3. Finding, entering and advancing in the Buddhist practice of the
Three Essentials

a) Different ways of entering the practice

In the practice of the Bodhisattva, we should not emphasise one
practice and neglect the others. However, as a beginner, one may find
entrance through one (or two) of the gates. Those who are interested in
philosophy psychology or theoretical subjects may investigate the
righteousness and profundity of the teaching and hence arouse an
interest in learning the teachings of the Buddha. These are people who
enter through the gate of wisdom.

On the other hand, those who are engaged in social welfare work and who
are fond of rendering assistance to others, are close to the Buddha's
teaching on relationship with others. They praise and appreciate the
loving kindness and compassion of the teaching of the Buddha and hence
begin to practise them. These are people who enter through the gate of
loving kindness and compassion.

In addition, there are others who admire the perfections of the Triple
Gem, or who because of the special experiences that they have had with
the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, decide to practice the teachings of the
Buddha. These are people who enter through the gate of faith and

Due to differences in the spiritual potential of living beings,
beginners may find entrance through different ways. In brief, people
who have more greed may enter through the door of loving kindness and
compassion. Those who have more hatred may enter through the door of
wisdom and those who have a simple mind may enter through the door of
faith and determination.

b) The importance of the balance practice in faith determination,
loving kindness and compassion, wisdom - the Three Essentials

However, after beginning our Buddhist practice, we should not remain
confined to studying and practising in a particular fashion
permanently. Otherwise, there will be no improvement even after ten
years or even twenty years of learning, and its consequent benefits
will be poor.

We should understand that even in the practice of Two Vehicles, there
are people who emphasise faith whilst the others emphasise wisdom. This
is mainly due to differences in individual spiritual potential, and
does not mean that such practitioners stay permanently in one stage of
that they only possess either faith without wisdom, or wisdom with out

Both the Nirvana and Pitaka Sutra state that "Faith without wisdom
leads one to become more ignorant and wisdom without faith leads one to
a perverted view. "If we rely on faith only and do not cultivate
understanding and wisdom we will be unable to comprehend the Triple Gem
and the methods that we are learning. In that case, the real benefits
of the Dharma would be beyond us. For those who practice in this
manner, in their minds, they believe Buddhism is no different to the
worship of ghosts or Gods. It is just an ignorant faith-superstition.
This kind of attitude is in fact very commonly found in the circles of
Chinese Buddhists nowadays.

It is more dangerous for one to have wisdom without faith. The
Nagarjuna Bodhisattva said that, "If we try to attain 'emptiness'
without the foundation of faith and precepts, such a concept of
'emptiness' will be a perverted one." This perverted view of
'emptiness' rejects the Truth of the Law of Cause and Effect. Such a
mistake is made due to self-approbation and the lack of pure faith in
the merits of the Triple Gem. The foolishness of superstition is less
than the foolishness of perverted views. Perverted view may lead one to
Hell. Thus, it can be seen that faith and wisdom must be practised
together, neither should be neglected.

In the teachings of the Great Vehicle, there is a 'superior Bodhisattva
of Wisdom', and a 'Superior Bodhisattva of Mercy'. We should note the
word "Superior", which simply means that they have greater emphasis on
those aspects. If there is only wisdom without compassion or compassion
without wisdom, the practice cannot be considered the practice of a
Bodhisattva. Both compassion and wisdom must be cultivated together.
Even if one practises compassion and wisdom together, if the merits and
determination of compassion are not strong enough, one will be
anxiously seeking for self-salvation and the attainments of wisdom for
oneself only, one deteriorates to a selfish practitioner (Hinayanist)
and cannot attain perfect enlightenment. If one's mind of loving
kindness and compassion is strong but weak in wisdom, in the process of
practising the Bodhisattva's way one may be defeated and become a
"Defeated Bodhisattva".

This is because the practice of the Bodhisattva cannot be successful
without the skilful means of the wisdom of emptiness (wisdom of
non-grasping). Thus, one may enter Buddhism through any one of the
gates, however, if one is thinking of progressing and advancing further
into the teaching and learning of the practice of the Bodhisattva, one
must develop balanced strength in all these three areas, loving
kindness and compassion and wisdom. These three areas of development
will supplement each other and gradually lead the practitioner to a
higher stage.

