How to be a Buddhist? How does one start?
Learning Buddhism starts with taking refuge
It is a simple matter to be a Buddhist. Yet, it is also not easy. A verse from the Buddhist sutra reads: "Avoid all evils; do all that are good; purify one's mind. These are the teachings of all Buddhas." One may ask about the difference between Buddhism and Christianity, or indeed the other religions. The majority of us have the concept that all religions are the same: they all teach us to be good. Indeed, most religions teach to avoid all evils and do all that are good. However, purifying one's mind is the underlying tenet of Buddhism. In general, other religions are still within the transmigration of the six realms - the realm of celestial being, human being, asura, animal, ghost and hell, and within the fiery of the Three Planes of existence - world of sensuous desires, world of forms and world of formless. Buddhism is different from all other religions.
How to be a Buddhist? First of all, we need to understand that Buddhists are categorised into those who believe in the Buddha, and those who learn from the Buddha. Those who believe in the Buddha are believers of Buddhism. This category is further subdivided into those who believe blindly, that is, being superstitious, and those who exercise wisdom in their beliefs. Learning Buddhism, however, is different. In learning Buddhism, we cultivate to correct our conduct and habits, we carry out religious duties, and promote the Dharma for the good of sentient beings. We follow the Buddha in his cultivation and practices. That is learning Buddhism.
How does one start? The best way to start is to take refuge in the Three Treasures - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Only then, is one really a Buddhist. While on the path of learning Buddhism, there are many things that we ought to do. The most basic of which is to be aware of our self serving and evil habits, and to eradicate these habits. When our mind is impure, we need to purify it. When we are pure and everyone in the family is pure, then our society is pure. When every society is pure, then the entire humanity is pure. In this way, the world becomes a pure land.
How to become an authentic Buddhist?
To be an authentic Buddhist
To be an authentic Buddhist, firstly, one has to take refuge in the Three Treasures - the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. After taking refuge, one has to learn and practise the Dharma, understand the Law of Cause and Effect, and stop being superstitious. In addition, one should observe the Five Precepts
" refrain from killing,
" refrain from stealing,
" refrain from lying,
" refrain from adultery,
" refrain from consumption of intoxicants performing the Ten Virtuous Deeds
" refrain from killing,
" refrain from stealing,
" refrain from lying,
" refrain from adultery,
" refrain from frivolous and meaningless talk,
" refrain from tale-bearing,
" refrain from slanderous speech,
" refrain from covetousness,
" refrain from ill-will,
" refrain from pereverted views
Learning and practising Buddhism, eradicate self serving and evil habits, seek liberation, unfold one's wisdom and follow the Bodhisattva Path. This is the way to be a righteous Buddhist.
Does one absolutely need to take refuge to learn Buddhism?
Taking refuge and learning Buddhism
Certainly. Just like a student, one needs to register in a school before commencing lessons. Being a Buddhist one needs to take refuge and form a cause with the Three Treasures - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Nowadays, many people learn Buddhism, but the majority are either superstitious or lacking in the correct concept. This is because they did not take refuge, and do not follow what the Buddha taught. To be an authentic Buddhist, one needs to take the following steps: take refuge, observe the precepts, and follow the Buddha's teaching to cultivate one's conduct.
Are there any advantages in taking refuge?
There is brightness in taking refuge
There are many, many advantages in taking refuge. If you were to ask somebody about the advantages of going to university, he will tell you about the many advantages: you can become an engineer or a doctor after graduating from the university. There is an enormous amount of knowledge, principles and theories which one would be able to understand when one goes to university. It is the same with taking refuge. The many things which we do not understand before, become clear to us when we have unfold our wisdom after taking refuge to learn Buddhism. Being without wisdom is like the night, the room is dark and we do not know how many people are in it. With wisdom is like turning on the light, with one look we know what is in the room and how many people are there. Turning on the light is analogous to the brightness in our mind. With brightness we can understand many things. These are the advantages of taking refuge, learning Buddhism and unfolding our wisdom.
What is blissful culture? Why does humanity need a blissful culture?
The culture of purifying the human mind is blissful culture
Humanity is constantly seeking happiness in this world. However, no matter how hard it tries, it is somehow unable to find happiness. Instead, it encounters calamities and more calamities. In fact, all these calamities are the creation of the mind.
In the beginning of this earth, there were only the heavenly and human realms of existence. The realms of hell, hungry ghost, animal and asura did not exist. But, as humanity progressed through time, the human mind began to change. They developed more and more affinity for evil - greed, anger, ignorance, delusion and foolish thoughts which gave rise to the acts of killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. Happiness gradually diminished and the six realms of cyclic existence evolved out of humanity's evil mind.
In today's society, the unhappiness of human beings largely results from the countless evil deeds that he has committed. These evil deeds stem mainly from three karma - our bodily action, speech and thought. Thoughts are basically our thinking. If our thoughts are filled with evil thinkings, these will be manifested in our actions. For example, our unkind thoughts of someone may translate into harsh words from our mouth or even into a painful action with our hands. When we do these, we are creating evil karma.
