Excerpts 41 - 50
Buddha . . . teach all beings to . . . discard the Five Evils, leave the Five Sufferings, stay away from the Five Burnings, subdue and transform their thoughts, and observe the Five Goodnesses so as to obtain the good fortune from this.
The Buddha taught all beings to end wrongdoings and practice goodness so that they can receive true good fortune. In "discard the Five Evils," the "Five Evils" are killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants. These are causes.
The first evil is killing, which will bring about the retributions of illness and a short life span. No killing and a vegetarian diet will bring about the rewards of good health and a long life.
The second evil is stealing. Its retribution is poverty. If we want to be wealthy and keep our wealth forever and not lose it, we need to know how to cultivate the cause. Those who constantly think of stealing from others will not keep their wealth for long. Those who are happy to give will most certainly obtain great wealth.
The third evil is sexual misconduct. Everyone wants to have a prosperous and happy family. To achieve this, one must definitely not commit sexual misconduct.
The fourth evil is lying. In the world at large, when one does not lie and keep one's word, one will win the trust, respect, and support of others. One's career will be smooth.
The fifth evil is taking intoxicants, which will confuse one's mind. When one is intoxicated, one cannot control one's speech or behavior and thus will very often commit offenses that result in grave mistakes.
The Buddha taught us to end these Five Evils and cultivate the Five Goodnesses, which are the Five Precepts of no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, and no taking intoxicants. These five precepts should be adhered to from the time we begin to generate the mind to earn Buddhism until the time we attain the level of Bodhisattva. When we seek rebirth into the Pure Land by Buddha-name chanting, if we cannot fulfill these five precepts, then no matter how many times we chant the Buddha-name we will not be able to attain rebirth.
The Western Pure Land is a place where the beings of superior goodness gather. If we cannot end the Five Evils and cultivate the Five Goodnesses, we will be incompatible with the Pure Land. We must accord with virtuousness so as to have Amitabha Buddha come to escort us to his land.
In "leave the Five Sufferings, stay away from the Five Burnings," "Five Sufferings" are flower retributions (retributions to be received in the present lifetime) and "Five Burnings" are fruit retributions (retributions to be received in future lifetimes). When there are causes, there will surely be effects. Committing the [above] five evil causes will bring about the retributions of suffering. "Sufferings" refers to the sufferings in life. "Burnings" refers to the future sufferings in the Three Evil Paths.
From this we can see that when one commits evil karmas, one will suffer not only now but also in the future, where the retributions will be even more terrible.
"Thoughts" in "subdue and transform thoughts" refers to wandering thoughts, greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance. "Transform" means transforming afflictions into Bodhi and transforming killing into compassion. This is the goal of the Buddha in teaching people.
How does one subdue and transform one's thoughts? When an evil thought arises, one should instantly have the wisdom to be aware of it and stop the wandering thought. For many kalpas, for which there is no beginning, ordinary beings have been immersed in affliction and habits, so they naturally have many wandering thoughts. But as it is said, "Do not fear a thought arising; fear realizing it too late." When an evil thought arises, one should immediately detect it and transform it into "Amituofo." This is cultivation. In the Zen school, this is the practice of enlightening illumination. Here is where we practice: transforming an evil thought into a virtuous thought, transforming an evil thought into "Amituofo." The thought of "Amituofo" is the most virtuous. There is no thought more virtuous than this.
"Observe the Five Goodnesses so as to obtain the good fortune from this." The Five Goodnesses are the Five Precepts. We should abide by the Five Precepts. In addition to not killing, we should maintain a vegetarian diet because it is healthy.
There are many strange illnesses nowadays. How do they come about? Medical and scientific studies have come up with some theories that seem correct but are actually wrong. The true cause is eating meat. A proverb says, "Illness enters through the mouth; trouble exits from it." Meat is undoubtedly poisonous. Great Master Yinguang once told a story. A woman breastfed her children. The first one died, so did the second one. Subsequently, the milk was sent to a lab for testing. It was found that she had fed the children when she was angry. Her anger generated a poisonous substance that made the milk poisonous. She thus poisoned her own children.
From this we can deduce that when any living being is being killed, it is not everyday anger that the being feel but something more intense--hatred. Therefore, all meat is poisonous and eating meat is the same as taking poison. One may not get ill immediately, but over a long time this will bring about strange illnesses. A vegetarian diet will surely bring about good health and longevity.
"No killing" will bring about longevity. "No stealing" will bring about great wealth. "No sexual misconduct" will bring about a dignified appearance. "No lying" will bring about people's respect. "No intoxicants" is a wise thing as one will maintain a clear head.
Cultivating the Five Goodnesses will naturally bring about good fortune, longevity, good health, and wealth. Everything will go well in one's family and in one's career. This is what one will get now. Future rewards will be even more wondrous.
All kinds of beings in this world want to do evil. The strong overpower the weak, with both of them overwhelming and killing one another in turn. They cruelly harm and slaughter, and alternately devour one other. They do not know to do good deeds and will thus suffer misfortunes and punishments later ... [Karmic foes will] in turn take revenge on one another ... The suffering is beyond description.
This excerpt describes the saying "the weak are the prey of the strong." Is this statement true? No. What is true is that reprisal breeds reprisal. It would seem that the weak are to be eaten or dominated by the strong, but it is not so. The Buddha, who had perfectly realized the five kinds of eyes (the five kinds of eyes are human eye, heavenly eye, wisdom eye, Dharma eye, and Buddha eye), clearly saw the truth of transmigration within the Six Paths. He said that the beings in the Six Paths alternately take revenge on one another, lifetime after lifetime.
