of the name of the Buddha, vegetarianism and chanting the
sutras are the supremely expedient practices on the path to the
perfection of Bodhisattvahood. But due to the lack of enthusiasm in
seeking wisdom and the lack of loving kindness and compassion, the
practices are faith oriented. As a result, the full benefits arising
from the skilful application of these expedient practices, cannot be
fully expressed. This is the sad and source of deterioration in Chinese
in this manner cannot be considered the practice of a
Bodhisattva, nor can it reflect the greatness and beauty of the Dharma.
Those who practice in this way will not be able to save themselves, let
alone save the world. When we are practising the path of the Buddha and
the Bodhisattva, we must understand clearly the aim of these expedient
practices. We should not recite the name of the Buddha just for the
sake of reciting; become a vegetarian just for the sake of becoming a
vegetarian, or chant the sutras just for the sake of chanting. We
should recite the name of the Buddha hoping to develop our faith and
determination; become a vegetarian in order to strengthen our loving
kindness and compassion; chant the sutras with the aim of developing
our wisdom. These are methods of practice and their aim is to cultivate
one's faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion, and
one who is sincere in practising the Teaching of the Buddha and
is learning the Path of the Bodhisattva, should practise the recitation
of the Buddha's name in a righteous way and develop great determination
and effort in seeking the attainment of Buddhahood and relieving the
sufferings of all living being. From the practice of vegetarianism and
releasing captive lives one should cultivate loving kindness and
compassion and take part in social welfare activities that are of
benefit to mankind. From the chanting of sutras one should go a step
further into understanding their meanings, and hence develop wisdom.
doing so, these expedient practices will fulfil their purposes and
lay the foundations for one to progress along the Path of the
Bodhisattva. These are only initial steps. There is still a long
journey ahead. We should start here and strive forward in pursuit the
boundless Teaching of the Buddha.
by Neng Rong, edited by Mick Kiddle, Proofread by Neng
A Commentary on the Excellence of the Three Birth, and Cause and Effect
know that in our modern age humanity lives in fear of mass
destruction. Terrors and stresses of every kind threaten us everywhere
and impinge upon our freedom. Why has the world deteriorated to such a
state? According to Buddhism, the answer lies in the fact that we human
beings have lost the sense of purpose in our lives. We deny our own
worth and live with hollow and illusory emotions. Our lives have become
either malevolent or corrupted. We are either intoxicated with passion
and desire for wealth, or maddened by vengeful violence. Material
covetousness and emotional negativity lead this world towards the
sombre brink of death.
said: "Human beings have lost the sense of purpose in their lives and
renounced their own real worth." What does this statement mean? For
this, I wish to give a simple explanation. Human beings view life in
three different ways. These are the One Birth, Two Birth and Three
1. The One Birth Theory
the One Birth theory of materialism has made raids into human
hearts everywhere. Human beings have set their eyes on the realm of
substances, considering the material world to be the only reality.
the influence of materialism people feel that life is nothing but
a superficial and inconsequential affair. Birth is merely the result of
ones, parents, union. It is purely the result of sexual intercourse and
subsequent physical development. Death is merely the decomposition of
the bodily organism. It brings the organic process to its end and then
vanishes without trace. Life within this cosmos is nothing but that.
Materialists recognize only the present, denying everything before
birth and rejecting whatever may lie after death. With a life-view that
everything ends with death, there is ultimately nowhere for one to go.
This leads to extreme emptiness and boundless despair.
is toilsome, but what is it really aiming for? For the individual?
The individual so lost and alone has nothing to hope for but a
senseless life ending in death and annihilation. For his family, his
country or the wider world? What kind of relationship does he have with
them? The result of this one Birth Theory is to restrict ones, thought
to the present and the temporary benefit of oneself only. One becomes
selfish. Hence the more learned one is, the more deceitful one becomes.
The more good words one speaks, the more evil deeds one performs. One
is only thinking of personal benefits. Those of the elder generation
strive toward personal desires and lust. Those of the younger
generation, having abundant imaginations and vigour of youth fall into
temptations and strive toward their aims without considering the
righteousness of the means they use. The misdirection of their energies
ends up leading us towards a cruel and ruthless world.
idea of everything ending with death tragically obscures the real
value of oneself. This is the One Birth Theory or the life-view of
materialists. Society nowadays is being infected with this plague that
makes the entire world go insane. Some people think that they are
anti-materialist or anti-communist, but do not realise that their own
life-views are in fact the same as those of the materialists. They also
subscribe to the One Birth Theory and unwittingly succumb to its fatal
notion that everything ends with death.
2. The Two Birth Theory
Two Birth Theory is the general point of view of the polytheist and
the monotheist. They believe that there will still be a future after
death. As the Chinese of old said: "One dies and becomes a ghost."