Our thoughts generate greed, anger and delusions. Through our speech - in the form of telling lies, frivolous talk, slandering and rude or harsh speech; and through our bodily actions by way of killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. This is just a simple explanation. It would be endless to go into details. These three karma bring upon ourselves a lot of sufferings and unhappiness. Therefore, if humanity wants to achieve happiness in life, then he should try to eradicate all these evil deeds which stem from greed, anger, ignorance, killing, stealing and sexual misconduct.
Many religions teach us to do good and avoid doing bad. Buddhism, in particular, besides teaching us to refrain from all evil deeds and to do all good deeds, also teaches us to purify our minds. Once we have a healthy mental culture, naturally our minds will not be filled with greed, anger, ignorance, and other evil thoughts and actions. We must be aware that the mind controls our speech and actions, it all arises from our minds. Minds are also our thoughts. It is because humanity lacks wisdom and awareness that we are constantly deceived by our minds. We fail to understand the real meaning of karma, or cause and effect. We do not know if our actions will hurt ourselves or others; or if they are beneficial or harmful. Hence, unhappiness and sufferings follow.
Humanity wants happiness and dislikes sufferings. But, due to the lack of wisdom, we do not know how to free ourselves from our sufferings. However, if we learn from Buddha's teachings - practise to purify the three karma of bodily actions, speech and thoughts, our wisdom can be cultivated. Once we have wisdom, whatever we think, speak and do, the actions will be beneficial to ourselves, to others and to the world. These eventually lead to happiness and the world will be filled with brightness and hope.
Henceforth, we can say that the culture of Buddhism is also Blissful Culture.
What is Human Bliss Culture?
The Culture of Buddhism is the Voice of Bliss
What is Human Bliss Culture? We should ask the question in reverse: "What is Human 'Un-bliss' Culture?" Since there is bliss culture, therefore there is 'un-bliss' culture. The world today has many teachings, including those that teach people to commit evil. Lets think it over. In fact, all humanity originally has bliss, why did it diminish? It is because we human beings destroy our bliss by not observing the rules and the precepts.
To use a simple illustration, it is like putting a tea cup at the centre of the table. It is very safe and beyond the reach of small children. If it is put along the edge of the table, then it is very vulnerable to falling and breakage. To replace the broken cup means having to sacrifice twice. If a child places the tea cup at the edge of the table, then the mother will quickly exhort him to move it to the centre. Adults understand the need to put it at the centre of the table, but young children don't. In fact, this is a precept.
The regulations about what can or cannot be done are precepts. In fact, everyone needs to observe precepts and be good citizens. Good citizens need to abide by the laws, and that is observing the precepts. Therefore, Jen Chen Buddhism refer to precepts as 'means of safeguarding blessings'. 'Safeguarding blessings' means safeguarding our own blessings, the blessings which resulted from the virtuous deeds committed in the past. This is analogous to putting the tea cup in the proper place. In fact, all the *Dharma Doors taught by Buddhism is the Voice of Bliss. This Voice of Bliss is spoken by Buddha for all of us. All the teachings of Buddha are meant for we, human beings, to attain the highest order of bliss. If everyone comes to learn Buddhism, cultivate and achieve the pure Nirvana, then, of course, that is the highest, fullest and most complete, and most ultimate bliss. Therefore, the culture of Buddhism is Bliss Culture.
In many countries, particularly Europe and America, people generally understand what is a Bliss Culture. But, they do not necessarily know what is Buddhism Culture. Therefore, we refer to 'Buddhism Culture' as 'Bliss Culture'. The sutras expounded by Sakyamuni Buddha is the standard for Bliss Culture. And, when promoted in this manner, in time to come the entire humanity of the world will be able to pursue the principles that bring bliss as expounded by the Buddha.
" Dharma doors : The doctrines of Buddha regarded as the door to enlightenment; methods of cultivation.
The title of your Dharma talk is Human Bliss Culture; why then when you answer questions from the audience you did not mention Human Bliss Culture at all? Many of my friends here and I would like to know what is Human Bliss Culture.
The culture of Buddhism is Bliss Culture
It is because the bliss culture that you have in mind and what I have in mind are different. The bliss culture that you have in mind may be how to prosper with great wealth and fortune, or how to have a good wife in order for the family to have bliss. In this manner, the definition of bliss is too narrow! We need to know that the culture of Buddhism is the real bliss culture. If everybody is able to attain the ultimate Nirvana, then this is indeed the real bliss culture.
The purpose of our learning Buddhism is to distance from suffering and attain happiness. Many people think that to distance from suffering and attain happiness means going to the Western Pure Land. In fact, it is not only this. When we distance from suffering and attain happiness, we have to instantaneously distance from suffering, instantaneously attain happiness and liberation. Some people may be suspicious; how can liberation be attained so easily? In fact, it is very simple. If someone scolds you, and you apologize to him, then that is a small liberation. If someone hits you, and you retaliate; an eye for an eye, then isn't that very miserable? What happen if that results in loss of life? Even though you are rude to me, I will still apologise very politely to you. Isn't that being liberated? This is Jen Chen Buddhism's teaching of liberation. If whilst alive, we cannot even attain small liberation's like this, then what more to say of liberation after death? In the course of our daily lives, if we are liberated at every moment, then in time to come we will be able to attain the great liberation. Please think it over, isn't this a very blissful? This is but to use a small matter to illustrate the path of liberation. If we are able to understand more of the Buddha-Dharma and apply them in our life, family, society, country, and to the extent of the entire humanity of the world, then isn't this a great bliss culture? Therefore, we say that the culture of Buddhism is Bliss Culture.
