4. The essential practice and understanding in following the Buddha

In practising Buddhism from establishing faith to experiencing
enlightenment, there are stages of "understanding" and "practice". The
terms "practice" and "understanding" are self-explanatory. But there
are infinite numbers and boundless ways of understanding and practising
Buddhism. Now I will expound only the two most essential points.
Regarding "understanding", we must know two things. Firstly, continuity
of birth and death, secondly, mutual accretion of all entities.

Continuity of birth and death explains that the life is impermanent and
continuous. This is consistent with the truth that all phenomena are
impermanent. From childhood to old age, life is continuously changing.
Although it is constantly changing, the state in the future is
different to the present, the life forms of the present and future are
forever inter-connecting, thus life maintains its seemingly identical
and continuous individuality.

In a broad sense, death in this life marks the beginning of the next
new life. Death is not the end of all existence. For example, when we
go to bed tonight, we will wake up tomorrow morning again. Having
understood this truth, then we can deeply believe in the Law of
Conservation of Karmic Fruit (conditions of rebirth depending on
previous karmic conduct). In terms of present time, the success or
failure of our undertakings will depend on whether we receive proper
upbringing and schooling. In addition, if we do not make an effort at
young age to learn and master a skill, or we are not hard at work, then
we will have no means to make a living at older age.

Extending this simple principle, it shows that if we do not behave well
and fail to cultivate blessed-rewards in this life, then we will face
unfavourable living conditions in our future rebirths. In other words,
we have to behave well this life so that in future rebirths we will be
better off, more intelligent and happy. This fact of continuity of
birth and death, and the truth that every phenomenon is impermanent
will help us to make an effort to uplift ourselves.

Now we come to mutual accretion of all entities. Here accretion means
strengthening or growth through mutual dependence. No person can live
independently in a society, as there must be mutual dependence and
support among individuals. For example, young children depend on their
parents for upbringing and guidance and when the parents grow old, they
in turn, will need the support and care from their children. By the
same token, all branches of activities in the society, such as
agriculture, industry, commerce, politics, depend on the others for its

According to Buddhism, in the universe we have an intimate relationship
with all sentient being residing in all dharma-realms (forms of
existence). It is possible that other sentient beings have been our
parents, brothers and sisters in the infinite past. Due to the
influence of karma, our living existence and circumstances now differ
to that of the past, therefore we do not recognise each other. When we
gain an understanding of mutual accretion, then we can cultivate the
virtue of helping and loving each other. This in turn will lead us to a
harmonious and happy co-existence with others. Otherwise, we can never
achieve world peace and personal happiness if we harm each other, cheat
each other, and kill each other. Thus we can play an active role in
this world. If we wish to turn this impure world into a pure land, then
it depends on whether or not we can start to lead a harmonious and
happy life with our fellow sentient being of this world.

Regarding the methods of practice, although there are many, principally
they are: purification of one's mind and performance of altruistic
acts. To follow the Buddha is to hold the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas
as our ideal objective to attain. Our chief aim is the accretion of
blessed-rewards, virtues, and wisdom. But we cannot acquire these
without practising what the Buddha has taught. The major tenet of
practising Buddhism is the purification of our own minds. Since the
beginning of time we have deluded our minds with greed, aversion,
heterodox views (perverted views), arrogance, and doubt. They all serve
as obstacles to prevent us from performing wholesome acts to profit
ourselves and others. Thus, to follow the Buddha we must first purify
our minds.

The purification of our minds does not require us to abandon all
worldly affairs, do nothing and think nothing. We should do and think
(i.e. contemplation) anything that is appropriate, however, we should
cultivate a wholesome mind to act and think in accordance to the truth
so that we can profit ourselves and others. These practices are similar
to removing the weeds in a garden. Not only must we totally uproot the
weeds so that they will not grow again, but also we must plant flowers
and trees for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Hence, Buddhism states
that the practice of concentration (dhyana) alone is not sufficient to
solve the problems of birth-and-death. We must cultivate both
concentration and wisdom at the same time, and sever the mental
defilement to attain the fruits of enlightenment. Buddha-dharma states,
"All sentient beings are pure if our minds are pure. The world is pure
if our minds are pure." These revelations teach the dharma
practitioners to purify themselves first. Then they should extend this
purification to the world and other sentient beings. Mind-purification
is the essential practice among all schools of Buddhism.

