Chapter of the Vows and Practices of Samantabhadra"; the fourth was the Diamond Sutra; and the fifth was the Surangama Sutra. I spent ten years learning only these sutras. Mr. Li's criterion was that only when one learned one sutra well enough could one learn a new one. "Well enough" meant that the student could explain the sutra thoroughly on stage to an audience. When the student lectured on stage, Mr. Li would sit in the last row. Without using a microphone, the student had to talk loud enough for Mr. Li to hear. Heading toward one direction and one goal, his students were thus laying a good foundation and would naturally understand the other sutras.
"When one masters one sutra, one naturally masters all sutras." The question is whether one has truly learned and understood the sutra and entered into the states described in the sutra.
The fifth paramita is meditative concentration. It means being in control of one's mind. Within, the mind is unmoved; without, the mind is not attached to phenomena. One should not be easily tempted by any external phenomena. For example, when one learns a sutra, one concentrates on this sutra. This way, one would be in control of one's mind.
The sixth paramita is wisdom. Simply put, when one interacts with people and engages in tasks, one should do so based on reason, not on emotions.
This excerpt teaches us the six principles for interacting with people and engaging in tasks in daily life. These are also the guidelines that Bodhisattvas use in teaching and transforming beings to help them be steadfastly established [in the Bodhi mind].
Brings forth the bodhi mind, observes all the precepts, firmly abides in them without any transgression, brings abundant benefits to sentient beings, and offers them all the good roots that one has cultivated to help them attain peace and happiness.
This excerpt sets the standard, throughout our lives, for interacting with people and engaging in tasks. "Bodhi" is Sanskrit, meaning "enlightenment." "Bringing forth the Bodhi mind" means bringing forth the mind to attain enlightenment and be free of confusion and delusion. An ordinary being is called an ordinary being because such a person is confused and deluded.
The excerpt also teaches us to interact with people and engage in tasks with a sincere mind. We should not deceive them or act falsely. Sincerity is the Bodhi mind. The Visualization Sutra talks about "a mind of the utmost sincerity." This is the noumenon of the Bodhi mind.
How can one be truly free of confusion or delusion? Let us observe a truly awakened person. This person has a clear understanding of him or herself as well as the living environment. Understanding is awakening. What is the standard for understanding?
The Buddha was a truly awakened person. He is our standard. The Buddha said that the truth of this world is "suffering, emptiness, and impermanence." This is the truth of this mundane world. No one can escape from this.
This world is filled with suffering, is empty in nature, and is impermanent. We must clearly understand this. When we do, we should abandon "suffering, emptiness, and impermanence" in this world and seek the state of "permanence, joy, true self, and purity."Achieving this, we are truly awakened. The state of "permanence, joy, true self, and purity" is the state of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Buddhism talks about "understanding the cycle of birth and death and transcending the Three Realms." When one clearly understands the truth of life and death and of transmigration within the Six Paths, one is an awakened person. When one understands the truth, the next step is transcending the Six Paths and freeing oneself from samsara. This is what Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do.
When one is clear about the truth, how should one cultivate? When the Buddha was in this world, which was during the Dharma-perfect Age, people had high capacities and the majority could succeed in any method that they chose to practice! After the Buddha's time, during the Dharma-semblance Age, people did not have as high a capacity as earlier. With that, the quality of the Buddha's teachings gradually deteriorated as they were passed down. But it was not that the sutras had degenerated; rather, it was the lecturers' interpretation of the sutras that had worsened. As time went by, the lectures on the Dharma became more and more incorrect. Now it is the Dharma-ending Age, more than three thousand years after the Buddha's parinirvana. The deterioration has reached a point where we do not know what to do. It gets more and more difficult for us to attain realization from learning and practicing Buddhism.
Three thousand years ago, the Buddha knew completely what was going to happen in society today! He did not fail those of us who truly sought transcendence, who truly sought enlightenment. The Buddha, in the Great Collection Sutra, said that in the Dharma-perfect Age, one could succeed in cultivation by observing the precepts; in the Dharma-semblance Age, one could succeed in cultivation by practicing meditative concentration; and in the Dharma-ending Age, one could succeed in cultivation by learning the Pure Land method. The Buddha was telling us, the people of today, that we will definitely succeed in our cultivation if we learn and practice the Pure Land method.
The Dharma-ending Age lasts ten thousand years. One thousand years have passed, and there are nine thousand years to go. The Infinite Life Sutra says that at the end of that nine thousand years, the Dharma will be lost to our mundane world. The Infinite Life Sutra, however, will remain in this world for another one hundred years. At the end of that one hundred years, even the Infinite Life Sutra will also be lost to the world. But there will still exist the six syllables "Namo Amituofo."