In this complex society, how should humanity cultivate in order to achieve bliss?
Learning and Practising Buddhism is the Beginning of Bliss
How should human beings cultivate to achieve happiness and bliss? The scope of this question is too wide for us to deliberate. We have to phrase the question in reverse: what is the cause of human beings' lack of happiness and bliss? To answer it simply, it is due to our unkind thoughts.
Our mind is ever changing. Whether we ascend to heaven or descend to hell, is dependent on our actions which are created by our mind. Virtuous thoughts beget virtuous responses. When our thoughts turn evil, we will invariably face misery and misfortunes. Karma is created by our thoughts, words and deeds. The arising of our mind is translated into either actions or words. Foolish actions are preceded by foolish thoughts arising in our mind, and these result in suffering. Virtuous thoughts precede noble deeds and these shall reap joyous experiences. If whatever we do, we do them for our own benefit, out of selfish and egotistic reasons, or to suit our delusory habits, thinking that that is the way to pursue bliss and happiness, then in the end the exact opposite will happen. We put the blame on others, we are not aware that this is the result of our own ignorance and foolishness. If we do not awake to this reality, we will forever be unable to distance ourselves from suffering and attain happiness.
To cultivate is to get rid of our bad conduct and habits. Our conduct is manifested in our physical actions, speech and thoughts. If we often have wild thoughts, then we have to cultivate mental purity; if our words often harm others, then we have to cultivate purity in our speech; if we are always getting into fights, then we should cultivate purity in our physical actions. Some people have the notion that cultivation is a matter only for monks and nuns. In fact, cultivation is for the entire humanity; all human beings need to cultivate. So long as our conduct is poor, we need to cultivate. Just like a vehicle that has broken down, it needs to be repaired before it can be driven again. There are also others who think that cultivation means meditating in high mountains, and praying to the Buddha. This is not true. We need to cultivate amidst our activities. What is most important is to get rid of our self serving and evil habits. Just like "One who respects others shall receive respect himself; one who abuses others shall be abused himself; one who hurt others shall be hurt himself", if we will treat others with respect, others will accord us with the same respect. It is in this way that bliss begins.
One attribute of human beings is ignorance, the consequence of which leads to our misfortunes. If all human beings are able to learn and practise Buddhism, unfold our wisdom, use our wisdom to deal with others, practise the Bodhisattva path, are truly selfless and benefit the world at large in whatever we do, then surely we will be able to achieve bliss and happiness.
Thus, learning and practising Buddhism will enable every family, the society and all the inhabitants of this world to achieve bliss.
I am interested to learn Buddhism, but I am deterred by the need to observe so many precepts. What should I do?
To attain bliss one needs to observe the precepts
Are you a virtuous person or of bad character? If you are a virtuous person, then what concerns do you have about the precepts? It is the same as when you are a good citizen, then the laws of the country are not a hinderance to you. If a person is law abiding and upholds his duty, none of the laws will affect him. On the other hand, if he robs, kills and commits crimes, then naturaly he has to accept the consequences of the law of the country.
In fact, Buddhism originally did not have so many precepts or rules of conduct. Before these precepts were set by the Buddha, everybody was well behaved. Later, when the community of the Sangha was established, it grew in numbers and some members were not able to eradicate their self serving and evil habits. They could not live up to expectations. Thus, the Sangha began to have precepts. With these, it became possible to uphold the dignity and harmony of the Sangha.
The monks of the Sangha have to observe two hundred and fifty precepts while the nuns have more than three hundred. Lay Buddhists of the society, however, do not really require so many precepts. They only need to observe Five Precepts: refrain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and the consumption of intoxicants. If as a human being you cannot observe these Five Precepts, then you really have to examine yourself. On the other hand, if your conduct does not violate these Five Precepts, then what hinderances are these to you? In addition, one needs to take refuge in the Three Treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and be a disciple of the Three Treasures. As for observing the Five Precepts, it is a separate matter. One can either observe them fully or even partially.
If, because of your business, you feel that you need to say things that are not true, then for a start you need not observe the precept of not lying. But, later when your friends find you untrustworthy and begin to avoid you, then you will realize that it is good to observe the precept of not lying. Then, you can begin to put it into practice.
As for refraining from consuming intoxicants such as alcholic drinks, if you feel that as a businessman you need to entertain your business associates and drink with them, then it is permissible. However, you should not over indulge to the extent that you become intoxicated and terminate your wisdom. Thus, precepts uphold our bliss. According to Jen Chen Buddhism, precepts are "methods of safeguarding blessings". When we know that observing the precepts will uphold the bliss, blessing and well being of the family, I believe each and everyone of us will observe them.
As for abstention from sexual misconduct, surely there should not be any other sexual relationships besides that between husband and wife. If one does not observe his role and flirts with other women, there will be a lot of trouble in the family when the wife finds out about it. Worse still, the consequences would be unthinkable should one contracts sexually transmitted diseases through his sexual misconduct. Thus, observing these precepts can indeed enable one's family to be eternally beautiful and fulfilling, blissful and happy.
Why is it that despite being Buddhists, some families are still not blissful?
