Protecting Our Environment

Dear Dharma Friends,
Some say the 21st century is the century of environmental protection. It is easy to see why. Environmental pollution and ecological destruction have reached a point that they are serious threats to the health of mankind. The 1992 summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was regarded as a "Save the Earth" conference with the goal of achieving international cooperation in protecting our plants, animals, and natural resources. When we do our part to protect the environment, we give future generations a fair chance to live peacefully and work happily on a healthy and thriving planet.
Buddhism is a religion that embodies the spirit of environmental protection. The sutras not only advocate loving our neighbors, they teach us to love our environment, too. The sutras say, "All living beings have buddha-nature." "All beings, sentient or not, have the same perfect wisdom." There is a story about a bodhisattva who loved the environment so much that he feared polluting the great earth every time he discarded a piece of paper, feared shocking the planet every time he uttered a phrase, and feared injuring the ground every time he took a step. His keen awareness of the environment provides a good role model for us.
Unfortunately, people in Taiwan do not seem to care about the environment. We cut down trees without hesitation, throw trash anywhere we please, vent exhaust fumes without thought, and discard waste water at our convenience. These callous acts have caused air pollution, water pollution, and general ecological degradation. Our actions reflect short-sightedness and disregard for public welfare. On the contrary, countries like Australia and New Zealand are much better at protecting the environment. Rivers there are so sparkling clean that one can see all the way to the bottom.
From the sutras, we learn that Amitabha's Western Paradise is a land of great beauty. We can learn a lot about environmental protection from Amitabha Buddha. In Western Paradise, the ground is covered with gold, and pagodas rise high into the sky. The land is pure and the atmosphere is serene. There is no pollution of any kind; toxins, violence, and nuclear threats are absent. Western Paradise is a place that many of us aspire to.
We can create a pure land right here on Earth. Most of the progress we have made in environmental protection is focused externally, but the important work actually lies within one's heart and spirit. Only when we have a healthy spiritual environment within can we be effective in protecting the physical environment.
I. The Buddha, a Forerunner of Environment Protection
The Buddhist view of environmental protection is grounded in the law of conditionality. When the Buddha attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree, he realized that all things arise because of interdependency. Nargajuna, the founder of the Madhamika[1] school of Buddhism says in Pranyamula-sastra-tika. "There was never a dharma[2] that did not arise from conditionality." This means that nothing in the universe can exist independently, and all phenomena arise because of the culmination of various causes and conditions. The Suka Sutra says, "If sentient beings continually engage in the ten unwholesome actions, the impact will be felt in the environment, which will suffer. What are the ten unwholesome actions? First, the taking of lives causes the soil to be saturated with saline, and plants cannot grow. Second, stealing brings about harsh, cold weather and the proliferation of insects, causing crop failure and famine. Third, sexual misconduct causes storms and natural disasters. Fourth, lying contaminates the physical environment, causing it to be filthy and smelly…"
From this, we can see that when one engages in unwholesome actions-killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, duplicitous speech, harsh words, foul language, greed, hatred, perverted views-one does not just harm oneself, one also harms the elements of the physical world. By the same token, when one performs wholesome actions, one can help reverse the damage to our environment. Our actions impact ourselves, others, and even the earth. Our existence is intimately intertwined. This is what we mean when we say, "We all are one, and we exist in dependence."
In the Agamas Sutras, the Buddha said that the planting of trees create shade for others, and merit for oneself. In Section Five of the Vinaya-matrka-satra, it reads, "A bhiksu who plants three kinds of trees in honor of the Triple Gem-a fruit tree, a flowering tree, and a leafy tree-cultivates blessings and is not committing wrong[3]." Planting trees not only beautifies the environment, it is also a form of practice. Throughout history, Buddhist temples and monasteries have followed the Buddha's teachings by planting trees, growing flowers, and caring for the great earth.
To protect the environment, the Buddha ceaselessly reminded his disciples to protect trees and animals. The Vinaya-matrka-satra states, "There are five types of trees one should not cut-bodhi trees, medicine trees, large roadside trees, trees in cold groves[4], and nyagrodha trees[5]." In the Buddha's former life as a deer king, he laid down his own life to save that of a doe. A human king witnessed his compassion and was so moved that he designated the area as a wildlife sanctuary where hunting was forbidden. This story illustrates the Buddha's love for the environment.
II. The Buddhist Tradition of Protecting the Environment
Most people regard the Buddhist religion as conservative and passive. Many think that Buddhism only teaches people to recite mantras and be vegetarians. They do not associate the religion with progressive ideas such as environmental protection. In truth, Buddhism has a long history of environmental protection, well before the concept becomes popular as a modern social cause.
Throughout its history, Buddhism has had a profound positive impact on the environment. Monastics have planted trees, dredged rivers, repaired roads, mended bridges, and thoughtfully used and cared for natural resources. During discourses, monastics encouraged devotees to free captured animals, promoted vegetarianism, and reminded all to value the gifts of nature. From these actions, we see that monastics are environmental activists before the term "environmental protection" was coined. This tradition of nurturing the natural world continues to this day.
Protecting the environment does not always mean leaving it untouched, reserving it for viewing from a distance. We live on this planet and have to utilize the natural resources it offers. This, however, must be accomplished with utmost respect for nature. Venerable Ming-yun of ancient China planted thousands of trees along the Szchou River to prevent flooding. Venerable Tao-yu of Loyeung saw that many ships had capsized along the Lung-men gorge on the Yellow River. To prevent further tragedy, he and his friend Pai Chi-yi[6] rallied the local residents to widen the river and so slowed the flow of the river. These two examples are well documented, but there were many similar environmental works that escaped recognition. In their travels, many monastics had forged paths through the jungle and laid steps over jagged mountains to ease the passage for future travelers. Without any fanfare, they worked to balance the needs of the environment with those of mankind, practicing the bodhisattva spirit of providing convenience for all.
On March 4, 1992, during our annual Buddha's Light Conference, we held a workshop to promote "environmental and spiritual" protection. We encouraged everyone to start with beautifying one's mind and spirit and then extend outwards to beautifying the environment. We offered twelve guidelines, as follows:
1. Speak quietly-do not disturb others.
2. Keep the ground clean-do not litter.
3. Keep the air clean-do not smoke or pollute.
4. Respect oneself and others-do not commit violent acts.
5. Be polite-do not intrude on others.
6. Smile-do not face others with an angry expression.
7. Speak kindly-do not utter abusive words.
8. Follow the rules-do not seek exemptions or privileges.
9. Mind your actions-do not violate rules of ethics.
10. Consume consciously-do not waste.
11. Be grounded-do not live aimlessly.
12. Practice kindness-do not create malice.
Furthermore, the International Buddha's Light Association, together with various governmental agencies in Taiwan, worked to preserve the water source of Kaoshiung by campaigning for planting new trees and preserving existing ones. By planting new trees-two million to be exact-we were able to directly protect Kaoshiung's water source. By recycling paper, we reduced the need to cut down trees, which also protected the water source.
When we Buddhists think of a pure, clean environment, we would naturally think of Amitabha's Western Paradise. On his path as a bodhisattva, Amitabha made forty-eight great vows. Through the strength of these vows, he manifested the Western Paradise, a land of unparalleled beauty. The ground is covered with gold, pagodas are built with seven kinds of gems, and all facilities are in excellent condition. In Western Paradise there is only public good, no public harm. There is only beauty, no toxin, noise or pollution. The weather is cool and pleasant, and the water has eight wonderful qualities: clear, cool, sweet, soft, soothing, peaceful, cleansing, and nourishing. Everyone in Pure Land is kind, in full health of mind and body, had ageless longevity, and free of the three poisons6. None of them would ever consider chopping down trees, and the landscape reflects such thoughtfulness. This is why we say Amitabha Buddha is our good teacher of maintaining a sound mind and a healthy environment.
III. What We Can Do To Protect the Environment
When we talk about protecting the environment, we should first realize there are two facets to the problem-preserving inner sanctity and maintaining outer ecological balance. We alone are responsible for our inner peace. To do this, we have to see into the emptiness of the three poisons-greed, hatred, and delusion. External environmental protection, such as natural habitat preservation, air purification, water source clean up, noise pollution control, trash management, and radiation protection, must rely upon the joint efforts of everyone.
We will first discuss maintaining outer ecological balance. There are two ways to protect the environment: treasure life and conserve resources. One of the Five Precepts is to refrain from killing, or in others words, to treasure life. In the Brahmajala Sutra, it states, "When a follower of the Buddha exercises compassion and sets a life free, he should recite, 'All males are my fathers. All females are my mothers. Rebirth after rebirth, they give me life. All beings in the six realms of existence are my parents. Killing animals for meat is the same as killing my parents, indirectly killing the source of my body.' If you witness someone killing an animal, you should save the animal, relieve its suffering, and spread the work of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas to save all beings." The precept to refrain from killing is the expression of respect for all sentient life. At its most basic level, the practice is to not kill. To take this a step further, we should save life and help those in need. When we see an animal hurt, we should care for it so that they may feel safe again. We need to have a proactive, compassionate, and protective attitude towards animals. Nowadays, people have exotic taste and would not hesitate to eat anything that moves, regardless of whether it is a beast of the sky, earth, or water. This type of indiscriminate slaughter and consumption not only defiles the inner spirit, it also disturbs the outer balance in our natural environment and increases the violent energy in the world. Therefore, to raise the quality of life we should promote protection of all living beings.
Buddhist masters of the past were in tune with our connection with all forms of life in the six realms of existence, especially animals. They were at ease in the company of lions and tigers. In the presence of wild animals, Master Huei-yuei of the Sui dynasty would speak to them about the Dharma. Tigers would turn tame and lay down like kittens at his feet. Master Zi-zheng lived alone in the mountains and always made it a point to save animals who were hurt. When he ran out of food, birds would bring him fruit. In Samyuktapitaka, there is a story of a novice monk who was near the end of his life span. One day, he saw a group of ants drowning in water and reached out to save them. Through his act of compassion, he gained a long life. All these stories serve as reminders for us to act with compassion. Protecting life is a basic moral principle of being human and is the best tool for transforming anger, violence, and sadness into tranquility.
In addition to nurturing and protecting animal life, we should also treasure plant life. Even a blade of grass is vital because it purifies the air we breathe. We must not neglect any life because each contributes to the delicate balance of which we are all a part. When we save a tree, we are making the world a little bit greener, and we may breathe easier. Protecting life also means that we should be gentle to insentient objects, such as mountains and rivers and even everyday household items. A table, chair, or towel should be treated conscientiously because if we do not take proper care of them and they last only five years instead of the intended ten, we are indirectly wasting and harming "life."
In addition to treasuring life, we can protect the environment by conserving resources. In our daily life, it is so easy to be wasteful. Consider paper as an example. A tree that takes ten years to grow can be chopped down in a matter of hours. For every ton of paper recycled, we save twenty trees. We can also save trees by using both sides of a sheet of paper. Trees are very important to our environment. They provide us with shade and play a key role in the water cycle.
Conservation yields benefits not only to the environment, but also to us directly. How much we have in life depends on our past actions, or karma. Karma can be compared to a bank account. You have to first make deposits and accumulate some savings before you can make a withdrawal. Conservation is tangible savings in our karma accounts. In this regard, I can speak from personal experience. Many devotees have complimented me of my intelligence. I believe my intelligence was a result of my past conservation. When I was still a young novice monk, I was very frugal with my writing paper. On one piece of paper, I would not only write on both sides but also between the lines. Sometimes I would even use a different colored pen to write over existing text so I wouldn't waste the paper. It was only when I could no longer decipher my own writing that I grudgingly threw away a piece of paper. I believe the good karma that I accrued by making the most of each piece of paper brought me the gift of intelligence. Therefore, everyone can begin saving in his or her "karma account" by taking care of the gifts that nature has given us.
To save our earth, we must reduce the consumption of natural resources. There are many things we can do with minimal effort. Instead of using disposable paper plates and plastic utensils, we can use reusable ones. Plastic is not environmentally friendly. It is not biodegradable, sitting for centuries in landfills and producing carcinogenic gases if incinerated. We should all contribute to our planet's health by using less disposable items.
Another way to conserve resources is to recycle. We can recycle paper, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass jars. As more people recycle, awareness will be heightened, generating momentum for the cause. By practicing recycling, we practice the teachings of the Buddha, strengthen the connection between people, and help spread environmental awareness.
In terms of specific actions that we all can do, I want to offer the following:
1. Consume moderately and do not overbuy unnecessarily. Excess food often rots and has to be thrown away.
2. Maintain your car and follow emission guidelines.
3. Minimize the use of disposable plates and utensils.
4. Use glasses or mugs instead of paper cups.
5. Take shorter showers.
6. Do not litter, and reduce the amount of trash we produce.
7. Use energy-saving light bulbs or fixtures.
8. Set your air conditioner to a higher temperature.
9. Recycle old newspaper and motor oil.
10. Bring your own shopping bags when shopping.
11. Inspect your tires regularly. Flat tires wear more quickly and lower fuel efficiency.
12. Choose durable and fuel efficient tires.
13. Use your car's air conditioner as little as possible. Automobile air conditioning systems are one of the main emitters of chlorofluorocarbons into the earth's ozone layer.
14. Buy and use more recycled materials.
In addition to protecting the physical environment, we have to take good care of our internal spiritual environment. The Vimalakirti Sutra says, "If one wants to be in a pure land, one should purify his mind. When the mind is pure, the land is pure." What this means is that the environment we live in is a reflection of our state of mind. To be successful in the movement to better the environment, we must not neglect to tend to our inner spirit. From time without beginning, our pure nature has been defiled by greed, hatred, jealousy, and malice. We must work to turn greed into generosity, hatred into compassion, jealousy into tolerance, and malice into respect. When we change the way we think and the way we see the world, what we see, hear, and touch will take on a different quality.
We should care for our body and mind like we care for the physical environment. After all, our body can be compared to the great earth. The circulatory system is like a river, flowing ceaselessly to transport nutrients to various parts of the body. The lungs are like forests in reverse. They take in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Bones are like mountains, giving protection to our many delicate organs. Cells are like little forest animals, moving about with vitality. Our body is like a village with the six inhabitants of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and mind. The mind is like a village chief, directing and influencing the other inhabitants. If we want good physical health, we should start with our mental health. When we have inner stability, then our body will know peace.
How do we maintain purity in our internal environment? We simply have to be mindful of the Buddha. If you have the Buddha in your heart, everything you see in the world is the sight of the Buddha, everything you hear is the sound of the Buddha, everything you say is the word of the Buddha, and everything you do holds the compassion of the Buddha. Although we live in a world full of negativity, if we know how to preserve our inner sanctity, we can be more like the Buddha. Like a pristine lotus that rises out of the mud of a pond, we can rise above the distractions of the world.
We have discussed many aspects of environmental protection. I'd like to conclude with the following lines:
Value every word-they are the roots of dignity.
Treasure every grain of rice-this is the way of wealth.
Speak with care-it is the basis of happiness.
Protect even the smallest form of life-this is the cause of longevity.

[1] Madhamika means "the middle." [2] phenomenon [3] Normally, bhiksus refrain from tilling the soil because insects in the earth may be harmed in the process. [4] A cold grove is a place for exposing corpses, i.e. a cemetery. [5] Ficus indica [6] A famous scholar and poet. 6 Greed, hatred, and delusion.


Seeing the Buddha

Dear Dharma Friends,
It was over two thousand years ago that the Buddha entered parinirvana. Each time I think how unfortunate that we are not able to see the Buddha in person, I recall this verse which aptly describes my feelings:
When the Buddha was alive,
sunken in depravity was I.
After the Buddha entered parinirvana, here am I.
Regretting my many karmic hindrances,
I do not see the Tathagata's golden body.
Actually, there are many levels on which to see the Buddha. We can see the Buddha through statues and drawings, in person, or through his teachings. I'd like to take this opportunity here to discuss 1) Holy images of the Buddha, 2) What the Buddha looked like in person, and 3) The dharmakaya of the Buddha. I hope through this discussion, we can all gain a better understanding of our great teacher, the Buddha.
I. Holy Images of the Buddha
A. Different Kinds of Holy Images
When we learn about the Buddha, we can only imagine what he looked like when he was alive through statues and paintings that we see of him. Throughout the years, people have portrayed the Buddha in various fashions. Some carve images of the Buddha in wood or stone, others sculpt in metal, and there are still others who prefer the use of paper and paint. Not only are the materials used different, there is also a lot of variation in the pose. Sometimes, the Buddha is portrayed as sitting down, other times standing, or even reclining. Regardless of the material used or the pose portrayed, we can generally feel his compassion, magnanimity, and greatness.
Why are some renditions of the Buddha sitting, while others are standing? Actually, each pose symbolizes a different facet of the Buddha. In some cases, the Buddha is portrayed seated in lotus position with his hands poised above his lap, in meditative concentration. This symbolizes his enlightenment. The Buddha became enlightened only by practicing over a very long period of time-meditating, contemplating, and knowing himself. At other times, we see the Buddha portrayed in a seated position with his left hand in his lap while raising his right hand, teaching the Dharma. This symbolizes that the Buddha cultivates enlightenment not only for himself but also for the sake of others. After reaching enlightenment, the Buddha began to teach the truth to all sentient beings, helping us to rid our delusions.
In some statues of the Buddha, he is standing with one hand down, as if beckoning us sentient beings. When we feel lost in the sea of suffering, we are most glad to see the Buddha extending a helping hand to us. In other statues, the Buddha is walking, as if hurrying somewhere to teach the Dharma. The fully enlightened Buddha is most affectionate in his efforts to help all of us; he is always there to be of service to us.
Some statues and paintings show the Buddha lying down, peacefully entering parinirvana. This posture symbolizes the utmost fulfillment in both merits and wisdom, when the state of birthlessness is reached. The reclining posture also symbolizes a transition from active engagement to that of tranquility. When the Buddha was alive, he was always active, traveling everywhere to teach the Dharma. While all activity must come to an end, tranquility can be everlasting. Upon entering parinirvana, the Buddha became one with all of nature and the flow of time. Thus, we say parinirvana is a transition from active engagement to tranquility. The images of the Buddha entering parinirvana show us that he is always in our hearts, ever present like the earth, and everlasting like the sun and moon.

B. The First Wood Carving of the Buddha
When was the first statue of the Buddha carved? According to the Agama Sutras, the first Buddha statue was carved during the summer retreat one particular year when the Buddha disappeared from his disciples. When the disciples realized that the Blessed One was nowhere to be found, they started asking around, but no one knew where he was. They then went to ask Ananda if he knew the whereabouts of the Buddha, but Ananda was also in the dark. Ananda suggested that they should solicit the help of Aniruddha, who was foremost in supernatural vision. Using his supernatural vision, Aniruddha found out that the Buddha had gone to Trayastrimsas Heaven to teach the Dharma to his deceased mother, Queen Maya. Why did the Buddha leave for Trayastrimsas Heaven without letting anyone know? There were three reasons. First, the Buddha had always wanted to teach the Dharma to his deceased mother to thank her for bringing him into this world. Second, as the Buddha was always around to teach them, some of his disciples had grown complacent and lax in attention to his teachings. Third, there had been some quarrels within the Sangha, and the Buddha wanted those involved to have time to reflect on their behavior.
Among those who missed the Buddha the most was King Udayana of Kausambi. The king was most reverent toward the Buddha, and he missed the presence of the Buddha so much that he fell ill. The royal household put their heads together to find a way to make the king feel better. They all agreed that the best way was to find the best sculptor in the land and have him sculpt a statue of the Buddha. They hoped that, in the absence of the Buddha, they could pay their respects to the statue instead. The king was very pleased with the idea, and he immediately asked Maudgalyayana, who was foremost in supernatural power, to help them. Using his supernatural power, Maudgalyayana transported a sculptor to Trayastrimsas Heaven so that he might study the magnificent appearance of the Buddha. After three visits to the heaven, the sculptor finally carved a five-foot tall likeness of the Buddha out of sandalwood. When the king saw the finished statue, he was happy beyond words, and his illness was cured.
After three months, the Buddha returned to our world. On his return, the statue actually came alive and walked to welcome the Buddha home. The Buddha smiled and said, "You must be tired from these three months. For future generations of sentient beings, it will be up to you to remind them of the truth."
Thus, the first wooden image of the Buddha was carved while he was still alive, before his entering parinirvana. The statue coming alive to welcome the Buddha symbolizes that the Buddha is always present among us. When we see statues of the Buddha, we are in essence seeing the Buddha.

C. The First Metal Statue of the Buddha
In addition to carving Buddha statues out of wood, people also cast Buddha statues in different kinds of metals. When was the first metal statue of the Buddha cast? According to the Agama Sutras, this, too, happened while the Buddha was still alive. When King Prasenajit of Kosala learned that King Udayana had carved the Buddha's likeness out of sandalwood, he also wanted to create a likeness of the Buddha. On the one hand, he wanted to show his reverence for the Buddha; on the other hand, there was also a bit of a competitive spirit between him and King Udayana. King Prasenajit thus commissioned a statue of the Buddha to be cast in pure gold. The statue was again five feet tall and marked the beginning of casting metal images of the Buddha.
Separately and about the same time, the elder Anathapindaka also expressed his desire to cast a statue of the Buddha. One day after the Buddha finished teaching the Dharma in the Jetavana Grove, Anathapindaka went up to him and paid his respects. He prostrated in front of the Buddha and said, "Lord Buddha, when the Buddha is with us, everyone is so respectful and everything feels right and magnificent. Unfortunately, when the Buddha has to travel to other places to spread the Dharma, we feel the absence of the Buddha and everything is not as orderly as when the Buddha is here with us. I ask permission to cast the Buddha's likeness so that when the Buddha is away, we have a statue to remind us of the Buddha and for us to pay our respects. In this way, we will always feel close to the Buddha."
The Buddha was very pleased and gave his permission. He told Anathapindaka, "Since you are doing this to remind others of the Dharma, I give you my permission."
Anathapindaka asked further, "We'd like to honor the Buddha and I hope the Buddha will allow us to put decorations and flowers around the statue."
The Buddha replied, "You may do as you see fit."
From these parts of the sutra, we see that even while the Buddha was alive, many kings and elders already wanted to sculpt statues of him for others to pay their respects to. A golden statue of the Buddha is like a bright light; it lights up our hearts.

D. The First Painting of the Buddha
When was the first painting of the Buddha made? There is no definitive answer to this question. According to the Agama Sutras, we learn that one of the earliest paintings of the Buddha was completed when the Buddha was about to enter parinirvana. Maha Kasyapa was concerned that King Ajatasatru of Magadha would be too grief-stricken with the news of the Buddha's passing away. So, after discussing the issue with King Ajatasatru's imperial court, they decided to commission a painting of the Buddha to help the king get over this very difficult period.
In recent years, we have learned that there is an even earlier painting of the Buddha, perhaps even earlier than the first carved statue. The British Museum in England has in its collection many paintings of the Buddha. Among these paintings is one that the museum treasures most. It is a painting of the Buddha when he was forty-one years old. It was painted by Purna, one of the Buddha's disciples, and the color is still very vibrant today. Photographs of this painting can be seen as far away as Japan and Taiwan.
Paintings of the Buddha were brought to China during the Han dynasty, about one thousand years after the Buddha entered parinirvana. During that time, many monks from China had traveled to India to study Buddhism. There they saw the sandalwood statue of the Buddha which we discussed earlier and wanted to bring it back to China so that the Chinese people would know what the Buddha looked like. Of course, the Indian kings did not want the statue to leave their land. So, they commissioned paintings of the statue so that the monks from China could bring them home with them. When the Han emperor saw the paintings, he was delighted and ordered that a painting of the Buddha be displayed on the main gate of the city of Hsi-yang so that his people could pay their respects to the Buddha.
Since paintings are much less cumbersome than statues, it is customary of Buddhists to display paintings of the Buddha in their homes. As long as we are sincere, it does not matter how large or small the painting is; it will shine on all those who pay their respects.

E. Paying respect to holy images of the Buddha
Regardless of whether a Buddha statue is made of stone, wood, or metal, regardless of whether a painting is done on cloth or paper, we still pay our respects to these holy images of the Buddha. Some of you may question: Why should we venerate these holy images of the Buddha?
First of all, we have to admit that we, indeed, do pay our respects to holy images of the Buddha. We all pay respect to certain symbols or images. We respect our national flag; a flag is a piece of cloth. Why do we pay respect to a piece of cloth? This is because a national flag, though made out of cloth, is much more than just a piece of cloth. It is a symbol of our country and the pride we have for our country. Christians also pay respect to the crucifix. A crucifix is made of wood or metal. Does it mean that Christians should not pray in front of the crucifix? There is absolutely nothing wrong with paying respect to certain symbols or images as long as we understand the goodness which these symbols or images stand for.
A piece of cloth can be tailored into a hat to be worn on the head. The same piece of cloth can also be made into a pair of slippers to wear on the feet. A piece of cloth by itself shows no differentiation, but we look at it differently once it takes on the shape of its final product. A piece of paper with our parents' picture on it, we would put in a safe place. The same piece of paper with a cartoon drawn on it could be tossed away at will, and we would not feel any remorse. A piece of metal that has been cast into a Buddha statue should be kept in a nice, clean place. The same piece of metal, if it had been cast into a toy figure, could be kicked or thrown around without any hesitation. A Buddha statue may be made of wood, stone, or metal, but in our hearts and minds, the statue stands for the fully enlightened Buddha. When we pay our respects to holy images of the Buddha, we are not paying respect to the wood, stone, or metal that these images are made out of; we are paying our respects to the Buddha.
It is important that we know why we do certain things. When we pay respect to a Buddha statue, we should focus our minds on the Buddha and extinguish the fires of our delusions. We should be respectful and sincere. If we pay our respects to Buddha statues in this fashion, then any image of the Buddha can strengthen our faith and touch our hearts. There is a Chinese saying which goes like this: "When there is utmost sincerity and concentration, even stones or gold open up." Thus, if we are reverent whilst paying respect to statues of the Buddha, we will feel the presence of the Blessed One.
Actually, Buddhism is a religion that values intention over formality and teaches us to be totally free of all images, holy or not. Let me tell you an interesting kung-an out of the Ch'an annals. Once the Ch'an master Tan-hsia Tien-jan took up residence at a particular monastery. That year there was a very severe winter, and the temperature was frigidly cold. To stay warm, Tien-jan went up to the altar, took a wooden Buddha statue, and was about to use it to keep the fire going. Another monk saw what he was doing and stopped him in his tracks. This monk yelled at Tien-jan, "How dare you use a Buddha statue to keep warm?"
Tien-jan was not at all offended, and he replied, "I am not using it as a piece of firewood. I just want to see if I can get some Buddha relics."
The monk barked back, "Nonsense! How can you get Buddha relics from a piece of wood?"
"If this is a piece of wood, why don't we use it as firewood." Having said this, Tien-jan tossed the wooden statue onto the fire.
Tien-jan was a true student of the Buddha, for he truly understood the essence of the teachings. He knew that mind, buddha, and sentient beings are one and the same. When we are not yet enlightened, we should respect holy images. When we are enlightened, we will know that the Buddha dwells within us and is not to be found outside of ourselves or in some holy images.
Before Emperor Hsuan of the Tang dynasty became emperor, he was once a novice monk in a temple. One time he saw the Ch'an master Huang-bo Hsi-yun in the shrine hall, paying his respect to the Buddha. As he stood behind the Ch'an master, he recalled what he had often heard the Ch'an master say and unknowingly spoke out loud, "Don't get attached to the Buddha, don't get attached to the Dharma, don't get attached to the Sangha. What's the point of paying respect to the Buddha?"
When the Ch'an master heard this, he turned around and slapped the student in the face saying, "Don't get attached to the Buddha, don't get attached to the Dharma, don't get attached to the Sangha. But, in your case, you should."
Those who do not understand the meaning behind paying respect to holy images often find it ludicrous that we do so. They do not realize that by paying respect to the Buddha, we are communicating with the Buddha.

II. What the Buddha Looked Like in Person
A. The Aura of the Buddha
The splendid appearance of the Buddha was a manifestation of the Dharma-body-the pure, non-phenomenal Dharma-body. About two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha was born into this world. He was most majestic in appearance and exhibited the "thirty-two marks of excellence and eighty notable characteristics." In one of the sutras, it says, "The Buddha looks golden, radiant, pleasing, and majestic. The presence of the Buddha elicits joy and happiness in all sentient beings."
Among the Buddha's disciples, there were many who were so moved by his majestic appearance that they decided to renounce their household life and follow him even before they heard him speak. Maha Kasyapa was one such example. He was born to a wealthy Brahman family. One day, Maha Kasyapa saw the Buddha resting under a tree and automatically was drawn to him. He went up to the Buddha, saluted him with folded hands, and decided right then that he wanted to join the Sangha. When the elder Anathapindaka met the Buddha while traveling south, he was moved by the Buddha's splendid looks. He prostrated in front of the Buddha and invited him to his hometown in the north to teach the Dharma to the people there.
The stately appearance of the Buddha also converted many who were vengeful or malicious. Devadatta, the Buddha's disciple and cousin, turned against him and hired six bandits to assassinate the Blessed One. When the six bandits saw the Buddha, they were moved by his majestic appearance. They threw down their weapons and asked the Buddha for forgiveness. On another occasion, the heartless murderer Angulimalya met the Buddha on the road. Angulimalya, who was known for his ruthlessness, shuddered in fear in the presence of the Buddha and begged him for permission to join the Sangha.
Animals were also touched by the presence of the Buddha. Monkeys would gather wild fruits to make him offerings. A drunken elephant, let loose by Devadatta to kill the Buddha, knelt down in front of him and wept. The Buddha radiated warmth like the sun and moon. His majestic appearance alone could cause the cruel to turn compassionate, the mean to become peaceful. During the somewhat fifty years of his teaching the Dharma, those who were moved by his majestic aura were too numerous to count.

B. The Resplendent Appearance of the Buddha
The sutras capture the golden appearance of the Buddha with the so-called "thirty-two marks of excellence and eighty notable characteristics." Marks are more apparent, while characteristics are more subtle and harder to detect. Marks and characteristics are closely related; the latter stem from the existence of the former. The magnificent appearance of the Buddha did not happen by mere chance. It was the result of cultivating and doing good over a period of ninety kalpas. Each of the thirty-two marks and eighty characteristics represents a virtue that the Buddha had practiced. Take the example of the broad, long tongue of the Buddha. It was the result of his not talking falsely. These marks and characteristics, which can be looked at symbolically, are said to be attributes that are apparent to bodhisattvas and other cultivated beings.
What are the thirty-two marks of excellence? They are:
1. Flat, even feet, without bumps or indentations,
2. A mark of a thousand-spoked wheel on the bottom of his feet,
3. Long slender fingers, as white as snow,
4. Soft and smooth hands and feet,
5. Toes and fingers finely webbed,
6. Rounded heels, without any unevenness,
7. Full and rounded feet, even from the front to the back,
8. Fine thighs, like those of a royal stag,
9. Hands reaching below the knees,
10. A well-retracted male organ,
11. Height equal to the stretch of the arms,
12. Every hair-root darkly colored,
13. Body hair graceful and curly,
14. A golden-hued body,
15. A ten-foot nimbus,
16. Soft, smooth, and supple skin,
17. Soles, palms, shoulders, and crown well-rounded,
18. Arm-pits well filled, without any sunken spots,
19. A lion-shaped body,
20. A straight body,
21. Full shoulders,
22. Forty teeth,
23. White, clean, strong, and snugly-fitting teeth,
24. Straight teeth,
25. Lion-jawed,
26. Saliva that improves the taste of food,
27. A broad, long tongue,
28. A deep, resonant voice,
29. Deep blue eyes,
30. Splendid eyelashes,
31. A curling white hair between the eyebrows, radiating light, and
32. Fleshy protuberance on the crown.
The eighty notable qualities are:
1. Top of his head not visible to others,
2. A prominent nose with well-concealed nostrils,
3. Eyebrows shaped like a new moon,
4. Big, thick ear lobes,
5. A strong body,
6. Snugly-fitting bones,
7. Turns his whole body when turning, as does a majestic elephant,
8. Leaves imprints as he walks,
9. Radiant and polished feet,
10. Full, rounded knees,
11. A clean body
12. Soft, smooth skin,
13. A straight, erect body,
14. Round, slender fingers,
15. Fine finger prints,
16. Veins that are not visible,
17. Well-concealed heel bones,
18. A supple, fresh-looking body,
19. A round, pleasing body,
20. A brisk gait,
21. A dignified appearance,
22. Peaceful and calm deportment,
23. A stable posture when standing,
24. A majestic presence,
25. A pleasing appearance,
26. A perfectly sized face,
27. Unperturbed demeanor,
28. A perfect appearance,
29. Red-colored lips,
30. A voice that carries,
31. A deep, round navel,
32. Curly hair,
33. Long arms that reach below the knees,
34. Arms and legs that move freely,
35. Straight palm-lines,
36. Fine, long palm-lines,
37. Unbroken palm-lines,
38. Brings joy to those who see him,
39. A broad, perfect face,
40. A face full like the moon,
41. Eloquent and articulate speech,
42. Fragrant pores,
43. Fragrant breath,
44. Appearance awe-inspiring like that of a lion,
45. Gait steady like that of an elephant,
46. Steps airy like that of a goose,
47. A well-formed forehead,
48. A clearly audible voice,
49. White teeth,
50. A bright red tongue,
51. A long, thin tongue,
52. Thick body hair,
53. Soft, clean body hair,
54. Big, wide eyes,
55. Clean, unobstructed airway connecting the seven openings of the face,
56. Lotus-colored hands and feet,
57. A well-concealed navel,
58. A stomach that does not protrude,
59. A well-sized abdomen,
60. Does not fall down,
61. A sturdy, stable body,
62. Tall and big,
63. Soft, clean hands and feet,
64. A ten-foot nimbus,
65. His nimbus lights the way,
66. Treats all sentient beings equally,
67. A stately appearance,
68. Does not slight any sentient being,
69. An even voice,
70. Able to vary his teaching methods,
71. Teaches according to the circumstances,
72. Easy to understand,
73. Adapts his teachings according to the spiritual maturity of the listener,
74. Appearance that grows on others,
75. A pleasing appearance that does not tire others,
76. Long, healthy hair,
77. Long, neat hair,
78. Neatly curled hair,
79. Hair the color of green pearls, and
80. A virtuous appearance.
Depending on the sutra, there are slight variations in the details of these thirty-two marks and eighty characteristics. Actually, these marks of excellence and notable characteristics do not do justice to the Buddha's radiance. Take the example of the Buddha's height. It was said that the Buddha was sixteen feet tall, but some people at that time were skeptical. One of these people tried to use a tape to measure the Buddha's height. He measured sixteen feet again and again, yet still could not measure the full height of the Buddha. Another distinguished feature of the Buddha was his broad, long tongue, and when the Buddha taught the Dharma, his voice could be heard far, far away. In the Ratna-rasi Sutra, Maudgalyayana wanted to find out for himself how far the voice of the Buddha could carry. He used his supernatural power and traveled to a far away buddha-land in the east and could still hear the Buddha teaching the Dharma. Actually this is not hard to believe at all. Nowadays, people in Taiwan can receive radio broadcasts from places as far away as Europe or North America. The technology of radio broadcasting cannot compare to the skillful means of the Buddha. When the Buddha taught the Dharma, his voice could reach three thousand great chiliocosms. Thus, when we say that the Buddha has thirty-two marks and eighty notable characteristics, we are only describing the splendor that can be seen. Because of the limitations of our faculties, we do not even come close to capturing the true splendor of the Buddha.

C. An Enlightened Being Still Subjects to Impermanence
The Buddha lived in this world for a total of eighty years. In this world of impermanence, the Buddha's life was no different. While the statues that we see of the Buddha mostly represent a certain stage in his life, there are actually eight stages in the Buddha's life. They are:
1. Descent from Tusita Heaven: Many thousands of lifetimes ago, Sakyamuni was an ascetic named Sumedha. During that lifetime, Sumedha encountered Dipamkara Buddha who prophesized that Sumedha would become the Buddha of our world and would be named Sakyamuni. The Buddha-to-be then went on to live in Tusita Heaven for a total of four thousand years. There, he waited for the right conditions to be born into this world.
2. Entry into womb: In the form of a white elephant, the Buddha entered into the womb of Queen Maya through her right side.
3. Birth: On the eighth day of the fourth month, the Buddha was born in Lumbini Grove. After he was born, he took seven steps and proclaimed, "This is my last rebirth in the human world, for I have come here to become a buddha." The prince was named Siddhartha Gautama.
4. Renouncing the household life: At the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha wanted to find the way to be free from human suffering. Problems such as the caste system of discrimination, the impermanence of all things, and the fierce competition for survival had always been on his mind. One night, he left palace life to seek the truth.
5. Subduing the evil Mara: The prince overcame the internal temptations of greed, hatred, and ignorance and the external temptations of sound, sight, and lure of power. To overcome these temptations, he drew on his inner strength and willpower.
6. Attaining enlightenment: On the eighth day of the twelfth month, while gazing at the starry sky, in a flash of insight, Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became the Buddha.
7. Turning the Dharma-wheel: After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha spent the next forty-five years or so teaching the Dharma.
8. Entering parinirvana: On the 15th day of the second month in his eightieth year, the Buddha lay down between two sala trees and entered parinirvana. From a life of active engagement, the Buddha returned to a state of peace. His presence became totally integrated with the intricate workings of the universe.
While the Buddha was fully enlightened, he was very much a person. Like you and me, he lived through different stages of his life. These eight stages fully describe the life of the Buddha.

D. An Enlightened Being Still Suffers
When we look at the peaceful appearance of the Buddha in statues and drawings, we may automatically conclude that the Buddha must not have suffered. This is not the case at all. In reality, the Buddha was not only majestic in appearance, but also in the way he carried himself, especially in the face of adversity. The Buddha practiced what he preached; it would not be credible if the Buddha, who taught us about impermanence and suffering, did not have to go through these experiences. Like every one of us, the Buddha also aged, became sick, and had to deal with tough times. After all, the noble appearance of the Buddha is not his true nature, but a manifestation intended to function in the phenomenal world. Living in the phenomenal world, it was just natural that the Buddha had to cope with both the good and bad aspects of life.
During his travels, the Buddha was hurt twice. Once, while traveling in the Khadira mountains, he got a splinter from the poisonous acacia tree. On another occasion, Devadatta pushed a huge boulder from atop of Grdhrakuta Mountain down to where the Buddha was sitting. The Buddha's right foot was injured and bled. The Buddha also fell ill twice. Once, the Buddha was cured by the famous physician Jivaka. On the second occasion, the Buddha suffered from backache. He asked Ananda to go into the village to get a cup of cow's milk and asked Maha Kasyapa to bless the milk with his prayers. The pain subsided only after the Buddha consumed the milk. The Buddha also faced hunger twice. One year, there was a famine and, for a period of three months, the Buddha could only find the remains of horse feed to fill his hunger. There was also one time when the Buddha went out for his alms round only to come back home empty-handed. He went hungry for that day.
In addition to physical hardships, the Buddha also had to deal with hostilities from others. A Brahman woman named Cincamanavika slandered the Buddha to his face. King Suprabuddha of the Koliya clan pointed his finger at the Buddha and openly criticized him. The Buddha was not at all bothered by others' ill feelings toward him. He was a great teacher and showed us by example how to behave in the face of adversity.
Some people had questions about why anything bad could happen to someone who had practiced for as long as the Buddha. King Prasenajit of Kosala was one such person. He once asked the Buddha, "Lord Buddha is most majestic; we can all see that with our eyes. Why is it that misfortune still befalls the Buddha?"
The Buddha replied, "This physical body that you see in front of you is not the true body of the Buddha. All buddhas have transcended life and death. It is for the purpose of teaching sentient beings that these misfortunes befall me-be it a broken foot, an aching back, the taking of medicine, and even the entering into nirvana. I want all beings to know that the effects of karma can never be destroyed. This way, they will think carefully before they act. They will learn to practice all goodness, refrain from any wrongdoing, and in this way, discover their own eternal dharmakaya. We all should wake up from the delusions of the phenomenal body and should not cling to the trappings of this saha world."
King Prasenajit thanked the Buddha for this clarification. From this point on, he saw the Buddha in a totally new light and truly learned to appreciate the compassion of the Tathagata.
Although we are not fortunate enough to see the golden body of the Buddha, we should know that the Buddha lives on in our hearts. Whenever I think of the Buddha, I cannot but feel an enormous respect for him. My sentiments can be best summed up by an old saying which goes thus:
Above and below the sky,
nothing compares to the Buddha,
Within the worlds of ten directions,
there is also no comparison.
I have seen all in this world;
Nothing is as great as the Buddha.

III. The Dharmakaya of the Buddha
A. Dharmakaya is Non-phenomenal
Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha was born into this world. Though the Buddha has since entered nirvana, we can still see statues of him everywhere. We have just discussed the Buddha's magnificence and what the "thirty-two marks of excellence and eighty notable characteristics" are. Is the historic Buddha his true being? If not, what then is the ultimate being of the Buddha?
The true nature of the Buddha is referred to as the dharmakaya of the Buddha. Dharmakaya is the true essence of the Buddha and is non-phenomenal. Since even bodhisattvas cannot see the dharmakaya of the Buddha, how can we, blinded by our delusions, fare any better? Dharmakaya is independent of cause and action, without shape or form, without coming or going, without beginning or end. With such characteristics, how can we see the dharmakaya of the Buddha?
To see what dharmakaya is, we have to practice and experience it for ourselves. It is said in one of the sutras, "Eradicate a bit of ignorance, experience a bit of dharmakaya." Thus, we can see that dharmakaya is something that cannot be experienced externally. The Avatamsaka Sutra says, "Dharmakaya is empty and tranquil; it cannot be attained nor seen. The nature emptiness is the realm of buddhas; it is not something that can be attained through reasoning." Dharmakaya is beyond language, words, and thinking. In fact, it is said, "If one wishes to experience the buddha-realm, one's mind should be pure like space." Dharmakaya is expansive like space; it is without shape and yet it is not shapeless; it is without form and yet it is not formless. Dharmakaya spans all ten directions and permeates the whole universe.
One time, Head Monk Fu of Tai-yuan was at Yangchow giving Dharma talks on the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. When he was at the point of trying to explain the nature of dharmakaya, one Ch'an master in the audience could not help but snicker. After the Dharma talk, Head Monk Fu went up to the Ch'an master and asked humbly, "Did I say anything wrong earlier when I was discussing the dharmakaya?"
The Ch'an master replied, "If you really want to know about dharmakaya, I ask you to please suspend the Dharma talks for three days. During this time, you should enter into a state of absorption without any distraction. Then you can see for yourself what dharmakaya is."
Upon the Ch'an master's suggestion, Head Monk Fu immediately postponed the Dharma talks for three days and sequestered himself so that he might contemplate the dharmakaya without distraction. After three days, he seemed to have made some headway in his endeavor. He happily described to the Ch'an master the following:
Truth of dharmakaya, just like space.
Courses through three dimensions,
spans ten directions.
Covers eight trigrams,
includes two polar opposites.
In tune with conditions,
manifests through experience, is everywhere.
From this incident, we learn that dharmakaya is not something that can be understood from the shell of appearance. It is not something that can be explained with words. The physical appearance of the Buddha is there for all of us to see, but the dharmakaya of the Buddha cannot be seen or heard. The only way to get to know the dharmakaya of the Buddha, the true spiritual body of the Buddha, is through our hearts and minds.

B. Phenomenal Manifestation of the Dharmakaya
Though dharmakaya is non-phenomenal, we cannot say that we are totally unfamiliar of its wondrous workings. The Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra says, "The true kaya [of the Buddha] is the dharmakaya, not his majestic body or appearance. [The body of transformation] is not apart from dharmakaya; the two are not the same and not different." While the splendid physical body of the Buddha is not the dharmakaya of the Buddha, it is a manifestation of the dharmakaya.
The Vajrapani Sutra points out that the threefold body, or nature, of the Buddha can be understood in terms of the Buddha's dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. The three are the body of truth (true nature), the body of bliss (reflection of past merits), and the body of transformation (physical manifestation). The three are different but not distinct for they are three aspects of the same body. The sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya are manifestations of the dharmakaya. Apart from dharmakaya, there is no sambhogakaya nor nirmanakaya. Thus, when we look at images of the historic Buddha, we have somewhat of an idea of the nature of the dharmakaya. When the Buddha was alive in this world, he gave many Dharma talks. Among the listeners of these many Dharma talks, some saw the Buddha as golden, others silvery, or colors of various gems. Some people looked at the Buddha and saw a person, others saw the Buddha as having a golden body sixteen feet tall, and others yet saw the Buddha as being various heights. Even the voice of the Buddha was heard differently by different people. Some heard a soft, gentle voice. Others heard a powerful voice like the roar of a lion. The teachings, too, vary according to the listener. Some heard teachings related to almsgiving, others observing the precepts, or meditative concentration, or prajna, or helping others cross the sea of suffering. From these observations, we can surmise that when we speak of the radiant appearance of the Buddha, we are not speaking of ordinary good looks. These phenomena are the manifestations of the wondrous workings of the dharmakaya.
The wondrous workings of the dharmakaya are not just limited to our world. The sutras tell how the Buddha often appeared simultaneously in different worlds. The Buddha was also known by various names. He took on various forms and used different methods to reach sentient beings. Are these not manifestations of the dharmakaya? The manifestations of the dharmakaya in our phenomenal world enable the Buddha to teach us in various ways and to teach all sentient beings in the three thousand chiliocosms.
The Mahayana-sraddhotpada Sastra says: "The nature of dharmakaya is prajna and radiance." It permeates the whole dharma-world. It is the truth. From this we can see that the dharmakaya is the ground of all phenomena and that everything in this saha world is nothing but a phenomenal manifestation of the dharmakaya. This is what Su Tung-p'o, the Chinese poets, meant when he wrote:
All sounds of rippling creeks are broad,
long tongues.
Mountains, nothing but pure bodies.
Another poem describes:
Melancholic yellow flowers, nothing but prajna.
Lush green bamboos, all are dharmakaya.
In the eyes of the enlightened, there is nothing that is not the dharmakaya of the Buddha; there is nowhere that the dharmakaya of the Buddha is not present. When the Buddha entered nirvana, he became one with the dharmakaya. The dharmakaya of the Buddha is in all phenomena, and all phenomena embody the dharmakaya of the Buddha. Even today, the Buddha lives within us, and we live within the dharmakaya of the Buddha. Not only do we live within the dharmakaya of the Buddha, the whole of the universe lives within the dharmakaya of the Buddha. The Surangama Sutra says, "The worlds of the universe in all ten directions are all in the heart of the Tathagata-they are like clouds in the clear sky." The heart of the Tathagata is the dharmakaya of the Buddha. The dharmakaya of the Buddha is the ground of all phenomena.

C. The Dharmakaya of the Buddha is Everywhere
The dharmakaya of the Buddha is the true kaya of the Buddha. The dharmakaya fills all worlds of the universe in all ten directions. Its radiance shines on countless buddha-lands. The dharmakaya is the realm of the Buddha. The Avatamsaka Sutra describes the boundlessness of the buddha-realm as follows: "All the water in oceans can be drunk up; all momentary thoughts can be counted; space can be measured and wind can be tied down; but the buddha-realm cannot be fully described." Even though it is everywhere, our delusion prevents us from seeing it. Only bodhisattvas who are well along the path of buddhahood can always hear the dharmakaya teaching the Dharma wherever they go. The sutras also tell us of the Buddha teaching his disciples how to recognize the dharmakaya. In this regard, he once said, "To understand dependent origination is to see the Dharma. To see the Dharma is to see the Buddha." The dharmakaya of the Buddha is the true nature of all phenomena. If we understand the principle of dependent origination and see the emptiness of all phenomena, then we see the dharmakaya of the Buddha. The Diamond Sutra says, "Where there are sutras, there are buddhas." When we believe in the Dharma, we believe in the Buddha. The Buddha is the fully enlightened one because the Buddha is in harmony with the Dharma, lives the Dharma, and is one with the Dharma. If we do not believe in the Dharma, are not respectful of the Dharma, or are ignorant of the Dharma, there is no way we can see the dharmakaya of the Buddha.
When the causes and conditions for the nirmanakaya (body of transformation) of the Buddha were exhausted, the Buddha prepared himself to enter parinirvana. All his disciples were stricken with grief and at a loss for what to do. The Buddha said to them, "Please do not be sad. This phenomenal body is now aged, like an old cart that needs constant maintenance. One day the cart will break down. Even if I were to live with you all for yet tens of thousands of years, we would still have to say goodbye one day. This is an immutable law of nature. After I enter nirvana, my dharmakaya will continue to be with you, guiding all of you. In nirvana, my nirmanakaya becomes one with the dharmakaya, which is as everlasting as heaven and earth, as radiant as the sun and the moon. From now on, if you follow and practice my teachings, you will see my dharmakaya everywhere." How true! If we follow and practice the Buddha's teachings, then we see the dharmakaya of the Buddha. From the three complete trainings of precepts, meditative concentration, and prajna, to the thirty-seven conditions (practices) leading to buddhahood, to the Sangha teaching the Dharma-these are all manifestations of the dharmakaya of the Buddha.

D. The Dharmakaya is Ever-present
The Dharmakaya is everywhere, but it is up to us, especially those of us who have dedicated our lives to the Sangha, to help sentient beings see the dharmakaya. We bear a special responsibility to ensure that the teachings of the Buddha reach all corners of the world. The Buddha often said, "To support the Sangha is to honor me." The dharmakaya is ever present, and it is up to us, the Sangha, to ensure that the Buddha's teachings will live forever in the hearts and minds of the people of this world.
I'd like to conclude our discussion today with an exchange between an emperor of the Tang dynasty and a Ch'an master. This exchange, in poetic form, highlights the dharmakaya as ever present and encompasses many of the same points which we have discussed today. The Tang emperor, Shun-tzuang, once asked the Ch'an master Fu-kuang Ru-mang the whereabouts of the Buddha. The emperor asked:
"From where did the Buddha come?
After nirvana, to where did the Buddha go?
Since we say the Buddha is ever present in this world,
Where is the Buddha now?"
The Ch'an master replied:
"From truth the Buddha came.
After nirvana, to truth the Buddha went.
The dharmakaya fills all space;
Lives always in undeluded minds.
With-thought restores to without-thought;
Attachment returns to non-attachment.
[The Buddha] arrives for the sake of sentient beings;
Leaves for the sake of sentient beings.
Clear and pure like the ocean;
Profound and ever present.
The wise should contemplate,
And have no doubts."
The emperor, still doubting, asked further:
"The Buddha, born in a palace,
Died and entered nirvana, between two trees.
Taught in this world for forty-nine years;
Yet pronounced that he did not speak of any Dharma.
Mountains, rivers, and vast oceans,
The sky, earth, sun, and moon,
There will be a time when they will cease.
Who can say that they are not subject to birth and death?
I still have some questions;
Wise one, please explain."
The Ch'an master again replied:
"The nature of Buddha is truth.
The deluded do not understand.
The dharmakaya is like space;
Has no birth nor death.
With right conditions,
Buddha appears in this world;
When right conditions pass, Buddha enters nirvana.
Reaching sentient beings everywhere,
[Buddha] is like the moon in the water.
Not permanent and yet not intermittent;
No birth and no death.
Lives, yet is never born;
Enters nirvana, yet has not ceased.
When mind sees emptiness,
There is no Dharma to speak of."


Sounds of the Dharma: Buddhism and Music

Music and Buddhism Music gives us the capacity to express the deepest feelings of the human soul. Whether through holy hymns or sincere chants of praise, it is capable of lifting our minds to an almost sublime state, and, as such, is regarded as having an important role in the promotion of religious teachings. In the world's religions, music has a very important function and a wide range of applications. The teachings of the Buddha mention music on many occasions. In the Amitabha Sutra, it is written that heavenly singing and chanting is heard all day and night as mandara flowers softly rain down from the heavens. All kinds of birds produce beautiful and harmonious music throughout the day and night. Upon the blowing of a gentle breeze, the movements of jewel trees bring about a kind of wondrous music, as if thousands of gentle tunes are being played together in harmony. Upon hearing these melodious sounds, those present naturally become mindful of the Buddha, mindful of the Dharma, and mindful of the Sangha. In accordance, all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are very skilled in utilizing music to spread the Dharma and guide sentient beings to enlightenment.
In Buddhism, sutras sung as hymns and other songs praising the virtues of the Buddhas have attracted and helped purify the hearts of countless disciples. One of the Buddha's teachings (Treatise on the Perfection of Great Wisdom [skt. Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra]) says, "In order to build a Pureland, the Bodhisattvas make use of beautiful music to soften people's hearts. With their hearts softened, people's minds are more receptive, and thus easier to educate and transform through the teachings. For this reason, music has been established as one type of ceremonial offering to be made to the Buddha." In addition to propagating the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), there is a long history of adapting Buddhist songs for use in various ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, etc. In this capacity, Buddhist Music plays an integral role in common cultural practices.
Venerable Master Taixu once said, "Music gives the people of a society a means by which they can better communicate their moods and feelings with each other. For instance, if someone plays a certain kind of tune, it is often quite easy for those listening to understand exactly what mood that person is trying to convey. For society to achieve some degree of integration, it is essential to be able to communicate and understand each other's moods and feelings and as a result establish a sense of unity. This is one of the important functions of music." The capacity of music to capture people's attention, touch them deeply, and tug at their heartstrings makes it one of the most beautiful forms of human expression.
Chinese Buddhist Music utilizes a rich variety of musical instruments during chants and hymns. Because these instruments are used in the propagation of Buddhist teachings, they are collectively named Dharma instruments. Other than the inverted bell, which originated in India, the instruments used in traditional Chinese Buddhist Music are native to China. Instruments such as the gong, large bell (ch. qing), large drum (ch. gu), wooden fish, small cymbals, large cymbals and Chinese tambourine punctuate both Chinese folk and Buddhist Music. In modern practice, Chinese Buddhist Music is frequently accompanied by a variety of Chinese orchestral instruments, piano, or traditional European symphony orchestras. From its humble beginnings, Buddhist Music has developed to such an extent that it is currently performed in temples and concert halls throughout the world and can now rival the beauty of western philharmonic orchestras.
The Development of Buddhist Music In India during the time of the Maurya Dynasty (317-180 B.C.E.), powerful King Asoka spared no effort to preserve Buddhism and spread its teachings. This time period witnessed many developments in the field of Buddhist Music such as the inclusion of copper gongs, drums, flutes, conch horns, and harps in Buddhist ceremonial music. As Buddhism spread to Tibet, the Tibetan traditions of Buddhism encouraged the use of song and dance in certain ceremonies. There is, in fact, a section of the sangha that specializes in the performance of music and dance, referred to as Leva Musicians, meaning "Gods of Fragrance and Music." The teachings of the Buddha (Mahavairocana Sutra) say, "In all acts of singing there is truth; every dance portrays reality." In accordance with this, the development of Tibetan Buddhist Music has been allowed to blossom freely, which in turn has helped foster its many distinctive characteristics. In Tibetan Buddhism's larger ceremonies, Lamas can be seen utilizing all kinds of unique and exotic ceremonial instruments such as specialized types of drums, windpipes, spiral conchs, and trumpets. The design and artistry of these instruments is widely regarded as being of intricate beauty.
When Buddhism was first introduced into China (from India), focus was placed primarily on the translation of scriptures, and the teaching of Sanskrit Buddhist hymns was discontinued because of the large differences between these two languages. As Venerable Master Huijiao of the Southern Dynasty period (420-589 C.E.) stated, "Sanskrit words have many syllables, whereas Chinese words are monosyllabic. If you pronounce Sanskrit words but write them in Chinese characters, the text will contain too many syllables and the pace of the music will sound rushed. But, if you sing in Chinese and keep the text in Sanskrit, then you will have to rush through a very long section of text while pronouncing only a few syllables. For this reason, we have made translations of the scriptures, but do not continue to use or teach spoken Sanskrit." In the absence of traditional hymns, monastics later recomposed and adapted classical folk songs along with some music commonly played to royalty and officials in the Imperial Court, which gave rise to the unique flavor and tradition of Chinese Buddhist Music. The earliest collection of Chinese Buddhist hymns date back as far as the Wei Dynasty period (220-265 C.E.). Cao Zhi (the son of the emperor) was renowned for his singing and compositions. According to legend, he was passing through the town of Yushan, in the Shandong province, when he heard a song in Sanskrit apparently emanating from the sky. Touched by the song's beauty, he committed it to memory and later wrote it into a melody entitled "The Yushan Fanbei," the first Buddhist hymn constructed in a Chinese style. This song served as the foundation for the development of Chinese Buddhist Music.
In response to the uniqueness of Chinese Buddhist Music, The Biography of Great Chinese Masters says, "All songs teaching the Dharma that were composed by Indian monastics or lay people are called 'bei' (skt. patha). Intonations or chants of sutras composed in China are known as recitals." The collective name for this type of traditional Buddhist Music is known in Chinese Mandarin as fanbei and has its origins in the time of the Buddha. Another style of ancient Indian chants and hymns became widely popular during the period of the composition of the Vedas. This style of chant was prominently adopted by Buddhism and has its origins in the sabdavidya, (the branch of the classical five great studies of India concerning sound and music). Buddhist hymns composed in this style are collectively referred to in Mandarin as shengbai (Sabda Hymns).
During the time period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589 C.E.), the contributions of several emperors deeply influenced the development of Buddhist Music. Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, for example, was a devout Buddhist whose great love for Buddhist Music motivated him to write several well-known musical compositions such as Great Joy (ch. Da Huan), The Heavenly Way (ch. Tian Dao), The Cessation of Evil and Wrongdoing (ch. Mie Guo E), and Stopping the Wheel of Suffering (ch. Duan Falun). Though these were originally composed to teach the Dharma, by virtue of their aesthetic value they came to be regarded as quality musical compositions. Emperor Wu also set the precedent for the establishment of Buddhist children's choirs with works including The Children's Joy of the Dharma Song (ch. Fale Tonzi Ji) and Children's Fanbei (ch. Tongzi Yi Ge Fanbei). In addition, he established the Wuzhe Dahui[1] (skt .pancaparisad), held for confession, penance, and remission, the Yulanpen Fahui (skt. ullambhana) ghost festival, and the Liang Wu Repentance Liturgy. Emperor Wu also initiated the practice of singing Buddhist hymns during repentance ceremonies. The contributions of Emperor Wu were instrumental in blending Buddhist Music with that of the mainstream classical Chinese traditions.
From the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties to the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.), the great achievements of monastics in terms of their singing and public speaking abilities stand out prominently in the field of Buddhist Music as being peerless in their time. At the same time, Pureland School monastics composed several songs praising the Buddha that were sufficiently esteemed to be compiled in the Tripitaka. It was during this period that Venerable Huiyuan of Lushan pioneered the use of music as a method of promoting the Dharma and propagating the doctrines of Buddhism.
In recent times, a large volume of Tang Dynasty Buddhist compositions was uncovered in the Dunhuang Caves of China. Primarily concerned with interpretations of the sutras, these compositions are known as Verses for the Common People (ch. Su Jiang), and were the first Chinese Buddhist compositions to adopt a more folk-like style and flavor. This music represents a reform in the style of singing and chanting, and in addition employs a new system of musical notation. Before the end of the Tang Dynasty, the style of Buddhist Music in China had become entirely Chinese and received unprecedented popularity.
Later, during the Yuan Dynasty (1277- 1367 C.E.), Buddhist musicians adapted melodies of the then popular Northern and Southern Dynasty Compositions (ch. Nan Bei Qu). In the Ming Dynasty (1386-1644 C.E.), monastics adapted more than three hundred popular and classical melodies and compiled them on fifty scrolls known collectively as Songs Proclaiming the Titles of all the Honorable Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (ch. Zhu Fo Shizun Rulai Pusa Zunzhe Mingcheng Gequ). Some of the most famous secular music of the time was adapted to create Buddhist pieces. For example, the Song Dynasty piece A Butterfly Falls in Love with a Flower (ch. Die Lian Hua) was rewritten as the Buddhist piece A Spiritual Song (ch. Ju Lingxiang Zhi Qu). Although folk tunes such as these were widely used to propagate the teachings, Buddhist Music had already become quite popular among the common people. However, Buddhist Music still seemed to lack creativity and continued to remain hampered by elements of conservatism.
Upon the formation of the Republic of China in 1912, Buddhist Music slowly began to lose its popularity among the general public and fewer monastics continued the work of writing new compositions. However, in 1930 at the Xiamen City Minnan Buddhist Institute, Venerable Master Taixu in cooperation with Venerable Master Hongyi composed a renowned, beautiful piece called The Song of the Three Treasures (ch. San Bao Ge). At the same time, they made a call to all Buddhist disciples to preserve and carry on the legacy of Buddhist Music. Venerable Master Taixu was motivated in part by his understanding that Buddhist Music is a very convenient means for propagating spiritual education. In addition, he believed that if music could be used to help spread the Dharma, then it would contribute greatly to the diversity and richness of religious education of the public. His associate, Venerable Hongyi, was an accomplished and esteemed musician before entering the order and ten of his songs concerning naturalism and its implications in Buddhist teachings were eventually compiled into an album entitled "The Qingliang Selection (ch. Qingliang Gequ)." During this time, however, most people had limited exposure to Buddhist Music and therefore it did not enjoy widespread popularity.
Recently, there has been an upsurge in the popularity of Buddhist Music resulting from the broad use of hymns and fanbei as a means to promote the Dharma. Given the little encouragement of previous years this is a most welcome sign. During the 1950's, many monastics worked diligently to compose the words for new songs with the help of musicians Yang Yongpu, Li Zhonghe, and Wu Juche. A collection of the songs they composed has been recorded by Fo Guang Shan and released in an album entitled Fo Guang Hymn Collection (ch. Fojiao Shengge Ji). Their efforts serve as a great inspiration to those who wish to carry on work in this field.
In 1957, the Ilan Buddhist Recital Society's youth group choir produced several more Buddhist albums under my supervision. Altogether we produced six albums, which include a total of over twenty compositions. As this was the first time such a project had been undertaken in Buddhist circles, a new epoch in the history of Buddhist Music was born. However, in those days a lot of prominent people in Buddhist circles did not agree with this kind of undertaking. Despite criticism, I continued to feel such projects were important for the propagation of Buddhism, and I decided to remain undeterred in my efforts. Then a few years later in 1979, 1990, 1992, and 1995 my persistence was rewarded by receiving permission to organize some large performances in Taipei's renowned Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall and National Concert Hall. These performances, featuring dances coordinated with Sanskrit songs and other music teaching the Dharma, mark the first time Buddhist hymns had ever been performed in any large public concert facility in Taiwan. In addition, a performance entitled "Paying Homage to the Buddhas of the Ten Directions-A Dance and Song Ceremony in Sanskrit" was held as part of a traditional arts festival at the invitation of the Taipei City Government. This was to mark the first time traditional Buddhist fanbei and modern hymns had been performed alongside popular and more established mainstream styles of Western music, traditional Chinese music, and dance. This pioneering effort certainly served to affirm the newly established status of Buddhist Music in society and was rewarded with significant acknowledgement in all sections of the Buddhist world.
The Contributions of Buddhist Music In addition to songs used to expound the truth of the sutras, Buddhist fanbei also includes an esteemed and beautiful collection of gentle melodies that give praise to all the Buddhas and great Bodhisattvas. These were originally composed as expressions of the deep faith of Buddhist disciples, and by virtue of their beauty, they have left a rich legacy of superb melodies and literature. These include all kinds of gathas praising various Buddhas, such as the Bhaisajyaguru Gatha, the Avalokitesvara Gatha, as well as statements of Buddhist vows, which have contributed significantly to the broadening, enrichment, and variety of Chinese literature. Holy hymns are used in ceremonies for making offerings or inviting the presence of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Excellent pieces such as the solemn Incense Offering Prayer (ch. Lu Xiang Zan), the Incense Prayer for Up- holding the Precepts (ch. Baoding Zan), and the Prayer for Offerings Made to Celestial Beings (ch. Jie Ding Zhenxiang Zan) embody and beautifully express the virtues of respect and religious piety.
Buddhist fanbei has contributed a unique style to the world of music. Characterized by a relaxed and easy pace, soft tones, and a dignified, solemn manner, Buddhist fanbei gives elegant expression to the five virtuous qualities of sincerity, elegance, clarity, depth, and equanimity. According to the Vinaya in Ten Recitations, regularly listening to Buddhist fanbei can give the following five benefits: a reduction in bodily fatigue, less confusion and forgetfulness, a reduction in mental weariness, a more elegant voice, and greater ease in both personal expression and communication. Regarding the regular practice of chanting or singing fanbei, A Record of the Buddhist Religions as Practiced in India and the Malay Archipelago (ch. Nanhai Ji Gui Zhuan) makes mention of six kinds of merits that can be obtained: knowledge of the depth and extent of the Buddha's virtue, an intuitive realization of the truths of the Dharma, a reduction in negative or harmful habits of speech, a clearer and healthier respiratory system, a mind more free from fear and anxiety, and longevity and improved health.
In the practice of Buddhism, fanbei has important functions in daily living, in repentance ceremonies, and in ceremonies accompanying sutra lectures. During daily activities, practitioners regularly chant fanbei such as The Meal Offering Dharani (ch. Gong- yang Zhou) and The Meal Completion Mantra (ch. Jie Zhai Ji) to make offerings and transfer merits to all the Buddhas and all the sentient beings of the six realms. During repentance ceremonies, focus is placed on singing several prayers as a means to guide and teach participants. Before lectures are given on the sutras, incense prayers are sung to invite all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to attend the service, helping to generate a dignified, solemn, reverent, and respectful manner among participants. After the ceremony's conclusion, The Gatha for the Transfer of Merits (ch. Huixiang Ji) is chanted, where the merits for attending the service are dedicated to the benefit of all sentient beings. Through this, attendees express the wish that all sentient beings be relieved of all suffering and come to find lasting happiness.
Buddhist fanbei is not designed to try to elevate or excite the emotions of participants or practitioners, but in fact aims to achieve the opposite effect. Its main function is to conserve emotional energy, calm thoughts, reduce desire, and allow practitioners to see their true nature with a clear mind. The Flower Ornament Sutra and The Lotus Sutra contain phrases such as "conduct ceremonies and teach the Dharma with music" and "with a joyful spirit, sing the truths of the Dharma." From this it can be seen that fanbei has an important role in teaching the Dharma to the public.
Fanbei music has notably influenced and contributed to the cultural legacies of various Chinese empires and dynasties. Before the Tang Dynasty, government artists assumed the work of compiling, editing, and distributing popular musical pieces and artistic growth during that period was limited. How- ever, between the Sui and Tang Dynasties, transport between China's western and eastern regions was unimpeded, resulting in the introduction of music from the outer western and northern regions to China's more heavily populated eastern regions. In addition, wars and continued fighting resulted in the dispersion and loss of many Chinese classics. These factors resulted in a period of renewed creativity and the reinvention of several different musical styles. By the end of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1128 C.E.), local artists began to take on the role of directing the development of popular music. Commoners formed their own organizations and even established official performance halls. As a result, during the Tang Dynasty, Song Dynasty (960-1128 C.E.), and Yuan Dynasty (1277-1367 C.E.), Buddhist temples were able to gradually develop and popularize a new style of giving sermons that featured public talks expounding and publicizing the Dharma sung to fanbei melodies. This popular style of lec- turing was known as the singing lecture technique. This style was successful in attracting the attention of the public and was considered to be a very moving style of vocal music. Documents containing historical details concerning these developments were discovered among hidden pieces of art found in the Dunhuang Caves. These documents show the emergence of a style of symbols employed by the monastics of hundreds of years ago to describe and teach the chanting of Buddhist doctrines. They also contain depictions of solemn-looking ceremonial dances, orchestra constructions, elegant offering ceremony dance postures, and instrument recitals of Indian music. Today, these documents are highly valued as being priceless pieces of historical Chinese literature and underlie an important aspect of Buddhist Music's enormous cultural contributions.
In light of the way traditional Chinese music and Buddhist Music have blended together over a long period of time, Buddhist temples of the past could be considered custodial centers for the preservation and development of traditional ballads. In testimony to this, it was recorded that during the Song Dynasty a famous scholar by the name of Cheng Mingdao attended a ceremony at a Buddhist temple called Guan Yunmen. When he saw the grand formations of classical instruments and heard the crisp sounds of drums and bells he was so excited about what he had discovered that he yelled out, "So! The ritual music of the three dynasties can all be found here!" In pre-contemporary China, recognized scholars were required to be accomplished in a variety of compulsory fields of study, one of which was classical Chinese music. As such, Cheng Mingdao's statement concerning the style of music present is perceived to have the weight of authority.
The contributions of Buddhist music upon the world can be exemplified in a legend involving a famous Buddhist musician. During Sakyamuni Buddha's time on earth (500 B.C.E.) there was a bhiksu named Pathaka whose voice was so beautiful that when he chanted Buddhist fanbei even animals that overheard him were touched. One day, King Kausala was leading a large army to invade Anga (a small state in ancient India) and on the way they en- countered the Jetavana Monastery while Pathaka was in the middle of a chanting service. As soon as the horses heard the sound of Pathaka's chanting, they became so absorbed in the sound that they came to a full stop and refused to advance any further. When the sound reached King Kausala, he was so moved by the beauty of the music that he could not bring himself to shed blood in battle and immediately decided to abandon his campaign and return home.
Modernization of Buddhist Music After I came to Taiwan from China in 1949, I decided on the basis of my sincere vow to spread and publicize the teachings that it would be best to adopt a more modern approach in using hymns to propagate the Dharma. As such, I placed a lot of emphasis on the promotion of Buddhist Music, and advocated a strategy of simplifying the words of tunes to make them easier to understand, as well as using more modern and popular musical styles. It was my hope that Buddhist songs could be composed that most people would find deeply touching, but that were also easy enough for the average person to sing along with. As a result, I personally composed the lyrics to several Buddhist songs and led the Ilan Buddhist youth group choir in a premier performance of the Sound of Buddhism concert group on the Minben radio station in 1954. In addition, I made it a point to institutionalize the singing of modern Buddhist hymns during all types of Buddhist activities. At that time a lot of people opposed this very strongly, even saying such methods could destroy Buddhism. However, history verifies that this strategy has been a success. The drawing power of music has indeed encouraged many people to enter into the Buddhist community, where a significant amount have slowly been transformed spiritually as a result of being in constant contact with the teachings. In addition, it has encouraged many talented youth to become active in Buddhism, and many have later gone on to make life-long commitments and enormous contributions to Buddhism, such as Venerable Tzu Hui and Venerable Tzu Jung. Even though there have been many setbacks and obstructions, I maintained my conviction to bring a degree of modernization to Buddhist Music.
The idea to modernize Buddhist Music is based on a need to respond to changes in society in order to provide the most appropriate and suitable methods to help purify the hearts and minds of the public. Indeed, the lifestyle common to most people today is very busy and quite stressful, and with many people seeming to have no place to take any kind of spiritual refuge it can often become quite easy for them to lose themselves. However, the pure and clear sounding melodies of Buddhist Music provide a way to communicate the higher spiritual states of mind that are advocated by the Dharma, and can serve to enrich and reenergize the hearts of the people.
Buddhist melodies are characterized as being strong, but not fierce; soft, but not weak; pure, but not dry; still, but not sluggish, and able to help purify the hearts of listeners. Through using music to perform the task of spreading the Dharma and saving sentient beings, we can reach the most remote places and overcome the limitations of time and distance, as well as differences in cultural backgrounds and nationalities. Music can help us achieve the task of widely propagating the Dharma and spreading the wisdom and compassionate vows of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas across every corner of the globe.
Modernized Buddhist Music is focused on bringing harmony into people's everyday lives, purifying people's minds, and performing the function of educating and transforming listeners so as to bring their emotions in line with the teachings of the Dharma. With modern media and information equipment constantly improving, we need to make full use of technology to find more efficient means to give Buddhist Music public coverage, such as through the use of electronic broadcasting media including television and radio stations. We need to use music to break through the barriers of differences in cultural backgrounds, social customs, and languages. By using all sorts of equipment such as classical instruments, laser disks, electronic organs, the piano, and many other kinds of musical implements we can create and distribute music that can suit the tastes and meet the needs of people from around the world.
The following are five guiding principles I have put forward to further the modernization and popularization of Buddhist Music:
1. Buddhist Music should not be something unique to temples and monastic life, but should move towards spreading out to the general public.
2. In addition to Buddhist verses and chanted prayers, we need to continue creating more and more new musical pieces.
3. Those propagating Buddhism should from now on do more to advocate the use of music, and should use music to attract the public to study Buddhism.
4. Buddhists can start to form bands, choirs, orchestras, classical music troupes, etc. to use music to spread and teach the Dharma.
5. I hope that from this day on, we can see new musical talent make a mark in Buddhist history in the same mould of the likes of Asvaghosa Bodhisattva and Venerable Master Hongyi.
In addition to the techniques and styles of ceremonial music honoring the Buddhas that are now regarded as defining Buddhist Music, we can begin to mix the solemn spirit of Buddhist melodies with some of the qualities of contemporary music to take the modernization of Buddhist Music to a whole new level.

[1] A seven-day vegetarian festival for the public.


Speaking of Love and Affection

Dear Dharma Friends,
The topic we are going to talk about today is "Love and Affection." Some of you may be a bit surprised by our choice of topic because most people associate love and affection with a man-woman relationship. This is not exactly correct. Love and affection also applies to relationships in families, between friends, and among a nation's fellow citizens.
The world of love is wide and expansive. We do not only love our parents, friends, or countries; we may also love many other things. Some people love plants and flowers; others love their pets. Some other people love to collect mineral rocks, stamps, or matchboxes, and they derive a lot of joy from their collections. It is just as natural to love sentient beings with whom we can share our emotions as it is to love insentient things that do not understand our emotions.
Very often, we hear people raise this question: Where do we come from? The sutras tell us that we human beings arise out of love; in fact, it is said in the sutras, "When one's love is not strong, one will not be born into the saha world." In Buddhist literature, human beings are referred to as sentient beings. Love is the source of life and our existence represents a continuum of love and affection.
While some kinds of love are "healthy," others are "unhealthy"; some are "giving," others are "possessive." What is love? Love has its pluses and minuses. From the perspective of its pluses, love gives us the strength to make sacrifices, to give, to encourage, and to be compassionate. [Love is like a roadmap; it gives life direction and a clear visibility of life's destination. Love is like a blanket; it provides us with warmth and security. Love is like a box of chocolates; it is sweet and full of surprises.] From the perspective of its minuses, love is like a piece of rope; it can be binding and restrictive. Love is like a lock; it can shackle us and make us restless. Love can be blinding; it can keep us in the dark without us even aware of it. Love is like the honey on a sharp blade; it can entice us to lick the blade, even at the risk of cutting our tongues and risking our lives. Love can be like a sea of suffering; its turbulent tall waves can trap us in its depths.
We all want to be loved by others. Others go a step further and want to share their love with the many that their lives touch. Regardless if we love or are loved by others, we have to be watchful that our love does not turn sour. Love and hate are inseparable, one shadowing the other. If we do not love properly, if we do not expand our love to all, and if we do not elevate our love [for a few] to compassion for all, love can turn into hate. Today, I'd like to discuss with you four different levels of love and affection.

I. Everyday Love
[Everyday love is also most basic and common. This includes love between a man and a woman, between a parent and a child, among family members, and between friends. While love can be blissful, there are times when love can hurt. While most of us know or long for the joys of love, we may not understand why love can cause us so much pain. Because of this, I believe it is more useful if we spend the next few minutes talking about the latter.] When love is parochial, finite in capacity, and limited in scope, it often becomes possessive and clinging in nature. There are three main situations when love causes us problems:

A. When the object of our love is inappro-priate
It is human nature to love someone with whom we feel a special affinity, but when the object of our love is inappropriate, our love can bring us many headaches. When we love someone who is spoken for or is married to another person, our love is destined for troubles. It takes two to love; when we love someone who has no feeling for us, it is like banging our head against the wall. Depending on the object of our love, we should also moderate our intensity accordingly. If not, problems will ensue.

B. When our perspective of love is inappro-priate
[One of the most common, though faulty, perspectives of love is to view love as some kind of trade.] Some people believe that, because of their personal wealth, they can buy love. Others dare not love others who are more affluent that they are. Some other people would not consider falling into love with someone without first considering that person's looks, education, profession, or how wealthy his or her family is. In these instances, love is looked at as a kind of trade; this is an erroneous perspective of love. True love does not speak of requirements and prerequisites; true love is about giving.

C. When the manner in which we love is in-appropriate
Some people only love themselves and have little regard for how others feel. In their continual pursuit of personal enjoyment, some even engage in extra-marital affairs. Others let their own emotions cloud their judgement; they become partial to people they love and overly critical of others they dislike. Sometimes, love is like a pair of colored glasses, preventing us from seeing the true face of those we love. No wonder we say that love is blind. There is a common Chinese saying which we can use as our guide, "Know the ills of those we love and the goodness of those we dislike." When we love properly, love brings out the best in each one of us.
While the excessive love of a parent for his or her child can spoil the child and ruin the child's life, the love of a parent, when in moderation, can give enormous support for the child and help the child grow up well. I still remember some twenty years ago, when Venerable Tzu Chuang decided to renounce the household life to become a monastic, her parents came to witness the ordination ceremony. With tears in their eyes, they gave her a warm smile. Why were they both happy and sad? Although it is quite common now for young college graduates to enter the monastic life, it was quite unusual at that time. On the one hand, her parents wanted to spend the rest of their lives with their child; on the other hand, they recognized their daughter's love and dedication to the Dharma. Their tears, as well as their smiles, left a strong impression in my memory.
At this point, you may think that there is no room in Buddhism for the kind of love that exists between a man and a woman, or between a husband and wife. This is not the case at all. Buddhism does not disapprove of wholesome love between a man and a woman; what Buddhism disapproves of is love that is unhealthy and unsound. It is unfortunate when love becomes the cause of problems and heartbreaks. When I read in the newspaper about the many alarming stories of love-driven assaults or even homicides, I cannot help but lament how tragic it is not to love properly.
Love is about giving; even if we cannot make huge sacrifices for our loved ones, the least we can do is not to hurt them. In the Documentary of the Warring Period, Yueh Yi once said, "When a gentleman breaks off a friendship, he does not speak ill of the other party. When a patriotic official is asked to leave the emperor's court, he does not try to clear his name." Similarly, while most people would like to see their romance develop into marital bliss, it is important to know how to handle a relationship when it fails. When friends part ways, they should do so amiably and not bear a grudge against the other party. How can one make an enemy out of someone whom one has once loved? To defame or destroy another person just because of a failed relationship is so unnecessary.
Some people describe how people love this way: Young people love with their words, middle-aged adults love with their actions, and elder people love with their hearts. What this means is that how we love matures with age. Likewise, our love also evolves as we grow in spiritual maturity. From loving ourselves, our love grows to loving our families and to loving the entire human race.