From this we can see the inconceivable merit of "Namo Amituofo." The people who live after the Dharma-ending Age will be able to attain liberation by relying on "Namo Amituofo." Today, we have a better chance.
Great Master Daochuo of the Tang dynasty was a patriarch of the Pure Land school. During his lifetime, he lectured only on the three Pure Land sutras, and he did so more than two hundred times. From this we can see that practicing and propagating only one Dharma door is the perfect Bodhi mind.
To understand the cycle of birth and death, one must first know that life is filled with suffering, and that the suffering in future lifetimes will become even worse than in the current lifetime. If one does not want to be reborn in the human path, can this wish be fulfilled? Unless one mindfully chants the Buddha-name and seeks rebirth in the Western Pure Land, one's wish may not be fulfilled. Therefore, one must be determined to attain rebirth there in this lifetime. This is the true Bodhi mind.
When one has an awakened mind, one's behavior also needs to be awakened. In other words, one should lead the life of an awakened person. In daily life, when one interacts with people and engages in tasks, one's every thought should be awakened, not deluded. The following sutra text is the Buddha's teaching of the correct activities and practice for the Bodhisattvas in this world.
In "....observe all the precepts, firmly abide in them without any transgression," the meaning of observing the precepts, in a broad sense, is abiding by laws and codes of behavior.
The spirit of the precepts is "do nothing that is bad and do everything that is good." "Do nothing that is bad" is the spirit of the Theravada precepts. "Do everything that is good" is the spirit of the Bodhisattva precepts.
There are various levels for good and bad. For example, in the Five Vehicles of Buddhism, there are five levels: the human vehicle, the pratyekabudha vehicle, and the Bodhisattva vehicle. The humans and heavenly beings are still within the Three Realms and have not yet transcended the cycle of rebirth. The sound-hearers and the pratyekabuddhas have truly transcended transmigration within the Six Paths.
The perfect Dharma, however, is founded on being a good human being. If one is not a good person, how can one become a Buddha? Where should one start with learning Buddhism? One starts with learning to be a good person.
The Visualization Sutra teaches the Three Conditions. The first condition includes being filial to and providing and caring for parents, being respectful to and serving teachers, being compassionate and not killing any living beings, and cultivating the Ten Virtuous Karmas. This first condition is the basis for being a good person.
The Five Precepts are the fundamental precepts, which Buddhas and Bodhisattvas also abide in. When we expand the scope of the precepts, we have laws. All the laws, moral values, and customs of our countries should be followed. They are all within the scope of the precepts. In addition, we should control our sensual desires. We should firmly abide by the precepts and not transgress them.
This is "do nothing that is bad," the spirit of the Theravada precepts.
"Brings abundant benefits to sentient beings" describes a Mahayana precept. "Sentient beings" encompasses not only people but also animals and plants. "Abundant benefits" refers to not just the most abundant but also the highest benefits.
We should do our best to perform deeds that will benefit others. Maybe there is a limit to what we can do, but if we perform deeds with a sincere, respectful, and pure mind and with patience, we will have the support of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Our wishes will surely be fulfilled.
The Buddha said: "All dharmas are created by the mind." When we think about a matter [that will benefit others] every moment of every day, never forgetting it, then this matter will be successfully accomplished. If we think "This is so difficult. I cannot do it. Forget it!" then this matter will not be accomplished. Why? Because when we stop thinking of benefiting others, we stop generating energy. Thoughts will truly generate inconceivable energy--this is continual mindfulness.
When one understands this principle, one sees that those who are mindful of Buddha will attain Buddhahood. A practitioner who chants the Buddha-name will definitely attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land--this is also the same principle. When one mindfully chants "Amituofo" and is mindful of the Western Pure Land--being diligently mindful without any interruption--then Amitabha Buddha will definitely come to one.
We should wholeheartedly do things that will bring true, vast and great benefits to all beings. We must ensure that this thought does not cease.
"Offer them all the good roots that one has cultivated to help them attain peace and happiness" teaches us to broaden our minds. Before we began to learn Buddhism, we used to always think of ourselves--our happiness and our family's. We seldom thought about the country or society. This means that we were not broad-minded.
After we began to learn Buddhism, we read about the great vows of Amitabha Buddha, whose state of mind encompasses the entire Dharma Realm. That is the perfect manifestation of the true mind. We should learn this.
