EXCERPTS FROM THE TALK
IN AUSTRALIA, JANUARY, 1996
A VIRTUOUS AND PERFECT EDUCATION
we see an increasing number of people around the world starting
to practice Buddhism. However, not many people truly understand
what Buddhism is. Therefore, this becomes a very important topic.
What exactly is Buddhism? We need to understand it clearly. Buddhism
is a most virtuous and perfect education directed by the Buddha
towards all sentient beings in the nine realms. How can we tell
that Buddhism is an education? First, we can tell from the way we
call Buddha Shakyamuni our "Original Teacher" that he
is the founder of Buddhism and that we are his students. From this,
it is very apparent that the Buddha and we share a teacher-student
relationship. This is only found in education.
Buddhism is his teaching, who then is the Buddha? Buddha is a Sanskrit
word meaning wisdom and enlightenment. However, this wisdom is not
the worldly wisdom we think of today. Broadly speaking, the Buddha's
wisdom is the ability to ultimately, perfectly and correctly comprehend
the true reality of life and the universe in the past, present and
future. One who has perceived this wisdom is called a Buddha. Buddha
Shakyamuni told us that all sentient beings, including ourselves,
possess this innate wisdom and ability. Thus Buddhism regards all
beings equally. Although we are equal in origin, presently we cannot
see this because everyone's wisdom and abilities differ.
our society, there are those who are intelligent and those who are
not, those with great ability and those with less. How do these
things come about? The Buddha told us that they are due to our varying
degrees of delusion. Our innate wisdom and abilities are temporarily
lost due to this delusion, but are not truly or permanently lost.
If we can break through this delusion, then we will be able to recover
these abilities. Therefore, the Buddha's teachings show us how to
rid ourselves of delusion and to uncover our innate abilities.
is often stated in Mahayana sutras that the Buddha did not directly
help sentient beings. Then how do sentient beings become Buddhas?
By themselves. The Buddha only assists from the side by explaining
the true reality of how we delude ourselves. After realizing this,
we diligently put his teachings into practice to attain enlightenment
of true reality. We then become Buddhas. Buddha Shakyamuni clearly
explained that becoming a Buddha is attainable by all sentient beings.
this, we can see that Buddhism is a teaching. However, a teacher
can only educate us about the principles, tell us of his/her experiences
in practice and attainment, and suggest various methods for our
attainment. The rest ultimately depends upon us. We are the ones
who need to be enthusiastic and diligent in order to attain achievement.
Once we understand that Buddhism is an education, we will logically
regard the Buddha as our teacher. From this, we understand that
in proper Way Places, we do not regard the Buddha or Bodhisattva
images as gods to be worshipped. We make offerings to these images
for two reasons. First, to remember and repay our gratitude for
this truly great education, which we have so fortunately encountered
and accepted in this lifetime.
opening verse to sutras says it very well; "It is extremely
difficult to encounter this teaching in infinite eons." The
debt of gratitude we owe the Buddha is similar to the remembrance,
which some Chinese have toward their ancestors. We reflect on our
origins for without these ancestors we would not exist. The second
reason we make offerings to the Buddha is to follow the examples
of the virtuous. Buddha Shakyamuni was an ordinary person like us;
yet, he was able to be awakened and become a Buddha. What is there
to stop us from achieving this as well? Therefore, the pictures
or statues of the Buddha serve to remind us every moment to advance
diligently towards this goal. The images are not to be regarded
as gods or objects of superstition.
Buddhist Way Places, the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have
many appearances. This has often led to the misconception that not
only is Buddhism a religion but one that worships multi-deities
as well. Indeed Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have many names. For example,
in the Tripitaka there is the Ten Thousand-Buddha Names Sutra, which
gives us over twelve thousand Buddha's names and even more names
for Bodhisattvas. Why are there so many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas?
Within our original-nature there exists infinite wisdom, virtuous
and artistic abilities that cannot be completely represented by
merely one name. It is similar to a highly accomplished person in
a prominent position; his or her business card could have numerous
names of the Buddhas represent the complete, innate and virtuous
abilities within our self-nature. All the Bodhisattva names
represent cultivation of different virtues. The original abilities
within our self-nature are infinite, but temporarily lost. Without
genuine cultivation, we will not be able to uncover any of them.
