The Three Learnings
We know that the very nature of Buddhism is education. It encompasses a large number of subjects, which cover the perfect knowledge of life and the universe. The textbooks for these subjects are sutras. However, not all of the sutras in India were brought to China. Because of the difficulties in the long journey between China and India in ancient times, both the Indian monks who visited China and the Chinese monks who returned after visiting India, had to limit the number of books they carried. They selected the most important ones and had to leave the others behind. So, all the books that were introduced into China were considered the essence of Buddhism.
However, after their introduction, not all of the books could be translated. Further screening had to be done and only the best and the most essential were selected for the difficult translation process. The project was financed by the central government. Experts, who were monks and laypeople from all over China as well as from foreign countries, were invited to participate in the mammoth translation effort. According to historical records, Master Kumarajiva¡¦s translation institute had over four hundred people while Master Xuan-Zhuang¡¦s institute had more then six hundred people.
The name of the translator that we see today at the beginning of the sutra is the chief of the institute and represents all the translators in the group. The Chinese sutras that we have today are fairly complete. However, the Indian Sanskrit versions have been largely lost with few remaining. After the Chinese sutras, the second largest collection is that of Tibet. Part of this collection was translated directly from the Sanskrit and the rest came from the Chinese versions.
Princess Wen-Cheng of the Tang Dynasty brought Buddhist sutras to Tibet when she was married to the Tibetan king. This is why the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet was some six hundred years later than the introduction of the teachings to China. As the Tibetan king built up belief in Buddhism, a new school from India found its way into Tibet.
An important part of the teachings are the Three Learnings of abiding by the precepts or self-discipline, deep concentration and wisdom. Accomplishment of these can relieve the suffering of this world. Buddha Shakyamuni told us how long the teachings would remain on this earth. The Dharma Perfect Age would last five hundred years. The Dharma Semblance Age would last one thousand years. The Dharma Ending Age, that we are now, in will last ten thousand years.
What are the sufferings of the sentient beings in our current age? The first is committing the wrongdoings of the Ten Bad Conducts. The Buddha taught us the First Learning of self-discipline to overcome these. The second suffering is the inability to remain serene and at peace. The Buddha taught us the Second Learning of deep concentration to achieve purity of mind and tranquility. The third suffering is ignorance. The Buddha taught us the Third Learning of wisdom to overcome our current state of ignorance.
Committing wrongdoings, being confused and remaining in ignorance are three of the major problems of sentient beings in our contemporary world. The Buddha will teach when these problems afflict the sentient beings in our world. However, if the beings are not ill, there will be no need for the Buddha to teach. The Diamond Sutra says, ¡§in the end we even have to lay aside the Buddha¡¦s teachings, let alone worldly teachings¡¨. When beings are well, the teachings are unnecessary and introducing them might even lead to more problems. This is similar to a healthy person taking medicine every day and eventually falling ill.
Self-discipline cures our body, deep concentration cures our mind and wisdom cures our behavior. Therefore, a person who practices Buddhism is wise in thought, speech and behavior. So how could such a person be unhappy?
The Six Paramitas
Now that we understand the Three Conditions, the Three Learnings and the Six Principles of Harmony, how do we use them in our daily lives when interacting with people, matters and objects? To answer this Buddha Shakyamuni gave us the Six Paramitas of giving, abiding by the precepts, patience, diligence, deep concentration and wisdom. If we follow these in everything we do, from brushing our teeth in the morning until going to bed at night, we will be genuinely practicing.
The Paramita of Giving
The Giving of Wealth. Generally speaking, the majority of people seek wealth as their foremost pursuit for without it, life can be very hard. After this, people pursue intelligence and wisdom, health and long life. Regardless of whether they are in the east or in the west: whether they had lived in the past or are living now, these are major pursuits of humankind. If Buddhism is supposed to fulfill our wishes, can it provide these things for us? We have heard that ¡§In Buddhism, every sincere plea will receive a response.¡¨ Then why have most people not received what they wished for? They are not aware of the true reality of life and universe or the right method to fulfill their wishes. If we understand these principles and truths, all our wishes can be fulfilled.
The Buddha taught us that wealth, wisdom and long life are all karmic results. If we want to obtain the result, we must first nurture and establish the cause. Good causes result in good results: bad causes result in bad results or retribution. Where there is a cause, there will be a result and where there is a result, there was a cause. This is a law that never changes and the law around which all other laws in the universe revolve.
Consider someone who is very wealthy. How did this happen? It is not because the person is unusually clever or has better ideas to make money. Many other people are cleverer or have better ideas. Why are they not successful? The Buddha taught us that having wealth is the karmic result of a cause planted in former lifetimes. What was this cause? It was the giving of wealth.
The giving of wealth results in obtaining wealth, the giving of teaching results in obtaining wisdom, the giving of fearlessness results in obtaining health and long life. Therefore, if we wish to have wealth, wisdom and long and healthy lives in our future, we need to nurture and establish these causes in this lifetime. Only a small number of people obtain the results from causes they developed in their early years. Regardless of the time frame, we must develop the cause to receive the result. This is the Law of Cause and Effect. And this law never changes.