In doing any deed, no matter how small, one should dedicate the merit accrued to all beings, wishing that all suffering beings could leave suffering behind and attain happiness. This is a form of Dharma offerings: by giving of ourselves for all beings.
One does not personally enjoy the good fortune one has cultivated but shares it with all beings. This is the meaning of dedication. One shares one's wisdom, good fortune, skills, and abilities with all beings, wishing that all beings could have peace and happiness. This is a Bodhisattva practice. Can this be done? Yes. If one truly practices, others will benefit. If these people are about to encounter a disaster, and there is someone who has great good fortune and merits, either they will not encounter the disaster or the severity of the disaster will be reduced.
To help avert world disasters, we must earnestly learn and practice. All we need to do is sincerely do our best, with our every thought of doing it for the suffering beings. We will definitely not want to enjoy the merits accrued but offer them universally to all beings.
Bodhisattvas are courageous and diligent. Where do they get their energy from? From this thought of great compassion, they work for all beings, not for themselves. An awakened person will surely behave this way. If one does not behave this way and thinks of oneself and one's family, or even a small group of people, one is not awakened. One's mind is still very narrow. An awakened person would undoubtedly have a very broad mind.
They should practice good deeds, such as (1) no killing, (2) no stealing, (3) no sexual desire, (4) no lying, (5) no enticing speech, (6) no harsh speech, (7) no divisive speech, (8) no greed, (9) no anger, and (10) no ignorance.
"They should practice good deeds" refers to the Ten Virtuous Karmas, which are the standards for our thoughts and for our interacting with others and engaging in tasks. If one behaves in accordance with the Ten Virtuous Karmas in one's lifetime, one is a good person. The Ten Virtuous Karmas are the most basic standards for good and bad.
The Visualization Sutra teaches the Three Conditions. The first includes being filial to parents, and providing and caring for them; being respectful to and serving teachers; being compassionate and not killing any living beings; and cultivating the Ten Virtuous Karmas. This is the most important foundation for learning Buddhism. When we are filial to our parents, respect our teachers, and are compassionate, then the Ten Virtuous Karmas are fulfilled. Of the Ten Virtuous Karmas, three are physical karmas, four are verbal karmas, and three are mental karmas. The three virtuous physical karmas are no killing, no stealing, and no sexual desire.
The first virtuous physical karma is no killing. The scope of "killing" is very extensive. It includes personally doing the killing; killing verbally (in other words, telling someone to kill); feeling happy when seeing an act of killing; and giving rise to an intention to kill because of anger and hatred. These are all included in "killing." In other words, no killing means that one has absolutely no thought of harming others. This way we nurture compassion.
The second virtuous physical karma is no stealing. The scope of "stealing" is very extensive. In Buddhism, stealing is defined as taking without permission. If we handle something that is owned by somebody else without their permission, this is an act of stealing. Those who steal will have to repay the debt in the future. It is said that one has to repay a life with a life and money with money. The law of cause and effect never fails. When one steals from one person, the resultant offense is relatively light: the karmic ties are fewer. But, some things are owned by many people, such as the public facilities in a city. If one steals anything from a public facility, one has to pay back all the residents of this city, because they pay taxes and are thus the owners. If one steals from the facilities of a state or federal government, one will have to pay back the whole nation. With stealing, the resultant offense of stealing "property of the Three Jewels" (the property of a temple or monastery) is the most serious--such properties are things belonging to a temple or monastery. The Buddha-dharma is owned by the entire Dharma realm, which has no boundary. In other words, all the monastics are the owners. If one steals something from a cultivation center, the transgression is inconceivably grave. One who steals the property of the Three Jewels will surely fall into the hells realm.
Stealing is the easiest offense to commit and the one most frequently committed. For example, there are some in business who always try to pay less tax. This is stealing. Stealing in this manner is a very grave transgression. One must know that one should feel remorse and then make amends by cultivating goodness.
In the history of Buddhism in China, Great Master Yongming is the one most famous for doing good deeds with the use of public funds, funds he was not authorized to use. Before he became a monastic, he was a low-ranking government clerk in the taxation department. He often used government money to free captured animals. After it was reported that he had taken money, he was sentenced to death, according to the law.
When the emperor heard that he used the public funds solely to free captured animals, he gave these instructions to the official supervising the execution: "If he shows fear before the execution, execute him. But if he does not show the slightest fear, then bring him to me."
When the clerk was about to be beheaded, he did not show any signs of fear. The supervising official asked him, "Why are you not afraid?" He said, "I exchange my life for tens of thousands of lives. It's worth it! I am happy!" The official reported this to the emperor. The emperor asked the clerk, "Do you have any wish?" The clerk replied, "I want to be become a monastic." The emperor granted his wish and became his Dharma protector.