II. Heroic Love
What kind of love is heroic-remarkable and extraordinary? How does it differ from the everyday love we talked about in the previous section? I am going to give a few examples here to help us answer these questions.

A. Selfless love for the country
Ta Yu was a well-known virtuous man of ancient China. During that time, there was a major flood, and many people lost their farms and homes. The emperor assigned Yu to see what could be done to divert the river water and alleviate the floods. Thirteen years he was away from home, supervising the project. He was so dedicated to finishing the project and thus relieving his fellow countrypeople of further pain that, during these thirteen years, three times he passed his house and three times he did not stop to visit with his family. In his love for his country and fellow countrypeople, there was little time for himself and his family. Such selfless love for the country is a very good example for all of us to emulate.
During the Warring Period in ancient China, there was a government official by the name of Chiu Yuan. He was very patriotic and was very trusted by then Emperor Chu Hwai. When some of the corrupt officials began to see themselves losing ground to Chiu Yuan, they began to spread rumors about Chiu Yuan. Unfortunately, the emperor believed the rumors and distanced himself from Chiu Yuan, finally dispatching him to a far-away post. Even then, Chiu Yuan loved his emperor and maintained high hopes that his country would not fall into the hands of these corrupt officials. He would rather give his life in patriotism than to kow-tow to the plans of the political parasites. When he was ordered by the emperor to implement a policy put forward by the corrupt officials or to face death, he chose death. He jumped into Mi-low Lake and took his own life. Since the villagers could not recover his body, they rowed about the lake in boats and made loud noises with their drums so that the fishes would be scared away and not feed on his body. In fact, this is the beginning of the Dragon Boat Festival. From many of the letters left behind by Chiu Yuan, we can see his steadfast love for his country. He would rather give his own life than to watch helplessly his country on the decline. This is another example of selfless patriotic love for the country.
During the later years of Sung dynasty, China was divided into Northern Sung and Southern Sung. When the poet Lu Fang-weng lay dying on his death-bed, he told his sons, "As I lay dying, I should know that all phenomena are empty; however, I grieved I did not see the unification of the nine states. On the day General Hwang reclaims the north, please do not forget to tell me the news when you make your ancestral offerings." This kind of love for the country is another example of remarkable love.

B. Selfless love for others
One of the Buddha's cousins was a general by the name of Mahanaman. He was responsible for guarding the city of Kapilavastu. When the city was attacked and was about to fall into the hands of the enemies, he pleaded with the other general, "Please do not kill my countrypeople. But if you have to, can you please wait until I resurface after jumping down to the bottom of the river." The other general was none other than the fierce King Virudhaka. He looked at Mahanaman and answered, "As it is, you and your countrypeople have no escape but to die. Alright, I am going to grant you your last wish." Mahanaman then jumped into the river and disappeared. A long time passed and he still did not float back up. Virudhaka was getting impatient and sent his people to the bottom of the river to find out what happened. They found Mahanaman at the bottom of the river with his hair tied to a tree root. In giving his life, he bought some time for his fellow countrypeople to escape out of the city. This kind of willingness to sacrifice oneself for others is a form of fearless love. It is, indeed, extraordinary love.

C. Selfless love for the Dharma
Within Chinese Buddhism, we have all heard of Master Hsuan-tsang. He was also referred to as the "Confucius of Chinese Buddhism." Master Hsuan-tsang was remembered for his determination to go to India to learn about Buddhism and bring sutras back to China. To do this, he had to cross over eight hundred miles of desert. One day while in the desert, the water that he and his entourage were carrying suddenly all spilled out. The situation was really grim because there was little chance they could cross the desert without water. Under the fierce sun and with dying thirst, he made this very famous vow: "I would rather die trying to take the last step westward than try to make it back east alive." This fervor for truth is also a form of remarkable love.
If you look at how the Japanese live, eat, and dress, you will see that there is a heavy flavor of Chinese influence. Who was the first to introduce Chinese culture to Japan? To this, we have to credit Venerable Chien-chen of the Tang dynasty. He was a forefather of the area of Yangchou, where I grew up. In order to realize his dream of going to Japan to spread the Dharma, he tried to cross the sea to Japan on seven different occasions and over a twelve-year period. One time, he was stopped by government officials; another time, he was robbed clean by bandits. On another trial, he had to turn back because of bad weather and turbulent seas. There was even one time when he was sold out by one of his disciples. After six difficult attempts, he finally arrived in Japan at the age of sixty, blinded in both eyes. Even with all these hardships, his resolve of spreading the Dharma in Japan remained unshaken. He also made this moving remark about his experience: "What is the risking of life in the face of great undertakings?" He did not hesitate to give up his life for the chance of spreading the Dharma. His compassion of spreading the truth to all was a remarkable love for others.

D. To love one's parents to the best of one's abilities
The Buddha's disciple, Maudgalyayana, was a filial son. After his mother passed away, he learned with his supernatural powers that his mother was suffering in hell. His love for his mother was so great that he did not hesitate to go to hell to help console his mother in her suffering. His dedication to his mother so moved the Buddha that the Buddha told him only the united efforts of the whole Sangha could alleviate his mother's suffering. This is the beginning of Ullambana. In this way, not only was he able to save his mother, many others are able to help their deceased relatives. This form of filial behavior is the direct transformation of a remarkable love.
Ch'an Master Tao-chi of North Chi dynasty was another example of a filial son. When he traveled about spreading the Dharma, he carried his books and mother in baskets suspended from a bamboo pole set across his shoulders. When others offered him a hand, he would politely decline and say, "This is my mother who gave me life and raised me. I should be the one to take care of her." Chen Tzun-su of Tang dynasty was a very accomplished Ch'an master. He was also very attentive to his mother. He earned his living by mending shoes; thus, he was also called Chen the Shoesmith.
There are many other examples of selfless love for one's parents. Filial love is a true and pure form of emotions; it is also a manifestation of what extraordinary love is.

E. To love one's students like oneself
The following examples serve to show how past masters loved their students and followers. To teach and train their students, they used varying methods and seized every opportunity possible. With love and dedication, the bond between a teacher and his students was forever sealed.
It was recorded in Lun-U how heart-broken Confucius was when he learned of the death of his student, Yen Hwei. He wailed and said repeatedly, "The heavens have let me down!" His tears fully captured his feelings for his students. He was saddened by the premature death of his student; he grieved at the loss of someone with great potential. His love for his student was most compassionate and remarkable.
Milaraspa traveled far and wide looking for a teacher. After extensive search and travels, Milaraspa finally found Marpa to be his Dharma teacher. His teacher asked him, "You said you want to call me your teacher. Let me ask you what you have to offer me?"
Milaraspa prostrated respectfully and said, "I am going to offer you all that I engage in my actions, speech, and thought."
With this, Marpa agreed to accept him as his disciple. One day, Marpa told Milaraspa, "You are a strong young man. I want you to build me a stone house so that I can store all my sutras. Once it is completed, I will teach you the Dharma."
Milaraspa was most delighted. When he asked his teacher for a sketch of what he wanted, his teacher told him, "I want you to go to the tip of the east face of the mountain and build me a circular house. The roads are steep and treacherous, but your hard work can help you burn off your bad karma."
Milaraspa worked day in and day out. When it was about half finished, his teacher came up the mountain. He took off his half-moon shaped topcoat, folded it a few times and left it on the floor. He then turned toward Milaraspa and said, "This does not look like a good spot. I want you to take the house apart and move to the west face of the mountain. I want you to build me a house that looks like this garment here."
Frustrated and speechless, he complied. When he was about half-way done, his teacher again came up the mountain and said, "The house still does not look right. I want you to take this apart and move all the materials to the north face of the mountain. There I want you to build me a triangular-shaped house to symbolize what a true cultivator I am."
Milaraspa again followed his teacher's direction. Rain or shine, he worked non-stop, hoping to finish the house. It was about a third completed when his teacher came up the mountain and asked him, "Who told you to build this house?"
Nervously, Milaraspa replied, "You personally asked me to build you this house."
The teacher looked puzzled. Scratching his head, he said, "Oh! I can't really recall anything like this. Why would I ask you to build me a triangular-shaped house at this poor location? It looks like the type of altar used by cults. Do you want to do me harm? Take it apart! Take it apart! I want you to go to the south side and build me a square-shaped house. I want it to be nine stories tall, on top of which is one more floor for storage, for a total of ten stories. Once it is completed, I will teach you the Dharma!"
Just with a few words, all of Milaraspa's efforts were washed down the drain. In this way, building and de-constructing, many months and years passed. He was exhausted and physically beat. Some of his fellow students could not bear to see him suffer alone and so offered to help him move tiles and bricks. When the teacher found out, he exploded and scolded Milaraspa, "I asked you to build me a house. Did I say that you can ask others for help? Why are you so lazy and ask others for help?" His teacher did not only yell at him, he also gave him a few blows with a club. When he could no longer bear the pain, he let out a little squeal. Instead of comforting him, the teacher continued to reprimand him, "Why are you crying? When you first came and wanted to be my student, did you not say that you wanted to offer me all your actions, speech, and thought. I am just striking what is mine, and I am only yelling at what is mine. What is there for you to cry about?"
What Milaraspa had to endure is beyond our imagination; he tacitly accepted all kinds of hardships. After a few years, Milaraspa attained enlightenment and became an arhat. On the night that he attained enlightenment, his teacher embraced him crying, "When I first saw you, I realized you were one of those rare individuals with great potential. This is why I had to put you through the toughest tests so that you may soon attain enlightenment. When I reprimanded you, hit you, and was just outright unreasonable toward you, my heart ached with pain. But when I thought about the good it would do you in the future, I just have to hide my pain and continue to task you." What looked unreasonable on the surface was in fact a teacher's love for his students. It was his way to groom his student for greatness.
When I entered monkhood many years ago as a young man, I was lucky enough to be educated in a similar fashion. On the day when we entered the hall to be ordained, all the precept masters were seated in a row. I remember the precept master asking us sternly, "Today, you are here to be ordained. Are you coming here today because you want to or because your teacher wants you to?"
Someone immediately answered, "It is my desire to come here today to be ordained."
When the precept master heard his reply, he took up his rattan stick and began beating this student. Afterwards, he said, "How dare you come here without being asked by your teacher!"
It was another precept master's turn; he asked us the same question, "Are you here today because you want to or because you were asked to?"
The other students saw what happened earlier, so one of them got smart. He stood up and said carefully, "Please be patient with me, I am here today because my teacher asked me to come."
He thought he was very clever; instead his answer did not put him in any better light. The precept master gave him a beating and said, "If your teacher had not ask you to come, does it mean that you would not be here today?"
Upon reflection, the precept master did have a point. Did we have to be asked to come to be ordained? Did we not have the commitment to enter monkhood on our own? Next, it was another precept master's turn. Like the two before him, he asked us the same question. With both experiences behind us, we thought we knew better. One of us said, "My teacher did tell me to come to be ordained, but I myself also want to come." He thought that such an answer could not go wrong. He could never have guessed that his answer would also bring him the same punishment as the two other students before him. After the punishment, the precept master said, "You are too smooth."
Next, we were told to appear before another precept master. This time, the question was quite different. The precept master asked, "Have you ever violated the precept of killing?" Now, killing is a very serious offense, so we all shook our heads and said, "No, we have never violated the precept of killing."
The precept master then said, "Impossible! Are you telling me that you have never swatted a fly or stepped on an ant before? It is obvious that all of you are lying." With this, the precept master gave each one of us a few strokes. I guessed he was right. We were not telling the whole truth, and we deserved to be punished. Then, another precept master asked us if we had violated the precept of killing. This time we replied, "Yes teacher, we have violated the precept of killing."
"This is violation of the precepts and calls for punishment." With these words, the precept master gave each one of us a few strokes with a whip. As the day progressed, we did not want to answer any questions put before us. Helplessly, we just said, "Teacher, if you want to punish us, please do so."
On the surface, this form of teaching method looks ridiculous and unreasonable. As it turned out, what our teachers wanted to do was use unreasonableness to teach us to let go of our reasoning intellect and to use feelinglessness to teach us how to deal with our emotions. If we could surrender ourselves in the face of unreasonableness and feelinglessness, then would we not be more apt to accept the truth? Their demonstration of unreasonableness and feelinglessness was, in fact, a tool to teach us to let go of our stubborn delusions. It was out of compassion that our teachers were so unfeeling. Looking back, I was indeed very lucky to have the opportunity to be trained under the old school. The training was tough and painful, but without pain, how could there be greatness? If we were not to throw iron scraps into the smelter, how could we get steel? The stringent test we had to go through was a blessing. When I look at the youths of today, I do feel sorry for them. They do not have the opportunity to be so tested; the education of today does not instill in our youths the spirit of toughness and endurance. Discipline, when coupled with compassion and remarkable love, is a means for teachers to truly prepare their students for greatness in the future.

III. Enlightened Love
There are many levels of love. When we extend our love from loving our spouse to loving our siblings, to loving our relatives and friends, to loving our neighbors, our fellow countrypeople, all animals, and to all sentient beings, our love also matures. In this way, basic love first transforms into heroic love, which further matures into enlightened love.
A lot of us have heard about Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. Before he became a bodhisattva, he cultivated at the hills of Chiu-hua in An-hwei. This was a region of very steep hills and few people. At that time, there was a young boy living with him. One day, this youngster could no longer bear to live in such isolation, so he asked to leave the temple and go back down to the village below. Ksitigarbha escorted the youngster down the mountain and offered him a poem as a parting gift. From the sentiments of the poem, we can see the transcendental love that bodhisattvas have for us. The poem goes like this:
Within the quiet gates of this temple you long for your family;
As you descend the mountain, you say goodbye to this temple in the clouds.
You love to ride bamboo horses within bamboo fences
Rather than collect gold sand in this land of gold.
Do not try to pick up the moon in the water while filling the vase;
Or try to play with the flowers in the water while washing the basin in the pond.
Go, and do not shed a tear for me;
This old man has the clouds in the sky to keep him company.

In the first stanza, Ksitigarbha captured the feeling of the youngster: how lonely he was within the gates of the quiet temple and why he wanted to return to his home in the village. In the second stanza, Ksitigarbha cautioned him what he was giving up in his leaving the temple. He described the little boy's desire of wanting to ride bamboo horses and play games rather than cultivate within the walls of the temple. In the third stanza, Ksitigarbha left words of advice for the youngster to keep in mind. He told the little boy that when he took a vase to go to the river to fill it up with water, he would see the reflection of the moon in the water. He warned the boy not to try to pick up the moon in the water for it was just a reflection. Life in the world is illusive, too. Ksitigarbha also told the boy that he when he washed the basin in the pond, he should be careful not to mistake the reflections of trees and flowers in the water as a flowery world in the pond. In the fourth stanza, Ksitigarbha comforted the youngster so that he would not feel guilty about leaving him. He told him to go and do not feel sorry for him. Although he, Ksitigarbha himself, lived in the quiet temple on the mountain, he could still find company in the fleeting fog and the floating clouds of the sky.
From this poem, we can see the love and affection bodhisattvas and arhats have for us. The feelings Ksitigarbha had for the little boy is multi-dimensional. He knew how the little boy felt, provided him with guidance, and even comforted him. Each word was superbly chosen and rich in meaning.
When Venerable Dao-chi of Tang dynasty was the abbot of the Fu-kan Temple in Yi-chou, he opened the temple to many lepers, many of whom had open stenchful sores. Venerable Dao-chi was not at all put off by their condition; he even lived and ate with them. He also dressed their sores and helped them with their baths. Some of his disciples made excuses and tried to keep their distance from the lepers. Finally, someone asked the Venerable, "Venerable, you spend time with the lepers everyday. Are you not afraid that you will also become infected?"
Venerable Dao-chi smiled gently and said, "What we call clean or dirty is the result of our discriminating mind. If we do not have any dislikes in our minds, how can aversions arise? When our mind is pure, everything and everywhere is pure. If a monk like myself cannot even let go of this bit of delusion and let compassion arise in its place, I should be ashamed of myself for not living in accordance with the Dharma."
Such is the love of arhats and bodhisattvas. Their love is embracive, their compassion knows no discrimination, and their view of self and others is rooted in equality.
Maha-Kasyapa was one the Buddha's great disciples. He was also an arhat. Maha-Kasyapa's parents, who were very affluent, wanted him to get married. Getting married was really not in Maha-Kasyapa's plans, for he wanted to dedicate his life to Buddhist cultivation. After being repeatedly pressured by his parents, he had no choice but to appease his parents. In order to buy some time, he asked a goldsmith to sculpt a statue of a beautiful young maiden. He took the sculpture to his parents and told them that he would marry only if he could find someone as elegant as the gold sculpture. In order to get his son to marry, his parents had no choice but asked a few servants to carry the sculpture around the country looking for someone that could match its beauty. The servants first spread words that the golden statue was really an image of a deva and would bring good luck to all young maidens who would come to pay her respect. This way, all young maidens got wind of this wonderful statue, and they all came forward to pay their respects. Among the many who came, there was one who was so striking in her beauty that the gold statue paled in comparison. She was the beautiful maiden Subhadra. They finally asked for the permission of her parents and brought her back to Maha-Kasyapa's parents.
Maha-Kasyapa had no choice but to keep his promise to his parents, and the two were married. As it turned out, this young lady also wanted to dedicate her life to cultivation, and she complained to Maha-Kasyapa, "This is really my parents' idea. They wanted me to marry you because of your family's wealth. As for me personally, I would rather live a life of cultivation." When Maha-Kasyapa heard this, he told her, "Good. I also want to live a life of cultivation. Then why don't we practice separately." Thus, though they were husband and wife in name, they both continued their own course of cultivation. After twenty years when both sets of parents had passed away, they finally got their wish to renounce the household life and lived a monastic life. They became a bhiksu and a bhiksuni respectively. Although Subhadra became a bhiksuni, her beauty still attracted the attention of many men. When she went out to beg for alms, men would follow her and tease her. She was so taken aback by all the unwanted attention that she dared not go out to beg for alms. When Maha-Kasyapa saw what was happening to Subhadra, whom he called his wife once upon a time, he felt compassion for her and shared with her whatever food he got from his alms round. Others misread his compassion and began to circulate rumors by saying, "Look! They said they were only husband and wife in name, but they are still such a loving couple even though they are now in the Sangha." Subhadra lamented that her physical beauty was in fact a burden, so she disfigured herself in the hope that she could become a bhiksuni who was ugly in appearance but beautiful in her cultivation. From this, we can see the enlightened love and affection of arhats is different from the worldly way we normally perceive love.
Most people think that arhats, who are no longer bound by worldly emotions, are without emotions. This is not true at all. Though arhats have severed the ties of emotions, they are rich in emotions. They are enlightened individuals who are rich in personality and true to their character. When we say arhats are empty of emotions, what we mean is that they have transcended the limited scope of man-woman kind of love, and that they have expanded their love for a few to a limitless and selfless compassion for all. From loving one's spouse, children, and family, we extend our love to the Dharma and all sentient beings. Thus, true love does not speak of possessing others. True love is the touching of others' lives and the giving of ourselves for all.

IV. The Buddha's Kind of Love
The Buddha is a fully enlightened individual; what is the Buddha's emotional life like?
As a lot of you may have known, the Buddha's mother died seven days after giving birth to the Buddha. The Buddha, who had always wanted to preach the Dharma to his mother to thank her for delivering him into this world, finally fulfilled his wish and went to Trayastrimsas Heaven to preach the Dharma to his mother. When King Suddhodana, the father of the Buddha, passed away, all the princes expressed their desire to be pallbearers. Though the Buddha was the fully enlightened one and was most revered, he still insisted on being one of the pallbearers for his father. When everyone saw the Buddha carrying the coffin, everyone was very touched. The Buddha was indeed a filial son and a great enlightened individual. He gave us a very good example of how to love our parents.
The Buddha loved everyone, friends and foes alike, equally and without discrimination. Before the Buddha renounced his household life, he was married to Princess Yasodhara of Devadista. Many years after the Buddha attained enlightenment, the Buddha went back to his hometown to see his family. Princess Yasodhara had not seen the Buddha for all these years and wondered how her husband had changed. Filled with hope and uncertainty, she was anxious about what to say to the Buddha, who was once her husband. After the Buddha met with his father, the imperial court, and various royal cousins, he finally met up with Princess Yasodhara. She thought to herself, "I really have to give him a piece of my mind and ask him why he left me." When Princess Yasodhara saw the majestic look of the Buddha, she could not help herself but knelt down before the Buddha. The Buddha looked at her and said to her in a calm and stately tone of voice, "Yasodhara, I have to ask for your forgiveness for what I did to you. Though my leaving home to cultivate was not fair to you, I am most true to all sentient beings. Now, I ask you to rejoice for me for it had been my wish for many kalpas to become the Buddha. My wish is to preach the Dharma and help all sentient beings, including yourself, cross the sea of suffering." His voice was compassionate, his appearance was august, and his words transcended all worldly love. Everyone was moved, and eventually Yasodhara also renounced her household life. From the way in which the Buddha handled his relationship with Yasodhara, we can see that to truly love a person is to help him or her grow and stay on the right path; to love a person does not necessarily mean a fairy tale life of living together happily ever after.
The Buddha did not just love his family; he also loved those who were hostile toward him. Though his cousin, Devadatta, treated the Buddha like an enemy, the Buddha did not bear any grudges against him. In fact, the Buddha used to tell everyone that Devadatta was his good teacher and instrumental to helping him with his cultivation. Without darkness, how do we appreciate the illumination of light? Without evil, how do we appreciate the goodness of truth? Without Devadatta, how do we see the greatness of the Buddha?
The Buddha did not just extend his compassion to the rich and the mighty; he was equally compassionate to all sentient beings without discrimination. When his students were sick, the Buddha would prepare the medication or deliver water to his students. When older bhiksus failed in their eyesight and could not mend their clothes, the Buddha would personally help them thread needles or mend their clothes for them. The Buddha loved his disciples like a loving mother cares for her children. To his disciples, the Buddha was a source of light and strength. The Buddha is most compassionate and gives us limitless hope!
The Buddha was also a very patient teacher and adapted his teachings to the student and the occasion. When Nidhi, who made his living disposing of night-soil for others, felt inadequate and tried to avoid the Buddha, the Buddha purposely went out of his way to meet up with him. With Ksudrapanthaka, who was very slow and had trouble even memorizing a simple gatha, the Buddha spent extra time to teach the Dharma to him. When his disciple, Katyayana, who was preaching the Dharma in another area, sent one of his young students to pay respect to the Buddha, the Buddha made sure that this young student was well cared for. The Buddha told his disciples, "Now that the young student of Katyayana had arrived, please set up a cot next to my bed for him to rest for the night." The great Buddha found time for everyone, even for a young student. In showing his concern for the youngster, the Buddha was also showing his love for his disciple who was away preaching the Dharma. The Buddha often thought about Aniruddha, who lost his sight because of long hours of cultivation and not getting enough rest. Only after Aniruddha attained supernatural vision did the Buddha stop worrying about him. The Buddha also worried about his cousin Ananda, who was very handsome and often attracted the unwanted attention of women. Only after Ananda became successful in his cultivation did the Buddha feel a sigh of relief for his cousin.
Thus, when we speak of love and affection, there are actually many levels of love and affection. Love starts at home. We love our spouse, our children, and our siblings. From here, we extend our love to loving our relatives and friends. Further, our love encompasses all human beings and then all beings. From a possessive kind of love, love matures into a giving kind of love, and finally into the enlightened love that bodhisattvas have for us. This kind of love is the great compassion that is described by the saying, "[I] long for all sentient beings to be free of suffering, but I would not seek pleasure just for myself."
Love is like water. On the one hand, it can nurture our lives; on the other hand, it can drown us. Thus, if we do not know how to love properly, love can bring us many problems and ruin our lives. How do we love properly? Let me offer the following four guidelines:
1. Love wisely-We should use our wisdom to purify our love.
2. Love compassionately-We should use our compassion to manifest our love.
3. Love in accordance with the Dharma-We should use the Dharma to guide our love.
4. Love morally-We should use morals and ethics to direct our love.
Love is such an important subject of our lives. How do we love selflessly and offer our love to all? How do we transform a possessive love to a giving love, to a love for the Dharma? How do we purify our love from one of discrimination to one of great compassion? How do we love in the spirit of this common saying: "Cultivate our kindness without conditions, and ground our compassion on oneness"? These are very important questions for us to ponder. When we offer our love and affection to serve the community, then our lives will be that much fuller and that much more everlasting! Thank you.


Speaking of you and me

Dear Dharma Friends,
The topic we are going to discuss today is "Speaking of You and Me." Human interaction plays a very important role in our everyday lives. When we have harmony in our relationships with others, we also have peace of mind. Conversely, when we do not handle our relationships properly, we may create a lot of headaches for ourselves. Our existence in this world is built on mutual support, in fact, often more than we care to admit. Thus, it is important that we know how to treat others with respect and how to stay in control of ourselves. This is the essence of our discussion today.
Once there was a devout Buddhist who asked a Ch'an master, "Master, what is a buddha?"
The Ch'an master smiled and answered, "Perhaps, I should not answer your question. Even if I were to give you an answer, you might not believe me."
The man said respectfully, "I will not doubt your words."
"If that's the case, I'll answer your question." The Ch'an master pointed at the man and continued, "You, you are a buddha."
The man was astonished. He said, "I am just an ordinary man. How can I claim to be a buddha?"
"Because you cannot move beyond your view of 'self,' you do not know that you are a buddha," the Ch'an master explained.
The man wanted to test his own understanding a bit further. He asked, "In my case, my view of a 'self' prevents me from knowing that I am a buddha. Let me then ask if you, the Ch'an master, are a buddha?"
The Ch'an master grinned and said, "All these discriminations and attachments! Even the attachment to the concept of 'self' can prevent us from seeing our buddhahood, let alone the attachment to the concept of 'others.'"
On our journey to buddhahood, it is our delusion regarding self and others that prevents us from clearly seeing the Dharma. When we fail to understand what "you" and "me" mean, it is no wonder that we act in ignorance, creating unwholesome karma for ourselves along the way. Moreover, our delusion acts like a veil before our eyes, effectively clouding our vision. Today, we are going to look at the role of human relationships in society, its meaning in the context of time and space, what the sutras teach us in this matter, and the basis of harmonious relationships. I hope that through our discussion today, we will all develop an appreciation for the relevance of the Dharma.

I. Looking at the Role of Human Relationships in Society
Many social conflicts are rooted in the mishandling of relationships. In the sutras, there is an allegory that speaks to this point. When we look at the human face, we can see that the eyebrows sit on top of the eyes, followed by the nose and then the mouth. One day, the eyes decided to air their grievance. They said, "We, the eyes, are the windows to the world. If it weren't for us, you will not be able to see where you are going. As important as we are, we are placed below the eyebrows. How unfair!"
As soon as the eyes stopped talking, the nose jumped in, "If you are talking about importance, I am the most important. I am the one that makes breathing possible. If I stopped doing my job, all of you would not survive. I am the one that should complain."
The mouth also had something to say about the matter, "Both of you are mistaken, for I am the most important. I am the one that takes in food and keeps all of you alive. As hard as I work, I am situated at the lowest spot on the face. The eyebrows do not do anything, yet they are high up there."
One after another, they all voiced their dissatisfaction with the eyebrows. After everyone had his turn, the eyebrows spoke, "I know I am not as important as you all are and am undeserving of being on top of all of you. Let me move." Having said this, the eyebrows placed themselves below the eyes. The eyes took a look and were shocked. They said, "This looks ghastly. This is not going to work." The eyebrows then moved to below the nose, and the reaction was no different. Finally the eyebrows settled below the mouth, and the face looked worse. In the end, they all decided that it was best for the eyebrows to return to their original place on the face. All the discussions and commotion were for naught.
We are no different from the eyes, nose, and mouth in the story above. When we see others doing better than ourselves, we often feel an urge to one-up them. Unchecked competition can even drive us to resort to unethical means to achieve our goals, creating many enemies and problems in the process. Even loving couples are not immune to the ills of rivalry. In The Sutra of One Hundred Parables, there is a story about such a rivalry. Once there was a very poor husband and wife, both of whom wanted to eat the last piece of bread that remained. Neither of them would give in. Knowing that his wife liked to talk, the husband challenged his wife to see who could remain silent longer. The wife agreed. They sat across each other at the table, both looking at the piece of bread in the middle. Before long, a burglar broke into the house. At first, when he saw the two of them sitting at the table, he thought he was caught for sure. When he realized the two were not about to move, he got bold and began to grope the woman to see if she was wearing any valuables. Angry with her husband for not doing anything to stop the burglar, she could no longer hold her tongue. She jumped out of her chair and yelled at her husband, "Are you blind? Do you see the burglar here trying to take advantage of me?"
To her surprise, her husband was not at all upset. He was plainly delighted that he had won. He grabbed the bread and said, "You've lost. This piece of bread is rightfully mine."
When we are consumed with winning, competition takes on a life of its own, and we often lose sight of why and for what we were competing in the first place. In such an atmosphere, there is little room for a relationship to blossom. Only when we can let go of the attachment to winning or the aversion to losing can we be at peace with others. Only then can we experience the vastness of the Dharma.
When we maintain the duality of self versus others, we develop disproportionate levels of love and hatred. When we love someone, we want to spend all of our time with that person. Every time we part with our loved ones, we feel the anxiety of separation. On the other hand, when we dislike someone, we never want to see that person again. Each time we have to deal with someone we do not like, we feel angry and frustrated. If we replace such intense emotions with compassion, much of the friction in human relations will disappear. If we realize that we all are one, then there will be no impulse to jealousy and no room for conflict. The Diamond Sutra teaches us that there is no boundary or chasm that separates self and others and that we should let go of the notion of self and the notion of others. When we can practice this, we will no longer engage in meaningless mind games.
Little do we realize that when we hurt others, we are in essence hurting ourselves. Once there was a family of three generations living under the same roof. One day, when the grandson misbehaved, the grandfather gave the little boy a good spanking. The father saw the incident and was not happy to see his son being punished. Angrily, he slapped his own face a few times. The grandfather was puzzled and asked, "What are you doing?" The son replied, "Since you punished my son, I hit your son to get even." While we may say such a story is simple-minded, how many times have we suffered in the name of trying to get even?
Human society is nothing other than a web of human relationships. Each link in the web affects the whole. When we see how the repercussions of one relationship can affect the whole, we'll learn to treasure each relationship. We all have an important role to play in maintaining the health and well being of this inter-locking web.

II. Looking at Relationships in the Context of Time and Space
When we consider the physical body which we call self, we see that its life span is limited to only a few decades. Because of our tunnel vision, we tend to be overly consumed with the welfare of the physical body, not realizing that our being is much larger than this physical manifestation. When we look at existence in the context of the cycle of rebirth, we have a long history and an unbounded future. Our physical body is like a house. When the house is beyond repair, we move on to a new one. When our bodies grow old and die, we move into a new body. While our form may be different for each rebirth, our buddha nature remains the same. If we know we are in for the long haul, we will look at each turn of success and failure as less overwhelming.
When we look at existence in the context of space, we also have to bear in mind that our circumstances in life are nothing more than the ever-changing manifestations of our past causes and conditions. If we measure the significance of our lives by how much money or assets we have, we are in essence reducing our lives to dollars and cents. Our being is our buddha nature; it is more than the physical body and its significance far exceeds whatever material possessions we have. Our being "spans the three realms of existence" in terms of time and "traverses the ten directions" in terms of space. In fact, the whole of the universe is a reflection of our collective karma and is intimately related to every fiber of our being. Su Tung-p'o, a famous Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty, once described this relationship as follows:
All sounds of rippling creeks are broad, long tongues.
Mountains, nothing but pure bodies.
When I first arrived in Taiwan in the 1940s, I was truly destitute in a material sense. Though I was penniless, I never felt in want of anything. The wealth that I found in nature was immeasurable. When I was down in spirit, the stars and moon in the sky kept me company. Flowers were there for me to enjoy; trees provided shade for me. Everything in nature gave me untold joy. When I felt the embrace of the whole universe, how could I feel anything but rich and fulfilled?
Unfortunately, many of us do not know our buddha nature, our true self. As we course through the cycles of rebirth, we become attached to the impermanent, non-substantial self and lose touch with our buddha nature. In Buddhist literature, there is a story which speaks of our ignorance. One time, a monk passed by a family's home on his alms round. It so happened that the family was busy celebrating a wedding, and no one paid him any attention. The monk looked around and sighed,
Cows, sheep, animals sitting at table;
Grandmother from a past life is now the bride.
Beating drum in hall: hitting grandpa's skin;
Cooking in pots the aunts.
The monk felt a sense of pity for sentient being who cannot see impermanence and become preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of life. The animals that were being cooked in the kitchen pots were the aunts of previous lives. The guests of the wedding were cows and sheep in their previous lives. The bride was in fact the groom's grandmother in a previous lifetime.
If we could look into the past and future, we would realize that many of the myriad relationships in this world are both pitiful and laughable. The Inspiration to Pledge Our Bodhicitta speaks of two such examples, "Whipping the mule until it bleeds, who knows of my mother's sorrow? Taking the animal to be slaughtered, how do I know of your father's pain?" There was a story behind these lines. Once there was a family who had a mule. For many years, the family used the mule to pull produce to the market. When the mule grew old, it was no longer strong enough to pull the cartloads of produce. The mule's owner thought that he could get some more use out of it if only he could show the mule who the master was. Every day he whipped the mule so that it would work harder. One night, he dreamed of the mule appearing before him in human form, pleading with him, "In your previous life, I was your mother. I was not a good mother and neglected you. As a result, I was reborn as a mule to repay my debt to you. For the last twenty years, I helped you transport produce to the market. Now I am old and weak, I can no longer work like I did before. Please have pity on me and spare me your whipping." When the man woke up, he was ashamed that he had been so cruel, so he took the mule to a nearby temple for it to live out its days in peace.
Similarly, when we slaughter animals for their meat, we bring pain upon them and create unwholesome karma for ourselves. The following poem explains this well:
My flesh, sentient beings' flesh-
Names different, nature the same.
Of the same nature,
Taking on different forms.
Let [the animals] suffer pain and agony,
While I enjoy their sweet and tender flesh.
Without waiting for Yama to judge;
We ourselves can imagine what the consequences shall be.
While human beings and animals are of different form, our nature is the same. We should have compassion for all sentient beings, man and animal alike. We should not think only of ourselves, with no regard for the welfare of others. If we are callous, we will have to pay for our actions eventually.

III. What the Sutras Say About Human Relationships
In regards to human relationships, the sutras teach us to have compassion for each other. We should love all sentient beings as if they were our own sons and daughters. Bodhisattvas see all beings as not separate from them. When we suffer, they feel our pain. In the eyes of the bodhisattvas, we are intimately related to them. When they help us, they are also helping themselves. This is what is meant when we say, "Cultivate kindness without conditions and ground compassion in oneness."
Once there was a man who asked a Ch'an master to write something special for his birthday. The Ch'an master wrote, "Father expires, son expires, grandson expires." The man was not at all amused by the mentioning of death on his birthday. The Ch'an master explained, "These are words of good luck."
The man was puzzled and asked, "Everyone dies. What kind of good luck is this?"
The Ch'an master replied, "Would you rather have your grandson pass away before your son and before you. How tragic it is to have elders attending the funerals of the young!"
When we do not have a clear understanding of how we relate to others, we create a lot of headaches for ourselves. There are many instances in which the sutras speak of how relationships should be handled. Here we'll look specifically at what the sutras say regarding friendships and spousal relationships.
A. About Friendships
According to the sutras, there are four kinds of friends: friends who treat you like a flower, friends who act like a balance, friends who are like the mountains, and friends who are like the earth.
We all like flowers, especially when they are fresh. We put them in vases to decorate our homes, and we may even wear them in our hair. But when the flowers wilt, we toss them out like trash. Some people treat their friends like flowers. They are charming when they need their friends. When their friends outlive their usefulness, they toss them out like wilted flowers. This can be seen in the saying, "The poor live in the city without anyone asking after them. The rich live in secluded areas and distant relatives come calling." Then there are some people who act like a scale and continually compare their friends with themselves. When their friends are more prosperous than they are, they treat them with reverence. When their friends are down on their luck, they distance themselves from their friends and their misfortune. Some friends are analogous to mountains. Like mountains that are full of rich ore, flowers, and wildlife, these friends are full of treasures and wonders. We can learn a lot from such friends. Some friends are like the great earth that lets everything grow in its rich soil. Such friends can help us grow in our wisdom and strengthen our character.
The Agamas speak of the four kinds of friends that should be cultivated. The first kind is friends that can help us tell right from wrong. They let us know if we are doing something right and are not afraid to tell us when we are in the wrong. Such friends help us stay on the right path. The second kind is friends that are compassionate and caring. They give us moral support during our trying times. They are also happy for us when we are doing well. The third kind is friends that are always ready to extend a helping hand. They are pillars of strength. They help us stay focused and come to our aid when we are at a loss. The fourth kind is friends that share our aspirations. Such friends provide us with encouragement and are not hesitant to share their time and resources with others.
The sutras also speak of the five types of friends that we should avoid. The first type is friends that never show their true intentions. The second type is friends that are envious of others' good fortune and success. The third type is friends that have hearts of stone. They only think about themselves and fail to see others' predicaments. The fourth type is friends who do not acknowledge their own mistakes. The fifth type is friends who refuse to accept advice from others.
B. About Spousal Relationships
In addition to relationships with our friends, the sutras also speak of spousal relationships. Let us first look at what the sutras say regarding a husband's responsibilities to his wife. First and utmost, a husband should be respectful of his wife. When a man respects his spouse, more than likely he will not jeopardize his marriage with extra-marital affairs. Second, a husband should trust his wife in her handling of household affairs. When a husband is trusting of his wife, chances are he will not hide any secrets from her or keep personal funds for his own enjoyment. Third, a husband should try his best to provide for his family. [While a modern-day wife may have a career of her own, a man should not use that as an excuse to shirk his responsibility.] Fourth, a husband should keep work and personal life separate. While a work environment calls for a certain demeanor, a husband should not try to carry an air of importance at home over his wife. Fifth, a husband should do his best so that his wife can be proud of him as a husband.
What do the sutras say regarding a wife's responsibilities to her husband? Again, first and foremost is respect for her husband. Mutual respect is the foundation of all good marriages. Second, a wife should use loving words. Imagine a wife that often used harsh words to put her husband down, do you think such a marriage would last? Third, a wife should tend to the affairs of the home. [Though many wives of the twenty-first century are in the work force, they should not neglect their household duties.] A home should feel like a home, and both husbands and wives have their parts in making the other party feel comfortable and secure. Fourth, a wife should be a good hostess to their friends and relatives that come to visit. When a woman is a good hostess, there is less need for a husband to do his entertaining outside of his own home. In this way, there are many more opportunities for a wife to get to know her husband's friends and not feel isolated. While there are historical and cultural differences in how any relationship should be handled, the basic elements of respect and compassion are the universal ingredients of a good and healthy relationship.
Here we have limited our discussion to relations between friends and between spouses. In addition to these relationships, the sutras also address other human relationships such as those between parents and their children or those between people of different social standing. The Buddha's teachings touch on both the phenomenal and the transcendental, for how we relate to others is the foundation of any kind of practice.

IV. Basis of Good Human Relationships
"All worldly phenomena arise out of causes and conditions; all worldly phenomena cease because of causes and conditions." Human relations are no different. Wholesome actions are the seeds of good relationships, and unwholesome actions breed problems in our relationships with others. I am going to offer you in the following pages some suggestions on how we can nurture our relationships.
A. Putting Others Ahead of Oneself
We have been trained from a very young age to look out for ourselves. We strive to be better than others, and we often measure success in life by how much we own. Such lines of thinking are the root causes of human conflict. To resolve conflict, we have to start with modifying these kinds of attitudes.
One way we can put others ahead of ourselves is to see things from others' point of view. If we do this, we'll not be so quick to lay blame at others' feet. Once there were two households, the Cheungs and the Lees. The Cheungs were a quarrelsome bunch while the Lees were always happy. One day, the Cheungs decided to ask the Lees what their secret was. The Lees told them, "All of you are always right, while we always try to see each other's point of view and realize that we are often part of the problem. This way, we are not so quick to point our fingers at others."
The Cheungs did not understand what the Lees meant. They asked, "How does that work?"
One of the Lees explained, "Let's say someone in your house broke a vase. Everyone is quick to reprimand the person who broke the vase. The person, however, feels that it could not possibly be his fault, and the problem lies with the person who had put it there in the first place. In this way, a small squabble can escalate into a big fight. When the same thing happens in our house, the person who broke the vase immediately apologizes, 'I am sorry. I should be more careful.' The other party sees his role in the accident and will probably say something like this, 'I should not have placed the vase in that spot.' Instead of trying to place blame, we work together to resolve problems."
When the Cheungs heard the explanation, they realized that the secret to a peaceful household is for each person to be demanding of himself or herself and yet forgiving of others.
In today's society which emphasizes the survival of the fittest, we are very competitive. Very often, we are driven not so much by the absolute quality of life but by the relative quality of life. We all want to be a bit better off than the person next door. This may mean living in a bigger house, driving a nicer car, or simply having a bigger bank account. Actually, we do not need to build our happiness on having more material things than others. There are many intangible things in this world that are much more valuable than how much wealth we possess.
It is better to give than to receive. This is especially true for the giving of happiness to others. This may mean giving our time, sharing our know-how, or helping those in need. We tend to think of happiness as a zero-sum game-the more we give, the less we have for ourselves. This cannot be further from the truth. Happiness is something that grows when it is shared with others. The happiness of others makes our own happiness that much more meaningful and enjoyable. We should not be afraid to share our happiness. We should remember the saying, "Sacrifice your comforts, be comfortable with making sacrifice."
B. Contemplate the emptiness of the five aggregates
It is said in the sutras, "The cause of our suffering lies in the presence of the physical body." What this means is that the root cause of our suffering lies in our attachment to this impermanent, non-substantial body we call "self" and mistaking it for our true self. The phenomenal self is actually nothing more than the combination of the five aggregates: form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness. Because of the five aggregates, we have discrimination, resulting in attachment and aversion. The sutras also say that we human beings are plagued by eighty-four thousand afflictions. These afflictions, which are like bandits, are led by the three main culprits of greed, hatred, and delusion. The commander-in-chief of these three culprits is the phenomenal self. How can we guard against the invasion of these bandits? The answer lies in "selflessness," which is essentially eliminating the commander-in-chief of the bandits. When we speak of selflessness in Buddhism, we are not talking about non-existence or the termination of life. The body reconstitutes after death in a new rebirth and cannot be eliminated by physical means. The selflessness that we speak of is letting go of the notion of self. If we can see that what we normally call the self is nothing more than the result of the five aggregates coming together and is inherently empty in nature, we would not cling to the notion of self so tightly. Let me illustrate this point with the following story.
Once there was a man who took a wrong turn on his way back home from a trip. As the night set in, he found shelter in a little abandoned house by the roadside. Not long after he settled down, he saw a ghost about to enter into the house, hauling a corpse behind him. Even before he had time to take cover, an even larger ghost appeared at the door. Without as much as a word, the larger ghost tried to wrestle the corpse from the first ghost. The traveler was scared beyond his wits and unknowingly let out a squeal. The big ghost heard the noise and said, "Someone is hiding in the house. Let us ask this person who is the rightful owner of the corpse."
Meanwhile, the little ghost spotted the man and grabbed him by the collar. He asked the traveler, "Tell the truth. Who did you see hauling the corpse in the first place?"
The man thought to himself, "If I speak the truth, the big ghost will not be too pleased with me. If I lie, I will anger the little ghost and create bad karma for myself. Either way, I am in big trouble. I may as well speak the truth."
The man described what he saw, which angered the big ghost tremendously. The big ghost tore off the man's left arm and swallowed it. The little ghost felt sorry for the man and wanted to help. He tore the left arm off the corpse and transplanted it onto the man. This angered the big ghost even more, and he then tore off the man's right arm. The little ghost again replaced the missing arm with one from the corpse. The same thing happened to the man's legs and head. After a lot of commotion, both ghosts left in a huff. The man, who was in a state of shock, asked himself, "Who am I? These are not my limbs. This is not my head."
With advances in medicine, all kinds of organ transplants are now possible. In fact, scientists are looking into cloning human organs or using organs from other species for transplants. In the age of cloning and organ transplants, how do we define the self? Even twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha taught us to see the physical body as the combination of the five aggregates and as being empty in nature. When we truly understand the meaning of this, we will not be attached to the form and feeling of the physical body. If not, we are setting ourselves up for many disappointments.
C. All mental constructs of outward appearances are illusive
Not only should we let go of the notion of self, we should also let go of the notion of others. Specifically, the Diamond Sutra teaches us to let go of both of the notions of self and others, as well as the notion of living beings and the notion of a life span. When we can let go of these four notions, we will look at the world with total equanimity. There will be no more duality of self versus others, and the transcendental and phenomenal will be seen as the same.
How does letting go of these notions free us from suffering? Let me give you an example. In Chinese culture, it is impolite to sit down while others are talking to you standing up. If someone does that to you, you may think of him as simply rude. But at home, you do not think twice if your young daughter asks you to crawl on all fours so that she can ride you like a horse. Why do we react to these two circumstances so differently? In the first case, you see the other party as distinctly different from you. In the second case, you see your child as an extension of yourself and will not be offended by what she does or says.
Many of our headaches in this world stem from our insistence on the duality of self versus others. The ultimate solution for life's many problems, therefore, lies in seeing that we all are one, and it is in our own interest to practice the golden rule of treating others like we would prefer to be treated ourselves. Never-Disparaging Bodhisattva was always respectful to everyone he met for he knew that we are all capable of becoming a buddha one day. If we all practice a modicum of this kind of respect for others, the world will be a much better place.
With this note, I want to close our discussion today. I want to thank you for giving your undivided attention to this Dharma talk. We are all here today with open minds and without any personal agenda. I hope that you can remember the serenity you feel here when you put aside all personal differences and just focus on the Dharma. Hold this thought with you when you step out of the auditorium back into the demands of your daily life. May you all find peace and happiness.


Teaching, Learning, and Upholding the Way in Chan Buddhism

Dear Friends:
Good evening everyone! Tonight I would like to discuss the special characteristics of Chan Buddhism by looking at teaching, learning and upholding the Way.
First of all, what does Chan have to do with us? What benefits are there to understanding and practicing Chan? Once we understand Chan and find Chan, our worries will be fewer in life; our views will no longer be distorted; and many contradictions and phenomenal differences will find resolution. With Chan, we will feel as light as a cloud or water and be at ease. Being rich or poor, having or not having won't matter. You'll see through the illusions and vanities of this world and attain liberation and ease.

Once we find Chan, our fears in life will disappear; that is we will not fear birth and death. Once we find Chan, our minds will be composed, giving us strength. In response to any eventuality, when the thoughts are focused in meditative concentration, one can experience the power of Chan and easily accomplish all his/her wishes.
Chan is not for monastics alone. Everyone can practice Chan, be they a lay Buddhist, Moslem, Christian, Catholic, or Daoist. Chan is common to all religions. Let me tell you a story to help you understand Chan.
There was once a famous Buddhist Master called Fu Dashi[1]. Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty invited him to lecture on the sutras. Fu Dashi ascended the platform, struck once with a ruler, and then sat down. The Chan Master Baozhi, who possessed supernatural power, noted to the Emperor that, "Fu Dashi's lecture on the Diamond Sutra is finished!"
That's the way Chan is. The best explanation, the most precise language, is "to strike once with a ruler". Although nothing is said, everything is said. This is the exalted Chan world of "ten thousand conditions manifest without consequence as the body is unmoved in its original state."
Another time when Fu Dashi was lecturing on the sutras, Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty came in his carriage for a visit. Everyone respectfully stood up to welcome him. But Fu Dashi sat as impassive as Mt. Tai. Someone hurriedly informed him:
"The Emperor is coming. Hurry and stand up!"
"If the dharma ground moves," said Fu Dashi, smiling, "everything with be imperiled."
All power and wealth pale before the Chan method. With Chan, worldly fortune and glory suddenly seem to lose of their importance.
On another occasion, Fu Dashi was wearing the hat of a Daoist priest, a kasaya (the robe of a Buddhist monastic), and on his feet he wore the shoes of a Confucian scholar. Upon seeing him, Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty was perplexed. Astonished, he pointed at Fu Dashi's hat and asked, "Are you a Daoist priest?"
"No," replied Fu Dashi, pointing at his kasaya. "I am a Buddhist monk in a kasaya."
"You're a Buddhist monk?"
"Look!" said Fu Dashi, pointing to his shoes.
"Oh, a scholar's shoes. Are you a Confucian scholar?"
Fu Dashi waved his hand, and pointed to his head. "Look! What am I?"
A Daoist hat, Confucian shoes, and a Buddhist robe: three schools in one. The meaning of the story is that Chan encompasses everything. It is not something that belongs exclusively to a senior Buddhist monk living deep in the mountains. Chan is something that a Confucian, a Buddhist, and a Daoist all need, something every member of society needs. Therefore, what I have to say to you today about teaching, learning, and upholding the Way in Chan Buddhism can be used for your reference.
When it comes to teaching and learning, the Chan method traditionally has paid a lot of attention to transmission from teacher to student, and teaching and learning to achieve enlightenment. In many respects, Chan education is very different from education as we know it today. Some of the differences include:
1. The Dharma of Silence. In society today, teachers and parents alike advocate an education of loving speech, of teaching by using kind and gentle words. Oftentimes, Chan masters do not use words but instruct face to face through silence. Silence, like a thunderclap, is grand and majestic, and louder and richer than language.
2. The Dharma of Beating and Shouting. Society today advocates a loving education, an education of remonstration with good intentions. But the Chan way emphasizes beatings and shouting - a thunderclap to dispel ignorance and illuminate one's true nature. Examples of this approach to education are exemplified by the expression: "One shout from Chan Master Mazu, and Venerable Baizhang will be deafened for three days"; and in the words of Chan masters Huangbo and Linji: "The Way can be explained with thirty beatings: the Way cannot be explained with thirty beatings."
3. The Dharma of Difficult Questions. Contemporary education stresses inspiring interest and guiding step by step. But the Chan way emphasizes asking difficult questions and challenging one's wits. As soon as one changes from being passively inspired to actively exploring, then one becomes a master and not a follower.
4. The Dharma of Toil. Today's education puts a premium on a quiet environment for learning, on providing a tranquil and conducive atmosphere for study. But the Chan method not only seeks to teach in a conducive atmosphere, but to an even greater extent advocates learning through daily tasks. Thus, carrying firewood and water are ways of practicing Chan; milling and threshing rice are ways of practicing Chan; cutting and carrying firewood are both ways of practicing Chan. Through hard work, one can gradually arrive at an understanding of the meaning of Chan and savor the Chan way.
The implications of Chan can be elaborated through this style of teaching; cold and warmth can be distinguished by a drink of water; pain and pleasure can be distinguished by a fall; one's own hardships are to be treasured and learned from.
I would now like briefly to discuss four points regarding the special characteristics of teaching, learning, and upholding the Way in Chan Buddhism.
A. Self-Realization of Intrinsic Nature
The Chan way stresses that a person should determine things on his/her own, and not to be led around by the nose or swayed easily by the opinions of others. Self-realization of intrinsic nature is important. "With his own soaring determination, a man will not simply copy the way of the Tathagata." This is what characterizes the Chan master's self-realization.
Nanyin was a very famous Chan master. A skeptical devotee sought out the Master to debate about Chan. After the two met, Master Nanyin didn't utter a word but poured out a cup of tea for the lay Buddhist. The cup was full, but the Master continued to pour, and pour, and pour. Finally, the devotee could not longer restrain himself.
"Master," he shouted, "the cup is full, stop pouring."
Only then did the Master speak, "Look!" he said, smiling, "the cup of your heart is just as full and complacent; how will my Chan method ever fit?"
With but one sentence, the devotee was left speechless, unable to reply.
In the Chan way, self-realization of intrinsic nature is a form of self-awakening, not egotistical self-satisfaction.
A scholar asked the Master, "Where is the Buddha?"
Think about it. Where is the Buddha? Do you think the Buddha is in the Western Pureland of Ultimate Bliss? Do you think the Buddha is in the Eastern Pureland of Azure Radiance? Actually, the Buddha is everywhere.
"The Buddha is on Vulture Peak[2], but you need not journey far to find him - Vulture Peak is in your own heart."
Someone asked the Master, "What is the Buddha?"
The Chan Master looked at him, opened his hands and said, "I can't tell you. If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."
"Your are the expert. How could I not believe you?"
"All right," said the Master, nodding, "What did you just ask? Ask me again."
"I asked, what is the Buddha?"
"Your are. You are the Buddha."
"Oh, no! All of us are just average people. How can you suddenly say that I am the Buddha?"
In the Chan School, self-realization of intrinsic nature is a way to transform one's sensibilities into intrinsic being. Recognizing this will allow you to be a Buddha or a bodhisattva without inventing all kinds of names or flattery. The most important things about self-realization of intrinsic nature are: "How to sustain it? And how do I know that I am a Buddha?"
A Chan Master's reply: "A cataract over the eyes can make a non-existent flower seem to appear; but by forsaking false conditions, one becomes a Buddha."
A speck of gold dazzles the eyes, but if it gets in your eye, then it is like a cataract, creating the appearance of nonexistent flower, the form of which is unclear. If you can remove delusions and false ideas from your mind, your true mind will appear, which is our own Tathagata.
Buddhism teaches one to uphold the Way, to cultivate oneself through right practice in the face of illusory thoughts.
Someone asked Chan Master Weikuan: "Where is the Way?"
"The Way, " replied Weikuan, "is before your eyes."
"Then why don't I see it?"
"You cannot see it because you cling to the self."
"So it's my clinging that makes it impossible for me to see the Way and the truth. Master! Can you see the Way and the truth?"
"By clinging to distinctions such as 'you' and 'I', I'll be even less likely to see the Way!"
"If I make no distinctions between 'you' and 'I', and have no illusory thoughts of self and other, will I be able to see the Way and the truth?"
"Oh, if there is no 'I' and no 'you', then who will see the Way and the truth?"
We often say that we must cultivate ourselves and the Way. Where is the Way? It is right beneath our feet. If we are to walk it, then we must free ourselves from our individual views and perceptions and see everything with universal and eternal vision. This is comparable to the Confucian idea of "man is an integral part of Nature". Teaching, learning, and upholding the Way in Chan Buddhism are unique. Confirming existence is incorrect! Confirming non-existence is also incorrect. Neither form nor emptiness is absolute truth. Chan makes no distinctions between form and emptiness and does avoid form and wisdom, thereby exhausting the causes of false conditions. Pure and noble, Chan rejects both extremes.
Attaining self-realization of intrinsic nature is verification for the Chan practitioner, and is a wonderful way of attaining the Tathagatagarbhat[3].
Chan Master Nanquan once propounded a problem to Lu Heng, a government official
"Once, a person raised a goose in a bottle. Gradually, the goose grew inside the bottle, but the mouth of the bottle was very small and the goose couldn't get out. Tell me, how can you get the goose out without breaking the bottle or harming the goose?"
Everyone present wondered how to get the goose out of the bottle without breaking it. Lu Heng, the official, his brow knit, paced back and forth trying to come up with a solution. This is what is known as falling into mental pattern of making distinctions, which is not Chan. Chan means attaining self-realization, so Chan Master Nanquan at once shouted:
"Lu Heng!"
"Here," replied Lu Heng.
"Then isn't it out?" asked Chan Master Nanquan, laughing.
Why is your mind as restricted as the goose? Do you think that our bodies or our homes will allow us to dwell in tranquility? Your minds must be a little more carefree and open to get out of the bottle, out of the ivory tower. Why let yourselves be so restricted by life? Why be tied down by your body? Although the Chan master engages in silent retreat and the closed room is small, the mind is as expansive as the Dharmakaya, where coming and going are unrestricted. If a prisoner in a jail understands Chan, though he has lost his freedom and is imprisoned, he can still soar freely. The freedom afforded by self-realization is something that few of us can attain. The original face of Chan is not defiled or pure nor does it increase or diminish. In seeking the Way we must be as natural as the clouds and water. You need not painstakingly seek it outside; look inside, realizing intrinsic nature. When the mind is purified, the Chan Way will appear naturally of its own accord.
A disciple of Chan Master Yunmen once asked him, "There are three kinds of sick people in the world - the blind, deaf, and mute. How am I to teach them Chan?"
"Since you have come to ask for instruction," shouted the Master immediately, "Why don't you pay me due respect?"
The disciple immediately bowed. The moment he lifted his head, the Master took up a stick and struck him a blow. Surprised, the follower hurriedly stepped back.
"You're not blind," laughed Master Yunmen. "Come here, don't be afraid. Come before me."
The disciple, not having yet quite recovered from his astonishment, obeyed and took a few steps forward.
"You can hear!" laughed Yunmen. "You're not deaf. Can you give a dharma talk?"
"No, I can't."
"Oh, so you're not mute, " roared Yunmen with laughter.
Our eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and bodies are all sick! We have eyes but can't see; we have ears but cannot hear; we have mouths but cannot speak; we have bodies but we do not know how to take care of them. Due to spiritual blindness, we all end up blind, deaf, and dumb. Chan Master Yunmen's teaching method was like a sharp knife used to excise false understanding, revealing the bright and pristine ground of the mind. People today possess five sound sensory organs and live safe and healthy lives; they create trouble for themselves because the ground of the mind is obscured. Many parents do everything in their power to send their children to the United States from other countries to study, and then feel uneasy about it. Then they do everything possible to visit their children. But what do they do when they get to the United States? They are handicapped - they are like the deaf because they can't understand what people there are saying to them; they are like the blind because they can't read English; they are mutes because they can't speak; and they are like cripples because they can't get around by car. When their daughter-in-law has a baby, they look after it. When they were young, they raised their own children, and now, in their old age, they raise their grandchildren, once again becoming a filial son. Not understanding Chan, life's difficulties increase!
Many people are hindered by ignorance. They don't know how to reflect upon themselves or how to use their own intrinsic nature. Instead, they use the six perceptual faculties - the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind - to grasp this illusory world. Of course they will not be able to dwell in tranquility. As the Diamond Sutra says: "A person should give rise to a pure heart without dwelling in form. A person should give rise to that heart without dwelling in sound, smell, taste, tangible objects, or dharmas. A person should give rise to that heart without dwelling anywhere." Profoundly significant words.
The Chan master extinguishes external conditions and is not angered or enamored of the world around him. Energetically proceeding toward the realization of the great Way, his mind will not be confused by illusory sights and sounds. His mind dwells in purity and thus he attains the Way.
Chan Master Shiwu had a friend who was a thief. His friend couldn't mend his bad ways; one time, he stole something that belonged to Chan Master Shiwu. The Master caught him and questioned him.
"How many times have you stolen?"
"I can't count the number of times. Hundreds and thousands of times."
"How much have you stolen?"
"Not much. Eight hundred to a thousand yuan each time."
"You're not much of a thief," laughed the Master. "If it were me, I could steal what I want without lifting a finger. If I did lift a finger, I'd steal a lot."
"Excuse me for underestimating you," said the thief, astounded. "You are more experienced than I am. Please, will you teach me how to steal?"
"Aren't there treasures aplenty right here?" asked Chan Master Shiwu, suddenly stretching out his hand toward the thief's heart as if to take something. "After I steal the treasures from here, I'll enjoy them for the rest of my days."
Only by mastering our minds can we enjoy them for as long as we live. What is Chan? It is our true mind. What could be better than the true mind?
Chan Master Longya wrote a poem on the realization of the self:
A room, a bed, a thatched roof overhead,
A bottle, a bowl, one life;
Though a road to the village runs before my door
When has someone else's house ever been mine?
For a Chan master a room, a bed, and a thatched roof overhead are enough in life - a plain and natural life. Although the road outside the door runs to another village, other people's houses will never be ours. Why must we go outside to grasp at conditions. As nice as the paradise is, it's not mine; though my house be cold and lowly, it is where I make my life and I am content with it. As the saying goes, "a corner of gold or silver is not as good as my own poor corner." Not knowing one's original mind, studying the dharma is useless; not knowing one's true nature, the Way is distant. Attaining self-realization of intrinsic nature and, realizing that the mind is inherently pure is the goal of Chan. By not becoming enamored of things or being sad about one's lot, but by being carefree and leading a tranquil life without desires, at ease and unobstructed, one enters a bright, open place.
B. Cherishing Good Fortune In Moderation And Forming Ties of Affinity
When the Chan master lies down to sleep in the mountains, he uses his robes as a blanket, and a gourd dipper as a pillow. The Chan master leaves the world to live as a recluse by leading a tranquil life free from desires. The Chan life is not just simple, it is also one of cherishing things and building relationships of affinity. A blade of grass, a leaf, a tile, a piece of earth, the tiniest things will all come to life in the hands of a Chan master. Not the slightest bit of the earth's assets will be wasted. The Venerable Zuoxi of the Tiantai School, for example, washed with spring water and entrusted himself to a life amid the clouds and pines. He lived alone in one room as broad as the Dharmakaya. His moral conduct won the praise of others: "He doesn't light a lamp unless he is looking for a passage in the sutras or sastras; he doesn't move a step unless it be to pay respect to the Buddha; he never speaks the Dharma for his own benefit, nor does he receive even a pittance for the Dharma." This is the best example of cherishing good fortune in moderation and forming ties of affinity.
Chan Master Yishan wanted to take a bath. One of his disciples prepared the bath water for him. When the Master arrived at the bathing pool, he tested the water and said, "It's too hot! Add a little cold water."
His disciple carried the water and used half of it to cool the temperature of the water in the tub, and dumped the remainder. Seeing this, Chan Master Yishan was angry and rebuked him: "You karmavarana[4] demon! A drop of water is as valuable as gold-water is life. Sprinkle it on the flowers and they will be happy; sprinkle it on the trees and they will grow. How can you so lightly waste one of life's precious resources?"
Following such a severe rebuke, his disciple changed his name of his own accord to "Drop of Water". It was none other than Chan Master Dishui (drop of water) who gave the personal warning of "one drop of water amounts to a spring of sweet dew".
The Chan way of life is just that simple and lacking in desire for the material things of this world. When one is thirsty, one drinks cold, sweet mountain spring water; when hungry, one eats plain and savory vegetables. One cherishes every blade of grass, every leaf, every chair, and every plate. Hearing this Chan, you can enhance your life by learning from the spirit of the monk "Drop of Water".
Life is pretty comfortable today in a material sense, and those who cherishing things and form good affinities are few. You can buy a pen for next to nothing and write with it for many years, or even a lifetime. You can be One Pen Practitioner. Too much talk can mean trouble - by being circumspect in the use of your lips and tongue and not talking lightly, you can be One Sentence Practitioner. Don't waste money - a buck has a buck's value for charitable deeds. You can be One Buck Practitioner. Fo Guang Shan built a temple in America called Hsi Lai Temple. I often visit it. When I go, I take some money with me and leave all of it there to form affinities. I return to Taiwan with nothing but a pile of napkins. The reason being that in the United States, when you go out to eat, take a boat or a plane, napkins are there by the ton. Everywhere you go there are napkins. You can't use them all, and you don't want to throw them away. So I accumulate them, one by one, and after two weeks in the United States, I go home with seventy napkins stuffed in my pockets. Napkins aren't worth anything, but they are very useful. Think of all the timber, paper pulp and labor that go into making one small napkin. That's really something! How can you not treasure it?
The spiritual value of any object transcends its material value. Things as insignificant as a drop of water, a flower, a pen, a piece of paper all are precious. Everything should be treasured, cherished, and used to create affinities with others. What in life is not to be valued?
Once Chan Master Qili was meditating in a Buddha's Hall. A robber entered by night and said, "Your money or your life."
"Don't bother me," said Master Qili, unperturbed. "I'm meditating. If it's money you're after, there's some in the drawer under the Buddha. Help yourself."
The robber opened the drawer and took out the money. Just as he was about to leave, Master Qili said, "Hey! Don't take it all. Leave a little. I still have to buy offerings of incense and fruit tomorrow."
The robber did as he was told. As he was about to step out the door, Master Qili shouted, "Stop!"
Frightened, the robber looked back.
"The money you took belongs to the Buddha," said Master Qili. "Are you going to leave without thanking him?"
Moved, the robber nodded toward the Buddha and then ran off.
Shortly thereafter, the robber was apprehended by the authorities and confessed to having stolen from Master Qili. They took him to Master Qili for identification.
"Nothing of the sort occurred," said Master Qili. "He didn't steal anything. He thanked the Buddha!"
Master Qili cherished the money and formed affinities using a compassionate heart. The thief was moved by this way of teaching and upholding the Way. His sense of regret led him to mend his ways and he became Master Qili's disciple.
Respecting things and building affinities with others often are as inseparably related as cause and effect in Chan Buddhism. There is a story that relates to the causes and conditions for the reward of happiness. One day the three Chan Masters Xuefen, Yantou, and Qinshan went out together to wander around and teach. They walked upstream. As they were discussing how to spread the truth of Buddhism, Master Xuefeng suddenly felt hungry.
"Hey, hey, where are we going?"
Suddenly they noticed a stalk of celery coming downstream.
"Look, there's a stalk of celery floating down the stream," said Master Qinshan, pointing. "Someone certainly lives upstream from here. We can go there and get something to eat and rest our feet."
Master Yantou stared at the stalk of celery and sighed, "Oh, the people upstream don't care about a stalk of celery and let it drift downstream; what a pity."
"Such wasteful people are not ready to be told about the truth of Buddhism," sighed Master Xue- feng. "We should rest our feet in some other village."
The three of them were in the middle of discussing the matter when someone came running down the stream, panting and apparently looking for something.
"What are you seeking?" asked the Masters.
"I was just washing vegetables," said the person, covered with sweat, "and because I wasn't careful, a stalk of celery was washed downstream. I'm looking for that stalk of celery."
Hearing this, the three Master laughed with joy and praised the person.
"This person cherishes things and deserves to be told the truth of Buddhism. Let's go to his village, stay awhile, and spread the truth."
It's those who cherish good fortune who will be most blessed. The Buddha nature is a field of blessings. Squandering good fortune or using it for bad things is not true good fortune. True good fortune is like planting trees and sowing crops for only then does happiness permeate one's heart. Chan Master Linji was planting pine trees in the mountain and was observed by Huangbo.
"Why are you planting pine trees when there already are so many of them in the mountains?" he asked.
"One, to beautify the monastery; two, as a sign for those to come."
In not seeking their own benefit and seeking to protect the world, Chan masters manifest the spirit of saving others. Teaching, learning, and upholding the Way in Chan Buddhism is to enjoy life's good fortune with moderation and to learn through forming affinities. One improves one's practice and application with a compassionate heart while being guided by wisdom. Appreciating fully whatever you have in moderation and forming ties of affinity constitute the life of one who studies the Way of Chan.
C. Helping People To Change Through The Example of Compassion
The renowned and celebrated King Asoka was a great protector of Buddhism and a devout disciple of the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha). One day, King Asoka prepared a sumptuous vegetarian feast for the monks. To show his respect for the sangha, King Asoka, despite being a king, would kneel and prostrate himself before a monastic. Among the monks approaching from the distance he noticed a young novice. Then he wondered what kind of a precedent he would be setting if he, a great king, were to bow to such a young child. But if he didn't pay him respect by bowing, he would feel uneasy about violating Buddhist etiquette. After considering the matter for some time, King Asoka invited the child aside to an out- of-the-way place and only there did he prostrate himself.
"Young novice," whispered the king, "you mustn't tell anyone about my paying respect to you."
"Watch this!" said the novice holding out an alms bowl.
The youngster leaped towards the bowl, shrinking so that he fit inside of it. In a while he leaped out of the bowl, regaining his normal size. He did this several times, in and out, in and out, until King Asoka was dumbstruck.
"Great King," said the little novice in the king's own tone of voice, "you mustn't tell anyone what you just saw."
The novice, although tender in years, was ambitious and instructed King Asoka by using his supernatural power, playing a game of compassion with him. Chan instruction does not distinguish age nor does the practitioner of Chan discriminate between rich and poor, high and low, when he teaches.
One day, Chan Master Yunshui visited the home of a wealthy man to ask for a contribution toward the needs of the community. The wealthy man pushed him out the door. There was no rice to eat in the monastery, and the wealthy man was unwilling to give him alms. The Master began pondering what it was he should say and how it was that he could fulfill his duty. As he walked along and pondered, he noticed a lot of rice flowing down the gutter from the rich man's house. Chan Master Yunshui thought it a pity, so every day he came to pick up the rice. What he couldn't eat himself, he dried and stored away. Ten years later, a fire broke out in the rich man's house, destroying everything. He had no choice but to begin begging. Greatly distressed, and with no place to go, he set off for Master Yunshui's monastery to plead with the Master to take him in.
"I earnestly entreat the Venerable to have compassion and save me!"
Chan Master Yunshui took him in and cooked some rice for him, which the rich man ate with great gusto.
"Thank you, Master," he said with gratitude.
"There's no need to thank me. The rice wasn't mine - it was yours. I just took some time to gather it up, dry it out, and store it away. And today you had need of it."
Deeply ashamed, the rich man vowed to mend his ways and turn over a new leaf. Chan masters use compassion to teach and enlighten people. It's a characteristic of theirs, and of their teaching and upholding the Way.
Once there was Chan master named Tiaoshui who was engaged in teaching Chan. Suddenly he disappeared, his whereabouts totally unknown to his disciples who looked high and low for him. One of his disciples looked and looked for him, eventually searching the deserted outskirts of town. He discovered a small cave beneath a deserted bridge where a lot of beggars lived. Among the beggars was Chan Master Tiaoshui. Surprised, but overjoyed, he pleaded with the Master:
"Master, please be compassionate enough to return and instruct us in Chan."
"Words alone won't work," said the Master, less than enthusiastically. "I could repeat myself a thousand times, and you still wouldn't get it."
"Master, instruct us again, and we'll get it," pleaded his disciple, anxiously.
"Okay," said Chan Master Tiaoshui, staring at him. "Stay here with me for three days, and I'll instruct you in Chan."
Hearing this, the disciple thought, "What's three days?" To study Chan, even three years is nothing." So he decided to stay.
On the first day, there was nothing but filthy garbage in the cave. There was no water with which to rinse his mouth much less take a bath. He didn't even know where to urinate. Although he found the first day almost intolerable, he remained patient. On the second day, one of the beggars, an old man, died. Master Tiaoshui called to his disciple and said, "Help me by taking the old beggar outside and burying him." The old beggar had long been ill and smelled bad. Anyone would have avoided him. After the disciple buried him with great difficulty, he returned to find Master Tiaoshui fast asleep. The disciple couldn't forget the stench and spent the entire night tossing and turning, unable to sleep.
Master Tiaoshui arose on the third day and said, "There is no need for us to go begging for alms today. Some of the old beggar's food is left. We'll eat that today."
At the thought of eating such vile filth, the disciple wanted to vomit and refused to consider it. A horrible stench hung over everything. Working up his courage, he addressed Master Tiaoshui, saying, "I can't stay here any longer!"
"So, you can't study Chan with me," said Master Tiaoshui, glaring at him.
Without great compassion, how can we bear hardships and trials to overcome all obstacles and see the world in a different way? Chan Buddhism does not emphasize the superficial, but rather spiritual depth - planting a pure lotus in the mud.
One time, Mengchuang, the Imperial Preceptor, was taking a boat across a river. The boat was just setting off when a sword-bearing general approached in great haste. Raising his whip, he shouted: "Wait! Boatman, take me across!"
"The boat is already underway," said everyone on board. "We can't go back."
"Take the next boat," replied the boatman.
Only Mengchuang, the Imperial Preceptor, was of a different opinion.
"Boatman," he pleaded, "we're still close to shore. Help him out - go back for him."
Seeing that it was a Buddhist master, the boatman reluctantly consented to turn the boat around. Unexpectedly, as soon as the general was on board, he began cracking his whip, a few lashes of which fell on Mengchuang, the Imperial Preceptor. The general shouted at him and cursed him, saying: "You bastard, move aside! Give me your seat!"
Mengchuang, though bloodied by the whipping, held his tongue and vacated his seat. Seeing how things stood, no one dared say anything aloud. Instead, they all whispered among themselves about how sorry they felt for the Chan master who had requested the boatman to go back. Hearing this, and finding himself stared at, the general found it difficult to apologize. Upon reaching the other shore, Mengchuang disembarked with the other passengers. Silently he walked to the shore where he washed his bloody face clean. Smiling, he looked up calmly. The barbarous general felt sorry for Mengchuang. He stepped forward and knelt by the shore and, his voice filled with remorse, said: "Master, I'm sorry!"
"That's okay," said Mengchuang, good naturedly. "Everyone's in a bad mood when they are on the road."
In practicing Chan and seeking the way, virtue and wisdom are important, but even more so is cultivating a compassionate heart. Only with compassion can the Chan master change the most indomitable people, ridding them of desires and anger, transforming their violence into affability. The strength of a Chan Practitioner's ability to enlighten through teaching comes from using a Chan heart, a compassionate heart, and a Buddhist heart, to cleanse the world of bad karma.
D. Expedient Means And Skillful Means
In teaching others to practice Chan, the Chan master uses countless expedient and skillful means - silence and speech, reserve and vitality, a blow and a shout to overcome confusion. A Chan master can skillfully instruct and guide anyone, be they a scholar, a farmer, a worker, a businessman, or anyone else, young and old alike. Regardless of whether it is in the woods or by the water, whether it concerns clothing, eating, dwelling, or walking, the Chan master can enlighten you, turning your anger to compassion and your ignorance into wisdom. The Chan master's use of expedient and skillful means is the most profound method of teaching. Let me provide you with several examples of this.
One day the Buddhist monk Zhaoyin was wandering around teaching when a devotee approached him and said, "How can one get rid of a bad temper?"
"A bad temper arises from an angry heart," laughed the monk. "I tell you what, I'll transform you. Give me your angry heart and bad temper."
Startled, the devotee thought about handing over his bad temper to the monk Zhaoyin, and how it would be like dumping poison into a clear spring. At once he saw the true face of his bad temper and quickly repented.
The son of two devotees was very fond of sleeping. His parents didn't know what to do about it so they asked the monk Zhaoyin to help. When Zhaoyin arrived at their house, he shook their son awake.
"I've come to transform your love of sleep," said Zhaoyin. "Give me your sleeping bug."
Hearing that a devotee liked fighting, he transformed his argumentativeness; when a devotee liked to drink, he transformed his drinking. The monk Zhaoyin was born to transform and save many beings. People's bad habits were transformed through contact with him. He influenced many people by allowing them to see the truth. This is the magnanimity of the Chan master's teaching by expedient means.
Once, a monk from Okinawa, Japan came to China. He practiced Chan and sought the Way with Chan Master Suiweng. After three years of study, he still had no inkling about Chan. Being no closer to enlightenment, he was about to quit his studies.
"Forget it," he said to the Master. "I'm going home."
Suiweng could see that he lacked focus and was adrift like duckweed on water.
"Have patience," said the Master to encourage him, "practice seven more days."
But after seven days, he remained unenlightened. "Just stick with it another seven days", the Master instructed. After seven times seven days, the monk could do nothing but hang his head in despair. Compassionately, the Master encouraged him, "Just another five days."
The monk practiced another five days. The Master observed him with detachment and urged him again to stay, this time for three days, then one day. The monk was quite apprehensive.
"Master," he asked, "What if no this final day I am still not enlightened?"
"If you are not enlightened in one more day," said the Master in all seriousness, "there's only death. You won't live."
Facing the prospect of death, the monk found himself with his back to the wall and desperate to survive. His spirit and will were more focused than ever. He summoned all his skill and was not distracted; and at the crucial moment his mind did not rely on any forms and he had immense power to reverse the situation. With all his concentration, samsara and Chan were suddenly clear, and the monk was enlightened.
When a Chan master teaches, he doesn't give you anything. He expects that you will completely discard worldly emotions and worldly wisdom and, refreshed, take a detached look at life, its confusing emotions as well as its true qualities.s
After ridding himself of desire, anger, and ignorance, the famed Chan Master Zhaozhou often taught others. One time, a woman complained to Master Zhaozhou, "Oh, Master! We women are hindered by past karma. When we are little girls, we must listen to our parent's stern teachings; after we grow up and marry, we are controlled by our husbands; when we grow old, we are controlled by our children. Look at my kids. As soon as I say a word, they say, "Mom, don't tell me. It really is the hindrance of past karma."
"You mustn't think of it that way," laughed Master Zhaozhou, with a wave of his hand. "Women are indeed blessed! When you are little girls, your parents lavish so much love and protection on you; after you grow up, so many men court you; and when you grow old, your children become more filial. Many children aren't very happy to visit their fathers, but are very happy to see their mothers. Women are much more loved than men!"
Master Zhaozhou, who understood the ways of the world, didn't want women to feel bad about themselves. He shifted the perspective, looking at the bad as good, successfully transforming it. The same world with different feelings. See how we can change things if we are of one mind. This is the skillful means of Chan instruction.
Master Zhaozhou had a disciple who chatted incessantly. He asked the master, "How can I study the Way? How can I practice Chan? How can I achieve enlightenment? How can I become a Buddha?"
Master Zhaozhou nodded and stood up.
"I haven't got time to talk with you. I have to go take a leak."
So saying, the Master paid no attention to the disciple's shock. He strode away and stopped after taking several steps. He turned around, smiled, and said, "See! Even something as insignificant as taking a leak, and still I have to do it myself. Can you do it for me?"
Thinking about it, the disciple suddenly understood. Chan cannot be sought outside oneself. How does one practice Chan? How does one achieve enlightenment? How does one become a Buddha? No one can do it for you. It's something you must do yourself. You have to practice Chan yourself. If everyone carried heavy burdens, everyone would naturally be strong and muscular. This is the expedient means of Chan.
Chan Master Da'an went to Baizhang's place to practice and study Chan. Looking at the "gong'-an[5]" he answered for Baizhang will provide us with a deeper understanding of the special characteristics of Chan.
"How does one know the Buddha?"
"It is like seeking an ox while riding on it."
"What do I do after I know?"
"It is like going home riding on an ox."
"How do I look after it?"
"Like an ox-herder, carrying a staff, seeing to it that it doesn't wander off into somebody else's garden."
Through ignorance and distorted thinking, we are entangled by the five desires and six objects of perception. If our hearts are defiled, where are we to seek the Buddha? What good does it do? Seeking outside is pointless. It would be better to ride home on an ox and there to cultivate oneself in peace. Chan is something one must learn through practice and experimentation. My Chan is mine, not yours. I hope that everyone can transform their bodies and minds with Chan, take it home and live well. I also hope that everyone will freshen their lives with the waters of Chan, experiencing a pure mind, refreshing the six perceptual faculties, and living more purely and at ease. It is my wish that everyone be blessed with more wisdom. Thank you.