Giving is the most important requirement for practicing the Bodhisattva way. If we could sum up all the methods in Buddhism, we would find that all methods accord with the Six Paramitas. When we condense the Six Paramitas, we find that their essence is giving. One of the types of giving is that of wealth. When most people hear this, they often think of donating money to a group, church, temple or way place. This is wrong because such thinking is too narrow in meaning and is far from the true Bodhisattva way.
Selflessly remembering the welfare of others is the giving of wealth. Thus, everybody is practicing the giving paramita daily and in this way, we are emulating Bodhisattvas. We are just not aware of it. For example, when we get up in the morning and prepare breakfast for the family, we are practicing giving and kindness as did Universal Worthy Bodhisattva. By doing so we will be happy. In this way we will have no thought of ¡§Poor me, my family regards me as a servant. I have to wait on them every day.¡¨ If we complain like this, all the good fortune we have achieved will vanish. But once we change our complaints and problems into the Paramita of Giving, we will immediately enjoy the benefits of the joy and wisdom of the teachings.
An employee who works very hard every day to make as much money as possible or to receive a promotion is not practicing giving. However, if this employee works hard just to benefit the company and society, and not for the sake of money or a promotion, he or she is cultivating giving and will never be tired. I, myself, enjoy traveling around the world to help people to understand the Buddha¡¦s teachings, and in this way, am practicing the giving of teaching. I help others to better understand how to change their lives in the hope that they will be able to reduce their troubles, obtain joy and wisdom and thus be able to lead a better life.
In 1984, I made my third trip to Los Angeles. I went straight from the airport to the site where the speech was being held and began a talk that lasted nine hours. I delivered the talk while standing but at the end, it was the listeners who were tired, not I. The longer I spoke, the more energized I felt and the stronger my voice became. Why? Because I was so enthused about introducing the profound and subtle Buddhism to the listeners. This is the joy of teaching Buddhism and frankly, the best nutrition. Nowadays, people talk a great deal about health food. But it is false nutrition. Buddhists talk of keeping a pure, quiet and happy heart. Having this heart and obtaining this joy will enable us to remain healthy and young. Worry will only make us old and sick.
In the US, some social practices are actually giving. Most people pay for medical insurance for protection against catastrophic medical bills in the event they become ill. However, we are preparing for a possible illness when we make our monthly premium payments. In this way, we are bound to become ill. If we do not, then we will have wasted our money. But if we change our way of viewing this to the thought that our money has been used to help those that are sick, then we will have practiced giving and will never become ill. Why? Because we have developed the cause of no illness. If we give to and look after aged people, we will receive good karmic results in the future. When we ourselves become aged, then others will come to take care of us.
Today, most people have car insurance. If we think that we are making payments just to help those who may encounter accidents, then we will never encounter misfortune, because we have given of wealth and compassion. So, our way of thinking makes the difference in whether we are a Bodhisattva or an ordinary person. What is this difference? A Bodhisattva is awakened and always does things to benefit others, whereas ordinary people are always doing things to benefit themselves. When we do everything for others, we can get wonderful benefits, too wonderful to imagine. The kinds of giving are boundless and can be practiced any time, any day, any way.
In Buddhism, the giving of wealth consists of external and internal wealth. External wealth is comprised of worldly possessions whereas internal wealth concerns our body. For example, organ donation is an example of the internal giving of wealth as is helping others physically. If we volunteer to help others without expectation of benefit, we are again practicing the giving of internal wealth. We can practice this giving of internal wealth all the time.
We see that in the Buddhist criteria for good and bad, all deeds arising from the wish to help others are good and all deeds arising from selfishness are bad. This may all be difficult for a beginner to follow. Why should we not benefit ourselves? The reason why ordinary people cannot attain Buddhahood is due to the two attachments of self and all knowledge. By ridding ourselves of self-attachment, we attain the level of Arhat. By ridding ourselves of the knowledge-attachment, we attain Buddhahood. If our every thought is to benefit ourselves, our self-attachment will grow daily. Even as we plant some good causes, we will only increase our attachment. The Buddha told us that if we wished to transcend the cycle of birth and death, we must rid ourselves of both self and the knowledge-attachment. Self-attachments are afflictions that hinder us from attaining purity of mind. Knowledge-attachment hinders us from uncovering our all-knowing wisdom, our true wisdom.
The Giving of Teachings. The second form of giving brings us wisdom, intelligence and skill. Generally, it falls into two categories: Buddha¡¦s teachings and worldly teachings. To enthusiastically impart all of our knowledge to others, who are interested in learning, is the giving of teachings. It is not limited to the teachings of Buddhism. It could be teaching others cooking, engineering, etc. It is the unconditional and free imparting of knowledge or skills in any field.