After Great Master Youngming attained great enlightenment through Zen meditation, he focused on the Pure Land teachings and concentrated on mindfully chanting the Buddha-name. His biography says that he was Amitabha Buddha manifested.
The master's stealing is not the same as when we ordinary people do it. Ordinary people steal for personal enjoyment; he stole to benefit all beings. Hence, the Buddha-dharma truly is flexible. It adapts to circumstances, but there is only one objective: to benefit all beings and society. If we steal for our enjoyment, the transgression is inconceivably grave. This example is worthy of our deep contemplation.
The third virtuous physical karma is no sexual desire. Whether one is a lay practitioner or a monastic, sexual desire will increase one's greed and deviated thoughts and obstruct one's pursuit of the supra-mundane teachings. Therefore, in order to achieve true purity of mind and attain a higher rebirth grade, one must not have sexual desire. If one cannot end sexual desire, one must at least not commit sexual misconduct. The Ten Virtuous Karmas teach no sexual misconduct. This means having no sexual conduct with anyone other than with one's spouse. This is absolutely forbidden.
The four virtuous verbal karmas are no lying, no enticing speech, no harsh speech, and no divisive speech.
The first virtuous verbal karma is no lying. In learning Buddhism, to generate the Bodhi mind where should one start? One start with no lying. If one keeps on lying, how can one's true mind come forth? One must be sincere and not deceive oneself and others. This is the very foundation of the Buddha-dharma.
We want to truly understand the Buddha's intention in laying down the precepts as well as know the spirit of the precepts. This way, we will know how to be flexible in observing the precepts in daily life. This is very important.
Here's an example from a sutra. A hunter was chasing a rabbit and came to a crossing. He saw a person there and asked, "Did you see a rabbit?" "It went that way," the person replied. The rabbit had actually run the other way but the person at the crossing, in order to save the rabbit, told a lie to keep the hunter away from it. His lying was lifting the precept, not transgressing it. What he did saved not only the animal but also the hunter. Although the hunter had intended to kill the rabbit, he did not succeed; so his offense was light.
This tell us that with all precepts, if what we do is to benefit beings, it is lifting the precepts, and if what we do is to benefit only ourselves, then we are transgressing the precepts and are guilty of offenses. When we benefit all beings, we have merit. When we sacrifice ourselves to benefit others, we are Bodhisattvas.
The second virtuous verbal karma is no enticing speech. Enticing speech means using inviting words to deceive others or to lure them to commit bad deeds. Today's songs, dance, dramas, movies, novels, and even some literature--known as art nowadays--are full of enticing speech from the viewpoint of Buddhism. They teach people to kill, to steal, and to commit sexual misconduct. The offenses are immensely grave. Let us carefully look at the karmic effects: many famous movies stars come to a bad end. That is their karmic retribution in this lifetime. Their future karmic retributions will be even worse.
I lecture on the Dharma and earnestly urge people to do good deeds, but few people come to listen. Those entertainment shows require entrance fees, and at very high prices too, yet many people attend them. From this we can see that people would rather listen to enticing words than to good advice.
The third virtuous verbal karma is no harsh speech, which is offensive language. It hurts people's dignity.
The fourth virtuous verbal karma is no divisive speech. Divisive speech stirs up trouble, whether one does so intentionally or unintentionally. If one does so intentionally, the offense is grave. If one does so unintentionally, it is a fault, and the outcome determines the gravity of the offense. If one causes discord between two persons or two groups of people, the gravity of the offense depends on the extent of the discord. If one causes two countries to go to war, which results in the loss of many lives and damage to much property, then the offense is immensely grave.
From the above, when one's divisive speech causes extensive damage and the damage lasts a long time, one will fall into the tongue-pulling hell or the Avici hell. Therefore, we must be very careful with our speech.
The three virtuous mental karmas are no greed, no anger, and no ignorance. These are also called the Three Good Roots. All the wholesome dharmas arise from them. Greed, anger, and ignorance are the Three Poison Afflictions, and all the evil dharmas arise from them. Therefore, the three mental karmas are truly the determinant and the root cause of one's suffering and happiness. We must be careful.
People in this world crave fame, prestige, gain, wealth, the Five Desires, and the Six Dusts. If one gets something that one craves, it is because one is destined to have it. If one is not destined to have something, no matter what one does, one will not get it. After reading Liaofan's Four Lessons, we will understand this: if one is destined to have something, one cannot get rid of it no matter what; if one is not destined to have something, one cannot get it no matter what.