[1] Who was a great practitioner of bodhisattva path.
[2] It is also called Spiritual Vulture Peak. A place frequented by the Buddha.
[3] The Tathagata womb or stores.
[4] The hindrance of past karma, hindering one to attain the
[5] A case-record, problems set by Chan masters, upon which though is concentrated as a means to attain inner unity and illumination.


The Amitabha Sutra and the Pure Land School

Dear Venerables and Dharma Friends,
Today, we are going to talk about the Amitabha Sutra and the Pure Land School of Buddhism. It is said in the Buddhist sutra, "Thousands of sutras and tens of thousands of discourses all point to the land of Ultimate Bliss." Regardless of which Buddhist sect one belongs to, or which course of cultivation one practices, the Pure Land School of Buddhism is always highly regarded.

I. The Beginning of the Pure Land School of Buddhism
During the time of the Buddha, there was a king called King Bimbisara who was incarcerated by his son, Prince Ajatasatru. Even the king's wife, Queen Vaidehi, was prohibited from seeing her king. Prince Ajatasatru was a cruel
man and an unfilial son. In order to seize the throne, he locked up his father and deprived him of food. Under these trying circumstances, King Bimbisara was sad and despondent. He was dismayed at being in this saha world of the five impurities-a place full of unbearable anguish and teemed with hungry ghosts and suffering animals. Faced with this world where sufferings abound, he thought to himself, "Oh, Lord Buddha! Why do you not come to my aid during this difficult time of my life? Can you show me a sanctuary where I can rest my weary self?"
In the meantime, Queen Vaidehi, who had repeatedly asked to see her king, was finally allowed to visit the king. Prince Ajatasatru, however, forbade her to bring the starving King any food. In desperation, the Queen painted her body with a layer of flour paste in the hope that the paste might provide the king with some relief. At such a time of anguish and despair, the two of them prayed to the Buddha for his compassion and guidance. To their amazement, the Buddha manifested his supernatural power and appeared before them. The Buddha told the King and Queen, "To the west of this saha world, beyond a hundred thousand million Buddha Lands, there is a world called 'Ultimate Bliss.' The teacher of the land, Amitabha Buddha, is currently there teaching the Dharma. In the land of Amitabha Buddha, there is no suffering, only happiness. It is the most serene, secure, and happy place. If you recite the name of Amitabha with single mindedness, Amitabha Buddha will use the strength of his great vow to receive you to be reborn in the Pure Land."
After listening to the guidance of the Buddha, King Bimbisara and Queen Vaidehi started to recite the name of Amitabha Buddha. In the course of their praying, a radiant pure land did indeed appear before their eyes. This is the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha and is what is now called "The World of Ultimate Bliss." This marks the beginning of the Pure Land School of Buddhism.

II. The Basis of the Pure Land School of Buddhism
The existence of the Pure Land is not just recognized by the Pure Land School itself, mentioned only in the Pure Land sacred text of three sutras and one sastra-Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra, Amitayus Sutra, Amitabha Sutra, and Pure Land Sastra. In fact, most of the Mahayana sutras and sastras have often mentioned the Pure Land teachings, practice, and Dharma method. Speaking of the existence of the Pure Land, let me take you through the following points.

A. We know of the existence of the Pure Land through the holy words of the Buddha
The existence of an object cannot be simply determined by us saying it exists or it does not exist. We need to make the correct assessment(s) before we can objectively determine the existence of an object. Take the example of this desk here. No one would refute that there is a desk; the desk is here for all to see. This is called direct infer-ence. Now suppose we want to know the length of an object, we need to measure it with a ruler; or suppose we want to know the weight of an object, we need to weigh it with a scale. These kinds of measurements are called comparative inferences. Another kind of assessment we can make to determine if something exists or not is by inferring from the holy words of sages. Sages are people of great wisdom; their words are unerring and are worthy of our trust. This type of assessment is called inference from the holy words of sages.
We learn of the existence of the Pure Land through the words of the Buddha. In the Amitabha Sutra, the Buddha said, "A hundred thousand million Buddha Lands beyond the saha world is a world called 'Ultimate Bliss.' In this world, there is a Buddha called Amitabha Buddha, who is currently teaching the Dharma." The Buddha is a holy person and his words are infallible. In fact, one of the Buddha's thirty-two marks of excel-lence was his broad, long tongue. His tongue, when extended, could cover his nose and face. This mark of excellence is the result of never speaking falsely. Thus, when the Buddha told us that there is a pure land of ultimate bliss in this universe, we can most definitely believe that it exists.

B. We know of the existence of the Pure Land through historical records of people being reborn there
The Record of Sages of Pure Land, a three volume record compiled in the Ch'ing Dynasty, contained many cases of old masters throughout history who practiced the Pure Land School of Buddhism and were reborn into the Pure Land. For example, there was the case of Master Hui Yuan, the Founding Patriarch of the Pure Land School. He practiced mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha and personally witnessed the manifestation of Amitabha Buddha on three separate occasions.
There was a record about a monk during the T'ang Dynasty by the name of Master Shan Tao. Every time he recited the name of Amitabha Buddha, a ray of light would emanate from his mouth. Ten times he recited the name of Amitabha Buddha, ten rays of light would emanate from his mouth. A hundred times he recited the name of Amitabha Buddha, a hundred rays of light would emanate from his mouth. Because of this, he was also called the Monk of Brightness.
Of more recent times, there is the example of Master Yin Kuang. He recited the name of Amitabha Buddha all his life and was able to foretell the time of his passing. There were also many cases of secular men and women who recited the name of Amitabha Buddha and were reborn in the Pure Land. In 1948, there was a layman by the name of Sung-Nien Wu, who informed his family and friends that he would pass away at eight the next morning and asked them to come by his house to help him recite the name of Amitabha Buddha at the moment of his passing. When everyone arrived at his house the following morning, he was eating his breakfast as usual and did not look like someone who was about to pass away. However, just before 8:00 a.m., he sat in a lotus position and passed away in the midst of his family and friends chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha.
There are many records of people throughout history who practiced mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha and were able to foretell the time of their passings. Some could see Amitabha Buddha coming to welcome them, others could hear delightful music in the air, and some others could smell soothing fragrance in the room. These auspicious signs can be experienced by any Pure Land practitioners who have attained perfection in their mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha and are reborn in the Pure Land. The wondrous working of the Pure Land School is not something that those who have yet to practice this method of cultivation can comprehend.

C. We know of the existence of the Pure Land through scientific evidence
Based on our scientific knowledge, we know that there are other solar systems besides our own, and that there are other galaxies besides our own Milky Way. In other words, there are many other worlds in addition to our own world, the planet Earth. The vastness and limitlessness of the universe is way beyond what our ancestors could have imagined.
In fact, we do not really need the findings of modern science to tell us that there are other worlds besides ours. In the Buddhist sutras, there is an interesting story that talks about the existence of other worlds. Once when Sakyamuni Buddha was teaching the Dharma, [he told his disciples that] his voice could be heard many distant lands away and that the force of his voice could be felt in many worlds. One of the Buddha's disciples, Maudgalyayana, who was the foremost in supernatural power, was skeptical that the Buddha's voice could reach such far-off places. He decided to investigate for himself and used his supernatural power to go to a Buddha Land that was ten billion Buddha Lands away. In this Buddha Land, Tathagata Lokesvaraja was preaching the Dharma. At this particular moment, a person in the audience picked up something on his body and exclaimed, "Why is a little worm crawling on my body?"
Tathagata Lokesvaraja said, "This is not a little worm; this is Maudgalyayana, a disciple of Sakyamuni Buddha from the saha world." Actu-ally, Maudgalyayana was not small; it was just when compared with the people of this Buddha Land, he was no bigger than a little worm. Then Tathagata Lokesvaraja told Maudgalyayana, "The eminence and virtues of all Buddhas are not something that can be comprehended and equaled by sravakas. You should not test them with your supernatural power." From then on, Maudgalyayana firmly believed that there are limitless worlds and limitless Buddhas in the vast immenseness of space.

III. The Different Types of Pure Lands
[In addition to the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, there are many other pure lands.] The many pure lands can be classified into four main categories: the distinctive pure lands of the Mahayana School, the pure land of the Three Vehicles, the pure land of the Five Vehicles, and the pure land on Earth.

A. The Distinctive Pure Lands of the Mahayana School
The distinctive pure lands of the Mahayana (or the Great Vehicle) School include the Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss and the Medicine Buddha's (i.e., Bhaisajyaguru Buddha) Pure Land of Azure Radiance. In fact, Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss is especially remarkable.
Although there are numerous discussions in Mahayana sutras regarding the many pure lands of the various Buddhas of the ten directions and espousing their many easy-to-travel paths of cultivation, it is the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha that elicits the most awe and wonderment. Of the many Dharma methods discussed in the sutras, the most extraordinary is that of the Pure Land practice where one recites and remembers the name of Amitabha Buddha so that one may be reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. This Dharma method is an unique feature of Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land and is the result of the strength of the forty-eight great vows which Amitabha Buddha made while he was cultivating [to become a Buddha]. With the merits of his compassionate vows, Amitabha Buddha manifests the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. Amitabha Buddha also proclaims categorically that anyone who believes in the great vows of Amitabha Buddha and wishes to be reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss should contemplate the name of Amitabha Buddha, be it for one day, two days, or even just ten times. If the person is sincere and can contemplate the name of Amitabha Buddha with one-pointedness of mind, the strength of Amitabha Buddha will guide the person to be reborn by transformation into a lotus flower in the land of Ultimate Bliss, even though he or she may still be burdened with karma. Once one reaches the Pure Land, [one does not regress back into the wheel of rebirth. This is because in the Pure Land,] one continues to practice so that one will eventually become free from the wheel of rebirth and attain the ultimate bodhi. [Because of the unique features of this Dharma method,] it is said that the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha is most remarkable.
The other pure land is the Medicine Buddha's Eastern Pure Land of Azure Radiance. While the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha symbolizes restoration, the Pure Land of Medicine Buddha symbolizes growth. It says in the sutra that when Medicine Buddha was cultivating the path of Buddhahood, he made twelve great vows. He vowed to help us sentient beings so that we grow in wisdom and are successful in our careers and endeavors; he vowed to help us when we are handicapped, poor, and helpless. He vowed that we will not be lacking in food and other neces-sities, that we do not fall prey to false teachings, that we do not break the law and thus are safe from the pain of punishment, that there is equality between the genders, and that we will become Buddhas. With his great vows, Medicine Buddha manifests the Pure Land of Azure Radiance in the east. Most remarkably, the Bhaisajyaguru Sutra points out that those who recite the name of Medicine Buddha can also be reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha in the west if they so desire and practice accordingly.
Some people may say that the heaven of the Christian religion is the same as the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss in Buddhism. Actually, the two are not the same. Venerable Yin Shun, a contemp-orary master, pointed out two differences between the Buddhist Pure Land and the Christian heaven.
1. Complete equality with no class differ-ence. In the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, there is complete equality, with no class difference. This is not true for the Christian heaven, where only God is God and other heavenly beings will never become God. In the Pure Land, everyone can become Buddha. There is no class difference.
2. Continuing practice and not final fulfillment. Christians believe that going to heaven is the final fulfillment or the ultimate state. This contrasts with the Buddhist teachings that one still needs to practice even after being reborn into the Pure Land. In the Pure Land, as one is reborn by transformation into a lotus flower, one must continue to practice until the lotus flower blooms. In other words, one learns the Dharma and practices accordingly until Buddhahood is attained.

B. The Pure Land of the Three Vehicles
The Pure Land of the Three Vehicles-sravaka, pratyeka-buddha, and Bodhisattva-is the liberation they realize as they practice and cultivate according to the following stages: eliminate defilements, realize the truth, and become liberated from life and death. Although the Pure Land they realize is from the same Dharma and results in the same liberation-just as all rivers entering the sea will acquire the same salty taste of the sea-their state of mind tends to be founded on self-liberation. Though it is true that these holy practitioners do not create any more new karma and will not go through the suffering of life and death again, they should continue to further their practice toward an even more sublime state of mind. The Pure Land of the Three Vehicles is not the ultimate goal; it is only a stop on their way to the destination. Thus, the holy practitioners of the Three Vehicles should also recite the name of Amitabha Buddha and aim for the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss so they can continue on their path to Buddhahood.

C. The Pure land of the Five Vehicles
The Pure Land of the Five Vehicles-human, celestial being, and the three vehicles mentioned in the last section-is in fact the Tusita Pure Land of Maitreya Bodhisattva, whom Sakyamuni Bud-dha had prophesied will be the future Buddha of our world. The Tusita Pure Land, also known as the Inner Court of Tusita, is a majestic, pure heaven within the three realms, where Maitreya Bodhisattva is currently teaching the Dharma. If one is reborn in the Tusita Pure Land, one will be able to see Maitreya Bodhisattva. When Maitreya Bodhisattva becomes the Buddha of our world in the future, one will also follow Maitreya Bodhi-sattva and be reborn into this world. In this way, one has the opportunity to personally listen to the teachings of the Maitreya Buddha.

D. The Pure Land on Earth
An example of the Pure Land on Earth is the one described in the Vimalakirti Sutra. It was said in the sutra that though Vimalakirti lived in the saha world, his state of mind was that of the Pure Land. [So, what does the Pure Land on Earth mean? Before, we explore the answer to this question, we have to first understand the where-abouts of pure lands.]
When we speak of pure lands, be it the Mahayana Pure Land, the heavenly Pure Land, or the earthly Pure Land, we can use the colloquial term "heaven" to speak of them. When people ask where heaven or hell is, they are, in a certain way, also raising the question of the whereabouts of pure lands. In this regard, I would like to make the following three points.
1. Heaven can be found in heaven, and hell can be found in hell.
2. Both heaven and hell can be found among us. There are many of us, who because of previous merits and good causal conditions, enjoy a peaceful and happy life. Is this not life in heaven? Then, there are those who are beset with mental anguish and are afflicted with physical pain. Is this not life in hell?
3. Both heaven and hell are in one's mind. There are people whose minds are filled with grudges, discontentment, mistrust, hatred, greed, and delusion-this is hell. If we can forget about disputes with others, expand our hearts and minds to accept everything, give generously to others, be complimentary of others, or treat others with compassion-this is heaven. As we have not been reborn into the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss at this moment, the way that we can be close to Amitabha Buddha is to work together to transform our saha world into a Pure Land on Earth.
If we want to construct a Pure Land on Earth, we have to start with our minds because "when the mind is pure, the land is also pure." We have to start with eliminating unwholesome attach-ments to the five desires (wealth, beauty, fame, food, and sleep) and the six worldly dusts (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and idea).
Once, Sariputra asked the Buddha, "The Buddha lands of the ten directions are all very pure. Why is our saha world so corrupted and filthy?"
The Buddha replied, "You cannot comprehend the world in which I live." With this, the Buddha pressed the earth with his toe. Immediately, the world became brilliant, pure, and magnificent. The Buddha then continued, "This is the world in which I live."
From this, we can see that while we may be doing the same task in the same place at the time, we all react differently. The worlds within our minds are all different.
Among the different types of pure lands in Buddhism, Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss of the distinctive Mahayana teachings is especially remarkable. While there is the Pure Land of the Three Vehicles, it is biased toward liberation only for themselves. Although the "easily accessible" Pure Land of Maitreya Bodhisattva is open to all, it does not provide the opportunity of "realizing Buddhahood in one lifetime" that is available in Amitabha's Pure Land. Also, as the Maitreya Pure Land is within the Tusita Heaven, it is still within the three realms [of the wheel of rebirth]; in contrast, the Amitabha's Pure Land is one in which those who are reborn into it will never regress [back into the swirl of rebirth.]

IV. A Description of the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha
A simple description of the Pure Land of Amitabha is that it is pure. Purity means radiance, holiness, peacefulness, and happiness. There are five kinds of purity in the Pure Land of Amitabha: the purity of the environment, the purity of life, the purity of economics, the purity of the people, and the purity of body and mind.

A. The Purity of the Environment
Among the many social problems we have currently, a serious problem is the pollution of the environment. All forms of pollution exist, threatening our health and endangering human existence. There is no environmental pollution in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. Its ground is covered with gold. In the Pure Land, there are seven rows of railings, seven layers of nets, and seven rows of trees everywhere. Ponds are made of seven jewels, and water has eight excellent qualities. Everything is made of gold, silver, or lapis lazuli, and there is no filth and pollution. The construction of the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss is better than the most modern city; its scenery is more picturesque than any national park.
Some people may be skeptical that such a divine place can possibly exist. Let me use two examples to dispel such skepticism. If someone had suggested several hundred years ago that there would be a kind of oily substance which could be used to pave roads to give them a smooth clean surface, nobody at that time would have believed of such a possibility. Today, roads paved with asphalt are very common. A few hundred years ago, it was inconceivable that people living on the top floor of a tall building would be able to have running water just by turning on the faucet. Today, no matter on which floor one lives, one can get running water with the turn of the faucet. This is also true of the remarkable features of the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss that we alluded to earlier-we need to believe in the existence of the Pure Land. In the Pure Land, palaces beamed of grandeur, birds speak of Dharma, trees and flowers play music, grounds radiate with beauty, and water flows clean and pure.
For those who are reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, life is healthy and happy. When they wake up in the morning, their eyes feast on the beautiful surroundings, and their hunger is automatically satisfied. When they listen to Amitabha Buddha teaching the Dharma, they are no longer thirsty and tired. After mealtime, they use their robes to carry flowers and fly off to the Buddha lands in ten directions to make offerings to the different Buddhas. They take walks by the water and the woods. Life in the Pure Land is carefree. People are kind and virtuous-they listen to the Dharma, practice the teachings, and are mindful of the Buddha. In the Pure Land, the environment is beautiful, buildings are magnif-icent, and streets are paved and tree-lined. Everyone who is reborn here is happy and content. This is why they call this place the World of Ultimate Bliss.

B. The Purity of Life
When one lives in a pure environment, one's life becomes pure as well. Life in the World of Ultimate Bliss is different from that of our world. There are no concerns for fame, fortune, and the necessities of everyday living. In the World of Ultimate Bliss, those who need clothing will be clothed; those who need food will be fed. They are at ease and without any worries.
It occurs to me that our lives very much revolve around our need for three meals a day. We spend a lot of time and energy mulling in the kitchen, cooking our meals, then we spend even more time consuming the food, and then passing the waste out of our bodies. Then the cycle starts again, day after day, month after month, and year after year. How tiresome and exhausting! This is in stark contrast to life in the Pure Land, where everything is satisfying. Every aspect of life, from clothing, shelter, transportation, and enter-tainment, is pleasing and trouble-free. Life there is pure and refined.

C. The Purity of Economics
People who are reborn in the World of Ultimate Bliss lead a very different life than people in our world-they need not worry about money problems or financial status. They do not need to worry about transportation because they can freely fly to wherever they want. They do not need to buy any houses because they can live at ease in any circumstances. They do not need to save up money because they have the wealth of the Dharma. They do not need to engage in business because they do not lack anything. People reborn in the Pure Land live a life rich in Dharma, and they enjoy a life of practicing the Dharma. The Pure Land is free of economic problems of any kind, and those who are reborn there live a life without contention and hidden agendas. People in the Pure Land live in accordance with Truth and hence are perfectly free.

D. The Purity of People
In our world, conflicts between nations, between people, or even between family members are unavoidable. But in the World of Ultimate Bliss, there are no such problems. It says in the Amitabha Sutra, "All meritorious people gather together…" They gather for the pursuit of Truth and for the understanding of the Dharma. They are focused in contemplating the Buddha and the Dharma, and they do not entangle themselves in power struggles, profit wars, battles of wits, and senseless disputes. Everyone lives together in peace and harmony. Thus, the World of Ultimate Bliss is truly a place that is worthy of our pursuit. We should always be mindful of Amitabha Buddha and recite the Buddha's name so that we are able to be reborn there.

E. The Purity of Body and Mind
In the World of Ultimate Bliss, the body of one who is reborn there comes from the transformation of a lotus flower; therefore it does not have to go through the suffering of birth, aging, sickness, and death. The mind is also pure; there are no contaminating thoughts of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Both the external body and the internal mind are in accordance with Truth. There is no worry, suffering, or dispute. Life is pure and carefree, which is why this world is called the World of Ultimate Bliss.
What I have said today about the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss represents only a glimpse of the whole. The Pure Land is not something that can be described in a few simple sentences. What I have covered here is only a small fraction of what is said in the Amitabha Sutra.

V. Why do we need the Pure Land in this day and age?
Living in the times of today when the political arena of the world is volatile, social order is fragile, and individuals are distressed, there are more reasons than ever why we need the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. Why do we need to be mindful of Amitabha Buddha and recite his name? Why do we need to practice the Dharma method of the Pure Land School? The reasons are:
" Darkness needs light.
" Suffering needs solace.
" War needs peace.
" Volatility needs stability.
" Poverty needs wealth.
" Brevity needs eternity.
" Affliction needs relief.
" Rebirth needs deliverance.

A. Darkness needs light
Darkness exists everywhere; it pervades in society as well as in people's minds. One who is feeling his way through life in darkness needs light and yearns for light. Where can one find light? Light can be found in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss; there is no darkness in the Pure Land. Amitabha Buddha is also called the Buddha of Limitless Light. Because we need light, therefore we need the Pure Land.

B. Suffering needs solace
Living and working in our world, we are bound to face disappointments and hardships sooner or later. Who can we turn to for solace during these difficult times? There is a saying which captures the loneliness of one in despair; it goes like this: The rich may reside in remote places, but they still have visitors from afar. The poor may live in the midst of the city, yet there is no one asking about them. Amitabha Buddha is always close by when we are in trouble. Even when the whole world has turned away from us, Amitabha Buddha will not desert us as long as we recite his name. Thus, it is very important that we recite the name of Amitabha Buddha.

C. War needs peace
As wars and conflicts erupt in different parts of the world, lives are disrupted and anguish is everywhere. People need and wish for peace. The Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss is where we can find eternal peace. In the meantime, we can build a Pure Land on Earth with our kindness and compassion. When we all practice patience and tolerance under the compassionate guiding light of Amitabha Buddha, our world will attain eternal peace.

D. Volatility needs stability
If we were to frequently move from place to place, we would most certainly feel unsettled and agitated. When we have a chance to settle down in a stable and reliable environment, we will no doubt feel secure and at ease. Only the World of Ultimate Bliss can offer us true security. Our saha world is chaotic and volatile. In a span of a few decades, our world has witnessed both World War I and World War II, and we are not far from the possibility of World War III. The Buddha described our predicament most accurately when the Buddha said, "The three realms are like burning houses; there is no safety in the three realms." It was not that long ago in the seventies when an energy shortage disrupted global transportation and sent the world economy into a tailspin. During these volatile times, we need the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss most urgently.

E. Poverty needs wealth
When we are well provided for, we do not have to worry about our means of living from one day to the next. Buddhism does not reject or disapprove of material prosperity. In fact, material prosperity in the Pure Land far exceeds that of our world. Even the ground is carpeted with gold. There are many places in our saha world that are afflicted with poverty, which can in turn cause a host of other problems. Everyone wishes for comfortable living; in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, everyone is well provided for and lives comfortably. We can, indeed, say that the Land of Ultimate Bliss is the most prosperous place where poverty is completely erased.

F. Brevity needs eternity
Life is too short. Even if one can live to the incredible age of one hundred years, time still passes by like a flash of lightning. The life of Amitabha Buddha is limitless and transcends time. If we can attain eternity from brevity, is life not beautiful? The Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss is an eternal world.

G. Affliction needs relief
There are many afflictions in life. There are the afflictions of greed, hatred, delusion, and envy. Passion, animosity, and endearment are also forms of affliction. Then, there are afflictions such as hunger, excessive warmth, extreme coldness, and thirst. Of course, disappointments and sorrows are afflictions, too. These afflictions are like iron chains which bind each and every one of us. We all want to be free from these shackles. The way to achieve this is to be reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.

H. Rebirth needs deliverance
Living and dying, dying and living-we course through the six realms of existence without any respite. We all have to face the wheel of rebirth. The unending cycles of living and dying can be compared to an abyss that traps us in its depths. Sometimes we yearn for a longer life, and at other times we have the fear of dying. Our yearning for a longer life cannot prolong our life for even one second. Our fear of dying cannot protect us from dying. Thus, we should strive for the state of birthlessness. Only in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss are we truly delivered from the wheel of rebirth.
We have seen that because of our need for light, solace, peace, stability, wealth, eternity, relief, and deliverance that we should strive to be reborn in the Pure Land. But, how can we be reborn in the Pure Land. There are many kinds of practices leading to the Pure Land, and the easiest one is the recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha. If we have the three criteria of faith, will, and practice, together with the necessary merits, virtues, and causal conditions, and if we can recite the name of Amitabha Buddha with single pointedness of the mind, then we will surely be reborn in the Pure Land.
[How can we ensure that we have all the necessary causes and conditions mentioned above?] Let me conclude our talk today by offering you here the three essential practices described in the Amitayus Sutra:
1. Be filial to your parents, be respectful of your teachers and elders, be compassionate and abstain from killing, and be willing to practice benevolence.
2. Follow the Three Refuges (refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), observe the precepts, do not violate the proper rules of conduct, and maintain mental and physical purity.
3. Develop your Bodhicitta, believe in the law of cause and effect, recite and understand the Mahayana teachings, and encourage others to practice the same.


The Buddhist perspective on Cause and Condition

Dear Venerables and Dharma Friends,
More than two thousand five hundred years ago, Sakyamuni Buddha "was born into this world for the cause and condition of a major mission." This major mission, this cause and condition, is what we now commonly refer to as the "Buddhist Dharma," the Truth realized by the Buddha.
The Buddhist teachings differ from scholastic inquiry and knowledge. Usual scholastic inquiry focuses on explanations of appearances; it is an interpretation based on the name and form of phenomena. In contrast, Buddhism emphasizes the penetrative understanding of the nature of phenomena; it is ultimate and complete. For example, let us talk about my hand. Common knowledge holds that it is a hand. Medical science looks at it as a structure of bones, muscles, nerves, and cells. Literature defines the hand in terms of style, gesture and expression. The philosophical interpretation of the hand sees it as the embodiment of destiny and friendship. In physics, the extension and contraction of the hand is force and movement.
In summation, the hand is regarded as real, as something that truly exists. In contrast, the Buddhist view of my hand is like a penetrating X-ray which surmises that the hand is really only an illusive form, unstable in nature, and will eventually decay and vanish. It is only a phenomenon that is ultimately empty in its nature. Let's say I extend my hand and make a grasp. Common knowledge and intellect would say that I have grasped some air and dust particles. It is a movement and gesture. From the Buddhist point of view, the grasp is "like a dream, illusion, bubble, or shadow, like the dew or lightning." It is only a phenomenon that exists because of the combination of certain causes and conditions. Thus, we can see that human perspectives are narrow and confined; they often hinder us from looking at the world in the radiance of ultimate wisdom. Worldly happiness and suffering do not have an absolute existence of their own. They arise only because of the differentiations we make in our perceptions and cognitions. When we come to understand and accept the Buddhist teachings, we need to change our perspectives. We must go beyond superficial phenomena into the ultimate reality of "suchness," illuminate our Prajna wisdom and sow Bodhi seeds. Only then, will the Dharma water of Samadhi flow into the spiritual fields of our hearts.
The scripture tells the following story that will further develop my explanation. There was once an old lady who cried all the time. Her elder daughter was married to an umbrella merchant while the younger daughter was the wife of a noodle vendor. On sunny days, she worried, "Oh no! The weather is so nice and sunny. No one is going to buy any umbrellas. What will happen if the shop has to be closed?" These worries made her sad. She just could not help but cry. When it rained, she would cry for the younger daughter. She thought, "Oh no! My younger daughter is married to a noodle vendor. You cannot dry noodles without the sun. Now there will be no noodles to sell. What should we do?" As a result, the old lady lived in sorrow everyday. Whether sunny or rainy, she grieved for one of her daughters. Her neighbors could not console her and jokingly called her "the crying lady."
One day, she met a monk. He was very curious as to why she was always crying. She explained the problem to him. The monk smiled kindly and said, "Madam! You need not worry. I will show you a way to happiness, and you will need to grieve no more."
The crying lady was very excited. She immediately asked the monk to show her what to do. The master replied, "It is very simple. You just need to change your perspective. On sunny days, do not think of your elder daughter not being able to sell umbrellas but the younger daughter being able to dry her noodles. With such good strong sunlight, she must be able to make plenty of noodles and her business must be very good. When it rains, think about the umbrella store of the elder daughter. With the rain, everyone must be buying umbrellas. She will sell a lot of umbrellas and her store will prosper."
The old lady saw the light. She followed the monk's instruction. After a while, she did not cry anymore; instead, she was smiling everyday. From that day on she was known as "the smiling lady."
When we all have worries and problems, if we can emulate "the crying lady" and change our perspectives a little, we can transform worries and problems into happiness and fortunes. This does not require magical power. If we can comprehend a minute amount of the wondrous Dharma of Buddhism and apply it effectively during pivotal junctures in our lives, we can have breakthroughs in our understandings. We will then turn foolishness into wisdom and ignorance into enlightenment.
Anyone who has the slightest knowledge regarding Buddhism would know that Sakyamuni Buddha achieved enlightenment while gazing at the evening stars under a Bodhi tree on a "diamond" throne. When the bright shooting star streaked across the sky, what did the Buddha come to realize?
He has seen the ultimate reality of the universe and life.
What then is the Truth realized by the Buddha?
It is the law of cause and condition, the law of dependent origination.
If we can understand the law of cause and condition, the law of dependent origination, and if we can live by this truth, we will be just like the Buddha. We can then abandon all the pains and anxieties that are associated with this imperfect worldly existence. The scripture discourses, "All phenomena arise out of causes and conditions; all phenomena cease due to causes and conditions." What do we mean by causes and conditions? Causes and conditions are nothing other than human interactions and relationships. Relationships can be loving and respectful, antagonistic and competitive, good and bad. If we can grasp the law of cause and condition, we can understand the rise and fall of sentient beings' welfare, the origin and extinction of existence, the reality of the universe and humanity.
There are usually four ways people look at the ever arising and ceasing of causes and conditions:
A. Without Cause, Without Condition
Commonly held beliefs about life include predetermination, random chance, and divine design. These perspectives do not look at life from the standpoint of cause and condition. For example, rocks do not normally produce oil, but let us say that once someone accidentally mines fossil oil from rocks. Instead of analyzing the fossil oil and finding the cause of its formation, the person just assumes it to be a random occurrence. When a child overeats and chokes to death, instead of preventing overeating, the family members lament it as destiny. An unsuccessful robbery attempt turns into a murder; the family of the victim just blames it on predetermination. The most pitiful people are those who lay all responsibilities at gods' doorsteps. They deny the value of choice, the meaning of efforts, and the importance of self-determination. This total reliance on destiny negates the significance of self-help. It is an erroneous and one-sided view. It is not in accordance with the law of cause and condition.
B. Without Cause, but With Condition
Many people do not believe in past causes, conditions, and effects. They believe that life depends on present conditions and current opportunities. They look at mishaps as the lack of proper conditions, as a predicament that "Everything is in place except for the east wind." Some siblings in a family can persevere and become successful. Others may just give up and fail. They blame it all on the lack of opportunities or ill fate and overlook their differences in education and character. Students in the same class finish with different grades. They attribute the differences only to the apparent condition of how much they apply themselves and overlook the underlying causes of the variations in aptitude and intellect. This is only a partial and biased understanding of cause and condition.
C. With Cause, but Without Condition
Many people look at cause and condition separately. They attribute their circumstances to causes but not to conditions. They overlook the wondrous and dynamic interplay of cause and condition. Many examples of talented people failing to live up to their potentials are precisely due to the lack of proper conditions to exert themselves. When first entering the work force, they apply for jobs that call for experienced workers. Finally when they are mature, they run into openings that want new graduates. Such situations happen all the time. Some people view cause and condition as separate and independent. Sometimes they believe in cause but not in condition. Other times, they only accept the existence of condition. These people fail to realize that cause and condition are not static, but are forever changing in the space-time continuum, never standing still to wait for anyone. There is an old saying which illustrates this point, "Good begets blessings; evil will be punished. It is not that there are no effects to our acts; it is just a matter of time."
The three views described above are biased and do not reflect the correct interpretation of the Buddhist view on cause and condition. In Buddhism, we believe that cause, condition, reward, and punishment are all intertwined, one giving rise to the other. All circumstances happen because of "the existence of causes and conditions."
D. With Cause and With Condition
In Buddhism, the common thread for all Dharma is the law of cause and condition, regardless of whether it is the school of Mahayana or Theravada, whether it is viewed from the angle of principles or phenomena, whether the perspective is worldly or transcendental. All phenomenal existences are products of the proper mix of causes and conditions. It is written in the Surangama Sutra, "All holy teachings, from elementary to profound, cannot depart from the law of cause and condition." It is like building a house. We need bricks, wood, cement, and other materials. The construction can only be completed when one has all the essential materials and all prerequisites are met. For example, if we want to throw a party, there are many conditions to consider. Do we know our guests well? Can they come? Can we find the appropriate accommodation? Only when all the proper causes and conditions are present can the party be a success. If not, the party will be a flop.
Once, a rich man threw a party. When half of the guests had already arrived, the chef asked if he could start to serve. The man told him to wait a little bit longer. After waiting a few hours, many important guests still had not arrived. Impatient and irritated, he had a slip of the tongue and complained, "Oh! It is not easy to throw a party. Those who should have come have not; those who should not have come are all here."
His seated guests were shocked. They thought, "Guess what? I am not really invited. If I am not welcomed, I may as well go home." One by one, the guests quietly slipped away. Seeing the party was dying, the rich man had another slip of the tongue, "Oh! It is not easy to throw a party. Those who should leave have not. Those who should not have left are all gone."
Right after these words, every guest was upset. They all stood up and left the party in a huff.
With the appropriate causes and conditions, endeavors will become successful. If we destroy our own causes and conditions, if we cannot seize the moment given by our own causes and conditions, success will be hard to come by. Allow me to build some good causes and conditions with you all today, and let me explain the Buddhist view on cause and condition in the following four points.
I. Cause and Condition and Human Relationship
Nowadays, it is popular to talk about "inter-personal relationships." With good interpersonal relationships, everything goes smoothly; otherwise, obstacles and problems abound. Events are the products of combinations of forces with "the major force called the cause; the lesser forces called conditions." "Interpersonal relationships" are a form of cause and condition.
If we want to have a successful business, we must acquire sufficient capital, research the market, and then establish investments. If we do our homework, our business will thrive; otherwise, it will fail. These planning and arrangements are the causes and conditions of business.
We must learn to be humble and be appreciative of the relationships we have with others. Arrogance shuts off even the best of causes and conditions. One such example is the meeting between Bodhidharma and Emperor Wu.
Venerable Bodhidharma, the Ch'an school's first patriarch, arrived from India to Canton, China by sea at the time of the Ta-Tung era of Emperor Wu during the Liang Dynasty. The Emperor quickly sent envoys to accompany Bodhidharma to the capital. Emperor Wu, who wished to show off his past accomplishments, proudly asked Bodhidharma, "I have built numerous temples, published many scriptures, and supported the Sangha. How much merit do you think I have accumulated?"
Dampening the Emperor's enthusiasm, Bodhi-dharma replied coolly, "None at all."
The Emperor was very upset. He asked further, "What do you mean? I have done so many good and outstanding acts of benevolence."
Bodhidharma replied, "Your Majesty! They are imperfect causes and will only bring you minor rewards in the human and celestial realms. They are as illusive as shadows. They are only empty phenomena."
"Well! What then are real merits?"
"Do not become attached to the name and form of merits," smiled Bodhidharma. "Sanctify your thoughts. Realize the ultimate nature of emptiness. Abstain from greed and do not pursue worldly rewards."
The Emperor could not see this profound meaning. To show off his wisdom as the emperor of his people, he asked in his usual arrogant tone, "Between heaven and earth, who is the holiest?"
Bodhidharma saw through the vanity of the Emperor. Not letting up, he replied, "Between heaven and earth, there are neither the holy nor the ordinary."
Emperor Wu asked loudly, "Do you know who I am?"
Bodhidharma smiled lightly, shook his head and said, "I do not know."
The Emperor always considered himself a great benefactor of Buddhism. He was conceited and not truly sincere about learning the Truth. How could he possibly take such slighting by Bodhidharma? He immediately flaunted his powers as the emperor and rudely sent Bodhidharma away. In so doing, he had lost the cause and condition to learn Ch'an from Bodhidharma; he had dismissed the excellent opportunity for the metamorphosis of Chinese Buddhism. Although he eventually regretted his behavior and tried to send for Bodhidharma again, it was already too late.
As the Emperor was egotistic and hungry for fame, he became caught up in the name of merits and swayed away from the Middle Path. He could not realize the ultimate truth that is "beyond true or false, beyond good or bad." Since the cause was improper and conditions were poor, it was no wonder that the encounter went nowhere.
It is written in the Avatamsaka Sutra, "All the water in the oceans can be consumed, all momentary thoughts as innumerable as dust particles can be counted, all the space can be measured, all the winds can be stopped; yet, the realm of the Buddha can never be fully described." So, for your elucidation, I will describe an episode involving the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng that can further illustrate the law of cause and condition.
When Hui Neng was young, he traveled thirty days from Canton to Hupeh to learn the Dharma from the Fifth Patriarch. When they first met, the Fifth Patriarch immediately knew that Hui Neng had great potential, that the right cause and conditions were ripening. He asked, "Where are you from? And what are you seeking?"
"I have come from very far away, from Ling Nan. My only goal is to be a Patriarch and become a Buddha."
Hearing such a reply, the Fifth Patriarch was impressed. He wanted to test if Hui Neng had cultivated the right conditions and asked him pointedly, "You are only a barbarian from the South. How dare you wish to become a Buddha?"
Hui Neng replied calmly and confidently, "People may be from the south or north, but the Buddha nature is non-regional. When the right cause and condition exists, anyone can become a Buddha. Why not me?"
Hui Neng struck a chord with the Fifth Patriarch. He reflected and replied, "Okay! You are allowed to stay here and work. Report to the threshing mill."
Everyday for the next eight months, Hui Neng used a huge axe to collect firewood. Everyday, he wore stone weights around his waist to act as ballasts in helping him thresh grains. Not once did the Fifth Patriarch visit him; not once did the Fifth Patriarch teach him one word. Hui Neng did not complain or get upset. It was only late one night when the Fifth Patriarch finally handed Hui Neng his robe and bowl, making him the Sixth Patriarch. The Fifth Patriarch explained himself with this verse:
Those with sentience come to sow
In fields of causation, fruits will grow.
Ultimately without sentience, having nothing to sow,
Without nature, there is nothing to grow.
What the Fifth Patriarch was saying through this verse is this: When you first arrived from the distant land of Ling Nan to learn the Truth from me, the cause was ripe and you were sincere. The environment and conditions, however, were inadequate. I must first have you polish and cultivate yourself for a period of time to the point "ultimately without sentience, having nothing to sow; without nature, there is nothing to grow." Only when the right causes and conditions were met, would I then transmit the teachings.
From this story, we can see how cause and condition can greatly influence how people interact with one another. Without the appropriate cause and condition, human relationships will be imperfect and regretful. Events must await the maturity of cause and condition. It is like planting flowers. Some seeds planted in spring may blossom in the autumn. Others may take a year to bloom. Some varieties may take even a few years to flower and bear fruits. Yu Han, a famous Chinese scholar of the Tang dynasty, was demoted and transferred to the remote area of Chaochow. As this area was far removed and culturally backward, there were few learned scholars with whom he could converse. When he heard the Ch'an master Ta Tien was preaching in the area, he immediately went over for a visit. It just happened that the Ch'an master was meditating, so Yu Han decided to wait outside. After a long wait, as the master was still in meditation, Yu Han became restless so he stood up and was about to leave. The guarding attendant of the master suddenly said, "First, influence through meditative concentration, then eradicate [arrogance] with wisdom." The words resonated like strong spring thunders and awakened Yu Han. Because his conditions of timing and opportunity were just right at that moment, Yu Han was able and ready to recognize the teaching and learn the way of emancipation from the attendant.
Several years ago, a female university graduate left Taiwan with high hopes and traveled halfway across the world to study for her doctorate degree in the United States. After a period of two years in the States, she felt that life was empty and aimless so she packed her bags and returned to Taiwan. From Taipei, she took a two-hour train ride to Hsinchu and became a Buddhist nun. This news story got a lot of attention when reported by the media. The famous Professor Shih Chiu Liang sighed, "If what she had wanted originally was to renounce and become a nun, all she had to do was take a two-hour train ride from Taipei to Hsinchu. There was no need to fly over to America. Why spend all that time struggling and then choose to renounce?"
The causes and conditions of human affairs are rather similar to the unfolding circumstances relating to this woman's renunciation of home life to become a nun. Events may come and go, people may meet and depart; however random it may appear, there is meaning in all turns of events. The following Chinese saying captures this point well, "Without a bone-chilling freeze, how could plum blossoms have such great fragrance?" Everything must first have the right causes and proper conditions before results are produced and other favorable conditions are generated. There is the story of Ch'an master Shih T'ou Hsi Ch'ien and his master Ch'ing Yuan Hsing Ssu. When they first met, Ch'ing Yuan asked Shih T'ou if he was a student of the Sixth Patriarch, and if he still had any questions, "What did you take with you when you first went to Ts'ao Hsi?"
"My nature was complete," Shih T'ou smiled. "I was not missing anything prior to studying with the Sixth Patriarch in Ts'ao Hsi."
"If everything was perfect, why then did you bother to go to study in Ts'ao Hsi?"
Shih T'ou Hsi Ch'ien replied definitively, "If I had not gone, how would I have known that I was not lacking in anything? How could I have seen through my true and free nature?"
All causes and conditions are within our true nature. We must realize the Truth in our daily living. The continual flow of pure refreshing water is a form of cause and condition. The blossoming of beautiful flowers everywhere is another form of cause and condition. Parents raising us are our causes and conditions in family relationships. Teachers educating us are our causes and conditions in the pursuit of knowledge. Farmers, workers, and merchants supplying our daily needs are the causes and conditions of living in this society. Drivers driving us over here are the causes and conditions of traveling. Turning on the television and watching television programs are the causes and conditions of entertainment. It is with these wondrous combinations of causes and conditions that we can live happily and freely.
As far as the cause and condition of human relationships, I will cite a verse that can usually be found in temples next to statues of Maitreya Bodhisattva:
Before our eyes are people connected to us through conditions;
As we meet and befriend each other,
How can we not be filled with joy?
The world is full of difficult and unbearable problems;
As we end up reaping what we sow,
Why not open our minds and be magnanimous?
II. How Do We Know Cause and Condition Exist?
How can we be certain that cause and condition really exist? How can it be discovered and harvested? For example, a machine in a factory suddenly stops functioning. The technician opens up the machine and discovers a small screw is broken. This small screw is the cause. When cause and condition are not fully satisfied, the machine will not function. When we build a house, if a supporting beam is missing, the roof will collapse. When any ingredient of cause or condition is missing, it can have a great impact on the circumstances of our lives.
Buddhism teaches that our bodies are made up of the combination of the four great elements of earth, water, fire, and wind. These four great elements are the causes. We fall ill when the four elements are not harmonized. Why does a flower fail to blossom? Why is a harvest not abundant? It could be a lack of proper conditions, such as inadequate irrigation or fertilizers. Even the space shuttle can be delayed by a simple computer problem. With the slightest offset in cause and condition, the resulting circumstance will be totally different.
No matter what problems or difficulties we may face, we must first reflect. We should examine the situation closely for any missing causes and conditions. We should not simply blame the gods or other people, or else we are creating further troubles for ourselves. There are many situations in which a couple falls in love, only to find that the families oppose the marriage, criticizing the other party as unsuitable, poor, etc. When these conditions, or secondary causes, are absent, the marriage will not work. Other couples fall in love at first sight and get married with lightning speed. The whole development is even beyond their comprehension. The man may reason that it is a case of "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." The woman may attribute it to the fact that "With the right conditions, people come to meet from thousands of miles away." This is what we call ripened conditions.
I will relate another story to illustrate the existence of cause and condition. Once, King Milinda asked Bhiksu Nagasena, "Are your eyes the real you?"
Bhiksu Nagasena replied, "No!"
King Milinda further inquired, "What about the ears?"
"Is the nose you?"
"Is the tongue you?"
"Then, does it mean that your body is the real you?"
"No, the existence of the body is only an illusory combination."
"Mind must be the real you then."
"It is not either."
King Milinda was annoyed and asked further "Well, if the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and thoughts are not you, then tell me, where is your true self'?"
Bhiksu Nagasena grinned and replied with a question, "Is the window the house?"
The King was taken by surprise and struggled for an answer, "No!"
"How about the door?"
"Are the bricks and tiles the house?"
"Then, what about the furniture and pillars?"
"No, of course not."
Bhiksu Nagasena smiled and asked, "If the window, door, bricks, tiles, furniture, and pillars are not house, then where is the real house?"
King Milinda finally understood that causes, conditions, and effects cannot be separated nor understood through a biased and partial view. A house can only be built with the fulfillment of many conditions. Likewise, human existence also needs the satisfaction of many conditions. If we know the law of cause and condition, believe in its existence, plant good causes everywhere and cultivate advantageous conditions all the time, our lives will be a smooth path full of success. To conclude, I will give you this verse to ponder:
If one understands
The law of cause and condition,
One can find spring
In the midst of autumn frost and winter snow.
III. The Different Levels of Cause and Condition
How many varieties of cause and condition are there? We can examine this from four different perspectives:
A. Having or Not Having
Cause and condition is not a matter of knowledge. It cannot be learned by research or via debates. It must be experienced through the heart and mind amidst our daily living. If we come to understand cause and condition from real practice and experience, then this is "having" the true understanding of cause and condition. Under the law of cause and condition, our natures are all equal. The universe is us and we are the universe. If we comprehend the law of cause and condition superficially through intellectual speculation or as mere word expressions, then this is "not having" the true understanding of cause and condition. The result will be as futile as looking for fish on trees.
B. Wholesome or Unwholesome
Causes and conditions can be good or evil. Wholesome causes and conditions are good. Unwholesome causes and conditions are evil. Let us suppose a person lives to be a hundred years old. If he/she does not understand the cause of arising and ceasing-the ultimate reason of existence-and only comprehends cause and condition superficially, he/she will be easily enslaved by changing environments and be trapped in dark and evil causes and conditions without the chance for liberation. On the other hand, if a person has a firm belief and correct understanding, then all resulting causes and conditions will be bright and virtuous.
C. Internal or External
Causes and conditions can be internal or external. External causes and conditions are the commonly noticed environmental factors. Internal causes and conditions are more related to intrinsic value. It is like farming a field. The external factors may be the same, but the harvest from different seeds is not. Seeds, in this instance, have different causes and conditions of value. For example, the siblings of the same parents have different temperaments. The students of the same teacher have varying abilities. External causes and conditions such as parents and teachers may be the same, but the internal causes and conditions of value such as talents and aptitudes are very much dissimilar. Therefore, we say that cause and condition may be external and internal. Although external conditions may be complete, if internal causes are inadequate, the resulting effects will leave much to be desired.
D. Correct or Erroneous
Causes and conditions can be correct or erroneous. Some people, when they become ill, know that illness is caused by disorders in the body or mind. They are willing to undergo treatments, and they can be cured. This is the "correct cause and condition." In contrast, there are some people who, when sick, are confused about the true reason for their malady. They are suspicious and attribute their sickness to divine punishment. They go about looking for magical charms, special spells, or they ingest incense ashes; their illness will only worsen. This is "erroneous cause and condition." Life may be smooth or bumpy, and obstacles may be many or few. Many of life's difficulties are rooted in misconceptions about the law of cause and condition. We must know how to apply the correct understanding and shun the erroneous views.
Furthermore, as far as the understanding of cause and condition is concerned, there are four levels. They are right understanding, cause and condition, Sunyata, and Prajna.
A. Right Understanding
As ordinary people, we can understand the law of cause and condition at the level of right understanding. Most of us have the experience and intellect to enable us to affirm cause and condition in the world. When confronted with sickness, distress, and misfortune, we are able to find the cause and can therefore liberate ourselves from sufferings. This is the understanding of cause and condition from a worldly angle.
B. Cause and Condition
Those who have reached the level of Arhat have realized the transcendental truth. Since they know that the five skandhas (form, feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness) are empty and can abandon the hindrances of knowledge, they elevate themselves to a higher spiritual level. They understand that there is no absolute and that all existences are interdependent. They have realized the true nature of cause and condition.
C. Sunyata
Sunyata, emptiness, is the realm of Bodhisattvas. They have realized both the worldly and transcendental truths and can function in this world in a transcendental way. They realize that, "Forms and smells are all Dharma. Words or quietude are ultimately Ch'an." When one can view the law of cause and condition from the point of view of Sunyata, then life is full of possibilities and nothing is unreachable.
D. Prajna
Prajna, the ultimate wisdom, is in the realm of the Buddhas. It is the wisdom, when one has achieved enlightenment, of one's original nature. It is the realm of one who has realized that true nature and phenomenon are one. In this realm, there is no differentiation between the worldly truth and the transcendental truth. There is no distinction of self versus others. Cause and condition arise and cease of their own accord, just like the freely fleeting clouds in the sky. Everything is naturally integrated and fulfilled.
We can explain these four levels of understandings from another angle. In order to play a musical instrument, such as a flute, violin or piano, beginners must first study scales and notes. They must first learn to read the musical score and familiarize themselves with the respective instruments. To generate each sound, they must look at each note on the score, become knowledgeable in the use of the instrument, and practice. They continue this process of practicing until they are thoroughly familiar with the music. This is the first level of performance. These performers can only play with a musical score. Similarly, when we still need to look at the phenomena of the external world for our understanding, we are at the level of right understanding.
When the performers have perfected their practice, the musical score now has been etched into their hearts and minds. They can close their eyes and the notes will naturally appear in the mind. Although they appear to perform without the physical music sheet, their minds are still bound by the existence of the score. They still perform by following the notes and cannot freely express musically. This is the second level of performance. When the internal understanding is in agreement with the external world, this corresponds to the second level of understanding, that of cause and condition.
As the performers continue to practice, they soon enter the realm where the boundary between the external and internal vanishes. They do not need to look at the music sheet, nor do they feel the existence of the score in their minds. When they perform, they become one with the music, forgoing their sense of separate identity. The resulting music flows seamlessly, smoothly, and wonderfully. Although the performers no longer hold on to the musical score physically or in their minds, they are still playing something that they have previously learned rather than out of their spontaneous composition. This level of performance corresponds to the third level of understanding, that of Sunyata.
Finally when the performers truly know and integrate the musical harmony and concepts of composition, they are now musicians in tune with nature. They are one with the music, and they create beautiful musical compositions with every turn of their thoughts. Everything is music. Likewise, when one reaches the level in which each thought is Prajna, the ultimate wisdom, and each hand gesture is a wondrous discourse, one then is in the realm where there are no distinctions of inside versus outside, without remembering or not remembering. This is the highest level of Prajna realization in the law of cause and condition.
People nowadays tend not to have even the right understanding. We often look at the world in a topsy-turvy way. We regard fame and fortune, the cause of many afflictions, as pleasure. Out of our equal, undivided, unbound original nature, we insist on making distinctions and divisions of superiority. When the cause and condition call for our peaceful mutual caring, cooperation, and coexistence, we instead become distrustful and hostile to each other, thereby generating conflict and disputes among ourselves. What is the point of all these troubles? The only way to free ourselves is to understand the law of cause and condition correctly. When we can realize Prajna, concentration, and wisdom, when we are not bound by phenomenal existence, and when we let go of the fixation of us versus them, then we will be able to be in complete accordance with the Buddhas, venture into the realms of the Dharma and be wonderfully free.
IV. How to Multiply and Improve Wholesome Conditions
Some people say, "The greatest invention of the twentieth century is human communication." It is also written in the scripture, "Before achieving the Buddha Way, we must first cultivate favorable conditions with others." To cultivate favorable conditions is to build harmonious relationships and to establish good communication with other people.
One of the greatest treasures of life is the "cultivating of favorable conditions." Building plenty of good conditions is essential for one's happiness in particular and the welfare of the public in general. How, then, can we establish a multitude of good conditions with others?
To cultivate favorable conditions with others, people in the past put up lanterns by the side of the road. They built rest stops and provided free tea drinks. They built bridges to establish good conditions with people of the other shore. They dug wells to develop good conditions with everyone. Others may give you a watch or a clock to foster good conditions with you. All of these are examples of precious good conditions with others. If you have a heart of gold, good conditions will open up everywhere. I can provide you some suggestions on a few methods to form favorable conditions with others.
1) Monetary Assistance-We can donate money as a way to build good conditions with others. Not only does it make others feel our concern for them, it may even save a life. For example, if there is a car accident on the road, someone may need a coin to call for emergency assistance. If you offer a coin, the person can make the call. Paramedics and physicians will then arrive and provide assistance to the needy victims. Your coin will have built a multitude of good conditions with others.
2) Kind Encouragement-When others are frustrated, a word of encouragement can bring them immense hope. When others are disappointed, a word of praise can give them a positive outlook on life. There is a saying that, "A kind word is more valuable than the gift of royal attire; a harsh word is more severe than the fall of the axe." There are times that a few kind words can bring great joy and peace to everyone.
3) Meritorious Deeds-A small kind gesture or even a simple kind thought can have tremendous impact. Once upon a time in Holland, there was a child who walked home one evening and saw a small hole in the dike. When he saw that the sea water was slowly seeping in, he thought to himself, "Oh no! How disastrous! If the hole is not patched up immediately, the dam is going to break before dawn and the town will be flooded." As he could not find anything to patch the hole, he stuck his finger into the hole to stop the leak. He stood like this by the dike throughout the windy rainy night. The whole night passed and not even one person walked by the dike. In the morning, he was found frozen by the dike with his finger still tightly stuck in the hole. The entire town was very grateful to learn that his finger had saved the lives and properties of the entire town. Therefore, "Do not commit an act of atrocity just because it is minor. Do not pass up the opportunity to perform a virtuous deed just because it is small." A simple kind thought can save countless lives and build boundless virtue.
4) Educating Others-We can use knowledge and know-how to cultivate favorable conditions with others. Each day, there are over one hundred and eighty thousand teachers in Taiwan patiently teaching and passing on their knowledge to the younger generations. They are instrumental in promoting the national intellect and catalyzing growth. You show someone a minor skill; it can be his/her means for future survival. You teach others a word of wisdom; it can influence his/her entire life and serve as the guiding principle of how he/she deals with others.
5) Helping Hand-We can gain much respect if we accommodate others. The traffic officer helping an elderly person to cross the street becomes a model civil servant. The sales representative who kindly helps shoppers find what they need can make the customers' shopping experience a real pleasure. The young person who gives his seat up politely to an elderly person gives us confidence in our country's future. From the way we assist others in our daily lives, we can gauge if we live in a truly progressive and developed society.
6) Warm Gesture-Sometimes a smile, a nod, or a simple handshake can build us unimaginable good conditions. Once in Taiwan, an unemployed young man was wandering the streets near the Taipei train station, wanting to commit suicide by running in front of the car of a wealthy person. In this way, his impoverished mother would be able to collect some monetary compensation to live on. When he was about to make his move, a beautiful gracious lady walked by and smiled at him. He was so excited that he dismissed the idea of committing suicide. The next day, he found a job to support his family. Of course, he no longer wanted to die anymore. Therefore, the smile managed to build such great cause and condition for the young man.
Learning Buddhism and building merits are more than retreating to a mountain or donating money. A kind word, a good deed, a smile, or a bit of know-how can help us build plenty of good conditions and accrue tremendous merits. In China, there are four famous mountains. Each mountain is the sacred site for one Bodhisattva preaching his Dharma. These four Bodhisattvas, to whom we commonly pay respect, are Avalokitesvara, Ksitigarbha, Manjusri, and Samantabhadra. As discussed in the following paragraphs, each of these four Bodhisattvas has a special cause and condition with us.
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva has a special condition with us through the Bodhisattva's kindness and compassion. The Bodhisattva brings universal salvation to all. Through the Bodhisattva's kind heart and compassionate vows, all sentient beings may benefit from the nurture of the Dharma and actualize the mind of compassion.
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva has a special condition with us through his great vow. The Bodhisattva vows to deliver all living beings as noted in the verse, "Only when all beings are emancipated, then shall I attain enlightenment. As long as hell is not emptied, I vow not to reach Buddhahood." For thousands of years, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva's limitless vow, as reflected in this verse, has served as the pointer for countless beings to the path of Buddhahood. It has also lit an eternal light for the Buddhist teachings.
Manjusri Bodhisattva has a special condition with us through his wisdom. The Bodhisattva uses his extraordinary eloquence to expound the ultimate teachings. He brings light to the blinded and the Dharma sound to the ignorant. With great wisdom the Bodhisattva has propelled Buddhism into the profound and wondrous realm of great Prajna. Buddhism in China has been greatly benefited.
Samantabhadra Bodhisattva has a special condition with us through his actual practice. The Bodhisattva shows us the Way with every movement of the hands and feet. With the raise of his eyebrows or the twinkle of his eyes, the Bodhisattva expresses the wonderful teachings. In Chinese Buddhism, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva is an exemplary model and has established virtuous ways for the cultivation of simplicity and the striving for thoroughness.
In addition to these four great Bodhisattvas, there are countless patriarchs, masters, and Buddhist practitioners who cultivate favorable conditions with others in their unique ways.
Through his calligraphy and upholding the precepts, Venerable Master Hung Yi cultivated favorable conditions with others. For those sincerely interested in Buddhism, he often used calligraphy to present the words of Dharma wisdom as the means for cultivating good conditions with them. Personally he was diligent with his cultivation and strict with upholding the precepts. He never uttered a word to slight the Dharma nor committed an act in violation of the precepts. Like "the luxuriant flowering branches in spring and the perfect full moon in the sky," he has set a highly regarded example in Buddhism.
With his meditative concentration, Venerable Master Hsu Yun fostered wholesome conditions with others. He was immovable, in accordance with the ultimate reality of "suchness." His mind was focused and imperturbable. He propagated the Dharma without speaking about the teachings. He interacted with different types of people, yet remained true to himself.
Through preaching the Dharma, Venerable Master T'ai Hsu was able to cultivate favorable conditions with people. He used words to expound the great wisdom of Prajna. He preached the sutras to awaken the confused. He traveled to all corners of China and helped to revive the declining Chinese Buddhism with a dose of effective medicine.
Master Shan Tao cultivated favorable conditions with others through illuminating radiance. For the physically blind, he ensured that they were not blinded in their minds. For those blinded mentally, he brought the light of wisdom back into their minds. He brightened the dark and defiled human existence with his illuminating light.
Venerable Master Yin Kuang cultivated favorable connections with others through chanting. With each thought, he was continuously mindful and contemplative of the Amitabha Buddha, and he chanted the Amitabha Buddha's name incessantly everyday. In this way, he guided the faithful to maintain a strong belief in the Western Pure Land and to form wondrous causes and conditions with the Amitabha Buddha.
Other examples include Elder Sudatta in India who gave alms to cultivate favorable conditions with others. He was well respected for building the Jetavana Monastery, which became the focal point of the Buddha's missionary work in Northern India. Ch'an Master Yung Ming Yen Shou cultivated favorable conditions by setting captured animals free. He saved countless animals and water creatures from the pain of the slaughterhouse and the torture of fiery stove in the kitchen. Master Lung K'u used tea services to cultivate favorable conditions with others. He helped to quench the thirst of exhausted travelers and gave them renewed energy to continue with their long journeys.
Society needs to have the unity of group efforts to thrive, just as the happiness of individual existence relies on the integration of the six senses. Our daily subsistence depends on the close cooperation of all professions working together to facilitate the workings of supply and demand. In this way, we can live in abundance. We should be thankful for the workings of causes and conditions and for the help of all in the society. If we want to be successful and happy, we must cultivate favorable causes and conditions with all beings. We must do it for the present as well as for the future. We should also cultivate favorable Dharma conditions with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We must treasure, build, and live within our causes and conditions. "[Resources] coming from the ten directions, going to the ten directions, to accomplish endeavors of the ten directions. Ten thousand people contributing, ten thousand people giving, to cultivate ten thousand favorable conditions." If we can do this, we will be able to attain Buddhahood and the wisdom of enlightenment.
Finally, my best wishes to all of you. May each of you become a well-respected and loved person. May each of you have plenty of good causes and great conditions. May each of you be successful.