A schoolteacher who instructs out of the sincere desire to help others is also practicing the giving of teaching. A teacher who does so just to earn a living or prestige is not. A genuine practitioner of the giving of Dharma is very enthusiastic and is never weary of giving. When we give for self-benefit, we will become disappointed upon failing to obtain prestige or other benefits and will thus loose our enthusiasm. On the other hand, a Bodhisattva is always compassionately working for the benefit of all sentient beings and never attaches any conditions to what is given.
In the Infinite Life Sutra, the Buddha told us that of all the kinds of giving, that of the teachings is foremost. Worldly teachings do not get to the heart of the matter. Buddhism is a perfect education, which can help us to attain the boundless wisdom, virtue and skill to enable us to be free of all worries, leave the cycle of birth and death, put an end to reincarnation and ultimately to attain Buddhahood. This giving is perfect and remarkable, and is only found in Mahayana Buddhism. All Buddhas praise this giving. In Buddhism, the most important form of giving is that of books, audio and videotapes, CDs, as well as that of accepting other¡¦s invitations to lecture and thus, to create opportunities for them to learn the Buddha¡¦s teachings.
However, many currently circulated Buddhist materials are printed with copyright warnings. These are not the giving of Dharma but are commercial endeavors. Some Dharma masters, when requested to speak, ask how much they will be paid. These are not the true giving of the teachings. The act of a Bodhisattva is to benefit others, not self. If a person truly wanted to learn of Buddhism, a Bodhisattva would simply go to them to fulfill their wish. They would never do anything that would make it difficult for any person willing to learn, as long as the person could receive the true benefits from Buddhism.
The Giving of Fearlessness. This form of giving has broad implications as it helps to remove the fears and insecurities of others. For example, if foreign forces were invading our country, we could join the army to help protect the citizens. If someone was afraid to go home alone at night, we could offer to go with him or her. Being a vegetarian is another example, because if we all followed this practice, then all living creatures would no longer regard us as a threat. Any act that helps sentient beings feel safe and secure is the giving of fearlessness. In doing so perfectly, we will definitely gain health and long life.
Emperor Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty, attained wealth, intellect, wisdom, health and long life. ¡§Honorable as a great emperor and wealthy as one who possesses the entire world". He was truthful, clever, wise and lived a long life. He was emperor for sixty years and Supreme Emperor, Father of an Emperor, for four years. He was endowed with these great virtues because in his previous lifetimes he had practiced the cultivation of the Giving of Wealth, Dharma and Fearlessness.
The Buddha teaches that Bodhisattvas must practice the Paramita of Giving. Paramita means perfection. The question is how can we practice giving to the state of perfection? We do so simply by turning our thoughts around, by no longer thinking of ourselves but solely of others. In this way, we will be practicing ¡§giving¡¨ anytime, anywhere. But, we will not yet have achieved perfect giving. Perfect giving is to let go, to be willing to give all that we possess and to help all others. Giving and gaining are one. If we have not practiced giving, we will not gain. When we give less, we gain less. When we give more, we gain more. Do you have fears, worries? Do you have birth and death, reincarnation? Why are you not willing to discard them? Giving is to part with all of these to attain great perfection and great freedom. This is the ultimate perfect giving, the Paramita of Giving. We start by parting with our material possessions and gradually part with everything. If we are able to let go of our afflictions, birth and death, then we will uncover the purity, wisdom and abilities within our self-nature.
The Paramita of Abiding by the Precepts
The second Paramita is Precept Observation, which means abiding by customs, rules, regulations and laws. Everything, big or small, worldly or beyond, has their own natural laws. We need to follow these for only by doing so, can we accomplish an undertaking quickly and perfectly. For example, within the family, we need domestic etiquette or seniority in human relationships to guide the behavior between parents and children, husband and wife, brothers and sisters. The manner of how things are accomplished needs to be followed. This is similar to cooking rice; we wash it, put it into the pot and then cook it. Without following the proper sequence, the rice will not be properly cooked.
This is even truer in learning and practicing Buddhism. If we want to achieve, we must follow the guidelines told to us by the Buddha: the Four Great Vows of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. First, we vow to help all living beings. After that, we discard all worries, habits and attachments, to end all afflictions. Only then do we master all methods. Finally, we attain Buddhahood. Only when we become Buddhas, will we have the ability to help all beings and thus perfectly achieve the First Great Vow, ¡§Sentient beings are innumerable, I vow to help them all¡¨.
Some may ask, ¡§Is it really necessary to attain Buddhahood? Won¡¦t it be enough to become a Bodhisattva?¡¨ Although a Bodhisattva can help beings, he is unable to help a Bodhisattva who is equal or higher in attainment. For example, an Equal-enlightenment Bodhisattva cannot help another Equal-enlightenment Bodhisattva. However, a Buddha can help them as well as all others. Therefore, only when we attain Buddhahood, can we perfectly help all beings in the universe. With such a vow, we can generate the great compassion to help others, to be diligent in severing our afflictions and mastering all methods.