Mr. Yuan Liaofan is a good example. The good thing about Liaofan was that he knew his destiny, and knowing his destiny made him content with his lot. Destiny is natural. He accepted his karmic retributions that he was destined to have. Therefore, he did not have any wandering thoughts. His mind was pure.
If everyone understands the law of cause and effect and is content with his or her present life, the world will be at peace. There will be no conflict. When everyone's mind is calm, he or she will truly have happiness in this lifetime. This good fortune can be had by the rich and those in high position. And also by the poor and lowly. Everyone will be happy.
The most frightening thing is that people do not know the existence of destiny or understand the law of cause and effect, nor believe in it. Consequently, people behave as they like and commit wrongdoings every day.
Although one's destiny is predetermined, it changes every day in accordance with one's behavior. So, can one change one's destiny? Yes, one can. If one's behavior every day adds a little to or subtracts a little from good fortune--by one doing small good acts and committing small bad acts--then one's life will be governed by one's destiny, and there will be no change. But if one does major deeds--either good or evil--then one's destiny will be changed.
Therefore, one's destiny after one is forty years old is greatly influenced by one's behavior in this lifetime. One's destiny before one is forty years old is pre-determined, greatly influenced by one's good and evil deeds done in past lifetimes. If one is truly awakened and diligently ends wrongdoings and practices virtuous conduct, one's destiny will change for the better after one is forty years old. This is very important.
Buddhism can help us enjoy good fortune in this lifetime. If we truly believe it and diligently practice, we will become happier and happier in our old age. This depends on our cultivation. The Buddha taught us to practice the Ten Virtuous Karmas. If we practice diligently, worldly good fortune will naturally come to us without our seeking.
The first virtuous mental karma is no greed. In addition to worldly things, one should also not have greed for supra-mundane teachings. One must completely let go of everything before one's mind can become pure. One should not be attached to what one has or crave for what one does not have. The most important thing is to maintain a pure mind--having is no different from not having.
People often say that one brings nothing with one at birth and one takes nothing with one at death. When we die, we cannot take anything that we own with us. We must clearly understand this truth. Does anything we have now belong to us? No. If we think that what we have belongs to us, this is ignorance! What we have we are just using temporarily, like when we stay in a hotel. Nothing belongs to us. If we can thoroughly understand this reality, we will not have greed. We will be at ease regardless of what we encounter in life and will not mind or take anything seriously.
When we understand the truth, we will have peace of mind. When we have peace of mind, we will surely see the truth. Therefore, we should let go of everything that is irrelevant--we should absolutely give no rise to greed. We should enthusiastically do more good deeds for all beings and society.
The second virtuous mental karma is no anger. When things do not go as one wishes, one usually gets angry and becomes unhappy. This is very harmful. We often talk about accumulating merits. Merits are like a forest. We cultivate a lot of merits, but when we get angry, the fire of anger will burn away all the merits. This is described as "Fire burns away the forest of merits."
We should ask ourselves, "How much merit do we have?" If we had lost our temper this morning, then we would end up, since that bout of anger, with only a few hours of merits. If we lose our temper at the end of our lives, then we will burn away completely all the merits accumulated in this lifetime.
Anything that causes us to lose our temper is a manifestation of Mara. Mara sees that we have accumulated many merits, and he cannot destroy them--so he induces us to burn our forests of merits.
Hence, when one who truly has wisdom and is awakened faces an adverse situation, this person will absolutely not burn away his or her merits, will absolutely not lose his or her temple. [To achieve this,] this person must practice patience.
When we have patience, we will have meditative concentration. When we have meditative concentration, we will have wisdom. Of the Six Paramitas, giving and precept observation allow us to cultivate merits. Patience allows us to preserve merits. If one cannot practice patience, one will destroy one's own merits.
Merits are precept observation, meditative concentration, and wisdom. When one loses one's temper, one will not have any precept observation, meditative concentration, and wisdom.
If one cultivates good fortune but loses one's temper often, harbors hatred and jealousy, is arrogant, or loves to outdo others, one will have no merits but will still have great good fortune. This is because good fortune cannot be burned away. Which path will this kind of people be reborn in? The Buddha said that they will be reborn in the path of asuras. Asuras have good fortune but no virtues. They are prone to anger and lose their tempers easily, and hurt others. But when they use up their good fortune, they will fall into a bad realm. Buddhism often talks about "anger and resentment in the third lifetime" -- one cultivates good fortune in the first lifetime, enjoys it in the second lifetime, and falls into a bad realm in the third lifetime.