The Buddhist Perspective on life and destiny

Dear Venerables and Dharma Friends:
With the ripening of many causal conditions, we, as in the previous year, are holding this Dharma Propagation Service in Northern Taiwan. Apart from expressing my gratitude for the blessing of the Buddha, I also would like to thank all of you for coming.
Today is the first day of the lecture series. What I would like to discuss with you is "the Buddhist Perspective on Life and Destiny." Of all the issues that we have, we are most concerned with those relating to us. Of all our concerns, the biggest concern relates to our destiny. Each of us has a different opinion on the question of destiny. Some people, when face to face with hardship, will often complain bitterly about their ill fate. Others believe in destiny and that our circumstances, be they good or bad, are pre-determined. Some people accept their difficult circumstances. Others are content with what they have; they are optimists and live carefree lives. Regardless of whether we find ourselves down in a rut or up in the stratosphere, we should not be passive and just accept our destiny. We should build our destiny. When we talk about the Buddhist perspective on life and destiny, there are four areas to discuss.
I. Why Does Destiny Exist?
Many events in our lives can change our destinies. For some, their lives are changed because of a certain person. For others, their lives are turned around because of a dollar. There are some others who took a different course in life because of an event. Even a word or a thought can cause drastic changes in people's lives. The impetus, though trivial in itself, can cause tremendous impact. It is like a pebble thrown into the sea. A pebble is small, but the ripples it causes can permeate the entire surface. Similarly, a person or a thought can generate vastly different changes in one's destiny.
A. How a Person Can Change Another's Destiny
Take the example of San-kuei Wu of the Ming Dynasty. When he learned that the rebel bandit Chih-ch'eng Li kidnapped his beautiful mistress Yuan-yuan Chen Li, he was enraged and asked the tribe of Manchus for assistance. He opened the gates of the Great Wall of China and led the Manchus inside the country. Although he defeated the bandits and reclaimed his mistress, his destiny was totally changed, and he went down in history as a traitor. China once again came under foreign rule; Chinese history was rewritten. Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor of England, abdicated his throne for the love of Mrs. Simpson. In "forsaking his country for the love of a woman," his life was completely changed. Mr. Ling-fei Chou, the grandson of the famous Chinese author Hsun Lu, fled China so that he could marry Ms. Ch'un-hua Chang of Taiwan. In so doing, many opportunities were opened up, thereby establishing a bright future for himself.
There are countless examples of how lives are changed because of the love for a certain person. Some parents sacrifice their entire lifetimes for the love of their children. In China, there is the legend of Mrs. Ch'un-e Wang who remained a widow for life to raise her son. When her son became a successful government official, she was able to enjoy the fruits of her success. Many children also give up their futures to care for their aged parents. In order to respect their parents' wishes, they put aside their own ambitions, live out the rest of their lives quietly, and forsake an otherwise promising career. During the course of Chinese history, there were many loyal government officials and soldiers who were willing to repay the favors of the emperors and their lords by giving up their lives. During the Warring States period, a warrior named Jang Yu wished to repay his late lord Po Chih for understanding and giving him opportunities. He swallowed charcoal to alter his voice, painted his body to disguise himself, and assassinated Hsiang-tzu Chao, his late lord's enemy. Afterward he turned his sword on himself and died. In history books there are also untold cases of women who make tremendous sacrifices for the men they love; yet their lives ended in tragedy because their lovers were of unsavory character. For example, there was a woman named Hsiao-yu Huo; she was fiercely in love with I-ch'ing Li and thought they would live happily ever after. Little did she know that I-ch'ing Li would leave her one day. Dear audience, is there someone who has made a significant impact on your life? Maybe someone you love? Maybe someone you hate? Destiny can change just because of one single person.
B. How a Dollar Can Change One's Destiny
A dollar can also change our destinies. The legendary Henry Ford left home at an early age to seek his own fortune. With the one dollar his father gave him, he built an automobile empire. He started the world famous Ford Motor Company and made a name for himself in history.
There is a story that during the Second World War, a young soldier saved a woman from suicide by pulling her out of the water. Instead of thanking him, the woman cursed the young soldier. After some patient inquiry, the woman then told him her tragic life story. As it turned out, her husband was framed and was sent to prison for something he did not do. She was left alone and penniless to tend to her husband's sick parents and the three young children. To buy medication for her sick mother, she pawned all her possessions for a silver dollar. When it rains, it pours-she was taken in by the pawn shop owner with a fake coin. She had no way out but to die.
The young soldier felt very sympathetic and said to her, "What a tragic story. I have a silver dollar here; please take this to take care of your family. Please give me the fake silver coin so that others will not fall into the same plight."
Putting away the fake coin into his pocket, the young soldier hurried on to report to duty. In a fierce battle, he was struck in the chest. The bullet hit and left a dent on the fake coin, and he was spared. The young soldier clapped his hands and exclaimed, "Well worth it! This coin is worth a million."
With a thought of compassion, a dollar coin saved the woman and her family. It also extended the young soldier's life.
The power of money, even as little as a dollar, is immense. There is a saying, "A dollar can subdue a great warrior." For the sake of money, some people are willing to break the law, creating a lot of troubles for themselves. Many young adults today do not know what it takes to earn a dollar. They are envious of the glamour and success of others, but are unwilling to work for it. They just want a "fast buck," and may even resort to all kinds of crimes including theft, robbery, burglary, and murder. Not only do they disrupt the safety and peace of society, they end up in prisons or even lose their own lives. One such example is Kao-hua Hsieh, the convicted killer who planted a bomb inside the Ta T'ung department store. In contrast, there are also many righteous people throughout history who would rather maintain their moral standards than to bow to the power of money. Among Chinese historic figures, Yuan-ming T'ao refused to kow-tow for five Chinese pecks of rice (approximately thirteen pounds of rice in total), and Lu Ch'ien, although completely destitute, would not lower his moral standards to those of corrupt officials.
Money can change people's lives. As each one of us has varying views of money, we use and handle money differently, resulting in many drastically different circumstances and destinies.
C. How an Event Can Change One's Life
In addition to people and money, events can also affect human destiny. Edison invented the light bulb and became a world-famous and well-respected inventor, As he "lit" up the world for all human kind, he freed us from the torment and inconvenience of darkness. Nobel discovered explosives. On one hand, how much pain was levied on the human race due to misuses by certain power mongers? On the other hand, the Nobel Prize has been a catalyst for much social progress and advance in world civilization. How much good has it bestowed upon us? Other similar events can have equally unparalleled powers to bring forth both great blessings and massive calamities.
The past Prime Minister Tanaka of Japan fell from political pinnacle to criminal indictment because of bribery. Although he was once the most powerful politician in Japan, he was not above the law and was sentenced to serve time in jail. In the United States, the Watergate scandal unseated the late former President Nixon from the most coveted position in the world. An event can bring us extraordinary glories; it can also cause us deep embarrassment. We should exercise caution!
I have an unforgettable personal story, the events of which cemented my devotion to the cause of Buddhism. Even when I recall the incident today, I am moved and choked with emotions. I was brought up in a temple and had always lived a life of bare necessities. I had always been very healthy. However, when I was about seventeen or eighteen years old, I fell very sick. I vomited and had diarrhea. My life was in grave danger because I was unable to hold down any food for almost a month or two. I did not know how it happened, but somehow my master heard the news. He sent over half a bowl of pickled vegetables. Using the economic standards of today, there is nothing special about half a bowl of pickled vegetables. In those times of impoverishment, those pickled vegetables were like gourmet food. I can still remember how I was filled with gratitude. My eyes welled up with tears as I finished the half bowl of pickled vegetables. As I felt the unspoken love and care of my master, I vowed to myself, "Master, to repay your kindness, I will dedicate myself to promote Buddhism and to spread the Dharma so that all sentient beings can be benefited." That half bowl of pickled vegetables gave me unending strength-my faith in Buddhism has been unmovable, and I have been able to willingly deal with whatever hardships that have come my way.
There are countless examples of past venerable masters who changed their destinies because of an event in their lives. The Sixth Patriarch emerged out of his shell of ignorance while pounding rice. Master Hsiang-yen Chih-hsien was enlightened while tilling the soil. Countless Ch'an masters saw through the subtleties of Ch'an teaching at the sight of flowers blossoming and wilting. Countless Buddhists have achieved clear understanding at the sight of the rising sun and of the moon. Countless traveling monastics extinguished the flame of anger and hatred in their minds when looking at the beautiful mountains and clear rivers. If we can reflect on the events around us carefully, we may see them in a totally different light.
D. How a Word Can Change One's Life
Before becoming a monk, Ch'an Master Tan Hsia of the Tang Dynasty had originally planned to travel to the capital for the national examination. On the way there, he met a monk who advised him, "Taking the examination for government positions can only bring you worldly fame and fortune. You will be much better off going to study Ch'an instead. You then may attain emancipation from the mundane world." Hearing these words, he changed his mind and went to the temple to become a monk and study Ch'an. Eventually he became an eminent Ch'an master. These words acted like the stroke of a club, waking him up from his worldly dreams and opening up an entirely new world for him.
The Buddha had two famous disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana. Before they became Buddhist monks, they were Brahman leaders. One day, while they were meditating, a disciple of the Buddha by the name of Asvajit passed by them during his alms round. He was reciting to himself the verse the Buddha had taught him, "All phenomena arise out of causes and conditions; all phenomena cease due to causes and conditions. Lord Buddha, my great teacher, has always taught thus." When Sariputra and Maudgalyayana heard these words, they both felt as if they had just seen the first light of the morning emerging from total darkness. At this moment, they seemed to see through the world. From overhearing a single verse, their wisdom sprouted, and they were able to understand the truth of the universe. Dear audience, when you just heard the verse, "All phenomena arise out of causes and conditions; all phenomena cease due to causes and conditions," what do you feel? To us, it may seem ordinary. To the two wise men, however, it was an explosion. It was a key. It shattered all confusions and it opened up the truth of the universe. When they heard those words, they converted from Brahmanism to Buddhism. They became disciples of the Buddha and attained the fruit of Arhatship.
Once, someone asked the Ch'an master Chao-ch'u, "When the universe is annihilated, does the body still exist?" The Ch'an master nonchalantly replied, "Just let it go." After the encounter, he did not quite feel satisfied with his answer. When great calamities occur as the world undergoes the decaying processes, will our bodies still exist? Simply because he was not pleased with his reply, "Just let it go," the eighty year old Chao-ch'u put on his shoes and journeyed over many miles to seek the answer. Later, people would often refer to this episode affectionately as follows, "For the one sentence of 'Just let it go,' the monk traveled over thousands of mountains." Dear friends, are there not many people who have had their lives changed because of a few words from their parents, friends or loved ones? Sometimes, a few words of encouragement can lift us up from the depths of depression. At other times, a few words of denouncement can sink us into the pit of pain. "Kind speech" is one of the Four Bodhisattva Persuasive Actions; we should speak kind words frequently. The use of kind words reflects well on us and is a form of generosity toward others.
E. How a Thought Can Change One's Life
Life can be changed by a person, a dollar, an event or a word. A thought can also turn us one hundred and eighty degrees. A thought can enable one to become a sage or remain an ignorant fool. It can make a person reach all corners of the universe, from heaven to hell. Thus, it is extremely important to focus one's mind and practice right mindfulness.
Mr. Feng-hsi Cheng, one of the ten most outstanding youths in Taiwan, was handicapped from birth. He used his hands as feet and was the subject of ridicule of his young ignorant playmates. However, due to his conviction, "I have to stand up," he was able to finish his college education. He is our model of someone who struggles hard to improve himself. Ms. Helen Keller was a blind deaf mute. She grew up in a world of silence and darkness. In order to repay her teacher's patience and mentoring, she worked incessantly to improve herself and became a respected and courageous individual. Although she could not speak, she was nevertheless able to tour the world giving speeches through the use of sign language. With her speeches, she raised the world's consciousness on the plight of the disabled. Royalty and world leaders were honored to hear her "speak." Helen Keller, with her endless efforts, brought hope and light to millions of blind and deaf people. She became a symbol of hope for the unfortunate!
Throughout Buddhist history, innumerable masters were able to endure all kinds of hardships just because of a single thought of devotion. They dedicated their lives to spreading the Dharma. In the Tang Dynasty, there was the legendary Venerable Hsuan-tsang. As a young monk, he realized there was a shortage of translated Buddhist scriptures in China, so he developed the thought of making a pilgrimage to India to bring more Buddhist scriptures back to China. Because of this thought, he traveled to India and lived there for eighteen years. He brought back numerous sutras and became the renowned "Master of the Tripitaka." His idea changed his life and opened a new chapter in Chinese Buddhist history. His contribution was a bright spot in history and his impacts are forever timeless.
The Venerable Chien-chen of the Tang Dynasty was deeply impressed by the sincerity of student monks who came from Japan to China to learn about the Dharma, and consequently his thought of bringing Buddhism to Japan was born. During the course of twelve years and seven attempts, he grew older and became blind, but he would not give up his idea. After many countless hardships, he finally succeeded in reaching Japan to promulgate the Vinaya there. Even today, the Japanese methods of constructing houses are styled after the Chinese, and Japanese customs closely resemble the Chinese ones. Chopsticks usage and agricultural methods such as sowing and transplanting were introduced by the Chinese. Venerable Chien-chen was credited with bringing the Chinese way of life to Japan, and he was honored as the "Father of Japanese culture." The one thought of spreading Buddhism to Japan opened up a new path for him, helped to develop Japanese Buddhist culture, and altered the lifestyles of the whole country. The Master's exemplary act of "never forgetting your initial determination to attain enlightenment," gave us a whole new dimension in understanding the phrase "missionary courage."
II. What Controls Destiny?
We lead different lives with dissimilar circumstances. Sometimes, when we witness other's success, we will inevitably think of our misfortunes. We become discouraged and complain, "It is all a matter of timing, luck, and destiny." When we are melancholic about our misfortunes, we put the blame on others, on gods, and complain about divine arrangements. In reality, our destinies are not in others' hands. What then controls destiny? It is ourselves. Yet, how do we actually control our own destinies?
A. Habits control destiny
There is a Buddhist saying, "Defilement is difficult to sever; the force of habit is even harder to change." Bad habits cause us endless miseries for now and for millenniums ahead. Habits can influence our lives. When our deep-rooted habits develop into habitual forces, they become obstacles to our enlightenment. A person with a hot temper often yells at others. If this becomes habitual, he will not have many friends that he can draw upon to help him and thereby diminishing his chances to succeed. Some people are addicted to gambling and indulge in extravagance. They squander their family fortune, break up their own families, and destroy their own lives. Others like to lie and cheat; they betray others' trust. Although they may be able to scheme some temporary gratification, they will become isolated, as no one will trust them.
Some of today's juvenile delinquents actually come from well-to-do families. They develop bad habits and actually consider stealing as a hobby. They even proceed to rob and kill others. Not only do they hurt the welfare of others, they also wreck their futures. Bad habits are like narcotics; before long, they have perverted our souls, corrupted our lives, and destroyed our happiness. How can we not be careful!
B. Superstitions Control Destiny
Although we may think that superstition is a unique product of Eastern culture, it is also found in the West. There is a common belief that Friday the thirteenth is a day that people should not do much but stay at home. Since thirteen is an unlucky number, Friday the thirteenth is considered a "Black Friday." Even though there may be great business opportunities waiting, people may miss them because of this superstition.
There are many superstitions in our society. A high rise should not have a fourth floor because the sound of the number four in Chinese is very similar to that of the word death, and living on the fourth floor would bring bad luck to the occupants. Travelers should never stay in room number nine of a hotel because the Chinese word nine reminds people of death also. Superstition has other far-reaching impacts on our lives. Some people read their horoscopes before doing anything. Is this really reliable? Although some people pick lucky days for their weddings, their marriages still end in divorce. Parents want to have the fortunes of their newborns told. They only feel reassured if their newborns wear gold and silver charms on their chests and backs to ensure good fortune. If fortune tellers are so reliable, can they foresee their own futures? During the Chinese New Year, it is customary to sweep the floor towards the inside, not the outside, of the house in the fear that money will be swept away. Some people say pregnant women should not recite the Diamond Sutra because the Sutra is too powerful and may cause miscarriages. The Diamond Sutra is a sacred scripture. Reciting the Sutra will not harm the baby; it is good "prenatal" education for the baby and the baby's wisdom will grow. There is another strange custom in Taiwan. When a daughter passes away, she can still be married off. There are many nice young men who would not marry a good woman but would instead marry a memorial tablet. Superstition is like a rope that tightly binds our hands and feet until we cannot move. Superstitious acts are like dark clouds casting heavy shadows, shrouding the radiance of our true nature and impacting heavily on our futures.
C. Emotions Control Destiny
Not that long ago, newspapers in Taiwan reported on an affair between Wen-pin Li, the chief of Lu Chou village of Taipai County, and an actress. Since the case had to be settled in court, a private emotional dispute became public knowledge. This dispute not only put a damper on his future but also on the family honor. Throughout a lifetime, it is usually the pulls and tugs of relationships that impact one the most. Lots of people ruin their futures because of rocky emotional relationships. There are numerous examples of happy families being ruined by infidelity. If one cannot handle emotions and relationships appropriately, grave misfortunes will follow in step.
It is said in the sutra, "One will not be born into the saha world if one does not have strong passions." Some people can resist fame and glory, but they cannot free themselves from the emotional bondages of their family, of their friends, or of their lovers. They are mired in pain. To free ourselves from these shackles, we must use the right wisdom and open up our minds. We should control our passions and not be controlled by them.
D. Power Controls Destiny
Power is an important influence in our destinies. People usually want power right after wealth. There is a saying, "The combination of wealth and power is like a tiger getting wings." The desire for power can, however, corrupt our true nature. Too many people have lost themselves, their most valuable possession, in the midst of glory and power. After they have a sample of power, they no longer can taste the true flavor of life. Power changes our lives profoundly.
Regarding the control power exerts over our destinies, we can address the issue in the following areas:
1) Divine Power:
Some people have to seek directions from gods for whatever they do, be it planning for a funeral, a wedding, or other celebrations. They have to seek divination before they have peace of mind. They do not care if what they are doing is moral or not, if whoever they have to deal with is righteous or not. They believe that as long as the gods will it, it can be done. They blindly follow what they believe are gods' directions, without thinking anything over for themselves. They completely rely upon their gods to make decisions for them. Like the saying, "Care not about the mortals, but only about divine consent," these people hand over their lives to their gods with both hands and willingly become their gods' slaves. This is the utmost folly. According to Buddhism, even gods cannot escape from the force of karma and the cycles of rebirths; how then can they have the authority to control our destinies?
2) Political Power
Political power controls the life of the masses. If we open a history book, we can easily see the disparity between the lives of those who lived under the rule of a wise and judicious king and those under a tyrant. When we examine today's societies, those who live in open, democratic, and developed countries are much better off than those living in hellish countries, suffering under despotic, autocratic, and dictatorial rule. We are very fortunate indeed.
3) Family Power:
The encouragement of family members can make a child grow strong and ensure that the child walks on the path of success. Family relationships, however, can become excess baggage in a child's cultivation. When I was preaching in Penghu thirty years ago, the niece of a retired mayor gave a very well-received speech on Buddhism. She was a young girl of about seventeen or eighteen years of age. She was very attractive and talented. When the audience saw her great potential, they encouraged her to study in a Buddhist college to further learn about Buddhism. She replied, "No, I cannot. Father said that I should stay home to care for Grandmother." For her grandmother, she gave up the opportunity for higher education. Twenty years later and under her tender care, her grandmother passed away peacefully. From a young girl, she became a middle-aged woman.
A forty-year-old still has a lot of future left. Some people once again encouraged her to seize the opportunity to study Buddhism. She replied hesitantly, "Mother and Father said I should care for my aging aunt." Another opportunity slipped away. After another ten years, she was in her fifties, the waning years of her life. The aspiration and vitality of youth had gone with time. Her life was sacrificed for the love of family. In our society, many young talents are stifled by the love of family. Real parental love gives a child room to grow and to mold his/her future. Exercising undue control over a child's life can lead to a life full of regrets.
4) The Power of Desires
Desires can exert a frightening hold on our lives and destinies. Desires often enslave us and lead us by our noses. When we see others' big mansions and fancy cars, our greed takes over our thinking. Even though these luxuries are beyond one's means, one may resort to stealing, swindling, robbing and other unlawful means to pursue such luxuries. Desires can tempt us to break the law and become a threat to the society. There are numerous crime stories in newspapers; they are human tragedies of people who have submitted to the power of their desires.
E. Karma Controls Destiny
The greatest power controlling life is karma. Karma is the product of our acts, including our speech, our thoughts and our actions. They are collectively called the "karma of the body, mouth, and mind." It is said that "All good and evil deeds have their consequences; it is just a matter of time." Karma can be divided into good or bad karma. We have to face the consequences of our acts, be they good or bad, when the time comes. Karma determines destiny without exception. Although karma controls our lives, we in turn control our karma. If we can modify our conduct, if we can refrain from evil, and if we can do good, our destinies will be bright and smooth.
Apart from good and bad, there are other types of karma. Karma that just affects a single individual is called "individual karma," while karma that affects the whole community is called "common karma." For example, people who are born and raised in Taiwan have the same common karma. Although everyone in this saha world has the same common karma, some live in Asia while others live in America. There are skin colors of yellow, white, brown, and black. These differences arise because of our own individual karma. Apart from individual and common karma, there are also "determined karma" and "undetermined karma." While some are born into wealth, others are born into poverty. Which family we were born into is beyond our control because it has been decided by our determined karma. Our future, however, has yet to be decided and is called undetermined karma. Our future will be determined by our deeds of today. Karma has a great deal of influence on our lives.
Karma controls destiny, but how does it work itself out? According to the sutra, it is said that the weightiest common karma will be actualized first. Karma can also be played out through our habits or through our strongest recollections. From a time perspective, some of the karma from our acts of this lifetime will ripen in this life, while others will ripen in the next life, or even in a few lifetimes from now. This can be compared to planting fruit trees. Some fruit trees bear fruit the year we plant the tree, others bear fruit only after a few seasons. Regardless of whether we have to wait one, two or several years, if we want to harvest nice juicy fruits, we have to diligently sow the seeds. Similarly, if we want to enjoy the rewards of good karma, we have to plant the seeds of good karma.
III. How To Change Destiny
Although habits, superstitions, emotions, power, desires, and karma can control our destinies, we can still change our destinies. All these controlling factors, from habits to karma, are nothing but our own doings. If we can maintain right mindfulness and be careful in our speech and actions, we can still change a destiny of misfortune into a life of brightness and beauty. How, then, can we alter our destinies? What are the methods available?
A. Views and Perspectives Can Change Destiny
After enlightenment, the Buddha revealed to us the truth of sufferings and also taught us the way to eradicate sufferings by following the Eightfold Noble Path. The most important element of the Eightfold Noble Path is Right View. Only when we have the right view do we have a benchmark for the other seven elements. Only then will we not go astray. Right view means correct understanding and perspectives. Correct perspective is most critical in progressing one's cultivation and building one's career. It is also a cornerstone for social progress, economic prosperity, and world peace. Take the example of Hitler. Although he was an intelligent man, he lacked the right view and right understanding. Besides having the ambition to rule the world, he also built many concentration camps and even found enjoyment in the torture of millions of the innocent. His corrupt knowledge and evil views rewrote European history, brought on a great human tragedy, and also altered the course of German history, which remained separated into East and West Germany until most recently. According to Buddhism, someone with shortcomings in his/her behavior is corrigible; however, someone with evil views can bring great calamities to the society and is much more difficult to reform.
Although there are many factors leading to personal success, correct perspectives are key ingredients. For example, a parent complains about his lazy son. The son may have no regret at all; instead he may compound the situation, "You said I am lazy. Okay, I will become a total failure to get back at you." He gives up and willfully becomes a failure. Another person, in a similar situation, will look within and amend his ways. He works hard to become a success in order to improve others' opinions of him. Two people, in a similar situation with differing views, yield totally different results. Taking it a step further, if we are positive, progressive and optimistic, no matter what obstacles confront us, we will fight to tread a new path. We can taste the joy of living in the midst of sorrow. However, if we are passive, regressive, and pessimistic, our outlook will be gray and miserable. To such a person, life is superfluous. From this, we can see how our views and perspectives can alter our lives and destinies. A generous person will have an enriched destiny; a miserly person will have an impoverished destiny. If you can look at the world with compassion, life is joyful, the world is beautiful, and the saha world is Pure Land. If you look at the world with hatred, even a pure and cool Buddha Land will be transformed into a house on fire. For a good destiny, we have to cultivate a right view and perspective.
B. Beliefs Can Change Destiny
A life with beliefs is like a voyage with destination, a journey with directions. It gives purpose to a task, and helps us to expeditiously work toward our goal without any wasted efforts. The power derived from beliefs is like a motor that gives us the energy to proceed and to change our destinies.
We cannot overestimate the importance of beliefs, yet beliefs are not limited to religion. The passion that artists have for their art is like a belief. They are willing to put out their entire effort for the creation of a masterpiece. We can open books on the history of human civilization and read how numerous scholars and philosophers have dedicated their lives to their ideals and principles-the numerous schools of thinkers of the Early Ch'in Dynasty and the recent Russian Nobel Literature Prize laureate Mr. A. I. Solzhenitsyn are good examples. The legendary General Fei Yueh of the Sung Dynasty believed in loyalty to his country, and ultimately he sacrificed his life for his belief. His belief of "utmost loyalty" to his country changed his life and became a model of unswerving allegiance in Chinese history. Even today, he is still worshipped as a folk hero and his influence on people can still be felt.
A country's destiny is determined by the beliefs and principles of its citizens. If we can all believe in The Three Principles of People (by Dr. Sun Yat-sen) and work together to build our country according to its ideals, it will not be long before our country will become prosperous and strong.
Of all beliefs, religious belief is the most powerful. With a strong religious faith, a person can accept the misfortune and duress of life with grace and ease. Religious faith can give us courage to endure the most serious setbacks. It opens our hearts and minds to bear the apparent unfairness in life, and it takes our destinies to a totally different dimension.
C. Building Good Causal Relationships Can Change Destiny
No man is an island; we are all members of the society. Our life is intertwined with the public at large. Our daily necessities are produced by the cooperation of different levels of society. Our knowledge is the result of the patient teaching provided by our teachers at school. Without them, we would remain ignorant. Even when we finally work in society, we need the help of our colleagues and the mentoring of our superiors before we can reach our potential and be able to make a contribution. If we want to be effective and successful, we need to maintain friendly relationships with others. In Buddhism, the phrase "building good causal relationships" means constructing amiable social connections with others.
The sutra says, "Before learning the Buddhist teachings, work to establish good causal relationships with others first." If we want to build a multitude of good causal relationships with others, we should be friendly and helpful. With the established relationships, we will be rewarded with great convenience in doing any task. Helping others is really helping yourself. When we give to others, we are actually giving to ourselves. As we all are one, we should not look at us versus them; it is only through helping others that we can fulfill ourselves. Thus, Bodhisattvas look at helping sentient beings as a means of cultivation. It is through building Dharma relationships with all sentient beings that Bodhisattvas reach Buddhahood. Building good causal relationships does not only change our destiny, it is also an important gateway for entering into the Buddhist teachings. In our daily lives, a friendly smile, a word of encouragement, a helping hand, and a sincere concern can all bring great joy to others and help to strengthen friendly relations. Building good causal relations broadens our horizon and paves the way for a good destiny. With such benefits, why should we not do it?
D. Upholding the Precepts Can Change Destiny
In addition to views, beliefs, and building good causal relationships, upholding the precepts can also change our destinies. Refraining from killing prolongs a short life span. Refraining from stealing transforms poverty into wealth. Refraining from sexual misconduct builds family harmony. Refraining from lying brings a good reputation. Refraining from intoxicants protects health and our mental faculties. Observing the precepts can change a life of misery into a happy and healthy one.
In the sutra there is a story of how the act of protecting life altered a destiny. Once, there was a merchant who went shopping in the market. There he saw a little caged turtle staring at him with teary eyes. At that very moment, a thought of compassion arose in his heart, and he decided to buy the turtle. He took the turtle to the pond and set it free. After a while, when the merchant was out on business, he was robbed by bandits while traveling on a mountain road. The bandits took all his money and pushed him into a lake. Just as he was drowning, he felt a support under his feet. With the help of this support, he was able to make it safely to shore. When he stopped to take a look back, it was the little turtle that he had saved earlier, together with his companions, coming to repay the merchant for his life. If we can refrain from killing and protect the lives of all sentient beings, our blessings will definitely grow.
Everyone has a destiny. It is controlled by many factors. How can we break loose of these controls and build our own lives? To do so, we must have a right view, a strong faith, build a multitude of good causal relations, and uphold the precepts. In this way, we are not under the control of our destinies, but can freely master them.
IV. The Buddhist View on Life and Destiny
Destiny is such a wondrous mystery. What is the Buddhist view on the subject then? There are four points to address.
A. Buddhism Believes Destiny is Not Fixed; Instead, It Is Alterable
Although Buddhism believes in the existence of destiny, it differs from the pre-determinism of other religions. Buddhism teaches that all existence arises out of causes and conditions, and that existence is empty without a separate independent self nature. Thus destiny is also dependent on causes and conditions, and is without an independent self nature. We can rely on planting good seeds to alter our misfortunes. There is a famous tale of a young sramanera (novice monk) which illustrates this point well.
Once, there was an old Arhat master. In his samadhi, he saw that one of his favorite young disciples had only seven more days to live. He thought to himself, "Why does this good child only have seven more days to live? This is most unfortunate! I cannot tell him this. How can he withstand such trauma?"
Early the next day, the master contained his sadness and asked the sramanera to come before him, "My good child, you have not seen your parents for a long time. Go home and pay them a visit."
The sramanera, not knowing what was going to happen, felt his master was acting in an odd manner. Nonetheless, he packed and happily said goodbye to his master and went on his way. Seven days went by, and the sramanera had not returned. The Arhat, who had severed all defilements, still was concerned about the welfare of his sramanera. He was just grieving the fact that he would never see his young discple again when the sramanera suddenly returned. The Arhat was shocked. He held the sramanera's hand, looked him over carefully, and asked, "How did you manage to return safely? What have you done in the last few days?"
The sramanera shook his head in puzzlement and replied, "Nothing."
The Arhat pursued further, "Think carefully. Did you see anything? Do anything?"
"Oh, it is coming back to me now. On my way home, I passed by a pond and saw a colony of ants drowning. So I picked up a leaf and ferried them all to shore," the sramanera replied earnestly. His dark eyes gleamed with the light of happiness.
After the Arhat heard the sramanera, he went into his meditation to see the destiny of the young sramanera. Not only was he not going to die a young death, his life was extended to a hundred years. By a thought of compassion, he saved the ants' lives and changed his destiny.
Besides compassion, merits can also change a life from bad to good. Some people feel that because of their heinous crimes, they are beyond help and there is no way they can turn their lives around. This is not the case at all. Buddhism believes that even the gravest karma can be lessened. This can be compared to a handful of salt put into a glass of water. The water will be too salty to drink. If the salt is poured into a basin or a tank of water, it will not be salty at all. The salt of sins, no matter how strong, can be diluted by the plentiful water of good merits even to the point of being palatable. In a neglected field where weeds have grown among the rice seedlings, if we work diligently to eradicate the weeds, the rice seedlings will have a chance to grow. Once the rice seedlings of merit are tall and strong, even if there are a few weeds here and there, the harvest will still be bountiful. Even the karma of the most deadly sins can be modified by the strength of virtues and merits.
One of the ten great vows of Samantabhadra is to repent all evil deeds. Repentance is a way to alter our destiny. It will eradicate the evil karma, giving room for our wisdom and blessings to grow. Dirty laundry can be cleansed with pure water. A filthy body can be washed clean through bathing. A sinful mind can be sanctified with the Dharma water of sincere repentance, returning it to its original state. There is a saying that, "Repent your old sins according to your circumstances and conditions, and do not commit new ones." If we can be sincere and steadfast in our repentance, we can remove the filth of our defilements and let the originally pure true nature show through. Repentance is a very important form of religious service in the Buddhist liturgy. Many venerables of the past have set examples for us on how to conduct repentance services. Examples include the Compassion Water Repentance Service, Emperor Wu's Repentance Service, and the Three Modes of Repentance of the Tien Tai School.
Destiny is not unalterable. It can be affected by compassion, merits, and repentance. The accumu-lation of merits and virtues can bring a new life out of the most hopeless situation. On the other hand, if a person with a good destiny does not know how to treasure it, he will suffer failures. Just like the saying, "When you live in safety, watch out for disaster." We should take this to heart!
B. Buddhism Regards the Past as Important, but Places More Emphasis on the Future
In Buddhism, the law of cause and effect spans over the past life, the present life, and the future life. Although Buddhism believes that our fate is determined by causes from the past, it emphasizes more what can be done now to build a better future. The past cannot be changed, and brooding over it does not do any good. The present and the future are in our hands. If we can make use of the present properly, a bright future awaits us. Thus, according to Buddhism, one should not wallow in one's past regrets, but should actively pursue an infinitely hopeful future.
How do we change a life of misfortune into a beautiful future? To do so, we have to improve our character, have a transformation of heart, learn to turn around, and make amends. There is a common saying, "It is easier to move mountains than to change one's character." If we can change our entrenched bad habits, soften our hot tempers, and open ourselves up to others, our destinies will improve correspondingly. In this modern age of organ transplants, someone with heart disease can receive a new heart to enable them to lead a vibrant life. When one's physical heart has problems, one has to turn to surgery. When our spiritual heart is defective, we need to change it into a heart of virtue, kindness and righteousness before we can have a normal healthy life.
Character modification is the prescription for changing our destinies; repentance and making amends is the medicine for building new futures. A lot of headaches and sorrows arise because we do not know how to turn around. We just know how to blindly push forward, forcing ourselves unknowingly into a small corner. If we can always save some room to maneuver, to retreat and ponder, we will find that the world is much bigger and wider than we have ever imagined.
C. Buddhism Does Not Encourage People to Resign Themselves to Fate, but Teaches People to Build Their Own Destiny
In the midst of misfortune, some people think that their ill fate is gods' design, and that it is useless to struggle. They became glum, frustrated and passive. They put their precious future into the hands of their imagined gods and willingly become enslaved. Buddhism, however, believes that destiny is within our control. Nobody, not even gods, can dictate our destinies. We are our own masters; we are the architects of our own future. The Buddha is a good example that we can emulate.
Before achieving Buddhahood, the Buddha was a prince enjoying unparalleled worldly pleasure and respect. He was not satisfied with the palace lifestyle and refused to be a mediocre ordinary person. He relinquished his fame, wealth, family, and loved ones. He chose to seek the path of truth on his own, and in so doing, he built a boundless life for himself. The Buddha's enlightenment has also opened a new door for all sentient beings seeking a right happy future for themselves.
Human destiny is not fixed and unchangeable. Heaven cannot turn us into a saint, nor can it make us become lowly and humble. It is said that, "There is no natural Sakaymuni Buddha." All saints and sages accomplished their merits on their own accord. If we work diligently, the life of wisdom is just ahead of us.
D. Buddhism Not Only Encourages Us to Be Content, but Also Hopes that We Can Improve the Future
Confucius once said, "It was only when I was fifty that I knew what heaven had planned." If a sage like Confucius would see the truth of the universe only after he had reached mature middle age, we can understand that it is not an easy task to accept life as it is. Buddhism takes this a step further and teaches us that in addition to accepting life with grace, we must also take steps to improve our future.
The Buddha is a great religious teacher with concerns for all beings. He is also a courageous and moral revolutionary. The Buddha openly protested against the ills of the caste system and taught us how to eradicate all our spiritual ills. The Buddha's revolution is achieved not by hurting others, but by self-reflection. The Buddha's revolution is not aimed externally, but instead internally, by doing battles with our desires. It is only when we work courageously to transform ourselves that we can truly have a bright future.
Most of us fall into the trap of criticizing others' shortcomings and excusing our own. The Buddha taught the Dharma for several decades, giving us numerous methods to wash away the defilements of our hearts and minds to help us return them to their clear pure original state-our true nature. The process of cultivation is none other than the cleansing of our hearts and purification of our lives. It is just like when the sky is clear, the moon will naturally shine through. Similarly, when we are purified, it will be the time that we join the ranks of Buddhahood in the ultimate emptiness.
Because of the time limitation, I can hardly discuss all the questions concerning life and destiny in just two hours. It is our greatest hope that we can all build a brilliant future for ourselves. May good fortune be with you. Thank you all very much!


The Buddhist perspective on time and space

Dear Venerables and Dharma Friends,
I am very grateful for the guidance of the Buddha which enables us to have such an outstanding cause and condition to listen to the Dharma in this time and space. Today, the topic that I will discuss is "the Buddhist perspective on time and space."
Time travels from the past to the present; it spans the past, present, and future. Likewise, space covers hundreds and thousands of realms; it spreads across all ten directions. For most living beings, time and space are just like the act of breathing: we breathe every moment yet are not conscious of this action. Depending on our individual make-up, we all have different understandings about time and space. For example, certain insects live for a day and are contented; humans live to seventy and are still not satisfied. We all confine ourselves to our own limited slice of time and space.
From the Buddhist perspective of samsara, the cycles of rebirth, the life span of all sentient beings is limitless. Not only is space without bounds, time is also endless and cannot be measured. If we penetrate the ultimate truth of time and space, we can be liberated from the space defined by the four directions of north, east, south, and west and emerge from the time cocoon of seconds, minutes, days, and months. We then will be in the dimension of total freedom, and we will be able to experience what is described in the saying, "Clear cool water everywhere; Prajna flowers every moment."
I will now discuss the Buddhist perspective on time and space in four points.
I. The Time and Space for All Living Beings
The term "all living beings" includes not only human beings but also encompasses beings in the other five realms of existence: celestial beings, asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and beings in the hell realm. What is the time and space for all living beings within the six realms of existence?
We will first talk about time.
A. Ksana
In Buddhism, a "ksana" is the smallest unit of time. Within the context of how we measure time today, it is approximately one seventy-fifth of a second. It is very brief. In Buddhism, how do we gauge such a short duration of time?
A reflection is a moment of thought; one human reflection takes up ninety ksanas.
Within one ksana, there are nine hundred instances of arising and ceasing.
There are 32,820,000 ksanas in one day.
From the descriptions above, we can glean that the arising and ceasing within a ksana occurs very rapidly. During any particular moment, we see flowers as red and leaves as green. In reality, they are constantly changing from ksana to ksana, and after a while, they will wilt. Within each ksana, they are perpetually growing and wilting. Take the example of a table: we see it standing firmly. However, if we were to look at it under an electron microscope, we would see that the internal fiber structure of the wood is changing, expanding and contracting as it decays from ksana to ksana. In a few years, this table will no longer be any good. In this world, how can there be any flowers and grass that will never wilt? How can there be any tables that will not be subjected to destruction? Because all phenomena and existences are arising from ksana to ksana, all phenomena and existence are therefore ceasing from ksana to ksana. There is a saying, "When a young man snaps his fingers, sixty-three ksanas have gone by." Time goes by very fast. Youth can disappear in a flash. A ksana is indeed an extremely brief and short span of time.
B. Asamkhya Kalpa
In Buddhism, a very long period of time is called an "asamkhya kalpa." It is a very, very long period of time; the duration of an "asamkhya kalpa" is so long that any attempts to describe it in words would be difficult. At this time, let me talk about two lesser units of time within an "asamkhya kalpa" so that you can have some general references.
"Mustard seed kalpa": Imagine if we were to take a huge container measuring ten kilometers on each side and fill it with mustard seeds. Then, every one hundred years, we were to remove one seed. The time it would take to empty the container of all the mustard seeds is one "mustard seed kalpa." Exactly how long a "mustard seed kalpa" is would probably have to be determined with the help of several computers.
"Boulder kalpa": Imagine if we were to take a huge boulder measuring ten kilometers on each side and sand the boulder with a piece of sandpaper every one hundred years. The time it would take to sand down the boulder to dust is "one boulder kalpa." This period of time is much longer than that of a "mustard seed kalpa."
Within the Buddhist time scale, both the "mustard seed kalpa" and the "boulder kalpa" are only considered to be minor kalpas. In contrast, the duration of a major kalpa like the "asamkhya kalpa" is so immeasurable and infinite that it is beyond words.
C. Life Span of Living Beings
Lives of living beings never remain still. Like bubbles on the surface of water, they arise as suddenly as they disappear, each with a different life span. Human beings typically can live to about a hundred; some insects are born at dawn and are dead by dusk. To such an insect, one day is the equivalent of one hundred years in human terms. Tortoises, the longest living creatures on earth, can live up to two hundred and fifty years. Viruses probably perish in less than three hours. Although there is a huge difference between three hours and two hundred fifty years, nevertheless, each existence spans a lifetime. Elephants and dolphins can live to be ninety. Cows, horses, monkeys, and dogs generally last fifteen to twenty years. Rats may live for three to four years. Although flies and mosquitoes can only live for a period of about seven days, this is still a lifetime. The life span of a living being-whether it is a day, a few hours, a century, or two hundred and fifty years-may seem lengthy by worldly standards.
However, in the unlimited extent of time and space, these lengths of time are still quite brief. Why? According to Buddhist scriptures, there are beings with much longer life span than human beings. The realm above humans is the celestial realm consisting of many heavens. The heaven closest to us is called the "Caturmaharaja Heaven." Beings in "Caturmaharaja Heaven" can live to five hundred celestial years, or 25,000 human years. Above that is the "Trayastrimsat Heaven." Beings in "Trayastrimsat Heaven" can live to 50,000 human years. Beings in "Yama Heaven" have life span of around 400,000 human years. Beings in "Tusita Heaven" live for about 1,600,000 human years. Beings in the yet higher "Nirmanarati Heaven" can live for as long as 6,400,000 human years. Beyond the heavens in the realm of desire are the heavens of the realm of forms. The length of the life span there is beyond our comprehension. Within the heaven of forms is the "ParanirmitaVasavartin Heaven." Beings there can live to be what is the equivalent of 25,600,000 human years. Such long life span really stretches our imagination. Beyond the heavens in the realm of forms are the heavens in the realm of formlessness. Beings in this realm can live to 80,000 major kalpas. The duration of such a life span is incomprehensible. Regardless of how long these beings live, they are nonetheless still trapped in the cycle of rebirth. They still cannot transcend the boundary of time and space.
Conversely, below the human existence, the hungry ghosts of the Avici Hell suffer tremendously. Their ever-expansive bodies and their ever-conscious minds experience relentless torments. Furthermore, time in the Avici Hell stretches out endlessly. The sufferings from the incessant punishments are beyond description. The scriptures give this descriptive example of "a hungry ghost awaiting for spittle." There was a hungry ghost in hell who had been starving for a very long time. As he had not eaten anything for a long time, his hunger was unbearable. Every day, he painfully yearned for anything to eat. Eventually, he spotted a person who was about to spit. He eagerly waited for this person to spit so that he could consume the spittle. He waited and waited. During his wait, he saw a city crumbled and rebuilt seven times. Countless time passed before he finally got the spittle. In hell, where there is no day or night, time stretches out frighteningly long.
Let us now talk about space. In Buddhism, the largest unit of space is called a "Buddhaksetra" or Buddha Land, and the smallest unit of space is called a "suksma" or dust grain. Despite their differences in names, both terms ultimately describe the three thousand chiliocosms (major universe), which is endless, immeasurable, unlimited and unbounded.
How big is the universe? Modern astronomy says that the planet earth on which we live is only a part of the solar system. Earth is only 1/1,300,000th the size of the sun. In other words, the sun is 1,300,000 times the size of earth. In the expansive space, the Milky Way galaxy has hundreds of billions of stars, and a universe probably has hundreds of million of galaxies like the Milky Way. Just try to imagine the vast immenseness of the universe!
On the other end of the scale, modern physics analyzes matter into ever smaller particles called atoms, protons, electrons or neutrons. A suksma is even smaller than a neutron. For example, a piece of ox hair is very small. If we examine the tip of the ox hair under a high-powered microscope, we would discover that it is made up of many smaller elements. Similarly, a suksma is tens of thousands times smaller than anything we commonly know. Our little finger may look clean and spotless, yet it actually harbors millions of dust particles and microorganisms. Each eye of a housefly consists of four thousand lenses. Such spatial dimension is so minute that it is undetectable by the naked human eyes.
With the help of modern laboratory equipment, technology has provided us with a broad and detailed understanding of the time and space in which we live. When we learn of these modern interpretations based on scientific research, we realize that the universe is indeed extremely vast and deep. However, the dimensions offered by these interpretations are nonetheless small and shallow when we consider time and space from the Buddhist perspective. Why? In Buddhism, time and space are immense without an outer limit and yet miniscule without an inner limit. Time and space are immeasurable and boundless. Today we are here talking; by tomorrow this speech can be televised to all of Taiwan. The following day, it can be translated and distributed to the world in printed form. In the future, it can be published as a book to build Dharma connections with tens of millions of people everywhere in the world. The Buddhist Dharma is forever beyond the limits of time and space.
II. Practical Reality of Time and Space
Our daily lives in the vast universe are integrally related to and can never be separated from time and space. How successful a person is and how effective one handles one's affairs depend on one's management of interpersonal relationships are managed, one's utilization of time, one's allocation of space. Without effective timing, we either move too quickly or too slowly and will bring about the resentment of others. Without proper spatial awareness, we end up either taking others' space or robbing others of their advantageous locations, and we will annoy others. Thus, time and space have significant impacts on our daily existences.
In today's society, some people never seem to have enough time; to them, every second counts. Then, there are others whose time passes painfully slowly; to them, days feel like years. Some people are impoverished and homeless. Others possess so much land and buildings that they even want to own a piece of the moon. There are many different types of people and circumstances. The famous poet, Po-hu T'ang, once wrote about how fleeting and illusive time is:
Life rarely reaches seventy;
That I am seventy is a surprise.
I was too young the first ten years
And too old the last ten.
There are only fifty years in between;
Half of that time is spent at night.
By calculation I have only lived twenty-five years,
During which I have endured much toil and trouble.
Time is most impartial. The poor do not have a minute less; the rich do not have a second more. It cannot be hoarded even with all the power and might.
Time is the most able judge, as described in the saying, "A long journey can truly test a horse; the passage of time can reveal one's true character." Right or wrong, love or hatred, success or failure-all these will be revealed in time.
Time is the arbiter of one's character. Hence this saying advises us, "Do not do [distressing] deeds that cause others to frown; the world should be free of those who grit their teeth in anger." A person's character, be it noble or base, will become evident over time.
Time exists in a three-fold dimension in our everyday lives regardless of whether we believe that life rarely reaches seventy or that life begins at seventy. Lives of living beings gradually flow by in the three-fold dimension of time: "the past, present, and future." Time of the "past" is quietly gone; it will never return. Time of the "present" flies like an arrow; it disappears in a flash. Time of the "future," amidst our hesitation, slowly draws closer and closer; it suddenly slips by. Poets often tried to describe the ephemeral and illusive nature of time in their poems.
The only true fairness in this world is gray hair;
It does not overlook the heads of the rich.
-Mu Tu of the Tang Dynasty
Do not complain that we age too easily.
Even mountains turn white sometimes.
-Ch'i-lan Luo of the Ching Dynasty
What these lines mean is that time is most fair. Time ages everyone, regardless of whether you are rich or poor, whether you are strong or weak. Once years have passed, hairs do turn gray. Just as there are times when green mountains are blanketed with snow and frost, there will also be a day when we turn gray:
We all gain a year on our birthdays;
The world does not single me out to make me old.
-Yu Lu of the Sung Dynasty
What this verse says is that we all will get old. Every year, we age. The years of human lives disappear in the midst of the sound of the New Year firecrackers. Buddhism talks of the cycle of rebirth and the impermanence of all things, like the poem by the poet Chu-Yi Pai:
Regrettably my hair is like snow.
You are young and strong with the vitality of clouds.
To whichever youngster who looks down on me,
White hair will also come to you someday.
As students of the Buddhist teachings, we strive to cultivate diligently in order to realize Bodhi in infinite time and space. We need to seize eternity within an instant and to see the wondrous reality in each flower, each tree, each body of water, and each rock. We can then venture into the supreme realm of the Dharma.
Not only must we learn to break through the confines of time, we have to do likewise regarding space. Some people climb a mountain to seize land from the mountain. Others fill the ocean to claim land from the ocean. In countless disputes and lawsuits over real estate properties, the living fight for space with the living. Sometimes the living even fight with the dead for space as when graveyards are reclaimed for the construction of housing. Not only do people have disputes over lands, nations also battle over boundary lines to seize more living space for their people. Almost all the wars in the world are fought over the amount of available living space. "Ten thousand acres of fertile farm land, but how much can one eat in a day? One thousand mansions, but one can only sleep in an eight-foot space." This saying points out that all space, both tangible and intangible, is ultimately illusive and fleeting. The rapidly existing and disintegrating space of the three realms ultimately arises from the mind. Poet Chu-yi Pai expressed this concept well in the following poem:
Why fight over the space
on the tip of a snail's antenna?
Our existence is only as fleeting
as a flint spark.
Similarly, I often tell people the following saying, "Trees may live for a thousand years; glory and sorrow cannot last for more than a hundred." These lines are trying to advise us that we should let go of attachment, let go of illusive forms. We should forego the sufferings of rebirth and impermanence, and in so doing, we will eventually abandon pain and attain happiness.
In our daily lives, there are many examples when time and space are simply unbearable. We are often rendered desperate, painful and hopeless. Some of the worst moments are described in the following verse:
Closing time at the bank;
Sad and sick in bed;
Wronged with no outlet for grievance;
Disappointed and love sick;
On the day of a fatal diagnosis;
Escaped convicts with nowhere to hide;
Impoverished with nowhere to turn;
One's spouse and children crying in sorrow.
There is another "comic" verse which describes more of these moments. It goes like this:
One waits for one's date at sunset, yet the lovely one fails to show;
One takes an entrance exam, but one's name does not make the list;
One faces with farewells and death, and one cries from heartbreak;
One is about to become a new mother, yet the pains of labor are unrelenting; One tosses and turns in bed, yet one cannot fall asleep;
One has teenagers who love to fight, so one is worried sick;
One has terrible stomach cramps and needs fast relief, yet a bathroom is not to be found;
One tries one's best in a campaign, yet loses the election when the votes are counted;
One finds a motorcycle heading straight for one's car, so one tries to brake urgently;
One has been caught for violating the law, and this is the moment for announcing one's sentence;
One is a hundred meters into the battlefield, and one can neither advance nor retreat;
One's family cannot get along, and one is in the midst of fighting and splitting up.
There are just too many dreadful examples of intolerable time and space. The situations mentioned above-being stood up, failing an examination, giving birth, being sick, not being able to find a bathroom, being in a car accident, awaiting sentence, couples fighting, facing farewells and deaths-can happen to any one of us. These situations can lead to monstrous arguments and endless disputes: this seat is mine; this item is mine; this parcel of land is mine, and you may not use it. You did not have time to talk to me because you were in a hurry; you still missed your flight by two minutes. You were upset about not getting on a ship in time until you found out that you escaped drowning in a shipwreck… Although our existence seems real, life is actually illusive like the spots one sees because of eye diseases, or the reflection of the moon in the water. Likewise, the time and space we live in is also just as illusive.
A. Life is Illusive Like a Flower
During the time it takes for flowers to bloom and wilt, all of us are gradually growing old. Just as this year's blossoms are different from those of the previous year, I too am different from last year. The following verses aptly describe this change:
The flowers of this year are as pretty as those of last year;
The person of this year is older than last year.
Fortune does not last for a thousand days;
Flowers cannot blossom for a hundred days;
If one does not treasure the opportunities now,
One is left with nothing when they are gone.
On this day last year, at this threshold,
Your face and peach blossoms glow together.
Now your lovely face is gone,
The peach blossoms still smile at the spring breeze.
B. Life is Illusive Like the Flowing Water
In this world, only the shimmering waves of continuously flowing water from the distant past are ever-present. In contrast, a person's physical body cannot survive forever. Let me illustrate this point with the following two verses:
On the Yangtze River the waves from behind push the waves in front;
A new generation replaces an older generation.
Water from the rear flows to the fore;
It has flowed like this from ancient time to the present.
The new persons are not the old ones,
They all walk across the bridge year after year.
C. Life is Illusive Like the Moon
From antiquity to present, the same moon still shines. In the reality of human existence, who can be as everlasting as the moon? In fact, even the face of the moon changes between new and full. Time and time again, poets of the past to the present have written verses reflecting on the impermanence of human existence:
Modern people see not the ancient moon,
But the modern moon once shone upon ancient people.
By the riverbanks, who is the first to see the moon?
When does the moon above the river first shine upon a person?
Generation after generation, people's lives continue endlessly;
Year after year, the moon appears the same.
Not knowing for whom the moon is shining,
I only see the river flowing downstream.
The time and space of human existence is like a flower, blossoming and wilting within a short time, and as illusory as the reflection of the moon in the water. We are here together now and in this lecture hall. When the time comes, we all will leave. The lights will be switched off and the sounds will be silenced. When the doors are closed, the space that is now occupied by the hundreds and thousands of people sitting in this lecture hall will be vacated and returned to a state of quietude. Yet, the Dharma relationships we have built here today will remain with us at all times, accompanying us everywhere. All phenomena in this world may disappear like the faded flowers of yesterdays. Only Dharma relationships are eternal. The Buddhist Dharma lives forever.
III. The Holy Practitioners of Buddhism and the Liberation from Time and Space
Countless masters in Buddhism have achieved the holy fruits of cultivation. They have neither hatred nor attachment. They are relieved of suffering and ignorance. Liberated from the realm of time and space, they exist in total freedom. For them, time and space are vastly different from that of ordinary people.
The holy practitioners of Buddhism, being well cultivated in meditation, can stop the mind and calm the heart. They can venture into the profound, subtle, and wondrous realm of Dharmadhatu (realm of the Dharma). They can break through the boundary of form and liberate themselves from the constraints of time and space. To them, "A shortened ksana is not necessarily brief, and a lengthened asamkhya kalpa is not long." Master Hsu Yun, a Ch'an master in recent history, once retreated to the Ts'ui Wei mountain in Shensi province. While waiting for rice to cook, he decided to take a short meditation in a cave and quickly achieved samadhi, an advanced state of meditative concentration. When he came out of his meditation, the rice was already completely rotten. He eventually realized that he had actually meditated for half a year! This is just like the saying, "Seemingly only seven days have passed on the mountain, yet thousands of years have gone by in the world."
The holy practitioners of Buddhism can escape the constraints of time and space and venture into the dimension of Dharmadhatu. Their pure true nature fills the universe constantly and they are at ease every moment. Their Dharma body is omnipresent and always at peace everywhere. They can eat one meal a day and not feel hungry. They can sleep under a tree and be in bliss. The time and space of their lives is captured in the following verse, "Mountain monks do not think much about time; a falling leaf announces that autumn has arrived." Ch'an master Lan Jung abandoned fame and fortune and became a monk. With only the bare necessities consisting of a pair of shoes and a patched robe made out of rags, he retreated to the mountains to cultivate. His younger sister felt sorry for his impoverished lifestyle and took some food and clothing to the cave which he called home. When his sister arrived, he kept his eyes closed, did not utter a word, and continued to sit perfectly still in his meditation. His sister grew impatient and upset. Consequently she threw the things she had brought into the cave and left. Thirteen years went by, and his sister continued to think of him everyday. Unable to stop worrying about her brother, the sister paid him another visit. He was still sitting perfectly stationary like a rock in meditation. The clothing and food she had brought thirteen years previous remained in exactly the same location, never touched and completely covered with dust.
Ch'an master Kao Feng Miao of Yuan dynasty also decided to retreat to a mountain cave to cultivate. There was originally a ladder leading up to the cave entrance. Once he got into the cave, he threw the ladder down and was determined not to leave. Many people felt sorry for him because he could not wash his clothes, take a bath, trim his hair, shave his beard or have anything good to eat. The living space was so narrow that there was barely any room for him to move around. He did not have anyone to talk to and not a friend visited him. Yet, Ch'an master Kao Feng Miao endured the unendurable. He did the impossible. Although he did not have a change of clean clothing, his Dharma appearance was majestic. Although there was no water for bathing, his heart was pure and untainted. He could not shave his hair and beard, yet all his distress was completely eradicated. He did not have any delicious food to eat, yet he savored the delight of meditation and the endless taste of the Dharma. He had no company, but the flowers and trees of nature were full of vitality. Everything he saw was Prajna; every condition he found was wondrous truth. His joy was indescribable.
The freedom and delight enjoyed by these holy practitioners in their liberated state of time and space cannot be matched in our modern materialistic society. Nowadays people often only focus on pursuing material satisfactions and sensory pleasures. They neglect the peace and serenity of the mind. In reality, more desire will breed more greed and pain. As a result, people become trapped in the drowning mire of evil and cannot break free. This is truly a pity. Poet Yu Lu of Sung Dynasty wrote the following poem to reflect this:
My body is like a swallow, always being the guest year after year.
My mind admires the wandering monks; for them everywhere is home.
The breeze of spring enables me to clearly understand life
And accompanies me as I travel throughout the world.
Many people of the modern age are stressed by work and depressed by life. When the days become unbearable, they go for a vacation abroad to look for a new way of release. Some may visit SouthEast Asia, Japan or Korea. Others want to really get away by traveling to European countries, the United States, or South Africa. Their efforts are much like digging for a well when one feels thirsty, very poor planning indeed. The relief from this kind of efforts can never bring anyone the completely liberated state of time and space. For the ultimate liberation, it is much better to observe and cultivate the teachings of Buddhism. The Buddhist holy practitioners can attain eternity in an instant. They can realize the endless universe in a grain of sand. The limitless Dharma and the infinite universe are in our hearts. Why bother to search for them outside?
Countless Ch'an masters have the power to break through time and space. With the thought of letting go, they instantly let go of everything. When free of attachments, "The mind can travel into antiquity; a thought can traverse ten thousand years." Not only are they not restricted by time and space, but they also can overcome the hindrance of time and space. They are in the company of the Buddhas. Let me illustrate this point by telling you of a legendary story, "Abbot Ling Shu welcoming the monastic headmaster."
During the Late Liang Dynasty, Ch'an master Chih Sheng (also known as Ch'an master Ling Shu) preached in Ling Shu Temple, which was located near the present day county of Ch'u Chiang in Kwangtung Province. The temple had hundreds of resident monks; yet, there was not a monastic headmaster in charge. Some people then urged Master Chih Sheng, "Since we have so many monks in this temple now, you should appoint a monastic headmaster."
Master Chih Sheng reflected for a moment and replied, "The monastic headmaster of this temple has already been born into this world. He is now herding sheep. Let's just be patient."
A few years went by and nothing happened. Others once again urged Master Chih Sheng to appoint a monastic headmaster. Master Chih Sheng nodded, "It will be very soon. Our monastic headmaster has already renounced household life to become a monk. Please be patient for a bit longer."
Many years passed, yet the position remained vacant. Others raised the question again. The older Master Chih Sheng smiled and said, "The causes and conditions are gradually ripening. Our monastic headmaster is now traveling and studying Ch'an under many different masters."
After this exchange, Master Chih Sheng remained calm and unperturbed. Twenty-two years passed and Master Chih Sheng was getting old. Everyone was now worried. Once more they raised the issue of the monastic headmaster with him. Master Chih Sheng looked up to the sky and smiled. He assured everyone, "Good! Good! Our monastic headmaster has finally crossed the Five Mountains Range and is heading this way. We will only have to wait a very short while longer."
With this said, he then retreated back to his room to meditate. Looking at each other, the monks started to discuss among themselves. More time passed. One day, the old master asked the disciples to clean up the quarter of the monastic headmaster. The old master even inspected the room himself. A few days later, the big bell was rung. Everyone knew it was the signal that the monastic headmaster had finally arrived and that they should put on their formal robes. They were to gather before the entrance to welcome the monastic headmaster. Everyone followed the elderly master and stood outside the entrance. Soon, a monk showed up with his alms bowl. He was Master Yun Men Wen Yen, who would later become the founder of the Yun Men school of Ch'an.
Master Chih Sheng asked smilingly, "Our monastic headmaster position has been vacant for several decades now. Why are you so late and why did you wait until today to show up?"
Wen Yen respectfully joined his palms and replied, "Everything was determined by previous causes and conditions. The length in time and the distance in space are not important. Am I not finally here?"
Master Chih Sheng smiled understandingly. Accompanied by all the disciples, he escorted Wen Yen into the main shrine and appointed him as the monastic headmaster. This is the wonderful story of "Abbot Ling Shu welcoming the monastic headmaster." In recent history, Master Hsu Yun, the famous Ch'an Master, stayed in the Yun Men Temple when he revived the Yun Men School of Ch'an in 1943.
Let us all pause here to reflect. How free are the lives of these Ch'an masters! How unconstrained is their time and space! In contrast, people of present days feast on gourmet food but are not satisfied. They have fame and fortune but no peace. They sleep on comfortable mattresses but toss and turn all night. They reside in mansions but feel insecure. They fight and struggle everyday. They can never experience the wonder of limitless time and space. Is this not really regrettable?
IV. The Utilization of Time and Space
In Buddhism, there is a saying, "The mind encompasses the space of the universe, traversing realms as numerous as all the grains of sand." What this means is for those who use time and space wisely, their time is the time of the mind. They can freely journey from past to present. They have endless Ch'an wisdom and application. The universe is indeed their time. His space is the space where the Buddha Dharma flows. It freely fills all dimensions. The representation and manifestation of principles are limitless. The Dharmadhatu is their space. On the other hand, for those who cannot use time and space wisely, their time is constrained by the movements of the clock and is controlled by the hands of the clock. To them, an hour is an hour, no more and no less; a minute is a minute, no more and no less. Its use is limited. Their space is area and distance bounded by feet and inches. A kilometer cannot be lengthened; a meter cannot be shortened. It is confined and limited. Let me illustrate with an example. A devotee once asked Ch'an master Chao Chou, "How can I use the twelve hours of a day wisely?"
Master Chao Chou stared at him, "You are bounded by the twelve hours of the day. I use my twelve hours appropriately. What kind of time are you talking about?"
The wise know how to use time and space perfectly; they lead free and harmonious lives. Fools are enslaved by time and space; they are busy running around all day. Wise or foolish, the difference is obvious. There is an ancient fable called "Marking the boat to look for a sword" which illustrates what happens when one is ignorant of time and space. In the country of Ch'u, a man was crossing a river on a ferry. In the middle of the river, he accidentally dropped his sword. Everybody urged him to dive into the water to recover the sword. He was not worried but leisurely made a mark on the boat. He was quite proud of himself and replied confidently, "My sword fell down from here. When the boat stops, I will dive for my sword from here. Why worry?" Others told him that as both the boat and water were moving, it would be impossible for his sword to follow the boat in step. When time passed and space changed, his sword could not be retrieved. He did not listen. When the boat finally docked, he started looking for the sword beneath the spot he had marked on the boat. Do you suppose that he succeeded in retrieving his sword?
Of course not, it was the wrong time and space.
As we all work in society, some people just want to make a lot of money. They work day and night. They scheme and cheat. They use every avenue to make money. They may make ten thousand a month, a hundred thousand a year. For their entire life, they may earn a few million dollars. From this amount, if you deduct the expenses for clothing, meals, and entertainment, how much money is left? To forgo all ideals and happiness for a few hundred thousand dollars, what is the meaning of this? What is the value of life? To throw away a precious lifetime in exchange for a few pieces of crumpled and illusive paper currency, is this really worthwhile? Why do we not use our valuable time to pursue the path of real fortune and happiness?
When I arrived in Taiwan thirty-four years ago, not only was I unable to replace my old torn clothes and shoes, I had great difficulty in obtaining a pen and some paper for writing. Sometimes I had to endure hunger and coldness for months and still could not afford to have these few items. When I saw others receiving generous offerings by conducting Dharma functions or performing services, I did not feel inadequate. They bought comfortable clothing and good food; I did not feel poor or deprived. In cold weather, I warmed myself under the sun. The sun was there for everyone to enjoy. The sun was my robe; it was so very warm. During the hot season, I cooled myself with the breezes. The wind was there to keep everyone cool. The wind was my gown; it was so very free. I looked at trees and flowers; they were my Dharma companions. No one could prohibit me. I had oh so many Dharma companions. I walked across rivers and plains; they gave me so much Dharma delight. No one could take that away from me. My Dharma delight was so fulfilling. If our minds are broad and open, the heaven and earth, sun and moon, they are all ours. We can have all time and space. If all you know is how to complain and get depressed about poverty and obstacles, you will be poor and ill at ease in all places and at all times. All your time and space will become an endless hell and a boundless sea of suffering.
Let me tell some more stories to illustrate my point and to illustrate how we can intelligently use our time and space for our own blessings.
One day, a young person saw a very old man. He was curious and asked, "Sir, can you tell me how old you are?"
With a smile, the gentlemen replied, "Oh! I am four. I am four years old."
The young fellow was shocked. He looked at the old gentleman left and right, "Oh! Sir, please do not joke with me. Your hair is so white and your beard is so long. How could you be four?"
"Yes! I am really four!" The old man then kindly explained, "In the past, I lived a befuddled life. I was selfish and preoccupied. I wasted away a great portion of my life. It wasn't until four years ago that I discovered Buddhism. Then I learned to do good and be helpful. I learned to get rid of my greed, hatred, and ignorance. I realized that I should cultivate myself to find my true nature. My entire life had not been meaningful, valuable, or fulfilling until these past four years. You asked me my age. I really feel I have been a worthwhile person for only these four years. This is why I am only four."
Virtuous deeds should be done as soon as possible. The Dharma should be learned as early as possible. Please let me ask all of you: in your brief existence in this realm of time and space, how have you been leading your lives? Have you used the opportunity to do good and to seek the truth? Have you used all available time and space to benefit others and yourselves?
The scriptures tell of this following allegory. A king had two close attendants. The king liked his attendant on the left much better than the attendant on the right. The attendant on the right was puzzled and wondered why he was not in the king's favor. He carefully monitored every move of the other attendant, and finally, he discovered the reason. When the king spit, the attendant on the left would quickly wipe the spit off the ground with his foot. Naturally, the king liked him better. With this knowledge, the right attendant planned to do the same. He was, however, always a step slower than the other attendant and failed to make good of the opportunities to wipe the king's spit. Finally, he thought of a plan. The next time when the king was ready to spit, he would jump on the opportunity. He figured that if he could aim correctly, he would be able to wipe the spit right off the king's mouth before it could land on the ground. Unfortunately, when he kicked his foot up, he knocked out the king's teeth and bloodied his mouth. This way, he also "wiped off" any opportunities he had to gain the king's favor.
Greed and ignorance prevent us from using time and space wisely and even missing out on valuable opportunities. Only if we want to benefit others and ourselves, can we seize boundless time and space.
Once a high official in Japan asked Ch'an master Tse An about the use of time. "Oh! My position as an official is a meaningless job. Everyday, people want to flatter me. After a while, all compliments sound the same and are actually quite tedious. I do not enjoy hearing all the flattery. Days seem to pass by like years. I just do not know how to kill the time."
The Ch'an master smiled and gave him these words, "This day will never return; the passing of time is precious like treasure." Time once passed will never return. We should treasure our time and remember that time is precious like exquisite jade.
Nowadays, it is fashionable to talk about "conservation." Unfortunately, we only emphasize on conserving materials, conserving money. We do not know that we should also conserve time and our emotions. We should conserve our desires and our lives. We should be careful with every thought and deed. We should not let ourselves be indulgent and lose control. Only then can we know how to use time and space wisely.
Ch'an master Tsung Yen of Japan liked to take afternoon naps. It was his habit. His students asked him why he slept so long. He replied, "What do you know? In my dreams, I visit ancient scholars and masters, much like Confucius dreaming of the Duke of Chou. The longer my dreams are, the better is my cultivation. What do you know about this practice of 'befriending ancient scholars'?"
One day, a few students were scolded by the Ch'an master for taking long afternoon naps. The students replied, "Well. We are learning from your examples. In our dreams we have gone to seek and to study with ancient masters and scholars."
"What then have you learned from them?"
"Oh yes! In our dreams, we visited many ancient masters and scholars. We asked them, 'Is our master studying with you all the time?' They all replied, 'No, we have never seen or heard of your master.'"
One must be true to and honest about time and space. "Day by day, time goes by; each day will never return." The arrow of time never flies backward. If we do not seize the opportunities, we will not be able to make anything out of them. There is a very well-know poem:
Youth never returns; a day just has one dawn.
Work diligently now; time waits for no one.
In Buddhism, the "Take Heed Verse" of Samantabadhra Bodhisattva aptly describes the urgency of using our time wisely:
This day is over; life has decreased accordingly.
As a fish in dwindling water, where is the joy?
One should work diligently, as if extinguishing flames on the head.
Be mindful of impermanence; do not relax one's efforts.
Time and space quickly disappear. If we want to seize time and space, if we treasure life, we should chant "O-Mi-To-Fo (Amitabha Buddha)" and learn from "Amitabha Buddha." "Amitabha" means infinite light and infinite life. Infinite light is boundless space; infinite life is endless time. If we can make time and space boundless and limitless, we will have risen above the confinement of time and space. We will have broken from the rounds of birth and death. We will have turned ignorance to enlightenment. We will have escaped from the sea of suffering from samsara and have transcended the confusion and hindrance of worldly phenomena. We will have ventured into the bright and free world of Nirvana, the Pure Land of ultimate bliss.
My best wishes to all of you. May each of you extend the limited existence of life into unlimited time and space. May each of you walk the broad path of peace and happiness in life. Thanks to all of you.


The Diamond Sutra and the Study of Wisdom and Emptiness

Dear Friends of the Dharma:
It has been drizzling continuously today, but rain cannot dampen your enthusiasm in the search of the Dharma. Several thousands of us have gathered in this hall. We are thankful for the compassion and blessing of the Buddha, enabling us to assemble here to receive and enjoy the nectar of the Dharma. The topic which we want to discuss today is the Diamond Sutra and the study of wisdom (prajna) and emptiness (sunyata).
Yesterday we talked about Ch'an, but Ch'an really cannot be described in words. Today we will discuss emptiness, and emptiness also cannot be expressed in words. However, in order to realize wisdom and the nature of emptiness, we have to resort to some means of speaking about both of them. Although what we talk about is really neither wisdom nor emptiness, if it can give us a semblance of them, it will be of great help to us.
I. The Main Theme of the Diamond Sutra
The Diamond Sutra is a famous and popular Buddhist scripture. As soon as we mention the Diamond Sutra to people, they know we are talking about Buddhism, and conversely, it is often impossible to discuss Buddhism without mentioning the Diamond Sutra. Presently, many Buddhists read and recite the Diamond Sutra in the hope that misfortune will not befall them and their lives will be both long and blessed. The Diamond Sutra is also recited to transfer merits to the deceased. During the T'ang Dynasty, if a Buddhist layman wanted to get the necessary permission to become a monk, he had to pass an examination arranged by the government. One of the main subjects of this examination was the Diamond Sutra. The Fifth Patriarch of Ch'an, Hung Jen, also recited the Diamond Sutra when he wanted to pass on the Dharma to the Sixth Patriarch.
The Diamond Sutra is not only highly esteemed in academic circles. It is also popular among the general public. Everybody, from a revered monk to an average person, finds the Diamond Sutra indispensable in the study of Buddhism. The popularity of the Diamond Sutra can be traced to its profound philosophy, eloquent style, and applicability to the cultivation of the religious life.
The Diamond Sutra contains a total of more than 5,000 Chinese characters. Prince Chao Ming of the Liang Dynasty divided the text into thirty-two sections. Since our time is so short, we cannot discuss this sutra in great detail, but we can give a brief explanation of its main theme. In the following, I will try to state the main theme of the Diamond Sutra using the following phrases:
a) Give without clinging to any notion; b) Deliver all beings without the notion of a self; c) Live without attachment; d) Cultivate without any expectation.

A. Give without Clinging to Any Notion
To give without clinging to any notion refers to the threefold emptiness of giving. It means that when giving one should not have any idea of an "I" as the giver, nor of an individual who receives the gift, nor of things being given. Naturally, there should be no expectation of being repaid for what one has given. The merit of this kind of giving, characterized by the threefold emptiness men-tioned above, is the utmost.
Once the Chinese Broadcasting Company broad-casted a drama which went like this. A couple once found a small stray dog in the snow. They decided to take it back home to raise it. As the dog was found in the snow, they named it Snowie. Soon, a bond developed between the dog and the couple. Every day, around the time when the husband would get off work from the factory, the dog would greet him at the bus station and accompany him back home. It was so punctual that others started calling it "The Time-keeper."
One night, a thief broke into the house. The dog was very clever; it nabbed the thief and would not let go of its grip until the couple had a chance to question the thief. As it turned out, the thief explained that his mother was sick, and as he had no money, he resorted to stealing to buy medicine for this mother. Since the reason for his stealing was to take care of his sick mother, the couple decided to let the thief go. They also gave the thief some other things to take home with him.
After some time, the couple totally forgot about this incident. However, things in this world are impermanent and ever changing. One day, an explosion occurred at the factory where the husband was working, and he was killed on the job. Because of his sudden death, the household lost its main breadwinner, and life became very difficult. The wife had no choice but to borrow money from her relatives and friends to pay the bills. After a while, her relatives and friends started to avoid her. This made the situation turn from bad to worse.
One day, a man from the countryside called on the couple. He brought with him a goat, some vegetables, fuel, rice, oil, and salt as gifts for them. This man was no other than the thief whom they had helped before. He had been deeply moved by the kindness of this husband and wife and was worried that he could never repay them for the help they had extended to him. When he came to know of the misfortune that had befallen them, he knew it was the perfect time for him to repay their kindness. From that time on and for many years afterwards, he continually helped the wife with food and other necessities, and so saved her from the brink of despair.
The wife thought, "When my husband was alive, we had many friends and relatives, but after he died, all of them went away one by one. On the contrary, this thief, whom we let go and to whom we gave out of kindness without any thought of recompense, has now come back to help me." Deeply touched, she recalled the proverb which says, "A flower planted with care does not bloom, whereas a willow planted without much thought grows into a shady tree." This way of acting, without any thought of recompense, is indeed the cultivation of "giving without clinging to any notion."
Giving for the purpose of getting fame, gaining wealth, avoiding the pain of being reborn into a suffering state of existence, or wishing for good health and blessings is giving with clinging to form. The merit of such giving is limited. If one practices giving without any regard as to whether there is any gain to be had, to what the cost is, or as to whether there is any recompense, this giving that is done completely out of the need of others is called "giving without clinging to any notion." The merit from such giving is limitless.
The Diamond Sutra says, "Cultivate giving without abiding in form, without abiding in smell, taste, touch, or mental objects." In our daily lives, if we talk, work, eat, and dress with compassion, we can do a lot of good and help people every-where. However, we must not dwell on the notion that we are helping others and keep thinking about how much good we have done.
Only by giving without clinging to any notion can one attain limitless merit and be in accordance with the spirit of the Diamond Sutra.

B. Deliver All Beings without the Notion of a Self
If one clings to any notion when giving, the merit gained will not be great. If we have the notion of a self when delivering others [from the sea of suffering], we will not be able to develop our compassion. Only when we develop great selfless compassion can we deliver all living beings. The Diamond Sutra says, "I should master the mind in such a way that I will lead all types of living beings-whether born of egg, womb, moisture, or transformation, with or without form, with or without consciousness, or neither with nor without any consciousness-to Nirvana-without-remainder so that they are completely freed." There are countless types of living beings. "To deliver living beings" does not mean to deliver only a few of them; it means to develop a heart and mind large and wide enough to deliver all beings without exception.
The intention to deliver all living beings does not mean only the giving of food to those who have nothing to eat or the giving of clothes to those who have nothing to wear. The provision of food and emotional support can only give momentary relief. To truly deliver living beings means to enable every being to enter Nirvana-without-remainder and thereby transcend the cycle of birth and death. If we are to deliver so many living beings and guide them to the shore of Nirvana, then we need to have a mind which does not cling to the notion that any living being has been delivered. We must have a mind that is free from the dualistic notion of self versus others. Only then, can we truly deliver all beings.
The Diamond Sutra says, "Even if an immeas-urable, innumerable, and unlimited number of living beings have been delivered, in reality, no living being has been delivered." When a Bodhi-sattva delivers sentient beings, he or she must be without any notion of a self, any notion of others, any notion of living beings, and any notion of lifespan. Only then is it truly delivering all beings. To deliver all sentient beings, one must develop a mind that is broad, that is free of dualities and wrong ideas, and that is without any notion of a self. According to the Diamond Sutra, only through the delivering of living beings without the notion of a self can one be attuned with prajna and comprehend the nature of sunyata.
In the Ch'an school, there is a kung-an (a col-lection of public cases in Ch'an records) about a person asking Ch'an Master Wei K'uan, "Where is the Way?"
"Right before your eyes."
"Why do I not see it?"
"You do not see it because you have [the notion of] a self."
"Because I have [the notion of] a self, I do not see it. Has the Master seen it?"
"[The notion of] 'you,' in addition to [the notion of] a self, further keeps you from seeing."
"If there is neither [the notion of] 'you' nor [the notion of] a self, can it be seen?"
"If there is neither 'you' nor 'a self,' then who wants to see it?"
When we speak of "selflessness," we do not mean there is no such a person as myself. "Self-lessness" is a realm of the mind and prajna. It is a realm of being free from the bondage of the tangible, dualistic notion of relationship, of being able to transcend the relative concepts of self and others, and of being equal to space and the universe. There is fundamentally no different-iation of the mind, the Buddha, and sentient beings: all living beings are beings in one's mind, all the Buddhas are Buddhas in one's mind, and all things are things in one's mind. Outside of the mind, where can there be any living beings? If we think like this, then although numerous beings are freed, we do not think that a single being is freed. With such transcendental thinking, we are truly practitioners of prajna and sunyata.

C. Live without Attachment
To live without attachment is to live without clinging to the external environment of the five desires (wealth, beauty, fame, food, and sleep) and the six dusts (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and idea). In every aspect of daily life-clothing, food, shelter, and transportation-we must live without greed and attachment. The life of the Buddhist layman Vimalakirti was one of "living in a family, but being unattached to the three realms of existence; living with a wife, but always prac-ticing pure living." The life he lived was indeed a life without attachment.
To live without attachment does not mean that we should abstain from living, but that we should lead our lives with an attitude that is captured in the saying, "If you are as unaffected as a wooden statue looking at flowers and birds, then does it matter that tens of thousands of things illusively surround you." If we can live without attachment, then we can look at the world like "a wooden statue looking at flowers and birds" and be unaf-fected like a wooden statue would; we will not be perturbed by the outside world, and we will be freed from greed. This is to say that if we can live without any clinging, then worldly fame and fortune, disputes between self and others, and concerns for gain or loss can no longer affect us. We can then "pass through a grove of flowers without a single leaf clinging to us." At that time we can indeed "meditate peacefully without being in a secluded place," for "we will have a sense of coolness when the fires in our hearts are extinguished."
Indeed, it is wise to look at the world without making comparisons, without being discrimin-ating and calculating, for this enables us to enter the world of nonattachment. When the mind has reached the state of nonattachment, the heart can be as wide as the open space of the universe. If we can attain this state, then we will no longer be affected by the trifles of daily life. The life without attachment as mentioned in the Diamond Sutra is really a life of utmost perfection. We should not, however, think that the type of living alluded to in the Diamond Sutra is so mystical and unfathomable that it is beyond our reach. On the contrary, the teachings in the Diamond Sutra can help us lead an everyday life that transcends all material desires. It is up to us to experience the wisdom of nonattachment in our daily lives and to find out for ourselves how we can purify our minds and improve our lives.

D. Cultivate without Any Expectation
When there is nothing to acquire, then there is true attainment; thus, it is only when we cultivate without expectation that we can attain enlighten-ment. It is said in the Heart Sutra, "There is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind; there is no form, sound, odor, taste, touch, and no mental object. There is no realm of eye consciousness and no realm of mental thoughts; there is no ignorance and there is no extinction of ignorance. There is no old age and death, and there is no extinction of old age and death. There is no suffering, no accumulation of suffering, no extinction of suf-fering, and no path (leading to the extinction of suffering). There is no knowledge and no acquisition of knowledge, because there is nothing to acquire." This is the real wisdom of the Bodhi-sattva.
Our nature is originally pure; it will shine without any enhancement or modification. Our nature is fundamentally pure and bright, funda-mentally the same as that of the Buddha. Our true nature is not something to be cultivated, some-thing to be realized, or something to be acquired. It is only when we practice without [the notion of] practicing, when we realize without [the notion of] realizing, that we are truly enlightened.
"Nothingness" does not mean without anything. Actually, the value of the [seemingly] useless is the greatest. Let me tell you an interesting story.
Once, a person's eyes, nose, and mouth had a meeting. First the eyes said, "We, the eyes, are of utmost importance to the body. Everything must be seen by us to know whether it is beautiful or not, big or small, tall or short. Without eyes, walking around will be very difficult. So we, the eyes, are very important. But we have been improperly placed under the eyebrows, which are of no use. It is just not fair!"
Next, the nose said, "I, the nose, am the most important. Only I can distinguish a good smell from a foul odor. The act of breathing is also dependent on me. If I do not let the breath pass through, everybody will die. So I am the most important. As important as I am, I have been unfairly placed beneath the useless eyebrows. I am most unhappy."
Then the mouth said, "I am the most important part of the human body. I can speak; if not for me, there would not be any communication among people. I take in the food; if not for me, everybody would die of hunger. Such an important part as myself has been placed in the lowest part of the face. The useless eyebrows, however, have been put on the highest part of the face. This I cannot accept!"
After the others had spoken, the eyebrows spoke slowly, "Please do not fight anymore. We, the eyebrows, are surely the most useless things; we admit defeat. We are willing to be placed below you." Having said this, the eyebrows settled down below the eyes. Unfortunately, the person no longer looked like a human being. Next, they eyebrows settled down below the nose. It was still horrible; it still did not look like a human being. Then the eyebrows settled down below the mouth. This looked even more ghastly! The eyes, nose, and mouth huddled to discuss the situation again. They concluded that it was best if the eyebrows returned to their original place on the face; it was the most appropriate spot for them. When the eyebrows returned to their original spot, the appearance was once again that of a human being. Thus, we can see that what appears to be the most useless thing can be indeed the most useful.
The main theme of the Diamond Sutra is "no self, no notion, no cultivation, and no realization." This "no" is "emptiness," but emptiness does not have the usual meaning of without anything. Emptiness is the basis of existence; emptiness is the nondual "nothingness" which embraces both existence and nonexistence. Such a "nothingness" is real "emptiness." This is the ultimate wisdom.

II. The Understanding of Emptiness in the Diamond Sutra
Emptiness, or sunyata, as discussed in the Diamond Sutra is not the emptiness of which people ordinarily speak. Most people think of emptiness and existence as two distinct and dualistic concepts. To them, the existence of things cannot be characterized as emptiness; to them, emptiness cannot possibly mean existence. This kind of emptiness that is dualistic with existence is not the emptiness that is discoursed in the Diamond Sutra. The term "emptiness" as used in the Diamond Sutra includes both existence and nonexistence. In fact, emptiness integrates exist-ence and nonexistence. People ordinarily think that there is absolutely no emptiness within existence, and there is no existence at all in emptiness. But the existence and nonexistence spoken of in the Diamond Sutra refers to the fact that existence is emptiness and that emptiness is existence. Emptiness and existence are one and the same, for existence and nonexistence are but two aspects of emptiness.
Let me use the analogy of a fist. When a hand is closed into a fist, there is clearly the existence of a fist. But when we open our fingers, where is the fist? The fist, which was so clearly visible, is no longer there. But can you say that it is nonexist-ent? When the five fingers close up, there is again a fist. The Diamond Sutra says that existence and nonexistence are the same thing. Existence is indeed nonexistence, and nonexistence is nothing but existence.
In the discussion of emptiness, the Diamond Sutra says that there is nothing in this world that has the character of never changing, the character of substantial being, and the character of independent existence. In fact, the so-called "emptiness" in the Diamond Sutra has the meaning of cause and condition.
Emptiness is very difficult to comprehend. It is a truth which is difficult to understand. What is emptiness?
Emptiness is the essence of the universe, the origin of human life, and the source of the phenomenal world. Let us take Amitabha Buddha as a practical example of emptiness. Amitabha is emptiness because Amitabha is indeed Truth and Truth is Amitabha. So Amitabha is called emptiness. The name Amitabha contains infinite significance. For example, Chinese Buddhists usually go around saying "O-MI-TO-FO," the name of Amitabha. When you see a Mr. Wang coming toward you, you immediately say, "Mr. Wang, O-MI-TO-FO." This simply means, "Hi, Mr. Wang, good to see you here." When you meet a Mr. Lee on the road in the morning, you say, "Mr. Lee, O-MI-TO-FO." It means, "Good morning, Mr. Lee." Again, as a guest in some-one's house, at the time of taking leave, you say, "I am leaving now, O-MI-TO-FO." It means, "Good-bye, everybody." If you see somebody fall down, you say, "Oh my goodness, O-MI-TO-FO." This shows your compassion and sympathy. In my own case, when people give me something, I always say "O-MI-TO-FO" to express my thanks.
The significance of the word Amitabha is very broad. This word stands for many other words. Like Amitabha, the word "emptiness" includes everything. Just like a purse, it can contain many things only when it is empty. Likewise, a train can carry many passengers only when its compart-ments are empty. If the nasal cavity were not empty, then one could not breathe; if the mouth were not empty, then one could not eat any food. If the pores of the skin were not empty, then people would die. Only when people have empty space can they live and move about. Because Amitabha is emptiness, Amitabha can encompass all without limit-this is real emptiness indeed. So it is said, "Real emptiness is not contrary to existence, and existence is not contrary to real emptiness."
There are people who are afraid of talking about emptiness-emptiness of space, earth, worldly affairs, and even one's sons and daughters. This sounds terrible! They are dismayed at the thought that if everything they own is empty, they will have nothing. It is not like this at all. Take the example of those of us who have renounced the household life. Although we have renounced the household life, we can call everywhere home. We need not worry about not having any children; as long as we have universal parental love, we can call all the people in the world our children. We need not be fearful of not having any wealth; as long as we have real wisdom and the willingness to do good deeds, then everything in this universe becomes ours. If we are in harmony with emptiness, then we are in harmony with Truth. We need not be afraid, thinking that emptiness is without anything; on the contrary, because of emptiness, things exist. It is only when we live a life of emptiness that we can have everything. So the Diamond Sutra says that if we live a life without attachment, then we can truly have a peaceful life abiding in emptiness.
There was a period in my life that I had a taste of what a life of emptiness is. In 1949, I came to Taiwan from Mainland China. This was a tumultuous period, and I became one of the many that fled Mainland China. When I first arrived in Taiwan, I was totally penniless. I wore my wooden clogs for two years until the soles were completely worn. The short outer jacket that I had, I wore it for two or three years straight. Everybody coped with these trying times in a different way. Some of the monks conducted funeral ceremonies, while others organized Dharma functions. When they returned from these services, they brought back many things and their lives were no longer difficult. Although it was difficult for me to obtain even a piece of paper or a pen for writing an article, I was not envious of them. I did not feel that my life was impoverished or hard.
Actually, I felt fulfilled and enriched at that time. I felt a deep kinship with heaven and earth-the land welcomed me in my travels with open arms, the flowers and trees shared their beauty with me, and I found friendship with many people. Even though life was hard, I did not feel pitiful, poor, or lonely. Suppose that I had felt sorry for myself under those difficult times, then how would I have been able to persevere in the life of a Buddhist monk?
Then what enabled me to feel fulfilled and happy? Looking back, I must attribute this to the teaching of the Buddha and the wisdom of emptiness. I have always believed that the cause and condition of becoming a monk and the merit of monastic life are most precious. Through the cultivation of the Buddhist teachings, I have been able to experience the unity of the whole universe and be in harmony with the great vows of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Similarly, within the wisdom of emptiness, we have the whole universe, and each of us is never truly alone or poor. The real prosperity of our lives is gained through spiritual fulfillment, and spiritual fulfill-ment must, in turn, depend on the teaching of the Buddha and the wisdom of emptiness.

III. Understanding Emptiness from the Viewpoint of Existence
We have discussed the establishment of existence from emptiness. Now we will try to understand emptiness from the viewpoint of existence. How can existence be emptiness? To give an example, we see that the table in front of us is covered with a tablecloth. Will you say that there is a piece of cloth? I believe nobody will deny its existence, for it is actually there in front of our eyes. But if we examine the tablecloth through prajna (or wisdom), we will realize that the tablecloth is empty and exists only because of causes and conditions. The form that we recognize as a tablecloth is an illusion perceived by our eyes; it is an erroneous cognition. Pursuing further, we can see that this object is fundament-ally cotton, not cloth.
Let us not be mistaken, however, into believing the analysis that this cotton, which is the underlying material of the cloth, is what we mean by emptiness. This is wrong; this is not emptiness. This piece of cloth is created out of processed cotton. Processed cotton is spun out of raw cotton. Raw cotton is harvested from plants which have grown out of cottonseeds. These seeds in turn require the nurturing of sunlight, air, water, and fertilizer before they can sprout, mature, and change into raw cotton. So we find that cotton is the culmination of the many forces of the universe. Therefore, we say that the tablecloth is emptiness and is produced by causes and conditions.
Everything is essentially empty and is closely related to millions of other things in this universe. Thus, it is not just when something ceases to exist that we speak of its emptiness. Even when an object is perfectly intact, it is fundamentally empty, for emptiness is not a separate, indepen-dent state.
Let us use the analogy of gold to illustrate emptiness and existence. Emptiness can be compared to gold, while existence can be com-pared to the rings, earrings, and necklaces which are fashioned from gold. All these different articles of gold represent existence, and their original nature of gold represents emptiness.
Let us take another example, the analogy of water and waves. Emptiness is like water, and existence is like waves. Water is originally peaceful and calm, but when the wind blows, waves are formed. We human beings are the same in this regard. Our original nature is calm, but once it becomes agitated due to ignorance, we become stirred with clingings and desires. Amid the crashing and billowing of the waves, it is not easy to see the original calmness of the water. Similarly, when a person lives a life of delusion, his originally calm and tranquil nature cannot be found. If you have prajna, you need not wait for the waves to calm down to understand that water itself is calm; you can understand that the water itself is calm even while the waves are rising and falling. If you have prajna, you need not wait for the complete elimination of defilements produced by ignorance to discover that your original nature is calm and pure; you can even discover emptiness in the midst of existence.
Some people explain emptiness as spirit and existence as matter. Some say emptiness is truth and existence is phenomenon. Some say empti-ness is one, while existence is manifold. Truth and phenomena are one, and the one and many are not different. Therefore, emptiness is not contrary to existence. Some say emptiness is the true nature of things, while existence is their external appearances. The true nature of things and their external appearances are not different, so emptiness and existence are one. Some say that emptiness is equality, while existence is differ-ence. But there is difference within equality, and there is the nature of equality within difference. Equality and difference are one, so emptiness and existence are one.
What is the relationship between emptiness and existence? I will give you another example. Emptiness is like a father, while existence is like a mother. The father is stern, and the mother is kind and tender. The father is strict with his children, while the mother brings them up with kindness. In both cases, the purpose is to educate them prop-erly. Whether one is strict or tender in teaching one's children, the goal is to have the children grow up as responsible adults. Emptiness and existence are like this. They complement each other. The strictness of father is like the sun; it is indeed emptiness. The kindness of the mother is like dew; it is indeed existence. The Ch'an Lin Pao Hsun (a precious collection of aphorisms of the Ch'an tradition) says, "In spring and summer, all things obtain warmth and sprout into life. In autumn and winter, all things are covered by frost and snow, and they mature." This means that it takes both the moisture of dew and the warmth of the sun for all things to grow and mature. Similarly, it takes emptiness and existence working hand in hand before the whole universe can come into being.
The underlying principle of emptiness and existence cannot be explained adequately in such a short time. Moreover, we cannot fully compre-hend the truth through such simple analogies. The truth of emptiness that is discussed in the Diamond Sutra has to be experienced in our everyday cultivation and practice. Only then can we truly understand the true meaning of emptiness.
How can we truly understand emptiness? It is only when we have realized prajna paramita (the perfection of wisdom) that we can perceive the five aggregates (the five components of existence: form, feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness) are empty. Without prajna, we cannot understand emptiness. As prajna is necessary for realizing the principle of emptiness, we must have an understanding of prajna. I will next discuss prajna not from a theoretical stand-point, but from how we can experience prajna in daily life.