Cultivate blesssings and wisdom
Authentic Buddhists should be blissful.
There are many people who think they are Buddhists. Yet they are not. This may sound contradictory, but it is because many of us do not understand what Buddhism really is. Many people, are still lost despite being Buddhists. On the surface they appear to be staunch Buddhists, but they lack wisdom. Many people misunderstand praying to ghosts and deities, and objects such trees and stones to be Buddhism. How can they be blissful when they continue to be superstitious?
Authentic Buddhists who have taken refuge in the Three Treasures - the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, who follow what the Buddha taught, understand the Truth, diligently learn and practise Buddhism, eradicate their self serving and evil habits, eliminate superstitions and unfold their wisdom, are assured of bliss.
If, although you are a Buddhist and you continue to patronise the temples of ghosts and deities, mistaking them for Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, then that is wrong. Buddhism does not reject ghosts and deities because they too can become Buddhists. But, we should not worship them just because they can be Buddhists themselves. We need to know that ghosts and deities are sentient beings of the three evil realms. They descended to the
realm of ghosts because, in their previous lives in the human realm they were attached to greed and lust, they were misers who could not bear to give, and they worshipped the evil and other wayward superstitious ways of the ghosts and deities. Thus, they descended to the ghost realm when they died. Some of them may be better off then others. They may be more intelligent, had performed good deeds before and had more blessings. They become deities and are called blessed ghosts and deities. Similarly, some human beings are better off than others; they hold high offices or they may be very wealthy. However, ghosts and deities live in darkness. They do not have brightness. On the other hand, human beings belong to one of the three good realms. Because in their previous lives they practised the Five Precepts and performed the Ten Virtuous Deeds, therefore in their present lives they are reborn into the realm of human beings. If human beings mistake ghosts and deities for Bodhisattvas and worship them, then that is likened to mistaking a beggar for a rich man and pleading with him for help, protection, peace and prosperity. It is impossible for them to help and protect you because sentient beings of the three evil realms do not have blessings at all. They are in such desperate situations that they cannot even save themselves. Surely they cannot offer you any real assistance when you approach them for help. If we correct this erroneous and superstitious concept, we will return to the shore of enlightenment.
The most important thing for authentic Buddhists who are learning and practising Buddhism is to apply what the Buddha taught in our daily lives, create a Buddhist cultured family and way of life, and be with Buddha at every moment. In this way, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will naturally shelter us. Our wisdom will unfold, and with wisdom naturally bliss will follow.
It is hoped that every Buddhist will be able to apply the principles of Buddhism in their daily lives and practise diligently. Furthermore, we should not only seek the assistance of the Ksitigarbha (Ti-Zhang) Bodhisattva in reducing our negative karma, the Avalokitesvara (Kuan-Yin) Bodhisattva in reducing our suffering and difficulties, but also to pay reverence to Manjusri (Wen-Shu) Bodhisattva to cultivate according to the Dharma and to seek to unfold our wisdom. When we have wisdom, regardless of what we do or whom we deal with, be it our school works, occupation or bringing up our children, we will always be successful. At the same time we need to widely perform virtuous deeds, and nurture our blessings and morality. In this way, we will surely attain perfection and bliss.
What is the meaning of life?
A life pursuing bliss is most meaningful
Life has meanings that are both common and unique to each individual. The common meanings in life are living, survival, and pursuing bliss and happiness. However, some people may feel that survival in this manner is not easy. They are driven to doing bad, for example, robbing or swindling others. To them, such acts constitute their meaning of life. To others, the meaning of life is to be law abiding citizens, earning a righteous livelihood and supporting their family.
To a person of bad character, indulging in vices such as gambling and alcoholic drinks is meaningful. A farmer may feel that his occupation in providing food is most meaningful. A teacher may feel that educating the young is most meaningful. Yet, some may feel working hard for a living and to raise and support their family is most meaningful. Thus, due to the differences in an individual's outlook, experience and environment, the meaning of life varies from person to person.
Buddhists may find it meaningful to learn and practise the Buddha's teachings. Christians may feel that spending time praying to God is most meaningful. The meaning life is indeed very broad. There is no hard and fast rule to it. We may say that life should be lived meaningfully, yet, what is meaningful to us may not necessarily be meaningful to others.
Which ever the case, it is only when we are able to distance ourselves from suffering and attain a life of happiness and bliss that life is meaningful. To some, this may appear to be the standard objective since we all differ in our thoughts and therefore our pursuits in life are different. Furthermore, our experiences in life are different and therefore it is difficult to define a universal meaning of life.
Since we are learning Buddhism, we seek liberation, unfold our wisdom, emulate the practices of the Bodhisattvas and ultimately to attain the supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood. These are recognised pursuits of all Buddhists and thus it is the most meaningful life.
A Blissful Life Is Meaningful
If asked what is my purpose in life, I would say I want to promote a bliss culture. I want to spread the Dharma for the benefit of all sentient beings. I want to devote myself to Buddhism, practise Buddha's teachings and follow the Bodhisattva path. This is my purpose in life.