When one gains the profound wisdom of the Buddha, one is perfect in the
practice of all three themes. This is the attainment of the great Bodhi
or great Nirvana, in other words, Buddhahood. Some people think that it
should be sufficient to just become expert in one theme, it is not
necessary for one to learn all three together.

In fact, if one really becomes expert in one theme, one will naturally
understand the interrelationship of the three and how they complement
each other in order to lead one to completion. One theme may be used as
the starting point of practice and its main focus. Looking deeply in
this way one sees how each theme enfolds all the others at the same
time It does not imply that one is giving up the practice of the other

We, who are practising the Bodhisattva's perfections and aiming for the
fruit of Buddhahood, should ask ourselves, are the Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas incomplete in their practice of the three themes? Do they
have faith without wisdom, or have wisdom without faith? Buddha means
the perfection of all merits. Thus, those who are determined to learn
from the Buddha, should look upon the perfect merits of the Buddha as
their goal and strive forward diligently.

4. The role of the Three Essentials in mental development, practice and

Those who sincerely develop the mind of Bodhi and make the effort to
practise the perfection of the Bodhisattva, must equip themselves with
the essentials of Mahayana practice, even though they may have
inclinations towards certain aspects. The essentials are: faith and
determination, loving kindness and compassion, and wisdom. Without the
foundation of Bodhisattva teachings, one's faith and determination will
be similar to benevolence and knowledge in Confucianism; one's loving
kindness and compassion will resemble the faith and wisdom of the
Sravakas; and one's wisdom will be equivalent to faith and love in
Christianity. The only practice that can fully convey the Truth of
Buddha's teaching, and can become the supreme way of practice for human
beings, in the practice of the Bodhisattva-the unification of faith and
determination, loving kindness and compassion and wisdom. These three
themes supplement each other and lead one to the attainment of

The three themes are the essentials and cannot be ignored or neglected.
In the process of learning, there is a certain order of progress. One
progresses from emphasis on one aspect to another according to their
order until the completion of the course. To begin practice from the
mind of a worldly person, we must know the order of practice. If we
boast about perfection and completion, all these will be just empty
words of mouth and reality will prove that our success is illusion.

a) The Order of practice
The sutras and abhidharma have given many explanations about the
practices paving the Path of the Bodhisattva. Generally speaking, it
can be divided into two smaller parallel paths - the Path of Prajna and
the Path of Skilful Means. The stages of the Paths are as follow:

i) To begin the practice of the Bodhisattva, one must first develop the
mind of Bodhi (mind of enlightenment). With the mind of Bodhi one can
then step into the practice of the Bodhisattva. This is the stage that
emphasises the importance of faith and determination.

ii) After the initiation of Bodhi mind, one progresses in practice. The
practice of the Bodhisattva emphasises benefitting others. The
accumulation of virtues and wisdom is not only for oneself. This is the
stage that emphasises compassion.

iii) When one is equipped with virtues and wisdom, and balance in the
practice of compassion and wisdom, one then attains the wisdom of
equanimity and non-discrimination. This is the stage of Prajna (wisdom
of emptiness).

The above are stages along the Path of Prajna. The realisation of the
wisdom of emptiness in the Path of Prajna represents the development of
the mind for the Path of the Skilful Means. This is the supreme mind of
Bodhi. It is the unification of faith and wisdom-the pure attainment.

iv) From then on, the Bodhisattva put great emphasis on relieving the
sufferings of all living beings and the adornment of a pure land. This
is the practice of loving kindness and compassion with wisdom.

v) At the stage of perfection, one realises the supreme Bodhi the
wisdom of all wisdom.

The order of progress along the Path of Skilful Means includes the
development of the supreme Bodhi mind, the practice and attainment of
perfect wisdom. Together with the Path of Prajna, there are five
stages. These are stages that a Bodhisattva must go through in the
process of practice, and it is something that those who are practising
the Path of the Bodhisattva should always bear in mind.