It is said, "A human dies and is reborn a sheep; a sheep dies and is reborn a human." In this life you are the human and you are stronger than the sheep; you kill and eat it. In the next life, the sheep becomes the human and you become the sheep; he will kill and eat you. Each one, in turn, pays back. This is "in turn take revenge on one another." Such agony!
The weak being the prey of the strong is an abnormal phenomenon. It is a malicious relationship--one of continual reprisals. In addition, when one takes revenge, one will not do it in the exact amount--one will overdo it a little. Therefore, the enmity will continue lifetime after lifetime without end and will never be resolved. The retributions will become more and more terrible.
The first part of The Complete Works of Zhou Anshi is Lord Superior Wen Chang Tract of the Quiet Way. In the first section Lord Superior Wen Chang talked about seventeen of his lifetimes of karmic causes and effects. The retributions were terrible--truly horrifying. It is worthy of our vigilance.
We understand the truth, so we should feel empathy for all beings--we should love them, not harm them. What is the cause of wars in this world? The Buddha told us that it is killing. Therefore, if wars are to end forever, beings should not eat meat.
Years ago when I was lecturing in Taipei, there was an elderly lay practitioner, a Mr. Wu from Ningbo. He used to do business in Shanghai and started to learn Buddhism in his old age. He told me a true story that happened in Shanghai.
A friend of his, who was also a businessman, worked for a German before World War II. This friend was very honest, trustworthy, and hardworking. Therefore, the German businessman was very fond of him.
When the war broke out, the German businessman returned to his country and entrusted the company to Mr. Wu's friend, who ran it well. After the war ended, the German did not come back. It was said that he had died. Mr. Wu's friend ended up owning the company. Of course, he did not take it by force. It naturally became his because the owner died.
Mr. Wu's friend had a child. When the child was eleven or twelve, he dropped ten dollars (at that time, ten dollars was a lot of money) on the ground. An acquaintance of his father picked up the money and said, "Call me 'Uncle' and I'll give you back the ten dollars." The child retorted, "You call me 'Uncle' and I'll give you ten dollars."
That year, the father, Mr. Wu's friend, was fifty years old. At his birthday party, he suddenly saw that his child looked like his late German employer (the father alone saw this). Having started learning Buddhism, the father realized that his late employer probably was reborn in his family and became his son. There and then, he announced the transfer of all his property to his son. This was a very smart thing to do.
The story illustrates that a child is born into a family to collect debt, repay debt, repay kindness, or exact revenge. This is definitely true. The Buddha talks about the four kinds of karmic links that exist between parents and children. Those who come to repay kindness are filial children. Those who come to exact revenge hold grudges from past lifetimes and will cause families to break up and family members to die. Some come to collect debt. The son of Mr. Wu's friend is a good example. Some come to repay debt. These are the causes for those who are in the same family.
When a child is born into one's family, one needs to know to change--to transform bad relationships into Dharma relationships.
"They do not know to do good deeds and will thus suffer misfortunes and punishments later." "Misfortunes and punishments" are the Five Sufferings and the Five Burnings. People in general know only to kill animals to satisfy their desire for food--they do not know the disastrous consequences of such actions.
Before Venerable Guanghua became a monk, he handled military supplies in the military. At that time, he was eating one chicken a day. That's three hundred and sixty chickens a year--a thousand chickens after three years!
After he became a monk, he was diligent in cultivation and strictly abided by the precepts. He was well versed in the precepts and also wrote books. One day when he was taking a shower, he suddenly saw that the bathroom was full of chickens, and they were all trying to jump on him. When he tried to dodge them, he fell down, breaking his leg. He told me that as a result of learning Buddhism and observing the precepts, this was a light retribution for the grave offenses he had committed. From this we see how horrifying retributions can be. Had he not learned Buddhism, his retribution would have been even more terrible.
Therefore, we should make a vow that when we attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land and attain Buddhahood, we will first help those beings we have killed. "When I attain Buddhahood, you will be the first ones I help. Please do not cause trouble or obstruct me. If you obstruct me, I will not be able to succeed in cultivation, and you will continue to suffer in the Six Paths.
The Dedication of Merit says "Repay the Four Kinds of Kindness above, and relieve the suffering of those in the Three Paths below." In the Three Paths, the first ones to be helped are those who hold grudges against us.
When we encounter animals, we should mindfully chant the Buddha-name and dedicate the merit to them. It is quite usual to chant "Amituofo." It is even better if we chant the Three Refuges. "Return and rely upon the Buddha so as not to be reborn into the hells. Return and rely upon the Dharma so as not to be reborn as a hungry ghost. Return and rely upon the Sangha so as not to be reborn as an animal." We chant this to the beings in the Three Evil Paths. When we encounter animals, we can chant the Buddha-name and dedicate the merit to them, as well as chant the Three Refuges.
People in this world do not follow laws and rules. They are extravagant, indulge excessively in desires, and are arrogant -- they willfully do whatever they want. Those who hold high positions are corrupted; they are not upright in their duties. They falsely incriminate others and harm loyal and upright people. What they think is contrary to what they say; they are scheming and deceitful. They will try to deceive all --regardless of whether others have high or low positions, regardless of
whether they are related or not. They get angry and are ignorant -- they want to gain the riches of others. They desire more, and
compete for advantage and profit. Grudges form and turn into enmities, causing families to be ruined and members to separate or die. They do not care about before and after. Some rich people are stingy and unwilling to give. Imprisoned by their desires, their greed runs deep. Their minds labor and their bodies suffer. They continue like this until the very end, yet nothing will accompany them. What will follow them into their next life will be their good karmas, bad karmas, good fortune, and misfortune. They may go to happy places or to extremely miserable places. When seeing the virtuousness of others, they
become hateful and slanderous, instead of having respect and admiration. They constantly harbor the intent to steal, hoping
to appropriate the wealth of others for their own. After they use it up, they try to take more again. Spiritual beings of heaven and earth will record their deeds and eventually they will fall into the evil paths.
