The Buddha told us that if we can abide by the precepts and laws, we will have a tranquil body and mind, which will allow us to be free from worries and fear. Deep concentration arises from tranquility. Therefore, the precepts are essential to self-cultivation. If we break the law or the precepts, then our conscience will be plagued by guilt even if no punishment is meted out. Moreover, even if we avoid worldly retributions, there is no way to avoid our karmic retribution. When our body and mind are disturbed, we cannot concentrate on our practice. To practice successfully, we need to be tranquil. It is said, ¡§Precepts or self-discipline lead to deep concentration, from which wisdom arises¡¨. In summary, the Second Condition, including abiding by the precepts, is a Theravada act of merit and the basis for practice.
The seventh principle of behaving in a dignified and proper manner means we act appropriately for the circumstances we are in. We act from the heart of sincerity and respect for all beings, animate and inanimate, to accord with social etiquette.
The Third Condition: The Good Fortune Required to be a Bodhisattva
The Third Condition is built upon the basis of the Second Condition and includes:
8) Generating the Bodhi mind,
9) Deeply believing in the Law of Cause and Effect,
10) Reciting and upholding the Mahayana sutras and
11) Encouraging others on the path to Enlightenment.
The eighth principle is generating the Bodhi mind. Chinese Buddhists primarily practice Mahayana Buddhism and wish to develop the Bodhi mind, the awakened mind that is genuinely free from delusions. It is the awakened mind that realizes this world is filled with misery and suffering. It is the compassionate and sincere mind, with every thought to attain realization for self and others. The Buddha told us that suffering exists throughout the six realms. Not only is the human life one of suffering, but heavenly life as well. The sufferings of the human realm are so numerous that it would take hours to describe them. Simply said, they are the Eight Sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, death, hardships, the inability to have what we want, being separated from our loved ones and being in the presence of those we dislike or even hate,
A person who has been born into the Form Heaven is one who has accomplished deep concentration as well as having severed the five desires for wealth, lust, fame, food or drink and sleep. In this realm there is no suffering arising from external circumstances such as famine, storm, sickness, etc., but the beings here still suffer the inevitable consequences of time, deterioration or decay of the body and finally the realization that they will not remain in this heaven permanently. With a physical body, we are mortal; we are born, we become old, we fall ill, we die. With material form, there is impermanence; there is creation, existence, annihilation and void.
A higher level is the Formless Heaven. Here, there is no sensuality, no form of male or female and no material form. The inhabitants have no sufferings arising from external circumstances or deterioration. However, here exists the suffering of the realization that nothing is eternal, nothing lasts forever, that the beings here are not in Nirvana. For example, one is not eternal, or able to remain in the Formless Heaven forever. Therefore, the only way to be free and happy is to transcend the three realms of the Desire Heaven, the Form Heaven and the Formless Heaven of pure spirit. How? By practicing according to the Buddha¡¦s teachings, for in this way we will truly generate the Bodhi Mind and be enlightened.
The Bodhi mind is fulfilled by the Four Great Vows of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas:
Sentient beings are innumerable,
I vow to help them all,
Afflictions are inexhaustible,
I vow to end them all,
Ways to practice are boundless,
I vow to master them all
Enlightenment is unsurpassable,
I vow to attain it.
Mahayana Bodhisattvas cherish the heart to help all sentient beings. They not only know their own suffering and try to help themselves, but they also want to help their families, relatives, friends; all sentient beings. To equally wish to help all beings, this is the great Bodhi mind. The Infinite Life Sutra tells us that Bodhisattvas are the ¡§Unrequested friends of all beings¡¨. Even if you do not seek help from them, they come to help. They voluntarily introduce Buddhism to all and this is the pure cause of a Bodhisattva.
To help all beings, we need to first know how to help ourselves. To do this we first free ourselves from worries and afflictions. It is important for us to follow the Four Great Vows in the order listed. However, some practitioners practice the third vow of various methods before they practice the second vow, to be free from afflictions. Of the Four Great Vows, they want to achieve the latter two of learning all methods and attaining enlightenment, but not the first two of helping all beings and abandoning afflictions. Their attempts are like trying to build the third and fourth floors of a house without first building the first and second floors.
Today, there are many practitioners, but few of them have succeeded. Why? They did not understand that first they needed to vow to help all sentient beings, for this great compassion is a critical driving force for us to truly study and practice. This is the heart of great kindness and compassion. Nor did they begin with the prerequisites such as eliminating delusions, greed, attachments and ignorance, which disturb and distress the mind. There are so many beings waiting for us to help them break away from their suffering. If we have no virtue, no knowledge, no ability, how can we help others? We do not attain Buddhahood for ourselves. This is the power of great kindness and compassion.
Years ago, when I first started to study with my late teacher, Mr. Lee, he placed three restrictions on me:
1) I was to follow only his lecturing or teaching,
2) I was to read no books or reference materials without his permission and
3) As everything I had previously learned was not recognized, I was to restart as a beginner.