All the Buddha and Bodhisattva names are none other than ourselves.
Once we understand this, we will realize that a high level of
artistry represents the styles of the Buddha's teachings. For
example, sculptures and pictures can express the Dharma. Understanding
the true meaning of these images will help us to gain the true
benefits of the Buddha's teachings.
Buddhism is not a religion, why is it not then a philosophy? In
philosophy, there is both a subject and an object. In Mahayana Buddhism,
there is no difference between subject and object; they are one.
This meaning is very profound and difficult to understand. For example,
a great master said, "Utilizing gold to form utensils, all
utensils are of gold." Are the gold and the utensil the same
thing or different? From their appearances they look like two different
things. However, from their composition we realize that they are
need a profound intuitive comprehension to truly understand the
reality of life and the universe. All of the Mahayana Sutras try
to explain this concept and truth. We will share the same viewpoints
with the Buddha when we truly understand and clearly recognize this
truth. Ordinary people, like we are deluded. In what way? Because
we see everything in opposition to the other, not knowing that in
reality everything is actually one and not two.
THE GOAL OF THE BUDDHA'S TEACHING
the intrinsic nature of Buddhism, we proceed to the goal of the
Buddha's teachings. This goal is to break through delusion and achieve
enlightenment. The Buddha pointed out to us why we are leading lives
of suffering and why the six realms of reincarnation exist. It is
so, because the wisdom and virtuous abilities in our original nature
have yet to be uncovered. Thus, all our viewpoints and ways of interacting
with life and the universe are incorrect. The erroneous acts committed
due to these incorrect viewpoints and ways have resulted in the
suffering of reincarnation within the six realms.
goal of the Buddha's teachings is to help and to guide us break
through our delusion, to be awakened and to escape this suffering
and obtain happiness. What do we seek in Buddhism? We seek Annuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi,
the Perfect Complete Enlightenment. The Buddha teaches and hopes
that all of us will attain this ultimate enlightenment, in other
words, will become a Buddha.
Perfect Complete Enlightenment can be explained as three levels:
Arhats, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. The first is "Proper Enlightenment."
In our world, there are some very intelligent and wise people, such
as scientists, philosophers and religious leaders. They have reached
higher realization than most people have. However, although they
may have reached a certain level of realization, the Buddha would
not recognize their knowledge as the proper enlightenment, because
they have not severed their afflictions. They still dwell on the
rights and wrongs of others, on greed, anger, ignorance and arrogance.
They still harbor wandering, discriminatory thoughts and attachments.
In other words, their minds are not pure. Without the pure mind,
no matter how high the level of realization one reaches, it is still
not the proper enlightenment.
Buddhism, the standard for proper enlightenment is the pure mind
from which wisdom arises. It is the wish of all Buddhas that we
attain this proper enlightenment. This is the level or degree of
an Arhat and is similar to attending a university to earn an undergraduate
degree. Therefore, Arhat, Bodhisattva and Buddha are titles similar
to degrees of enlightenment attained in Buddhism. Those who achieve
proper enlightenment are called Arhats. Arhats do not have illusory
or misleading thoughts and viewpoints. They do not dwell on the
rights and wrongs of others, or on thoughts of greed, anger, ignorance
this, we can comprehend intuitively the difference between Buddhism
and worldly education. From the Buddha, we learn the true teachings
and proper enlightenment. Only with this proper enlightenment can
we escape all sufferings to obtain true happiness. As human beings,
we undergo the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death.
We do not attain what we seek, are parted with our loved ones and
find ourselves in the presence of those whom we resent or even hate.
We are surrounded by all these sufferings with no apparent way of
being truly free. Only after learning Buddhism will we be able to
reach genuine liberation.
Flower Adornment Sutra explains to us, "All sentient beings
possess the same wisdom and virtuous capabilities as the Buddha,
but these qualities are unattainable due to wandering thoughts and
attachments." This clearly explains the root cause of our problems.
Practicing Buddhism is to accord with the teachings of the Buddha,
to rid us of wandering, discriminating thoughts and attachments.