The Path of Prajna

To develop the Bodhi vow
To practice loving kindness and compassion
To attain the wisdom of emptiness

To abide with equanimity
in faith and wisdom

The Path of Skilful

To develop a pure and joyful mind
To adorn and purify the pure land in all matters
To attain the perfect fruit of

These two paths and five stages can be summarised into three: the first
is the development of the mind, the middle three are the practice (the
practice of compassion to wisdom in the Path of Prajna, and wisdom to
compassion in the Path of Skilful Means), and the last one is the
attainment of Buddhahood. They are the stages of practice from worldly
beings to Buddhahood, which is in fact the purification and improvement
of the three virtues (three virtues of the Buddha, perfection in
detachment, compassion and wisdom) to the state of perfection.

In summary, the worldly beings are ignorant, impure and full of
desires. From the state of a worldly being, one arouses one's faith and
determination in pursuing Buddhahood, through the practice of loving
kindness and compassion one progresses towards the attainment of the
wisdom of emptiness. The wisdom of emptiness is also the Bodhisattva's
faith and determination (the pure mind of supreme joy). It is the
unification of faith and wisdom.

With this faith and determination (no yet perfect), one continues the
practice of compassion and loving kindness more broadly until one
attains the perfect stage of wisdom. This is also the time when one's
wisdom, loving kindness and compassion, faith and determination attain
perfection. The practice of the Bodhisattva is boundless and profound.
For one to practice the perfection of Bodhisattva from the stage of a
worldly beings, one must always hold on to these Three Essentials as
the guiding principles of practice.

5. The Three Essentials and the recitation of the Buddha's name,
vegetarianism, and sutra chanting
The various ways of practice in the countless methodologies introduced
by the Buddha boil down to the practice of the Three Essentials. They
are very broad and profound. Now, let's discuss the expedient ways for
a beginner. To recite the name of the Buddha, to be vegetarian and to
chant (to intone) the sutras are the main ways of practice for most
Chinese Buddhists. They represent beginners steps along the Path of

a) Recitation of the Buddha's name
The purpose of reciting the name of the Buddha is to arouse one's faith
and determination. A Bodhisattva's faith and determination is the
development of the Bodhi mind, and the maintenance of mindfulness on
supreme Bodhi. The Buddha is the person who has realised the supreme
Bodhi - the wisdom of all wisdom. He has majestic appearance and
boundless power. He embodies all wisdom and incomparable loving
kindness and compassion. Since his practice as a Bodhisattva, he has
done countless meritorious acts benefiting others.

One should respect and admire the Buddha. The Buddha preaches the
Dharma, and because of Dharma, the Sangha exist. Hence, the Buddha is
also the embodiment of the Triple Gem. Thus we should look upon Buddha
as our all encompassing refuge and ideal example at all times. With
respect and admiration for Buddha's merits, and sincere appreciation of
His kindness and compassion, one's faith and determination to practice
will be strengthened. This is the main purpose of the practice of
"reciting the name of the Buddha", and "praising the development of the
mind of Bodhi", advocated by many of the Mahayana Sutras.

We recite the name of the Buddha to remind ourselves of the virtues of
the Buddha1, the marks of the Buddha2, the essence of the Buddha3, and
the pure land of the Buddha. Expanding the scope of this practice leads
into practices such as paying respect to the Buddha, praising the
Buddha, making offerings to the Buddha, repentance in front of the
Buddha, rejoicing in the merits of the Buddha and encouraging the
promotion and distribution of the teachings of the Buddha; these are
the broader means of practising.

The Prajna-Paramita Discourse states the "The Bodhisattva enters into
Dharma with strong and diligent faith (determination), and happily
accumulates the merits of a Buddha. This is 'an easy path' that was
specially introduced by the 'Superior Faith Bodhisattva' in the
Mahayana Teaching.