Those who are virtuous and have accumulated merits ascend to the realms
of deities. Those who do evil deeds, or who do not have any
descendants, are to become "homeless spirits".
the Sung and Ming dynasties non-religious ideology has become
stronger. Almost everyone in modern intellectual circles believes in
the vulgarised One Birth Theory. The Two Birth Theory has strengthened
and sustained the inner-hearts of human beings both past and present.
It brightens hope for the future and gives strength to endure and
overcome present difficulties. In addition, this view of life has an
extraordinarily positive influence leading to the improvement of
personality and morality.
theistic Two Birth Theory is now declining day by day. This is
because the Two Birth Theory generally believes that there is an
independent soul that existed before ones, birth and will continue to
exist after ones, death. It is just like one going into a room through
one door and later leaving through another. This explanation of soul or
ego as an object which is separate from both body and mind, is
difficult for modern scientific thought to accept. As for Western
monotheism, it only deals with the present and the future, i.e. the
fall into Hell or the ascension to the Kingdom of Heaven. It does not
provide a satisfactory explanation for the origin of life.
say that life is the creation of God, and the obedient reflection of
His intention to create this human world, shows clearly and completely
nothing but the conflict with the supposedly perfect love and kindness
of His nature. Thousands of human beings are born into this world every
hour of every day, but in reality how many of them are destined to
ascend to the Kingdom of Heaven? If God is omniscient, He will know
that a large number of them are going to go Hell. One may say: "God
gives mankind free will God likes mankind to obey Him with free will."
But mankind is ignorant. Humans are like children. Isn't it cruel to
send masses of ignorant children into unusual danger hoping that one or
two of them might be able to rush through? How cruel is this? Does God
there is a God, and God knows clearly that thousands and millions of
people have fallen into misery yet still continues with His creation,
He must be either crazy or cruel! Therefore, more and more human beings
do not believe in the Two Birth Theory. Their inner-hearts are in a
void. They have no spiritual support and become trapped in the One
Birth Theory and the materialism of Satans' realm. This is an important
cause contributing to the decline of world civilisation in this
3. The Three Birth Theory
Three Birth Theory is a speciality of the religions of India. Among
the Indic religions, Buddhism gives the most thorough explanation of
this theory. Human beings and all other living beings exist
continuously through boundless lives. They are not created by God, nor
are they there by chance with meaningless death ending everything. The
process is described as being similar to a stream that gives rise to
patterns of waves; birth and death being the rise and fall of a certain
period, or activity.
accordance with Three Birth Theory, there is no God seen to be
dispensing rewards and punishments. In this view life is seen to be the
natural result of ones own deeds. This affirms the real purpose of
life. If our thought and conduct in past lives tended towards
benefitting oneself and others, that is if our lives were lived
positively, then we will be able to enjoy the good fruits of those
lives as fortune and happiness in this life. On the other hand, if one
does not live this life in a wholesome manner, then, once dead,
miseries and darkness will easily befall one.
faith in the Three Birth Theory and in the Theory of Cause and
Effect that is its consort, one will remind oneself of the past and be
satisfied that the present life is just. One will not grumble against
Heaven nor lay blame upon others. The Three Birth Theory leads one to
strive diligently and never to be lazy or extravagant. It enables us to
be at peace in our present life and at the same time strive for a
better future. This is the supreme excellence of this theory.
Furthermore, from the continuum of endless lives we can see that
suffering and enjoyment are in fact the ongoing effects of our good and
causal force of good and evil action is not boundless. Thus
suffering or enjoyment cannot be everlasting. Pains and pleasures are
but passing phases on the journey of our life. No matter what miserable
situation one encounters, even if it is in Hell, one should not be
disheartened. This is because once the force of the evil deed is
exhausted the being in Hell will be released, that evil then being
finished and done with. Conversely, any situation of fortune and
happiness that one enjoys, even if one is in the Kingdom of Heaven,
should not be a source of self-satisfaction because once the forces of
good are exhausted one will descend. Thus, a true follower of the Three
Birth Theory is always full of hope and striving diligently in order to
theory may be extended from "receiving the reward of ones, own
deeds" to "receiving together the rewards from deeds done by people
together". Throughout history the rise and fall of every family and
every country always acts in accordance with the Law of Cause and
defects of the Two Birth Theory are clearly highlighted by the
Three Birth Theory. Therefore, we should accept the Three Birth and
Cause and Effect Theories and invest in them our firm and common
belief. In this way we may find refuge from the calamities of
materialism and the One Birth Theory.
by Neng Rong, edited by Mick Kiddle, proofread by Neng Rong.