Thus, we uncover our pure mind, in turn giving rise to true wisdom,
which is proper enlightenment. Therefore, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
would not recognize the intelligent and worldly wisdom, as it lacks
the pure mind, the proper enlightenment. Upon attaining proper enlightenment,
we have the ability to transcend the endless cycles of birth and
death, not to mention the ability to solve everyday problems.
talking about the Buddha's education or worldly education, it is
essential to understand the concept of delving deeply into one method
in order to attain achievement. This is especially so in Buddhism.
One who truly wishes to learn effectively needs to follow only one
teacher and practice only one path to ensure a smooth journey. When
following two teachers with two different paths, we are bound to
become confused as to which path to take. Even worse, following
three teachers catches us at a T street. With four teachers, we
are caught at a cross street. Today's young people like to learn
a lot, but fail to attain a good result. The problem lies with being
caught at those cross streets, confused as to which way to take.
To succeed and attain achievement in practicing Buddhism, we need
to follow just one teacher and concentrate on just one method.
is this achievement? True achievement is attaining a pure mind.
Upon achieving some degree of pure mind, we will have fewer afflictions
and thus an increase in true wisdom, enabling us to solve problems
in this world and beyond. Without this true wisdom, there is no
way to truly solve problems. Therefore, true wisdom is essential
in leading a happy and fulfilling life. On a broader scale, it can
help us to solve society's problems.
there are many intelligent politicians who thought they were very
smart but have ended up bringing their countries to the brink of
disaster, as well as putting their citizens through much misery.
What is the reason for this? These leaders have not severed their
afflictions, discriminating and wandering thoughts, and attachments.
Consequently, their first consideration is their own benefit, their
Buddha taught us to attain true wisdom by first breaking free of
our own viewpoints. Without this wisdom, we could misinterpret the
meanings within the Mahayana sutras. If we are able to part from
the selfish mind, then true benefits will definitely be received.
With proper enlightenment, only when we have no ego or self-attachment,
will we be able to differentiate true from false, proper from deviated,
right from wrong and beneficial from harmful. Without breaking through
our own viewpoints, we will not have these abilities. From this,
we understand there is a standard to the proper enlightenment.
level above the proper enlightenment is the " Equal and Proper
Enlightenment." Equal means equal to the Buddha, but not yet
having become a Buddha. This level is higher than that of an Arhat.
The equal and proper enlightenment requires us to break through
one degree of ignorance, to attain one degree of Dharma body. At
this point, the way we view the reality of life and the universe
is very close to that of the Buddhas. One who achieves the equal
and proper enlightenment would be called a Bodhisattva.
Flower Adornment Sutra explains the forty-one levels of Bodhisattvas,
all of which have these levels of enlightenment. After breaking
through the very last degree of ignorance, perfecting wisdom and
enlightenment, one achieves the "Perfect, Complete Enlightenment"
that is Buddhahood. Therefore, Buddha, Bodhisattva and Arhat are
common titles, not a specific name for a specific person. They are
titles similar to those of Doctorate, Master or Graduate degrees.
For example, in the name Guan Yin Bodhisattva, Guan Yin represents
great compassion and kindness. The title of Bodhisattva is similar
to a Masters Degree. Presently, people have misconceptions about
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, thinking these names are specific beings.
They do not understand that these titles refer to any being who
possesses those characteristics. Buddha or Bodhisattva, when added
to a name is simply referring to a specialty.
the intrinsic nature of Buddhism, we realize that our purpose of
practice is to seek wisdom. In Zen, this goal is called, "In
pursuit of clarity of mind to see into one's self-nature."
In other words "Complete Enlightenment." In the Pure Land
School, this is called "One Mind Undisturbed." The Pure
Land School is unique in that not only do we seek to have One Mind
Undisturbed but also seek birth into the Western Pure Land. This
is unlike other schools, which rely on one's own strength of cultivation
in seeking solely one goal. The Pure Land method has two goals that
can be achieved in one lifetime.
who is very familiar with the Infinite Life Sutra and understood
its teachings would be free of doubt. The full title of this sutra
reveals the goals of our practice: The Buddha Speaks of the Infinite
Life Sutra of Adornment, Purity, Equality and Enlightenment of the
Mahayana School. Infinite life and adornment are what Pure Land
practitioners seek. Infinite life refers to the merits and virtues
of one's perfect self-nature. Adornment refers to perfect complete
wisdom with great ease and fulfillment. Purity, equality and enlightenment
are the methods, the three ways of practice. Upon attaining any
one, all three are attained. Of all the schools of Buddhism, none
surpass these three ways of practice.