IV. Prajna in Daily Life
Apart from life, there is no prajna, nor is there any emptiness. The greatest shortfall of Buddhism today is the taking of Buddhism out of the context of life. There are some Buddhists who, after many years in the religion, are still filled with greed, hatred, and ignorance. Although they may be able to speak about the teaching of Buddhist sutras with ease, they still cannot let go of such dualistic notions as self and others or gain and loss. Wisdom is not obtained within the confines of a secluded retreat or from the reciting of the Prajnaparamita-hrdaya Sutra (the Heart Sutra). Wisdom emerges in the midst of ordinary activities of our daily lives, while eating, walking, sitting, sleeping, or dealing with others.
In the Ch'an school, many have become enlightened while meditating upon a Ch'an riddle given by the teacher. There was a monk named Lung T'an who went to visit the Ch'an Master T'ien Huang, well know for his enlightenment. He lived with his master for more than ten years. Since he thought he had not gotten any Buddhist teachings, he went to take leave of his master.
Master T'ien Huang asked, "Where do you want to go?"
Lung T'an answered, "I want to go in search of the Buddhist teachings."
"There are Buddhist teachings here. Where else do you want to search for the Buddhist teach-ings?"
"I have been here for more than ten years, and you have never explained anything to me about the Buddhist teachings. How can the Buddhist teachings be here?'
"Do not lie!" the Master retorted. "How can you say that there are no Buddhist teachings here? When you came to offer me tea, I always accepted it and drank it. You brought me food, and I ate it. When you joined your palms and bowed down to pay me respect, I nodded my head in response. All these things tell you about the Buddhist teachings. How can you say that the Buddhist teachings are not here? All these are Buddhist teachings. They stand for the prajna in our daily life!"
"Oh! This is prajna!" Lung T'an answered. "Let me think this over."
Master T'ien Huang said, "Don't think. Thinking arouses differentiation; thinking is no longer prajna."
The moment Lung T'an heard this sentence, he became enlightened.
Therefore in our daily lives, the Buddhist teachings are everywhere, and prajna is every-where. Now, I will talk about the prajna in the Buddha's daily living. This is the prajna spoken of in the Diamond Sutra. The Diamond Sutra opens with the following statement:
"Then the Blessed One at mealtime, put on his robes, took the alms bowl, and entered the city of Sravasti. Having begged for alms there in due order, he returned to his place. Having taken his meal, he put away his robe and alms bowl, washed his feet, and sat in a cross-legged posture. . . ."
This is the beginning of the Diamond Sutra, which I think all of you have read. Such a famous and precious Buddhist sutra starts with a descrip-tion of the Buddha washing his feet, putting on his robes, and eating his meal. What do such simple daily activities have to do with prajna and emptiness as explained in the Diamond Sutra? In fact, if you understand the Diamond Sutra, just these few lines can enable you to become enlight-ened. These few lines completely capture the spirit of prajna in the Diamond Sutra.
For example, putting on the robe and taking up the alms bowl signifies the paramita of precepts. Entering the city of Sravasti to beg for alms is an illustration of the paramita of generosity. To beg for alms in due order exemplifies the paramita of patience. Taking his meal, putting away his robe and alms bowl, and washing his feet explains the paramita of diligence. Sitting in a cross-legged position refers to the paramita of meditative concentration. In this way, the Buddha integrated the Six Paramitas in his daily life. Because he had lived a life of the Six Paramitas, he was able to realize Nirvana and be in harmony with prajna. Therefore, we should practice the Six Paramitas in our daily lives.
This short passage shows that the light of the Buddha's wisdom shines on us all. "Putting on the robe and taking the alms bowl" is the light of prajna emanating from the Buddha's hands. "Entering the city of Sravasti to beg for alms," the Buddha walked along the streets for all to see; this is the light of wisdom emanating from his body. "To be in the city" says that he is looking at the city, and this represents the light of wisdom emanating from his eyes. "Taking food" refers to the light of wisdom emanating from his mouth. "Washing the feet" refers to the light of wisdom emanating from his legs. "Siting cross-legged" refers to the light of wisdom emanating from his whole body. "At that time, the Blessed One" means that the Buddha radiated the light of wisdom every moment of his life.
We must apply the Buddhist teachings to our daily life. If we study the Diamond Sutra and live in accordance with prajna, our lives will improve. It is just like a man walking in the dark who suddenly sees where he is going because there is light. Prajna frees us from our afflictions and enables us to find peace and relief from our disputes with others. In our daily lives, we are often entangled in disagreements with others, the pursuit of fame and fortune, and problems with our spouses and children. If we apply prajna in our daily lives, then all these issues will no longer bother us, and we will look at life in a totally different light. There is a saying, "The moon out-side the window is the same as usual; it is the plum blossoms that make the difference." With prajna, our lives remain the same yet different.
If you have prajna, then you can clearly see that the five aggregates are empty. Once you under-stand that these aggregates are empty, then we are able to cross the ocean of suffering. We will no longer be consumed by the differentiation of what is mine versus what is yours. All the selfish struggles in society will dissipate. If we can understand emptiness and attain wisdom, then we can see that everything in this world is illusive. When we have such an understanding, there is no room for disputes and discords due to dualistic notions, such as self versus others. With prajna, we can leave behind differentiations and dualities, and in so doing, we also keep the many afflictions of this world at bay.
Yesterday, I had talked about Ch'an, stating that it is not easy to learn. Today I have talked about emptiness, and about how emptiness is not easy to comprehend. Tomorrow, I will speak neither about Ch'an nor emptiness, but about "existence." "To the west, beyond a hundred thousand million Buddha Lands, there is a world called 'Ultimate Bliss.' In this world, there is a Buddha named Amitabha, and there exist golden earth, exquisite pagodas adorned with banners, pools of seven jewels, and water with eight excellent qualities." Until we are able to have a correct and thorough understanding of emptiness, let us consider the following saying. "We would rather have a mountain-high false view of existence than a tiny, seed-like false notion of emptiness."


The Essence of Buddhism

Fellow students,
I am very happy to have this opportunity to come and speak with you. Our topic today is "The Essence of Buddhism." Essence means truth; essence is the fundamental teachings. Sometimes we say that the doctrine of Three Dharma Seals (Three Characteristics of Existence) is the essence of Buddhism, or that the Conditioned Genesis is the essence of Buddhism. Other times we say that it is sunyata (emptiness) or the Four Noble Truths. What, then, is the essence of Buddhism? Actually, all of these concepts are the fundamental truths, or essence, of Buddhism.
After the Buddha was enlightened, his first discourse, given at Isipatana (modern Sarnath) near Varanasi (modern Benares), was on the Four Noble Truths. This is the famous "First Turning of the Dharma Wheel" in Buddhist history.
In Buddhism, those who attain enlightenment through listening to and learning about the Four Noble Truths and the Principle of Conditioned Genesis are called sravakas. Generally, people have the impression that sravakas are concerned only with self-enlightenment. Because sravakas emphasize and practice the Four Noble Truths, some people therefore have the misconception that the Four Noble Truths only pertain to self-enlightenment and are not worthy of a second glance. Actually, the Four Noble Truths is the fundamental truth of Buddhism. They were realized, experienced, and taught by the Buddha himself. According to the Buddha's teaching, the true nature of life and the universe is none other than the Four Noble Truths-suffering, the arising of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the way leading to the cessation of suffering. The Four Noble Truths form the foundation of Buddhism, from which all Buddhist scriptures are derived. Even the Avatamsaka Sutra, a Mahayana scripture, has a special chapter devoted to the Four Noble Truths. Thus, all Buddhists should learn the fundamental teachings of the Four Noble Truths.
The word "Truths" in the Four Noble Truths carries with it the meaning of investigation of reality. The First Noble Truth is the Truth of Suffering, which is to see with wisdom that the threefold world is like a burning house, full of suffering and lacking in happiness. The Second Noble Truth is the Truth of the Arising of Suffering, which is to realize with wisdom that the afflictions of greed, hatred, and ignorance are the causes of birth, death, and suffering. The Third Noble Truth is the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering, which is to attain Nirvana and realize the true nature through wisdom. The Fourth Noble Truth is the Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering, which is to find the way that will help us transcend the world of suffering to real happiness. The Truth of Suffering and the Truth of the Arising of Suffering speak of the cause and effect of the state of delusion in this worldly existence. The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering and the Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering speak of the cause and effect of the state of enlightenment in the transcendental existence. The Noble Eightfold Path is the cause, which when practiced, will lead to the effect, the cessation of suffering. In the next section, I will describe the components of the Four Noble Truths in their respective order.

I. The First Noble Truth: The Truth of Suffering
Personally, I have always believed that we should have a happy, optimistic, and positive outlook on life. We should not constantly talk about suffering, walk around with knitted eyebrows, and be consumed with depression and misery. Some people might wonder: If it is happiness that we should look for, then why does Buddhism dwell so much on suffering?
The purpose of talking about suffering in Buddhism is to make us realize that all kinds of suffering exist in this world. Once we know the real nature of suffering, we can take a step further and find a way to put an end to suffering. Thus, understanding the existence of suffering is only part of the process. Learning how to put an end to suffering so that we can attain liberation is the ultimate purpose of discoursing about suffering in Buddhism.
Some of you may ask, "Why does Buddhism say that life is full of suffering? I am not hungry for fame and wealth, nor am I hampered by love and emotions. My life is filled with happiness." According to Buddhist scriptures, there are many varieties of suffering. There are three forms of suffering, eight types of suffering, one hundred and eight kinds of suffering, and even boundless and countless forms of suffering. All of these sufferings can be classified into either physical or mental suffering. Some people have little craving for material comforts; they are able to withstand the discomforts of extreme weather and accept the pain of impoverishment. Still others are able to rise above the bondage of emotions, handle the agony of being separated from loved ones, and tolerate the nuisance of dealing with people they do not like. No one, however, is free from the pain that occurs at the end of one's life when the five aggregates disintegrate. Therefore, it does not make a difference whether we discuss it or not, everyone will experience some kind of suffering during his or her lifetime. Now, if we can understand clearly the sources of suffering and find ways to overcome them, we then can free ourselves from the deep sea of suffering and enjoy the real happiness of life. What are the sources of suffering?

A. The Sources of Suffering
1. Disharmony between material things and oneself
The first cause of suffering is the disharmony between material things and oneself. For example, if we live in a small house with many people, we can feel cramped and our crowded living conditions become a source of suffering. If the height of the pillow we use is not suitable for us, we may not be able to get any sleep. That, in turn, can cause us to become restless and short-tempered. To a student, even the height of a desk or the brightness of a lamp can be a distraction and a source of discomfort. Therefore, dissatisfaction with material things in our everyday lives can give rise to suffering.
Not only can external material things be a source of suffering, the skin, hair, and nails of our bodies, if not taken care of properly, can also become filthy and be a source of distress. There is a Chinese proverb which says, "Our hair is like three thousand strands of trouble." Our lives are intimately related to material things.

2. Disharmony between people and oneself
The disharmony between people and oneself can be the greatest source of affliction. For example, we cannot always associate only with friends and loved ones; we are often required to interact also with those whom we dislike.
Due to differences in our views and in the ways in which we handle situations, conflicts arise and suffering ensues. Sometimes, even when we try to be judicious and careful not to offend others, we still feel insecure and tend to assume that others are criticizing us when we see them gather and whisper behind our backs. If the relationship between people and oneself is not harmonious, our efficiency will be lessened. This disharmony is enough to make an otherwise ambitious person dejected, resulting in a loss of confidence and self-esteem. Thus, it is very important for us to establish harmonious relationships when we deal with others.

3. Disharmony between the body and oneself
Some people say, "Health is wealth." Even if we own all the treasures in the world and have unparalleled talents, we cannot do anything without a healthy body. The body's cycle of aging, sickness, and death is a natural phenomenon that no one can escape. A healthy person will become weak one day. A beautiful complexion will wither with age. Although we may flaunt our strength when we are young, our bodily organs will nonetheless start to deteriorate with the passing of time. Our eyesight will become worse and our movements will slow down. Even a minor cold can confine us to bed for several days. A minor toothache can make us toss and turn in our sleep. Due to the disharmony between the body and oneself, different kinds of suffering come one right after another.

4. Disharmony between the mind and oneself
The mind likes to take control and is like a king who rules over all his subjects. It is also like an untamed horse running wild, not readily controlled by us. When greed, hatred, and ignorance appear in our minds, though we try hard to keep them under control, they resurface time and time again. Our efforts seem so futile. This kind of disharmony between the mind and oneself is much harder to overcome than the disharmony of the body. When the body becomes ill, we can cure it with medicine, but when the mind is sick, even the best physician can be at a loss for what to do.
We often hear people complaining to others: "You are not listening to what I am saying!" Actually, the one who is not listening to us is not someone else, but our very own minds. We cannot stop our minds from daydreaming or creating headaches. In this sense, our own minds are our worst enemies. When we are constantly at odds with our minds, it is no wonder that suffering is with us all the time.

5. Disharmony between desire and oneself
As human beings, it is impossible for us to be completely without desires. Desires can be wholesome or unwholesome. Wholesome desires are those such as wanting to become a sage or a Buddha, to excel in one's career, to serve one's community, or to benefit one's country and fellow human beings. On the other hand, coveting for material comforts, grasping for the power of position, or craving the pleasures of love affairs are unwholesome desires and can lead to one's downfall. Even wholesome desires, when not managed appropriately, can become overwhelming burdens, giving rise to numerous sufferings. How much more damaging are unwholesome desires! Thus, an important ingredient of success is knowing how to transcend one's material desires.

6. Disharmony between view and oneself
View refers to our way of thinking and our understanding of things. While a lack of material things is still tolerable, the isolation due to one's view and the solitude of the spirit is the most difficult for anyone to bear. Since ancient times, many seekers of truth have found themselves having to travel the path of truth alone. In fact, the Buddha almost considered entering into Nirvana immediately after his enlightenment out of the concern that living beings may not be able to understand the truth he had realized.
What typically can make us suffer are those seemingly correct but actually erroneous views and concepts. During the Buddha's time, some ascetics emphasized all kinds of self-mortification. Some stood upside down in the forest, some sat dangerously close to fires, some submerged themselves in water, some refused to eat, and some went about naked. They tried to use every type of method to torture their bodies so that they might gain liberation. Because of their erroneous views and false understanding, these ascetics inflicted physical pain on themselves unnecessarily. False views and understanding can cause us much suffering; they are the main stumbling blocks to our realization of the truth.

7. Disharmony between nature and oneself
According to history, our first human activities were struggles between nature and ourselves. Since ancient times, the amount of suffering brought upon us by nature has been incalculable. Natural disasters include hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and floods. Too much rain has caused floods, completely covering the low-lying areas. Too little rain has caused droughts, cracking the soil and making it impossible to plant crops. The sufferings we experience because of the disharmony between nature and oneself are clear and direct.
The real root of suffering, whether caused by external factors such as material things and nature or by internal factors, such as the mind and views, can be traced to our attachment to I and mine. According to Buddhism, the source of all suffering is the illusive I, which is but a combination of the five aggregates. The combining of five aggregates-form and consciousness, together with the three mental activities of feeling, perception, and mental formation-constitutes life. The combination of these five factors exists only as long as the right conditions are present. No thing can exist unless the conditions for its existence are right. Ordinarily, people live as if the body, which is made up of the five aggregates, could exist eternally. They cling to the body as the real self, creating all kinds of cravings which in turn lead to endless suffering. If we can see through the illusion of the "self" and realize the wondrous truth of emptiness, then we can transcend all suffering. The Heart Sutra says, "[The Bodhisattva] realizes the emptiness of the five aggregates and overcome all suffering."
How can we realize the emptiness of the five aggregates and overcome all suffering? If we can realize the "selfless" nature of all things, i.e., all things do not have an independent, permanent "self," then we can realize the emptiness of the five aggregates. Once this is realized, suffering will be overcome. Let me illustrate what this means with the following example.
Soccer is a very popular sport in the western world. Spectators at soccer matches often number in the tens of thousands. Among the spectators at one of these matches was a man who was smoking while watching the game. He was very absorbed in the game and did not realize that his lit cigarette was so close to another man next to him that the cigarette burned a hole in his neighbor's clothing. "Ouch, that hurts!" the neighbor yelled. The smoker then realized what he had done, and he quickly apologized saying, "I am so sorry!" The person whose clothing was burned was also caught up in the excitement of the game and said, "It does not matter. I will buy another one later." How would you describe the neighbor's state of mind? He was so focused on the match that he was in a "selfless" state. At this particular moment, watching the match was all that mattered to him. Even having a hole burned in his clothes was not worth a fight. If it were not for being caught up in the game, such an incident would often develop into a big fight. But when they focused all their concentration into watching which side was winning or losing, the concept of "self" did not matter at all. Imagine, just a soccer match is enough to capture our attention so much so that we can forget the "self" and pay no heed to a burning pain. If we can always realize the emptiness of the five aggregates, we can definitely overcome all suffering.
The existence of suffering is an undeniable truth. Thus, Buddhism continues to emphasize this fact and goes one step further to find a way to overcome this problem. Actually, all modern sciences, such as economics, medicine, and politics aim at improving our living standards and minimizing human suffering. But ordinary social welfare endeavors, such as helping the poor and needy through the provision of food and clothing, can only give momentary relief. It cannot eradicate the roots of suffering. Buddhism not only emphasizes the eradication of our present suffering; more importantly, it teaches us how to eradicate the roots of suffering and liberate us from the endless cycle of birth and death. Suffering in Buddhism is not pessimistic acceptance; it is something to be overcome and transcended positively.

B. The Way to Overcome Suffering
1. Strengthen our minds
Someone may say, "Since I don't believe in Buddhism, I am not free from the suffering of birth, aging, sickness, and death. However, even though you believe in Buddhism, you are still subject to the same suffering. What then is the use of believing in Buddhism?" This is true; believing in Buddhism cannot prevent birth, aging, sickness, and death. But when faced with suffering, we will have greater strength to overcome it. When we come face to face with death, we will be able to accept it more openly and gracefully.
Many of the great Arhats of Buddhism chose to live in the forest, by the water, or even in cemeteries, in order to realize their Buddha Nature. Many of the noble followers of Confucianism chose to leave the hustle and bustle of the cities to lead a simple, honest, and tranquil life without any worldly desires. Most people find such lifestyles difficult to accept, but these sages lived their simple lives happily and willingly. Why? This was because they had such high aspirations for themselves. They had strong confidence in their ideals, so they had the strength to endure the hardships and suffering that ordinary people cannot.
A proper understanding of religion will give us strength to overcome hardships willingly. Many people pray to all varieties of gods, asking for protection, money, wealth, health, and all the good things in life. This type of belief can only encourage greed. When these people cannot get what they want, they end up in despair. Some might even blame the gods for their suffering. This kind of religion, which is based on greed, cannot give people strength.
True Buddhists should not make unreasonable demands from the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Instead, we should follow the way of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and be willing to dedicate ourselves for the benefit of all beings. If we have this kind of religious and spiritual understanding, then we will have the great strength to overcome the afflictions caused by misfortune and difficulties. If we can accept with equanimity when others are either nice or hostile to us, if we can look at worldly matters, be they good or bad, the same way, then we can confront suffering with ease and calmness. Buddhism may speak of suffering in life, but I personally feel that life is full of happiness. Why? Although suffering exists in actuality, if we can use our strength to deal with it, then we can understand the real meaning of happiness. The fruit which ripens after diligent cultivation tastes particularly sweet. The cultivation of a correct and strong faith is an important key that helps us transcend suffering.

2. Eradicate the root of suffering
While the cultivation of a strong faith can help us transcend the pain of suffering, the eradication of the fundamental suffering of life and death, however, is the ultimate goal of us as practitioners. We should not be complacent just because we can deal with suffering through our willpower, mental adjustment, and thinking. Even when we have control over the minor afflictions of life (which are like branches and leaves of a tree), if we are not completely free from birth, aging, sickness and death, then the fundamental suffering (which is like the root of a tree) due to the impermanence of the five aggregates still exists. A Chinese proverb says, "To catch a pack of thieves, one should catch their leader first." Therefore, we must eradicate the root of suffering in order to attain eternal happiness.
The root of suffering is "self"-self-attachment, self-love, and self-view. Because of "self," we seek nice things to satisfy our needs, a pursuit that gives way to greed. When our greed cannot be satisfied, aversion and hatred arises. When we cling to our deluded views without understanding the facts and truth, ignorance comes into being. Because of "self," the fetters of greed, hatred, and ignorance follow us like our shadows. How can we eradicate the root of suffering? If we can understand the truth of "selflessness," then the root of suffering can be eradicated. "Selflessness" does not mean that we have to destroy our life-Buddhism is not a morbid religion! Buddhism does not deny that life has value and meaning. "Selflessness" means to free oneself from self-attachment, self-love, and self-desire. It does not mean to destroy everything, or to give up everything. Even if we were to commit suicide, death would only occur to the illusive physical body, not to the clinging of "self." Actually, "selflessness" in Buddhism has the meaning of wisdom, Conditional Genesis, great compassion, and real emptiness. It is through letting go of the attachment to "self" and erroneous views that we can ascertain the truth of the First Noble Truth. It is only when we can eradicate the small "self" that is associated with greed, hatred, and selfish desires that we can manifest our true, pure, and happy nature. The noble men and women who realize the true nature of "self" do not leave the multitude. They still drink tea, eat meals, deal with other people, and handle matters; they still live normal lives. The only difference is that they have a pure state of mind in their daily and spiritual lives. They have given up all kinds of obsessions and have realized the real nature of things. They are free from the suffering caused by impermanence and have experienced eternity.
The "self" that we cling to so dearly is just like an ephemera. Our life lasts only for a few decades; it is illusory and changes constantly. The real "self" transcends time, space, and relativity. It is free from afflictions and is pure. The key to freeing ourselves from suffering and attaining happiness is to expand the small "self" and realize eternal life. This is something that we need to attend to urgently.

II. The Second Noble Truth: The Truth of the Arising of Suffering
In our lives, we commit many types of unwholesome karma because of our ignorant urges and cravings. The retribution for this karma will give rise to the fruit of suffering. Thus, our suffering is caused by our own karma. Karma refers to the actions committed by our body, speech and mind. We will be subjected to the effects of whatever actions we have done. Karma does not disappear; it only accumulates. However, karma is not necessarily all bad. There is also good karma. Whether we taste the fruit of suffering or happiness depends on the karma we have sowed.
The Law of Cause and Effect is a special concept which is common among Indian philosophies. It is also a great teaching in the history of Buddhist philosophy. Karma can create a bright future for our life and give us hope. Perhaps someone may ask, "Did you not just say that karma is the cause of suffering? Now, why do you say it gives us light and hope? Is this not contradictory?" If you can truly understand the function and doctrine of karma, you will not have doubts about what I have just said.
The real meaning of karma is, "Everyone is responsible for his or her own actions." Throughout the history of philosophy, there has always been one inexplicable question that has confounded philosophers and ecclesiastics alike; that is, the origin of life and the universe. Various theories have been proposed to explain the origin of the universe and human life, such as the theory of natural elements and the theory of evolution. The Christian religion maintains that the world was created by God. The Brahmanic religion of India holds the view that everything is evolved from Brahma. These religions, and others, attempt to explain the initial creation of the universe and life forms and to establish a law in which everything is controlled by a god. But Buddhism teaches us that man himself is in charge of his own fate, not someone else. Even God or Brahma cannot escape the Law of Cause and Effect. In Buddhism, karmic retribution is created by ourselves, not by deities. The happiness or suffering in one's life and the brightness or darkness of one's future is not bestowed by gods, but determined by the effort that we have made. Wholesome fruit is produced from the seeds of our wholesome deeds. Unwholesome fruit is produced from the seeds of our unwholesome deeds. No one can give us fortune or misfortune. We do our own good and bad deeds; no one else controls us. Thus, we can see that Buddhism has a great deal of respect for free will. It is a religion that believes in self-discipline, and that one will reap the results of one's own actions.
Mr. Shih Hu said, "Whatever harvest one wants, one must first plant accordingly." Karma is like a seed. We have to sow the kind of seed that will produce the type of fruit we would like to harvest. Similarly, our actions will determine our karmic effect. Karma means equal opportunity and is perfectly accurate. A person will not be exempt from karmic effect just because the person is rich or powerful. A common proverb says, "Everyone is equal under the law." Likewise, karmic effect is equally applied to everyone regardless of position, gender, status, or wealth. Everyone will receive his or her just desserts and reap his or her own karmic retribution. No one can take someone else's place, whether it be husband and wife, father and son, teacher and student, or friends. Our karmic retribution is a clear record of the results of our actions. Its accuracy is so perfect that even today's modern calculators and computers cannot compare with it. When everyone understands the concept of cause and effect, the morals of society will be improved, crime will decrease, and it will not be difficult to establish a happy and peaceful society. Therefore, the concept of cause and effect plays a very important role in cleansing the impurities of our minds and raising the morality of society.
Someone may ask, "You said that one will reap the fruit of one's action. One person I know has done many bad things in his life. He has not only gone unpunished but enjoys all kinds of honor and wealth. On the other hand, another person I know has done many good things, but all kinds of misfortune have befallen him. How does the Law of Cause and Effect work in these kinds of situations?" Actually, this is the Law of Cause and Effect. Why? The Law of Cause and Effect is like planting seeds. Some plants will become lush and green in one year. Some will take several years to grow. Likewise, some karmic results will ripen in this life, some will ripen in the next life, and some will not ripen for many lifetimes to come. Karmic retribution may be immediate or delayed, but we cannot refute the real existence of karmic retribution. There is a proverb in Buddhism which says, "Good begets good, evil begets evil. All causes will give rise to results; it is just a matter of time." The Law of Cause and Effect is absolutely fair. It is only a matter of time. This is why we talk about the cause and effect of the past, present, and future lives.
Some of you who have received a modern education may retort by saying, "This is the 20th Century; our technology and civilization are highly developed. Why should we believe in superstitions like cause and effect?" Actually, the Law of Cause and Effect is the most scientific and civilized of all the natural laws. Every single minute of our lives is controlled by the wonderful Law of Cause and Effect. We cannot live apart from it. For example, when we are hungry, we eat. After we eat, we are not hungry anymore. When we are tired, we rest. After we rest, we will be full of energy. Every little part of our lives, even our mental activities of perception, emotion, and volition, play out according to the Law of Cause and Effect. Therefore, if we seek a happy life, we should sow good seeds. Then we will taste the sweetness of our own good fruit.
When the first experiment involving test-tube babies was successfully performed, the entire world was shocked. Although a test-tube baby is not conceived inside the mother, it still requires the father's sperm and the mother's ovum, together with the aid of science, in order to grow. A successful test-tube baby still requires all the right conditions to be present; thus this method of conception is totally consistent with the Law of Cause and Effect. A test tube baby is merely the result of an alternative type of reproductive method.
There is nothing in this world that can escape the Law of Cause and Effect. Once evil karma is done, a bad effect will surely follow. Although the arising of bad karma can bring us suffering, we will have brightness and hope once the retribution is over. It is just like a person who borrows money from everyone and thus is heavily in debt. After he repays all his debts, he will be free. It is just like a criminal who is freed after serving his prison term. A person who has committed many bad deeds can still have a beautiful future after he has borne the fruit of his karmic retribution.
The Dharma says, "All composite things are impermanent." Bad karma is also impermanent and empty, without an innate self-nature. If we stop creating bad karma and keep doing good karma, we will be free from suffering one day and we will attain happiness. Thus, the Law of Cause and Effect is neither pessimistic nor fatalistic; rather, it is optimistic and progressive. If we want to free ourselves from the depths of the sea of suffering, we must first eradicate the cause of suffering and then cease to generate any more bad karma for ourselves. Then a life of happiness will not be out of reach. Therefore, a full understanding of the original cause of suffering is absolutely necessary in order to attain happiness.

III. The Third Noble Truth: The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering
If someone asks you, "Why do you believe in Buddhism? What is the purpose of believing in Buddhism?" How would you answer? If you ask me, my answer may frighten you, because I believe in Buddhism for the sake of seeking "cessation."
When we mention "cessation," people will immediately think of annihilation, extermination, or emptiness and will become frightened. In the history of Buddhism, there have been many cases in which the meaning of the Buddha's teaching was misinterpreted due to incorrect translations. These mistakes became obstacles to the spreading of Buddhism. For example, the "cessation" mentioned in the Four Noble Truths does not take on the literal meaning of annihilation and extermination. The real meaning of "cessation" is to rid oneself of the affliction of delusion and discrimination so that one's true nature-suchness-is revealed. Thus, cessation in this case is not pessimistic nor destructive, but positive, creative, and constructive.
"Cessation" means the ideal state of complete eradication of greed, hatred, and delusion. The quiet, cool state of Nirvana will appear only when the fire of sensual desire is extinguished. The doctrines of prajna and sunyata are similar to "cessation." They suggest that we should eliminate our ignorance, greed, and craving in order to uncover our prajna. When we talk about sunyata, some people may react by saying, "Buddhism talks about emptiness. I take that it means heaven and earth are empty; people and the self do not exist. So, emptiness pulls people down into an illusive and aimless world of nothingness. This 'emptiness' sounds horrible to me."
Actually, the doctrine of sunyata in Buddhism does not mean non-existence or nihilism. There is infinite existence contained within emptiness. There would be no existence without emptiness. Ordinarily, our concept of bhava (existence) is illusory and fictitious, whereas the concept of sunyata in Buddhism means true existence and wondrous reality. Why does emptiness become non-empty and cessation become non-extinguished? I will use an example to illustrate this.
If we want to organize a lecture, the first question we need to consider is "Where should we hold the lecture?" If there is no space, it is not possible for us to organize the lecture. Whenever we want to organize something, we have to consider five factors: people, subject, time, place, and object. Place means space. Space has a very intimate relationship with our lives. For example, your pocket can hold things if it has space. You can put money in your purse if it is empty. Your nose, ears, mouth, stomach, intestines and pores are empty; therefore, you can breathe, absorb nutrients, metabolize, and maintain your life. If all these spaces were blocked, people would not be able to survive. Because there is emptiness, there is existence. If there is no empty space, we cannot construct buildings. This is what is meant by "real emptiness will give rise to wondrous reality." Thus "cessation" and "emptiness" do not mean nothingness. The cessation of illusion and the elimination of the unreal are the prerequisites for the manifestation of true, wondrous existence.
Sun Tzu, the great Confucian scholar, suggested that one needs to go through three stages to cultivate the mind. They are humility, single-mindedness, and stillness. Humility means that one should maintain an appropriate "space" within oneself and not be stubborn or condescending. If one has space within, new knowledge can be easily absorbed and the suggestions of others are readily accepted. Progress will surely follow.
It says in the sutras, "If one wishes to know about the Buddha's state of mind, one should expand one's mind like empty space." We have all seen space, but who can clearly describe its form and shape? Is space rectangular in shape, square, or circular? Space is everywhere. The space that fills a cup will take on a cup-like shape. The space of a rectangular box is rectangular in shape. Since space does not have any definite, fixed form, it can take on any form. Emptiness transcends the relativity of existence and non-existence. If we can expand our mind like space to infinity, we will understand the Buddha's state of mind.
Attaining Buddhahood means the realization of the true nature of prajna and sunyata, and the truth of Nirvana and cessation. Cessation means the extinction of birth and death and the severing of the cycle of rebirth. The cycles of rebirth are the reason for our suffering which we must endure through long nights of anguish. Therefore, only by eradicating the cycles of rebirth which we are caught in because of our desires will we attain the ultimate and eternal happiness of no birth and no death. Hence, if we wish to be free of the pain of suffering, we must solve the problem at its roots, that is, to extinguish all of our mundane desires.
When you hear that Buddhism advocates that people should eliminate all mundane desires, you may fear that once you believe in Buddhism you are no longer free to marry, have children, make money, have a high position, or enjoy worldly pleasures. All these worries are unnecessary. Buddhism is a religion that seeks happiness. It does not denounce normal living; what it rejects is overindulgence in material enjoyment. In fact, when one believes in Buddhism, one can still marry, do business, and live a normal life. In Buddhist literature, there was a layman named Vimalakirti who was married and very well-to-do. Yet he did not become a slave of material desire. In the sutra, he is described thus, "Although leading a secular household life, he had no attachment to the threefold world; although married, he always practiced pure living."
Some people say that Buddhism abhors affection. In reality, Buddhism puts a great deal of emphasis on affection; what Buddhism rejects are selfish affection and desire. One should elevate selfish affection into compassion and transform selfish desire into wisdom. The affection advocated by Buddhism is dedication, not possession. It promotes the compassion of giving, not wanting. The love advocated by Buddhism is love of all beings, not just one specific being. The Bodhisattva's compassionate act of helping all beings is the manifestation of this selfless affection in its highest form. Affection that embodies compassion and wisdom will not go awry. Some people seek out love all their lives. Although love may bring about a kind of happiness, it can also be a source of suffering. When we read the newspaper, we see that crimes of murder occur every day. When we examine the underlying causes of these crimes, we often see that relationships and money are usually the main culprits. Love without wisdom and compassion is a very dangerous trap.
Perhaps you believe that the happiness of life is nothing other than the possession of love and money. Buddhism advocates that people should eliminate selfish affection and greed for money. Then what kind of happiness can one attain by believing in Buddhism? Actually, Buddhism does not admonish money itself; nor does it advocate that "money is a poisonous snake." Being poor is not a sin; nor is being rich loathsome. In fact, according to the Mahayana Bodhisattva path, as long as wealth does not make one greedy, and as long as position can benefit the spreading of Buddhism, the more wealth or the higher position one attains, the better it is. Wealth and position can be very useful in promoting Buddhism. Wealth is neither good nor bad; the key lies in the way that it is used.
Ordinarily, people have the misconception that, according to Buddhism, one is supposed to renounce "having." This is simply not true. Buddhism indeed places emphasis on "having"; however, the object and the method of "having" are different from that of the worldly sense. In Buddhism, one strives to "have" happiness for all beings, not just for the benefit of oneself. The method for accomplishing such goal is through the mind of non-attachment, that is, to have [everything] by not possessing [anything]. I often say that we should consider "not possessing' as "having' and emptiness as existence, and that existence and "having" are founded on emptiness and "not possessing" respectively. After all, without emptiness, there is no existence; "having" occurs only when there is "not possessing." "Possessing" is limited, measurable, and computable; whereas, "not possessing" is limitless, immeasurable, and boundless. There are two kinds of worlds in our lives. The one in front of our eyes is a narrow "world of possessing." Because they are ignorant, sentient beings fight for the sake of their possessions. They do not know that when they turn around, they will find that there is another larger and wider world behind them. This other world is the "world of not possessing" and will be realized only if one's selfish desires and emotions are eradicated. In this world of "not possessing," birth and death are eradicated, desires are extinguished, and all relativity, differences, and illusions no longer exist. It is a completely liberated and carefree state. This is the state that all Buddhists should strive to attain.
When can this state of liberation be attained? Does one have to wait until one's physical body is dead and life is no more? No. This state was attained by the Buddha as he sat on his Diamond Throne underneath the Bodhi tree. If we work diligently, with much effort, we can attain this state just as the Buddha did.
What is the state of an enlightened being? In the eyes of most people, an enlightened person often behaves very strangely. For example, in the records of Ch'an Buddhism, the enlightened Ch'an masters had different ways of expressing themselves when they were enlightened to the Way. Some disciples laughed madly, and others struck their masters; the masters did not mind such behavior, they actually approved of it. This kind of behavior was completely unacceptable to ordinary people. However, to an enlightened being, expressions such as these denote Ch'an itself.

IV. The Fourth Noble Truth: The Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering
What is the Path? It is very comprehensive. The Four Infinite Buddha States of Mind, the Four Universal Vows, the Three Pure Studies, the Five Precepts, the Ten Wholesome Acts, the Seven Factors of Bodhi (enlightenment), the Noble Eightfold Path, the Thirty-Seven Requisites of Enlightenment, and the Six Paramitas are all considered as the Path. Due to a lack of time, we are only going to discuss the Noble Eightfold Path today.
The Noble Eightfold Path refers to the eight correct steps that will lead to the cessation of suffering. These steps are right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. The Noble Eightfold Path appears to be very simple, but to understand it thoroughly is not so simple. Let us take a look at each of the elements in the Noble Eightfold Path.

A. Right Understanding
Right understanding is what enables one to maintain his or her faith in the truth when faced with inequalities or difficulties. Worldly knowledge can be both good and bad. Sometimes it is not reliable and can mislead us. Let us take a look at the Chinese character for ignorance (ch'ih). It is made up of two characters: chih, which means knowledge and ping, which means ailment. Thus, when knowledge becomes corrupted, it turns into ignorance. Some people are extremely clever, but when they do bad things, it is doubly wicked! For example, Hitler and Emperor Ch'in Shih are two very well-known historical figures who were clever, yet diabolic. Thus, a person's profound knowledge is not necessarily in direct proportion to his morality. Knowledge is like a sharp knife. If not used properly, it can hurt others. Therefore, it is very important for us to know how to transform knowledge into wisdom and right understanding.
Transforming knowledge into wisdom and right understanding is not easy. The principle is the same as taking photographs. The focus, distance, and shutter speed must be adjusted accordingly before one can take a clear and beautiful picture. Similarly, one can see the real nature of life and the universe as it really is only if one has the right understanding. If one lacks the right understanding when observing this world, serious mistakes will be made. It is like peering at flowers through a heavy fog or like blind people feeling an elephant.
The teachings and methods of practicing Buddhism are many and varied to suit the various needs of people. All individuals should cultivate their practice according to their own capacities. As an example, all living beings should cultivate the right understanding. Those aspiring to the sravaka and pratyekabuddha paths need to understand the Concept of Conditioned Genesis. Those practicing the Mahayana Bodhisattva path need to comprehend the wisdom of sunyata. Then finally, Buddhas are the enlightened ones who have realized prajna. This sequence of practicing the right understanding, Conditioned Genesis, sunyata and prajna is similar to the gradual progression a student makes in his or her education from primary school, middle school, and high school to university undergraduate and graduate school. When we are at the primary stage of studying Buddhism, we should develop the right knowledge and the right understanding. When we are at the secondary level, we should observe the truth of Conditioned Genesis. At the advanced level we should contemplate the wisdom of sunyata, and at the final stage we should cultivate prajna. These are the progressive stages of cultivation. The stages that we arrive at depend on our own effort. Regardless of which level we are at, we all must begin with the right understanding. Thus, the right understanding is very important and is the first step we should take when studying Buddhism.

B. Right Thought
Right thought is right volition, decision, and contemplation. It means not having thoughts of greed, hatred, and ignorance. These three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance are our main obstacles on the road to enlightenment. They continually occupy our minds and contaminate our pure nature. It is not easy to be rid of these three poisons. We have to exert effort constantly to maintain the right thinking needed to overcome these three poisons and enter the path of Buddhahood.

C. Right Speech
Using right speech means that we should not lie, slander others, use harsh language, or utter frivolous speech. A common proverb says, "Disease enters through our mouths; disaster springs forth from our mouths." Our mouth is a very sharp weapon. If we say something inappropriate, we not only will hurt others but will also hurt ourselves. Thus, it is very important that we choose our words carefully.

D. Right Action
Right action means that we should not kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, or take intoxicants of any kind. Besides abstaining from doing evil deeds, we also need to actively perform good deeds.

E. Right Livelihood
Right livelihood refers to the proper way of making a living, abstaining from unethical occupations such as operating gambling houses, selling alcoholic beverages or instruments that can kill, and operating slaughterhouses. Also, part of right livelihood is having well-disciplined living habits such as getting an adequate amount of sleep, food, exercise, rest, and work. Right livelihood not only promotes efficiency and good health, it also enables us to have a happy family life and a stable society.

F. Right Effort
There are four right efforts: 1) prevent evils that have not arisen from germinating; 2) eradicate all arisen evils; 3) nurture the good that has not come into being; and 4) maintain and multiply the good that has arisen.

G. Right Mindfulness
To have right mindfulness is to keep one's attention, awareness, and mind focused on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: 1) the body is impure; 2) sensations will always result in suffering; 3) the mind is impermanent; 4) all dharmas do not have a substantial self.
If we always remember impermanence, suffering, and selflessness, we will not be greedy for the trifling advantages of this world. We will strive for the Truth diligently.

H. Right Concentration
Right concentration refers to the four stages of dhyana (meditative concentration). What it really means is that we should concentrate our volition and thoughts through meditation.
If we can fully master the eight elements of this Noble Eightfold Path, we will reach the summit of Buddhahood with ease.
So far in this talk, we have learned about the Four Noble Truths, which can be compared to the process of curing disease. What causes a person to be sick is the Second Noble Truth-the arising of suffering. After determining the root of the illness, we prescribe different methods for curing the disease, which is the Fourth Noble Truth-the path that leads to the eradication of suffering. When the correct prescription is applied, thus curing the disease, it is the Third Noble Truth-the cessation of suffering. We must cure our physical illness with medicinal prescriptions, whereas the sickness of our minds must be cured with the prescription of Buddhism. When we look at the Four Noble Truths through the principles for curing disease, we can see that they are completely in accordance with science, illustrating that Buddhism is very logical indeed.
After his enlightenment, the Buddha started teaching what he had realized. The first time he taught the Dharma, he turned the Wheel of Dharma three times. The first turning was instructive; he taught about the content and definitions of the Four Noble Truths. He said, "This is suffering, which has the character of oppression; this is the arising of suffering, which has the character of accumulating; this is the cessation of suffering, which has the character of realization; this is the path, which has the character of practicability."
The second turning of the wheel was "encouraging." The Buddha persuaded his students to practice the Four Noble Truths, to eradicate afflictions and attain enlightenment. He told them, "This is suffering, which you should understand; this is the arising of suffering, to which you should put an end; this is the cessation of suffering, which you should realize; this is the path, which you should practice."
The third turning was "evidential." The Buddha told his students that he himself had realized the Four Noble Truths. He encouraged all beings to put forth effort and strive to realize the Four Noble Truths just as he had done himself. The Buddha told them, "This is suffering, which I have already understood; this is the arising of suffering, which I have already eradicated; this is the cessation of suffering, which I have already realized; this is the path, which I have already practiced." From the emphasis the Buddha put on the Four Noble Truths, we know they must be very important.
The Four Noble Truths are the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. They have been practiced for over two thousand years. Their content is profound indeed; however, it is not possible for us to talk about their profundity in such a short period of time. Today I was able to give you only a brief introduction and plant the seed for your future investigation of Buddhism. Thank You!


The Essence of Chan

Fellow teachers and students,
Among the eighty-four thousand teachings of Buddhism, Ch'an is the most enthusiastically studied and discussed in the world today. Although once confined to the East where it originated, the study of Ch'an today has already captured attention and interest in the West. For example, many universities in the United States have set up meditation groups. It is encouraging to see meditation spread from the confines of the monasteries into the modern world where it is playing a very important role.
To describe Ch'an is not an easy task, for Ch'an is something that can neither be talked about nor expressed in words. The moment language is used to explain Ch'an, we are no longer dealing with its true spirit. Ch'an is beyond all words, yet it cannot be left unexpressed.
What is the origin of Ch'an? Ch'an is the abbreviated form of the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term dhyana; it means quiet contemplation. Originating in India, legend has it that during an assembly on Vulture Peak (Grdhrakuta), the Buddha picked up a flower and held it up to the assembly without saying a word. The millions of celestial and human beings who were gathered at the assembly did not understand what the Buddha meant, except for Mahakasyapa, who smiled. Thus, Ch'an was imparted without utilizing any spoken or written language: it was transmitted directly from mind to mind. Later, Ch'an was introduced into China. During the time of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng, Ch'an flourished and developed into five schools which became the mainstream of Chinese Buddhism.
What is Ch'an? Ch'an Master Ch'ing Yuan said that Ch'an is our "mind." This mind is not the one that discriminates and recognizes things. It is our "true mind." This true mind transcends all tangible existence, yet it manifests itself in all existences in the universe. Even the very ordinary things in the universe are full of the subtleties of Ch'an.
Ch'an Master Pai Chang said that Ch'an is "everyday living." He said that chopping firewood, carrying water, putting on clothes, eating food, standing, and walking are all Ch'an. Ch'an is not something mysterious. Ch'an is closely related to our daily life. Therefore, every one of us can experience Ch'an.
Today, the internal world of people is often in conflict with the external world, and life becomes a burden and a nuisance for them. They cannot delight in and seize the opportune moments of Ch'an in everyday living. In contrast, Ch'an masters are very humorous and interesting. With just a few sentences, they can relieve us of our worries and troubles and thus guide us to true happiness. This transformation to happiness is very much like turning on a huge complex machine by simply pressing the start-button. No complicated knowledge or repetitious thinking is required. The Ch'an state of mind is very lively and vivacious.
What is the value of Ch'an? When applied to everyday living, Ch'an adds color. It expands our minds, enriches our lives, elevates our character, helps us to perfect our morality, and leads us to the state where we will be at perfect ease even when we are at the brink of life and death. What then are the wonderful teachings that the Ch'an masters have set down and passed on to us? How can we try to understand the delight of Ch'an through the use of language?

I. Have and Have Not
We are accustomed to thinking that all existence can be differentiated by names and related to in terms of duality. Actually, all things cannot be divided into distinct halves. For example, most people usually think that "have" and "have not" are two opposing concepts: if one "has," then he cannot be in a state of "not having"; if one "has not," then he cannot be in a state of "having." To them, "have" and "have not" cannot coexist. The speech and behavior of Ch'an masters transcend the ordinary concepts of "have" and "have not," embracing both of these seemingly opposing concepts and reaching a higher level of "have" and "have not." Their view is different from that of ordinary people; if we approach such a way of thinking with our customary knowledge, we will fail to truly understand the Ch'an masters.
When the Fifth Patriarch wanted to pass on the robe and bowl, symbols of the Dharma, to a successor, he told each of his disciples to write a verse by which he could judge who among them had realized Truth. The robe and bowl would only be passed on to the one who had realized Truth, and that person would become the Sixth Patriarch. His eldest disciple, Shen Hsiu wrote the following verse:
The body is a bodhi tree,
The mind is a mirror bright;
Always wipe it carefully,
So that dust does not alight.
After seeing the verse, everyone praised Shen Hsiu, saying that his state of mind was indeed superior. The Fifth Patriarch thought otherwise and said, "Not bad, but the writer of this verse has not yet seen the Way."
Hui Neng, who worked in the rice mill, asked someone that night to write his verse on the wall as well:
Bodhi has nothing to do with trees,
And the mind is not a mirror bright
Since there was nothing to begin with,
How can dust alight?
After seeing this verse, the Fifth Patriarch knew that Hui Neng had seen the empty nature of all dharmas and had entered the Buddha's path. So he passed on the robe and bowl of the Ch'an school lineage to Hui Neng, who went on to become the Sixth Patriarch.
As Shen Hsiu had a good grasp of the principles of Ch'an, was the headmaster among the disciples of the Fifth Patriarch, and the Fifth Patriarch had also instructed the other disciples to practice according to Shen Hsiu's verse, everyone in the monastery expected that Shen Hsiu would surely become the Sixth Patriarch. Instead, the Fifth Patriarch chose Hui Neng, whom nobody had heard of before, as his successor instead. Although Shen Hsiu had attained a high state of cultivation, he was still confined to the mind of "having," and his understanding of Ch'an was not yet supreme. The ultimate path is one that integrates "have" with emptiness (sunyata). This is the difference between the Ch'an mind and the ordinary mind. It is only when we can transcend "have" and "have not" that we can realize the ultimate Ch'an mind and experience the wondrous truth of Ch'an.
Let me illustrate with another well-known case in the history of Ch'an. One day, someone asked Ch'an Master Chao Chou, "What does Chao Chou mean?"
Chao Chou answered, "East gate, south gate, west gate, north gate."
This answer seemed to be totally irrelevant, but in fact, this answer of the four gates had a hidden meaning. It signified that the Ch'an of Chao Chou was wide open and was not limited to any particular school. Ch'an is not at all restricted by space.
Someone asked Chao Chou, "Do dogs have a Buddha Nature?"
Chao Chou replied, "Yes."
Another person asked him the same question: "Do dogs have a Buddha Nature?"
This time Chao Chou answered, "No."
Why did Ch'an Master Chao Chou give two different answers for the same question? From the worldly point of view, this was rather contradictory, but to Ch'an Master Chao Chou, this was a lively way of teaching. When he said "yes," he meant that dogs have the potential of becoming Buddhas. When he said "no," he meant that dogs have not become Buddhas yet. When answering a question, Ch'an masters are careful to determine the intention and the state of mind of the person who asks the question before giving the appropriate answer.
Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty was one of the most devoted Buddhists in Chinese history. During his reign, he built many temples, Buddha statues, roads, and bridges. It was during this time that Bodhidharma came from India to China to spread the Dharma. Emperor Wu asked him, "I have done so many good deeds. What merits have I accumulated?"
Bodhidharma replied coolly, "No merits at all."
Emperor Wu was not very pleased with this answer. He pressed again, but Bodhidharma would not give him any further explanation. Eventually, Bodhidharma left because he could not communicate with Emperor Wu. Actually, how was it possible that the good deeds of Emperor Wu had produced no merit? When Bodhidharma said, "No merits at all," he meant that in the mind of a Ch'an master, there is no such dualistic concept as "have" and "have not" as experienced by the ordinary mind.
Ordinarily, we perceive and differentiate things through our senses. For example, when we look at a mountain or a river, we see it only as a mountain or a river. After we start practicing Ch'an, we begin to realize that all existence is illusive. At this point, the mountain is no longer a mountain and the river is no longer a river. When we have attained complete realization, all relative concepts of "is" and "is not," "mind" and "matter," have become integrated. At this point, the mountain is again a mountain and the river is again a river. The mind of Ch'an has become unified with the external environment. The flowing sound of rivers becomes the wonderful Dharma. Green mountains become Buddhas' pure bodies. The world of Ch'an is limitless when the relative boundary of "have" and "have not" is destroyed.

II. Motion and Motionlessness
The basic doctrine of Buddhism is the Three Dharma Seals, which says that "All samskaras (composite things) are impermanent"; "All dharmas do not have a substantial self"; and "Nirvana is perfect peace." The ultimate goal of studying Buddhism is to attain the state of perfect peace, Nirvana.
This "perfect peace" is different from the ordinary concept of motionlessness. In our everyday life, when we say that a certain object is in motion and another object is motionless, it is due to the action of our mind. All phenomena are created by our mind. Actually, phenomena themselves do not make the distinction of being in motion or being motionless. What makes the distinction of being is the clinging in our minds that is caused by delusion. If we can free ourselves from this clinging, our mind will then be at peace and everything will be in harmony.
After Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch, received the robe and bowl from the Fifth Patriarch, he went into hiding for fifteen years before he started to teach. One day, when he came to a temple, he saw two people having an argument in front of a banner. They were arguing about why the banner was moving. The one said, "If there is no wind, how can the banner move? Thus, it is the wind that is in motion." The other said, "If the banner does not move, how do you know that the wind is blowing? Therefore, it is the banner that is moving." In the meantime, Hui Neng listened patiently to their argument. Finally he said to them, "Please don't argue anymore. Neither the wind nor the banner is moving. It is your mind that is moving." From this exchange, we can see how Ch'an masters look at the world: they look within themselves rather than dwell on the superficial appearance of phenomena. After all, phenomena exist in a transient and fragmented manner. Differentiation arises in our minds because of the stirring of our thoughts. When our minds are tranquil, objects are not capable of making distinctions on their own. However, when our minds are stirred, we differentiate phenomena, causing distinction and separation between ourselves and others. Therefore, the key to realizing the state wherein motion and motionlessness are in harmony and no longer differentiated lies in whether we have indeed eliminated all the discrimination arising out of perceived differences. In this way we can reach perfect peace.
Emperor Hsien Tsung of the T'ang Dynasty was a very devoted Buddhist and wanted to send someone traveling to Feng Hsiang to bring back some of the relics of the Buddha. Yu Han, a government official, tried to dissuade the emperor from such an undertaking. Hsien Tsung was very angry at Yu Han and demoted him to the post of provincial governor of Ch'ao Chou.
Ch'ao Chou was located in the southern part of China, which was not very civilized at that time. However, a well-educated and highly cultivated monk called Ch'an Master Ta Tien was living there. He was highly respected by the local people.
Being a well-educated Confucian scholar, Yu Han was very proud of himself and, of course, looked down upon the Ch'an Master. However, since there was no one else living around Ch'ao Chou with whom he could have intelligent discourse, he reluctantly went to visit the Ch'an Master. When Yu Han arrived at the temple, the Ch'an Master was in meditation. Yu Han did not want to disturb him, so he decided to stand to the side and wait. After a long time, the Ch'an Master was still motionless. Yu Han started to become impatient. Seeing this, the Ch'an Master's disciple whispered to his master, "First, influence through meditative concentration, then eradicate [arrogance] through wisdom."
This was said to the Ch'an Master but, in fact, it was meant for Yu Han. What the disciple was indirectly saying to Yu Han was: The Master's meditation is a wordless teaching for you; he is testing your patience. The moment you succeed in passing his test, he will use his words of wisdom to rid you of your arrogance. At this point, Yu Han was convinced that the Ch'an Master's erudition and cultivation were profound, indeed. They eventually became very good friends.
From the above examples, we can see that in the minds of Ch'an masters, motion and motionlessness are united as one. This understanding is reflected in the way they teach. In the course of their teaching, Ch'an masters sometimes instruct through silence and at other times through powerful preaching, like the roar of a lion. Every single movement of a Ch'an master is full of subtleties of Ch'an-be it a short, gentle reminder or a forceful rebuke; an advance or a retreat in stance; a question or an answer; a frown or a smile; the drinking of tea or the eating of rice. To most of us, our everyday living experiences tend to convince us that motion and motionlessness are two distinct states. However, motion and motionlessness as realized through the meditative concentration of Ch'an are indeed unified, perfectly free, and natural.

III. Practice and Understanding
Some people say that Buddhism is a philosophy. This is a correct assessment from an intellectual point of view; however, the real essence of Buddhism is practice. Truth can be realized only through practice.
The real spirit of Buddhism will be lost if we limit ourselves only to the study of the doctrines and neglect the religious practice of Buddhism. To a genuine Buddhist, to carry on intellectual discussions of Buddhism in the absence of practice is only a form of frivolous debate and should be avoided. If one treats Buddhism merely as a philosophy, one will never experience the essence of Buddhism. This is because in Buddhism, understanding and practice are equally emphasized. In the Ch'an school, what is important is experience from actual practice, and not a reliance on written or spoken language.
In the Ch'an school, cultivation and realization of the Way are personal endeavors. To whatever extent one cultivates, one is that much closer to awakening. If one dwells on theory alone or simply parrots what one has heard, then one will not realize any results. It is like leading a thirsty horse to water; if the horse refuses to drink, it will eventually die of thirst. Similarly, all the teachings in Buddhist sutras serve as a compass for guiding us toward truth. After we understand them, we need to practice accordingly in order to taste the sweet dew of the Dharma for ourselves. Therefore the following saying reminds us that practicing is "like drinking water¾ only you will know for yourself whether it is cold or warm." If we want to truly understand Buddhism and Ch'an, it is up to us to practice personally and attain realization. No one else can tell us what Buddhism and Ch'an truly are.
How do the Ch'an masters practice and attain realization? They attain realization by living in the community of the Sangha and practicing in every waking moment of their daily life. The virtuous ones of the past always said, "Gathering firewood and carrying water are all Ch'an." In our everyday life, we can practice while putting on our clothes, eating our meals, waking, sleeping, and even going to the bathroom.
The beginning of the Diamond Sutra describes how the Buddha led a life of prajna as he put on his robe, carried his bowl, and went on his alms round. Just like all of us, enlightened persons have to put on clothes and eat food; however, they do it in a markedly different way from the rest of us. Thus it is said that Buddhism is not to be found outside of the mundane world.
We often foster the misconception that we have to go deep into the mountains or wilderness to practice and attain realization. Actually, we do not need to isolate ourselves from the community in order to practice. If we can extinguish the fires of hatred in our hearts and minds, then every environment in which we find ourselves will be a cool, comfortable place. We can even practice right in the midst of the noisiest marketplace.
If we have a thorough understanding of the teachings of Buddhism and if we practice accordingly, we will be able to make twice the progress with half the effort. For example, a basic teaching of Buddhism is Conditioned Genesis, which means that all existing phenomena for this universe arise due to the coming together of the appropriate causes and conditions and will cease to exist when the necessary causes and conditions are no longer present. There is no such thing as a creator of the universe; in order to shape the events in our lives, it is up to us to put in the requited efforts.
From the teaching of Conditioned Genesis, we can infer that all beings are equal and have the Buddha Nature. All beings have the potential of becoming Buddhas. The process leading to the fruition of this potential is dependent upon the determination and practice of the individual. Our own actions determine our future. Thus, correct understanding and diligent practice of this Buddhist teaching will help us to develop a progressive and positive outlook on life.
From the teaching of Conditioned Genesis, we can also infer that this universe is a harmonious unity. All phenomena and all beings are interdependent. With this understanding, we can easily see how self-centeredness is contradictory to harmony and why the distinction of self versus others should be abolished. In order to live in harmony with others, we should direct our care and help toward others and not be centered on ourselves.

IV. Purity and Impurity
Nature itself does not make any distinction between purity and impurity, or prettiness and ugliness. It is our subjective likes and dislikes that makes the distinction. It says in the Vimalakirti Sutra, "When one's mind is pure, the land will be pure." Ordinary minds, however, are clouded by the "five dusts" (the objects that are perceived by the five senses) and deluded by the outward appearance of all phenomena, preventing the pure nature of all dharmas from being seen. The minds of realized Ch'an masters are pure and unobstructed. Their minds are the Buddha Mind, and they can see the real nature of all things. To them, there is no difference between good and evil, beauty and ugliness, or right and wrong. While an ordinary being sees the world as corrupt and impure, Ch'an masters see the world as a pure Buddha land.
The Ch'an state of mind is not something that one can either feign or argue about. Once, Ch'an Master Chao Chou made a bet with his disciple Wen Yen. Whoever could compare himself to the lowest and most worthless thing would be the winner.
Ch'an Master Chao Chou said, " I am a donkey."
Wen Yen said, "I am the rear end of the donkey."
Chao Chou said, "I am the excrement of the donkey."
Wen Yen said, "I am the maggot inside the excrement."
Ch'an Master Chao Chou was stumped and could not continue, but asked, "What are you doing in the excrement?"
Wen Yen answered, "I am cooling myself off from the summer heat!"
As the minds of Ch'an masters are pure, they are at ease even at places that we considered the filthiest. To them, everywhere is a pure land; therefore, they can feel free wherever they go.
One day, Ch'an Master Yi Hsiu went out with his disciple. The two came to the shore of a river where a woman stood, hesitating to cross the fast flowing water. Out of compassion, Ch'an Master Yi Hsiu carried the woman across the river on his back. Having done so, he eventually forgot about the matter. His disciple, however, was bothered by his master's act of carrying a woman on his back. One day, the disciple said to Ch'an Master Yi Hsiu, "Master, something has been on my mind for several months and has been bothering me. Can you help me to solve this problem?"
Ch'an Master Yi Hsiu asked, "Oh! What is it?"
The disciple said, "You always teach us to keep our distance from women. But several months ago, you carried a woman across the river. Is this not contradictory to your own teaching?"
After hearing this, Ch'an Master Yi Hsiu exclaimed, "Ah! I only carried that woman from one side of the river to the other and left her there, but you, poor fellow, have been carrying her around in your mind for several months!"
From this story, we can see that the state of mind of Ch'an masters is open and undiscriminating. Ch'an masters do not discriminate between the pure and the filthy, the male and the female. They understand that the mind, the Buddha, and all beings are equal.

V. The Practice of Ch'an
I have talked to you about Ch'an for a long time today. I wonder whether you have been able to taste a little of the wonderful flavor of Ch'an. However, Ch'an is not something that can be experienced through mere words; it needs to be practiced. I would like to give you some suggestions on how to practice Ch'an.

A. Investigate Ch'an through doubt
In other religions, there is no room for doubt; one has to believe unconditionally. But Ch'an encourages one to begin with doubt. A little doubt will lead to a little realization. A great doubt will lead to a great realization. Without doubt, there will be no realization.

B. Seek realization through contemplation
Once doubts are aroused, one needs to contemplate them in order to attain realization. Kung-an and hua-tou such as "What was one's original face before being given birth by one's parents?" "Do dogs have the Buddha Nature?" and "Who is reciting Buddha's name?" are devised to arouse the doubts of the Ch'an practitioner. Diligent contemplation of kung-an and hua-tou will eventually lead to realization.

C. Study Ch'an by questioning
When contemplating hua-tou, the most important thing is to keep questioning until realization is attained. It is like trying to catch a thief; one has to keep pursuing without letting up. For example, when contemplating "Who is reciting Buddha's name?" one can ask, "Is it the mind that is reciting?" "Who is the mind?" "If the mind is me, then it is the mouth that is reciting Buddha's name not me?" "If the mouth is me, then is the body that makes prostrations to the Buddha not me?" "If the body is me, then are the eyes that pay respect to the statue of the Buddha not me?" If one pursues such inquiry, complete realization will be attained..

D. Realize Ch'an through personal experience
In order to practice Ch'an, one has to start with doubting, contemplating and questioning, but the final and most important stage is the personal experience of Ch'an. Ch'an is not something that is expressed in words nor contemplated with our hearts and minds; in fact, we have to let go of all these to experience Ch'an. Realization is a state of mind that cannot be described with words. Ch'an can only be experienced by those who have attained it.
Have you ever listened to a rippling brook? That is the sound of Ch'an! Have you ever looked at the green leaves of a willow? That is the color of Ch'an! Have you ever seen the heart of a lotus blossom? That is the mind of Ch'an! Through today's talk, I hope you can find your mind of Ch'an. Thank you.


The Fundamental Concepts of Humanistic Buddhism

Dear Dharma Friends,
I was very happy when I heard from the venerable chair that the theme of this conference, which is ushering in 1990, is Humanistic Buddhism, the foundation of the Fo Guang Shan International Buddhist Order. I have spent these past few days speaking with the armed forces, and upon my return to Fo Guang Shan, Venerable Tzu Hui invited me to give the keynote address for this conference. I know that giving a speech to such a scholarly audience requires extensive research, so my first thought was that I needed more time to prepare. However, the conference organizers encouraged me saying, "You have been promoting Humanistic Buddhism for decades; why don't you just speak from your heart about your own experiences?" Yes, Humanistic Buddhism is not only in my heart; it is also always in my actions and thoughts. Therefore, I am delighted to have this opportunity today to share with you my views on the basic concepts of Humanistic Buddhism."
Since the theme of this conference is "Humanistic Buddhism," we need to have an understanding of what this means. What, then, does this term suggest?
To begin, we know that the founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha, is the Buddha of our world. He was born into this world; he cultivated his spiritual development, attained enlightenment, and shared with others in the world the deep truths he had realized. The human world was emphasized in everything he did. Why did the Buddha not achieve Buddhahood in one of the other five realms? Why did he not attain enlightenment in one of the other ten dharma-worlds? Why did he, instead, attain complete awakening as a person? Taking this question one step further, why did the Buddha not attain enlightenment in a past or future [kalpa]? Why did he choose our saha world and our present [kalpa]? There can only be one reason: the Buddha wanted the teachings of Buddhism to be relevant to the human world. [The Buddha's very life as a human being has given us all an inspiration and a model for the spiritual path and for making our own lives a spiritual practice.] The Buddhism that the Buddha gave us is humanistic, and Humanistic Buddhism is the integrating of our spiritual practice into all aspects of our daily lives. Humanistic Buddhism has the following six characteristics:
1. Humanism. The Buddha was neither a spirit, coming and going without leaving a trace, nor was he a figment of one's imagination. The Buddha was a living human being. Just like the rest of us, he had parents, a family, and he lived a life. It was through his human existence that he showed his supreme wisdom of compassion, ethical responsibility, and intuitive wisdom. Thus, he is a Buddha who was also a human being.
2. Emphasis on Daily Life. In his teachings, the Buddha placed great importance on daily life as spiritual practice. He provided guidance on everything, from how to eat, dress, work, and live to how to walk, stand, sit, and sleep. He gave clear directions on every aspect of life, from relations among family members and among friends to how we should conduct ourselves in the social and political arenas.
3. Altruism. The Buddha was born into this world to teach, to provide an example, and to bring joy to all beings. He nurtured all beings, for he always had the best interest of others in his mind and heart. In short, his every thought, word and action arose from a heart filled with deep care and concern for others.
4. Joyfulness. The Buddhist teachings give people joy. Through the limitless compassion of his heart, the Buddha aimed to relieve the suffering of all beings and to give them joy.
5. Timeliness. The Buddha was born for a great reason: to build a special relationship with all of us who live in this world. Although the Buddha lived some 2,500 years ago, and has already entered nirvana, he left the seed of freedom for all subsequent generations. Even today, the Buddha's ideals and teachings serve as timely, relevant guides for us all.
6. Universality. The entire life of the Buddha can be characterized by the Buddha's spirit of wanting to save all beings, without exclusion. [The Buddha loved beings of all forms, whether they were animals or humans, male or female, young or old, Buddhist or not Buddhist, etc.]
[In the past, it has been difficult for people to see the relevance of Buddhism in their modern, daily lives.] I can still recall [the exchange between Mr. Shu-ming Liang and Master T'ai Hsu about the relevance of Buddhism to our human world.] Mr. Shu-ming Liang cited the reason that he felt Buddhism did not emphasize human concerns sufficiently to explain why he parted ways with Buddhism and focused his energy in Confu-cianism. When Mr. Liang was invited by Master T'ai Hsu to lecture at Han Ts'ang Buddhist College, Mr. Liang began his lecture by writing on the board: "Now, Today, and Us." He said, "It is precisely for these reasons that I chose to study Confucianism. Buddhism speaks of the countless past, present, and future kalpas, but I believe the present time in which we live is the most important. Buddhism speaks of space and the elements, of this and other worlds, of the countless worlds in all ten directions, but I believe our own world is what we must purify. Buddhism speaks of humans and all beings of the ten dharma-worlds, but I believe humans are the most important." After the lecture, Master T'ai Hsu offered his insight about the matter. He said that although Buddhism speaks of the past, present, and future, it particularly highlights the universal welfare of the beings of the present world; although Buddhism speaks of this world and countless other worlds, it particularly underscores the welfare of the beings of this world; and although Buddhism speaks of all beings of the ten dharma-worlds, it reserves the most emphasis for humans.
Buddhism is a religion for human beings, and the regard for human concerns is very much at the root of this religion. In the various sutras and sastras, the Buddha said repeatedly that he, too, was a member of the community, in order to emphasize that he was not a god. The Vimalakirti Sutra states: "The Buddha realm is found among sentient beings. Apart from sentient beings, there is no Buddha. Apart from the multitude of beings, there is no path to Truth." The Sixth Patriarch also taught that, "The Dharma is in the world; to understand the world is to understand the Dharma. Seeking enlightenment apart from the world is like seeking horns on a rabbit." To achieve Buddhahood, we must train and cultivate ourselves in this human world of ours. There is simply no other way to attain Buddhahood. [Now that we are so fortunate to be reborn as humans, we should live our lives consistent with Humanistic Buddhism, integrating our spiritual practice and our daily lives.]
[When we say that Buddhism is a religion for human beings, we also need to understand that the human form is something we should treasure and not take for granted.] In fact, the Lotus Sutra uses an analogy to illustrate both the difficulty and the preciousness of being born as a human. The sutra states: "In a pitch black night, a blind turtle hopes to find a shallow shore. In the vast ocean and endless darkness there is only one piece of wood. This piece of wood has one hole. Over the course of one hundred years, the turtle only comes up for air one time. Only if it is able to find that hole will it be able to survive." In the Agama Sutra it is also written: "The count of those who lose the human form are as numerous as the particles of dirt on the earth; the number of those who are able to attain the human form are as scarce as the dirt under a fingernail." These quotations all indicate how precarious and precious human existence is.
Once I was at a fellowship meeting in San Francisco. A teacher in the group asked me this question, "When you ask us lay Buddhists to work toward freeing ourselves from the wheel of rebirth, we have no such desire. When you teach us the path to Buddhahood, we have no such aspiration. Both of these are too remote and distant. We are happy if we can just live our lives a little better than others, a bit more cultivated than others." This comment greatly disturbed me, because such people perceive Buddhism as a religion removed from humanity. This perception of Buddhism is characterized by isolation, retreat to forests, self-concern, and individualism; it has lost its humanistic quality. It has reached the point that many who are interested in entering the gate of Buddhism dare not do so; they hesitate as they peer in and wander about outside. We must refocus and redouble our efforts on helping all sentient beings.
The first 100 to 300 years of Buddhist history was the period of the Small Vehicle, but not the Great Vehicle; that is, Theravada Buddhism was popular, while Mahayana Buddhism remained obscure. The following 600 years saw the emergence of the practice of the Great Vehicle, but not the Small Vehicle, that is, Mahayana Buddhism gained popularity but Theravada Buddhism receded from view. For 1,000 years after that, Tantric practice developed. The Humanistic Buddhism I advocate invites the integration of all Buddhist teachings from the time of the Buddha to the present-whether they are derived from the Theravada, Mahayana, or Tantric traditions.
Humanistic Buddhism is truly the study of the bodhisattva path. Chinese Buddhism has long honored the bodhisattva path, which Humanistic Buddhism embodies. Over the course of the development of Chinese Buddhism, four mountains have gained fame as pilgrimage sites. Each of these mountains is associated with a particular bodhisattva: Avalokitesvara (Kuan-yin), Manjusri (Wen-shu), Samantabhadra (P'u-hsien), and Ksitigarbha (Ti-tsang). Of the four, Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, and Samantabhadra all manifested as lay Buddhists; only Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva manifested as a monastic. Why did three out of these four bodhisattvas manifest as lay persons? This is because, while monastics emphasize detachment from and transcendence of the mundane world, it is the optimism and active engagement of lay Buddhists that holds the greatest potential to realize the goals of Mahayana Buddhism and is more true to the spirit of the Buddha. As Master T'ai Hsu once said of himself: "A bhiksu I am not, nor have I become a Buddha; instead, I hope, to be called a bodhisattva." What he meant is this: I dare not call myself a bhiksu since it is so difficult to uphold the bhiksu precepts with perfection. If you say that I am a Buddha, I have not yet become one. My hope, however, is to serve others as a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is not merely a clay statue to be worshipped in a temple; rather, a bodhisattva is an energetic, enlightened, and endearing person who strives to help all sentient beings liberate themselves. We can all become bodhisattvas. It is for this reason that Master T'ai Hsu dedicated his life to spreading the words and ideals of Humanistic Buddhism. To fully realize the bodhisattva way of being is the goal of Humanistic Buddhism.
[In concert with our goal of becoming a bodhisattva,] we should all strive to live in a pure land. While we speak of the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss to the west and the Pure Land of Azure Radiance to the east, in reality, pure lands are not just found in the east or west. Pure lands are everywhere. Maitreya Bodhisattva has the Tusita Pure Land, and Vimalakirti has the Pure Land of the Mind. Many of you are already familiar with the concept of Pure Land on Earth. Instead of resting our hopes on being reborn in a pure land in the future, why don't we work on transforming our planet Earth into a pure land of peace and bliss? Instead of committing all our energies to pursuing something in the future, why don't we direct our efforts toward purifying our minds and bodies right here and now in the present moment? It is in this spirit that Fo Guang Shan provides retirement care for long-time, loyal devotees who have dedicated their lives to the Order. In this way, they do not necessarily need to be cared for by their children. They do not even need to wait until death to finally enjoy the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha. We tell them, "You have done much for Buddhism. We will care for you and provide you with a pure land in your lifetime." I feel that Fo Guang Shan temples and monasteries should instill in these disciples the confidence that the Order can provide for all their needs and that they can find the joy of a pure land right here. I believe that Humanistic Buddhism must focus more on issues of the world rather than on how to leave the world behind, on caring for the living rather than for the dead, on benefiting others rather than benefiting oneself, and on universal salvation rather than cultivation for oneself only.
Regardless of the school (Theravada or Mahayana) or the emphasis (tantras or general teachings), Buddhism should have a humanistic dimension so that it can remain relevant as times change. Because Humanistic Buddhism attends to the trends of the current age rather than merely following traditions blindly, it is a beacon for the future. It is all the more important to spread the ideals of Humanistic Buddhism now because, as Master T'ai Hsu observed, we live in the period called the Declining Understanding of the Dharma. During the earliest stage of Buddhism, the Mahayana spirit of the Dharma was seen through the eyes of sravakas, traditionally called "holy practitioners," thus this was the period of the True Understanding of the Dharma. Subsequent to this was the period of the Semblance Understanding of the Dharma, when the Mahayana spirit was seen through the eyes of the "celestial vehicle" practitioners. We are currently living in the last stage of Buddhism when the Mahayana spirit is seen through the eyes of the "human vehicle" practitioners. This is the period of the Declining Understanding of the Dharma. According to Master T'ai Hsu, during this period [when our spiritual maturity is nascent], it is important that we understand the Dharma via practice in our everyday life. With this being the case, I'd like to offer the following six points regarding how Humanistic Buddhism is the applying of the Buddhist teachings to our everyday living.

1. Humanistic Buddhism is [the integrating of] the Five Vehicles
We know that Buddhism speaks of the Five Vehicles, which are the human, celestial, sravaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva vehicles. The human and celestial vehicles focus on worldly matters. The sravaka and pratyekabuddha vehicles focus on matters that transcend the world. The bodhisattva vehicle combines the worldly spirit of the human and celestial vehicles with the transcendental spirit of the sravaka and pratyekabuddha vehicles. We should strive for the bodhisattva goal of simultaneously benefiting, delivering, and awakening self and others. If we understand that self and others are inextricably inter-related, we will see that to benefit others is to benefit oneself. When we deliver other sentient beings, we also deliver ourselves. Thus, when the inter-relatedness of the teachings of these five vehicles is comprehended, we have Humanistic Buddhism, or Buddhism for the human world. Let me illustrate what I mean by the following example. Suppose I want to go to Taipei today. Taipei is the goal of my Buddhist cultivation; it is a pure land. As I take the train, I pass through Tainan, Taichung, and Hsin Chu. Although I do not have to get off at these stops, I have no choice, however, but to pass through Tainan, Taichung, and Hsin Chu. This is to say that while we have to pass through the cultivation of the human, celestial, sravaka, and pratyekabuddha vehicles, we can strive for Buddhahood by directly practicing the humanistic Buddhist teachings [of the bodhisattva path] among the multitudes.

2. Humanistic Buddhism is [the practicing of] the Five Precepts and Ten Virtues
Earlier today the principal of the military academy asked me, "Can you please tell me specifically some concrete examples of what Buddhism can offer to the nation and society?" To this I replied that the nation and society can benefit from the Buddhist teachings of the Tripitaka. Indeed, just the Five Precepts alone can bring peace to the country and the entire world. As you may all know, the Five Precepts teach us to abstain from killing, abstain from stealing, abstain from sexual misconduct, abstain from lying, and abstain from the use of intoxicating substances. To abstain from killing is to show respect for the lives of others; if we do not encroach upon the rights of others, we can all enjoy freedom of life. To abstain from stealing is not to infringe upon the property rights of others; then there can be freedom of wealth. To abstain from sexual misconduct is to show respect for the body and honor the integrity of others, allowing all to enjoy freedom of body and honor. To abstain from lying and false speech is not to impugn on other's reputation, and no one's name is harmed. To abstain from intoxicants and stimulants is to avoid doing mental or physical harm to ourselves, and thus keeps us from harming others as well. If a person can keep the Five Precepts, then that person's character and morality are well grounded. If a family can keep the Five Precepts, the character and morality of the members of that family are in good order. If all in an organization, society, or nation can keep the Five Precepts, then that nation will certainly be one that is characterized by stability, peace, and prosperity.
We only need to visit a prison to realize that all those incarcerated for their crimes have violated the Five Precepts in one way or another. For instance, those who have committed murder, manslaughter, or aggravated assault have violated the precept against killing. Those who are guilty of corruption, misappropriation, or robbery have violated the precept against stealing. Pornography, adultery, polygamy, rape, abduction, and prosti-tution are all examples of violating the precept against sexual misconduct. To engage in fraud, intimidation, and defaulting on loans is to violate the precept against lying. In addition to proscribing the drinking of alcohol, the precept against intoxicants also includes heroin, cocaine, and other illegal drugs, all of which adversely affect one's mind, harming one's own cognitive abilities, and causing one to do unconscionable acts. If everyone can uphold the Five Precepts, then prisons will be empty.
There is a lesson here for us Buddhists as well. Today, some Buddhists look at Buddhism as a folk religion. They pay their respects to the Buddha because they want to pray for longevity, wealth, a prosperous family, fame, and health. If we can raise the level of our faith and uphold the Five Precepts with reverence, we will indeed enjoy great blessings, without even asking for them. If one does not kill but also protects life, how can one not have longevity? If one does not steal but also acts generously, how can one not be wealthy? If one does not engage in sexual misconduct but is also respectful, how can the family not be harmonious? If one does not lie but is also honest, how can one not have a good name? If one does not become intoxicated but also looks after the body, how can one not have good health? The Five Precepts, indeed, have a great impact upon the individual, society, and nation.
Thus, what does Humanistic Buddhism mean? Humanistic Buddhism is the practice of the Five Precepts and Ten Virtues. The Ten Virtues are extensions of the Five Precepts. In one's deeds, do not kill, steal, or engage in sexual misconduct. In one's speech, do not lie, slander, cheat, or be offensive. In one's thoughts, do not be greedy, hateful, or corrupt in views. In Buddhism, the development of right views is called the study of wisdom, the ultimate goal of which is to awaken the wisdom of one's true nature. The Five Precepts and Ten Virtues are tools to help us achieve this goal. This is also what Humanistic Buddhism is about.

3. Humanistic Buddhism incorporates [the characteristics of] the Four Boundless Vows
The Four Boundless Vows are kindness, compassion, joy, and generosity. In fact, one does not have to look further than these Four Boundless Vows to understand why Chinese Buddhism has lost its vigor. We Chinese Buddhists have not put the Buddhist teachings into practice and have lost touch with the Dharma. The Buddha teaches kindness and compassion. How many of us are truly kind and compassionate? The Buddha teaches joy and generosity. How many of us are really joyful and generous? Regardless whether we are lay persons or monastics, if we do not practice the Dharma, how are we different from non-Buddhists?
In my country, there is a common saying: "Every family has Amitabha, every household has Avalokitesvara." There, Avalokitesvara is wor-shipped in every shrine. The best spot in the house is selected for Avalokitesvara. Why is this so? Because Avalokitesvara is compassionate. Com-passion is welcomed in each household; com-passion earns one respect and wins the hearts of others.
I don't know when Buddhism took on such shades of pessimism. Whenever Buddhists see each other, they often say things like, "Life is suffering! All is impermanent! Oh, imper-manence!" But Buddhism is happy in character and joyful in spirit. The teachings speak of boundless happiness and endless compassion, and we Buddhists have the responsibility to share this with the world. When the Buddha spoke of suffering as the First Noble Truth, it was because the Buddha wanted us to recognize the cause of suffering, and how we could be liberated from delusions and attain true joy. We should not just stop at understanding that life is full of suffering. The Buddha teaches us that all phenomena are impermanent. Impermanence is actually quite wonderful! It makes change possible, for the bad can then be transformed into the good. Because of impermanence, adversity can be followed by felicity, and bad luck can change for the better. It is because of imperm-anence that fate is not irrevocably determined. Our task as bodhisattvas is to spread the seeds of joy so that the whole world may hear of the Dharma, and everyone can have a life of well-being, peace, and joy.
Sometimes a prosperous material life, such as that created by a flourishing economy, does not necessarily alleviate the suffering of life. More money and material possessions can give people more troubles. The joy of the Dharma is the peace and happiness that we can all experience when we are at ease with ourselves; this joy is derived from the understanding of Ch'an and the realization of truth. Often, people's religious practice is based on greed; people pray to the bodhisattvas and gods for peace, fortune, a happy family life, longevity, and a winning lottery number. Such religious faith that stems from covetousness is not a deep level of spiritual maturity. We should base our faith on giving. To practice a religion is to contribute, make sacrifices, and work to benefit others. Since one of the characteristics of Humanistic Buddhism is the spirit of giving and benefiting others, Humanistic Buddhism incorporates the characteristics of the Four Boundless Vows of kindness, compassion, joy, and generosity. This is also the meaning of Humanistic Buddhism.