"People in this world do not follow laws and rules." "Rules" are regulations, etiquette, customs, and moral values. When people do not obey laws or follow etiquette, society will be in chaos. The following describes the chaotic phenomena of society.
"They are extravagant, indulge excessively in desires, and are arrogant -- they willfully do whatever they want." "Willfully doing whatever they want" means that they do whatever they like without restraint.
"Those who hold high positions are corrupted; they are not upright in their duties." "Those who hold high positions" refers to people who have leadership roles in society. "Corrupted" means not understanding the principles. "Not upright" refers to improper thoughts and behavior -- for selfish gains, the public is harmed. This refers to the government officials who take bribes and abuse the law. Their intentions are not upright. They do not work for the benefit of the people. Instead, they benefit themselves by thinking of all kinds of ways to cheat people of their hard work and possessions. Such stealing is very grave.
The following are examples.
"They falsely incriminate others and harm loyal and upright people." This is to forcibly take the power, position, or wealth of others. This is having the mind of stealing.
"What they think is contrary to what they say; they are scheming and deceitful." This is saying that what these people say and do are different. They scheme to defraud others. Things like this have happened throughout history and around the world. No matter how wise and able a leader is, it is unavoidable for him or her to wrong a few innocent people or to make mistakes that are bad for citizens. Throughout history, in this world, we cannot find a person who is perfect, one who has never made a mistake in his or her lifetime.
"They will try to deceive all -- regardless of high or low position, regardless of whether they are related or not." "High" refers to one's elders. "Low" refers to one's juniors. "Related or not" refers to relatives and non-relatives. To benefit themselves, they deceive all: elders, juniors, family, and outsiders. Families are in discord -- with parents, children siblings, relatives, and friends all trying to deceive one another.
"They get angry and are ignorant -- they want to gain the riches of others. They desire more, and compete for advantage and profit." This is brought about by greed for wealth and benefit. Always wanting to get more for ourselves and not wanting to yield, we quarrel with others and others with us, and we become foes.
"Grudges form and turn into enmity, causing families to be ruined and members to separate or die. They do not care about before and after." "Before" refers to cause and "after" refers to retribution. People do not know about cause and effect, which is why are not afraid to do as they please. When retributions appear, it is too late for regret. The result is their families are destroyed and they lose their own lives.
"Some rich people are stingy and unwilling to give." This is describing the rich and prestigious people who are greedy and stingy, and who are unwilling to help others.
People in this world do not understand the truth of life and the universe. They are ignorant and selfish. The Buddha told us the truth of life and the universe -- the entire Dharma Realm is one entity, and the true nature of Buddhas and Bodhisattva and that of all beings are one. From this, we realize that we and all the other beings in the entire Dharma Realm are closely knit -- when we love ourselves, we will love all beings; when we help others, we are helping ourselves.
Buddhist practitioners must broaden their minds and care about all beings. The broader the mind, the greater the good fortune. In this world and beyond, the Buddha's good fortune is the greatest good fortune because his mind "embraces the expanse of space and encompasses the vastness of the universe."
Wealth is good fortune, and it will be used up some day. It is stated in the sutras that one's wealth belongs to five families. The first is water, which can flood one's properties. The second is fire, which can burn one's properties. The third is the government. In the past, the government would confiscate all the properties of a criminal. The fourth is robbers and thieves. The fifth is spend-thrift children, who are hard to guard against.
How does one protect one's wealth? By giving. One should try to do more charitable acts that benefit society and all beings.
During the Spring and Autumn period in China, Mr. Fan Li was a senior official of King Gou Jian of the Yue state. After the Yue state was conquered by the Wu state, he helped Gou Jian restore the Yue state. When he completed his mission, he changed his name and started to do business. Within a few years, he amassed a great fortune. After he became wealthy, he gave away all his wealth and again started a small business. Within a few years, he amassed another great fortune. He then gave away all his wealth a second time. In his lifetime, he amassed great wealth three times and gave everything away three times. He was truly wise and able. What he did was very correct.
When we have enough food and clothing, we should take care of the poor and work for the benefit of society and the local community. We must know to practice virtuous conduct, cultivate good fortune, and accumulate merit. The more wealth we give away, the more we will receive. When we give, we will gain. When we do not give, we will not gain.
"Imprisoned by their desires, their greed runs deep. Their minds labor and their bodies suffer." When one has a lot of money, one worries about gains and losses. One will not be at ease. Therefore, one suffers physically and mentally.
"They continue like this until the very end, yet nothing will accompany them." An ancient eminent master said, "[When we die,] we cannot take anything with us; only karmas will accompany us." Fame and honor, wealth and rank, and money and possessions -- we cannot take these with us. All the good karmas and bad karmas created in our lifetime will stay with us. Those who are truly awakened know that they should cultivate what they can take with them. What they cannot take along, they should just ignore and waste no energy on.
"What will follow them into their next life will be their good karmas, bad karmas, good fortune, and misfortune." Good karmas will bring about good fortune. Bad karmas will bring about misfortune.
"They may go to happy places or go into extremely miserable places." "Happy places" refers to the human and heavenly paths. "Extremely miserable places" refers to the Three Evil Paths (of hells, hungry ghosts, and animals). It is our own good and bad karmas that dictate and pull us into the path that we are reborn in. This is retribution, not the work of Lord Yama, God, Buddhas, or Bodhisattva.