Next we can talk about the altruistic acts. According to the principle
of mutual accretion, an individual cannot exist away from the masses.
In order to find happiness and security for ourselves, we must first
seek security and happiness for the masses. In terms of a family, you
are one of its members, and in respect to a society, again you are one
of its members. Only when the family is happy and secure can you find
happiness and security for yourself. If everyone in society is peaceful
and happy, then you will have real peace and happiness. This is similar
to the observation of sanitary practices. If you care only for the
cleanliness within your home, and pay no attention to the sanitation of
the surrounding environment, then such sanitation is not thorough.

Thus, in the view of Mahayanists, practises that emphasis on
self-benefit and self-liberation only are not ultimate, they are only
expedient paths.

The Bodhisattvas emphasise altruistic acts. Altruism is always the
first and foremost intention of their every word, every act, every
where and every time. Purification of the mind is common to the
two-vehicles (Sravakas and Pratyeka -Buddhas) and to put highest
emphasis on acts of altruism is a special feature of Mahayana Buddhism.
This is a practice that conformed with the spirit of the Buddha's

Translated by Lin Yang, edited by Mick Kiddle, proofread by Neng Rong.

The Path From Human to Buddhahood

1. To practice Buddhism is to learn from the Buddha

In discussing the Path from Human to Buddhahood, we must first
recognise that we are human beings. As human beings who would like to
practice Buddhism, what are the things that we should try to learn? How
should we learn them? I will touch on some of the basic, important
steps here, so that you may know the keys to attain Buddhahood.

We should try to understand the Buddha's Teaching from two aspects.
Firstly, the ultimate ambition and goal of practising Buddhism is to
attain Buddhahood. Secondly, due to variations in background and
upbringing, there are many different ways for an individual to
practice. However, the ultimate aim of all practices is to attain
Buddhahood. This resembles the roads that we are walking on, some walk
on smooth and flat roads, some walk over roads full of bumps and pits,
some follow the winding tracks, while others follow a straight and
direct path. As long as we are clear on our final aim, then "All these
roads will lead us to Rome". Now, I would like to discuss with everyone
the Path from Human to Buddhahood. This is the direct and easy path.
Not only is this path reliable, it is also easier in leading us to our

To practice Buddhism is to learn from the Buddha and to take the Buddha
as our example. We should follow the footsteps of the Buddha and learn
the best methods of attaining Buddhahood from him. Thus, the real
purpose of practising Buddhism should be:

1.1 To practice Buddhism for more than just worldly
merits, and happiness in future lives.

Some people perform meritorious deeds such as almsgiving, hoping that
the future life will be better than the present one. In Buddhism, we
call this "practice with a mind to accrue'. The objective is to secure
good merits and good karma for the future life, so as to be reborn in
heaven. Although this may be expedient in Buddhism, it does not aim at
attaining Buddhahood. A point to clarify here is that this does not
mean that when one practises Buddhism one does not seek to improve
one's future life. Before one attains Buddhahood, one will of course
hope to be reborn in a heaven or human realm, but this should not be
the ultimate aim of following the Buddha. Everyone should aim at
attaining Buddhahood. If we practise according to the Teaching of the
Buddha, we should have the long term ambition of carrying out the
Buddha's advice diligently and accurately, our aim will then
undoubtedly be achieved.

One may ask why is it not satisfactory to be reborn as a human or a
heavenly being? This is because it is not perfect, nor ultimate. It is
imperfect to be born in the human realm, because in this realm one's
wealth, life-span, status, and personal relationships are in constant