4. Humanistic Buddhism is [applying] the Six Paramitas and the Four Great Bodhisattva Virtues
The Buddhist teachings of the Six Paramitas (giving, upholding the precepts, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom) and the Four Great Virtues (giving, amiable speech, conduct beneficial to others, and cooperation) is humanistic and relevant to human interactions.
While I was traveling in the United States spreading the Dharma I felt that, although America is not a Buddhist country, Americans have the character of Humanistic Buddhism and the spirit of the bodhisattva. Take giving as an example. Americans are very willing to give. Many willingly provide donations to their church. When a social problem arises, everyone happily does all they can to help. No matter where you are, Americans often smile and greet you warmly saying, "Hello! How are you?" This, too, is giving. A simple smile, a short greeting-these are the ways of practicing giving through one's expression and speech. These are examples of how Americans have integrated giving into their daily life.
As for upholding the precepts, Americans are very law-abiding people. Upholding the precepts means observing the rules of the law. America is a country in which people follow the rules of the law. One need not go to a court of law to see how laws are observed. When Americans come to a red light, even if there are no other cars or police officers around, they still do not run the light. If there is a stop sign, they will not immediately go through the intersection, but instead stop for a moment before continuing on. Everyone also lines up in an orderly manner. One time when I was in Hawaii, a large tour group of people, including several of us monastics who were also in the group, went to watch a hula dance. When the attendant saw us, he told a group of people to move away from the shade of a large tree so that we monastics could sit there. Without any protest, everyone did as they were told. Why? Because religion is respected in America, as are laws and rules, and because those in positions of authority are respected and obeyed. When it becomes too crowded for attendants to direct everyone, they simply use a rope to guide people where to sit. Everyone stays within the rope, whether they are kings, state officials, governors, or senators. Why? Because the rope symbolizes the law, and no one is above it. The solemn sacredness of the law is fully integrated into the daily life and attitude of Americans. Because everyone is compliant, it is naturally a country that follows the rules of the law.
On the contrary, what is the situation in developing countries? Do not mention ropes. Even if there is a wall, everyone tries to think of a way to climb over it. Hence, to follow laws is to keep precepts and regulations. Whether or not a country's populace obeys its laws will affect its image, its development, and its prosperity. Humanistic Buddhism is built upon the principles of laws and regulations.
Americans are also very patient. Patience does not mean keeping quiet when being yelled at, or taking it on the chin when struck. These are not examples of patience. Patience means taking responsibility; patience means being strong. To be patient is to be proactive, progressive, willing to make sacrifices, and able to shoulder burdens. Americans work hard, don't they. In lining up, they don't skip ahead. This, too, requires patience. So, when everyone is patient with each other, society can be orderly and without chaos.
Everyone knows about how diligent Americans are. Americans are ambitious, dedicated, and hardworking. We fantasize that America as a heaven [where everyone is automatically well provided for]. In reality, Americans are very industrious and conscientious; they work hard and have a lot of pride in the quality of their work. Their work ethic is very much like the Buddhist notion of diligence. Buddhism speaks of diligence as the Four Right Efforts of bringing forth goodness, developing the existing goodness, ending the existing harm, and preventing the arising of new harm. Americans are well-known for their dedication to doing research, developing breakthroughs, and striving to be the very best. This is why their country has become a world power.
We can also find examples of meditative concentration in the American lifestyle. Instead of running about the streets after work or school, adults and children often spend their time at home. And when they speak, they usually do so in a soft voice so as not to disturb anyone. When using public transportation, they are often relaxed and at ease, as if in meditation.
As far as wisdom is concerned, some people say that Americans are lacking in this area. They say that if you sell them six things that cost two dollars each, (the total is, of course, twelve dollars), the Americans take quite a bit of time to figure out what the total should be. Instead of multiplying six things at two dollars each, they will add two plus two, plus two, plus two, so on and so forth to get to twelve. We should not, however, think that Americans are slower in doing these mental calculations; it is just that the Chinese are shrewd, sometimes too shrewd for their own good. Americans are very methodical in calculating figures. They may appear slower in dealing with numbers, but actually Americans go by the rules so that one is one and two is two. Hence they are very precise in their scientific and technological research and are very reliable in all they do.
At this point, everyone may say that I am proposing that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. This is not the case; I am just exasperated. Taiwan is a country that promotes and practices Mahayana Buddhism, so why is it that we often find ourselves being miserly, snobbish, selfish, irresponsible, and unkind? Why do we only look out for ourselves? Therefore, we have to spread the ideals of Humanistic Buddhism. In practicing the Four Bodhisattva Virtues of giving, using amiable speech, performing conduct beneficial to others, and cooperating, we are again making Buddhism relevant to the needs of contemporary society. Indeed, the Five Precepts can provide a stabilizing effect on society, the Six Paramitas can serve as a good foundation on which to build a country, and the Four Boundless Vows can be a fountain of goodness for all of us.

5. Humanistic Buddhism is [the under-standing of] cause, condition, effect, and consequence
During these past few days, when I was visiting the army, the officers told me that they have a personnel problem. Some young draftees will question them saying, "I enlisted last year, at the same time that he did. How come he is now a sergeant, while I am still a private? It's so unfair. We have the same qualifications and enlisted at the same time, so why is there such a difference in the advancement of our careers?" We should know that, in the law of cause, condition, result, and consequence, condition is right in the middle. When conditions are different, the results will be different. Take two flowers for instance: if one is given a bit more water and fertilizer, and is planted in a richer soil, then even though both flowers are nurtured by the same sunshine, they will grow differently. The two are the same variety of flower, but because of different conditions, the result is not the same.
Some complain about their fate and condemn the world as unfair. They criticize that this family member or that friend is no good. If they would just look closer at their own causes and conditions to discover the source of their problems. For example, they might see that they had lost the opportunity for promotion to a sergeant because of something inappropriate they had said. In another instance, although someone had an edge in terms of qualifications over another person who was competing for the same promotion, the other person strengthened his or her conditions by providing a great service, saying the right thing, shouldering a huge responsibility at a critical moment, thereby earning the promotion. Buddhism teaches us to improve our conditions and make positive connections with others. It is said, "Before achieving the Buddha Way, we must first cultivate good causal relationships with others." In our daily life, we should know that a single grain of rice is the culmination of many causes and conditions. We should appreciate all the various causes and conditions. We should be grateful for all those who have given us the opportunity to be here in this conference. We should be thankful to the Buddhist College for their sponsorship and for providing all the amenities that make our attendance here so enjoyable.
In the morning, newspapers are delivered to our homes. In the evening, many television programs bring us enjoyment and information about local and global events. Have we learned to appreciate others' work? Imagine the limited view and monotony of life if these things were not available. Causes and conditions enable us all over the world to connect with one another. Efforts and contributions of many people have provided all of us with a lot of conveniences. We should value these causes and conditions. Since others have labored to provide us with such good conditions, what can we do to repay their kindness? We can learn to be grateful and to truly enjoy the wealth and satisfaction of life anywhere and anytime.
Speaking of cause, condition, effect, and consequence, the law of cause and effect is profound. Some people misunderstand the law of cause and effect. Some regularly recite the name of Amitabha Buddha, but the moment a problem arises, they blame Amitabha Buddha for not looking out for them. They say, "I've been cheated out of my money, and now I'm bankrupt. Why didn't Amitabha protect me?" "I haven't made any money in the stock market. Where is Amitabha's power?" "I am a vegetarian, but my health is going downhill. Why is Amitabha Buddha not more compassionate?" But where is the connection between the fact that one recites the Buddha's name or is a vegetarian and the fact that one is wealthy, healthy, or lives a long life? We must not be confused about what causes what effects. How can a person who plants a melon expect to get beans? Chanting and keeping a vegetarian diet are in the realm of religious and moral cause and effect. Amassing great wealth is in the domain of economic cause and effect. Having good health or a long life are health-related causes and effects. How can people attribute all their problems to religious faith? Therefore, there are too many people today who, having confused the connection between particular causes and effects, are not able to accurately understand the law of cause and effect.
Once a passer-by stole a coconut from a family's yard. The owner said, "Hey! How dare you steal my fruit!" The passer-by responded, "What do you mean this is yours? It's from the tree." "Well, I planted the tree," yelled the owner " The passer-by retorted, "The coconut you planted is in the ground. Mine is from the tree." Is there not a connection between the two? Cause and effect are forever linked; they can never be disconnected. A cause, upon encountering the right conditions, will bear fruit. There is the saying, "Bodhisattvas fear causes, sentient beings fear effects." Bodhisattvas, knowing that causes are not to be taken lightly, do not haphazardly create causes. Because sentient beings do not fear causes, they act without thinking through the effects. In the end they fall into the depths of hell, with the most frightening consequences.
In my hometown in Yang Chou, China, there were no police for tens of miles and no courts for hundreds of miles, yet crimes or murders were very rare. In the case of a conflict, people did not fight and quarrel. Instead, we would go to a temple and both of us would take an oath in front of the gods. We all believed this was very fair. Why? Because we believed that the law of cause and effect knows best. Even when there was no way to appeal, everyone had peace of mind. We all knew that the law of cause and effect would not betray us. As the saying goes, "All acts, both good and bad, bear consequences; it is only a matter of time."
When the Buddha was alive, he experienced the phenomena of aging, sickness, life, and death just like all of us. He, too, existed in the realm of cause and effect, and therefore was subject to the workings of cause and effect. This is a great notion, for in the face of cause and effect, everyone is equal. No one can escape this law. There is a saying: "People take advantage of those who are nice, but that which sees to justice does not. People are fearful of those who are mean, but that which sees to justice is not." Who or what is this "seer of justice"? In Buddhism, the seer of justice is cause and effect. Cause and effect are always fair and just. We who are promoting Buddhism strive to firmly establish the concept of cause and effect, for it is very scientific and rational. If everyone believed in cause and effect, it would serve as each person's police and guide. Cause and effect would be each person's principle of law.

6. Humanistic Buddhism [encompasses the teachings] of Ch'an, Pure Land, and the Middle Path
Buddhist teachings are vast and profound, and there are many sects and schools. The teachings of the Ch'an and Pure Land schools, the doctrine of the unity of form and emptiness, and the Middle Path are some of the Buddhist teachings for everyday living, thus they are part of Humanistic Buddhism. In the Ch'an tradition, patriarchs and masters do not practice meditation to become Buddhas, but to attain enlightenment. With enlightenment, they are able to realize liberation and settle their minds and bodies in the here-and-now of daily life. What is most gratifying to Ch'an practitioners is to find peace of body and mind, or in other words, "to illumine the mind and see one's True Nature." Thus, Ch'an practitioners are very much focused on life in this world.
The Pure Land school is the same. Pure Land practitioners practice mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha and recite the Buddha's name in our present world in the hope of attaining rebirth in the Pure Land. If their practice is inadequate, rebirth in the Pure Land is impossible; so they consider this world as the foothold for devoting themselves to their cultivation and to being mindful of Amitabha Buddha. There is no shortcut. Pure Land practice is a wonderful method for calming our minds and bodies, especially when we are faced with the demands of modern society. If you practice both the Ch'an and the Pure Land Dharma methods, you are truly practicing Humanistic Buddhism.
The Middle Path, which is the wisdom of harmonizing emptiness and existence, allows one to venture directly into the true reality of all phenomena. If one has the prajna wisdom of the Middle Path, then one enjoys happiness and blessings in this very life. Some people place too much emphasize on materialistic life; they get lost in the red-hot zeal of worldly pursuits. Others abandon the world, retreating deep into the mountains to be alone. Blind to the suffering of the world, such people are as unfeeling as a withered piece of wood or a pile of cold ashes. A life that is either too detached or too passionate is not healthy; it lacks the harmony of the Middle Path.
The "Middle Path" refers to the prajna wisdom of contemplating the harmonized mean. If we have this type of wisdom, we will know the underlying principles at work in various situations and the appropriate actions for dealing with them. [If we have the wisdom of the Middle Path, we will know that] existence occurs within emptiness; without emptiness, nothing could exist. If there were no emptiness of space, how could we gather together here? Without space, how could the myriad phenomena of the universe develop? Only in the midst of emptiness can existence arise. Humanistic Buddhism recognizes that the material and spiritual are equally important in life and therefore calls for a life that provides for both. There is the external world of pursuits, and there is also the internal world of the mind. There is the world before us, and there is also the world behind us. If one insists on charging forward blindly, one inevitably gets hurt; one must also look back and within. Humanistic Buddhism allows for both existence and emptiness, possession and non-possession, the world of companionship and that of solitude. By harmonizing everything in the world, Humanistic Buddhism allows people to achieve a beautiful and wonderful life.
The Humanistic Buddhism that I promote may be seen in the objectives that I have established for the Fo Guang Shan International Buddhist Order. The objectives are to give people faith, to give people joy, to give people hope, to give people convenience. I believe that being willing to serve others, giving others a helping hand, establishing friendly ties with others, and giving others joy are the teachings of the Buddha. Simply put, the goal of Humanistic Buddhism as promoted by Fo Guang Shan is to make Buddhism relevant in the world, in our lives, and in each one of our hearts. Simply close your eyes, and the entire universe is there, within. You can say to yourself, "Everyone in the world may abandon me, but the Buddha within my heart will never leave me."
In today's world, we are all burdened with responsibilities. We all feel stressed from our obligations toward home, business, and family. So how can we live a happy and satisfying life? If we practice Humanistic Buddhism, or in other words, apply the Buddhist teachings to our everyday living, then we possess the entire universe, happy and at peace in all we do. As Ch'an Master Wu-men said, "The spring has its flowers, the autumn its bright full moon; the summer has its cool breezes, the winter its snow. So long as one is not caught up in mundane worries, then every season is a wonderful season." "When the mind is burdened, the whole world seems limiting; when the mind is clear of burdens, even a small bed feels expansive." When we truly touch the world within our minds, then we are one with all sentient beings and all the worlds. With this awareness, we can be joyful and at ease. How do we achieve this awareness? We can only do so if we continually apply the Buddhist teachings in all aspects of our everyday living. This is the true spirit of Humanistic Buddhism.
I have just presented six different ways of how Humanistic Buddhism embodies the traditional teachings of the Five Vehicles; the Five Precepts and Ten Virtues; the Four Boundless Vows; the Six Paramitas and the Four Great Bodhisattva Virtues; cause, condition, effect, and consequence; Ch'an, Pure Land, and the Middle Path. As this conference on Humanistic Buddhism gets underway, I offer these thoughts to you. May everyone be blessed!


The Great Buddha

Dear Venerables and Dharma Friends:
I believe that all of you seated here today are students of the Buddha. As sons and daughters of our parents, we must know our parents. As students of the Buddha, how can we not know about the Buddha? Some of you in the audience may say, "How is it possible that we do not know about the Buddha? Just look at the statues of the Buddha here." Can we say that we know the Buddha just because we recognize statues of the Buddha? No, we certainly cannot. It is most regretful if we, as students of the Buddha, do not know about the Buddha. There is a verse that aptly describes a common feeling among students of the Buddha in this Dharma Declining Age. It goes like this, "When the Buddha came to this world, I was mired in depravity. Now that the Buddha has gone into parinirvana, I have come into this world. I regret that because of my many hindrances from past karma, I have not been able to see the golden body of the Buddha."
For the last fifty plus years, I have learned a lot about the Buddha. I did much research when I authored the book The Life of Sakyamuni Buddha. Thus one can say that I have a fair amount of knowledge about the Buddha. Today, I want to share with you what I know about the Buddha, and to introduce to all of you the real spirit of the Buddha.
Some of you may think that the Buddha is an almighty immortal with all kinds of powers, who can come and go without a trace. If you think that this is the Buddha I am going to share with you, you will be disappointed. Others may think that the Buddha is full of kindness and compassion, and will grant me whatever I ask for in my prayers. This is not the case, either. I believe that the Buddha most people admire is the Buddha that sits cross-legged on the altar-serene, peaceful, quiet, and still. If the Buddha were to talk and instruct us now, "Do not do this," or "This is not the case," we may not have liked the Buddha as much. Perhaps because the Buddha is not critical of us, does not reproach us, and does not argue with us, we are drawn to him. We willingly pay respect and prostrate to him.
Now, I will try to describe the Buddha with the help of ten questions. I hope, through these questions, we can know the real spirit of the Buddha.

First, did the Buddha ever get angry?
We often get mad; is this also true of the Buddha? Of course, the Buddha certainly did get angry! It is just that the Buddha's "getting upset" is different from ours.
We are incensed when others pick on us or get in our way. When our interests are compromised, we get irritated. This is not the case with the Buddha. The Buddha would not mind if you were not nice to him; however, the Buddha would become angry if you were to mistreat others. Let me illustrate this point with the following episode from the sutra.
Once, the Buddha was traveling with his group of bhiksus to preach the Dharma at some neighboring cities. Among them, some bhiksus were impatient and quick-tempered, while others were of a calmer temperament. On the way, they stopped to rest for the night at a temple. As soon as they settled down, the impatient ones quickly took claim of the available beds. "This is mine!" "That is mine!" In this way, all the available beds were claimed in no time, and Sariputra, the Buddha's leading disciple, was left without a bed. So, he decided to practice walking meditation outdoors. When the Buddha saw Sariputra strolling outside, the Buddha went up to him and asked, "Sariputra, it is quite late now. Why are you not in bed and still wandering in the yard?" Sariputra then related to the Buddha what happened, "We have a lot of bhiksus and there are not enough beds to go around. Some of the new bhiksus wanted to find a bed to retire for the night, so I let them rest first." When the Buddha heard this, he was very angry. He immediately called everyone to a meeting in which the Buddha preached about what respect one should have for one's seniors and elders.
When we do not respect our seniors and elders, the relationship between the seniors and the young is turned upside down and society becomes disorderly. In the past, parents would guide and remind their children, "Why is it that you do not listen to Mom and Dad?" Now, children complain to their parents, "Mom and Dad, how come you do not listen to me?" Even the very young children know how to negotiate for what they want, "If you do not buy this for me, I will not study hard for you!" In the past, students would humbly accept what their teachers had to teach them. Now, it is quite fashionable for students to criticize their teachers, "Teacher so-and-so is not very nice. Every time I make a suggestion, he or she turns it down." In the past, employers would give instructions to employees on what to do. Now, employees make demands of their employers, "The food in the company cafeteria has to improve," or "You have to pay us this much before we can make a living." In the military of the past, officers would give commands for subordinates to follow. Now, subordinates can openly criticize the officers. When there is no standard for our behavior, the fabric of social structure is weakened and social morals cannot be maintained. It is no wonder that disorderliness rules.
The Buddha would get angry with those who were only concerned with their own welfare and had no regard for the hardships of others. The Buddha could also become displeased when a prank, even that of a youngster, ended up hurting others. Let me illustrate with the following example. Before the Buddha renounced his life of a prince, he had a son by the name of Rahula. When Rahula was still a young child, he followed the example of his father and renounced his household life to become a monk. As he was quite young, he was very mischievous and liked to tell little white lies. Once, someone asked Rahula, "Do you know where the Buddha is right now?" Although he knew full well that the Buddha was in the room to his left, he purposely pointed to the right and told the other person, "The Buddha is over there, over there." When the person came back empty-handed, Rahula was very pleased with himself. Later, the Buddha learned of this incident and called Rahula to come before him. When Rahula saw the stern look on the Buddha, he did not dare to say a word. Quietly, he went to fetch a basin of water for the Buddha to wash his feet, hoping that the Buddha would soon start to preach. After the Buddha washed his feet, the Buddha told Rahula, "Take this basin of water and drink it!" Rahula was shocked with what he just heard, and he replied, "Lord Buddha, the water used for washing the feet is very filthy and is not suitable for drinking!"
The Buddha instructed, "When you tell lies, your mouth is as filthy as the dirty water in this basin. Nobody would want you, either!"
Rahula then went to discard the water. Afterwards, the Buddha told him, "Use this basin to hold your food!"
Rahula appeared very troubled and said, "Lord Buddha, this basin that was used for washing the feet is very dirty; I cannot put my food into it!"
The Buddha reproached him, "When your mouth often tell lies, it is just as filthy as this basin. It cannot be used to store anything wholesome."
As soon as he finished, the Buddha gave the basin a kick. The basin rolled noisily for quite a distance and Rahula was frightened. The Buddha asked Rahula, "Are you worried that I may ruin the basin?"
"No, the basin is a cheap basin. If it is broken, I can buy a new one. It does not matter!"
The Buddha again reprimanded Rahula, "Children who tell lies are just like this cheap basin; no one would feel sorry even if it is ruined."
From this incidence, we learn that the Buddha does not put up with those who lie and deceive others. The manner the Buddha used to teach Rahula stems from the high hopes parents have for their children, which is why we say, "When the love is deep, the reprimand is severe." The Buddha's anger is out of compassion, not out of hatred. The love of parents for their children is very much like the love of the Buddha!

Second, did the Buddha ever get sad and cry?
Have you ever thought of the Buddha so saddened that he cried? In reality, there were times when the Buddha was saddened and there were also times that the Buddha cried.
Mara (the evil one) once told the Buddha, "We do not like the way people have accepted the Dharma; from now on, we will fight with you every step of the way!"
Unperturbed, the Buddha replied, "I am not afraid of your sabotage."
"Everywhere we go, we will criticize you, slander you."
The Buddha said calmly, "I am not afraid!"
"We will use clubs, knives, and guns to strike at you!"
"Clubs, knives, and guns-they do not frighten me!"
After this exchange, Mara thought to himself, "The Buddha is not afraid of anything." He then called out, "Then we will become your disciples. We will wear the monastic robes, eat monastic food, but we will not walk the Buddhist Path. When you talk about the three cultivation practices of precepts, concentration, and wisdom, we will practice the three defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion. We will be diametrically opposed to the Buddhist Dharma; in this way, we will undermine you."
At this point, the Buddha thought about the tragedies sentient beings of the Dharma Declining Age had to confront. He was moved to tears; finally the Buddha cried.
This is what is meant by the saying, "The worm not only lives on the body of the lion, it even feeds on its flesh." Today, there are many people who claim to be the disciples of the Buddha: they carry the Buddha's banner and wear monastic robes, yet they are a disgrace to the good name of Buddhism. How is it possible that the Buddha is not heavyhearted? When children do not turn out well, parents are pained and the family suffers. Similarly, when his followers turn against him, the Buddha becomes sad and tearful.
One way to handle these Buddhist imposters within the Sangha is to give them the silent treatment and not to pay any attention to them. This, however, is a passive response. Also, imposters outside of the Sangha are much harder to control. Thus, within the gates of Buddhism, it is important to implement sound organizational structures, education, and training as a means to maintain the integrity of the Sangha.

Third, were there any moments of joy for the Buddha?
Most definitely. The Buddha lived in happiness and joy. There are two aspects to the Buddha's daily living in this world: for the benefit of self and for the benefit of others.
Let me try to explain this simply. What we spend on our own clothing, food, housing, and transportation is for our own benefit. What we spend on charity to help those in need is for the benefit of others. In the case of the Buddha, the Dharma joy of the Truth and the serenity of Ch'an meditation was for the benefit of self. The Buddha's preaching, his compassion, his majestic aura, and everything that he did for sentient beings were for the benefit of others. As students of Buddhism, each of us should learn how to apply Buddhism. We should understand which aspects of Buddhism are for the benefit of self and which are for the benefit of others. Paying respect to the Buddha, chanting, sitting meditation, practicing patience, applying the right effort, and observing the precepts are for the benefit of self. When we are complimentary of others, help others, come to the aid of those in need, act compassionately, give alms, and build good causal relationships with others, we are practicing Buddhism for the benefit of others.
The fifteenth day of the seven lunar month is the Ullambana Day; it is also called the Sangha Day. On this day, the ever-present joy of the Buddha is most special, so this day is also called The Buddha's Joyous Day. Why was the Buddha especially joyous on this particular day? During the time of the Buddha, all the bhiksus would begin their summer retreat from the fifteenth day of the fourth lunar month. On the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, they had realized intense cultivation during the retreat. Devotees often would make offerings to the Sangha on this occasion. The resulting merits then could be dedicated such that ancestors of devotees might share the blessings of the bhiksus' cultivation. It was truly a joyous occasion for both the human and celestial realms! As a result, the Buddha was especially joyous.
The reason I want to bring this up is to emphasize that we should understand the Dharma. Buddhism is a religion that promotes happiness, and we should constantly try to develop a joyous character. Some people always look depressed and melancholic¾ before long, their whole lives disappear in the midst of sadness and grief. This is most unfortunate! There is a saying, "A face showing no anger is a true offering; a mouth speaking no anger emits wonderful fragrance. A heart with no anger is a priceless treasure. Truth as such is eternal and never destroyed." Not only should we learn to arrest our anger and not speak of it or show it in our face, we should learn not to have anger arise. This way, our hearts will not harbor any anger; peace and happiness will show through our face, and everything will turn out nicely.
We all have to remember that it does not matter if we do not have anything tangible to offer to others. What is most important is to offer happiness to others. Our days may be filled with problems and headaches, but when we sleep, we should leave them behind and not bring them to bed with us. When we eat, we should eat our meals happily rather being consumed by own sorrows. We should not carry our unhappiness with us from one day to the next, and we should not constantly display our sadness to wear people down. Look at me, although I have quite a few students and devotees, they never come to me when they are happy. They seek me out only when they have problems and headaches. I ask them jokingly sometimes, "When I see all of you, I express my joy and share happy words with you everyday. Why does it seem that you only give me your problems and headaches? Sometimes it becomes unbearable for me to see worried faces all the time. How about if we do it differently and you share your happiness rather than your sorrows with me? Does this sound good to you?"
I have always maintained that we should greet others with three pleasantries, such as "You look great!" or "This is a nice day!" or "Have a good day!" In other words, when we greet others with three pleasantries, we can make others feel good and glad.
Some people are very stingy with their words; this is why we promote that we greet others with three pleasantries. But, when we fight, we should stop after one round of exchange. Let me give you this example. A wife slaves over the stove to prepare dinner for her husband. She sets the table and tells her husband, "It is dinnertime." The husband becomes annoyed and replied, "Alright, alright. Wait a minute!"
This is one round of exchange, and the wife should stop at this point. If the wife continues another round of exchange, "Every time I call you, it is always 'Alright, alright.' How many times do you want to be called before you will come!"
The husband now becomes really irritated and retorts, "Don't you see how busy I am?"
The wife gets even by saying, "Busy, busy! You are always busy. Don't you have a clue that I am busy too?"
In this way, after two or three rounds of heated exchange, a fight erupts. So, please remember, when we fight, we should stop after one round of exchange. In the old days, duels were often settled after one round. If the conflict were to continue, there would be no end to it! If we keep fighting, how can we lead a happy life?
We, as Buddhists, should learn from the Buddha and give others happiness. As members of Fo Guang Shan, we should learn the real spirit of the Buddha. We, as Fo Guang Buddhists, should abide by the following four objectives: to give others confidence, to give others happiness, to give others convenience, and to give others hope.

Fourth, was there any enjoyment in the Buddha's life?
We all hope that we can enjoy life a little bit more. Even coming to this Dharma talk, we want to have a good seat where we can sit comfortably, or hope that the room is air-conditioned and the floor is carpeted, and the list goes on. This is enjoyment for our daily living. People pursue fame and wealth to improve their living condition, so that they can enjoy life a little bit more. In actuality, fame and wealth can bring forth its own set of problems. Is that enjoyment? Not necessarily so. The enjoyment of our senses is very limited. The eyes crave to see pleasing sights, the ears crave to hear delightful sounds, and the body craves the feel of soft and luxurious clothes. But when these sensations pass, we soon feel empty and lonely again. This is no different from when a party ends, dirty dishes and trash are left behind. The price to pay for worldly fame and wealth is just enormous. When we are controlled by the external environment, we cannot find inner peace. If we are not affected by what we see and hear, then there is nothing to bind us. The Dharma joy within ourselves will begin to flow; this will bring us lasting enjoyment.
Among the Buddha's disciples was the former Prince Bhadrika. Once, while he was doing sitting meditation with the other bhiksus, he suddenly called out, "This is happiness, happiness!" As it turned out, the Buddha passed by, so he asked, "Someone just yelled out happiness. What is the happiness? Why did he scream happiness?" Bhadrika replied, "In the past when I was still living in the palace, I was constantly surrounded by guards, yet I was afraid that others would harm and assassinate me. In the palace, the food is of the best quality and the bed is very comfortable, yet I did not enjoy the food and my sleep was not sound. Now that I have renounced the secular life, I can cultivate in the remote hills and woods. Now that I feel free, I am not afraid of anything. I find the simple vegetables and carrots that I get from the alms round extremely tasty. When I sit here to meditate, I just feel cleansed and without any worries. I enjoy the path of cultivation so much that I cannot control myself and must cry out with elation!" Is this not another form of enjoyment?
What is the happiness that the Buddha enjoys? It is the happiness of nirvana. The happiness of nirvana has four special characteristics: eternity, bliss, true nature, and purity. His happiness was to feel the duration of life, to feel the natural joy of life; to feel the existence of life, and to feel the simplicity of life. Now, a lot of people are so busy that they have forgotten about themselves. When they have lost touch with themselves, they have also lost touch with happiness.
Serene happiness is a characteristic of nirvana. If we understand Buddhism, we would know that we can easily find serene happiness in our daily lives as well. We always say, "Helping others is a source of happiness," "To be content is to be happy," and "With patience, comes peace." We can enjoy happiness in contentment. We can even find happiness when we are truly remorseful. We can also find happiness when we are respectful of others, when we have faith, and when we remain calm and peaceful. We should not try to find happiness from our senses; the source of happiness lies within our hearts. When we find ourselves, our own hearts, then we will find happiness. There is happiness in reciting the Buddha's name, in meditation, and in paying respect to the Buddha. Sometime, when you do sitting meditation, you will discover that all your thoughts are calm and not a desire is in sight; you want to stay in this peaceful Dharma joy forever. Is this not happiness? Or, we can be proactive in aiding those in need and helping to repair roads and bridges, then we can also enjoy happiness. When we build good causal relationships with others, we will find support from all sides and we will be naturally happy.
Buddhism of the past had a tendency to equate cultivation with asceticism. Actually, this is quite misleading. Buddhism is a religion of happiness; it does not dictate suffering to its devotees. When it talks about "suffering," it is telling us that suffering abounds in life and that it is a phase that we have to go through to reach happiness. A butterfly has to come out of its cocoon before it can fly. A tree trunk has to be sawed before it can be of any use. In Buddhism, we have to cross the sea of suffering before we can reach liberation. When others reprimand us, criticize us, or even slander us, we should not get angry but should thank others for giving us the opportunity to clear some bad karma from the past. When others defraud us of our hard-earned money, in the absence of an understanding of the Dharma, we would become very frustrated; however, if we practice the Dharma, we will look at the situation as a way to pay off some old debt. Being without debt and without worries, is this not a cause for happiness? In this way, we can even find happiness under adversities. Like the Buddha, we would be able to enjoy the serene happiness of nirvana.
In this world, we are happy when good things happen. When we have the Dharma, we will be able to handle misfortunes and disappointments with equal ease. As in the saying, "When the mind is pure, the land is pure," we can use our pure and calm mind to transform the world. Grief is bodhi, and affliction is happiness. If your mom and dad are very strict, you need not be distressed. You should think to yourself, "It is good that my parents are stern with me; they help me stay away from trouble." With every situation in this world, as long as we can change our perspectives, we will find happiness always!
Let me share with you a secret that few of you know. For many years now, unless I am dining with guests, I always eat my dinner standing up. Usually there is not a chair in my living quarters, so I just eat my meals standing up. I doubt if any of you knew. I lead a very simple life, and I do not enjoy my meals any less.
The life of the Buddha might have been very simple and fraught with hardships, but in the vast wisdom of the Buddha, he always enjoyed the wondrous wisdom of nirvana.

Fifth, did the Buddha have affection?
Do you think that the Buddha had affection? We Buddhists like to deify the Buddha and claim that the Buddha was different from other human beings. Because affection can be tainted and can bring us afflictions, we prefer to think that the Buddha did not have affection. No, this is not so. The Buddha was rich in affection! The Buddha's affection, however, was to love all sentient beings equally. The Buddha's affection was the kindness and compassion that was described in the saying, "Great kindness without conditions, great compassion as we all are one." A step above love is kindness and compassion, and above kindness and compassion is "Great kindness without conditions; great compassion as we all are one." It is difficult for us to understand the love and affection of the Buddha.
What is meant by "great kindness without conditions"? If we examine our kindness, we will notice that our kindness is limited. We are kind toward those we have a relationship: you are my neighbor, my classmate, my colleague, or my relative. This type of kindness is conditional. The kindness of the Buddha is to give happiness to all without conditions. When we can help a total stranger that we have never met in our entire life, when we can help just because the person needs our help, and when we can help without any strings attached, then we are practicing "great kindness without conditions."
What is meant by "great compassion as we all are one"? It means that I feel your pain as if it is my pain, and I want to relieve your pain as much as I want to relieve my own pain. Often our compassion is limited to giving once or twice, and we get tired if we are called upon time and time again. The Buddha's compassion and kindness is not like this at all. Let me illustrate the point with this example. Suppose my hand has an infected wound with a repulsive stench. Because the hand is part of my body, I will take very good care of it. I will not get tired of it, but will instead clean up the infection and dress the wound. When we can treat all sentient beings with the thought, "We are all related; he is like part of my limb," then we have the compassion to treat others like ourselves. This is "great compassion as we all are one." To practice "great kindness without conditions, great compassion as we all are one," we should do a little role reversal. If we can put ourselves in their shoes and project ourselves into their situation, then the spirit to practice "great kindness without conditions, great compassion as we all are one" will begin to bloom within us.
Let me give you another example. Does any of you ever have athlete's foot? Although athlete's foot can give off a really offensive smell, some people still like to give it a good scratch and may even put their fingers to the nose afterwards. Why? This is because the foot, though smelly, is one's own foot and in which case even the stench may seem pleasant. Thus, if we can treat all sentient beings as ourselves, how can there be any complaints?
The Buddha went to the Trayastrimsas Heaven to preach the Dharma to his mother, and he was the pallbearer at his father's funeral. Do you think the Buddha was sentimental? While I was writing The Story of Sakyamuni Buddha, I was most impressed by the way the Buddha showed his sentiments-purely, immaculately, and without leaving behind a trace.
The second year after the Buddha attained his enlightenment, he returned home to preach to his father and brothers. Princess Yasodhara, the Buddha's wife before he renounced his household life, waited impatiently to see the Buddha. What took him so long? After a prolonged wait, the Buddha finally arrived. Princess Yasodhara thought to herself, "When I see him, I really have to give him a good piece of my mind for being such an ungrateful and heartless person." When she finally saw the Buddha, she was moved by the compassionate and majestic aura of the Buddha and immediately fell to her knees. When I reached this point in my writing of this book, I wondered to myself: What should the Buddha do? At this time, the Buddha was a completely enlightened individual; he was then not an ordinary person and was no longer the husband of Princess Yasodhara. What was the Buddha to say to Princess Yasodhara? The great Buddha was most remarkable. He looked at Princess Yasodhara and said to her, "Yasodhara, I apologize to you, but you should be happy for me. I live up to my responsibility to all sentient beings. I have attained Buddhahood; I am now the Buddha." With these words, the Buddha managed to put Yasodhara at ease, yet conveyed the standpoint of the fully enlightened one. For most of us, although we may have the aspiration to cultivate, it is difficult for us to achieve perfection in both compassion and wisdom.
As I had not seen my mother for a few decades, I really hoped I could reunite with her in Japan. When the opportunity finally came, I waited for her arrival at the airport in Japan. When I spotted her at a distance, I wondered, "Is that really mother?" As she drew close, the emotions of reuniting with her son after so many years finally hit home, and tears began to well up in her eyes. So I said to her, "Do not cry here. Come with me!" I could almost see her trying to pull her tears back into her eyes. My intention was this: Before we cry, we should at least consider where we are. No matter what kinds of emotions and sentiments we experience, we should not be consumed by them. We need to manage our emotions and sentiments so that they will not become out of control.
The Buddha is rich in affection. He served his sick disciples tea and water; he threaded needles to help his older disciples to mend their clothing. This pure affection is what is meant by "compassion" in Buddhism.

Sixth, would the Buddha lie?
Would the Buddha lie? This is indeed a very serious question. How do we dare to say that the Buddha would lie? The Five Precepts of abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxicants are very important precepts. Lying is a form of false speech! How could the Buddha lie? This is because the Dharma is dynamic. If the acts of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and taking intoxicants are committed out of greed, hatred, and delusions, they are indeed very severe violations of these important precepts. If the violations are performed out of compassion, then they constitute another form of the Bodhisattva Way. Take the example of a sociopath who, wielding knives and guns, is on a rampage to kill many innocent people. What are we supposed to do? Do we just stand by and watch him destroy the lives of innocent people? Of course not. Sometimes, out of compassion to save the many innocent victims, we may have to first kill the sociopath. This is markedly different from killing someone out of hatred. Let us say that I found out you were plotting to gun down another person, or try to do harm with poison, and I tried to conceal the gun or the poison. Would you say that as this involves stealing, that I should not try to conceal the weapon and just let him commit the murder? Under these circumstances, the Buddha would use his wisdom to handle the situations in special ways.
Once while the Buddha was meditating in the woods, it happened that a rabbit was shot by a hunter. The rabbit ran to the Buddha and hid under his robe. The hunter who was chasing the rabbit stopped to ask the Buddha, "Did you see my rabbit?"
Of course, the Buddha saw the rabbit, but he could not tell the hunter where the rabbit was. So, the Buddha replied, "No, I haven't seen the rabbit."
Is this a lie?
"You have hid my rabbit, my dinner for the night. Can you please return it to me?"
"Oh, it was for your dinner tonight!" The Buddha then pulled the knife he had with him, and he asked the hunter, "If I cut off my arm, is it enough to compensate you for the rabbit? Let me give you my arm for your dinner!"
In order to save sentient beings, the Buddha told a fib out of great, fearless compassion. This is not an everyday lie. This is in accordance with what is said in the Diamond Sutra, "The Tathagata is one who speaks of things as they are, as what is true, and as in accordance with reality."
Once when the Buddha was cultivating his practice in a past life as a bodhisattva, he chanced to run into a bandit who was about to rob and kill five hundred merchants passing by. When the Buddha found this out, he killed the bandit without any hesitation. In the mind of the Buddha, he would rather accept the bad karma of taking a life than letting five hundred innocent people lose their lives. The Buddha would not lie to deceive others, but the Buddha also would weigh the different sides of the issue before acting accordingly.

Seventh, did the Buddha have a job?
Do you think the Buddha had a job? Yes, he did. How do we know? Once the Buddha went to Devadaha for his alms round. The king of the city was King Suprabuddha, the Buddha's father-in-law before he renounced his household life. When the King saw the Buddha, he was furious and had these words for the Buddha, "You are a person who has forsaken your own country and wife. Your life does not serve any purpose, and you are of no benefit to the world. You do not have a job and do not produce anything useful. I forbid you to do alms rounds in my country." How did the Buddha respond? He replied, "King Suprabuddha, you are mistaken. Everyday, I use the plough of compassion to till sentient beings' field of blessings. The seeds I sow are bodhi seeds. I work hard like this everyday; how can you say that I do not do anything productive?" As started from the Buddha, the job for teachers of Buddhism¾ the Buddha's bhiksus and bhiksunis¾ is to cultivate the practice and preach the Dharma. With their compassion and cultivation, they serve to elevate the moral standards of society and purify social trends. Is this not work?
When King Ajatasatru was about to attack Vrji, the Buddha resolved the conflict and the war was averted. When Kapilavastu was attacked by King Virudhaka, the Buddha initiated a movement to protect his country. The Buddha helped to build family harmony when he was instrumental in getting the disrespectful daughter-in-law of Elder Sudatta to mend her ways. The Buddha also guided Matanga to turn over a new leaf and advised Angulimala not to kill. The Buddha has enlightened the wisdom of millions of people to know themselves and to gain deliverance. His work is most holy and significant!

Eighth, did the Buddha have to deal with any adversities?
In this world, we have to constantly deal with hardships and distress. Do we know if the Buddha also had to deal with any adversities? As the Buddha was reborn into this world, and since no one can totally escape all adversities in this world of ours, the Buddha was no different. Just take the examples of aging, sickness, death, and suffering¾ who can be free of them? The Buddha had to deal with adversities on ten different occasions. When he was cultivating, he survived on a sesame seed and a grain of wheat a day. This was a form of hardship. During years of famine, everyone was impoverished and hungry. When the Buddha went around for his alms round, he could only find remains of horse feed to fill his hunger. Although the Buddha accepted the predicament, this was still a form of hardship. Devadatta attempted to assassinate the Buddha on several occasions. Once he wanted to crush the Buddha and hired someone to push a huge boulder from atop a hill to where the Buddha was sitting. At another time, he let a drunken elephant charge at the Buddha. The Buddha, of course, was not hurt; but these were adversities nonetheless. Devadatta once wanted to start a fight with the Buddha. When the disciples of the Buddha learned of the plot, they quickly readied themselves with sticks and clubs to protect the Buddha. After the Buddha heard what happened, he laughed and told Ananda, "Does one who has become the Buddha still need others to use sticks and clubs to protect him?" Before Uruvilva-Kasyapa took refuge in the Buddha, he tried to harm the Buddha with a poisonous snake. The snake became still as soon as it saw the Buddha. When Angulimala came to assassinate the Buddha, he fell to his knees and surrendered his weapons when he saw the Buddha. Like everyone, the Buddha had to deal with adversities, but the Buddha used his magnanimity and virtues to overcome them. He did not have to rely on sticks and clubs to protect himself.
According to the Fo Shuo Hsing Ch'i Hsing Sutra (the sutra that describes the causes and conditions of the ten adversities of the Buddha), the Buddha endured the following ten different adversities during his life.
1. The Buddha was slandered by Sundari.
2. The Buddha suffered from headaches.
3. The Buddha suffered from joint pain.
4. The Buddha suffered from backaches.
5. The Buddha's feet were injured by a wooden spear.
6. The Buddha bled when injured by rocks tossed at him.
7. The Buddha was slandered by Cinca-manavika.
8. The Buddha lived on remains of horse feed.
9. The Buddha practiced asceticism.
10. The Buddha was slandered by Shemipa.
These ten different adversities were the residual karma of the Buddha's past lives. In the Fo Shuo Hsing Ch'i Hsing Sutra, the Buddha says that even when one becomes the Buddha, when one has eradicated all evils and practiced all virtuous acts, one still has to live through the consequences of whatever residual karma one has. To a great holy person, these adversities have no impact. It is like the rainstorm that once it is passed, the clear blue sky will again appear!

Ninth, was the Buddha ever slandered by others?
Was the Buddha ever slandered by others? Most definitely. Some of these slanders are mentioned in the last section; the Buddha faces slander even now. As is the case of any great person, to those who believe in him, he is a deity, a holy person, or a Buddha. To those who do not believe in him, he is a demon, a sinner, or a charlatan. There is a chasm of difference in perspectives between those who believe and those who do not. Thus, it is inevitable that there will be slanderous remarks coming from those who do not believe.
During the time of the Buddha, when someone renounced household life to join the Sangha, others might criticize the Buddha, "You took our sons and daughters from us." "You took my husband (or wife) from our family. Our family is now all torn up." "This Buddha does not have any regard for families, parents, spouses, and children. What good is he?" These types of remarks were inevitable. This was especially true when Buddhism began to take root and Buddhist followers multiplied in numbers, at the expense of other religions. There were ill feelings among the other religions, which led to the following incident. A follower of another religion retained a lady-for-hire to make a false accusation at the Buddha. While the Buddha was preaching, she stood up with her abdomen protruding and raised her voice at the Buddha, "Sakyamuni, though you talk a good game when you preach the Dharma, what are you going to do with your baby in my tummy?" The Buddha was the father of her child!? There was quite a stir among the audience. How would the Buddha respond? The Buddha did not say a word. Among his disciples, Maudgalyayana was the foremost in supernormal powers. Upon examination, he realized that the protruding stomach of the woman was nothing more than a basin tied to her waist. Using his supernormal powers, Maudgalyayana severed the ropes holding the basin, which dropped and rolled around the floor. The Buddha continued his silence toward the woman and kept on preaching the Dharma.
During the Buddha's lifetime, he preached the Dharma for forty-nine years and gave over three hundred Dharma talks. Because of us, he shouldered a lot of hardships and numerous slanders. He brought us limitless Dharma joy and boundless truth. We, sentient beings, are really indebted to the Buddha. But in this world, how is there light without darkness? How do we see the beauty of virtue without the ugliness of vice? Without mud and dirt, how can the pure lotus bloom?

Tenth, did the Buddha feel helpless?
We like to think that the Buddha is full of supernatural powers and can do everything. In reality, the Buddha could feel helpless, too.
Once there was a man named Kantatuo; he was rotten to the core and did many horrible things while he was alive. He was, however, kind on one occasion. One day, while he was walking, he saw a spider and was about to step on the spider when it occurred to him that his step would no doubt kill the spider. At that time, a thought of kindness overcame him and he retracted his step. He finally stepped over the spider and spared the spider's life. After Kantatuo died, he fell into the depths of hell. The spider, in the meantime, wanted to repay Kantatuo for his kindness. When the Buddha learned of the spider's intention, he helped the spider drop its spider thread all the way into hell so that Kantauto could use the thread to climb out of hell. When all the beings suffering in hell saw the spider thread, they pushed and shoved trying to grab the spider thread. At this time, hatred arose in Kantatuo's mind. He pushed everyone aside and said, "Go away, this is my spider thread. Only I can use it to climb out of here. Go away, go away!" As he grabbed the spider thread, he applied too much force and the thread was broken. Kantatuo, together with all the others, fell down again. The Buddha, who saw the whole thing happen, sighed and said, "Oh, sentient beings are so selfish. There is nothing I can do."
If we are selfish, hateful, unwilling to share any benefits with others, if we are not compassionate toward others, do not form good causal relationships with others, then even the Buddha cannot help us to save ourselves!
Once there was a young man climbing a mountain. Halfway up, he lost his footing and fell down the side of the mountain. Luckily, he managed to grab a vine growing on the side of the mountain. As he looked, he realized there was no solid ground for many feet beneath him, and above him was a steep cliff. Out of panic, he called out, "Lord Buddha, Lord Buddha, please come and save me!"
The Buddha indeed appeared to save him from his predicament. The Buddha said to him, "Young man, I do want to save you, but I am afraid that you would not listen to me."
The young man said, "At this moment, why would I not listen to you?"
"Really? Are you going to do exactly what I tell you, regardless what it is?"
The young man was very compliant, and he said, "Lord Buddha, I will most definitely follow your teaching!"
Immediately, the Buddha said to the young man in a serious tone of voice, "That is good. I want you to let go of what you are holding."
"Oh, no!" the young man replied in shock. He continued, "Do you want me to let go with my hands? If I do that, won't I fall to my death?"
The Buddha let out a sigh and said, "You do not want to let go of your hands and cannot let go. How can I save you?"
In this world, whether we can be saved or not depends on whether we can see through all phenomena, and whether we can rise to the occasion and let go. If we want the Buddha to help us save ourselves, we have to let go of some of the shackles within our everyday lives before we can enter into the liberated world of the Buddha.
In our discussion today of "The Great Buddha," I am afraid I did not do justice to the subject matter. I have not addressed the enlightened Dharma of the Buddha, nor have I covered the compassion and wisdom of the Buddha. Instead, our discussion revolves around the mundane aspect of the Buddha's everyday life, his headaches, and his frustrations. I hope all of you know that I promote Humanistic Buddhism, which is why I want to portray the Buddha in human terms. We have to build our faith upon the understanding of the Buddha who lived on this earth; from the faith of this understanding we can slowly rise up to know the Dharmakaya, the embodiment of the prajna wisdom, and the real Buddha. It is not unlike one who has to start from elementary school, and then proceed to high school before one can enroll in college. The virtues and accomplishments of the Buddha are vast and limitless; they cannot be comprehended with a momentary deliberation or viewed with a single glance. They have to be understood in many gradual steps.
When we can understand the Buddha who lived among us, then we can begin to get to know the Buddha who lives within our hearts. When we comprehend the Buddha who lives within our hearts, then we can, all of a sudden, perceive the Dharma of the Buddha.
My students often say to me, "Master, you have not chatted with us for quite some time; our faith begins to falter." Inevitably, I would tell them, "I have studied Buddhism for fifty plus years, and the Buddha has never spoken to me. My faith remains strong, and I try my utmost to spread the truth of the Dharma. I know that the Buddha lives within my heart, and he is with us everyday. What is the need to discourse with me?"


The Heavenly Reams and the Hell Worlds

Dear Dharma Friends,
Today we are gathered here in the city of Chung-far to discuss the topic of heaven and hell. Chung-far is situated in the central part of Taiwan and is the transportation hub between the north and south. Similarly, our saha world is a mid-way station bet-ween heaven and hell. There are two roads ahead of us, one to heaven and one to hell. The one we choose is up to us. While most of us would prefer heaven over hell, why is it that some of us end up in hell? Further, what do we have to do if we want to be reborn in heaven? These are important questions, and our understanding in these matters can help us choose the right path so that there will be no sur-prises.
There is a tale in the sutras which relates why some people enter heaven while others fall into hell. A man on his death bed took his last breath, and his consciousness was set free from his body. He thought he was a good man and would no doubt be reborn in one of the heavens. After wandering for a while, he finally came before a heavenly gate. He knocked, but no one answered. He knocked louder, but still no answer. He began to bang on the shut door and protested, "Open up! If this is joke, I am in no mood for one. I was a good man and gave to cha-rity. Why do you not let me in?"
Suddenly, the voice of the Jade Emperor came over the gate saying, "True, you have given alms and done some good, but it is not enough to offset the unwholesome karma you have also accumulated. You operated a gambling house, indirectly ruining the lives of many. Not only is there no place for you here, I have to send you to face judgment in hell."
With these words, the man was escorted to hell. As he stood waiting for judgment, he pleaded his case, "King Yama, I hope you have not forgotten that I have always made you offerings. Please show me your mercy."
King Yama replied sternly, "I thank you for the offerings, but I also have to be fair. You have taken the lives of many animals, and they had all filed complaints against you. We have rules here, too. I cannot put friendship ahead of justice. You still have to reckon with the consequences of your actions."
This tale shows us that there are just causes lead-ing to rebirth in heaven or hell. If we do not have the right understanding of what constitutes wholesome acts, we may be in for a surprise when we have to face the consequences of our actions.
I. Understanding the Heavenly and Hellish Realms
Many religions believe in the existence of hea-vens and hells, and Buddhism is no exception. More accurately, Buddhism believes in the existence of a heavenly realm and a hellish realm. These two realms together with the asura, human, animal, and hungry ghost realms make up what we call the six realms of existence, and which realm we are reborn into depends on our cumulative karma. The heaven-ly realm is in turn made up of the six heavens in the realm of desire, the eighteen heavens in the realm of form, and the four heavens in the realm of form-lessness. The hellish realm consists of eighteen hells: the eight burning hells, the eight freezing hells, the hell of isolation, and the secondary hell.
The six heavens in the realm of desire (or the kar-maloka) consist of Caturmaharajakayika, Trayas-trimsa, Antariksa, Tusita, Nirmanarati, and Paranir-mitavasavartin. Caturmaharajakayika is guarded by the four guardians of Indra: Vaisramana in the north, Dhrtarastra in the east, Virudhaka in the south, and Virupaksa in the west. Trayastrimsa is also known as the Thirty-Third Heaven, It is ruled by Indra, often referred to as the Jade Emperor in Chinese folklore. Tusita is often mentioned in the sutras be-cause this is where Maitreya Bodhisattva currently teaches. These heavens are called the heavens of desire because the celestial beings here still enjoy sensual pleasures.
There are eighteen heavens in the realm of form, or the rupaloka. In these heavens, there is no dis-tinction of gender, and the celestial beings here have no desire for sensual pleasures such as eating and resting. They do, however, still have form, and they look magnificent. They find joy in the Dharma and in quiet contemplation.
In the four heavens of the realm of formlessness, or the arupaloka, celestial beings have transcended both the limitations of form and the desire for sen-sual pleasures. They do not have a physical exis-tence, only a spiritual one. They live in the joy of the Dharma and in constant dhyana.
Like the heavenly realm above, the hellish realm is also made up of many hells, eighteen to be exact. Like the artistic renditions of Dante's masterpiece the Inferno, the Chinese also have many vivid de-pictions of the agony in the hellish realm. The tor-tures in hell are also frequently incorporated in Chinese myths and folklores. The sufferings come in many form, such as burning, freezing, whipping, and isolation.
One of the eight burning hells is called Samjiva, or Undying Hell. It is a place for those who have caused great harm to others. In Samjiva, beings are chopped up, poked at, or ground to pieces. This is not the worst part, yet. If they become unconscious under the pain, they are revived with a cold wind so the cycle may start all over again. Beings in Kala-sutra, or Black Rope Hell, are first measured with a black rope, then they are marked and sawed into pieces like a piece of wood. The third of the eight burning hells is called Samghata. This is where two ranges of mountains meet to crush those who are being punished. In Raurava (wailing) and Maharau-rava (big wailing), the pain is so great that wailing permeates the place. Burning by fire is the punish-ment in Tapana (burning) and Pratapana (intense burning). In Avici, or Endless Hell, the punishment is most intense and continues without pause.
Beings in the eight freezing hells are exposed to extreme cold. In the Arbuda hell, the extreme cold causes frostbite and blisters. In Nirarbuda, the colder still condition causes the blisters to rupture. The Atata, Apapa, and Hahadhana hells are named after the clattering sounds that beings there make as they shiver in the biting cold. In the remaining three hells, the cold causes the flesh to crack, leaving marks resembling huge lotus buds.
The hell of isolation and the secondary hell are located in the midst of our saha world, in ravines, on mountain peaks, or even in the sky above. As long as sentient beings continue to act in unwholesome ways, these hells and their gruesome punishments will continue to exist.
II. Conditions in Heaven and Hell
Celestial beings enjoy many blessings. Take, for instance, the manner of their build. They are tall and dignified in appearance. While the average height of modern man is around 180 centimeters, celestial beings are many times taller. In Caturmaharaja-kayika heaven, celestial beings are 300 meters tall. In the rupaloka heavens, the height of celestial beings can reach up to 265,000 kilometers! Com-pared to us, celestial beings are indeed gargantuan. If you think this is preposterous, just consider the tiny ants on the ground. When they look up at us, they must think that our stature is beyond imagi-nation.
The life span of celestial beings is incredibly long. Most of us do not even live to one hundred years. In Trayastrimsa, life span can reach hundreds of thou-sands of years. In the celestial scheme of things, such a life span is not particularly long; life spans in the arupaloka heavens are many, many times longer than that.
What good is a long life if celestial beings do not enjoy their lives? Through the accumulation of wholesome karma over many lifetimes, celestial beings enjoy a worry-free life. They are not in want of anything. The notion of work is non-existent, for they do not have to toil to provide themselves with shelter and food. When they need food, all they have to do is reflect on it and food will appear. This type of pleasure that is not driven by wants is called "desireless joy." Life in the heavens is free of grief, worry, and hatred. In the rupaloka and arupaloka heavens, celestial beings derive their joy from the calmness of mind and the quiet contemplation of the Dharma. They see through the impermanence of material desire and the suffering that such pleasure germinates.
While the heavens are such delightful places, the bliss is not everlasting. Heavenly blessings are the results of wholesome karma and as such are con-ditioned. Regardless of how long and blissful ce-lestial life is, it is still bound and limited. When the effects, or rewards, of their wholesome karma come to an end, they still have to course through the cycle of rebirth like all of us. Human beings age, so do celestial beings. The end of their life spans is ac-companied by the emergence of the five decaying signs. Their clothing becomes old and dingy, the flowers on their crowns wither, their bodies begin to perspire, their once fresh fragrance turns stale and sour, and they become agitated and uneasy. Even in arupaloka, the realm of formlessness, the bliss is bounded. When blessings are exhausted, celestial beings there experience pains like that of being burned, drowned, or whipped by severe winds. Be-cause the heavenly realm is still part of the six realms of existence, impermanence still rules and the law of cause and effect still applies. As long as there is arising, there is ceasing.
What are the conditions of life in hell? Hell is the most painful realm among the six realms of exis-tence and is reserved for those with the most weigh-ty unwholesome karma. To help us visualize the sufferings there, we can close our eyes and imagine what it is like to walk on burning sands or up a mountain of knives while carrying heavy loads and being whipped time and time again. Multiply this pain many times over and we still cannot appro-ximate the suffering in hell. One of the greatest pains on earth is to struggle in vain to stay alive. In hell, the worst part of the suffering comes from not being able to die and so escape the pain.
The suffering in hell has five aspects. First, punishment is continuous without reprieve. Second, the body experiences different kinds of pain all at the same time. Third, time seems to stretch on with-out passing. Even if one were to lose consciousness from the pain, one would be revived again to face further torment. Fourth, the implements of punish-ment are numerous. Some are chained to pillars of fire, others are doused with melting copper, and others still are subjected to extreme cold. Fifth, the hellish realm is ceaselessly full of all kinds of living beings.
How is it that we know of the conditions in the heavens and hells? Do we have any testimonials of people who have witnessed the joys of heaven or the torments in hell? In Section 146 of the Tai-ping Kuang Chi (General Records of Tai-ping), we can read about the experience of the founding emperor of the T'ang dynasty when he visited the underworld. Section 45 of the Fo Tzu Tung Chi (Records of the Buddha and Early Patriarchs) is a record of the Sung scholar Ou-yang Hsiu's eyewitness account of the underworld and his meeting with King Yama. From the sutras, we learn that the Buddha went to Trayastrimsa to teach the Dharma to his deceased mother. On another occasion, the Buddha took one of his disciples, Nanda, to visit the heavens and hells. Nanda was lax in his practice, and the Buddha used the skillful means of showing Nanda the blessings that would await him if he would practice diligently. Later when Nanda practiced for the sake of heavenly blessings, the Buddha took him to tour the hells to show him that heavenly rewards do not last forever. When Hsu-yun, the great contemporary monk, was a hundred and twelve, he visited the Tusita heaven during one of his sitting meditations. There he saw Maitreya Bodhisattva teaching the Dharma. Maitre-ya pointed to an empty seat to his east side and invited him to sit down. After he settled himself, he realized that Ananda and Venerable Hsuan-tsang were there as well. Hsu-yun stayed in samadhi2 for nine days. After he came out of samadhi, he re-counted what happened to his disciples who re-corded the testimonial in his biography. These are but a few of the testimonials of those who have seen the conditions in the various heavens and hells.
III. Entry Into Heaven or Downfall Into Hell
We all wish to go to heaven, but what are the causes that lead one to be reborn into the heavenly realm? The sutras tell us that the highway to heaven is paved with the three meritorious acts of giving alms, observing the precepts, and practicing medi-tative concentration. Giving alms is not just about the giving of money. It is not an exclusive practice reserved only for the rich. There are many ways to practice generosity, such as the giving of ourselves or helping others when we are needed. Even simple gestures like a greeting, a few words of encourage-ment, or a smile are acts of generosity, and the merit from such generosity is not any more or less than the giving of money. While these acts of generosity are essentially effortless, they are often the catalyst to our success. In today's society, niceties have given way to cynicism. When we see someone doing good, we often wonder what his ulterior motive is. Cri-ticism has taken the place of praise or encourage-ment. When we see someone succeed, we may ques-tion if the success is well deserved. Such negative attitudes have a way of eating us up and rob us of the joys of life. If we are generous and compas-sionate, we will see the best in every situation. We will find heaven wherever we are.
Observing the precepts is like obeying the laws of the land. A progressive society is ruled by the laws of the people. When the public observes the laws, prosperity has a chance to take root. When everyone observes the precepts, a community is morally strong. Within the Buddhist tradition, the most basic precepts that we all should observe are the Five Precepts: refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and the taking of in-toxicants. The common theme of these precepts is to refrain from violating yourself or others. To refrain from killing is to respect the lives of others. To refrain from stealing is not to infringe upon the pro-perty rights of others. To abstain from sexual mis-conduct is to respect the body and integrity of others. To abstain from lying and false speech is not to impugn others' reputations. To abstain from into-xicants and stimulants is to avoid doing mental or physical harm to ourselves. We now live in a world in which the providing of security is a booming business. The myriad security measures that keep the crooks out also make us prisoners of our own homes. If everyone were to keep the Five Precepts, we could even return to a time when we did not need to lock the doors at night. The world would be a much better place.
The third element for being reborn into the hea-venly realm is meditative concentration, or calmness of the mind. When we are calm, we are in control of our actions, enabling us to observe the precepts. Even in our daily lives, meditative concentration is a reprieve from the hectic pace of the day. When we are tired, a few minutes of sitting meditation can re-fresh our energy much better than an hour of sleep. First, we sit in a lotus position, either a full lotus or half lotus. Second, we close our eyes and mouth, and relax our facial muscles with a light smile. Third, we concentrate the mind by counting our breaths. We all know how to breathe, but our breathing is often rushed and unrefined. The object in counting our breaths is to moderate our breathing from one that is hasty to one that is gentle and unhurried. The slower the breathing, the better it is. Lastly, the mind is calmed so that the internal tranquility mirrors the external quietude. The serenity of meditative con-centration is a slice of heaven.
While the highway to heaven is paved with the three meritorious acts of giving alms, observing the precepts, and meditative concentration, the gate to hell can only be opened by transcendental power, grave unwholesome karma, and the strength of vows. Anyone who has attained transcendental power can freely access the heavenly realm and hellish realm. Transcendental power is not based on magic but grows out of compassion and meditative concen-tration. Maudgalyayana, one of the Buddha's disci-ples, was renowned for his transcendental power. Once when the Buddha was away in Trayastrimsa teaching the Dharma to his mother, King Kausambi became so distraught by the absence of the Blessed One that he asked Maudgalyayana to take a sculptor there to sculpt an image of the Buddha. At another time, Maudgalyayana wanted to know the where-abouts of his deceased mother. He used his trans-cendental vision and saw his mother suffering in hell. On the advice of the Buddha, he realized trans-cendental power alone could not overcome the force of karma, and his mother could only be saved by the merit of honoring the Sangha. This is the beginning of the Ullabama Dharma Service, by means of which many beings have been saved. Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva has tremendous transcendental power, a direct result of his compassion to help all sentient beings in their times of need.
The sutras say, "The incredible force of karma exerts its effect even from afar. When the effect ripens, there is no hiding from it." Karma means action, in particular volitional action. Inherent in all our actions, or karma, is a force which when it works itself out becomes the effect. When we cause pain and suffering, we leave behind a force that will boomerang back onto us, driving us into the hellish realm. Sentient beings are reborn into the hellish realm as a result of their unwholesome karma and not because of the judgment handed down by a god or yama king. We reap what we sow. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this. When we die, we leave everything behind, that is with the exception of our karma. If we do not want to be reborn into the hellish realm, we should be vigilant of the karma we create.
While sentient beings are driven into hell by the force of their unwholesome karma, buddhas and bodhisattvas manifest in the hell worlds out of their vows of compassion to help those suffering there. Bodhisattvas know that, like sick patients who are in desperate need of the physician's care, the beings in hell cry out for help and relief. Out of compassion, they do not hesitate to help the suffering beings in hell. Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva's commitment to save all beings in hell is well known. Knowing full well that there will always be sentient beings who will always create unwholesome karma, he did not hesi-tate to vow, "As long as one sentient being remains in hell, I vow not to enter buddhahood." "If I do not enter the doors of hell, who will?" The enormity of his compassion is only matched by the immensity of his task.
IV. Interpreting the Meaning of Heaven and Hell
Where exactly are the heavens and hells located? Heaven is not necessarily up above and hell down below. We can find heaven and hell right here on earth. While we say celestial beings enjoy plentiful material comforts and luxury, in many ways we are no different. Look at life in prosperous countries like Taiwan or the United States. We have plenty of varieties of food from all over the world. In terms of accommodation, we enjoy all kinds of amenities. By the touch of a button, we get to watch news as it happens in all corners of the world. Most houses come with wall-to-wall carpeting, cushioning our feet as we walk around the house. Airplanes can take us to many destinations, and telephones allow us to stay connected with our friends in far away places.
The hellish sufferings described in the sutras can also be witnessed right here on earth. Because of global warming, many animals and human beings have died of heat exhaustion when struck by a prolonged heat wave. The heat in the desert reminds us of the torment in the burning hells of hell. When mountaineers got lost and had to stay outdoors in frigid weather, they got a taste of freezing hell. Ma-ny animals are slaughtered everyday. They are cut up into pieces, and the pain they endure is not unlike the torment in Samjiva. The Chinese like to eat exo-tic food, and often the ways in which these animals are killed are incredibly inhumane. Snakes are rip-ped out of their skins alive, and birds are chased out of their homes so that their nests can be collected for sale. We create a hell right here on earth.
Open the newspaper and we can read about the atrocities of war everyday. While we read with hor-ror about the suffering that was inflicted on the Jews during the Holocaust, we human beings still have yet to learn our lesson. The ethnic cleansing in the Balkans is an example of a living hell. In Africa, over twenty million people are infected with the AIDS virus. Many children are orphaned and the problem is growing everyday. The famine of Ethio-pia is another example of the epic proportion of suf-fering that is right here on this earth.
We do not even have to look outside of ourselves to find heaven and hell. According to the T'ien-t'ai school of Chinese Buddhism, our one thought embo-dies the three thousand chiliocosms. Similarly, the Yogachara school says that all phenomena are crea-tions of the mind. We human beings are constantly swayed by the changes of the external environment. Sometimes, we feel like we are on cloud nine, and at other times we find ourselves in the depth of de-pression. When we get up in the morning and our minds are clear, we are in the realm of buddhas. When we are hungry and become impatient with the people around us, we behave like hungry ghosts. When we have arguments with others and our minds become filled with hatred, we are knocking on the doors of hell. The Vimalakirti Sutra says, "When the mind is pure, the land is pure." If we can look at the world without agitation, heaven surrounds us. We do not have to look far for heaven and hell; they are within our mind.
The following Ch'an story is an example of how we create heaven and hell. Once a warrior went to visit Bai-yin, a Ch'an master. The warrior asked, "Is it true heavens and hells really exist? How do we go to heaven and avoid hell?"
The Ch'an master glanced up and asked noncha-lantly, "What do you do for a living?"
"I am a warrior."
The Ch'an master answered jeeringly, "Look at yourself, do you call yourself a warrior?"
The warrior was furious. He had asked the ques-tion respectfully, and he did not expect to be treated like this. He pulled out his sword and waved it in front of the Ch'an master. Bai-yin laughed, "See, the doors of hell are now wide open."
The warrior caught himself. He quickly put back his sword and apologized. The Ch'an master smiled and told him, "Now, you've just opened the gates of heaven." Where are the heavens and hells? Heaven and hell are right here on earth. They are also in our mind. We hold the keys to both of them. The door we open is entirely up to us.
We all want to go to heaven. We have just said that the heavenly realm is this wonderful place where beings look magnificent, live longer, and are free of the mundane worries of life. The sutras also teach us that the highway to heaven is paved with the three meritorious acts of giving alms, observing the precepts, and practicing meditative concentration. Does it mean that the heavenly realm is the be all and end all? No. Celestial beings do enjoy years of heavenly bliss, but their happiness is limited and impermanent. The sutras tell us that a Buddhist prac-titioner should seek rebirth, not in the heavenly realm, but in Amitabha's Pure Land. What is a pure land? How does it differ from the heavenly realm? A pure land is different from the heavenly realm in one key area. The heavenly realm is still within the six realms of existence, and as such there is birth as well as death. When the life span of celestial beings is exhausted, they also go through an aging or decay-ing process. Amitabha's Pure Land is outside the cycle of rebirth. Sentient beings are reborn there by transformation into a lotus flower. Once one reaches the Pure Land, one does not regress back into the wheel of rebirth. Some of you may then say that the Amitabha's Pure Land is the same as the heaven of the Christian religion, and the difference is just a matter of semantics. Actually the two are not the same. Venerable Yin-shun, a contemporary master, pointed out two differences between the Buddhist Pure Land and the Christian heaven. First, in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss3, there is complete equality, with no class difference. This is not true for the Christian heaven where only God is God and other heavenly beings will never become God. In the Pure Land, everyone can become a buddha. Second, Christians believe that going to heaven is the final fulfillment or the ultimate state. This contrasts with the Buddhist teachings that one still needs to prac-tice even after being reborn into the Pure Land. In the Pure Land, as one is reborn by transformation in-to a lotus flower, one must continue to practice until the lotus flower blooms. In other words, one learns the Dharma and practices accordingly until buddha-hood is attained.
While it is commendable to aspire to be reborn in the heavenly realm or in a pure land, we should not make light of the fact that rebirth in the human realm is precious. We should not look at our pre-sence on earth as merely a stepping stone to the heavenly realm or a pure land, or a phase that we hope will soon come to pass so that we may be reborn in a "better" place. We should take our pre-sence on earth for what it is. We have disappoint-ments and sorrows, but we can also learn from our experiences. There are many distractions in this world, but we can look at them as material for our practice. In a certain way, the saha world is a better place to practice than the blissful heavenly realm. We are not lulled into complacency because we are constantly reminded through the many sufferings of sentient beings that the need to practice is urgent. The sutras teach us that "when the mind is pure, the land is also pure." We should do our part in creating a pure land on earth. When we practice the golden rule of treating others like we want to be treated our-selves, we are creating a pure land on earth. Through compassion and patience, we find happiness and peace.
The six heavens in the karmaloka, or the realm of desire, are:
1. Caturmaharajakayika (The Caturma-harajakayika is guarded by the four guardian generals of Indra: Vaisrama-na in the north, Dhrtarastra in the east, Virudhaka in the south, and Virupaksa in the west.)
2. Trayastrimsa,
3. Antariksa,
4. Tusita,
5. Nirmanarati, and
6. Paranirmitavasavartin.
The eighteen heavens in the rupaloka, or the realm of form, are:
-the three first dhyana heavens (or Prathamad-dhyana Bhumi) of
1. Brahmaparisadya,
2. Brahmakayika,
3. Mahabrahma,
-the three second dhyana heavens (or Diviti-yaddhyana Bhumi) of
4. Parittabha,
5. Apramanabha,
6. Abhasvara,
-the three third dhyana heavens (or Tritiyad-dhyana Bhumi) of
7. Parittasubha,
8. Apramanasubha,
9. Subhakrtsna,
-the nine fourth dhyana heavens (or Caturhad-dhyana Bhumi) of
10. Anabhraka,
11. Punyaprasava,
12. Brhatphala,
13. Asanjnisattva,
14. Avrha,
15. Atapa,
16. Sudrsa,
17. Subdarsana, and
18. Akanistha.
The four heavens in the arupaloka, or the realm of formlessness, are:
1. Akasanantyayatana,
2. Vijnananantyayatana,
3. Akincanyayatana, and
4. Naivasam Jnanasamjnayatana.
The eight burning hells are:
1. Samjiva (the undying hell),
2. Kalasutra (the black rope hell),
3. Samghata (the squeezing hell)
4. Raurava (the wailing hell),
5. Maharaurava (the deafening wailing hell),
6. Tapana (the burning hell),
7. Pratapana (the intense burning hell), and
8. Avici (the endless hell).
The eight freezing hells are:
1. Arbuda (blistering cold),
2. Nirarbuda (blister bursting cold),
3. Atata (teeth chattering sound),
4. Apapa (another teeth chattering sound),
5. Hahadhana (another teeth chattering sound),
6. Utpala (freezing burns like green lotus blossoms),
7. Padma (freezing burns like red lotus blossoms), and
8. Madapadma (freezing burns like huge red lotus blossoms).