Some people have no desire to be good, they want to steal or rob. If you ask him about his purpose of life, he will tell you life is meaningful if he can strike a "big one", or continue with his sinful ways. Then, there are those who are capable of earning money, and they would say, "I want to be the richest person in the world." These to them are very meaningful. Many people who are well off have no desire to be engaged in useful employment. I have been told of a very rich lady who travelled from country to country to "beg" for money. In reality she was already a multi-millionaire. Ask her what is her interest in life, and she would say she enjoys begging.
So, what kind of life is meaningful? Human beings have one common objective, and that is living. But to live meaningfully, we must pursue bliss. I believe that is also our common objective. What Buddhism teaches is a bliss culture, so let us promote this bliss culture so that everyone can achieve bliss and happiness. Thus, I feel that only a life that seeks bliss and happiness is truly meaningful.
What is learning Buddhism and what is the study of Buddhism?
Learning Buddhism and the study of Buddhism
Learning Buddhism and the study of Buddhism are two different things.
There are many educated and knowledgeable people who treat Buddhist scriptures or sutras as subjects for research. This is call the study of Buddhism, and was especially popular after Buddhism spread from China to Japan. The Japanese people felt that they were scientifically advanced and incorporated science in their research and analysis on Buddhism. Thus, they produced many research works on Buddhist studies. However, by merely treating Buddhist principles as subjects for research, and in the absence of cultivation and self-realisation, it is not possible to attain enlightenment.
Shortly after I was ordained as Buddhist monk, I too liked to read books on Buddhism. I amassed a great number of books and papers in preparation to write my own books. However, I was admonished by my Master, the Venerable Dong Chu. He commented, "Shen-Kai, you seem to be researching on Buddhism." I replied, "That's right, Master. I wish to write books on Buddhism!" Master continued, "Do you know of any Buddha who attained the Supreme Enlightenment through research? Which patriarch became what they are through research? Come, put them aside." I wasn't quite sure what Master meant by his words and I asked, "What shall I do with these books then?" Master replied, "Wait till the day you establish your own mission, put them in the library and let others read them." I continued to query, "What shall I do now?" Master replied, "You should learn from the Buddha." I asked, "How do I learn from the Buddha?" This was his reply, "Whatever the Buddha does, that is what you learn." I began to understand that I should learn and practise what the Buddha taught.
Over the years I have written many books and I wrote them in the same manner as I speak. I write whatever comes to the mind. This is the difference between learning Buddhism and the study of Buddhism. But, I hope those who research on Buddhism would not forget to learn and practise Buddhism as well. Similarly, we who learn and practise Buddhism should also not forget to study Buddhism. If we excel in both areas, then we become good practitioners of Buddhism.
I am serious about learning Buddhism and yet I am bogged down by too many things, how can I make a start?
Learning Buddhism does not take away your time
We need to know that learning Buddhism does not cost us time, neither does it cost us money. In fact, learning Buddhism is a very simple matter. Because all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas possess great compassion, learning Buddhism means learning and practising the great compassion of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. For example, if one feels nothing about using harsh words on others, then one is not compassionate. The same is true if one likes to pick fights with others or do things that are bad or immoral.
If one has already taken refuge in Buddhism, then as a Buddhist, one ought to cultivate compassion, emulate the practices of all Bodhisattvas and refrain from doing all that are bad. That is, we eradicate undesirable habits such as using harsh words, gossiping and being untruthful. In using words of consolation, encouragement and praise, we cultivate merits in our speech. In learning Buddhism, we need to be humble and courteous in all our dealings with others, and constantly display a positive attitude towards them. When we are with Buddha, there is no need to take time to learn Buddhism.
If you should be involved in fights and land in litigation, then that is truly time consuming, in addition to being costly. If only we can change our mindset and manifest the great compassion of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas, then any adverse situation can be diffused. There will be no anger and there will be no hatred. Thus, learning and practising Buddhism does not take time, neither does it take money. At the same time, if we practise giving and perform virtuous deeds, we will reap great blessings and wealth. When we give others a smile, it is also a form of giving. This is indeed a very simple thing to do, which does not cost time and money! And, when others reciprocate, it is such a comfortable thing!
Thus, for those wanting to learn and practise Buddhism, please do not feel that you don't have time. In fact, you have lots of time. If you put your heart into practising the examples that I mentioned, you may even do better than what I have said. I hope we will all embrace Buddhism sooner and not feel that you don't have time.
In this pragmatic society, many people are not able to observe the precepts because of their livelihood, for example, having to consume alcoholic drinks when entertaining business associates. How does Jen Chen Buddhism view this?
To learn Buddhism one needs to eradicate self serving and evil habits
Learning Buddhism is not difficult at all. In fact, it is very easy. First of all, we must know how to eradicate our self serving and evil habits. We can naturally do that when we understand how important it is to our life to eradicate such habits. If we do not understand this, then no matter how learned in Buddhism we are, it does not serve any real purpose. Take for example the question of consuming alcoholic drinks. You could take a fruit juice or tea in its place. It is not necessary that you must take alcohol. If persuaded by your friends, you could say : "I am very sorry, I have been advised by the doctor to lay off alcohol for a year. I will be in trouble should my wife finds out that I have been drinking." Your good friends will understand and therefore let you off. Handling questions like this is a matter of having wisdom.