The first blocked my ears, the second covered my eyes and the third cleared my mind. The requirements seemed so imperious and unreasonable. ¡§What an arrogant and autocratic man he is¡¨, I thought. Yet I still accepted his restrictions and learned from him. I did not realize that these restrictions were precepts to help me to cut off my afflictions. My mind became purer with much less wandering thoughts after following his restrictions for just six months. His method helped me to practice the second great vow to end all afflictions.
I became very grateful to him. Although he had only asked me to follow his restrictions for five years, I volunteered to extend my study with him for another five. After ten years as his student and abiding by his rules, I had established a solid foundation in Buddhism. Thus, he lifted the ban and encouraged me to broaden my field of study. In other words, I could listen to any teacher, even ones with deviated thoughts. I could read any books. Why? He told me that all knowledge would be beneficial rather than harmful to me because I could distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong. I would not be misled by anyone. He likened it to a child who was innocent and young, needing to have the guidance and protection of parents before having the ability to judge and to make decisions.
Good teachers are truly compassionate and kind. They are patient in teaching and dedicated to their duty. They try to protect their students from contamination of the mind. It is crucial for us to be close to a good teacher; however, being close does not mean being next to the teacher but rather to listen to and follow their teachings. It is usually very hard to find one. We only meet the right teacher after many lifetimes. Some people have said to me that I was most fortunate to have met good teachers, but where could they find one? This teacher is to be encountered rather than sought and the chances for this are rare indeed. It is a matter of affinity and the right conditions maturing. We need to nurture the good root and opportunities. If we are unable to meet these rare teachers, then we can learn from ancient sages.
Mr. Lee modestly told me that he only had the ability to teach me for five years. He encouraged me to continue my studies by learning from his teacher, the late Venerable Master Yin-Guang. He advised me not to emulate people who were famous Buddhist scholars, who were knowledgeable in Buddhist studies, but who had not attained achievement in cultivation. Master Yin-Guang was currently the best teacher. When we cannot find the true knowledge of goodness in current teachers, we can turn to ancient sages. There have been many people who have succeeded with this method.
The first person in China to take an ancient master as his teacher was Mencius. He learned from Confucius, who had left his writings for later generations to learn from. Mencius only read Confucius¡¦ books and followed his teachings exclusively. He is acknowledged as a great sage, second only to Confucius. After Mencius, there were many others who succeeded in their academic pursuits using the same method. Another example is Master Ou-Yi of the Ming Dynasty, who was a patriarch of the Pure Land School.
As for finding a good teacher today, do not follow me, I am not eligible to be a teacher. Mr. Lee once advised me to learn from Master Yin-Guang. I recommend that you should select the best teacher, Buddha Amitabha and the Infinite Life Sutra for your practice. When we succeed in our practice, we will attain Buddhahood. The most important thing in Buddhism is to concentrate on and delve deeply into one method. Then we will surely reach deep concentration and attain wisdom.
In times past, people devoted to practice normally spent five years for this stage of learning and cultivation. During these five years, they would specialize in a certain method. Afterwards, they were allowed to study various sutras. At that point, I believe their understanding would be greatly improved and they will naturally understand the meanings in sutras. If we still have wandering and discriminatory thoughts, and have not yet awakened our wisdom, then even if we were to study for three hundred years, we would still not understand the meanings of the sutras and their commentaries.
Mr. Lee had set three restrictions for me, which I thought were his alone. In 1989, when I was lecturing in Singapore, Master Yan Pei invited me to give a lecture to a group of practitioners. Seeing that there were many young people, I told them of my past experiences and advised them to solely follow Master Yan Pei. I recommended that ¡§If you follow one teacher and one method, you will surely succeed¡¨. After the lecture, Master Yan Pei invited me to have tea with him. He told me that when he was a young monk, his teacher had set the same three restrictions on him. Then I realized that the three restrictions were not the invention of one individual, rather they were the prerequisites that past masters set for their students.
Only then did I understand what ¡§Inheritance of the tradition from the master¡¨ meant. When the teacher thinks that we are good students, he will require us to follow the three restrictions. He will first cover our eyes and block our ears so that no worries will intrude. When we truly have abandoned all attachments and gained wisdom, we will be allowed to study other methods. Therefore, extensive learning is conducted in the second stage rather than at the beginning.
Difficulties can arise if we engage in extensive learning at the very beginning. It is similar to hearing instructions from one master and beginning to follow him. Then we hear instructions from a second master and feel as if we were facing two paths leading in different directions. With three masters, we would be caught at a three-way junction and with four, we are stuck at a crossroads not knowing which way to go. Therefore, it is important to follow only one master at one time. Reading of ancient sages, monks, nuns and laypeople, we see that some followed their teacher for twenty to thirty years until they achieved some awakening. Only then did they begin to study extensively with other teachers.