We must know that our anger harms us more than others: it harms us 70 percent and others 30 percent.
The third virtuous mental karma is no ignorance. Ignorance means no wisdom. There are many smart people, eloquent in debate or skillful at talking or writing, but they do not have wisdom. What is wisdom? The ability to truly differentiate between true and false, proper and deviated, right and wrong, and beneficial and harmful.
If an old village lady, one who has never received any formal education and is illiterate, when told to mindfully chant "Amituofo" does so sincerely during the remainder of her lifetime, then she has true wisdom. Why? Because she chooses to mindfully chant "Amituofo" to seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land, which is true, not false; proper, not deviated; beneficial, not harmful; and good, not bad. Her choice is correct in every aspect. This is true wisdom!
Many intelligent people in this world doubt the Buddha-name chanting method. They even slander it. This act is totally without wisdom. This is ignorance! They do not get any benefit. Moreover, they obstruct others from learning and practicing this method, even to the point of causing them to stop their practice. This offense is very grave, and the future karmic retributions are unthinkable.
No greed, no anger, and no ignorance--these are the roots of all wholesome dharmas in the world. If one cultivates virtuousness from the root, then one is an intelligent person.
One should single-mindedly cultivate a pure mind, set body and mind upright, and eradicate desire and eliminate worry. One should maintain a compassionate mind and make focused and diligent progress. One should not be angry or jealous or be gluttonous or stingy. One should not have regret halfway or have doubts. One should be filial, have utmost sincerity, be loyal, and be trustworthy. One should believe that the Buddha's teachings in the sutras are profound. One should believe that doing good deeds will bring good fortune.
"Should single-mindedly cultivate a pure mind, set body and mind upright, and eradicate desire and eliminate worry. One should maintain a compassionate mind and make focused and diligent progress." These words are of great significance to our cultivation of behavior and thoughts, as well as our health, longevity, and happiness. When one has a long life, one wants to have good health and not show one's age--this is true happiness. How does one achieve this? By single-mindedly cultivating a pure mind.
The Buddha said: "Dependent rewards change according to proper rewards." Proper rewards refer to the mind, or thoughts. But thoughts are not the true mind--they are the false mind. The true mind neither arises nor ceases. It is pure and has no need to do anything. All phenomena--that are manifested by the true mind and that also neither arise nor cease--are called the One True Dharma Realm.
If the true nature is mired in delusion, the true mind--which neither arises nor ceases--will change into a mind that arises and ceases. Today, we have wandering thoughts. When a thought ceases, another one arises. This arising and ceasing is called consciousness--the One True Dharma Realm is thus changed to the Ten Dharma Realms. How does the change occur? It is "altered by the consciousness." In other words, "all dharmas are created by the mind."
Thoughts are consciousness. The true mind has no thoughts. The Ten Dharma Realms are created by the mind. In other words, thoughts (consciousness) can change and can create. All the magnificent proper and dependent rewards in the Ten Dharma Realms are what are being changed and created.
If one wants to stay healthy and strong, knowing this principle and method will help one change one's physical condition. If one does not know the principle and method, one will be affected by one's emotions and the external environment. One will not be in control and thus will suffer.
What kind of mind should one maintain? Be single-minded and have a pure mind. The purer the mind, the healthier the mind. When the mind is healthy, the body will be healthy. If one's mind and body are pure, how can one not be healthy! One's physical condition changes in accordance with one's thoughts and emotions. Control invariably lies in one's thoughts.
The standard for Buddha-name chanting is One Mind Undisturbed. We should always focus our minds on "Amituofo." We should always focus our minds on "Amituofo." We should take refuge in Amitabha Buddha, turning away from everything else and single-mindedly relying on him. When we truly do so, we will be free of all pollution and will attain purity. "Single-mindedly cultivate a pure mind" is very important!
"Set body and mind upright, and eradicate desire and eliminate worry." Before this line, we have "single-mindedly cultivate a pure mind," which refers to keeping the mind proper. When our every gesture, movement, word, and smile accord with the teachings of the Buddha, we are keeping our behavior proper. Setting one's body and mind upright is behaving in an impressive and dignified manner. This is respectfulness. This is about codes of behavior. In other words, when one behaves in accordance with codes of behavior, one shows respect to the Buddha and the Dharma.
There are great obstacles when body and mind are not upright. One obstacle is desire, and the other is worry. When these two obstacles are eliminated, body and mind will be upright. The obstacle to the body is desire, for it leads the body astray. Our minds will be filled with misery and hardship. Therefore, if one wants to truly make one's mind and body upright, one must "eradicate desire and eliminate worry."