The most difficult thing for anybody to do, is to eradicate one's self serving and evil habits. This is because habits are carried into the present life from the aeons of previous lives. They are deeply rooted and therefore are difficult to eradicate. Once these have been eradicated, then the Mara-hindrances are eliminated. The inability to eradicate them results in one spending his entire lifetime with the Mara without ever knowing it.
Let me tell you a story. There was a very promising lay-Buddhist who came to take refuge in the Three Treasures and before leaving asked, "Master, is there anything about me that I need to correct?" I replied, "Very well, there is nothing you need to correct other than to eradicate your self serving and evil habits." He was puzzled. He wondered if it was because he had evil habits that were deeply rooted. He began to examine himself, "I am a moderate person. My bosses and my colleagues treat me well. What self serving and evil habits does Master want me to eradicate?"
While on his way home, he continued to think over this as he smoked. Four cigarettes later, he was still pondering. Then, as he was lighting his fifth, it suddenly occurred to him, "Oh! I smoke. This is the self serving and evil habit that Master wants me to eradicate!" At this moment he spontaneously extinguished the cigarette and quit the habit.
Thus, when learning Buddhism one should not just talk about the theories. One must really put the teachings into practice. One should not commit even the smallest bad deed, neither should one neglect even the smallest virtuous deed. Only then is one a Buddhist.
May I ask what right views one must possess to learn Buddhism, and how one can attain the right knowledge and right views?
Learning Buddhism needs right knowledge and views
"Buddha" means "perfect awareness". Learning Buddhism is to eradicate self serving and evil habits, unfold one's wisdom, seek liberation, practise the Bodhisattva Path and eventually attain the Supreme Buddhahood. Thus, we need to have the correct concept. If one practises according to what is said, and advances steadily, this is having the right knowledge and right views. If one worships blindly and does not understand what is Buddhism, what the Dharma is, and even believes in heterodox doctrines, this is being superstitious and not what Buddhists pursue.
What is "awareness"? It means having "a purified mind". Even if a speck of dust flies by, the mind is so pure that we know about it. This is awareness. Buddha is one with great awareness. For example, when a flower blossoms in another world, or indeed in any of the *Buddha-world, Buddha can see it extremely clearly, as if it is happening right in the middle of his palm. In fact learning Buddhism is very simple, so simple that people find it hard to believe and even harder to practise.
*Buddha-world: Mt Sumeru and its seven surrounding continents, eight seas and ring of iron mountains form one small world; 1,000 of these form a small chiliocosm; 1,000 of these small chiliocosms form a medium chiliocosm; 1,000 of these form a great chiliocosm, which thus consists of 1,000,000,000 small worlds.
How should we apply Buddhism in our daily lives in order to attain bliss and happiness?
Awaking to wisdom
The answer to this question is exactly the objective of promoting Jen Chen Buddhism. The word "Buddha" means enlightenment. Jen Chen Buddhism seeks to enable everyone of us to be enlightened. This is the objective of Buddhism. Many people in this world go about hastily and hazily in life, without knowing the reason for living. When we are able to understand the principle of enlightenment, and emerge from the shadow of ignorance, our lives will be in accord with the Dharma.
This is indeed a broad subject. Take a common domestic issue as an example: What happens when the husband comes home in a bad mood, and for no apparent reason begins to nag at his wife? At this moment the wife must be understanding and try to view the matter from a positive perspective. You need to understand the reason for his foul mood. It could be because he was told off by his superior at work, or he had had a bad encounter. We need to fully understand the situation. Jumping into conclusion and reacting with anger and hatred do not help. It could even be that he is not feeling well. One can diffuse the situation easily; offer him to a cup of tea, extend your consolation, let him have a good rest. Soon all is well again.
When we are learning and practising Buddhism, we cannot afford to have a foolish or ignorant conduct. We need to seek wisdom to be enlightened. How do we develop our wisdom? Take another example, you are in a room and the lights suddenly went out. You are left in pitch darkness, you cannot see a thing. You stretch your hand to feel your way. When you touch someone, you may jump with fright, not knowing who or what you have touched. If at this moment someone switches on the lights, instantaneously you can see clearly and you realized that it is your friend whom you have touched, you are no longer ignorant. That is analogous to wisdom. When a person has wisdom and uses wisdom as taught by the Buddha to deal with any situation whether at home or at work, life will be a fulfilling, blissful and happy.
In cultivation, at what state of the mind does one awaken? What is the state of awakening like?
The correct concept of cultivation
First of all we need to understand what is cultivation. Some people think that cultivation means not having an occupation but to be engaged in the daily activities of prayers to the Buddha, meditation or chanting the sutras. The actual purpose of cultivation is to eradicate our undesirable conduct and to maintain our good conduct. In other words, to follow the Bodhisattva path in emulating
the practices of the Bodhisattvas. When we know the meaning of cultivation, then we understand its purpose, which is to eradicate our self serving and evil habits and thus reduce our negative karma. However, many people do not understand this principle and they misinterpret its meaning. Actually, not only those who have renounced to be Buddhist monks or nuns need to cultivate, lay-Buddhists also need to cultivate, if not more diligently. Even those who do not subscribe to any religion need to cultivate. Cultivation is not only a matter for monks or nuns alone.