Common Buddhist Misunderstandings
has been more than one thousand and nine hundred years since
Buddhism spread to China. Thus, the relationship between Buddhism and
China is very close. The development of Buddhism influenced, and was
influenced by Chinese culture. In fact Buddhism became a religion of
originated from India, and the special characteristics of the
Indian culture were sometimes not easy for the Chinese to understand.
The Chinese traditions influenced and modified some of the practices,
and these deviated from the teaching of the Buddha. As a result, there
are unfortunately many misunderstandings about Buddhism in China among
the Buddhists and non-Buddhists.
is very easy to misunderstand Buddhism if one knows nothing about
its origins. Some followers may practice the cultural rituals without
ever knowing Buddha's teachings. As a consequence, those who believe in
"Buddhism" may not really be following the Buddha's teachings, and
those who criticise Buddhism may not actually be criticising what the
Buddha taught. So I hope this talk may help everyone gain a better
1. Misunderstanding that arises from the teachings.
theory of the Buddha's teaching is very profound. Some people do
not understand its meanings and may only know it superficially. After
listening to a few phrases, they may start to explain to the others in
their own way. As a result, some explanations people tell, may not be
accurate teachings of the Buddha. The most common misunderstandings are
about the teachings: "life is suffering", "out-worldly" and
"emptiness". So now lets discuss these terminologies separately:
a) Life is suffering
Buddha told us that "Life is Suffering". One who does not
understand the Truth of this may think that life is meaningless and
become negative and pessimistic. Actually, this theory is commonly
misunderstood. People in society and even some Buddhists are trapped in
this wrong and gloomy view.
we encounter phenomena, and have a feeling of dislike, worry or
pain, we say that there is "suffering". This should not be generalised
to "all life is suffering", because there is also a lot of happiness in
life! Noises are disturbing but nice melodies bring happiness. When one
is sick, poor, separated from loved ones, one has suffering. But when
one is healthy, wealthy, together with one's family, one is very happy.
Suffering and happiness exist in all phenomena. Actually where there is
happiness, there will be suffering. They are in contrast with each
other. If' we only say that life is suffering when things do not go
according to our wish we are rather foolish.
Buddha says, "Life is suffering". What does "suffering" mean?
sutras say: "Impermanence therefore suffering". Everything is
impermanent and changeable. The Buddha says that life is suffering
because it is impermanent and ever-changing. For example, a healthy
body cannot last forever. It will gradually become weak, old. sick and
die. One who is wealthy cannot maintain one's wealth forever. Sometimes
one may become poor. Power and status do not last as well, one will
lose them finally. From this condition of changing and instability,
although there is happiness and joy, they are not ever lasting and
ultimate. When changes come, suffering arises.
the Buddha says life is suffering. Suffering means
dissatisfaction, impermanence and imperfection. If a practising
Buddhist does not understand the real meaning of "suffering" and think
that life is not perfect and ultimate, they become negative and
pessimistic in their view of life. Those who really understand the
teaching of the Buddha will have a totally different view. We should
know that the theory of "Life is suffering" taught by the Buddha is to
remind us that life is not ultimate and lasting, and hence we should
strive towards Buddhahood - a permanent and perfect life.
is similar to one who is sick. One must know that one is sick
before wanting to seek the doctor's treatment. Only then can the
sickness be cured. Why is life not ultimate and permanent and full of
suffering? There must be a cause for the suffering. Once one knows the
cause of suffering, one will try one's best to be rid of the causes,
and hence end the suffering and attain ultimate peacefulness and
practising Buddhist should practice according to the Buddha's
instruction, and change this imperfect and non-ultimate life to a
ultimate and perfect one. Then would come a state of permanent joy,
personality, and purity.
means ever-lasting, joy means peacefulness and happiness,
personality means freedom and non-attachment, purity means cleanliness.
This highest aim of Buddhism is not only to break through the suffering
of life but to transform this suffering life into a life that has
permanent peacefulness, joy, freedom and purity. The Buddha told us the
cause of suffering and instructed us to strive towards the goal. The
stage of permanent, joy, personality and purity is an ultimate ideal
phenomena. It is full of brightness and hope. It is a stage that is
attainable by all of us. How can we say that Buddhism is negative and
not all practising Buddhists are able to attain this highest
point of practice, there is still boundless benefit in knowing this
theory. Most people know that they have to strive to do good when they
are poor, but once they become rich, they forget about everything, and
only think about their own enjoyment and hence walk towards the wrong
practising Buddhist should remember to strive not only when one is
poor and in difficulties, but should also be mindful when one is
enjoying, because happiness is not permanent. If one does not strive
towards the good, they will degenerate and fall very quickly. The
teaching of "Life is suffering" reminds us not to look forward for
enjoyment only and go the wrong way. This is the important implication
in the teaching of "Life is suffering", taught by the Buddha.