Not only should one not have desire for fame, prestige, gain, wealth, the Five Desires, and the Six Dusts, one should also not have desire for bringing "abundant benefits to sentient beings" or helping others.
It is aptly put in the Diamond Sutra that the Buddha helped boundless beings to awaken, but there were really no beings for the Buddha to help. Why did the Buddha say that he did not help a single being? Because, in everything it is good to accord with conditions. According with conditions is to accord with the natural way of things. When conditions are available, wholeheartedly do the best, but take no credit for any of it. When conditions are not available, do not actively seek such conditions.
"One should maintain a compassionate mind and make focused and diligent progress." Personally, one should maintain a pure mind, and towards others, one should maintain a compassionate mind. "Progress" means to keep on moving forward without retrogressing. "Focused and diligent," which also refers to progress that is pure and unadulterated, means to courageously and diligently head in one direction and towards one goal. True cultivation is to have compassion for all, because when one cultivates, one is a role model for all beings. When one succeeds in one's cultivation, one will definitely help all beings.
"One should not be angry or jealous." Anger is a great obstacle. It is said, "A moment of anger will open up the door to millions of obstacles." Why does anger arise? Because one takes everything in this world as real. The Buddha told us "All phenomena are illusory" and "all conditioned existences are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, or a shadow." Nothing is real! Relationships between humans as well as between humans and all beings and everything else are all about causes, conditions, and effects.
Conditions may be favorable or adverse. When an adverse condition appears, one should know that it results from a bad cause planted in the past. If a person displeases one or goes against one, then one should just laugh it off, as this will cancel out the karmic debt incurred in the past. If one becomes angry, one will incur another debt on top of the old debt. Instead of canceling out the old debt, one will have even more problems. As it is said, "If one owes money, one will repay with money. If one owes life, one will repay with life. Reprisal breeds reprisal. It is cyclical and never ending."
A person who is truly awakened will have a very calm and contented mind. When a favorable condition comes along, one will not feel happy, and when an adverse condition appears one will not feel angry. One always maintains a pure and honorable mind. When the mind is pure, one will see clearly the causes and effects of a matter and will not become angry.
One is jealous because one cannot bear to see others do well. A person receives something good because this person had cultivated a good cause -- this is his or her reward. What is there to be jealous of? If we want good rewards, we only need to plant good causes. We should know to rejoice at others' meritorious deeds and help them accomplish them. When it comes to bad deeds, we should not help people commit them.
"One should not . . . be gluttonous or stingy." In a narrow sense, "gluttonous" means being fussy about food. In a broader sense it includes all material enjoyment. A stingy person is someone who is unwilling to give to others.
From giving, the merits are tremendous: in our present life, we can end afflictions and eliminate karmic obstacles; in our cultivation, we can break through ignorance and see the true nature. This is why Bodhisattvas' cultivation is the practice of giving.
There are three types of giving: the giving of wealth, the giving of teachings, and the giving of fearlessness. The Six Paramitas are various forms of giving. Precept observation and patience are forms of the giving of fearlessness. For example, if we observe the precept of not stealing, people will not be on guard against us or fear us. This is the giving of fearlessness. If we practice patience, we will not mind when someone unintentionally says something offensive to us.
Diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom are forms of the giving of teachings. The Six Paramitas dictate all forms of practice. The boundless Dharma doors practiced by Bodhisattvas do not fall outside the Six Paramitas--and the Six Paramitas are all subsumed under giving. From this we can see that the merit of giving is truly inconceivable.
We just need to single-mindedly cultivate a pure mind, set the body and the mind upright, and practice giving more often. We will receive inconceivable merit.
Being gluttonous and stingy--residual habits from countless kalpas--are great obstacles to the practice of giving and must be overcome. One should live a thrifty life and maintain this simple life. Even when one becomes successful and has great wealth in the future, one should still live thriftily. This way, one will truly have good fortune.
A good example in Chinese history is the Prime Minster Fan Zhongyan of the Song dynasty. He came from a poor family. When he was a county-level scholar, he was so poor that every day he would divide the porridge that he cooked into four portions, eating a portion for each meal. Even when he became the prime minister, he still maintain a very simple life. He had a very high salary, which he spent on charity and the poor. During the time when he was the Prime minister, he supported more than three hundred households with his income. Therefore, he led a very hard and austere life. Great Master Yinguang greatly admired him and considered him a person worthy of respect and emulation, and in China, second only to Confucius.