"When seeing the virtuousness of others, they become hateful and slanderous, instead of wanting to emulate them." Such thinking and behavior is not virtuous. Jealousy and hatred are indeed thoughts of stealing. Why? Because one does not like to see others doing better. This mindset is not normal. Wishing that others be worse off or becoming displeased, critical or slanderous when seeing virtuous people or good deeds being done -- these are all thoughts of stealing.
A virtuous person delights upon seeing other virtuous people or good deeds and will wholeheartedly assist these people and help them accomplish their good deeds. A virtuous person sets a good example for whatever community he is in, and his good deeds will definitely benefit the general public.
When we help others achieve their goals, we will succeed in our cultivation of virtues. When we obstruct others, we are committing tremendously grave offenses.
"They constantly harbor the intent to steal, hoping to appropriate the wealth of others for their own. After they use it up, they try to make more again." These people use various illegal means to take the gains of others and use them for their own enjoyment. When they use up the ill-gotten gains, they will again think of other ways to get more. This is stealing -- have both the intent and the action.
"Spiritual beings of heaven and earth will record their deeds and eventually they will fall into the evil paths." "Spiritual beings" refers to heavenly and earthly spirits. When one gives rise to an evil mind and commit evil deeds, one may fool others but not the spiritual beings. They keep a record of what one does. This is the first sense of this sentence.
"Spiritual beings" also refers to one's consciousness, which the Chinese call conscience. Others may not know the evil deeds that one commits, but one clearly knows it in one's heart. The seeds of these deeds will be embedded in the Alaya Consciousness and will not vanish. When the conditions mature, one will suffer retributions. This is the second sense of the sentence.
Our every thought and every action are recorded, like the data in a computer. Our Alaya Consciousness records all our good and evil thoughts and actions, similar to what a computer does. This is our database, containing not only data in this lifetime but also data from all past lifetimes. Spiritual beings and people who have the ability can read our data.
Therefore, we should be cautious with our thoughts. We should not allow any evil thought to arise. Every thought should be of benefiting all beings and not be of becoming them. This way, we will truly succeed in attaining great virtue.
"Eventually they will fall into the evil paths." This talks about retribution. Ultimately, these people will fall into the evil paths.
If the Buddha does not tell us these truths, there is no one else who can clearly explain them to us. This is how the Buddha helps and protects us: he teaches us to be constantly alert to our thoughts, words, and actions, so that we will not have any evil thought or commit any evil deed. This is leaving suffering behind and attaining happiness.
People in this world are born from
interrelated karmic causes. How long can one live? Unvirtuous people are not proper in their behavior and thoughts. They usually harbor evil intentions and their minds are constantly preoccupied with immoral lust. Restlessness fills their minds, and their exterior persona reveals wantonness. They waste away their family fortune. What they do is unlawful. Things that they should seek, they are unwilling to.
"People in this world are born from interrelated karmic causes." Society is the phenomenon of living beings existing together. No one can live independently. People have to rely on one another. Therefore, when one thinks about oneself, one must also think about others.
"How long can one live?" A human life span is short. Life is fragile. In this world, ten years can pass without a person attaining anything. Truly, this is like a dream. The ancient Chinese said, "Since ancient times, few live to the age of seventy." Now, although medicine has advanced and life spans seem to have lengthened, in Africa and many other places where the living environment is very bad, people die of hunger and babies lose their lives every day. If we take this into account, the average life expectancy is less than seventy years.
People have shared karma and individual karma. Some people cultivate good fortune, so they have a longer life span. But even if they live to one hundred, this is still a short time. Therefore, seeing through this and letting go will definitely be beneficial for us.
"Unvirtuous people are not proper in their behavior and thoughts. They usually harbor evil intentions and their minds are constantly preoccupied with immoral lust. Restlessness fills their minds, and their exterior persona reveals wantonness. They waste away their family fortune." This part of the excerpt talks about those whose afflictions, karmic obstacles, and bad habits are very severe. These people's thoughts and behavior are not proper. They usually harbor evil intentions, and the thoughts of lust never cease. Therefore, their desires burn inside them like a fierce fire and this shows in their appearance -- "their exterior persona reveals wantonness." The immediate retribution is "wasting away their family fortune." Such people are called spendthrift children or prodigal children.
"What they do is unlawful." This refers to ruining other people's reputations and moral integrity. In ancient times, this was very serious. Today, people attach little importance to this, nevertheless it is an obstacle to one's cultivation, personal happiness, and a safe society. If one truly believes in cause, condition, and retribution, one will naturally understand.
"Things that they should seek, they are unwilling to." The Buddha said this with deep feeling. Instead of seeking and doing what we should, we are unwilling to do so. What should we be seeking? Transcending the cycle of birth and death. This is what we should seek. It is a great suffering to be in the cycle of birth and death. The Buddha showed us a path to transcend the cycle. If we believe him and follow this path, our wish will be fulfilled.
This excerpt talks about the evil of sexual misconduct. The gravest offense of all is killing; the greatest obstacle to one's cultivation is sexual desire. These are two great obstacles. If in one's cultivation one wishes to transcend this world, one will not be able to transcend the Three Realms without eradicating sexual desire.
Although the Pure Land method allows one to bring one's residual karmas into the Western Pure Land, one must suppress one's sexual desire, anger, and ignorance. This way, one will be sure of attaining rebirth there. If one cannot suppress them, then no matter how much one chants the Buddha-name, it is as an ancient Chinese said: "Even if one chants until one's throat is hoarse, one's chanting is still futile." One will only form a good affinity with Amitabha Buddha, but one will not succeed in attaining rebirth in the Pure Land in this lifetime.