What is cultivation? Where do we practise cultivation? Let me tell you a story: More than twenty years ago, I took four years to cultivate as I travelled across the country. Step by step, I covered Taiwan by walking. Once when I was in Hua-Lian, an elderly Buddhist asked me, "Master! A monk should reside in the temple to meditate, pray and chant sutras, but when you travel about what are you cultivating? I replied, "That's right! I am cultivating. Sakyamuni Buddha teaches us to cultivate our conduct. He does not encourage us to cultivate sitting down! In the past few years I had been practising sitting meditation, now I wish to travel about. While walking and also amidst all my other activities, I do not commit evil deeds, I chant the names of the Buddhas, I praise and commend others, I tell people about the Dharma, I avoid the places of vice, this is the way I cultivate."
Thus, to cultivate means cultivating in the midst of our activities. This is a point that many people do not understand. They think that cultivation will result in a society that is pessimistic and low-spirited. This is a mistake. Jen Chen Buddhism advocates cultivating in the midst of our daily activities. Many retired old folks have no need to attend to household chores anymore, thus they can afford to spend their time to chant the names of the Buddhas and to cultivate in the midst of their leisure. However, there are many housewives who need to tend to their children, household chores and many other matters. How do you expect them to cultivate in their leisure? Thus, the need to cultivate in the midst of their activities; while cooking they could chant the names of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. No matter what activities they are engaged in, it is always possible to cultivate. Instead of gossipping about our neighbours and friends or engaging in other frivolous talks, why not refrain from all these. This is cultivation. Therefore, only when we cultivate in the midst of our activities do we understand the meaning of cultivation. To cultivate in our leisure may cause others a lot of frustrations. For example, a husband may be upset because his wife neglects the household by spending too much time chanting or running from temple to temple. For her to introduce Buddhism to her husband, thus, would not be an easy task. If she understands the principle of cultivating in the midst of her activities, it would be acceptable to the husband. Should he be invited to places of vice, he would know how to turn them down because his wife is a diligent cultivator. Both husband and wife are then cultivating at the same time.
There will be progress in our society when we understand the principle of cultivation. Otherwise, society will backslide. Over the last few decades, I have come to realize that we need to cultivate wherever we are. When we possess the correct concept of cultivation, any time is an appropriate time for cultivation, any place can be the place for us to seek enlightenment. If each and everyone of us conduct ourselves in this way, then the world will become a pure land. If we think that we can only cultivate in the temples, or that we cannot cultivate when we are working, then it is very possible that we commit evils deeds without even knowing. When we are with Buddha every moment, and cultivate constantly, then we are truly practitioners of Buddhism.
As to when in the cultivation process does one awaken and what it is like to be awakened, only when you follow the guidance of the Dharma and put it into practice, will you know you have awakened: when you drink the water, only you know how warm or cold it is.
How do we practise Buddhism when we are so busy with our careers and constantly facing a shortage of time?
Cultivating amid our activities
Many of us think that learning and practising Buddhism means utilising Sundays, our rest days or daily, to pray or meditate in temples. This perception is neither right nor wrong. We may be busy with our work and other activities, but, Buddhism is best practised amid these activities. Should one be totally inactive or free, what else is there to practise?
It is common to see people working and singing at the same time; machinists talking while working the machines; housewives working on their chores and exhorting their children at the same time; others work with their minds preoccupied with all sorts of other problems not related to their work. In short, they may be occupied physically, but mentally, their minds are not free or empty. As such, does learning and practising Buddhism really pose a problem to our heavy schedules? This is definitely not so. A verse from the "Seven Buddhas" reads: "Avoid all evils; do all that are good; purify one's mind. These are the teachings of all Buddhas".
So, we just need to purify our minds. While at work, although our body may be in action, it is actually amid these actions that we cultivate. The mind should not wander and the mouth should not chatter unnecessarily. We should concentrate on the work wholeheartedly, and constantly act on purifying our thoughts. This is practising Buddhism, and in fact it is the right approach. With this in mind,
the busier we are, the more opportunities we have in cultivating. Let us not treat Buddhism as a form of superstition and think that to practise means having to make extraordinary efforts such as going to the forests or temples to meditate or to chant.
A commuter, when travelling in a train for example, may emulate the mental purity of the Buddha, and listen to the rumbling of the wheels and at the same time rythmically chant the name of the Buddha or Bodhisattva so that the mind does not wander. Naturally the mind will become pure and calm. Learning Buddhism means emulating the mental purity of the Buddha. Buddha is one who has already attained perfect enlightenment, sublime wisdom and blessings. On the other hand the commoner has lesser blessings and wisdom. Still, he would have made tremendous advancements if he merely practises Buddhism amid his daily activities to the extent that he attains purity in his bodily actions, speech and thoughts.
Thus, no matter what we do, where we are or how busy we may be, we can still practise Buddhism. As long as we put this into practise, our wisdom will develop and our blessings will gradually grow. For this reason, Jen Chen Buddhism advocates practising amid the activities of our daily lives; practising without attaching to the notion of practice; maintaining awareness without attaching to the notion of awareness; and attaining without attaching to the notion of attainment. When we understand this principle and have no more confusions, we can be considered great practitioners of Buddhism.
How should we cultivate as we learn Buddhism?
Non-origination and non-cessation
Cultivation is the most important practice for a Buddhist. We need to cultivate our conduct. Having resolved to learn from the Buddha, we ought to follow the Buddha's methods of cultivation and practice.