The Unique Characteristics of Buddhism

Fellow teachers and students,
This is indeed a very special occasion and rare opportunity for me to be here with you. Today I would like to speak to you about "the Unique Characteristics of Buddhism." Every religion has a doctrine and basic philosophy. Buddhism is a religion: it too has a comprehensive doctrine and profound philosophy. Within the Buddhist doctrine and philosophy, there are aspects of the teachings that differ from other religions. These aspects are the unique characteristics of Buddhism.
What are the unique characteristics of Buddhism? I would like to introduce you to a few of them.
I. The First Characteristic: Karma
Karma is a fundamental Buddhist teaching. Among the Buddhist doctrines, this is the most important one, and, at the same time, it is also the most difficult and the most easily misunderstood. Karma is a Sanskrit term which means action or deed. Any physical, verbal, or mental action performed with intention can be called karma. In other words, karma can be explained as any moral or immoral volition, or all volitional actions, responses, or results.
Before we talk about karma, we need to understand that body, speech, and mind are the three masters of karma-they carry out the actions or deeds that constitute karma. Examples of karma performed by the body are killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. Lying, frivolous talk, slander, and harsh speech are examples of karma performed by speech. Examples of karma performed by the mind include greed, hatred, and delusion. In fact, karma refers not only to "bad" karma. One's happiness as well as sorrow in life is determined by karma from one's body, speech and mind. Let us talk about the types of karma.
Karma can be categorized based on the characteristics of one's actions-wholesome karma, unwholesome karma, and neither wholesome nor unwholesome karma. Wholesome karma is in accordance with morality and is beneficial to others. Unwholesome karma is any action that harms others. Any action that cannot be defined as good or bad (for example, any action that is without any conscious intention) is called neither wholesome nor unwholesome karma.
Since karma is the response of volition, the seeds of wholesome and unwholesome karma performed by volition are stored in the alaya-vijnana, the "storehouse consciousness." These seeds will manifest themselves when the right conditions arise. The manifestation of these seeds is the fruit of karma. Karma that causes suffering is called evil karma which results in rebirth in the three evil realms of suffering. Karma that causes happiness is called blessed karma which results in rebirth in the human or celestial realm. Those who have attained meditative concentration reap rebirth in the realms of form and formlessness and abide in samadhi (meditative concentration). The karma of these beings is called motionless karma.
Karma can also be categorized according to the time in which it ripens. There are three such categories: karma that ripens in this life, karma that ripens in the next life, and karma that ripens in future lives.
Karma that ripens in this life means that the fruit of the action done in this life will ripen in this very life; karma that ripens in the next life means that the fruit of the action done in this life will ripen in the immediate next life; and karma that ripens in future lives means that the fruit of present actions will ripen after two or more lives. This indicates that from the viewpoint of time, may it be the past, present, or future, the effect of any action will not be lost. The fruit will ripen according to the karma performed. Good begets good and evil begets evil. No one is exempt from the Law of Cause and Effect. Those who are familiar with agriculture know that some plants can be harvested in just one year, some in two years, and others in several years.
There are those who do not fully understand the Law of Cause and Effect. They see that some people who have been kind and have done wholesome deeds experience much suffering and misfortune. On the other hand, they observe other people who have committed unwholesome deeds but nonetheless lead a comfortable and free life. So they conclude that the Law of Cause and Effect does not apply at all. Some even say, "This is the twentieth century. Why still believe in superstitions like cause and effect?" However, they do not realize that the existence of everything in this world arises from and is dependent on the Law of Cause and Effect. The relationship between cause and effect is a very complicated one, but it works in a very orderly and precise manner.
There are two reasons why the fruit of karma will ripen at different times. One reason is the strength of the cause; it will determine the time that the effect appears. For example, if a melon and a peach seed are planted at the same time, the melon seed will grow and produce fruit in the same year; however, it will take several years before the peach tree that grew from the seed can produce fruit. The second reason the fruit of karma may ripen at different times is that the strength of the conditions can be strong or weak. If all necessary conditions are present, the fruit will ripen earlier, whereas if the necessary conditions are not present, the ripening will take longer. Either way, there is a saying in Buddhism, "Good begets good; evil begets evil. All causes will give rise to results; it is just a matter of time."
The Law of Cause and Effect is certain. A particular cause will inevitably give rise to a particular effect: no mistakes will ever be made. The reason a good person suffers in this life is because the evil seeds that he has planted in the past are ripening now. Therefore, he must suffer at this time. Although he may have done many good deeds in this life, the power of the seeds of these good deeds may be too weak to ripen during this life. He may have to wait until his next or future lives to enjoy the effects of these good deeds. In contrast, an evil person may have done many evil deeds in this life, yet he is enjoying a good life. This is because the good seeds that he has planted in his previous life or lives are ripening now. So he is enjoying the fruit of his prior good deeds now. The evil seeds that he has planted during this life will ripen in his future lives.
Therefore, we can conclude that the Law of Cause and Effect has two essential points. First, causes and effects are indestructible. Once any deeds are performed, regardless whether good or bad, the seeds of these deeds will be stored in the alaya-vijnana and will be manifested when the right conditions are present. Second, good and evil deeds or actions will not cancel out each other. The evil seeds that have already been planted will give rise to evil fruit. They will not be cancelled out by doing good deeds. The only thing we can do is to do more good deeds, to accumulate more positive conditions. Then the gravity of the fruit of our evil deeds will be lightened; or, if many good deeds are accumulated, the good fruit will ripen quickly and the evil conditions will be weakened. Think of it in this way: you have a glass of salt water, which is similar to evil seeds. If a lot of fresh water, which stands for good deeds, is added to the salt water, the fresh water will dilute the salt water, making it less salty. Therefore, it is very important to do good deeds and accumulate positive conditions.
Some people have incorrect expectations of the Law of Cause and Effect. For example, some Buddhists say, "I have practiced vegetarianism all my life. What have I got to show for it? I am now bankrupt!" Others say, "I have been a Buddhist for a long time. I recite the Buddha's name and prostrate myself to the Buddha, and yet my health has not improved." Some even say, "I practice vegetarianism and recite the Buddha's name, but my children are unfilial and unmotivated."
These people do not understand cause and effect. They do not know that morality is governed by one kind of cause and effect, one's financial condition is governed by another type of cause and effect, and one's physical health is governed by the kind of cause and effect related to physical health. If you desire good physical health, you need to pay attention to what you eat, get an adequate amount of exercise, and maintain habits of cleanliness. If you do not pay attention to these things and simply believe that by reciting Amitabha Buddha's name will give you good health, then you have a distorted understanding of the principle of cause and effect. If you want to be financially successful, you must practice sound business management. You cannot expect to become wealthy just because you observe vegetarianism. This again is distorted understanding. If you do not care for your children properly, if you do not teach them or educate them, you cannot expect them to turn out to be filial and to become productive members of society. This again is distorted thinking. Cause and effect will not make any errors. Even if we were to use a modern electronic calculator or computer to add up the good and evil deeds committed by a person, it would not be as accurate as the Law of Cause and Effect.
Karmic effect that manifests itself at the time of death can be divided into weighty karma, habitual karma, and recollective karma. Weighty karma means that if a person has performed both good and evil karma, whichever is heavier will manifest first. Habitual karma will manifest itself according to one's daily habits. The Pure Land School teaches people to recite Amitabha Buddha's name, so that it will become a habit and that at the time of passing away, the Pure Land practitioner will recite Amitabha Buddha's name and thus will be reborn in the Pure Land. Recollective karma means that one's karma is manifested according to one's memory. For example, when a person is on the street and comes to a crossroad, he may be at a loss as to which direction he should go. All of a sudden he remembers that he has a friend on the street that leads west, so he continues in a westerly direction. Thus, when a person passes away, he may be guided by his recollective karma in a similar fashion.
Whether a person is reborn as a human is certainly determined by his or her own karma. That we are born as human beings is the result of our impelling karma. In other words, impelling karma is the strong force that impels us to be reborn as human beings instead of being reborn as dogs or horses. Though we are all human beings, we nonetheless have individual differences such as being intelligent or foolish, virtuous or unruly, rich or poor, born into noble or humble circumstances. These variations are due to differences in the past karma performed by the individual during his or her past life. Those who have given in their previous lives will become rich, while those who have killed others will have a short life span as a result. The karma that "fills in the details" of our rebirths is called completing karma.
Another category of karma is collective karma and individual karma. The karma performed by a single person will give rise to a certain force, the karma performed by hundreds and thousands of people will give rise to a greater force, while the karma performed by millions and billions of people will give rise to an even greater force. This force is called collective karma. That is, the collective behavior of many beings will produce a very strong force which determines the course of life, history, and the universe. Individual karma differs from collective karma in that it only affects the individual. For example, natural disasters such as famine and earthquakes can be experienced by everyone living in the disaster area. The disasters are manifested due to the collective karma performed by the people living in disaster areas. However, during the same disaster each person may be affected differently because of his/her own individual karma.
Although there are many categories of and respective names of karma, nonetheless in the unique teaching of Buddhism, all actions and deeds performed by a person's body, speech, and mind are karma. Thus, a person's behavior can determine his or her life. One is responsible for all the good or bad karmic effects produced by one's own actions. Karmic effects are not bestowed on someone by deities or an Almighty, nor is there the King Yama of hell to inflict punishment. From this doctrine, we can glean several principles that govern karma:
A. Karma is self-created; it is not created by divine power.
Everything good or evil is created by ourselves and is not arranged or bestowed upon us by deities.
B. Karma means equal opportunity; there is no favoritism.
Under the Law of Cause and Effect, every being enjoys equality in harvesting his own karmic fruit. No one receives special treatment. Good begets good and evil begets evil. Someone might say that under the law of our country everyone enjoys equality as well; however, there are still people who enjoy special privileges under the legal system. The Law of Cause and Effect is absolutely fair; no one enjoys any special privileges at all.
A Japanese prime minister, after being sentenced, left five words: "wrong, reason, law, power, heaven." What this means is that "wrong" cannot win against "reason," "reason" cannot win against "law," "law" cannot win against "power," and "power" cannot win against "heaven." If we go to the prisons and check, we will find that not all convicted felons are irrevocably guilty and unreasonable. Some of them may even have plausible reasons to justify the crime that they have committed. However, it does not matter how reasonable one may be, the deed committed may still be against the law. The law may be just and fair, but there are certain privileged people who have the power to manipulate the law. But it does not matter how much power one has, one can never evade the Law of Cause and Effect. It does not matter how clever, powerful, or wealthy one is, one will always be subject to one's own karmic effects under the Law of Cause and Effect. There is no exception.
C. Karma gives us hope and a bright future.
Karma tells us that even if we have done many good deeds, we should not think too highly of ourselves, because the merits accumulated due to these good deeds are like a bank account. No matter how much we have saved, if we keep withdrawing, our account will be empty one day. A person who has done numerous bad deeds may feel as if heavily indebted and consider life hopeless. But if he works hard enough, there will come a day when all the "debts" are paid off. A person who has broken the law has to serve his sentence in prison. When his term is finished, he will be free to start a new beginning again. Karma is like this: it gives people hope. One's future is in one's own hands, for we are free to decide in which direction we want to go. Our futures are bright.
D. Karma means that good begets good and evil begets evil.
You might think that this sounds fatalistic. It is true that karma decides our fate and future. However, we are the ones who create our karma. The karmic effect that we shall experience is dependent on the karma that we have created. Someone may ask, "Did the enlightened Sakyamuni Buddha still have evil karma?" The answer is yes. A person may have committed countless good and evil deeds in his past lives. However, if he does not allow them to be manifested, it is as if they do not exist. This is similar to planting seeds in the soil. If the seeds are not provided with the right conditions for growth, they will not grow. However, if the right conditions are provided, they will grow healthily even if there are some weeds mixed among them. That is to say, we need not overly dwell on evil karma that we have committed in the past. If we keep planting good seeds in this life, the seeds of our previous evil karma will not have the opportunity to grow. Thus, with this clearer understanding of karma, we can effectively work toward happiness.
II. The Second Characteristic: Conditioned Genesis
Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was enlightened while sitting on the Diamond Throne underneath the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya. What truth did he realize when he was enlightened? He realized the Principle of Cause and Condition and the truth of Conditioned Genesis. He realized the principle that all phenomena arise from causes and conditions and that Conditioned Genesis is an unchangeable truth of life and the universe. During the forty-nine (some say forty-five) years in which the Buddha taught the Dharma, he directed his efforts to elucidating the truth of Conditioned Genesis to others. Conditioned Genesis is another special characteristic that distinguishes Buddhism from other religions.
Conditioned Genesis is based on the Law of Cause and Effect. All existence arises from causes and conditions. The existence of everything in the universe is interdependent. Broadly speaking, something as large as the world and something as small as a speck of dust, a flower, or a blade of grass?/FONT>all arise due to causes and conditions. The Principle of Conditioned Genesis is not something that can be explained through scholastic erudition. It has to be experienced and realized through actual practice. Before the Buddha renounced secular life, he was already very well versed in the philosophy of the four Vedas, the five sciences, and the philosophies of the ninety-six religions practiced during that time. After six years of ascetic practices and meditation, he finally realized the Principle of Conditioned Genesis and attained Buddhahood.
There was a Brahman called Sariputra who had practiced Brahmanism for a long time and had many followers. But he still had not realized the Truth. One day, Sariputra was walking on a street of Rajagrha and met Asvajit, one of the Buddha's first five disciples. Asvajit was deeply influenced by the Buddha's teaching and he always put what the Buddha taught into practice. Asvajit's demeanor and outward appearance earned him the respect of people who saw him. Sariputra asked him respectfully, "Who are you? Who is your teacher? What does he teach you?"
Asvajit replied, "All dharmas arise due to causes and conditions, all dharmas cease due to causes and conditions. Lord Buddha, the great sramana, always teaches thus."
In this context, the word "dharmas" signifies everything in life, all phenomena of the universe. "All dharmas arise due to causes and conditions" means that every object and phenomenon in the universe arises because of the coming together of many causes and conditions. When the causes and conditions are no longer present, objects and phenomena cease to exist.
After Sariputra heard this, he was overjoyed. He imparted the good news to his good friend Maudgalyayana. The two of them, together with their followers, all went to follow the Buddha. Under the teaching of the Buddha, Sariputra became the most prominent for his great wisdom among the Buddha's disciples, while Maudgalyayana became the most prominent for his supernatural power. Thus, we can see that the Principle of Cause and Condition is the Truth.
We can understand the concept of Conditioned Genesis through three aspects:
A. Effects arise from causes.
Hetupratyaya is the Sanskrit word for causes and conditions. Hetu is the primary cause. Pratyaya is the secondary condition or conditions. Hetu is the direct force from which the fruit (effect) arises, while pratyaya is the indirect force. All phenomena of the universe arise from the coming together of many different causes and conditions. No phenomena can exist without suitable causes and conditions. This is what is meant by "dharmas do not arise by themselves." For example, let us take a soybean. This soybean is a seed, the main cause. Water, soil, sunlight, air and fertilizer are the necessary secondary conditions. If these causes and conditions come together in an appropriate manner, then this seed can germinate, bloom, and produce fruit. Thus the fruit arises from causes. If we store this soybean in the granary or place it on gravel, it will always remain a seed. In the absence of the necessary external conditions, the seed cannot grow and bear fruit.
From the viewpoint of time, the societal phenomena of a given period of time may appear to have little or no connection to the societal phenomena of a later period. However, if we carefully analyze the societal phenomena, we soon realize that the society of any period cannot arise without the existence of the society of the previous period. Let us take the example of a torch. When the flame from one torch is passed on to a new torch, the old and the new torches are two separate entities. However, there is a very subtle relationship between these two torches. The flame of the new torch is the continuation of the flame of the old torch. In the flow of time, it is not possible to find an entity isolated from all other entities.
From the viewpoint of space, it looks as if one dharma does not have any relationship with another dharma. However, if we look carefully, we will see that the relationships of cause and condition exist between all dharmas. For example, today we have a chance to meet here; this is an effect. The formation of this effect was brought about by many different causes and conditions. You invited me to come here to give a talk, I was free to come, the school is allowing us to use its facilities, and all of you have the interest to come and listen. Because these conditions all came together at once, our talk today can be held successfully. If any one of the above mentioned conditions were lacking, this talk would not have been possible. Therefore, the arising of any kind of existence is due to many causes and conditions.
The existence of a person also depends on causes and conditions. Even though we have advanced science and technology and we can invent and produce objects, we still cannot invent life itself; it still arises out of causes and conditions. The joining of the father's sperm with the mother's ovum gives rise to a new life. Human life will then continue only if the physical needs are met through the various items provided for by farmers, factory workers, and merchants. As an analogy, a house is built by placing cement, wood, bricks, and other construction materials together in the proper manner. The house will not exist if these components are taken apart. A person is also like this. If a person's skin, flesh, blood, and bones are separated, the person will no longer exist. Therefore, all dharmas arise from causes and conditions.
When we talk about the formation of life, one question that has prompted debate since ancient times is, "Which came first-the chicken or the egg?" If the chicken came first and the egg came later, then where did the chicken come from? If the egg came first and the chicken came later, then where did the egg come from? The chicken and the egg?/FONT>which came first?
Buddhism does not concern itself with questions such as these regarding which entity came first. Nor does Buddhism concern itself about a beginning or an end. Buddhism talks about a "circle." This "circle" has no beginning or end. This beginninglessness and endlessness is the Concept of Conditioned Genesis. For example, which is the first hetupratyaya and which is a later hetupratyaya? This is something that cannot be determined, because any single phenomenon arises due to the coming together of many hetupratyayas. For example, the clock on the wall runs continuously from one o'clock to twelve o'clock and from twelve o'clock back to one o'clock. Which is the beginning? Which is the end? This is very difficult to say, because it has no beginning or end. From this example we can understand that hetupratyayas are interdependent and interrelated. "This is, therefore that is; this arises, therefore that arises; this is not, therefore that is not; this ceases, therefore that ceases." This verse is the best definition of Conditioned Genesis.
B. All phenomena exist in accordance with the truth.
The Principle of Conditioned Genesis is subtle and complicated. It is profound and difficult to understand. It cannot be analyzed using scientific techniques, nor can it be elucidated by the metaphysics of philosophy. In the Agama sutras, the Buddha said that Conditioned Genesis is a unique characteristic of Buddhist teaching. It is a truth of the universe which cannot be found in secular teachings.
Conditioned Genesis, which says that all phenomena exist in accordance with the truth, is based on the Law of Cause and Effect. If one plants the seed of a bean, one will reap beans. If one plants a melon seed, one will reap melons. A melon seed will not give rise to beans, and a bean seed will not give rise to melons. A particular cause will give rise to a particular effect-this is the truth expounded in the Law of Cause and Effect. Truths of this world must be in accordance with the conditions of, "it originally was like this, it inevitably is like this, and it universally is like this." Truth cannot be modified via debates and need not be described in words. It simply is. For example, the Buddha said that anything that arises will cease. From the viewpoint of time, this statement can apply in the past, present, and future. From the viewpoint of space, this statement is true in every part of the world. Regardless how developed we are culturally, how advanced we are technologically, we cannot escape from the fact that anything which arises will cease. Any phenomenon that is in contrast with the truth will not come to pass. This is what is meant when we say, "All phenomena exist in accordance with the truth."
C. The arising of existence depends on sunyata.
How did all the dharmas originate in our universe? According to Conditioned Genesis, the arising of all dharmas depends on sunyata (emptiness). Without emptiness, all phenomena will not exist. Why? Because without emptiness, there can be no existence. Emptiness does not mean that nothing exists, unlike what we may believe based on the typical usage of this word. Sunyata is the "nature of emptiness" of all phenomena. If it were not for the nature of emptiness, phenomena would never manifest their value and function of existence. The function of phenomena is the application of emptiness. Suppose that we wish to construct a house. In addition to materials such as wood, cement, steel rods, and bricks, we also need a design, a blueprint, and measurements. Of course most important of all, we need empty space. Without empty space, no matter how refined the materials may be, no matter how wonderful the design may be, this house simply cannot be built. Therefore, when there is emptiness, events and phenomena can then come to be.
Usually, when "emptiness" is mentioned, people will become afraid because they have the misconception that the Buddhist religion requires people to negate everything. However, according to Buddhism, "emptiness" is the basis of all bhava (existence). For example, we are all gathered here today because there is space. If there were no space, we would not be able to gather here. Another example of "emptiness" according to Buddhism is the human body; there is much space in the human body. One can exist because one's ear is empty, one's nose is empty, one's mouth is empty and one's digestive system is empty. Now suppose one's nose is not empty, one's mouth is not empty, and one's digestive system is not empty, can this person survive? Can life still exist?
If there is no space, a house cannot be built. If a bag is not empty, it cannot hold anything. If the universe is not empty, human life cannot exist. Thus, there is "existence" only if there is "emptiness." Without sunyata, all dharmas would not arise from conditions and thus there would be no arising or ceasing of anything.
Based on this phenomenon of existence, in the chapter on the Four Noble Truths of the Madhyamika Sastra, Nagajuna said, "Because there is sunyata, all dharmas can arise; if there is no sunyata, all dharmas cannot arise."
III. The Third Characteristic: Sunyata
Ordinarily, people do not understand the concept of sunyata (emptiness). They generally think that sunyata means nothingness. This is a misconception. We have already mentioned the phenomenon of Conditioned Genesis, in which all dharmas arise from causes and conditions and they cease because of causes and conditions. All dharmas come into being because of the coming together of the right causes and conditions; they cease due to the disintegration of the causes and conditions that were responsible for their formation. Therefore the nature of all dharmas is emptiness. That is, dharmas do not have any true self-nature, so they are described as "empty."
Commonly people limit their understanding of sunyata to mean "absolute nothingness," yet consider existence real. According to the Buddhist teachings, existence-arising due to Conditioned Genesis-is illusory yet does not preclude emptiness. Similarly, Sunyata-the nature of all existence is fundamentally empty-means nonsubstantiality but does not preclude existence. This is the concept of Conditioned Genesis with nature of emptiness.
I would like to explain sunyata as follows:
A. The four great elements are fundamentally empty; the five aggregates do not have true existence.
Sunyata is the infinite meaning of Mahayana Buddhism. It is not "absolute nothingness." It is a constructive and revolutionary concept. It is used by the Mahayanists to explain the existence of this world and universe. "The four great elements are fundamentally empty; the five aggregates do not have true existence" is how the Buddha explained of the nature of all events and phenomena of this world and universe after he attained enlightenment. All dharmas exist due to the coming together of the four great elements. What are the four great elements? They are earth, water, fire, and wind. Earth has the property of solidity, water has the property of humidity, fire has the property of heat, and wind has the property of mobility. Why do we say that the four elements of earth, water, fire, and wind are great? Because everything in this world and universe is formed by these four elements. For example, a cup is made by firing clay that is constructed in the shape of a cup. Clay belongs to the earth element. Water is added to the clay in order to shape the clay into a cup. The cup is then fired. After being fired, the cup is cooled and dried by the wind. So, all four great elements are involved in the formation of this cup.
Similarly, a human being is also formed by the unity of the four great elements. For example, our skin, hair, nails, teeth, bones, and flesh all belong to the earth element. Our blood, saliva, and urine belong to the liquid element. Our body heat belongs to the fire element, and our breathing and movement belong to the wind element. Thus, if any one of these four great elements is out of balance, we will become ill. If these four great elements disintegrate, we will no longer exist.
From these examples, we therefore can see that the physical body is formed by the combination of the four great elements. Furthermore, the mind, or the consciousness according to our usual understanding, is only a combination of the five aggregates-rupa (form), vedana (feeling), samjna (perception), samskara (mental formation), and vijnana (consciousness). Life is the result of the combination of causes and conditions, without a true independent self-nature; a physical body with consciousness is only an existence due to a combination of factors. When the uniting force of these causes and conditions is exhausted, the previously formed combination of these factors dissolves, and the living being will no longer exist. Where then is the separate true self? Therefore, the Buddha teaches thus, "The four great elements are fundamentally empty; the five aggregates do not have true existence."
Once, Tung-p'o Su of the Sung Dynasty went to visit Ch'an Master Fo Yin. When Tung-p'o Su arrived, Ch'an Master Fo Yin was teaching the Dharma. When the Ch'an Master saw Tung-p'o Su, he said to him, "Mr. Su, where did you just come from? We do not have a place for you to sit."
Tung-p'o Su replied immediately, "Master, if there is no seat, why don't you lend me your four great elements and five aggregates (your body) to use as my meditation seat?"
Ch'an Master Fo Yin said, "I have a question for you. If you can give me a satisfactory answer, I will let you use me as your seat. If you cannot give me an answer, then please leave your jade belt behind as a souvenir. Here is my question: my four great elements are all empty and my five aggregates do not have true existence. May I ask where you are going to sit?"
Tung-p'o Su could not give him an answer. So he took off his jade belt, which had been presented to him by the emperor, and left.
From this story we can see that the human body, an illusive combination of the four great elements and five aggregates, does not have any true substantial essence for us to attain.
B. What is sunyata?
In the Mahayana teaching, the word "sunyata" integrates the Three Dharma Seals. Sunyata is the Ultimate Truth. It is an important concept in Buddhism and a special characteristic of Buddhism that distinguishes it from other worldly teachings.
Most people do not understand what sunyata means. They think it means complete nullity and nothingness. This is just not so. Sunyata is, in fact, a most profound and wonderful philosophy. If one can truly understand sunyata, one can understand the whole of Buddhism. What, then, is sunyata? It is simply not possible to explain the meaning of sunyata in just one sentence. The Treatise That Explains Mahayana gives ten definitions of sunyata. Although these definitions cannot thoroughly explain the true meaning of sunyata, they are very close.
The ten definitions of sunyata, as explained in this treatise, are as follows:
1. Sunyata has the meaning of non-obstruction. Like space, it can be found everywhere and will not obstruct any material existence.
2. Sunyata has the meaning of all-pervasiveness. Like space, it is pervasive and reaches everywhere.
3. Sunyata has the meaning of equality. Like space, it does not make any distinctions but treats all equally.
4. Sunyata has the meaning of vastness. Like space, it is vast, limitless, and boundless.
5. Sunyata has the meaning of formlessness. Like space, it has no shape or form.
6. Sunyata has the meaning of purity. Like space, it is always pure.
7. Sunyata has the meaning of motionlessness. Like space, it is always still, completely beyond any form of arising and decaying.
8. Sunyata has the meaning of absolute negation. It negates all facts and theories.
9. Sunyata has the meaning of emptying sunyata itself. It negates all concepts of independent self-nature and also destroys all attachment to the concept of sunyata.
10. Sunyata has the meaning of unattainability. Like space, it cannot be attained or held.
Although these ten definitions cannot entirely describe the truth of sunyata, nevertheless, together they provide us with a vivid depiction for better understanding of this important Buddhist teaching.
C. How can sunyata be perceived?
1. Sunyata can be perceived through the illusive nature of continuation. All existence is empty because all phenomena are impermanent. Just like on the Yangtze River, the waves from behind push the waves in front; a new generation replaces an older generation. Time continues without interruption, and worldly events are always of suffering, emptiness, and impermanence. Through the continuation of impermanence, we can see emptiness.
2. Sunyata can be perceived through the illusive nature of cycles. All dharmas of the universe are governed by the Law of Cause and Effect. A cause will become an effect, which in turn will become a cause. For example, when the appropriate amount of sunlight, air, water, and soil are present, a seed will germinate, bloom, and produce fruit. The seed is the cause, the fruit is the effect. When the necessary external conditions are present, the seeds from the fruit will germinate, bloom, and produce more fruit. In this case, the fruit, which was the effect, has become the cause. Through this continuous cycle wherein cause becomes effect and effect becomes cause, we can see sunyata.
3. Sunyata can be perceived through the illusive nature of combinations. All dharmas arise due to the harmonious unity of various causes and conditions. For example, the human body is made up of the harmonious unity of skin, flesh, bones, blood, and various bodily fluids. If the human body is separated into these components, there will no longer be such existence as an independent human body. Thus, we can understand sunyata through Conditioned Genesis.
4. Sunyata can be perceived through the illusive nature of relativity. All dharmas of this universe are relative, such as father versus son and teacher versus student. For example, when a son gets married and has a son, he himself becomes a father. Likewise, a student who learns enough can then become a teacher. Thus, all things are relative and therefore are unreal and empty.
5. Sunyata can be perceived through the illusive nature of appearance. There is no set standard or measure for how we view appearance. For example, light from a candle may appear bright to our eyes, but when an electric lamp is switched on, the candlelight now seems dim. Further, the speed of an automobile may seem fast to us until it is compared to the speed of an airplane. These examples allow us to realize that the appearance of all events and all phenomena are viewed by us without a set standard; we can therefore realize sunyata.
6. Sunyata can be perceived through the illusive nature of terms. Each dharma in this universe is called by a different name. These names are nonsubstantial in nature and thus empty. For example, a female baby is called a baby girl. When she is grown up, she is referred to as Miss. When she gets married, she will be addressed as Mrs. When she has her own children, they will call her "mother." When she is old and has grandchildren, she is then known as a grandmother. From a baby girl to grandmother, she is still the same person, yet her titles are different. Thus, we can understand sunyata through the illusiveness of terms.
7. Sunyata can be perceived through the illusive nature of different viewpoints. Different people with different states of mind will have differing views on the same thing or event. For example, on a snowy night, a poet sitting in front of the window inside a warm and cozy house hopes that the snow will continue through the night, so that he can enjoy more beautiful scenery. But, a beggar shivering in the cold hopes that the snow will stop soon; otherwise, he will not be able to make it through the night. Thus, we can understand sunyata through different viewpoints.
IV. The Fourth Characteristic: The Three Dharma Seals
The Three Dharma Seals (Three Characteristics of Existence) is an important doctrine of Buddhism. The Three Dharma Seals can determine whether a certain Buddhist teaching is the Ultimate Truth. The "Three Dharma Seals" is like the offical stamp by which we recognize the authenticity of everyday merchandise. Any doctrine which is not in accordance with the Three Dharma Seals is not the complete teaching, even if it was taught by the Buddha. On the other hand, any doctrine that is in accordance with the Three Dharma Seals is genuine Dharma, even if it was not personally taught by the Buddha.
The Three Dharma Seals are as follows: "All samskaras (composite things) are impermanent," "All dharmas do not have a substantial self," and "Nirvana is perfect peace." The three are used together to prove the genuineness of the Dharma; therefore, they are called the "Three Dharma Seals."
A. All samskaras are impermanent.
"All samskaras" refer to all forms and actions of this world. According to the doctrine of Buddhism, none of these forms and actions is permanent. This impermanence can be illustrated by the following two points:
1. The "three periods of time" flow continuously without stopping. This shows that all samskaras are impermanent.
2. All dharmas arise because of cause and conditions; thus, they are impermanent.
What does it mean when we say "the three periods of time" flow continuously? The "three periods of time" is defined as time in the past, present, and future. From the viewpoint of time, all dharmas are impermanent because they do not remain unchanged even for an instant; they arise and cease within each moment. The dharmas of the past are already extinct. The dharmas of the future have not come into being yet. The dharmas of the present become extinct as soon as they arise. Thus, all dharmas are impermanent. Why do we say that all dharmas, arising due to cause and condition, are impermanent? Since all dharmas are formed by the combination and unity of different causes and conditions, when the necessary causes and conditions disintegrate, the dharmas will cease to exist. As causes and conditions are impermanent, any dharma that arises from causes and conditions is impermanent as well. For example, a person is reborn due to his past karma. From birth to death and death to birth, lives perpetually move through past, present, and future. Life is truly impermanent.
The functioning of our mind is also impermanent. Our thoughts constantly rise and cease, changing every moment. Likewise, all dharmas of this universe also arise and cease from moment to moment. Their existence is a continuous process. The worldly phenomena of arising, maintaining, decaying, and destruction, the seasonal change of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, and life cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and death, all continue like a flowing river. Nothing ever remains unchanged in this continuous flux.
We usually divide human feelings into three types: pleasant feelings, unpleasant feelings and feelings that are neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Of course, unpleasant feelings are duhkha (suffering). However, pleasant feelings are also duhkha, because this is the suffering of decay. For example, health and beauty will give rise to pleasant feelings, but the loss of health and beauty can cause suffering to arise. Feelings that are neither happy nor unhappy bring us suffering because of change. Examples of this kind of feeling are those caused by the passing of time, the brevity of life, and the impermanence of all dharmas. All these perpetual changes bring people unbearable anguish-this is the suffering of impermanence. This is why the Buddhist teachings state that because all samskaras are impermanent, all feelings are duhkha.
B. All dharmas do not have a substantial self.
Earlier when we touched on the statement, "All samskaras are impermanent," we discussed that nothing is permanent from the viewpoint of time. Now, if we take a look from the viewpoint of space, nothing can exist independently. We as human beings like to cling to the "self" and believe that "I," or my "self," exist-my head, my body, my thoughts, my parents, my spouse and children. To what we believe as ourselves, we develop the "clinging to the self." To objects that we consider as belonging to ourselves, we develop the "clinging to one's surrounding objects." We tend to look at this world with "I" as the center of everything as if nothing would exist without "I." However, according to the rational, penetrating perspective of the Buddhist teachings, there is actually no such thing as a permanent and independent "self." Why? For any entity to be called as "self," it must fulfill four requirements: this entity must be permanent, in control, unchanging, and independent.
Let us now consider the human body, the entity that we tend to think of as "I." From the moment of birth and continuing for the several decades in a person's lifetime, the human body is perpetually undergoing physiological changes of birth and death as it grows, matures, and ages. How then can it be permanent and unchanging? Formed through the combination and unity of the four great elements and five aggregates, the human body comes to be when the necessary conditions for such unity are present and ceases to exist when such conditions are no longer present. How then can it be in control? The human body is where all varieties of suffering assemble-physiologically there are sufferings of hunger, coldness, illness, fatigue, et cetera; mentally there are sufferings of anger, hatred, sorrow, fear, disappointment, et cetera. When the body is undergoing all these sufferings, it simply cannot break free. How can it be independent, with sovereignty? Therefore, we can see that the "self" as we have defined it earlier does not exist. Hence the Buddhist teachings state that all dharmas do not have a substantial self.
The absence of a substantial self, anatman, is the foundation of the Middle Path; it is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism. The absence of a substantial self is the unique teaching that differentiates Buddhism from other religious or philosophical doctrines.
C. Nirvana is perfect peace.
This statement means that no matter how chaotic things are in this world, they will eventually become peaceful. No matter how different things are, they will eventually become equal in the end. Indeed the state of Nirvana is peace and equality. According to Buddhism, when the state of Nirvana is attained, all afflictions and the cycle of birth and death will be extinguished, there will be no more suffering, eternal happiness is attained, perfect wisdom is realized, and all illusions are eradicated. Ordinary people think that Nirvana is attained only after death. Actually, the definition of Nirvana is "without birth or death." Nirvana means the extinction of "clinging"; the elimination of atma-graha (holding on to the concept of the self) and Dharma-graha (holding on to the concept that things are real); and the eradication of the obstacles of defilement and the riddance of the hindrance of knowledge. It means putting an end to the cycle of birth and death. Nirvana is liberation. Defilement is bondage. A criminal, chained by shackles, has lost his freedom. Likewise, living beings are bound by the chains of greed, hatred, and delusion. If living beings practice the Dharma and put an end to these defilements, they will all be liberated and thus attain Nirvana. Other than going through this process, Nirvana is not to be found in any other way.
During the Buddha's time, the Buddha's disciples traveled to different places to teach the Dharma after they had attained Nirvana. From their example, we can understand that Nirvana is not something that can be attained outside of dharmas. All dharmas are originally Nirvana. However, since the minds of living beings are obscured by ignorance, by delusion and clinging, and by thinking that the "self" and the dharmas have a substantial existence which can be attained, they encounter obstacles, hindrances, and bondage everywhere they go. If we can be like the Buddhist sages who understand that all things arise due to Conditioned Genesis, then even though we still exist in this world, we can realize that all existence is ever changing and lacks a true self-nature. We will no longer be attached; wherever we are we will then be liberated. Liberation is Nirvana.
Some people say that life is like an ocean in which there is perpetual motion, with waves coming one after the other. The continuous movement of the ocean exemplifies the impermanence of the samskaras. If we can look at the waves through the eyes of the Buddhist sages, we then soon realize that although the waves are turbulent, the nature of water is always calm. Likewise, life is an endless cycle of birth and death, but the real self-nature is always in perfect peace. Thus, if we want to attain the liberation of Nirvana, we have to realize it through the impermanence of all samskaras and the nonsubstantiality of all dharmas. It is not possible to find the state of perfect peace of Nirvana apart from impermanence and nonsubstantiality.
Today I have introduced you to the four unique characteristics of Buddhism. I hope this lecture has deepened your insight into Buddhism and that it will serve as a stepping stone for your further investigation of Buddhism. May everyone enjoy good health of body and mind, happiness, and success!


The Wheel of Rebirth

Dear Venerables and Dharma Friends,
Today, I am going to discuss with you a very important, but difficult to affirm, topic-rebirth. When we talk about rebirth, some people laugh at the idea. They consider such belief passe and obsolete in the technologically advanced 20th Century. Others may think that the question of rebirth belongs strictly in the arena of religion. After all, the issue of what happens after death seems remote from everyday living. The saying, "If I don't even know about living, why ask about dying?" reflects how some people may feel. To them, the question of rebirth is not a pressing concern. Indeed, in the ambience of this grand lecture hall, the subject of rebirth may not seem an appropriate lecture topic. If we were to discuss this question on a battlefield, where we are face to face with death, then we would be more earnest to approach and study this very important and serious question of death and rebirth.
Sometimes we may hear young people making scornful remarks about their not believing in rebirth. By not recognizing the existence of rebirth, they are simply limiting their understanding of life. If there were no rebirth, there would be no past [lives] and, moreover, there would be no future [lives]. Without future [lives], existence would be short and without meaning; the outlook of life would be forlorn and uncertain! When we are going through tough times, we often encourage ourselves by saying, "Every-thing is going to be alright. Just wait and see how I will be doing in ten years." Even death-row inmates facing execution would stick out their chests and declare, "In twenty years, I will be back." With rebirth, human existence has maneuvering room. With rebirth, unfulfilled wishes can materialize one day. With rebirth, there will always be the next train of life for us to board.
All phenomena in this world cannot escape the workings of the wheel of rebirth. It is because of the workings of rebirth that we are reborn into a blessed or suffering realm of existence, of which there are six. The life processes of being born and dying are examples of rebirths. Changes in nature are also manifestations of rebirths. There is the change of the four seasons. There is the time cycle of past, present, and future. There is the cycle of day and night. These are temporal types of rebirths. The change of directions and the movement from one place to the next are spatial types of rebirths. In short, everything around us is the result of rebirth. The wind blows and gathers the clouds; clouds turn into rain, which falls to the ground. The rain evaporates into the sky and becomes clouds again. This continuous process of the water cycle is a form of rebirth. When an automobile burns gasoline, it generates energy and produces carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants. When the plants die, they decompose and become natural oil deposits many years later. This is another form of rebirth. A light can be turned on, off, and on again. This is rebirth, too.
The wheel of rebirth is not only found in changes in the universe, it is also evident in the many changes that one experiences during one's lifetime, from the time one is born to when one dies. According to scientific research, there is not one single cell in our body that has not changed in seven years. In other words, our body is totally renewed every seven years. The cellular structure, perception, and cognition of all living creatures, from simple organisms to advanced humans, are constantly moving, changing, living, and dying. This constant state of flux, renewal, and metabolic change that we experience physically (birth, old age, sickness, and death) and in our minds (the forming, existing, changing, and ceasing of thoughts) is what we call the wheel of rebirth. This can be compared to the cyclic motion of the wheels of a car. The wheel of rebirth is also at work in family relationships; at one time we are the children of our parents, and yet in another time we become the parents of our children. The changes in our economic welfare and the ups and downs of our emotions are also examples of rebirth.
Of all the above examples of rebirths, the one that we must thoroughly understand in Buddhism is the wheel of rebirth within the six realms of existence. According to the Buddhist teachings, we humans are constantly going through cycles of rebirth. It is just that we refer to the slow and gradual changes as "forming and ceasing" or "changing and transforming," and we reserve the term the "cycle of rebirth" to those changes that are rapid and sudden. These cycles are the direct consequences of karma. Karma is the force that is created as a result of our actions and thoughts. The force of karma is what perpetuates the cycle of cause-and-effect, giving rise to the endless and beginningless flow of life in which different variations of life forms, such as celestial beings, humans, spirits, and animals are manifested. In Buddhism, this is referred to as the "wheel of rebirth within the six realms of existence." Master Sheng An in his piece Inspiration to Pledge the Bodhicitta said, "All beings and I have been trapped in the cycle of rebirth from time eternal and cannot be liberated. Heaven and earth, here and there, we live in many forms, rising and falling." Yet, this profound and important law of rebirth is not accepted by the many who are ignorant of it. No wonder ancient masters would sigh and lament, "Only the sutras can reveal such truth; only the Buddha can speak on such matters." Rebirth is not a religious theory; it is not an escape or a psycho-logical comfort when the unforgiving moment of death befalls us. It is a precise science that explains our existence from the past into the future. We should develop a thorough understanding of rebirth, not because we are expected to do so in Buddhism, but because this understanding can help us examine our life intelligently. Next, I will discuss the Buddhist perspective on the cycle of rebirth in four sections.

I. The Value of Understanding Rebirth
What value does rebirth bring to our lives? What meaning does rebirth add to our existence? With rebirth, our existence has continuity; life is no longer limited to a short span of a hundred years or so. With rebirth, life is unlimited in hope and possibilities. Within the cycle of rebirth, death is the beginning of another existence. Living and dying, dying and living, existence continues uninterrupted while possibilities are unbounded. This can be compared to a torch. When one stick of wood is exhausted, it is replaced with another. Each stick may be different in its components, yet the flame continues to burn. Rebirth is also like an oil lamp. When one oil lamp is exhausted, another is lit. These lamps, burning one after another, serve to shatter the darkness of the world. As we go through the cycle of rebirth within the six realms, our bodies can take on many forms, as a Henry or a Jack, as a celestial being or as an earthbound human being. While the forms are different, the flame of life is inexting-uishable and the lamp of wisdom never stops burning. Rebirth is what gives our existence universality: we exist from antiquity to now and our existence is timeless. Rebirth gives meaning to existence.
Although we may say that everyone is equal under the law, some people still manage to evade the law. In contrast, Buddhism teaches us that the cycle of rebirth treats everyone equally. Regardless if one is a noble or a commoner, everyone must face the cycle of rebirth. This was well-said by the poet Mu Tu, "The only true fairness in this world is gray hair; it does not overlook the heads of the rich." Time is the most objective judge. Birth, age, sickness, and death are the most impartial jury. Cause and effect, as well as the cycle of rebirth, are not controlled by a yama (underworld) king nor a god-creator. Our circumstance, be it good or bad, is determined by one's past deeds or karma. Our stored karma interacts with ripened conditions and manifests in varying types of painful or blessed effects. Therefore, it is written in the sutra, "Millions of millennia may pass, but karma does not vanish. When the condition is ripened, one must bear the consequences of one's actions." Our circumstances in the cycle of rebirth within the six realms, whether we are intelligent or dull, rich or poor, are all products of our past deeds. Take the example of the six-year-old child prodigy, Nai-Ch'ing Wang. His talent in mathematics surpasses the capabilities of many college professors and experts. His talent is not a product of this lifetime; it is the culmination of learning from previous lifetimes. This, too, is a form of rebirth. Rebirth liberates us from the hands of a divine power, for it is our own karma that controls rebirth. Heaven and gods cannot give us fortune or bring us disaster; we are our own masters. From the viewpoint of rebirth, every being is free and equal. Happiness and fortune are the products of our own doing. Misery and tragedy are also of our own creation. A creator cannot protect us from the consequences of our own crimes; gods cannot take away our merits, either. In front of rebirth and cause-and-effect, there is no such thing as luck. We are the creators of our own future.
We should lead our life like a wheel, always moving it forward. Only then can we keep our life refreshed. Repenting for our transgressions is like putting a wheel in the reverse motion; with time and remorse, we can eventually make amends. Rebirth gives us unlimited hope. Although the cold winter may be long, the warm spring will come one day. Rebirth is not a word game for argument and it is not just a question of whether we believe it or not. Even if we stubbornly refuse to believe in rebirth, we can see that the cycle of rebirth is all around us. In all the phenomena of society, nature, the universe, and even between you and me, everything is within the swirl of rebirth. Therefore, the wise action for us to take is to intelligently understand rebirth, to be freed from rebirth, to transcend the three realms, and ultimately to transform the wheel of rebirth into the Dharma wheel of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

II. Some Questions Regarding the Subject of Rebirth
Although rebirth has such a profound meaning and importance, many people still have many questions regarding its existence, its manifestation, and its purpose. Here are some commonly asked questions regarding the subject of rebirth.

A. Is the existence of rebirth good or bad for us?
Some people find anguish in the thought of being reborn again. To them, it is best if death is the final chapter of their lives. Buddhism does not believe that death is the finale, but is, in fact, the beginning of another life. Our present life is one of our many lives, and we must learn to treasure each life so that we do not waste it. With rebirth, our lives do not just end with this one, and we have the chance to again build a better future. Without rebirth, death is the ultimate end. Would it not be tragic if we go to our graves with our hopes and dreams unfulfilled? How can [life without rebirth] be considered desirable?

B. Why am I not aware of rebirth?
One may ask: If rebirth really exists, how come I cannot recall anything in my past life? It is said in the sutras, "Humans are pitiful; a grandson marries the grandmother." Why are we so ignorant? What makes us so forgetful of our past lives that we would even marry our grandmother? In Chinese folklore, it is said that before one is reborn, one has to drink a concoction that erases all memory of the previous life. Plato believed that the soul, in its journey of rebirth, had to first cross an extremely hot and arid desert before coming to a river of cool running water. With a thirst that was simply unbearable, one drank from the river without realizing that the water would wipe out all bits and pieces of the memory from previous life. Likewise, Roman folklore has a similar story of why one's memory of previous life is lost after rebirth.
Buddhism teaches that people lose all memory of previous life because of the "confusion of rebirth." After one dies, one passes through the stage of "intermediate being." The intermediate being possesses all the six senses and looks like a three foot tall child. It has supernatural power, can go through walls, and is able to travel at incredible speed. Nothing can stand in its way except for a mother's womb and the Buddha's diamond throne. The intermediate being lives and dies in seven-day increments. After it dies, it can be reborn again. It can at most live for seven seven-day periods or a total of forty-nine days. Some may only live for two or three seven-day periods. At the end of this stage, it will be reborn into one of the six realms. It is because of this intermediary state that we forget our previous lives, not even recalling what realms we lived in previously. Some of you may say, "How regrettable, wouldn't life be wonderful if one could have the power of knowing one's past and future lives, and be free of the confusion of rebirth?" Do you really think that supernatural power can make us happy? Do you think it is pleasant to recall that one was a cow or a pig in a previous life? If one can know the future and know that one only has three more years to live, can one still live a carefree life? If one can read others' minds and finds the smiles of others are only facades of ill intentions, will one not feel hurt and angry? In the absence of supernatural power, everyday is a great day, and everywhere is a great place. How free and pleasant life is! Thus, there are rules of nature by which the universe and life operate. When everything settles into its respective place and evolves in due order, then all can be truly at ease. We may have forgotten our past lives, but by the same token, we have a new body with all the unpleasant experiences of the past behind us. Is this not indeed a very wonderful thing, too?

C. Do prayers for the deceased have any impact on his or her rebirth?
Now that we know rebirth is real, does the saying of prayers or the reciting of sutras have any impact on the rebirth of our loved ones when they pass away? Can these actions help them to become liberated from rebirth? According to the Ksitigarbha Sutra, only two- to three-tenths of the merit from the reading of sutras is transferred to the deceased, while the rest of the merit accrues to the one reading the sutra. Therefore, it is best if we ourselves recite the sutra when we are alive; it is like saving for a rainy day. In this way, we do not need to impose on others to recite the sutra for us after we have passed away. After all, the merit that can be transferred to the deceased is limited. How, then, does the reciting of sutras benefit the deceased? It can be compared to the situation of one sharing in the glory of a wealthy and famous relative. It is like the passport that one needs to take on a trip; the merit can help one to be reborn into the land of the Buddhas. When a rock is thrown into a river, it quickly sinks to the bottom. If the rock is placed on a ship, it can arrive at the other shore safely. The heavy karma of our sins is like this rock; we can use the compassionate merit from the reciting of the sutras as the ferrying vessel so that we will not be left to sink in the sea of rebirth. If a wheat field is full of healthy and strong seedlings, a couple of weeds will not have any material impact. The merit of reciting the sutra can promote the seedlings of our good karma to grow, and prevent the buried seeds of our misdeeds to germinate.

D. Does feng shui and fortune telling have any impact on rebirth?
In Chinese culture, it is common for people to hire a soothsayer to check the time and location for weddings, funerals, and special occasions. The feng shui master may tell you that the house alignment is not right and that it may hinder the future of your descendents. The fortune-teller may tell you that the couple's horoscopes are conflicting and that they should not be married. When we have to check the calendar of the stars to pick a good day for our weddings or to consult soothsayers for a time and place to bury our loved ones, then our life is controlled by superstition and the belief in divine power. In reality, of the many weddings that take place on an auspicious day, some may end in divorce while others remain happily married. Therefore, having a wedding ceremony on a chosen day is not important for a happy marriage. Instead, learning to get along and being committed to each other is the foundation for a blissful union. Actually, the foundation of so called feng shui and auspicious timing should be built on relationships and mental attitudes. If we want favorable feng shui and auspicious timing, we need to direct our efforts toward helping others and building good causal relationships with others. In so doing, we will find everywhere is a perfect location and any time is an auspicious moment. Therefore, if we believe in rebirth, it makes sense that we should diligently cultivate our virtues and accumulate our merits, for our virtues and merits can be reborn with us. We should also form good causal relationships with others, for good causal relationships can be reborn with us. Indeed, accumulating merits and building good causal relationships with others is the ultimate source of happiness in life.

E. Are there some examples that can illustrate the meaning of rebirth?
As there is no way for one to know the past and future, are there some real life examples that can substantiate the existence of rebirth? Take the example of the silk clothing that we wear. It is made by silkworms. Silkworms spin cocoons from which silkmoths emerge. Silkworms, cocoons, and moths are three entities, yet they are also one being. On the one hand, it is inaccurate to say that a silkworm is not a silkmoth; on the other hand, it is just as inaccurate to say that a silkworm is the same as a silkmoth. We are just as correct to say that a silk-worm is a silkmoth, or a silkworm is not a silkmoth. Is this not a living example of rebirth?
Once, there was a man who stole some coconuts. While he was savoring the taste of the coconuts, he was caught red-handed by the rightful owner of the coconuts. The owner grabbed him and yelled at him angrily, "How can you steal my coconuts!"
"I did not steal your coconuts!"
"How can you deny it? I planted the coconut tree," the owner fumed.
With an air of indignation, the man argued, "Well, the coconut you planted is the seed in the ground, and I am eating the fruit on the tree. What does that have to do with you?"
The coconuts on the tree grow out of the coconut seed in the ground; they are connected by rebirth. Like the growing process of a coconut [from a seed], or the lighting of a torch by another, life goes on and on. The wheel of life turns and turns, without a moment of respite.

F. Is the idea of rebirth in conflict with the concept of selflessness?
One of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism is that "All dharmas do not have a substantial self." If this is the case, how can there be rebirth? Are they in conflict with each other? Selflessness does not mean that there is no life. It means that our physical bodies are the illusive combination of the five aggre-gates (form, feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness) and the four great elements (earth, water, fire, and wind). This combination exists as long as the right causes and conditions are present. Thus, our physical bodies do not have a substantial self, and this is what is meant by selflessness. The idea of rebirth is not in conflict with the concept of selflessness. Take the example of a piece of gold. It can be molded into rings, earrings, or bracelets. The forms may vary, yet the nature of gold is unchanged. This is the same way with our existence. In a perpetual flux through the wheel of rebirth, we wander between the heaven realm and the earth realm. We may be a Henry or a Jack, a donkey or a horse. What really goes through the wheel of rebirth is not the physical body, but a "compelling force" that is within every one of us.

G. What is at the core of rebirth?
If it is not the physical body that is reborn, then what is this "compelling force" that is at the core of rebirth? In Buddhism, the core of rebirth is described as the alaya-vijnana (storehouse consciousness). In the sutras, the alaya-vijnana is described as follows:
The vast Tripitaka cannot describe [the alaya-vijnana] completely.
Impacted by the winds of circumstance, the seven abysmally deep waves arise from it.
Through the effect of contact, it holds seeds for sense organs, entities of beings, and the world of receptacle.
The first to come and the last to go, it acts as the master [of existence].
Alaya-vijnana is the basic source of life. As it comes into contact with different conditions and circumstances, it gives rise to various mental formations and actions, hence karma. The seeds of karma are [in turn] stored in this giant warehouse of alaya-vijnana. The relative abundance of the good or bad karma in this giant warehouse then determines the direction of the next rebirth. When a being dies, the alaya-vijnana is the last to leave the physical body. When a being is reborn, the alaya-vijnana is the first to arrive in the next body. It is the core of rebirth.

H. What is the relationship between rebirth and the force of the good or bad karma that we have?
Given that the alaya-vijnana is the core of rebirth, what then determines the circumstances of our rebirths? Everyday, we create endless karma of action, speech, and thought. Some of this karma is wholesome, while others are unwholesome. They form two dominating and competing forces, much like the situation in a tug-of-war. If the force of the wholesome karma dominates, we will be reborn into one of the three good realms of celestial, human, or asura existence. If the force of the unwholesome karma predominates, we will be reborn in one of the three suffering realms of animal, hungry ghost, or hell. Thus, it is the goodness or badness of karma that decides the future of our rebirths. From this, we can conclude that if we want to prepare for our future well-being, it is critical that we do good and refrain from evil.

I. What do different religions say is the final goal of rebirth?
Almost all religions accept the idea of rebirth. What do they say is the final goal of rebirth? Taoists seek everlasting life and permanent youth. Christians believe that the final goal is to enter into heaven to be with God and achieve eternal salvation. Even most folklore religions espouse everlasting life. This is in contrast to the Buddhist teachings which teach us that the ultimate goal is to realize the state of birthlessness. What this means is that we should strive to become liberated from rebirth. From a Buddhist perspective, a long life, an everlasting life, or an undying life is still in the thick of the agony of rebirth. Only birthlessness can emancipate us from the suffering of existence. It is the ultimately serene, everlasting joyous pure-living!

III. Evidence of Rebirth
There are many well-documented records of famous scholars in history that will dispel any remaining doubts regarding the unmitigated truth of rebirth.
Yang-Ming Wang, a famous Confucian scholar of the Ming Dynasty, once visited the Gold Mountain Temple to pay his respects. While at the temple, he had a feeling of deja vu, as if he had been there before. As he toured the temple, he came across a room with a door that was locked and sealed. It somehow seemed to him that he had lived in that room before. His curiosity eventually got the better of him, so he requested the reception monk to show him the inside of the room. The monk replied apologetically, "I am very sorry. This room was where one of our founding masters passed away some fifty years ago, and his body is still kept inside. He had left word that this room was not to be disturbed. I hope you can understand why we absolutely cannot unseal the door."
"Since the room has a door, it cannot just remain shut forever. Please kindly indulge me and let me go inside to take a look."
After repeated pleadings from Yang-Ming Wang, the monk realized that this guest would not leave unless he got to see the inside of the room, so the monk finally let him in. Under the dim light of dusk, he saw an old monk, who had long since passed away, sitting timelessly straight up on a mat. When he took a closer look, he was taken aback. How could the face of this master look so much like his own? He lifted his head and saw a poem written on the wall. It went as follows:
Yang-Ming Wan, fifty years later,
The person who opens the door is the one who closed it.
When the consciousness once left is now back,
It then believes in the Ch'an teaching of the indestructible being.
As it turned out, the old monk was none other than Yang-Ming Wang in his previous life. As he himself had closed the door in bygone days, he returned to open it that very day. As a testimonial for future generations, he wrote the following poem:
The Gold Mountain awakened me like the strike of a fist;
I see through the sky under Weiyang Lake.
While enjoying the moon above the balcony,
The playing of the flute awakens the dragon within me.
Among the public records of Hsiushui county of Kiangsi Province was a report of a woman reborn as a renowned scholar named Shan-Ku Huang. He became a county commissioner at the tender age of twenty-six. One day, he dreamt that he had walked to a place. There, he saw a silver-haired old lady preparing and making offerings in front of her residence. On the altar was a bowl of noodles and celery. The bowl of noodles smelled so appetizing that, without any hesitation, he picked up the bowl of noodles from the altar and began eating. When he woke up, he could still taste the celery in his mouth. Shan-Ku Huang thought it was all just a dream and did not think much about it. The next day when he took an afternoon nap, he had the same dream again. He became very unsettled and decided to see if he could find the place he saw in the dream. After some walking, he came upon a house in front of which was the same old lady in his dream. With three incense sticks in her hands, she was praying quietly. Even more incredible was the freshly prepared bowl of noodles and celery on the altar. The noodles smelled delicious. Shan-Ku Huang was very curious, so he walked up and asked the lady, "Madam! What are you doing?"
"Yesterday was the twenty-sixth anniversary of my daughter's passing. I am making an offering to her."
Her words surprised and shocked Shan-Ku Huang. Strange! Why was it the same as his age? So he asked further, "What did your daughter usually like to do?"
"When she was alive, she was a devoted Buddhist and liked to read Buddhist sutras. She vowed not to get married and was especially fond of noodles and celery. Therefore, I specially made a bowl of noodles to offer her."
With many unanswered questions in his mind, he asked, "Would it be possible for me to look around her room?"
The lady agreed and showed him inside. The room was full of many books and sutras that he had once read. In the corner, there was a giant chest. Shan-Ku Huang asked inquisitively, "What is inside the chest? May I open it and take a look?"
The old lady replied that she did not know what was inside the chest or where the key was. Shan-Ku Huang thought hard for a moment. Then, as if remembering something, he quickly found the key and opened the chest. He was dumbfounded when he realized that the chest was full of his essays and writings from each of the prior government exam-inations he had taken a few years earlier. He finally realized that the lonely, elderly lady was the mother of his previous life. He fell to his knees and sincerely pleaded, "Madam! I was your daughter. Please come home with me and allow me to take good care of you."
He then welcomed the old lady into his home and wrote a poem to mark this turn of events.
Like a monk with hair, like a layman free of worldly dust,
Having a dream within a dream, I see existence beyond existence.
What the poem says is this: Although he was a layman, he aspired to the life of a monk. Although he led a secular life, he was not hindered by worldly temptations. Life is like a dream; beyond life there is another existence. He could very well identify with the saying, "In dreams, vivid are the six realms of existence. Upon awakening, empty is the universe, without substance."
The Fifth Patriarch of the Ch'an school, Hung Jen, also had a well-known story regarding his rebirth. It was said that Hung Jen was an old gardener in his previous life. He had very high regard for the Fourth Patriarch, Tao Hsin, and wanted to become his disciple. Tao Hsin thought that he was too old and would not be able to sustain the rigors of travel to propagate the Dharma. He therefore consoled the old gardener, "If you were to be reborn now, I might be able to stay on a few years longer to wait for you."
The old gardener bid the Fourth Patriarch farewell. He went by a creek and saw a young lady washing cotton yarn. He asked, "Lady, may I stay in your house for a while?"
"You should ask my parents. I cannot make such a decision."
"I must have your permission, or else I would not dare to ask further."
The young lady saw that as it was getting dark and the poor old man needed a shelter for the night, she nodded. Strangely, this unwed lady became pregnant upon her returning home. The family was very upset and disowned her. Later, she gave birth to a nice chubby baby boy. She was distraught and threw her ill-fated baby boy in the river, but miraculously, the baby flowed up-stream against the current. Without any means of livelihood, she became a beggar to support herself and the baby. Since no one knew who his father was, he was called the "Nameless Kid." Six years went by and the boy grew to become a very lovable and intelligent young boy. One day, when Master Tao Hsin was preaching in the area, the young boy went up to him, tugged at the Master's robe and would not let go. He earnestly asked the master to take him as a disciple. When the Master saw that he was only a young boy, he patted the youngster on his head and said gently, "You are too young, how can you renounce your household life and become my disciple?"
Speaking like an adult, the "Nameless Kid" demanded an answer, "Master, you complained that I was too old in the past; now, you say I am too young. When are you going to accept me as your disciple?"
These words seemed to have jolted something in Master Tao Hsin's memory. He quickly asked, "Child, what is your name? Where do you live?"
"They call me the 'Nameless Kid.' I live on Ten Mile Lane."
"Everyone has a name. How could you lie and say that you have no name? Come on, tell me what is your family name."
"Buddha nature is my family name, so I do not have a last name."
Tao Hsin was very pleased that a young child could have said such impressive words. The Master believed that this young child would one day achieve greatness and make significant contributions to the Buddhist religion. Later, the Fourth Patriarch passed his robe and bowl to the "Nameless Kid" who then became the Fifth Patriarch of the Ch'an school. The Fifth Patriarch had many disciples, and the Ch'an school really blossomed because of him.
In 1942, in the Pin County of Shensi Province in China lived a man named San-Niu T'ien. He made his home in a cave. During a storm, the cave collapsed and buried him alive. While feeling suffocated, he felt himself climbing out of the mound of dirt. Once out, he saw his family huddled together crying. He asked his family what had just happened, but no one paid him any attention. Annoyed and irritated, he decided to "walk away" from his family. His walk took him to Mingyu Pond. There he saw a narrow door, so he decided to squeeze through the doorway. Suddenly, he heard someone remark over the din, "Congratulations! You have a new son."
Unknowingly, San-Niu T'ien was reborn as a son of the Chang family; he was named Sheng-Yu Chang. As soon as he came out of the mother's womb, he saw that the midwife was looking all over the place for a pair of scissors. He asked her, "Isn't the pair of scissors hanging on the wall?"
All those present were shocked speechless. They thought he was some sort of demon and suggested that they drown him in the river. The mother felt sorry for him, and he was spared. For seven years, he did not dare to speak one word, yet he remembered everything of his past life. Somehow the news of San-Niu T'ien's rebirth as the son of the Chang family reached the T'ien family. One time, the T'ien family had a land dispute with their neighbor, but they could not find the deed to the land. In desperation, they asked the Chang's son to come to their house to look for the deed. Amazingly, the young boy was very familiar with the affairs of the family. He located the deed in no time and thereby resolved the argument. This story was told by the Assistant Director of Social Services of Taiwan, Mr. Nai-Huang Mou. It was verified by the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr. Fu-Chou Wang. In this modern age of science, there are still many unexplainable true stories of rebirth.
Tung-Po Su, the famous Chinese poet, always had a close and deep relationship with Buddhism. He was very close to a few monks and often called on them. In the Record of Lamp Passing for Laity, it was documented that he was the Precept Master of the Fifth Patriarch of the Ch'an school in his previous life. When his mother was pregnant with him, she dreamt of a small-eyed thin elderly monk. She later gave birth to Tung-Po Su. Many years later, through his brother Ch'e Su, who was a government official in Kaoan, Tung-Po Su became friends with three monks, Chen Ching, Wen Sheng, and Shou Ts'ung. They often got together to discuss Ch'an and the Dharma. One day, the three monks all dreamt of a visit from the deceased Precept Master of the Fifth Patriarch. When they were discussing the dream, it just happened that Tung-Po Su called on them. They told Tung-Po Su their dream. Tung-Po Su told them in return that when he was about seven, he once dreamt of himself as a monk traveling and spreading the Buddhist teachings in the Shanyu area.
Master Chen Ching immediately added, "The Precept Master was also from the Shanyu area. He traveled to Kaoan in his twilight years and passed away fifty years ago in Tayu." Pursuing further, they found that Tung-Po Su was forty-nine years old. It then dawned on all of them that Tung-Po Su was the Precept Master in his previous life.
There is a famous Chinese proverb, "A relationship is destined to last three lifetimes," which signifies the depth and extent of a relationship. Actually, there is a moving story of rebirth behind the proverb. Tung-Po Su, in his book titled The Legend of Monk Yuan Tse, described a friendship between master Yuan Tse and scholar Yuan Li. Both of them had planned to travel to Omei Mountain together, but they could not agree which route to take. Yuan Tse wanted to travel by land, but Yuan Li insisted on going by river. Master Yuan Tse sighed, "Everything is determined by cause and conditions, not by the wish of a person." They finally decided to take the water route. While passing by Nanp'u, they saw a pregnant woman with a clay jug, who was fetching water along the river. Yuan Tse heaved a long sigh and said, "It is precisely because I was afraid to run into this woman that I suggested to use the land route. She is from the Wang family, and I am supposed to be her son. For three years, I have been hiding from her. Consequently, she has been pregnant for three years and cannot give birth. In three days, you can go over to her house to visit me. I will acknowledge you with a smile. In thirteen years, we can meet again outside the T'ienchu temple in Hangchow."
That evening the master passed away painlessly. Three days later, Yuan Li paid a visit to the lady's house. The newborn baby indeed gave Yuan Li a very warm and innocent smile upon seeing him. Thirteen years later, he traveled to the T'ienchu temple. There, he saw a young herder riding and singing on top of an ox:
An ancient apparition sits atop the boulder of the past, present, and future,
Enjoying the scenery and not wanting to argue.
I am happy a sentimental friend has come to visit from afar.
This body is different, but the nature is eternally the same.
When Yuan Li heard the song, he called out, "How is Ch'an master Yuan Tse doing?"
The young herder waved backed and replied, "Mr. Li indeed keeps his promise." He kept playing his flute and slowly rode off into the horizon.

IV. How Can We Transcend Rebirth?
Now that we have understood the significance and veracity of rebirth, we should go a step further and find out how we can transcend rebirth. The right understanding of rebirth is only a process, a means to the ultimate end of how to transcend rebirth. Some people find the Buddhist tenet regarding rebirth and cause-and-effect superstitious and ludicrous. Actually, all of the Buddha's teachings are nothing more than marvelous methods for liberating ourselves from the shackles of rebirth. Since the ultimate purpose of Buddhism is to transcend rebirth, Buddhism is indeed the sensible and credible religion that can shatter the wheel of rebirth.
If we want to transcend rebirth, we must first know the reason for rebirth. The reason for rebirth is our clinging, while the circumstance of our rebirth is determined by the nature of our karma. Since the karmic forces of each of us varies in terms of whether they are wholesome or unwholesome, or whether they are severe or mild, the respective effects and results are all different. It is written in the sutras, "Cutting down a tree without taking out the root, the tree will grow once more. Severing our desires without eradicating the root causes, we will have to experience repeatedly the pain of rebirth. It is like making an arrow and striking oneself with it. The arrow of flesh is also the same; the arrow of desire hurts all beings." The thirst and craving of our greed and desires is the arrow. This arrow causes us to rise and sink in the sea of rebirth. How painful! We must apply the fire of diligence to incinerate the forest of desires. We must use the radiance of Prajna to pierce through the darkness of ignorance and unwholesome karma. We must wield the sword of wisdom to sever the chains of rebirth. These are our hopes and directions. The Buddha once said, "This is my last rebirth." With the eighty-four thousand Dharma methods the Buddha has taught us, we can all surely break through the wheel of rebirth and live in the realm of total freedom.
Understanding rebirth, transcending rebirth, the next step is not to be afraid of rebirth. We can then live in rebirth and not be corrupted by rebirth. Unenlightened beings are led by the force of their karma into rebirth; sravakas and pratyekabuddhas are keen on being liberated from rebirth. In contrast, Bodhisattvas make great vows and pledge to be reborn to help others. Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva steers the vessel of compassion to re-enter the world to deliver all beings. Similarly, Venerable Tzu Hang promised himself to come back at a certain time. In the Annals of Pure Land Holy Practitioners, it is recorded that many masters wish to be reborn in the Pure Land so they may come back to our world to help others. Many Tibetan lamas are reborn into this world after passing away. The Dali Lama and the Panchen Lama are some of the more well-known examples. These masters truly live in accordance with the Bodhisattva's vow of compassion. Their spirit is captured in the saying, "We wish for the liberation of all beings from pain, but will not seek comfort just for ourselves." They are not deserters of humanity; they are perfectly willing to be lifeboats in the sea of misery. They can be compared to lotus blossoms that sprout out of the mud, yet remain pure. They are reborn into this suffering saha world, yet they are free of the pain of rebirth. They choose to re-enter the wheel of rebirth without any hesitation, and they are not afflicted by the suf-ferings of rebirth. These are true acts of compassion that speak volumes. They are true holy masters who have transcended the wheel of rebirth. Indeed, we can also look into the Jataka tales of the Buddha to find that the Buddha had been reborn as a deity, an animal, a monk, and as royalty. Without shying away from cycles of rebirth, the Buddha diligently practices the way of compassion and wisdom. The Buddha is always working to deliver all sentient beings and manifesting the way of the Buddha.
When the founder of the Wei Yang school, Ch'an Master Wei Yang Ling Yu, was about to pass away, his disciples gathered around him and asked, "Master, with your level of cultivation, where are you going to be reborn after passing away?"
"Oh! I will be reborn as a water buffalo in a nearby farm."
His disciples were shocked and puzzled, so they asked, "Master, you are such a great practitioner. How can you possibly be reborn as an animal?"
"If you do not believe me, you can find the words "Wei Yang Ling Yu monk" under the buffalo's left front leg. You will then know that is me."
His disciples were grief-stricken by his passing. After the funeral, they did discover a buffalo calf born in a farm nearby. They also discovered their master's name on the buffalo. When they saw the buffalo, which was their previous master, toiling under the blazing sun, they quickly bought the buffalo so they could take care of it in the temple. Every morning they fed him fresh green grass. Strangely enough, the buffalo refused to eat or drink. Helplessly, they took the buffalo back to the farm. There, the buffalo would work and then happily chew on its hay.
Master Wei Yang Ling Yu's act of compassion is an illustrative example of the saying, "If one wishes to become a great sage of Buddhism, one must first be willing to be a servant for all beings." This supreme level of compassion is beyond the shallow understanding of his disciples. It is only when one is able to practice the Buddhist teachings amid the sea of rebirth and can be at ease within the bounds of reincarnation that one truly understands rebirth. Such a cultivator is a Bodhisattva who is truly liberated from rebirth.
Today, I have talked with you about the Buddhist perspective on the wheel of rebirth. My main goal is to hope all of you would face life and the future with confidence and radiance. We must believe in the indestructibility of life. Death is like the disintegration of a dilapidated house; we just have to move to another comfortable and sturdy house. Death is like the fraying of worn clothing; we just have to change into beautiful and new attire. In the beginningless swirl of life, all of us should work to first complete the majestic temple within us; we should work to first finish the magnificent Dharma robe within us. I wish all of you will transcend rebirth, be liberated from rebirth, and realize the life of wisdom and bodhi within the endless swirl of rebirth.


When We Die

Dear Dharma Friends,
Today we'll discuss the process of death and what happens after death. It is not an easy subject. If I were to tell you that there is much suffering after death, you might be fearful of the pain you have to face after death. In such a mindset, you cannot comprehend the true nature of death. If I were to tell you that life after death is serene and peaceful, you might misunderstand me and think that death is wonderful and that it is a means to be liberated. Hence, I can only say this, "Life is not necessarily joyous, and death is not necessarily miserable."
Once, there was a rich man who had a son in his later years of life. When the boy was born, the house was filled with guests who came to congratulate the new father. Among the guests was a Ch'an master who was totally unmoved by the festivity around him. Before long, he even started to cry. The rich man was puzzled and asked, "Master, is there anything wrong? Why are you so sad?" The Ch'an master replied sadly, "I cry because you have added another name to the ranks of death in your family."
An enlightened person sees birth as an extension of life, and death as the start of another life. Birth is not just about living, and death is not just about dying. When we look at birth and death as one, what is there to rejoice over or to grieve about?
When we see someone who is one hundred years old, we often congratulate him by saying, "May you live to be one hundred and twenty." Every year, on Remembrance Day (September 9th, a holiday in Taiwan), the government honors local elders and celebrates their longevity. Let us think about this for a moment. Is the occasion of someone reaching the age of one hundred and twenty really a cause for celebration? If a man were to live to be one hundred and twenty, his one hundred-year-old son might one day become sick and pass away. One after another, his eighty-year-old grandchild and his sixty-year-old great-grandchild might also pass way. This old man could no longer enjoy the happiness of spending time with his grandchildren. As he lived through the death of his children and grandchildren, he was left all alone. In a person's life, there is nothing harder to bear than the death of a child. So, longevity does not necessarily mean happiness. Often, with longevity come loneliness, helplessness, and physical debility.
Just as we should not be obsessed with longevity, we should also not fear death. The mentioning of death often provokes many frightful images in people. In Chinese culture, the dead are often portrayed as being punished, as having to climb mountains of knives or being drowned in pots of boiling oil. If we can really understand death, we will see that dying is not unlike getting a passport that allows us to travel to another country. How free! Death is a path that we must all travel. How can we face death in such a way that we feel prepared and not overwhelmed? To do this, we must understand death, the nature of which I would like to discuss with you in the following four sections.

I. The Moment of Death and the State of Death
Though we all have lived and died through countless rebirths, none of us can recall the experience of death. We do not know what death is really like. According to the sutras, when we die, we are still fully cognizant of all that are going on around us. We may hear the calm voice of the doctor announcing our death or the sound of our family grieving. We may still be able to see people gathering around our body, trying to move our body that is now empty of heartbeats and breathing. We may still worry about the many things that still need to be completed. We may feel ourselves moving among our family and friends, wanting to tell them what they should do. However, everybody is overcome with grief, and no one is able to see or hear us.
In the Reader's Digest, there was once an article about one man's near-death experience. One day while he was driving, he had a severe accident; the car was totally demolished, and he was killed on the spot. When the ambulance, paramedics, the police, and his family arrived on the scene, his consciousness had already left the body, and he felt himself floating in the air. He could hear over the din a group of people arguing about how the accident happened. So, he went over to the police officer and tried to tell him what actually happened. But the officer could neither hear nor see him. None of the others took notice of his presence nor could they see him. At this time, he only had his consciousness and was no longer in possession of his body. He finally became aware that he was floating outside his body, looking at his own body like an onlooker. He then found himself passing, at an incredible speed, through a long, dark, and narrow tunnel.
Another person spoke of his near-death experience when he suffered a severe head injury and was brought back from the brink of death. He said, "I remember my head went 'boom,' and I lost consciousness. Afterward, I just felt warm, comfortable, and peaceful." This is because once one's consciousness leaves the body, the consciousness is no longer constrained and can therefore feel a level of comfort and serenity that it has never before experienced. Another person also has this to say of his near-death experience: "When I was dying, I had an extremely good, wonderful, and peaceful sensation." Another man described his experience this way: "I felt I was as light as a feather. I was flying freely toward a world of brightness!" Death is not as chilling and ghastly as we may have imagined.
In the sutras, it is written that our life in this world is cumbersome and clumsy, not unlike a tortoise that is weighted down by its heavy shell. When we die, we are able to get rid of this burden and transform an existence that has been confined by the limits of the physical body. However, when we are faced with death, most of us still try to hold on to the seven worldly emotions and the six sensual desires. We still cannot let go of our sons, daughters, grandchildren, or our wealth. We do not want to die and cannot accept death gracefully. We think of dying as a painful experience, like tearing the shell off of a living tortoise. Buddhism does not share this view of dying. Buddhism teaches us that when we die, we are liberated from this body, and we feel extremely free and easy. It is like the relief of putting down a heavy piece of baggage. How light and free it is!
Whether we are smart or slow, good or bad, we all have to face death. Death is not a question of if, but a question of when and how. Even a powerful emperor like Emperor Chin-shih, who united the whole of China and became its first emperor, could not find any means to prolong his life. The mythical Peng Tsu might have lived to eight hundred years, but cosmologically, his life span was as short as that of an insect which lives only from morn till night. All beings that live must, without exception, also die. The difference lies only in the circumstances of death. The sutras divide the circumstances of death into four categories.

1. Death upon exhaustion of one's life span
This is what is called dying of old age. It is like a flickering flame that dies out naturally when its supply of oil is exhausted. We all like to live a nice long life, but a human life span has its limits. Life continues only with every breath we take, but as soon as we stop breathing, we die and are returned to the soil. There is a saying which goes like this: "Some only live from dawn till dusk. Others are born in spring or summer and die in autumn or winter. Some live for ten years, or a hundred, or even a thousand. Though we may live for a short or long time, is there really much difference?" What this says is that our life span has a limit, and no one can escape this reality.

2. Death upon exhaustion of one's merits
It is said in the sutras, "Humans do not understand life and death; human eyes do not discern [karmic] merits and demerits." Life is like an air bubble on the surface of water; when the air inside the bubble dissipates, the bubble no longer exists. After a rich man has squandered his wealth, he becomes poor. Similarly, when we have exhausted our merits, death will soon be knocking on our doors.

3. Death caused by accidents
This is what we call "premature death," which means that one dies when one is not supposed to. One may be killed in a car accident, ambushed in a war, murdered by an enemy, or attacked by a wild beast. Such deaths are sudden and unexpected. There is a Chinese proverb that is a fitting description of this kind of sudden death. It goes like this: "As long as one continues to breathe, possibilities abound. When death comes, everything comes to a standstill."

4. Death at will
The three circumstances of death described above are unpredictable and uncontrollable. On the contrary, death at will is without uncertainty and can be planned. In Buddhism, this is often referred to as "living and dying at will," and there are many great masters and Buddhist sages who can be born and die at will. They are not controlled by birth and death for they are totally in tune with the coming together and the breaking away of causes and conditions. Master Tao-an of the East Chin dynasty is a perfect example of such great masters. He was in total control of the passing of his life. On February 8th of the twentieth year of the Chien-yuan era, he assembled his disciples at the great hall of the Wu-chung temple in Chang-an. After praying and paying respect to the Buddha, he calmly told his disciples, "I am going to leave now! All of you should continue to spread the words of the Dharma and wake the ignorant up from their delusion."
Everyone was shocked and pleaded with the master, "Teacher, you are so healthy and strong. You should live for a long time to continue the work of the Buddha. How can you stop and leave us now? It is time for lunch; please have lunch first."
Tao-an answered, "Good, I'll have a little bit of lunch." Having said this, he ate his lunch as usual. After lunch, he returned to his room to rest, and he passed away while resting. Master Tao-an died at will, completely free of pain and suffering. If we practice the Dharma diligently, we can become free of karma, the force that binds us to death. We, too, can become enlightened and enter nirvana.
Now that we have discussed the circumstances of death, let us turn our focus into another aspect of death. What are the sensations of death? The sutras tell us of three sensations experienced in death. They are:
1. The imbalance of the great earth element: When one dies of a disease of the body, one feels a sinking sensation as the body feels like a big piece of land sinking into the ocean. Slowly and gradually, the body is immersed and the person feels suffocated. The sensation associated with this kind of death is described as "the great earth element being taken over by the great water element."
2. The imbalance of the great water element: When one dies of circulatory diseases, one initially has a sensation of being submerged in water, feeling wet and cold. Later, this gives way to a burning sensation, and the person feels very, very hot. The sensation associated with this kind of death is described as "the great water element being engulfed by the great fire element."
3. The imbalance of the great fire element: When one dies of pulmonary diseases, one feels a burning sensation, like a wildfire burning at dusk. Then the body feels a biting pain as if being blown into pieces by strong gusts and being scattered about like ashes. The sensation associated with this kind of death is described as "the great fire element being swallowed by the great wind element."
We will next turn our discussion to what it is like immediately after death and before our next rebirth. The sutras tell us that because our body is transformed from a finite and bounded form to a limitless and formless state when we die, the way we feel immediately following death is not all bad. This may seem a bit surprising, but there are three good reasons to explain this.
1. The limit of time and space: When we are alive, we are limited by time and space. We cannot travel simply by willing to be at a certain place, and we cannot revert the aging process that the passage of time brings upon us. Upon death, [and before our next rebirth,] we are liberated from the limits of the physical body, and our true nature can move about freely through the three realms of existence.
2. The burden of the body: It is said in the Dharmapada, "The physical body is the cause of all the sufferings on earth. The sufferings of hunger and thirst, hot or cold, anger and fear, lust, desires, hatred, and tragedy-all these stem from the existence of the body." When we are alive, we spend a lot of time taking care of our body. When we are hungry, we have to eat; when we are cold, we have to put on more clothing. When we are sick, we have to endure the pain. If we pause for a moment and take stock, we will notice that a lot of our concerns do pertain to the body. After death, the consciousness is no longer constrained by the confines of the body and all the problems associated with a physical body also vanish with it. There is no more hunger or sickness; a huge burden is lifted from our shoulders.
3. The supernatural element: While we are alive, our faculties are limited by our body. After death, we are no longer bound by the laws of physics. We will be able to see things that cannot be detected by the human eye. We will be able to hear sounds that cannot be heard by the human ear. We will be able to float freely in the air, as the force of gravity does not apply to us anymore. In this state, walls will not be able to stop us, and we will be able to travel simply by willing it.
Death is not an end; it is not a finality. On the contrary, it is the beginning of another new existence. When we die, the physical body ceases to function, but the consciousness lives on. During the time after death and before the next rebirth, the consciousness is in a state referred to in Buddhism as the "intermediate being" state. Depending on the cumulative karma from previous lives, an intermediate being will be reborn into one of the six realms. Once reborn, all memories of past lives will be lost. This is called the "confusion of rebirth." Thus, we cannot recall any memories of our past lives, and when we are reborn in our next life, we will not recall any of the memories of this present life. A poem written by Emperor Shun Chin says it well, "Before I was born, who was I? After my birth, who am I? If this grown man is me, then who is the fellow after death?"
Actually, it is not important for one to know one's past or future lives. From the Buddhist teachings, we learn that one never dies. What dies is the physical body, a combination of the four great elements. While the physical body dies, the consciousness continues without interruption. When we learn that the physical body is as lasting as a water bubble, then we begin to see the illusiveness of the world around us. We can then accept death without reservation.

II. Judgement After Death and the Next Rebirth
We often think of the departed and wonder what kind of situation they are in. In Chinese Buddhist culture, it is customary to pray for the dead when we celebrate a new year or at various holidays. It is all very well if this is done out of concern and respect for our departed parents or loved ones. Most people, however, have the misconception that when their parents pass away, they become ghosts in hell, and so they often have prayer services for their parents hoping that their parents will rest in peace. This is actually quite disrespectful of their parents, for only those who have committed grave transgressions will be reborn as hungry ghosts or hellish beings. Does it mean that we think of our parents as less than virtuous? Why can't we suppose our deceased parents have gone to the heavenly realm, or are reborn in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss?
Many religions believe that when we die, we will be judged on how we have led our lives. Chinese folk religion believes that after one dies, one appears before the Yama King, who will pass judgement on us. Christians believe that when we die, we will appear before God, who will decide if we should be welcomed into heaven or condemned to hell. Buddhists believe in judgement after death, too. The difference is that we will be judged, not so much by the Buddha, the bodhisattvas, or the Yama King, but by our own karma. The collective good and bad karma of our past actions will determine in which realm of existence we will be reborn and the conditions in which we will be reborn. In the Buddhist teachings, we learn that our happiness or misery is not controlled by deities, but is in our own hands.
Where does one go after death? Some people believe that death is the final chapter of one's life and there is nothing after death, let alone that one will be reborn. To them, life is short and fragile. Because of their view about death, they look at life with skepticism and anxiety. Instead of treasuring life and making the best use of it, these individuals look at life as a means to indulge in pleasures and satisfy the senses. As they do not look at life and death in the context of the Law of Cause and Effect, they are willing to do everything, legal and illegal, to further their own personal goals. Such a view about death, and therefore about life, is erroneous and can lead us astray. Although Christians differ from Buddhists in their way they look at how judgement is metered out, they also believe in the existence of heaven and hell and that there is life after death. In Buddhism, we believe that after we die, we will be reborn into one of the six realms of existence. In fact, there is a verse which can help the living relatives of the deceased to assess in which realm their loved ones will be reborn. It goes like this, "The enlightened emerge from the head, and heavenly beings rise to the heaven through the eyes. Humans emerge from the heart and hungry ghosts from the stomach. Animals leave from the knees and hellish beings from the feet." What this verse means is this: The last part of the body to remain warm indicates the realm of rebirth for the deceased. If a person dies, and his feet are the first to feel cold and the head is the last place to remain warm, this means that the deceased has attained the holy fruit of enlightenment. If the eyes are the last parts to remain warm, this means that the consciousness has left through the eyes and one is reborn in heaven. If the heart is the last part of the body to remain warm, one will be reborn as a human. If the belly remains warm the longest, one has fallen into the hungry ghost realm. If only the knees remain warm, one will be reborn as an animal. If the feet remain warm at the end, one has fallen into hell.
Which realm of existence will we be reborn into? How is this decided? This all depends on our cumulative good and bad karma of our past actions, just like this saying: If you want to know about your future life, all you have to do is reflect on your present life. There are three kinds of karmic forces which determine the realm and the conditions of our next rebirth. These karmic forces are shaped by:

1. The relative weight of our good and bad karma
The way how this karmic force works can be likened to how a bank auditor goes through the accounts of bank customers; those who owed the most money must be pursued first. When one dies, the relative weight of the good and bad karma will determine the person's rebirth. A person who has done a lot of good deeds will be reborn into a good realm, while a person with a lot of bad karma will be reborn in one of the three suffering realms. The principle behind this is as simple as the saying, "Good begets good; ill begets ill."