People in this world do not think of practicing goodness. They use divisive speech, harsh speech, false speech, and
enticing speech. They detest and are jealous of virtuous people. They discredit the worthy and the wise. They are not filial to their parents, and they are not respectful to their teachers and elders. They are not trustworthy to their friends, and it is difficult for them to be sincere and honest. They are conceited and claim that they have attained the Way. They are wild and bully others. They encroach on the rights of others. They want others to fear and respect them, while they themselves feel neither fear nor shame. These people are stubborn and hard to transform. They constantly harbor arrogance and haughtiness. They rely on the protection of the good fortune from past lifetimes. They commit evil deeds in this lifetime and use up their good fortune. At the end of their lives, all their evil deeds will come back to overwhelm them.
This excerpt talks about the evils of false speech. False speech is dishonesty. If one is not honest, one will absolutely not succeed in one's cultivation. Why? Because cultivation requires a sincere mind. When one is not sincere in one's words, one's mind is false. How can one with a false mind succeed in cultivation? Even in this world, a person who is not trustworthy cannot have a place in society. One can deceive others for a short time but not forever.
"Divisive speech" is the sowing of discord. "Harsh speech" is speaking harshly and hurting others. "False speech" is telling lies to deceive people. "Enticing speech" is sweet words meant to deceive others. For example, songs, dance, movies, and dramas today lead people to have evil thoughts. All these are "enticing speech."
The art in ancient China were all based on the standard of "no evil thoughts." For example, plays and novels taught people to understand the law of cause and effect -- good deeds will bring about good retributions; bad deeds will bring about bad retributions. They promoted loyalty, filial piety, moral integrity, and justice. This is one way of teaching the general public.
Those who engage in entertainment and art should guide society in a positive direction, by teaching that which is virtuous or good. This way, they will have boundless good fortune. Otherwise, they will create evil karmas.
"They detest and are jealous of virtuous people." When they see virtuous people or good deeds being done, jealousy and anger arise in them.
They "discredit the worthy and the wise." A worthy person is a person of virtue. A person of virtue and wisdom can influence the people in an area, improve the social customs, and set a good example for the local people. His or her merit will be very great. If one is jealous of or dislikes this person and obstructs this person from doing his or her good deeds -- sabotaging this person instead of helping or rejoicing at the good deeds -- then the offense is grave, as it has affected all the people in the area.
"They are not filial to their parents, and they are not respectful to their teachers and elders." This shows extreme arrogance! This applies not only to the general public but also to Buddhist practitioners. The Visualization Sutra teaches us the Three Conditions. The first includes being filial and providing and caring for parents, being respectful to and serving teachers, being compassionate and not killing, and cultivating the Ten Virtuous Karmas.
Filial piety and respect for one's teachers are the absolute foundations. If one is not filial to one's parents or does not respect one's teachers, then there is no need to talk about other things. To show gratitude for the love and care given by one's parents, one should be respectful and filial to them. Both mundane and supra-mundane teachings are based on filial piety. Buddhism -- a teaching where the teacher as well as the teachings are highly revered -- is founded on filial piety. If the public ignores filial piety, then there is no foundation for Buddhism. Like building a house, if there is no foundation, how can the house stand firm?
"They are not trustworthy to their friends, and it is difficult for them to be sincere and honest." Due to the guidance of our teachers, we have wisdom and skills. This is a great kindness to us. If one thinks nothing of the kindness of one's parents and teachers, how can one be a friend?
In present society, it is indeed as described here. The relationships between people and between countries are based entirely on gains or losses, not on moral obligations and justice.
"They are conceited." Because they are arrogant, they look down on their parents and teachers, thinking that their parents and teachers cannot compare with them and are not as capable as they. Therefore, they are arrogant to their elders.
They "claim that they have attained the Way." If one claims that one has attained the Way but has not done so, it is a great lie. This lie deceives people and damages Buddhism, and the retribution is falling into the Avici hell.
"They are wild and bully others. They encroach on the rights of others." This is tyrannizing others.
"They want others to fear and respect them, while they themselves feel neither fear nor shame." Shame -- being pricked by one's conscience and caring about public opinion -- is a good mental quality. "Feeling neither fear nor shame" means that one has no conscience and does not care about criticism from the public, ignoring it completely. This is why one dares to act unlawfully -- one is full of oneself.
"These people are stubborn and hard to transform." It is hard to change and reform these people.
"They constantly harbor arrogance and haughtiness." They are proud and arrogant.
"They rely on the protection of the good fortune from past lifetimes." Why does a bad person who rides roughshod over others enjoy high status, wealth, and power in society while not suffering any punishment? Because the good fortune he or she cultivated in past lifetimes is abundant -- the conditions for the evil deeds done in this lifetime have not yet matured, so the retributions have not materialized.
It is stated in the sutras: "If you want to know the causes planted in the past lifetimes, look at what you are experiencing in this lifetime. If you want to know your karmic effects in future lifetimes, look at what you are doing in this lifetime." What we do in this lifetime will bring about retributions in future lifetimes. A good cause will bring about a good retribution. A bad cause will bring about a bad retribution. If a retribution has not happened, it is because the time has not yet come.
"They commit evil deeds in this lifetime and use up their good fortune." One cultivated great good fortune in past lifetimes and could have enjoyed it for one hundred years. But because one commits evil deeds, one's good fortune is used up in fifty years. This is the diminishing of good fortune. This is definitely not the gods and deities controlling this to punish one. It is due to one's karmic forces. The karmic force of the evil deeds gets stronger and the karmic force of the virtuous deeds gradually becomes weaker. As the good karmas cannot counteract the evil karmas, the karmic force of the evil karmas will become stronger and stronger. Retributions from the stronger karma will be meted out first, pulling one to suffer them. This is the principle.