Zen School uses the awakening path to reach the great enlightenment
and attain the clarity to see into one's true nature. Buddhist schools
other than Zen stress the practice of understanding or proper viewpoints,
until reaching great complete understanding. The Pure Land School,
on the other hand, concentrates on the pure mind. A person with
purity of mind will naturally be non-discriminating and awakened.
An awakened person will naturally have a pure and non-discriminating
mind. The route chosen may be different but all reach the same goal.
In Zen practice it is expressed as "obtaining clarity of mind
and seeing into one's true nature."
schools may use different names but the results or the level of
the state of mind are the same. Therefore, to criticize any other
schools would be to slander both the Buddha and the Dharma. All
these methods were passed down to us from Buddha Shakyamuni. Choosing
any path will enable us to attain achievement. How can we say that
one method is better than another? From all these different methods
we just need to know how to choose the one method that is most suitable
for us and our level.
if the level of the method we chose were beyond us, making it difficult
to practice, we would not succeed easily with that method. Second,
it needs to be suitable and convenient for our manner of living.
Third, it needs to be compatible with modern society, because we
cannot separate ourselves from society or other human beings. Therefore,
we need to consider these factors when choosing our method of cultivation.
no matter which method one practices, it is essential to be rid
of self-viewpoint and attachment in order to obtain the benefits
from practice. Or else, like so many have experienced, the great
efforts put into the practice will have been in vain. Some practitioners
have felt that even after years of practice they have achieved virtually
nothing, even to the point of feeling that they were better off
before they practiced. It seemed as if the more they practiced,
the worse they felt. All this comes from having chosen a method
that was unsuitable for them. This is similar to choosing an unsuitable
major in school. When we choose a major that is not suited to our
foundation and ability, we have an extremely difficult time trying
to succeed. Choosing the right major makes studying much easier,
so we will have a much better chance of success. The same thing
goes for practicing Buddhism. If we do not know our own capacity,
we can test ourselves.
myself, for example. After reading many Mahayana sutras, I thought
myself incapable of any achievement. I wanted very much to sever
my wandering, discriminating thoughts and attachments, but was unable
to. Finally, I chose the Pure Land method to attain achievement.
It does not require one to be completely rid of but rather to suppress
these hindrances. As long as we are able to suppress all afflictions,
we can still be born into the Western Pure Land carrying over our
method suits me very well and thus is how I chose it. Previously,
I had tried Zen, the Teaching Schools, the Esoteric School and the
practice of following the precepts, but could not reach achievement
with them. Thus, I came back to the Pure Land method and wholeheartedly
delved deeply into the Buddha Name Chanting Method while concentrating
solely on lecturing on the Pure Land sutras. These are my experiences
from decades of practice.
SYMBOLISM AND THE ARTS
we understand clearly the goal of the Buddha's teachings, we will
view the sutras differently. These sutras are one of the world's
largest literary collections. I believe that when considering the
range of all academia, none of them surpass Buddhism. To obtain
the benefits from this vast collection, it is necessary for us to
know and understand the essence of its content, which is the true
reality of all Dharma, the true reality of life and the universe.
Life refers to ourselves. Universe refers to the living environment
that surrounds us. It would be incorrect to treat Buddhism as an
abstract and obscure learning that had nothing to do with our daily
lives. Every word in the sutra closely relates to our daily living.
Furthermore, it is definitely not superstition.
and where do we start? For convenience, the perfection in the methods
of the Buddha's teaching uses a high level of creativity. Buddhism
of two thousand years ago had already taken an artistic path. For
example, all the Buddha's names and sculptures represent our virtuous
nature, innate qualities of wisdom, virtuous abilities and artistic
talents. All of the Bodhisattva's names and forms represent our
cultivation of virtue. They instruct us how to apply the teachings
in our daily lives to bring out our virtuous nature so we may receive
||In Chinese Mahayana Buddhism,
four great Bodhisattvas represent our order of practice and
level of achievement. The first is Earth Store Bodhisattva.