Buddhist education is different from modern education in terms of concepts and methods. For instance, in a university, we must be very careful and take our time choosing our major. Buddhism however, is different. Here we are expected to awaken to perfect, complete wisdom first and then in the future we will become knowledgeable in all other departments of the university. Where do we start? From the intensive study of a certain method, just as is said in ¡§Awakening in one sutra means awakening in all sutras¡¨. What does awakening mean? Awakened means to have attained wisdom.
Modern education is similar to building a pyramid. We read extensively and then narrow the scope of learning to specialize in one subject. This is a way of progressing from extensive to intensive learning. But, no matter how tall the pyramid or how large its base, the pyramid has its zenith. Buddhism is different. It is like a tree with roots, trunk, branches, leaves and finally fruits. It is an infinite process, starting from one point, the root, and then developing into the Great Perfection of the Self-nature. The result is that we understand everything. Worldly knowledge has its limitations after which there is no more to learn. Buddhism, however, is boundless. The wisdom of Buddhism is beyond the comprehension of average people. Buddhism may seem ordinary at the beginning, but the achievements we make later are inconceivable. On the contrary, worldly studies initially appear extensive and comprehensive but in the end, they provide no lasting accomplishment.
By following the Four Great Vows, we will eventually uncover our original self-nature. In the Flower Adornment Sutra, Sudhana served as a role model for our cultivation. He not only taught us the principles and methods but also how to apply them in our daily lives. Manjushri Bodhisattva, Sudhana¡¦s first teacher, instructed him to follow the aforementioned three restrictions and to sever all afflictions, to accomplish self-discipline, deep concentration and wisdom. After Sudhana had attained original wisdom, Manjushri Bodhisattva then allowed him to travel extensively and to learn other methods by visiting fifty-three spiritual guides who represented different occupations and levels in society.
His last visit was with Universal Worthy Bodhisattva who taught him the Ten Great Vows, as well as how to chant ¡§Amituofo¡¨ and to be born into the Western Pure Land, where upon meeting Buddha Amitabha, he attained perfect complete enlightenment. Without being born into the Pure Land and meeting Buddha Amitabha, we will only fulfill the second and third vows of severing all afflictions and mastering all methods but will find it difficult to attain Buddhahood.
In the Flower Adornment Sutra, both Manjushri and Universal Worthy Bodhisattvas had reached the level of equal enlightenment and vowed to be born into the Pure Land. I was surprisingly pleased to discover this when I gave talks on the Flower Adornment Sutra. I wondered why enlightened Bodhisattvas in the Flower Adornment World would want to be born into the Western Pure Land, considering how wonderful their own world was, it seemed unnecessary for them to do so. After thinking about it, I realized that they had vowed to go there to be able to attain Buddhahood in a short time. If not for this, there would be no reason to go to the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha.
Suddenly, I realized that if we want to attain the perfect complete enlightenment, we need to go to the Western Pure Land. Only by understanding the ¡§Chapter of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva¡¦s Conduct and Vows¡¨ will we know the proper way to study and practice Mahayana Buddhism. And when we truly understand, have awakened and generated the Bodhi mind, we will finally be free from delusions and attachments.
The ninth principle of the Three Conditions is to deeply believe in the Law of Cause and Effect. Earlier in my practice, I was puzzled by this phrase in the Visualization Sutra. Why? It seemed to imply that a Bodhisattva had no understanding of the Law of Cause and Effect. If we know that good causes will result in good effects and that bad causes will result in bad effects, how could it be that a Bodhisattva was not aware of this? But the sutra urges Bodhisattvas to believe in cause and effect. I could not understand it.
Then I read the Flower Adornment Sutra and upon carefully reading the chapter about the Ten Grounds, I suddenly saw the light. It said that, ¡§from the beginning to the end, the Ten Ground Bodhisattvas have always practiced the mindfulness of the Buddha¡¨. I then realized that the Bodhisattvas, from the first to the tenth ground and the level of equal enlightenment, all practiced the Buddha Name Chanting method. And I also came to understand that ¡§Chanting the Buddha¡¦s name is the cause and attaining Buddhahood is the effect¡¨. Many Bodhisattvas were not aware of this, which is why Buddha Shakyamuni explained it in this sutra.
It was their firm belief in the above statement that led Manjushri Bodhisattva, Universal Worthy Bodhisattva and Sudhana to vow to be born into the Pure Land. It was after I had studied and lectured on the Flower Adornment Sutra that I came to understand this statement. Thus, it really is difficult to acquire this understanding.
The tenth principle of the Three Conditions is reciting and upholding Mahayana sutras, which help us to understand the true reality of life and the universe. With this understanding, we will know the proper way to think and behave as well as the appropriate method to use. Only when we truly accord with the teachings of the sutra, will we benefit. As practitioners, the least we need to do is to participate in the daily morning and evening sessions. The purpose of the morning session is to start a new day by reminding ourselves to base our thought and behavior on the Buddha¡¦s teachings. The purpose of the evening session is to reflect on whether we have followed the instructions. If not, then we need to earnestly regret and vow to correct our mistakes.