"At the end of their lives, all their evil deeds will come back to overwhelm them." At the end of one's life, the evil karmas will manifest, and one will have to suffer retributions. "All their evil deeds" refers to the evil paths. The karmic foes and creditors from this and past lifetimes will come to take one's life if one owes them life or to collect debt if one owes them money. This is why Buddha-name chanting practitioners should dedicate merits from their learning, practicing, and giving -- repaying the Four Kinds of Kindness above, and relieving the suffering of those in the Three Paths below.
"Repaying the Four Kinds of Kindness above" means that the merits are dedicated to those who have shown us kindness. "Relieving the suffering of those in the Three Paths below" means that the merits are dedicated to the karmic foes and creditors from numerous kalpas. Throughout my entire life, I have been repaying debts with my cultivation. We make offerings to those who have shown us kindness, and repay debts to our karmic creditors. This way, we will eliminate many obstacles to our cultivation. This is the truth. When we truly understand, we will courageously and diligently learn and practice.
We should generate the Bodhi mind, single-mindedly chant "Amituofo," and seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. This is an assured path. As an ancient eminent master said, "If ten thousand people practice [the Pure Land method], all ten thousand will attain rebirth." So, we will surely succeed. Only when we attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land will we be able to truly repay those who have shown us kindness in past lifetimes and help those we have enmities with attain Buddhahood.
Therefore, only when we attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land can we resolve enmities with all beings.
People in this world are indecisive and indolent. They are unwilling to do good deeds, be disciplined in their behavior, or cultivate [proper] karmas. They disobey their parents and rebel against their teachings. They are like foes to their parents, who may as well not have them as children. They are ungrateful, go against ethics, and do not repay kindness shown to them. They are dissolute, fool around, and indulge excessively in alcohol and good food. They are rash, overbearing, and contradictory, ignorant of the ways of the world. They have no sense of righteousness or propriety, and cannot take advice or guidance.
"People in this world are indecisive and indolent." "Indecisive" means that the mind does not have a stand and has no direction. "Indolent" means laziness and the seeking of momentary comfort and pleasure.
If one wants to accomplish an undertaking, whether mundane or supra-mundane, the first requirement is to have an aspiration. This serves as the direction and goal for one's lifelong effort. Some people seek fame and become famous. Some people seek gains and they acquire them. Why? Because they concentrate on one goal. It is the same with cultivation. There are many Buddhist schools and methods but one can delve deeply into only one.
Great Master Shandao said that if one wants to seek understanding, one can use teachings from various schools as reference, but for cultivation, one must choose only one Dharma door. One can know can various paths but can walk only one. One cannot walk two paths at the same time. Therefore, to reach one's goal there must be only one method of cultivation. This is the principle.
All Buddhas urge people to mindfully chant the Buddha-name and seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. Why? Although there are many Buddhist schools and Dharma doors, they are all different in degree of difficulty. For example, the goal of Zen meditation is to enlighten the mind and see the true nature. But it is hard to see the true nature. Why can't one see the true nature? Because there are obstacles. What obstacles? Affliction of Views and Thoughts, Affliction of Dust and Sand, and Affliction of Ignorance. One must completely eradicate Affliction of Views and Thoughts as well as Affliction of Dust and Sand, and eliminate at least a part of ignorance before one can enlighten the mind and see the true nature.
When one mindfully chants the Buddha-name and seeks rebirth in the Western Pure Land, one will carry along one's residual karmas. It does not matter if one has not eliminated a part of Affliction of Views and Thoughts. This is why the Pure Land method is wondrous and why all Buddhas extol it greatly.
But being indecisive and indolent is a grave obstacle, regardless of which Dharma door one learns and practices. Even when one chants the Buddha-name, one will not be able to attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
"They are unwilling to do good deeds." Being able to practice virtuous conduct is good fortune. People in this world all seek wealth, wisdom, good health, and longevity. Can they get them? "In Buddhism, every wish can be fulfilled." If one knows the right principle and method and seeks accordingly, one's every wish will be fulfilled.
Wealth is a karmic result. Where there is a result, there must have been a cause. When one cultivates a cause, one will surely get the result. The cause of having wealth is giving. The more one gives, the more one will get. When one gives, one is planting a cause. When one gives naturally, one will get the result quickly, and in abundance.
Wisdom is a karmic result. Its cause is the giving of teachings. When one willingly and gladly teaches what one knows, whether worldly knowledge or Buddhism, and does not hold back anything, one will have more and more wisdom.
Good health and longevity are karmic results. The causes are the giving of fearlessness. When others have fear or difficulty, we help them or protect them so that they feel secure and are free of all fears. These actions are the giving of fearlessness. The most thorough and ultimate giving of fearlessness is nothing other than having a vegetarian diet. One does not eat the flesh of any being. One should not upset or harm any being. The karmic results are good health and longevity.
They are unwilling to "be disciplined in their behavior, or cultivate [proper] karmas." "Be disciplined in their behavior" means cultivating one's body and mind. "Cultivate [proper] karmas" means cultivating one's wholesome karmas.
"They disobey their parents and rebel against their teachings. They are like foes to their parents, who may as well not have them as children." The children defy their parents. They are like enemies to their parents, who feel that they would rather not have them as children. Such is the disappointment the parents have with their children.
"They are ungrateful, go against ethics, and do not repay kindness shown to them. They are dissolute, fool around, and indulge excessively in alcohol and good food." The children fail to show gratitude to their parents for their kindness in raising them. They do not provide for their parents. In addition, they "indulge excessively in alcohol and good food." This means that they are particular about their food. Being dissolute means that they do whatever they like. Fooling around means that they hate to do proper work; they like to eat and loaf about.
"They are rash, overbearing, and contradictory, ignorant of the ways of the world." "Contradictory" means that they lose their temper and have conflicts with others. They do not know the ways of the world. They are obstinate, boorish, domineering, and unreasonable.