2. Our habits
In Buddhism, we believe that a person's habits can affect his or her rebirth. If one has the habit of chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha, one's mind is most likely to be on Amitabha. If this person meets with an accident and remembers to chant the name of Amitabha Buddha at the moment of his death, then this one utterance can help him to be reborn into the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.

3. Our thoughts
A person's rebirth is closely linked to his or her daily thoughts. If a person is dedicated to the ways of the Buddha, then he or she will be reborn into a pure land. If a person is committed to going to heaven and practices accordingly, the person will be reborn into the heavenly realm. Thus, in our daily practice, it is important to discern the kinds of thoughts on which we anchor our mind.
No matter if it is the weight of our karma, the force of our habits, or the power of our thoughts that directs us to our next rebirth, we should always hold the right thought, practice good, and avoid inflicting harm. This way, we do not need to fear neither judgement nor death.

III. Burial Customs And The Way to Look At Death
Different cultures have different ways of attending to the body of the dead and varying burial customs. Some of the different ways of preserving the body include freezing, dehydration, dissection, or mummification. Some people bury the dead in the ground while others cremate them. Some people practice burials at sea; others observe open burials.
The way Buddhists attend to the dead is largely similar to some of the cultures described above, with two major distinctions. First, Buddhists advocate the practice of not moving the body until eight hours after death. Second, Buddhists recommend that we should not cry loudly next to the body, as our cries will disturb the dead.
Why should we not move the body until eight hours after death? Actually, there is a scientific basis to this Buddhist custom. After the lungs have stopped breathing and the heart has stopped beating, the nervous system may still continue to function. Also, some awareness may still be left in the person's sub-consciousness. Though the person may be clinically dead, the person is not yet completely dead. Therefore, when someone passes away, we should not move the person regardless if the person is lying down, sitting, or half-reclining on the bed. If we try to move the body, we may be causing the deceased discomfort who will in turn be resentful and angry. Since the state of mind of the deceased can influence his or her rebirth, it is advisable that we do not move the body for eight hours after death.
In Buddhist literature, there is a story about how disturbing the body of the dead can lead to some unintended, often unfortunate, consequences. Once a king, who was a devout Buddhist, passed away. The royal family gathered around the body and took vigil. It so happened that a mosquito landed on the nose of the king. One member of the royal family tried to shoo the mosquito away, but missed and ended up slapping the king. The king was very annoyed and anger rose in him, causing him to be reborn as a python.
There is another reason why we should wait eight hours before moving the body of the dead. It is possible that when one does sitting meditation, one may enter a state of meditative concentration in which the pulse becomes almost undetectable. To others who are not familiar with the practice of meditation, the person in meditative concentration may appear dead. There was a story of an old monk who entered meditative concentration during one of his sitting meditation practices. When his young disciple felt his pulse and discovered that he was not breathing, he thought the monk had passed away. So, he had the body cremated. When the old monk came out of meditative concentration, he could not find his body. Later, people in the temple could hear the monk calling out day and night, "Where is my house? Where is my house?" People in the temple were unnerved by his crying, and they asked a good friend of the monk for help. The friend arrived in the temple and sat down quietly. When the old monk called out looking for his house (i.e. his body), his friend remarked loudly, "Just go. Why do you still want to be bothered with the house?" When the old monk heard this, he instantly attained enlightenment and never looked for his house again.
In the old days when there was no accurate way to ascertain if a person had died, this Buddhist custom of not moving the body of the dead for eight hours was a safeguard against mistakes. In a book titled The Truth of Death, there is a chapter about a man who was mistakenly taken for dead. Now, it was a Chinese custom to collect the bones of the deceased a few years after his or her passing. Many years passed, and the family decided it was time to open the coffin and pack up his bones. When they opened the coffin, they were horrified to find his head had turned and his limbs were bent in a fetal position. The family inferred that they had mistaken him to be dead when he had just fainted. What a horror it must had been when he woke up and found himself in the coffin. Thus, the Buddhist custom of not moving the body of the dead for eight hours is not without reason. It also allows the family a time to calm down and the dead a moment of peace and quiet.
During the eight hours of the waiting period, it is best if the family helps the deceased by chanting the name of the Buddha. In this way, the deceased can rest his or her mind on the name of the Buddha as he or she makes the journey to another rebirth. We should remember not to cry out loud near the deceased. If we cannot control ourselves and must cry, we should do so away from the deceased. Although the body may be stiff and cold, the consciousness may still be lingering. Our grief can cause a lot of heartache for the deceased and become a hindrance for the deceased to move on to another rebirth.
Actually, is it necessary for us to grieve over the death of a person? We can think of dying as going away for a vacation, and we can rejoice for the happy and pleasant trip waiting for the deceased. When our loved ones pass away, we can think of them going to heaven or becoming a buddha. We can think of dying as moving to the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, a land where suffering is nowhere to be found. Is this not wonderful? In Buddhism, we look at death as the beginning of a new life, like a chrysalis metamorphosing into a beautiful butterfly, or a chick breaking out of its shell. Why do we, who are alive, try to hold on and feel such sorrow for those who die?
As for funeral arrangements, Buddhism supports cremation. It is both convenient and sanitary, especially in densely populated areas. Unlike a burial in the ground, cremation does not require much space; it is also relatively inexpensive. I remember an elderly monk once said to me, "After I pass away, please throw my ashes into the ocean for the fish and shrimp. This way, I can build some good causal relationships with the creatures of the sea." This is such a free way to look at life and death-a stark contrast to the egocentric tendency most of us have. Some people are very selfish and greedy. When they are alive, they want to acquire this plot of land or that plot of land for themselves. When they pass away, they want to compete with the living for the best and most spacious burial ground. How ridiculous!
Some of you may say that a Buddhist funeral is dignified, but overly simple. How do we show our love for the deceased if we do not have an elaborate ceremony or do not bury the dead in an elegant gravesite? I guess the answer to this question really has to do with one's view of death. If we can let go of life and death, we will not be restricted by social customs concerning what is appropriate for funeral arrangements. Chuang-tzu, a famous ancient Chinese philosopher, was one who did not feel restricted by social customs. When he was dying, his disciples gathered to discuss his funeral arrangements. Chuang-tzu, who overheard the discussion, laughed and said, "The heaven and earth are my coffin, the sun and moon are my treasures, the stars are my gems, and I have the whole world to accompany me in my burial. Are these not enough? Is there anything more grand?"
The disciples were in disbelief and answered, "We cannot do that. If we leave your body out in the open, the crows and eagles will come and peck at your body. It is better if we use a suitable coffin."
Chuang-tzu smiled and said, "What difference does it make? If you leave my body out in the open, the crows and eagles will come and peck at my body. If you bury my body in a coffin, the ants and maggots will still come and feed on my flesh. Why do you rob the crows to feed the ants? Why are you so unfair?"
It is not enough just to have proper funeral arrangements; we should also have the proper perspective about death. If we can cut back on an elaborate funeral arrangement and use the money for charity, we can help the deceased to leave his or her love behind for the living. If circumstances allow, we should not hesitate to participate in organ donation programs to save the lives of those in need. When we have the right perspective about death, we will then be able to handle funeral arrangements with wisdom and in such a way that both the living and the dead are helped.
How do and don't Buddhists look at death? Buddhists do not look at death as annihilation or eternal sleep. Buddhists look at death as moving from one house to another or from one environment to another. In the sutras, there are many similes about death.

1. Death is like being born again
Death is the beginning [of another life]; it is not an end. The process of death can be likened to the making of oil from sesame seeds or the making of butter from milk.

2. Death is like graduation
A person's life can be compared to a student's education in school, and death is the graduation. When we graduate from school, the grades we receive depend on how good a student we have been. Similarly, when we die, the circumstances into which we are reborn depend on the good and bad karma we have accumulated.

3. Death is like moving
When there is birth, there is death. Death is like moving out of an old house into a newer house.

4. Death is like changing clothes
Death is like taking off old, worn-out clothes and putting on new ones. When we understand that all experiences of life are floating clouds passing before our eyes, we will then see that the body is nothing but an article of clothing.

5. Death is renewal
Our body experiences metabolic processes every second. New cells are created when old ones die. The cycle of birth and death is like the process of creating new cells to replace old ones.
When we have the right perspective about death, we will not be fearful of death. What should concern us is not when we die, but what follows after we die. Most of us, when we are alive, can just think of enjoying ourselves and having a good time. We spend our time going after fame and fortune, without a clear view of where we are heading. Without a clear sense of purpose and direction, life is without meaning. What is fame and fortune when we lay dying on our deathbeds? When we know how to live our life, then we know how to handle our death. Confucius once said, "If one does not understand life, how can one comprehend death?" We should not be consumed with the fear of dying, which in itself is a physical process. What is more tragic is living our lives in delusion and ignorance; we may be alive in body, but dead in spirit. For this reason, I have chosen to speak about death. I hope that our discussion today can help each one of us to wake up from the nightmare of death. The urgent task at hand is to see life and death in the context of impermanence, suffering, and emptiness. If we do, we will be able to find meaning in life and death.

IV. Unusual Deaths and Extraordinary Deaths
Some of you may ask this: How can death be wonderful and extraordinary? If we pause for a moment and think through this carefully, we will discover that the notion of a wonderful death is not at all far-fetched. When we have a correct understanding of the Buddha's teachings, we will see through the cloak of mystery about death and be totally at peace with both life and death. The Ch'an master Shan-chao of Fen-yang said it well, "One lives for all beings and dies for all beings."
There is a wonderful story about the way in which Shan-chao passed away. When Shan-chao was alive, there was a powerful magistrate by the name of Lee Hou. Lee had always wanted Shan-chao to become the abbot of Cheng-tien Temple and offered the position to the master on three separate occasions. When the master repeatedly declined the offer, Lee was furious. So, he ordered a messenger to go to the master and personally escort the master to the temple. As the messenger was about to leave, the magistrate told him explicitly, "Listen carefully, if you do not come back with the master, your life will not be spared!"
The messenger was petrified. He went to the Ch'an master and begged him to leave with him for Cheng-tien Temple. When the master learned of the predicament of the messenger, he realized he did not have much of a choice. He gathered all his disciples and told them, "On the one hand, I do not want to leave you all here to become the abbot of Cheng-tien Temple. On the other hand, if I take you all along, I am afraid you will not be able to keep up with me."
One of the disciples came up and said, "Master, I want to go with you. I can walk eighty miles a day."
The master shook his head and sighed, "Too slow. You cannot keep up with me."
Another disciple called out, "I will go; I can walk one hundred and twenty miles a day."
The master also shook his head and said, "Too slow, too slow."
The disciples looked at each other in puzzlement. They wondered: How fast can the master travel? At that moment, another disciple quietly came forward. He bowed to the master and said, "Master, I understand. I will go with you."
The master asked, "How fast can you walk?"
The disciple replied, "However fast you can travel, I can too."
Hearing this, the master smiled and said, "Very well, let's go!"
Smiling and without so much of a stir, the Ch'an master passed away. The disciple who had volunteered stood respectfully beside the master and passed away, too. How carefree it is to leave this world at will!
The Ch'an master Te-pu of the Sung dynasty was equally charming when he passed away. One day, he gathered his disciples around him and said, "I am about to leave you. Though I am curious about the kind of funeral arrangements you will prepare for me, I am not sure if I have the time to come back and enjoy your offerings. Rather than we all worrying about each other after I depart, why don't we spend some time together and enjoy the offerings now."
The disciples felt their teacher was acting very strangely, but they dared not disobey their teacher. They prepared the funeral service and paid their respects to their teacher thinking it was all a joke. The next day, Te-pu did indeed pass away.
Some of you may think it is very strange to have the funeral service before one passes away, but it is actually quite humorous and practical. There is an old Chinese saying which captures this sentiment well. It goes like this, "Offering a drop of water to a person while he is alive is better than offering him fountains of water after he departs the world." It is better that we are respectful to our parents while they are alive than to give them an elaborate funeral service when they pass away.
The Ch'an master Tsung-yuan of the Sung dynasty also looked at death without attachment. He was eighty-three when he attained enlightenment and was neither attached to life nor to death. When he felt it was time for him to leave this world, he did it with grace and dignity. He even composed an elegy for himself:
In this world, none of us should live beyond our time,
For after death, we all eventually become dusts in the grave.
As I am now eighty and three;
I write this elegy to bid my body farewell.
The manner in which the Ch'an master Hsing-kung passed away is also legendary. At that time, there was a ferocious bandit by the name of Hsu Ming. He killed many people and caused a great deal of suffering. Hsing-kung could not bear to see the villagers suffer, so he decided to go and plead with the bandit. Though he realized that his life was in great danger, he had no fear. While he ate his meal with the bandit, he wrote this elegy for himself:
Faced with calamity in the midst of upheaval,
I am a jolly and fearless fellow.
There is no time more perfect than now,
Cut me in half if you please.
Hsing-kung's compassion and courage converted the bandit, and many lives were saved because of him. Later, when the master realized the end of his life was at hand, he told his disciples that he wanted to die floating on the river. His disciples prepared him a tub and punched a hole at the bottom of the tub. The master climbed in with a flute in his hand. The tub floated down the river amid the music of the flute. The master also left behind a poem about why he chose to leave the world this way. The poem goes like this:
A sitting or standing death cannot compare to a floating departure.
It saves firewood and the ground is not disturbed.
Leaving empty-handed is quite free and joyous.
Who can understand me? Venerable Chuan-tzu can.
At the turn of the century, there was a monk in Rangoon, Burma by the name of Miao-shan. In 1934, Miao-shan became ill with heat stroke and malnutrition. Huge boils grew on his feet and back. Even so, he continued to make prostrations to the Buddha on the hot cobblestones. The boils opened and became infected, with pus and blood oozing out. He was unfazed by his condition and refused medical treatment. He did not even want to take a bath, and nobody knew what to do. On the day of his death, one of his disciples again suggested that he should take a bath. This time, the venerable nodded and replied, "I am glad that you asked me to take a bath; it is time." Having said this, he went into the bathroom and happily took his bath. The disciple, who was worried about the venerable, stood by the door and urged the venerable to take a real good bath to cool off his body. The venerable chuckled and replied through the door, "I know. I will take a good bath today as this is my last bath."
Several hours passed. His disciple could only hear the sound of running water, but the venerable was nowhere in sight. He pushed the door open, only to discover that the venerable had passed away. The venerable was still standing, but his heart had stopped. When we can let go of our attachments, we will no longer fear death.
There are many more examples of Ch'an masters dying peaceful deaths. The Ch'an master Tan-hsia Tien-jan died leaning on his walking staff. Venerable Hui-hsiang died kneeling down with a sutra in his hand. The Ch'an master Liang-chieh of the Tang dynasty had complete control over the timing of his death; he was asked to stay alive for seven more days and he did. The Ch'an master Yu-an came back to life after he had been in his coffin for three days. The Ch'an master Ku-ling Shen-tsan asked his disciples, "Do you know what soundless samadhi means?" When his disciples answered their master in the negative, the master closed his lips tightly and died instantly. The ways in which Pang Yun and his family passed away were even more varied and interesting. His daughter Ling-chao sat on her father's chair and passed away, while Pang Yun himself lay down to die. When his son, who was working in the fields, heard of their passing away, he put down his plow and died while standing. The wife of Pang Yun saw that all of them had passed away, so she pushed open a gap in a boulder and went inside. Before she went into the boulder, she left behind this verse:
To die while sitting, lying down, or standing is not unusual
Mrs. Pang simply let go and departed.
With both hands she pushed open a seamless rock
And left without a trace for others to see.
When we have the wisdom to see through life and death, we, too, can pass away as painlessly and effortlessly as some of the Ch'an masters we talked about today. With birth comes death. Whether we are Buddhists or not, we still have to face death one day. Hopefully, with the Buddha's teachings, we can understand life, and therefore death. We should not be fearful of death, for death is nothing but a natural phenomenon. When we are prepared in life, then we are hopeful of what follows after death.
We make provisions for everything in life. We keep a flashlight in case of emergency or blackout. We have an umbrella for rainy days. We pack food for long trips, and we change our wardrobes for the coming of a new season. Likewise, we should prepare ourselves spiritually for the day when death comes knocking on our door. Not only should we rest our hopes in the present, we should also be mindful of life after death. Amid the impermanence of life and death, we should keep in mind that the Dharma-body is eternal and the wisdom-life is timeless. Our buddha nature is everlasting!


When We See Clearly

Dear Dharma Friends,
The topic we are going to discuss today is the first of a three-part series regarding the relevance of Buddhism to daily living. Buddhism is not an academic subject for the classroom; it is not something only to be practiced when we go to temples. It is a religion and has an integral relationship with our everyday life. We cannot take ourselves out of everyday life, and Buddhism can offer much guidance.
There are many Buddhists who are very knowledgeable, yet still cannot identify with the Buddha's teachings. Buddhism teaches us to be compassionate, but they are not. Buddhism teaches us to be patient, but they are not. Why? The main reason is because they do not practice what they believe; they do not apply the teachings in their daily living. For us to progress in our practice, it is imperative that we integrate the Buddha's teachings into our everyday life.
Today, we will discuss how we can apply the Buddha's teachings in our everyday life. We will explore different ways of looking at space, time, and community-three basic aspects of our daily living.
1. Viewing space differently-steeping back as a way to forge ahead.
2. Viewing time differently-brevity as a means to eternity.
3. Viewing community differently-putting others ahead of oneself.
In our lives, we cannot live independent of space, time, and other people. What does the space aspect of life encompass? Birds, when they are tired or when the sun begins to set, return to their nests to rest. After a hard day at work, we also want to go back to our home sweet home and rest our weary bodies. A nest or a home is the space in which a bird or a person lives. If we do not know how to manage our space, then we will not be able to live comfortably. In the history of mankind, many wars were started because of conflicting claims to space. Space is a very important element in our everyday life, and we need to handle the space we have wisely.
What is the time aspect of life? The seventy or some odd years of one's life are very fleeting and brief. The Buddha says, "We live from breath to breath." How are we to use the limited time we have in this life to do unlimited good? So little time, yet so much to do. We should treasure each moment and live life to its fullest meaning. During the Ch'in dynasty, the poet Tu Yuen-ming wrote this verse on the nature of time:
Youth does not return.
A day does not dawn twice.
Motivate yourself while there is still time.
Time waits for no one.
What do our relationships with others mean to our existence in this world? We are social animals, and we cannot live independent of others. In fact, we are a lot more dependent on others than we realize. How can we all live together amiably? This question, together with some of the issues raised above, has been studied by many. Today, we will spend some time exploring these issues.

I. Viewing Space Differently-Stepping Back as a Way to Forge Ahead
A. From the space outside of us to the space inside of us
Most of us have an idea of what constitutes the space outside of us; it is the environment in which we live. This includes the house we live in, the city we live in, or even the world we live in. We need to manage the space outside of us. Take for example, if we want to travel from place A to place B, we should have an idea about which route to use, what kind of transportation we need, how much time it requires, what we need to pack for the trip, and what potential problems we should anticipate. If we plan ahead, chances are we will have a wonderful trip. For more extensive trips, such as traveling around the world or journeying into space, more involved planning is called for, but the considerations are pretty much the same. Thus, if we spend the effort to plan, to understand, we stand a fair chance of being able to manage the space outside of us.
There is a limit to what we call our external space. Regardless of how powerful or resourceful we are, the extent of our external space is still very limited. Some of you may disagree because we now have the ability to send people to the moon or to far-away space stations. Yes, traveling to the moon or space stations is a reality, but the area we can cover is still just a small corner of our solar system. Our solar system is a miniscule fraction of our galaxy. There are millions upon millions of galaxies in the universe. Hard as we may try, the space in which we can leave our mark, in the scheme of the universe, is as insignificant as a dust particle. Most of us spend our whole lifetime trying to amass as much space as possible. There is a Chinese saying which puts our conflict over space into perspective. It goes like this, "Having ten thousand acres of fertile land, sleeping only in an eight-foot space at night."
The space inside of us is another story. It is without form and hard to visualize or comprehend. The Buddha told us that the space inside of us is many times larger than the space outside of us. One of the sutra says, "The mind encompasses the space of the universe, traversing realms as numerous as there are grains of sand." We should get to know the space inside of us rather than becoming preoccupied with the space outside of us. Before we go any further, let's clarify what we mean by internal space; we are speaking about our heart, and we should learn to let our heart grow. In Chinese literature, when someone has a big heart, we say that even boats can sail around in it. The Buddha told us that the immenseness of the heart can encompass three thousand chiliocosms. When we open our heart up, we feel the whole of universe within us. Once, someone suggested to the father of Venerable Tze Hui that he should do some traveling. He pointed to his heart and replied, "The whole universe is right here within my heart. Where else would I want to go?" How free!
How do we let our heart grow? The Vimalakirti Sutra teaches us the Dharma method of non-duality. When we open our heart, we are vast like the oceans that welcome water from all tributaries, large and small, or like Mount Sumeru that embraces earth of all kinds, coarse and fine. When we open our heart, disputes, politics, and power struggles will no longer affect us. We will be at ease wherever we find ourselves. Only when we are at ease with the space within us can we enjoy the space outside of us.

B. From the world ahead of us to the world behind us
While it is important that we know to forge ahead, it is even more important that we know to pause and look back. In fact, most of us only know how to forge ahead and do not realize that there is also a world of possibilities behind us. When things are going our way, we charge ahead, seemingly unstoppable. When we come to a brick wall, we stubbornly continue our forward motion, bringing much unnecessary suffering upon ourselves. The Buddha teaches that at any moment in life, there are two worlds for us to choose. One is the world ahead; the other is the world behind. We should know how to make use of both of these worlds, without excluding either of them. When the time is right to charge ahead, we should charge ahead. When it is time to turn around, we should turn around. These two worlds are like our two hands; both are there for us to use. There is no need for us to go through life with one hand tied behind our back. There is a Buddhist poem that describes how we can move ahead by stepping backward. It goes like this:
Hand planting seedlings in paddy.
Lowering head,
automatically sees sky in water.
To not sway by the six senses is the Way.
As it turns out,
stepping back is to forge ahead.
When we come to a precipice in the journey of life, we should remind ourselves that if we "Take a step back and think, [we will see] open seas and spacious sky." In this regard, we can look to nature for inspiration. Water is a perfect example. We all need water, and it is everywhere. When water flows downhill, it first picks up speed, and then it slows down as it reaches flat land. As it travels over the flat land, it meanders and automatically changes course when it hits obstructions. If we can learn to be like water and knows when to change course, we will sail through life's obstacles and at the same time avoid unnecessary bruises.
Some people have said to me, "Your religion teaches people to refrain from smoking, drinking, and gambling. It takes all the fun out of life. Wouldn't that sort of lifestyle too rigid and depressing?" We Buddhists refrain from smoking, drinking, and gambling because we see through the short-lived joy that such a lifestyle holds; we know enough to step back and change course. We would rather devote our energies to practicing the teachings, spreading the Dharma, and helping others. When we truly understand that there will always be a world behind us, then we will know that we always have the choice to turn back. When we are faced with issues of money and fame, love or hate, we need not only charge ahead; we can also turn around. When we know to step back, we will actually move ahead in life. When we embrace not only the world ahead of us, but also the world behind us, then life is full of possibilities. How exhilarating!

C. From the phenomenal world to the transcendental world
When we look around us, the world we see is covered with all kinds of colors and dotted with all different shapes-not unlike looking into a kaleidoscope. We all live in this world, and it is here we all pursue our hopes and dreams. How we live our lives in this world is entirely up to us. Some people see the world as a place to make money, others see it as a place for sharing with their loved ones, and others yet see it as a place to make a name for themselves. It is very easy to get caught up in the phenomena of this world. Our delusions prevent us from seeing that all phenomena are only results of the combination of causes and conditions, without any independent nature of their own. The Diamond Sutra says, "All phenomena are illusive." If we understand this truth, we can transcend the phenomenal world and not be bound by it.
What is the transcendental world? Notice that the question is "what" and not "where," for the transcendental world is right here on Earth. Living in the transcendental world does not mean that we have to give up eating or sleeping. We will eat, sleep, or put on our clothes. The main difference is not to become preoccupied with the trifles of life. There is an old Chinese saying that can help us comprehend the meaning of the transcendental world. It goes like this, "Look at flowers and birds [unswayed] like a wooden carving would. Fear not the myriad things illusively surrounding us." When we live in this world of money and fame without getting caught up in it, then our world can become a transcendental world.
While it is admirable for one to remove him or herself from the rat race, it is even more admirable to work within it and remain true to oneself. Likewise, the lotus flower has always been the subject of admiration because it rises from the mud and yet remains pure. While it is easy to stay immaculate in a sterile environment, it is a lot more difficult to remain clean in a filthy setting. For us Buddhists, choosing to retreat in isolation is not the supreme form of cultivation, but to remain unswayed when surrounded by temptation is. Thus, we say, "The most cultivated cultivates in the midst of the crowd." We have special admiration for those who practice the Dharma amid the hustle and bustle of life. Throughout history, there have been many such examples for us to learn from. The Chinese poet Tu Yuen-ming wrote, "Live amongst the people, yet hear not the bustle of horses and carriages." Vimalarkirti "lived in a family, but unattached to the three realms of existence. Lived with a wife, but always practiced pure living." Venerable Yi-hsiu, a respected monk of his time, was another good example. Once while he was out traveling with his disciple, he saw a woman by the bank of a swift flowing river, wondering how she would cross to the other side. The elder offered to carry her across on his back. In the old days in China, physical contact between men and women was strictly forbidden. His disciple, horrified that his teacher would have such contact with a woman, remained sullen for a whole month. When the elder found out what was bothering his student, he told his student, "I've already forgotten the whole incident. I only carried the woman across, but you have been carrying her in your mind for a whole month." Such carefree living is described by the saying, "Pass through a grove of flowers without a single leaf clinging to the body." When we see through the illusiveness of the phenomenal world and do not become attached to anything, then we are living transcendentally.
In the last three sections, we talked about how to experience the space inside of us, how to see the world behind us, and how to live transcendentally. When we view space through the Buddha's teachings, we will begin to see the space of life differently. Our focus will move from outside inwards, from the world ahead to the world behind, from the phenomenal to the transcendental. In this way, our space of life becomes infinitely larger than we ever thought possible.

II. Viewing Time Differently-Brevity as a Means to Eternity
One of the sutra says, "We live from breath to breath." This saying reminds us of the brevity and impermanence of life. Even though the mythical Peng Tsu might have live for eight hundred years and the life span of celestial beings runs into tens of thousands of years, such life spans when viewed in the context of eternity, are as fleeting as the morning dew. Each one of us should treasure the time we have and use it wisely. We should use our limited time to enrich our lives and live life to its fullest meaning. We will explore how to do this in the following three points.

A. Use every bit of time
Some of us live to seventy, while others may live to be a hundred. The limited time we have in this world is often diminished by all kinds of necessary activities we have to do to stay alive. Because of these activities, a twenty-four hour day is often chopped up into bits and pieces. We eat, sleep, work at our jobs, and work around the house; before we know it, another day is over. To prepare food, we have to first buy it, then cook it, and only then consume it. Even if we go out to eat, we still have to travel to a restaurant, wait to be served, and consume the food. Sleeping also takes up a lot of our time. First, we have to tidy our beds, and then we sometimes toss and turn before falling asleep. While we may or may not enjoy eating or sleeping, we still have to engage in these activities. There is just no getting around it. If we take the limited years we have and deduct from them the time we spend on eating, sleeping, traveling from place to place, waiting in lines, cleaning ourselves, and going to the bathroom, how much time would we have left? On top of this, if we take away the years we were young and the time we will spend debilitated by old age, there is really not that much time left to apply ourselves to the betterment of mankind. The prime years of our lives are truly limited and brief.
Given how fragmented our days and years are, I often encourage people to make use of every bit and piece of time. In the case of young students, I advise them to make use of the fifteen minutes they have here and there to read a book, write in a journal, or review a chapter. Why waste time chatting or watching television? Housewives can recite the name of Amitabha Buddha while they are cleaning or cooking. People who have to work can also recite the name of Amitabha while they are waiting for the bus or commuting to work. There is an old Chinese saying which we can use as our guide, "Say one less sentence; recite one more time the name of Amitabha Buddha." The flip side of this is also captured by another common Chinese saying, "Diseases enter in through the mouth; problems come out from the mouth." When we chat with our friends and do not think about what we are saying, we can easily say something which offends them without us even realizing it. So, when we have a moment of free time, we should make use of it to recite the name of Amitabha Buddha or to contemplate the splendid appearance of the Buddha. In this way, not only will we not offend others inadvertently, it is also an effortless way to practice. This is truly a win-win situation. When we are constantly mindful of the Buddha, we will be at peace with whatever we are doing. When we can make use of the fragmented time we have, our practice can also benefit.
When we began to build Fo Guang Shan Temple in Taiwan many years ago, others were skeptical and asked me, "Are you an architect? What do you know about building houses? Are you a trained educator? What do you know about running schools?" I would tell those people that my biggest secret is that I know how to use my time. Even though I am not an architect or a trained educator, I have traveled to many places and seen many houses. I often put myself in the shoes of the building contractor and imagined what I would do if I were building such-and-such a house. When I was still in school, I would often think about what I would do differently if I were running the school. When we began building Fo Guang Shan Temple, I already had an idea of what I wanted to do, and everything just fell into place.
In the fast paced society of today, if we don't know how to make use of every bit and piece of time, we will find ourselves always struggling for more. With the advent of pagers, faxes, and wireless telephones, the age of the nine-to-five workday is history. We have to adapt to this hectic lifestyle and use every bit and piece of time to reflect. Unfortunately, when I look around, I see a lot of people squandering their time away. When I ride the bus, I often see people just sitting with blank stares on their faces. It is unlikely that someone who doesn't know how to utilize their time would ever achieve anything remarkable. According to the sutras, we should always be mindful of the Buddha, even when showering or going to the bathroom. When we string up all the fragments of time, we can continually stay mindful of the Buddha. In this way, the Buddha is our anchor and we will not be swayed by the changes in life, career, or circumstances.

B. Use time to make things happen rather than waiting for them to happen
The passing of time is merciless. If we are not watchful, time slips by us without a trace, like a thin veil of fog or columns of clouds in the sky. We have to seize the present moment, for time waits for no one. If we wait for things to happen, we often end up sitting idly by. We should treasure the limited years we have in this life and apply ourselves to living the best we can. We should work to better ourselves, for we do not want to look back when we are old and wish that things had been different.
Once, there were two men from Szechwan; both of them wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Kuan Yin Temple of P'wu-t'wuo Shan. One man wanted to wait until he had saved up enough money to hire a boat so that he could travel by sea to the shores of P'wu-t'wuo Shan. The other man was a poor man, but he wanted to start right away. He decided to travel to P'wu-t'wuo Shan on foot, asking for alms along the way. After a while, the poor man returned while the other man had yet to hire a boat, let alone start out on the pilgrimage.
The moral of the story is that we should not spend our lives waiting for things to happen; instead, we should seize the present moment and make things happen. As long as we have the ability to do good, we should act while an opportunity presents itself. Opportunity does not knock twice; we do not want to have to look back keep and think what could have been. When we are young, we should make use of our youth and apply ourselves. We do not want to wait till our hair is all gray to realize that we have wasted our youth away. If we are wise, we would not romanticize about the past or fantasize about the future; we would simply live in the present.
There is a parable which illustrates there are two kinds of time. The first kind of time is when we just sit around waiting for things to happen. The second kind of time is when we actively try to make things happen. These are two very different kinds of time. Once, there was an old man whose hair was all white and a few of his teeth were missing. Someone asked him, "Mister, how old are you?"
"Four," answered the elderly gentleman.
The person was puzzled and said, "You must be kidding. Judging from your gray hair, you cannot possibly be four. If I have to guess, I'd say you are about seventy or eighty years old."
The elderly gentleman continued, "Let me explain. On a calendar basis, I am eighty years old, but all my life I had been fumbling along, waiting for things to happen to me. I only started truly living about four years ago when I became interested in Buddhism. In these four years, I've actively pursued the truth about life and the universe. Now, I work, not for myself, but for others."
The sands of time disappear one grain at a time, and before long, we wonder where the years have gone. We should use the time we have to make whatever contributions we can. When we first began to build Fo Guang Shan Temple in Taiwan, the area we had chosen was a remote and barren piece of land. Some people wondered out loud why we should "waste" our time. With determination and the help of many faithful devotees, we finally completed what we had started. Imagine if we had not started when we did or if we had decided to wait for a better location, Fo Guang Shan may not be where it is today. If we use time to create rather than to wait, then we can turn dreams into reality. When we dedicate ourselves to serving others, our time is well spent.
Amitabha Buddha is our best example of one who uses time to create. A lot of us have heard about Amitabha's pure land of Ultimate Bliss. It was manifested through the strength of Amitabha's forty-eight great vows, which came to fruition over the course of countless asamkhya kalpas. We should learn from Amitabha and use our time to make things happen. We should not sit idly by waiting for Amitabha to come and invite us into the World of Ultimate Bliss. We should use our time to work hard in our practice and apply ourselves diligently. In this way, we will be able to identify with the great vows of Amitabha Buddha and realize for ourselves our own pure land.

C. Realize eternity through the brevity of life
If we only focus on how limited our life is, we will begin to think that life is dull and lacks possibilities. On the contrary, if we realize that universal life is everlasting, then life becomes a lot more interesting. Some of you may say that since we all will die one day, it is impossible to say that life is everlasting? If we can break out of our tunnel vision, we will see that death is, in fact, the beginning of another life. According to the Buddha's teachings, death is not the final chapter of life. Death is like moving from an old house to a new house; when our current physical body becomes old and dies, we will take up a new body. Of course, the kind of body we take up will depend on our cumulative good and bad karma. Let's take the analogy of moving into a new house a step further. If we have been putting money away while living in our current house, then we can afford to move to a nicer, bigger house when the current one starts to fall apart. If we have not been putting money away, then when it is time to move, we'll have no choice but to move down to a smaller house. Thus, while our life span is limited, we should use our time wisely to do good. Then when it is time for us to depart this body, we can be reborn into the World of Ultimate Bliss. According to the sutras, the World of Ultimate Bliss is a place of grandeur; the ground is paved with gold and the houses are built of seven kinds of precious stones. Thus, Buddhists do not fear death, and we do not look at death as the final chapter of life. We know that by steadfastly practicing during this brief existence, we will come to happiness in Amitabha's World of Ultimate Bliss.
How do we use our limited time to bring about infinite value? Let me tell you a story. Once, there was an elderly gentleman who wanted to plant a peach tree. As he was laboring to plant the small peach tree, a young man passed by. The young man struck up a conversation with the elderly man and asked, "Sir, are you sure you want to spend such energy on planting this tree? You may not live to see it grow, let alone enjoy its fruit. Is this not a waste?"
The old man stood up and wiped off his sweat. With his dry, crackling voice, he looked at the young man and, in a serious tone, replied, "You are too young to understand the meaning of life. I want to plant this tree not for myself. Though I may not live to see it bear fruit, my sons will get to enjoy its shade, and my grandchildren will enjoy its fruit. How can you say this is a waste?"
The young man was moved by the profound insight of the elderly gentleman. So this is why we say that later generations enjoy the fruits of labor of earlier generations. We should not look at life just as the limited span of one person's life; we should look at the larger life of the universe. While a person's life may only span a limited number of years, its value is everlasting. The continuity of life through one person to another is not unlike the process of spreading fire from one log to another. While the fire of the second log is not the same as the fire of the first log, it represents a continuation of the fire from the first log. In a similar way, from one being to another, we can see the continuity of life.
Given that we all play linking roles in this continuum of life, how are we to contribute to this larger life? Some people contribute through politics, others through their writing, and others yet through their examples. While these are all worthwhile contributions, Buddhism teaches us a more complete and supreme way. Buddhism teaches that when we discover our own dharmakaya (the body of truth), then we have found our own eternity. Dharmakaya is everywhere and everlasting. Our great teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, is a great example of one who found eternity in the dharmakaya. Though the Blessed One had entered nirvana over two thousand five hundred years ago, the dharmakaya of the Buddha is still here with us. This is the meaning of eternity in life.

III. Viewing Community Differently-Putting Others Ahead of Oneself
Human beings are social animals; we cannot live apart from the community. We say, "Seek the Dharma among the people." Thus, the cornerstone of a happy living is to have good relationships with others. We all should have a thorough understanding of the role our relationships with others plays in our life. To this end, I'd like to offer the following three points: think of the greater good, reflect with a sense of remorse on the ill we caused, and be giving and thankful.

A. Think of the greater good
When we understand our world is the culmination of our collective karma and conditions, then we see that the world is here for all of us. Each one of us is born into this world because of our own individual causes and conditions. The fact that we live in this world together with others means that we share some common causes and conditions. Since we all live in this world, we should try to see others' points of view and extend a hand to others when they need help. If we all can be considerate of others, then the world would be a better place.
The Sixth Patriarch of the Ch'an school of Buddhism once said, "The Dharma is in the world; enlightenment cannot be realized apart from the world. Seeking bodhi apart from the world is like looking for horns on a rabbit." From this, we see that the Dharma is in the world, in every one of us. If we want to experience the Dharma, we should first start by understanding that we all are one. When our view of the world is grounded in oneness, then our living will be truly joyous and meaningful.
Happiness, like the Dharma, cannot be fully experienced apart from others. When we go to the movies, it is more fun to go with others. When we share our moments of joy with others, we feel truly blessed. Why? Let me explain this with the following analogy. When we use the flame of one candle to light other candles, the original flame does not lose its luminosity. On the contrary, the light from all the candles build upon each other, making the room that much brighter. The state of happiness is very much like the flame of the candle. When we share our joy with others, our joy will not be lessened. Many times, our emotional state is very much dependent on how others around us feel. Take the example of the everyday family dinner. It is a lovely sight to see caring parents and happy children sitting together at the dinner table, laughing and talking. The dinner may be simple, but the atmosphere is what makes the difference. On the other hand, eating alone takes the fun out of eating. In solitude, even gourmet food tastes like cardboard. From this, we see that happiness is something that multiplies when shared. Thus, if we want to find lasting happiness, we have to first take down the walls that separate us from each other.
I have personally experienced how much better life can be when it is grounded in oneness. In my early years, I came into some money from the books and articles I authored. Using this money, I purchased a fairly nice house thinking that it would give me a place to concentrate on my writing. True, the house was comfortable, but I ended up selling it and used the proceeds to start Fo Guang Shan. Now when I hear the voices of young students reciting their lessons at the schools of Fo Guang Shan or when I see devotees coming to pay their respects to the Buddha, I feel Dharma joy all over the place. Even though I personally do not possess anything, the reward I got from seeing how Fo Guang Shan has blossomed is many times greater than the comfort of living in a nice house. When we look at this world through the eyes of the community, then our lives will be much more rewarding and joyful.

B. Reflect with a sense of remorse on the ill we caused
Each day we are alive in this world, we create new karma through our deeds, words, and thoughts. While some of our karma is good, we also create a lot of bad karma. Thus, when we interact with the people around us, we should always be mindful of our actions.
Buddhism places a great deal of emphasis on continually reflecting on the three doors of karma (deeds, words, and thoughts) and reflecting with a sense of remorse on the ill we have caused. Repentance is a gateway into the Dharma and has profound impact on our practice. Take the example of a student making certain mistakes on a test. If the student learns from his or her mistakes, then the student will not repeat them. Likewise, we all should be vigilant in not repeating our mistakes. Repentance is like Dharma water that can wash away the filth of delusion.
During the seventy or eighty years here in this world, we are constantly busy, working, and providing for our family. How many times, because of our obligations to work or family, have we created conflicts with others? If we all learn to be vigilant in guarding the three doors of karma and are repentant of the harm we've caused, then we stand a better chance of creating more good karma than bad. One of the sutra tells us, "Fear not the stir of delusions, fear though the delay of awareness." When our delusions cause us to act unwholesomely, we should immediately recognize them and repent our actions. What is most tragic is when we do not see our faults and continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. If we mistakenly walk into a swamp, we still can be saved if we quickly turn around and walk away. If, however, we stubbornly persist on the same course of action, we will be beyond hope of being rescued.
In Buddhism, there are various kinds of rites and rituals which teach us to atone for our mistakes. In addition to these services, I have here a simple method that we can use in our everyday life. This method works all the time and all you have to do is remember this, "You are right; I am wrong." This may sound counter-intuitive because we are trained from very young to look out for ourselves. Very often, we can spot others' mistakes from a mile away, but we are blind to our own follies even when they are right under our nose. If we could switch this around, then the world would be a much more peaceful place. Let me give you here an illustration of how this could work in everyday life. It was a hot day; Lee wanted to turn on the fan. Chan was annoyed and yelled, "Don't just think about yourself. You know I have a cold. Please turn off the fan."
Lee was put off by Chan's yelling and answered back, "You are the one with the cold. If you don't like the fan, you can sit over there."
Now, Lee was really angry and shot back, "Why should I move?"
One wants to turn on the fan, and the other wants it off. They just cannot see eye to eye. What if Lee had just apologized to Chan in the beginning and moved the fan so that it did not point in Chan's direction; the whole incident would have just blown over. When we're focused on our own faults, there is little room or time for delusion to manifest itself. When we do not dwell on the faults of others, there is little chance for conflicts to develop. In this way, we make peace, not war.

C. Be giving and thankful
Most people are focused on themselves. They have no qualms about taking, but when it is their turn to give, they make all kinds of excuses. If we understand the Buddha's teachings on the truth of life and the universe, we will change our ways. If we understand that every cause has its effect, then we may think differently about taking advantage of others, and we would not be so hesitant about giving. In Buddhist literature, there is a wonderful story that may open our eyes to the true meaning of the saying, "It is better to give than to receive."
Once, there were two men from the same village; one of them was miserly while the other was generous. They both happened to pass away at about the same time. In death, they appeared before King Yama who was about to pass judgement on their past actions. He told the two men, "I am going to let both of you be reborn into the world. One of you will always be giving, while the other will always be receiving. Which one would you rather be?"
The miserly person immediately spoke up, "I want to be the one that will always be receiving."
The other man did not mind to being the one who will be continually giving, and so he nodded in agreement. Both of them stood there waiting for final instructions of where they would be reborn. King Yama picked up his staff and pounded on the ground a few times. He said to the miser, "Since you choose to be receiving from others, you will be reborn as a beggar. This will give you plenty of opportunity to be on the receiving end." He then turned to the other man and said, "You will be reborn into great wealth. Share your wealth with those less fortunate and give alms."
We Buddhists should model ourselves after the Buddha. The Buddha is always compassionate. He puts the welfare of others before his own. He is a good example of what we mean by, "Be the first to worry about the world's problems, be the last to enjoy the its prosperity." Instead of thinking, "What others can do for me?" we should think what I can do for others. [President Kennedy of the United States once stated in a very famous speech, "Ask not what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for your county."] The experience of giving is much more fulfilling than that of receiving.
If we pause just for a minute, we will see that we owe our existence to the very generous giving of many. We'll realize that in addition to giving, we should also be thankful for what we have. Giving and being thankful always go hand in hand. What should we be thankful for? We should be thankful for the Buddha's teachings. We should be thankful for our parents giving us life, raising us, and teaching us. We should be thankful for our teachers and elders teaching us right from wrong. We should be thankful to all those who provided us with our many necessities in life. We should also be thankful for the sun which gives us warmth, for the air which gives us oxygen, for the rain which gives us water, and for nature which lets us enjoy its beauty. When we think of all the causes and conditions that are present for us to live, we should feel very much indebted to everything we have. We will then listen to the singing of the birds with delight and look at the beautiful flowers of nature in a different light.
All the great Buddhists in history share the common trait of gratitude. Their gratitude is a form of practice. One example that came to mind was Venerable Yin-kwang, who became a monastic at the age of twenty-one. When he first became a monk, he was responsible for making sure that there was enough boiled water for drinking. When he needed to boil more water, he had to first go into the woods to get firewood. A lot of people in the venerable's shoes would complain of being assigned such a menial task. Not only was Venerable Yin-kwang never bitter, he was very grateful that he was given the opportunity to live there working for the temple. If we are conscious of our blessings, we will not be bent out of shape when we are thrown a curve in life. We are fast becoming a nation of cynics; we concentrate on being vindictive rather than being grateful. If we develop a grateful attitude, I can assure you that conflict, jealously, and squabbles will disappear without a trace.
There is a prevailing misconception that Buddhism has very little to do with living. Some people look at Buddhism as something that is mystical, unfathomable, and cryptic. This cannot be further from the truth. Buddhism is about life and is inseparable from life. Today, we have explored how Buddhism can have an impact on the way we look at the three basic aspects of life-space, time, and community. I hope you all have gained a little insight into the living aspect of Buddhism. May the nourishment of the Dharma strengthen us.


Worldly Living, Transcendental Practice

Dear Dharma Friends,
The topic we are going to discuss today is "Worldly Living and Transcendental Practice." We all have our own vision of how an ideal world is like, but the question on hand is how do we go about constructing our ideal world. How do we turn an ideal into reality? Before we can discuss how to get from "here" to "there," we should first understand what "here" is. Before we discuss how we can all lead our life transcendentally, we should have an understanding of worldly living.
What is worldly living? Our daily activities in our homes, in the workplace, or anywhere in the community is worldly living. This includes every aspect of our lives, from basic activities such as dressing, eating, resting, or commuting, to our every thought and stirring of the mind. Let me begin by discussing the four main characteristics of worldly living.
I. The Material Side of Worldly Living
Our day to day life is very much governed by our material wants and needs. Let's take the four basic activities of dressing, eating, resting, or commuting as a starting point, and we will soon see that material things are integral parts of each of these activities. Without the benefit of material things, how can we move about, have shelter, or find a place to rest. Our existence, indeed, is very much dependent on all kinds of material things. Because of this dependency or need, we become slaves to our material desires. We work hard the whole day so that we may have a tasty meal. Sometimes, we are even willing to compromise our integrity just to climb up one more rung on the social ladder; other times, our hunger for fame drives us to become obsessed with our work or career.
In our daily life, materialism takes on many forms. Some people are very focused on food and care little about what they wear. Other people pride themselves on how well they dress, while some others put their priorities in having a comfortable house. Then, of course, there are many others who are preoccupied with all of the above. In one way or another, our life revolves around material things, and we simply cannot live apart from material things. This material side of worldly living is a stumbling block on the path of happiness.
If we build our happiness on material things, we are treading on very shaky ground. True, material things can satisfy our desires, but such satisfaction is short-lived and full of pitfalls. Before long, the whole cycle of wanting, striving, and momentary rejoicing starts all over again. Happiness that is built on material things is like a trap of quicksand; it grips us tightly and will not let go of us. Thus, if we are to look for happiness in material things, we are destined for disappointment.

II. The Emotional Side of Worldly Living
After we achieve a certain standard of living, we often turn our focus to our emotional needs. We have emotional ties with our parents, our friends, our lovers, our children, or even our pets. Thus, we say human beings are emotional beings, and in Buddhism, human beings are often referred to as "sentient beings." But, when we do not know how to moderate our emotions, our emotions can run amuck and may even drive us to do something that we may regret later. If we just open the newspaper, we would notice that the cause of many suicides, acts of vengeance, and assaults is emotional in nature. Some of these crimes are driven by love; others are driven by hatred. Love and hatred are closely linked and are major parts of our emotions.
Buddhism does not reject emotions; it just cautions us that emotions can bring us many problems and headaches. We must use wisdom to moderate our emotions and transform our self-centered emotions into compassion for all. Compassion is a critical ingredient in the recipe of happiness.
Some people say that the emotion of love is the flower of life. A flower is indeed beautiful, but how long does it last? Love is blissful, yet it can be possessive in nature. Love is pure, yet some kinds of love are unhealthy. While we treasure the moments of love, how do we feel when we lose the person we love? Some people say that love is the moisture that holds the landscape of life together, without which life becomes a parched desert. What if we do not know how to moderate our feelings; an excess of feelings can bring about a flood of bitterness. A once loving couple may file for a divorce; a once doting father may want to disown his child. Regardless of how loving a relationship is, the impermanence of life can bring it to an abrupt stop. What are we to do in such a situation? It is difficult to find everlasting happiness within the emotions of worldly living.

III. The Communal Side of Worldly Living
No man is an island. There is a Chinese saying which is similar in meaning; it goes like this: "At home, we lean on our parents; away, we depend on our friends." Our inter-connectedness is not just limited to the families we have or the friends we know. We also depend on the many farmers and merchants who provide us with all kinds of goods and services. Our existence in this world is very much dependent on one another. It is simply not viable to live completely apart from a community.
How do we depend on one another? The clothes we wear have to be sewn by seamstresses in garment factories. The food we eat has to be grown by farmers in the field. The buses we use for transportation have to be driven by bus drivers. The roads we travel have to be paved by construction workers. The bricks and mortar that make up a house have to be laid by craftsmen. The national parks that we visit have to be developed and maintained by many forestry workers. I can go on and on with such examples; the point I want to make is that we need others to live. With this said, you may think that the source of happiness lies within the community. This is not entirely correct, for our interdependency is often built upon a symbiotic relationship of trade and business. When we all strive to have a bigger piece of the pie, tension and conflicts often arise. When we want to gain at the expense of others, gamesmanship becomes a part of our relationship. Thus, if we are to look for happiness within the community, our search may be for naught.

IV. The Sensory Side of Worldly Living
The pursuit of worldly happiness pretty much hinges upon the satisfaction of our six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought). It is said in the Discourse on the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra that the main difference between a worldly living and one of transcendence lies in the manner by which one pursues happiness. Worldly happiness is derived from the external environment. Our eyes like to look at beautiful things; our ears like to listen to delightful sounds. Our nose finds fragrant smells pleasing; our taste buds savor the joys of culinary delights. Our body prefers comfort, and our mind is often looking for ways to benefit ourselves. When we pursue happiness externally, our life is focused on the physical body and senses. In this mindset, we tend to look at the world from the perspective of self as we continually try to jockey for an advantageous position. When we are faced with hardships or struck with illness, or when things do not go our way, then we are beside ourselves and become miserable. Thus, if we want to pursue transcendental joy, we simply cannot look for it outside of ourselves. A true cultivator does not need to feast his or her senses on the beauty and comfort of the external world. A true cultivator finds joy within the richness of his or her own heart and the wisdom of his or her own mind. When we do not look outward to experience happiness, we have indeed found the limitless joy of the Dharma.

There are many sides of worldly living, yet these worldly ways of life cannot give us ultimate joy. Only when we live our lives in transcendence can we find ultimate joy and peace. What does transcendental living mean? First of all, I want to preface our discussion on this subject by emphasizing that the Buddhist practice on transcendental living does not mean that we have to live apart from others. There is no need for us to move to "other worlds," and it is not a living that we can only experience after death. When we speak of transcendental living, it does not mean that we should turn our heads away from the suffering of the world and be only concerned with our liberation from the wheel of rebirth. The transcendental living that we refer to in Buddhism is right here in the midst of our everyday living. What we need to do is to fully integrate the Buddhist teachings into our daily lives. With compassion and wisdom, we should concern ourselves with the liberation of all sentient beings. When we can all live in a transcendental way, the world will be a much better place and all nations will be more prosperous. Everywhere we go, we will see truth and peace.
What is transcendental living? There are four aspects of transcendental living. [What better way to learn about transcendental living than to look at how past masters and enlightened individuals had lived their lives? Though they lived in a different place and at a different time, we can glean from their examples what is appropriate for each of our own individual situation.] With this in mind, there are various sources that we can draw upon; they are:
1. The Agama Sutra and the observing of the Way.
2. Ch'an records and the awakening to the Way.
3. The Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra and the practice of the Way.
4. Various sutras and vinaya texts and the living of the Way.

I. Observe the Way through living simply (as exemplified by the arhats' way of life in the Agama Sutra)
In the early days of Buddhism, how did monastics observe the Way and live their lives? As the daily life of these monastics was not one of material things, emotional ties, or sensory pleasures, they led a life of few material things and cool emotional ties. Their pursuit was a life of cultivation and the severance of attachment to privileges and pleasures. The world within their heart was pure and their spiritual life was forever lasting.
In more concrete terms, their personal belongings were limited to three garments and one bowl. They only ate one meal a day, and they often slept under trees, along river banks, or even by burial grounds. Then there was the method of "discipline cultivation," which involved an enormous amount of solitude. The goal of discipline cultivation was to become unperturbed by the trials of life through discipline or even ascetic practices. They were not after present enjoyment and thus worldly temptation did not have a hold on them. They often shunned crowded and noisy places and were most keen on attaining the eternal peace of nirvana. Unfortunately, some people today just want to copy the lifestyle of these arhats in appearance, but not in practice. They want to remove themselves from communities and yet long to live in worldly comfort. This later lifestyle is not what we mean by cultivation.
The elder Maha-Kasyapa was one of the foremost disciples of the Buddha. He was most diligent in his practice of discipline cultivation. Through a life of frugality, he wanted to purify his body and mind, to free himself of the shackles of worldly worries, and to attain the ultimate Buddha-wisdom. One day, the Buddha happened to notice Maha-Kasyapa was well advanced in his years and advised him, "You really need not live such an ascetic life. You can return to the Jetavana Monastery and be the head monastic. There, you can lead the assembly in practice. This way, you can still achieve your goal of purifying your mind of worldly cares and desires."
Maha-Kasyapa replied to the Buddha, "Lord Buddha, I really cannot do as you have suggested. I am here to practice discipline cultivation, and I want to set an example for generations of Buddhists. I want them to know that ascetic practices can help us sharpen our will, strengthen our faith, and boost our spirit. We need to find our hearts and minds and be masters of them. This way, we will be in the company of all Buddhas." The approach of discipline cultivation is no different from one of the teachings of Mencius (an ancient Chinese philosopher), which goes like this: "Before the heavens above bestow a great responsibility on a person, the heavens will first test the person's mind and spirit, task the person's tendons and bones, starve the person's body and skin, deny the person everything, and throw confusion into all the person does."
Among the Buddha's disciples was Prince Bhadrika, a cousin of the Buddha who renounced his household life to become a bhiksu. One day, the prince was out in the woods meditating with Aniruddha and Kumbhira. During his meditation, he suddenly called out, "Oh! How wonderful! This is too wonderful!"
Aniruddha asked him, "What are you exclaiming about? What is so wonderful?"
The prince replied, "Aniruddha, let me tell you. When I was still a prince, I lived in a heavily guarded, fortress-like palace, but I still worried about the threat of assassination. What I ate was the best kind of food and delicacies, and what I wore was fine silken clothing. I lived a life of luxury, but somehow the food did not taste right, and the clothes did not look proper. Now I am a bhiksu, there is no guard to protect me. Though I am always meditating by myself in the woods, I do not fear others will assassinate me. Although my food and clothing are very simple, I feel very contented. Now, I sit and sleep freely; I feel most comfortable. I can only feel an indescribable joy within myself!"
From this, we can see that though the lives of these holy practitioners were simple, they were not lacking in happiness. Worldly living measures happiness by how much one owns; transcendental living builds happiness on the freeness of not possessing. Possession is like a piece of baggage; it can be burdensome. Not possessing is boundless and limitless. Though these enlightened individuals did not possess much, they had the whole world to enjoy.
The material life of the Sangha was limited to the basics. When the Buddha's aunt offered the Buddha two garments that she herself had made, the Buddha only took one and asked her to offer the other one to a bhiksu. The life of the Sangha emphasized self-reliance and mutual support. When older bhiksus could not see well, the Buddha helped them thread needles and mend clothes. When some of them fell ill, the Buddha prepared medicine for them and helped them bathe. The life of the Sangha was demanding and called for self-motivation. The Buddha often encouraged his disciples to travel as much as thirty miles to receive an offering. The Sangha sometimes traveled many miles to teach the Dharma. From our standpoint, such a life may seem harsh, but these enlightened individuals were not the least bothered by the meager conditions they lived in. Regardless how trying the circumstance, it was a means to observe the Way. The arhats did not make the distinction of possessing and not possessing, far and near, or hardships and comfort. They looked at each of these qualities with equanimity.
Let's look at the lifestyle of monastics today. When I gave my talk yesterday, I wore this robe that I am wearing today. Tomorrow is no different; I will still wear this same robe. I only have this robe so there is not much to think about. In the morning when I wake up, I simply put on this robe. I like it just the way it is. Now, it is different with you all. Everyday, you have to think about what you should wear for the day. If you want to wear red, you may even have to think about which shade of red looks good on you. All those decisions! Tomorrow, when you come to attend the lecture, you may want to wear a color other than red. Which color? Green, maybe. This is a lot more complicated than what I have to deal with.
Let me give you another example. In the kindergarten school that we have opened, we just hired a few young ladies to be school teachers. Their salary was three thousand dollars a month. In the school, there are also a few monastics working as teachers. As monastics, they are only paid a hundred dollars a month. Strangely enough, I once heard a salaried teacher asking a loan from a monastic. What is enough? Is three thousand dollars enough? Is a hundred dollars enough? To make a lot of money does not necessarily mean happiness; to make a modicum amount is not necessarily bad either.
To enlightened individuals who have renounced their attachments, all the happenings of the world seem like fleeting smoke or floating clouds, leaving not a trace in their minds. They remain unperturbed by worldly phenomena and are not slaves of desires. They look at relationships coolly, and everyday they live their lives simply, peacefully, freely, and harmoniously.
Before we leave this section, I want to emphasize that to live transcendentally does not mean we have to live apart from people. When we live and function in our homes and society, we can practice transcendental living by remembering four things. First, we cannot let wealth and fame dictate what we do. Second, our love for others should not be possessive and demanding in nature. Third, we should not become attached to power and position. Fourth, we should not be discriminating of self versus others, or what we like versus what we dislike. If we can live in this world in accordance with these four points, then we will taste the joys of a transcendental life.

II. Awake to the Way through transcend-ing worldly phenomena (as exemplified by the Ch'an masters' way of life in Ch'an annals)
The Ch'an school of Buddhism is a prominent branch of Chinese Buddhism, and it has given us many eminent Ch'an masters. We can read about the worry-free lives of enlightened Ch'an masters in Ch'an records. Some were known to travel with bare essentials-just with sandals on their feet and a chipped bowl in hand, or with a straw hat and staff. We can also read about how Ch'an masters worked in all kinds of capacities. Some worked in menial labor like chopping wood and fetching water. Others herded cattle or pushed carts. Then there were some who preferred to sit quietly and cultivate in a meditation hall. As they were no longer attached to the comforts of the material world and had extricated themselves from the emotional ties of social relationships, their lives were at peace with their surroundings. Whatever they did before, they were still doing it after enlightenment, except that they were now doing it with transcendence. From the ways they lived and the kinds of work they did, we can see the lives of these enlightened masters were free, idyllic, and tranquil.
Ch'an master Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of the Ch'an School, pounded rice for years at the monastery of Ch'an master Hung Jen, the Fifth Patriarch. Ch'an master T'ien Yi Ye Huai was a waterman at a monastery in Ts'ui-feng. Ch'an master Ch'ing Chu was in charge of cooking vegetables at a monastery in Yu-shan. Similarly, Ch'an master Hsueh Feng cooked for hundreds at a monastery in Tung-shan. Han Shan and Shih Te, two eminent masters, served meals at the monastery in T'ien-t'ai. When the rest of us would consider cooking vegetables and pounding rice as lowly jobs, these enlightened Ch'an masters looked at all jobs as dignified and important. Dr. Sun Yat-sen, father of modern China, once said, "Be great doers, not great ministers." As it turned out, such a motto was nothing new to the Ch'an masters of the past, who had long been practicing such noble ideals. In fact, while no one would want to follow the footsteps of tyrannical emperors such as Chieh, Chou, Yo, and Li, Ch'an masters of limited means and modest living have become popular role models.
In Chinese Buddhism, there is this wonderful story that puts the carefree lives of Ch'an masters in stark contrast with the often-tangled life of politics. During the Tang dynasty, there was a Ch'an master by the name of Tao Lin. He was often referred to as Ch'an master Nia Ok'o (which means bird nest) because of his choice of accommodation. Instead of living in a house, he made his home in a tall pine tree overlooking a cliff at the top of the hills of Ch'in-wang. For twenty years, he lived like this. One day, Magistrate Pai Chu-yi came to pay him a visit. Curiously, he asked the Ch'an master, "Why do you pick such a dangerous place to live?"
"It is no danger at all to live up here in the tree. It is the magistrate who is living dangerously," replied the Ch'an master from up above.
The magistrate answered, "Your humble official guards the rivers and mountains of our country. What danger is there?"
With this, the Ch'an master responded, "Your situation is an explosive mix of fire and fuel, in which the true nature cannot be released. Is this not dangerous?"
I encountered a modern day Nia Ok'o when I was traveling in India in 1963. By the site where the Buddha entered nirvana, there was a huge tree. On top of the tree lived a Chinese monk by the name of Shan Hsiu. When the government found out that a monk was living in the tree, they ordered him to cease and desist. At this point, Shan Hsiu, who had lived in the tree for over a decade, would not budge. The government felt that the living conditions atop the tree were too precarious and harsh. When Shan Hsiu refused, the government had no choice but to fell the thousand-year old tree. Shan Hsiu, of course, felt differently. He said, "It is very safe to live atop the tree. It is also very free. I felt very fortunate to be able to live so close to the place where the Buddha entered nirvana. Atop the tree, I had the sun, the moon, the stars, and the clouds to keep me company. I had flowers and trees as my neighbors. How can they say that it is unfit for human living!"
The eyes of enlightened Ch'an masters see beauty everywhere. The world they live in is no different from our world, yet they are in harmony with nature, with Truth. With the carefree attitude of "neither rejoicing over birth, nor grieving about death," they live in enlightenment and transcendence.
During the Sui dynasty, there was a Ch'an master by the name of Chih Shun. One day, while Chih Shun was meditating in the woods, a pheasant chased by a hunter ran up to him and hid. When the hunter demanded to have his pheasant back, Chih Shun refused. It was a stand-off. Finally, Ch'an master Chih Shun said to the hunter, "How much does a pheasant weigh? How about if I give you one of my ears as a trade?" As he spoke, he cut off one of his ears and handed it over to the hunter.
The life of enlightened Ch'an masters is one of transcendence. They see that the four great elements of the body (earth, water, fire, and wind) are empty, and the five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness) do not exist on their own. An ear, therefore, does not amount to much at all.
Once, the Ch'an master Tao Shu built a monastery next to a Taoist temple. The Taoists were quit upset to see a Buddhist monastery situated right next to their temple, so they decided to conjure up all kinds of spirits and apparitions to drive the Ch'an master and his people away. Only some young monks were scared away. The Ch'an master was not the least affected and continued to stay in the monastery for the next twenty years. Finally, the Taoists exhausted all their means and gave up. As the Taoists were unsuccessful in driving the Buddhists away, they decided to abandon their own temple. Some people were curious and asked the Ch'an master, "How did you withstand all the magic and spells they had cast on you?"
The Ch'an master replied, "I do not have any magic formula that can beat them. All that I have is the knowledge of 'nothingness.' The Taoists have plenty of magic and spells, but regardless how many magic and spells they have, they will be exhausted one day. As for me, 'emptiness' is boundless and limitless. Of course, I can endure over them."
A Ch'an master's life of awakening is one of "nothingness." In the realization of nothingness, an enlightened Ch'an master does not engage in gossip, discriminate between self and others, or strive for glory and fame. A Ch'an master's life, free like drifting clouds and flowing water, is beyond the constraints of worldly life. This is the transcendental life of the enlightened.

III. Practice the Way through living without attachment (as exemplified by the bodhisattvas' way of life in the Maha-prajnaparamita Sutra)
Most people practice so they may go from worldliness to transcendence. As one's spiritual development matures and one is awakened to one's nature, one often chooses to leave worldly living behind so as to experience a pure, transcendental living. Mahayana bodhisattvas, whose goal is not just to escape [the sufferings] of the world, do not choose such a path. After they become one with transcendental living, great compassionate bodhisattvas choose to manifest in our world to help all beings cross the sea of suffering. Bodhisattvas live a worldly living that is without attachment. Venerable Tzu Hang left words with his disciples, "Flee not, as long as one more being remains to be ferried."
Vimalakirti is a very good example of how to lead a worldly, yet transcendental life. Vimalakirti was a married man with a family, property, and wealth. From the outside, his lifestyle was no different from any of us, yet he was a bodhisattva who had truly comprehended transcendence. His lifestyle can be described as, "Though living in a family, he was not attached to the three realms of existence. Though married, he continually practiced pure living." He led a life that is without attachment, yet he did not cling to the notion of non-attachment. "Passing through a grove of flowers, yet not a leaf clings to the body." What a portrayal of living without attachment! "When we look at flowers and birds like a wooden carving would, then we fear not the myriad of things illusively surrounding us." How wonderful a way to live without attachment! It is said in the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra that, "A bodhisattva, who is in tune with the Dharma, lives without attachment." Only when we live without clinging to any notion can we live freely and shine in whatever situation we find ourselves!
For most of us, our well being is grounded in the six worldly dusts stirred by our senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought. Dust, stirred and unsettled, is an apt description of the restlessness of worldly living. On the contrary, bodhisattvas live their lives without attachment and so are unswayed by these worldly dusts. How do they live without attachment? Simply put, "Not only do they not abide in existence, they also do not dwell in non-existence. Not only do they not abide in non-existence, they also do not dwell in the absence of non-existence." Without any particular attachment, all notions become possible. Like the sun, just because it is not shining on any particular spot that the sun can shine on us all.
The Sixth Patriarch of the Ch'an School, Hui Neng, became enlightened when he heard the Fifth Patriarch, Hung Jen, speak of this excerpt from the Diamond Sutra: "Let your intentions arise without any attachment." The enlightened Hui Neng then made the following remark, "What more can we ask of our self-nature? Our self-nature itself is pure; our self-nature itself does not live nor die; our self-nature itself is complete; our self-nature itself is not stirred; our self-nature itself can give rise to all phenomena." Bodhisattvas, having realized that our self-nature is all encompassing and that it reaches "all ten directions and all three time dimensions," rest their minds in the state of non-attachment. Living without attachment is the true way to live in accordance with truth. When we can live without attachment, we can truly live in tune with the bodhisattva spirit of equanimity and freeness.
The bodhisattvas' way of living without attachment is a beautiful way of living. Take the example of us monastics. Though we, as monastics, have renounced our household life and do not have a traditional home like you all do, we can call every temple our home. The fact that we are not attached to any particular home allows us to call many places home. When our mind is not attached to any particular notion, it becomes possible for us to embrace everything. When we live without attachment, we do not cling to the notion of life or the notion of nirvana. In this mindset of non-attachment, worldly problems of distress, sorrow, suffering, fear, and confusion no longer matter to us. Through living without attachment, bodhisattvas practice the Way. In the Universal Gate, the practice of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is described as "traveling the worlds" because Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva approaches the task of helping all sentient beings cross the sea of suffering as traveling the worlds. How free! How at ease!
Let me give you an example of living without attachment. During the time of the Buddha, there was a bhiksuni, who was bitten by a poisonous snake while meditating in a cave. Though she knew she did not have much time to live, she remained very calm and asked for Sariputra so that she might leave instructions with him on what to do after she passed away. When Sariputra approached her, he was a bit skeptical and asked, "Bhiksuni, you look splendid. Is it possible you were bitten by a venomous snake?"
The bhiksuni replied, "Elder Sariputra, lately I have been contemplating emptiness and as such I have been practicing living without attachment. The snake might be able to hurt my body, but it cannot sway my practice. I guess this is why my complexion has not changed." With these words, the bhiksuni smiled and peacefully entered nirvana. This is an example of what a life without fear, without attachment, without aversion is like.
Some of us do not know how to let go of fame and fortune. When our lives revolve around fame and fortune, it becomes particularly painful when fame and fortune elude us. Others of us do not know how to let go of our emotions. When our relationships fail, we fall apart. If we do not know how to let go, we bring a lot of headaches upon ourselves. If we practice living without attachment, we will not be affected by what we have or do not have; fame and obscurity will have very little bearing on us. In this way, we can truly experience the true joy of the Buddha's teachings.
Among the many disciples of the Buddha, Subhuti was the foremost in the wondrous practice of living without attachment. In the Diamond Sutra, we read about the exchange of Subhuti and the Buddha regarding the truth of living without attachment. Subhuti, reading the Buddha's mind, stood up and asked the Buddha, "Lord Buddha! We all know how much the Buddha loves us and how well the Buddha guides us. Let me ask this question. For those of us who have pledged our bodhicitta and want to practice the bodhisattva way, how do we rest our mind? How do we subdue the distraction of our wandering thoughts? Please give us some guidance."
The Buddha replied, "This is how we can rest our bodhicitta so that we will not become distracted by wandering thoughts. When we practice generosity, we should give without abiding in any notion. When we help sentient beings cross the sea of suffering, we should ferry all beings without the notion of self. Rest our bodhicitta this way; subdue our wandering mind this way."
Bodhisattvas are truly in tune with prajna and emptiness. Manjusri Bodhisattva and Vimalakirti can teach us a lot about the teachings of non-duality. Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva can manifest in thirty-three forms, depending on the need and situation. To live in this world, yet not to be attached to this world; to have everything, yet be able to joyously part with everything-this is the bodhisattvas' practice of living without attachment.

IV. Live the Way with liberation and attainment (as exemplified by the Buddha's way of life in various sutras and vinaya texts)
Let me just again emphasize that when we speak of transcendental living in Buddhism, we are not talking about living outside of this world. The Buddha was born into this world, practiced in this world, taught us the Dharma, and lived the Way right here in this world. We all can realize the Way. For those who have reached this stage of spiritual development, how is their way of life? The best way we can approach this question is to look at how the Buddha lived his life. How did the Buddha handle his relationships? How did the Buddha deal with worldly stress and suppression? How did the Buddha handle his relationships with his friends, those who had helped him, his disciples, and those who were hostile toward him? How did the Buddha handle himself in the face of danger, false scandalous remarks, life, and death? In summary, how did the Buddha live his life during the good times and the hard times?
We all know that the Buddha left home to seek the Way, but do we know that his renunciation did not mean that he loved his country less? To renounce the household life does not mean that we have to forsake our country; we should still love our country. One time, King Virudhaka led his army to invade Kapilavastu, the Buddha's hometown. As the army of King Virudhaka was many times larger and stronger than that of Kapilavastu's, there was very little hope for Kapilavastu. Though the Buddha was a prince of Kapilavastu, he strictly adhered to his life of renunciation and had never become involved in its affairs, that was, until the impending invasion. As the army of King Virudhaka approached the city, the Buddha planted himself in the midst of the road that the King's army had to pass through. Now, there was a custom among Indian armies that they would postpone a fight if they happened to see a monastic on the day of the fight. So, when the army saw the Buddha in the middle of the road, they decided to halt and set up camp. The next day when the army was about to continue with the advance, the Buddha was still in the middle of the road. The same happened on the third day. King Virudhaka was growing impatient and so he decided to approach the Buddha. He went up to the Buddha and said, "Lord Buddha, why are you always sitting here? You should not be sitting here under the blazing sun. Why don't you rest in the shade of the big tree at the side of the road?"
The Buddha replied, "The shade of my family tree is much better." What this means is that he treasures his country and its people; he prefers to sit under the shade of the trees within his country. Now that his country is under attack, how can he sit and relax under the shade of other trees? When the fierce King Virudhaka heard the Buddha's remark, he was very moved and ordered his army to turn back. From this episode, we can see that the Buddha had lots of feelings about his country and continued to care for his country deeply even after he renounced the household life.
Before the Buddha left the palace to find the Way, he was married to Princess Yasodhara. After many years of cultivation, the Buddha finally was enlightened to the Way. The Buddha then spent the next few years in the southern part of India teaching the Dharma. It was over ten years when he finally got the chance to visit his hometown. When Princess Yasodhara heard that the Buddha was visiting, her emotions were mixed. On the one hand, she was still angry with the Buddha for leaving her; on the other hand, she was very happy for the Buddha's visit. What was she going to do when they finally met again? There were many things she would like to tell the Buddha, but she really could not because the Buddha had already renounced his household life. She wondered how the Buddha would treat her; her mind was full of questions and anxiety. Now, how do you think the Buddha would handle such a situation?
After the Buddha paid his respect to the king, his father, the Buddha's young son, Rahula, went up to the Buddha and told him that his mother was waiting for him. When the Buddha and Princess Yasodhara finally met, the princess was moved by the majestic look of the Buddha. All of a sudden, she found herself kneeling down to pay the Buddha respect. Slowly and gently, the Buddha said to the princess, "Yasodhara, I must apologize to you for my leaving you, but I am most true to myself and to all sentient beings. I want to thank you because I have now finally realized my wish of many kalpas to become the Buddha."
It is not that the Enlightened One did not have any emotions; it is just that the Buddha was no longer ruled by his emotions. From the way the Buddha talked to Yasodhara, we can see that the Buddha was indeed a very sensitive and reasonable man. The Buddha loved his family, but he also loved all sentient beings. It was out of compassion that the Buddha left his princess and son to seek the Way. When King Suddhodana passed away, all the princes expressed their desire to be pallbearers. The Buddha was no different and insisted on also being a pallbearer. When everyone saw the Buddha in the funeral procession, all were moved. Was the Buddha not a filial son? Was the Buddha not grateful to his father for raising him? The Buddha, the fully enlightened one, demanded nothing of us sentient beings; he just loved us all. To us, the Buddha is always generous and compassionate.
When one of the Buddha's bhiksus fell ill, the Buddha personally took care of the sick disciple-bathing him, bringing him water, and tidying up his room. When one of the Buddha's older bhiksus failed in his eyesight, the Buddha helped him thread a needle and mend his clothes. The Buddha was full of affections and was most loyal, most filial, most compassionate, and most kind. Some of you may say that these gestures are everyday occurrences and not anything special, but it was the manner in which the Buddha did these things that made them special. There is a Chinese saying which describes how everyday mundane things can also feel special; it goes like this: "Though it may be the same moon that shines outside the window every night, the flowering of plum blossoms is what makes a world of difference."
Next, we'll talk about how the Buddha handled stressful situations. One day, the Buddha was in the country of King Supprabuddha, begging for alms. King Supprabuddha was the father of Princess Yasodhara, the wife of the Buddha. The king was not at all pleased to see the Buddha and personally came out to stir up trouble with the Buddha. He stopped the Buddha on the street and said, "You are the kind of person who deserted your country, your wife and your child to seek cultivation. How dare you to come to my country to beg for alms! Why don't you go and make a living for yourself? You think you can just beg for alms and enjoy the fruits of others' labor."
The Buddha was not the least angry; he calmly said to the king, "King, please do not be mistaken. Everyday, I cultivate the field of blessings for all sentient beings. Patience is my plough, and diligence is my hoe. I sow seeds of wisdom, so that all sentient beings can have a beautiful garden of blessings and enjoy the fruits of bodhi."
Among the seven princes who renounced the household life to follow the Buddha was a cousin of the Buddha by the name of Devadatta. Devadatta grew impatient with the gradual process of cultivation and became attracted to the immediate results of supernatural power. He wanted to use supernatural power to trick others into believing that he was superior to them and that they should become his disciples. So, Devadatta went to the Buddha and asked the Buddha to teach him supernatural power. When the Buddha refused his request, Devadatta grew angry with the Buddha. He gathered a few vicious hoodlums to assassinate the Buddha. When the Buddha's disciples got wind of the plot, they all became very nervous and feared for the Buddha's safety. With wooden sticks and iron poles in hand, they were ready for a good fight with Devadatta and his people. The Buddha saw the situation; he smiled and said, "The life of the Buddha is not something that can be protected by brute force. Many times I have told you that when we are faced with the fights of our lives, we must be prepared with wisdom and patience. In this way, we will not be intimidated by others. Wooden sticks and iron poles are not the best kinds of weapons for the situation at hand. Please rest assured, it is not my time to leave this world. Even if it is time for me to enter nirvana, my Dharma-body will still be here with you. Please go and cultivate; it is more important to stand guard on our own minds."
There are many more examples of how the Buddha handled the many unpleasant situations of life that we all have to face at one time or another. When Uruvilva Kasyapa first met the Buddha, he intended to do the Buddha harm, but he ended up becoming a disciple of the Buddha. Angulimalya was a vicious killer, but under the gentle guidance of the Buddha, he also turned a new leaf and took refuge in the Buddha. When the Sakya and Koliya clans were about to fight for water rights during a time of drought, the Buddha hurried back home to be a peacemaker and resolved the situation without any bloodshed. When Vaisali was struck by an epidemic, the Buddha went there to volunteer his help. When Cincamanavika falsely accused the Buddha of sexual misconduct, her plan was foiled and everyone respected the Buddha that much more. When the Buddha's disciple, Kaloayin, was murdered, or when Maudgalyayana (known for his miraculous power) was beaten to death by Nigranthas (a cult which practiced nakedness), the Buddha was heart-broken. Though saddened, the Buddha also took the opportunity to remind his disciples that they should not be caught up in the web of worldliness and that even miraculous power was not the ultimate solution for attaining the Way. He advised them to be forever vigilant of observing the Way. On numerous occasions, the Buddha reinforced that we should all use the teachings of the Three Dharma Seals and the Four Noble Truths to guide us in our journey of life. At the crossroads of life, we can always rely on these teachings, like we do with a compass, to help us choose the right path to our destination.
The Buddha, who had attained the Way, continued to live in this world. Like you and me, the Buddha lived through good times and bad. The difference is that the enlightened Buddha was not at all perturbed by the ups and downs of life. The Buddha lived his life in transcendence and liberation.

I can go into much more detail about the many wonderful examples the Buddha has given us on how to live transcendentally, but unfortunately the limited time that we have here only allows me to scratch the surface. I hope that with the four aspects of transcendental living that we discussed here today, I have given you all an avenue to pursue such a goal. To live a transcendental life does not mean that we have to renounce the household life and become a monastic. You all can discover transcendence in the midst of worldly living, and when you do, you will enjoy the peace and happiness of transcendental living. I'd like to end this lecture by offering you this closing thought:
To hold on to the safety of a household life is easy, to renounce is not!
To renounce is easy, to live in transcendence is not!
To live in transcendence is easy, but to truly understand the ways of the world is not!