Nowadays, many old people set aside an amount of money for future medical bills. The Buddha said: "All dharmas are created by the mind." If every day we think about getting old and falling sick, how can we not look old or get sick? If we change our way of thinking and giving the money that has been set aside to help those who are poor and sick, we will not get sick. Why will we not fall sick? Because there is no money set aside for getting sick [for we no longer think and worry about it]!
When we learn Buddhism, we should learn wisdom like this.
I do not get sick because I know the law of cause and effect. This is why I have donated my medical-contingency money. I am truly at ease!
One should not be stingy. Helping others is helping oneself. If one thinks about aging and sickness every day, one will truly bring harm to oneself.
"One should not have regret halfway." When we do a good deed, regretting it halfway through will result in our early efforts counting for nothing. For example, one learns and practices the Pure Land method, but after a period of time, one hears that there is another method that is better. Regretting one's previous choice, one starts to practice another method. This is wrong. No matter what others say, one should not have second thoughts--just continue with the Pure Land method.
"Not . . . have doubts" means that we should absolutely not doubt the teachings of the sages or Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This way, we will be able to truly make focused and diligent progress.
"One should be filial." Filial piety is the absolute foundation of Buddhism. Frankly, only when one attains Buddhahood can filial piety be practiced to perfection. Only a Buddha can be perfectly filial.
If we want to practice filial piety to perfection, we just need to single-mindedly chant the Buddha-name and seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. When we meet Amitabha Buddha, our filial piety will then be perfect. It is because [once we are in the Pure Land] we will be able to recognize our parents and also all our parents from past lifetimes and clearly know which paths they are in, so that when the conditions are mature, they will listen and accept our advice to mindfully chant the Buddha-name when we urge them to. This way, we will have the ability to help them. We will be able to help our families, friends, and those who have an affinity with us--from every one of our life times--transcend the Six Paths, attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land, and attain Buddhahood. This is great filial piety! This is true filial piety!
Presently, it is good if we can take good care of our parents, in particular their spiritual well-being when they are advancing in age. The most important of all is to urge them to mindfully chant the Buddha-name. This is true filial piety. If our parents do not accept our advice, this is because we have not learned Buddhism well enough. If we really follow the Buddha's way, they will naturally accept our advice. When we diligently learn Buddhism, we will influence our parents. This requires patience and waiting for the proper time and right conditions.
"Have utmost sincerity, be loyal, and be trustworthy." "Utmost sincerity" means being absolutely and completely sincere. When we are sincere to the Buddha, to the Dharma, and to our teachers, we will truly benefit.
Loyalty and trustworthiness are the norms when we interact with others and engage in tasks.
"One should believe that the Buddha's teachings in the sutras are profound." This is true wisdom. In particular, the Pure Land texts, such as the Amitabha Sutra, the Infinite Life Sutra, and the Visualization Sutra, are as the Buddha said--Dharma that is hard to believe. This is because even though the texts do not seem to be profound, the meanings and the states described are actually infinitely profound and broad. Great Master Shandao said in his Commentaries on the Visualization Sutra that it is not just ordinary people who cannot thoroughly understand the teachings in these three sutras, but also arhats, pratyekabuddhas, and the bodhisattvas of the Provisional Teaching. Therefore, not only do ordinary beings find it hard to believe the sutras, even the great bodhisattvas still have doubts. These sutras are truly Dharma that is hard to believe.
Although the Dharma is hard to believe, it is easy to practice. If we practice accordingly, we will succeed! We have to believe that these teachings describe the state of Buddhas at the attainment stage, not the state of Bodhisattvas. This is why it is hard to believe and understand.
"Should believe that doing good deeds will bring good fortune." The previous sentence, "One should believe that the Buddha's teachings in the sutras are profound," is about the Buddha-dharma. This phrase, "... should believe that doing good deeds will bring good fortune," is about mundane teachings. This teaches us to deeply believe in causality: a virtuous mind will surely bring about good fortune; evil thoughts will surely bring about misfortune. Good and bad thoughts are causes, and good fortune and misfortune are results.
In August 1993, Venerable Master Chin Kung gave an eight-hour lecture series titled "Essence of the Infinite Life Sutra" at Ta Kioh Buddhist Temple in San Francisco, USA. The lecture series consist of sixty excerpts that were identified and selected by him from the sutra. Now the excerpts were compiled and translated from his lecture notes which becomes the text "Essence of the Infinite Life Sutra".
See the foreword by Master Chin Kung that introduced the essence of the Infinite Life Sutra.