"They have no sense of righteousness or propriety, and cannot take advice or guidance." They do not want to hear advice or accept good suggestions.
Between heaven and earth, the Five Paths are separate and distinct. Good retribution, bad retribution, good fortune, and misfortune intermingle continually with one another. One has to bear them alone. No one else can take one's place.
"Between heaven and earth, the Five Paths are separate and distinct." "Between heaven and earth" refers to the universe. In the universe, there are infinite planets where human beings and advanced living beings live. The entire Dharma Realm is a place of our activity.
"The Five Paths" refers to the Six Paths. Asuras are found in four paths -- the heavenly path, the human path, the animal path, and the path of hungry ghosts -- but not in the hells path. So, these paths are called the Five Paths as the Asura path is not counted as an additional path. When we talk about the Six Paths, we are referring to these paths, heavenly, human, Asura (this refers specifically to the heavenly Asuras), animal, hungry ghosts, and hells. The Surangama Sutra talks about the Seven Paths, which are the Six Paths plus the path of immortals.
The heavenly path, the human path, the animal path, the path of hungry ghosts, and the hell path are the Five Paths that are separate and distinct.
"Good retribution, bad retribution." This talks about the origin and the phenomena of the Five Paths. A virtuous mind and conduct will bring about rebirth into the heavenly or the human path. These are the good paths. An evil mind and conduct will bring about rebirth into the Three Evil Paths. Although people are in the human path, they are all different: there are those who are rich and those who are poor, those of high position and those of low position. This is because people have different individual karmas.
People born in the human path have the same shared karma. But in the past lifetimes, they cultivated different goodness and good fortune. Those who cultivated great good fortune enjoy a good life in this lifetime. Those who cultivated little good fortune suffer many hardships and difficulties.
Causes and their resultant effects are very complex. Transmigration in the Six Paths is entirely the results of one's good and bad deeds. If one's physical, verbal, and mental karmas are virtuous, one will be reborn in the Three Good Paths. If the three karmas are bad, one will fall into the Three Evil Paths.
"Good fortune, and misfortune intermingle continually with each other." There is good fortune in misfortune and misfortune in good fortune. Only a person with wisdom can clearly see this and adeptly make use of this.
An example of good fortune in misfortune is one who lives in poverty and is not sure when the next meal will be. As a result, this person feels that life is filled with suffering and wants to get out of this world -- he or she lets go of all worldly concerns, sincerely chants the Buddha-name, attains rebirth in the Western Pure Land, and eventually attains Buddhahood. Thus, this person has good fortune.
[The Buddha said:] "Discipline oneself with a hard life." As a result, one will have no attachment to this world and will be even more earnest in seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land and meeting Amitabha Buddha. Often times, one obtains good fortune because of misfortune.
One who enjoys wealth and prestige in this world may chant the Buddha-name but this person's every thought is still attached to the Saha world -- thus causing the opportunity of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime to slip by.
"One has to bear them alone. No one else can take one's place." No one else can take one's place." No one can do these matters for us. Everyone must cultivate for themselves. We must understand this and practice diligently.
If in that environment, one can single-mindedly suppress one's thoughts, correct one's behavior and mind, have one's deeds match one's words, have one's actions be of the utmost sincerity, do only good deeds, and commit no evils, then one will be liberated and obtain virtues and good fortune from these.
"If in that environment, one can single-mindedly suppress one's thoughts." "In that environment" refers to today's evil world of the Five Corruptions, which is full of complications and vileness. The most important thing is to "single-mindedly suppress one's thoughts." All the evil thoughts must be subdued. This is where we start concentrating our efforts in our cultivation. What should we do when an evil thought arises?
The wondrous thing about the Pure Land method is the inconceivability of the merit of the Buddha-name. When an evil thought arises, we chant "Amituofo" to transform the evil thought into a thought of Buddha. We can also think about the wondrous merits of Amitabha Buddha or the various deeds of Amitabha Buddha, such as how he cultivated at the causal stage to establish the Western Pure Land to help all beings in the ten directions leave suffering forever behind and perfectly attain Buddhahood.
If we study the sutras well and concentrate on thinking about the magnificent direct and circumstantial rewards in the Western Pure Land, all wandering thoughts will cease. When we truly seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land and truly achieve in cultivation -- when we are in this state -- our every thought will be of Amitabha Buddha and the West Pure Land. We will undoubtedly attain rebirth there. This is the best way to "single-mindedly suppress one's thoughts."
One should "correct one's behavior and mind." "Correct" means being upright, and following etiquette and laws. We need to follow all the teachings of the Buddha and practice accordingly. "Correct one's mind" means that at all times, in all places, and in all situations, our every thought never deviates from "Namo Amituofo." This is having proper thought.
If we do not have proper thoughts, we have evil thoughts. When there is improperness, there is evil. When there is neither proper nor improper thought, we fall into undefinable delusion. Delusion is ignorance. The retribution is rebirth in the animal path. We will not be able to transcend the Three Evil Paths. Therefore, it is very important to correct one's behavior and mind.
One should "have one's deeds match one's words." One should not say one thing and mean another.
"Have one's actions be of the utmost sincerity." One should be sincere when interacting with beings, engaging in tasks, and handling objects. One should not be afraid of being deceived or being taken advantage of. If one is not willing to be taken advantage of or to be deceived now, one will continue to transmigrate endlessly in the Six Paths, life after life, to repay or collect debts.
One should only use the true mind. One should have the same regard towards all beings, situations, and objects as one has towards the Buddhas and Bodhisattva. This way, one is truly generating the Bodhi mind. The Bodhi mind is a sincere mind. Whether chanting the Buddha-name or contemplating the magnificent direct and circumstantial rewards and merits of Amitabha Buddha, one should maintain a sincere mind. Even in daily life, one should also use a sincere mind. This is "generating the Bodhi mind and single-mindedly focusing on chanting."