To be born in heaven is equally imperfect. Even beings in the realm of
heaven experience constant changes in their lives, and will one day
fall again from heaven. Those who believe in heavenly beings will
certainly disagree with this point, but in actual fact, heavenly beings
are not completely emancipated. Take the Mahabrahman, an Indian God,
for instance. He claimed that all things, including human beings were
created by him and were born from him. Let us ask, was there a heaven
and earth before heaven and earth were created? Were there human beings
before human beings were created? If not, then why should heaven, earth
and human beings be created? The Brahman's answer is; "For the sake of
having fun." That is to say, all the creations are just a show of
ego-freedom and self-satisfaction for the Mahabrahman. This is like a
new but vacant house that gives one a feeling of hollowness and
dissatisfaction. Thus it must be decorated by furniture and vases etc.
Therefore, to say that human beings and all other things are created by
God implies that this God does not like to be lonely. He feels
loneliness in himself, and therefore his mind is not at peace. For
example, when a person is very busy, he feels impatient and hopes that
he can be left alone to rest quietly, but when he is actually given a
quiet rest, he feels lonely and wants to be around someone again. In
other words, in order to fulfil his self-satisfaction and enjoyment,
the Mahabrahmin wanted heaven and earth, human beings, and all things.
As a result of that, he created endless suffering for all. He is in
fact looking for trouble for himself.

A person who possesses a discontented and demanding mind is still not
at peace, and is not perfectly emancipated. When a follower of Buddha
talks about the cultivation of mind and the emancipation from life and
death, his aim is to feel contented anywhere he dwells, whether amidst
a buzzing crowd or in an utterly deserted place. It is practitioner who
is peaceful and free from attachment everywhere. The Gods in theistic
religions are not free from desires, their minds are not yet at peace
and this is the most important cause for their falling from heaven in
the future. Therefore we cannot adopt this way as our right path.

1.2 To practice Buddhism for more than self-salvation

Nothing in the human or heavenly realm is completely emancipated, so we
must try to be released from the cycle of life and death (Samsara), and
transcend the three realms of Sensuous Desire (heaven), Form, (the
human realm), and the Formless realm of the pure spirit. But this path
that is only leading to self-emancipation is still a narrow and
roundabout path. The aim of practising the Dharma of course, is to be
released from samsara. But the emphasis should be of benefitting others
as well as oneself. The release from samsara achieved by practitioners
who emphasise self-emancipation only is not final. It is like a
pedestrian who runs a short distance and hastens to rest by the
roadside. This attitude of hurrying towards a goal can actually result
in slower progress. Even as the turtle and the rabbit raced in the well
known fable, the rabbit runs fast, but is too anxious to rest and
sleep, and he is left behind in the end. Similarly, if we are too
anxious to be released from samsara and suffering to secure happiness
only for ourselves, the path we follow will prove to be a tortuous one.

1.3 To practice Buddhism for Perfect Wisdom

A true follower of the Buddha should follow the teachings of the Buddha
with the aim of attaining the Buddha's perfect enlightenment. This is
the only path that is perfect and direct. The enlightened mind is
replete with the perfections of faith and determination, wisdom and
compassion; and a beginner may lay their emphasis on any of the

a) Faith and Determination: A beginner may seek enlightenment with
faith and determination. Since the spiritual potential of each sentient
being is different, beginners may try to seek enlightenment through
their faith in the abounding merit, ultimate perfection, supreme
wisdom, and all-embracing compassion of the Buddha. They look upon the
Buddha as their goal and hence determine to attain perfect

b) Wisdom: Another type of person may seek the Buddha's perfect
enlightenment through the practice of wisdom. They investigate the
Buddha's answers to the truth of the Universe and the reality of human
existence, and realize that only Buddha has the wisdom and ability to
see the truth in all things. He is the most perfected One. Hence, they
are determined to learn the Buddha's great wisdom and through the
accrual of wisdom, they progress toward Buddhahood.

c) Compassion and Loving Kindness: There are others who realise the
endless sufferings of all living beings and praise the Buddha's great
compassion and loving kindness. The advocation of moral standards,
participation in community and cultural activities, and increasing
economic growth cannot bring us ultimate peace. The Buddha's great
compassion and loving kindness is the most perfect one. We should
practise the Buddha's great compassion and loving kindness and progress
towards enlightenment.

There are many ways of following the Buddha. Meditation on the Amitabha
Buddha has its emphasis on faith and dedication. Recitation and study
of scriptures in order to understand the theories of Buddhism has its
emphasis on wisdom and those who do charitable works stress compassion.
We should try all these meritorious ways and can start with anyone of
them. However, a dedicated follower of the Buddha must gradually
practise all three of them if achieving enlightenment is his ultimate