This 'easy path' is also the expedient alternative to the "difficult
path" (the Path of Prajna and Skilful means that emphasise wisdom and
compassion). Thus, "The Commentary on the Ten Stages of Bodhisattva"
written by Nagarjuna Bodhisattva states that: "A beginner should
practice reciting the name of the Buddha, repentance, promotion of the
doctrine of the Buddha and other methods as mentioned above, so that
the mind may be purified and faith strengthened. Thereafter he may be
able to go a step further into the practice of wisdom, loving kindness
and compassion."

The Sraddhotpada Sutra also says that: "Beginners should learn such
methods in order to strengthen their faith, as living beings are weak
minded." By teaching them to "concentrate on the name of the Buddha",
this will help them to maintain and strengthen their faith so that they
do not fall back.

The main purpose of the practice of reciting the name of the Buddha is
to initiate the faith and determination in those in whom they have not
yet developed, and to strengthen and maintain faith and determination
in those in whom they have. To recite the name of the Buddha is to
recite with the mind. Also to remember the virtues of the Buddha whilst
reciting with intense concentration is a skilful means of initiating
one's faith and determination. The normal practice of reciting by mouth
is just a convenience among the conveniences, it is not the best way of

b) Vegetarianism

To be vegetarian means not to eat meat. Vegetarianism is a tradition of
Chinese Buddhism. It is not necessary for one to be a vegetarian in
order to become a Buddhist. Theravada Buddhists in Sir Lanka and
Buddhists in Tibet and Japan do take meat as an accepted part of their
diet. Some Chinese Buddhists thought that to be vegetarian is the
Hinayanist practice, and not the teaching of the Mahayana. This is a
great misunderstanding. In actual fact, vegetarianism is a practice
specially advocated in the Mahayana teachings. This can be found in
sutras, such as the Lankavatara, Nirvana and Angulimala Sutras. There
are various reasons for not eating meat, but the main reason is to
cultivate one's loving kindness and compassion. As the sutras say:
"Eating meat nips compassion in the bud".

A Bodhisattva should always seek to benefit others and to relieve the
sufferings of all living beings. If one is cruel enough to kill beings
and eat them, then where is one's mind of kindness and compassion? The
practice of the Bodhisattva emphasises the mind of compassion. Hence,
the virtue of vegetarianism is certainly the conclusion of the Mahayana

c) Sutra Chanting

The chanting of sutras is also an expedient way of practice. Although
the practice may have other purposes its main aim is to develop wisdom.
There are three stages in the practice of wisdom before the realisation
of the true Prajna (the wisdom of enlightenment). They are the stages
of hearing, thinking and analysing, and practising.

These three stages of cultivating wisdom can also be classified into
the Ten Righteous Practices (The Ten Ways of Devotion to the Buddha's
Teaching), namely: to copy sacred texts, to offer places for keeping
and maintaining sutras or Dharma writings, to preach or give such
exposition of Dharma to others, to listed attentively to their
exposition, to read them, to teach others about them, to intone them,
to explain them, to think and analyse them and to practise them. In
this traditional schema, the first eight are practices of wisdom
through hearing. Sutra chanting reminiscent of schools in olden days
when one would intone the text before giving an explanation of it.
After one intones the sutra one becomes familiar with it. Then one may
eventually understand it or at least seek such an understanding. These
are the expedient paths in practising wisdom through hearing.

d) Righteous practice of the Expedient Path

The most common methods of practice amongst Chinese Buddhist are the
recitation of the name of the Buddha, vegetarianism (releasing lives)
and chanting the sutras. These are in fact expedient steps for anyone
who wants to begin the practice of the Bodhisattva. These are expedient
measures that will strengthen one's faith and determination, loving
kindness and compassion, and wisdom as stated in the Mahayana

However, some people stress the merits of chanting the sutras whilst
placing little value on the understanding of their meanings. In this
case, the chanting will not expedite the development of wisdom.

On the other hand, those who advocate the practice of vegetarianism and
the release of captive lives may emphasise their practice of these two
methods but may not show loving kindness and compassion towards
sufferings human beings or act to protect and help them. They only care
about other living beings but neglect their calling to care for and
protect human beings. This perversion of practice arises due to
ignorance of the purpose behind true practice and cannot lead to the
development of true loving kindness and compassion.