"Do only good deeds, and commit no evils." Learning Buddhism is learning to be awakened and wise, and not to do foolish things. When we see others make mistakes, we should try to skillfully and expediently remind them, alert them, or advise them. When we do good deeds, we must do so earnestly and not fear that others will laugh at us or obstruct us. Good deeds are beneficial to society.
As to "commit no evils," not only do we not do any evil deed, we should not even give rise to any evil thought.
"One will be liberated and obtain virtues and good fortune from these." Who liberates whom? One liberates oneself. It is truly as stated: "The Buddha did not liberate the beings." The Buddha only explained the truth to us. When we understand, we have to walk the path ourselves.
Trivial matters can develop into matters of great angst and extreme severity. This is all due to a desire for wealth, lust, and an unwillingness to give. Each one thinks of nothing but one's own enjoyment and disregards what is right or wrong. Compelled by ignorant desires, people want to benefit themselves and compete for gains. During the time of enjoying rank and riches, they cannot endure insults and do not cultivate virtuous deeds. Power and influence will not
last long and will soon disappear. The law of nature will prevail and will eventually set things right.
"Trivial matters can develop into matters of great angst and extreme severity." This sentence is a general statement. "Trivial matters" refers to minor delusions. These will gradually become great evils if we do not awaken in time. Hatred very often starts as a very tiny, trivial grudge. In "great angst and extreme severity," "angst" refers to tribulation and "severity" refers to harsh vengeance.
We should see through this and not take things to heart. If in our interaction with others we suffer minor unjustified treatment, we should not take it too seriously, get attached to it, or mind it. We should absolutely not harbor any thought of vengeance.
"This is all due to a desire for wealth, lust, and an unwillingness to give." This points out the root cause of the predicament of the beings in the Six Paths. In many of our past lifetimes, we learned Buddhism, chanted the Buddha-name, and made offerings to and served infinite Buddhas. Why have we not been able to attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land? Because we cannot let go! After infinite kalpas of cultivation, we are unable to succeed, done in by wealth and lust. If we still cannot completely let go of them in this lifetime, we will continue to stay in the cycle of birth and death.
"Each one thinks of nothing but one's own enjoyment." One craves wealth. One is lustful. One does not practice giving. One fusses over one's enjoyment.
One "disregards what is right or wrong." One cannot tell proper from improper, right from wrong, and good from bad.
"People want to benefit themselves and compete for gains." They are selfish. They scramble for fame and gain,
"The time of enjoying rank and riches" cannot last forever. Moreover, when one depletes one's wealth and prestige, evil karmas will come forth.
"They cannot endure insults." If the rich and prestigious are moderate in their enjoyments and are frugal, their endurance will enable them to maintain their wealth. If they live thriftily and practice giving, their good fortune will last for a long time. Cultivating good fortune and accumulating merits while enjoying one's wealth--this is the right thing to do. If they cannot restrain themselves and quickly deplete their wealth, their good fortune will soon be used up.
They "do not cultivate virtuous deeds." When people are in an environment where they are enjoying a good life, it is very easy for them to be deluded and thereby lose their true nature. They cannot restrain themselves and are unwilling to do good deeds. They commit offenses.
"Power and influence will not last long." The time during which they can dominate others is very short. It "will soon disappear."
"The law of nature will prevail and will eventually set things right." "The law of nature" refers to principles of morality. "Will eventually set things rights" refers to the ways of the world. "Set things right" is commonly known as feeling the prick of conscience. In Buddhism, this is called consciousness.
Those who often do good deeds have minds and behavior that are virtuous. Those who often commit evil deeds have minds and behavior that are evil. Good deeds will bring about good retributions; bad deeds will bring about bad retributions. Retributions will occur naturally. They are not controlled by spirits, deities, God, Buddhas, or Bodhisattva. Karmic results take place naturally.
Honor the sages and respect the virtuous. Have compassion and loving-kindness.
"Honor the sages and respect the virtuous." We should honor, admire, and emulate the sages of this world and beyond. We need to respect the people of virtue and good deeds in this world. We need to do our best to help others accomplish good deeds. "Respect" refers to innate virtues coming forth. This is true virtuous behavior.
The Avatamsaka Sutra teaches us to rejoice at the meritorious deeds of others. The effect is to end our afflictions of jealousy, anger, and hatred from infinite kalpas. If we become jealous when we see a virtuous person or when we see a good deed, we are committing an offense. The Buddha taught us to be happy when we encounter good people and good acts. In addition, we should do our best to help a person accomplish his virtuous actions. Helping others achieve goodness is the same as achieving our own goodness. Self and others are not two. When we rejoice at those who cultivate virtues and goodness, we will have the same karmic results.
"Have compassion and loving-kindness." There are different types of compassion. In this world, people's compassion is based on love and is emotional. To those they like, they show compassion. To those they dislike, they do not show compassion. This kind of compassion is called love-affinity compassion. It is based on worldly love.
The compassion of Bodhisattva is called dharma-affinity compassion. The Bodhisattva know that all dharmas are equal. The compassion that one has for sentient beings should be the same that one has for oneself. This compassion is based on a profound and true principle.
The compassion of Buddhas is called great compassion. It arises entirely from a pure mind, an impartial mind, and a mind that knows everything is one entity. This is true compassion and loving-kindness.
We must broaden our minds: everything in the entire Dharma Realm is ourselves.
We should nurture a mind of compassion and loving-kindness. This is the source of true happiness. If we want happiness, the root is compassion and loving-kindness. We should put ourselves in the position of others. When we think of ourselves, we should also think of others and of all the beings in the universe.
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.