Whether we are thinking of worldly teachings, the dharma or
Buddhism; nothing can be accomplished without the earth or a
place of existence. The existence of humans cannot be separated
from our great earth as we rely upon it for survival. Whether
for food, clothing, living or working, all rely on the production
of the land, thus the infinite treasures that the great earth
encompasses are seemingly endless for us to use. The word "earth"
in the name Earth Store Bodhisattva represents the mind and
the word "store" means treasure.
Buddha's teachings guide us to first start the practice from our
mind, as our true nature encompasses the infinite wisdom and virtuous
abilities that are no different from those of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas.
However, today it seems as if we have lost our innate wisdom and
virtuous abilities. The Buddha told us that all these qualities
are not truly lost, just not yet uncovered. In the present moment,
we endlessly immerse ourselves in wandering, discriminating thoughts
and attachments, which have resulted in this temporary loss of abilities.
However, inside the true mind, no wandering thoughts exist. If a
mind has wandering thoughts then that mind is a false one. We originally
possessed this true mind, so practicing Buddhism is simply recovering
it. Therefore, our first goal in practice is to uncover and look
for the treasure in our mind. In other words, the Buddha's teachings
do not seek from the outside but rather they seek from within our
Store Bodhisattva represents filial piety; thus, the Earth Store
Sutra is about filial piety, a basic concept that everyone would
do well to start from. The kindness that our parents have shown
by giving us life and nurturing us is beyond description. To be
filial and take care of our parents is naturally our basic responsibility.
Not only do we need to take care of their material needs but of
their spiritual life as well. Moreover, we need to nurture their
aspirations for us and for us, this is the hardest of all. Parents
wish their children to have successful careers, behave well, and
to be respected by current and future generations. In other words,
we would do well to act in a manner, which will make them proud
of us. Therefore, the ultimate and perfect achievement of filial
piety is to become Buddha. We begin our practice from here and expand
our filial piety and respect to include all sentient beings.
second Bodhisattva, Guan Yin, represents the cultivation of great
compassion and kindness. What is the meaning of making offerings
to Guan Yin Bodhisattva? It is to remind us that we would do well
to treat all people with great compassion and kindness, to use unconditional
love and care to help all sentient beings.
third Bodhisattva, Manjusri, represents wisdom and rationale, reminding
us that when we practice and interact with others we need to fulfill
our filial duty, to rely upon wisdom and rationale, not on emotion.
The fourth Bodhisattva, the Great Samantabhadra (Universal Worthy)
represents carrying out the cultivation truthfully, applying filial
piety, compassion, kindness and rationale in our daily lives. When
we perfectly achieve the way of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, we
become a Buddha. Buddhism teaches us how to live in harmony with
the true reality of life and the universe. In other words, we would
live perfect and wonderful lives similar to those of Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas. This is the true, ultimate and perfect Mahayana teaching.
To practice Buddhism, we start by:
1. Being filial and respectful toward parents, teachers and elders,
2. Having the great compassionate mind,
3. Nurturing our thinking and wisdom and
4. Broadening our mind.
in sequence, they also can be practiced simultaneously, as each
encompasses the others. For example, being filial to parents includes
compassion and kindness, reasoning and wisdom. Wisdom includes being
filial, compassionate and kind.
we have a general understanding of Buddhism, how do we apply it
to our daily living? First we need to know what each Buddha and
Bodhisattva represents. If we do not, then Buddhism would be reduced
to superstition and we would not receive its true benefits. All
Buddhist sutras contain these qualities, characteristics and the
ways of practice; therefore, learning only one sutra will be enough.
We need to know how to understand and apply the teachings effectively.
in the center of the main hall of a temple, there are statues of
one Buddha and two Bodhisattvas, which represent our self-nature
and original entity. The two Bodhisattvas represent our virtuous
abilities within our self-nature; one is understanding and the other
is practice. If the Buddha in the middle is Buddha Shakyamuni, then
the two figures on either side of him will be Manjusri and Universal
Worthy Bodhisattvas, representing wisdom and application respectively.
Thus, understanding and practice are combined into one. If the hall
has the three sages of Western Pure Land, with Buddha Amitabha in
the middle, representing self-nature, then the two figures on either
side of him will be Guan Yin and Great Strength Bodhisattvas. They
respectively represent compassion and wisdom, completely symbolizing
the infinite wisdom and virtuous capabilities. Therefore, we again
see that Buddhism is a teaching.