Our each and every action is manifested physically, but these physical actions are initiated by our mind. Hence, "Cultivating our moral conduct is better than cultivating our actions. Cultivating our mind is better than cultivating our moral conduct. Maintaining non-origination of the mind is better than cultivating it." Cultivation means examining our conduct and eradicating conduct which are undesirable, for example, those that inflict suffering on ourselves or on others. When our conduct is moral and ethical, then our actions are naturally beneficial to ourselves and others. Thus, cultivating our moral conduct is better than cultivating our actions. Unethical or immoral actions, originate from an impure mind. Once these undesirable actions arecommitted, it is too late for cultivation. Thus, it is better to cultivate the mind. To cultivate the mind after the arising of impure thoughts is also too late. Thus, cultivating the mind is still not the ultimate, it is better to spontaneously cease the arising of such thoughts all together. Since there is no arising, then there is no cessation. The verse "Non-origination and non-cessation" as described in the Heart Sutra is really a simple matter!
We need to understand that learning and practising Buddhism should be as simple as possible. Indeed, it is so simple that we may find it unbelievable. Yet, it is also so simple that we may not be able to do it. We learn Buddhism to overcome our disbelief and reinforce our faith so that we have the capability to put it into practice. Thus, the saying "Faith is the origin of all paths to enlightenment." Let me use a very simple method to illustrate.
When a thought originates in our mind, it is "birth" or "origination". When the thought fades away it no longer exists, therefore it is "dead" or it has "ceased." Every moment of the day, the mind is
perpetually engaged in a continuous process of "origination" and "cessation", or "birth" and "death" of thoughts. Unknowingly, one moment it arises, and the next it ceases. Now we need to know when these thoughts are arising and ceasing. "To know" here means "awareness". Let me use my hand to illustrate so that you may understand right away. I raise my hand now, and so my hand is "up". When I put my hand down then it is "down". Our mind constantly behaves in the same manner; one moment it gives birth to a thought ( hand is up), and the next moment the thought is dead, it passes away (hand is down). This continuous process of birth and death is called sentient beings. This process of birth and death brings forth boundless sufferings. Sentient being is boundless and therefore suffering is also boundless. When we learn and practise Buddhism it means we are striving to liberate the inner sentient being in us from these sufferings.
Now, I neither raise nor put my hand down. When the mind does not give birth, there is no death. This is no-birth and no-death, or non-origination and non-cessation. The Buddhas exist in this world for the sake of liberating sentient beings from this process of birth and death. In this way we all know that non-origination and non-cessation refers to our mind and hence maintaining the mind as such is the proper way to cultivate.
We should begin to cultivate from here. From cultivation, we acquire liberation, unfold our wisdom and widely follow the practices of all Bodhisattvas through aeons of countless births. In this way, we keep alive our hope of attaining the Supreme Enlightenment or Buddhahood. This is indeed so simple! Yet, so simple that you may not know, you may not believe and you doubt if you can actually do it. Whatever we are doing, be it walking, standing, sitting or sleeping, we only need to cultivate in this manner and maintain an unmoving keenness of our awareness. You may think that this is so simple and feel that you know all these very well. But, human beings are indeed intelligent and it is not easy for others to fool them. Yet, in a whole life time they are constantly deceived by themselves without ever knowing.
In this world we speak of "nip in the bud" to eradicate a problem. Thus, to catch a thief, arrest his leader. In Buddhism, to cultivate our actions, first cultivate our mind. When we have our mind in control, we follow up by keeping it still. We know that "our mind is not moving", see that "our mind is not moving". The "know" and "see" mentioned here refer to our awareness. It is in this way that we maintain our awareness. I hope we all will practise and cultivate following this method.
I have described the essence of the Dharma using simplest words, and when we practise as such we are with Buddha. At every moment, irrespective of our activities, be with Buddha. Jen Chen Buddhism advocates cultivating and being with Buddha amid all our activities, including walking, standing, sitting and sleeping.
How to purify the human mind?
Observe the mind to purify it
We are all human beings and we all have a mind. We are frequently 'deceived' by our minds. For an entire lifetime we are 'deceived' and 'misled' by our minds without ever realizing it! If the mind is good, then of course, it is all very well. Such a mind creates a good person; one can ascend to the heavens or one can perform a lot of virtuous deeds. What happens if the mind is evil and becomes defiled? It can drag us to become animals, ghosts and deities, or descend to hell. This is because our mind is not pure, and therefore the world becomes a sea of suffering. This suffering world of ours is called the "Saha World". It means having to endure and is also called the "World of enduring sufferings".
If we all purify our minds, then the world becomes a heaven. Everybody is very happy and there is no suffering. In learning and practising Buddhism, the most important thing is to purify our minds. When we can purify our minds, then naturally there will be happiness in our world.
To do that we have to observe the non-arising of the mind. This is called 'contemplation of the mind'. When the mind is polluted, then we cleanse it with the dew of the Buddha. And when our minds have been purified, then they are the same as those of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In this way, we will progress very quickly in our cultivation.
Observing the mind is very simple. It is like watching out for the mouse. Everybody dislike mice because they steal our food or they damage our clothings. An idiom describes this sentiment with the phrase, 'When the mouse crosses the street everybody goes after it.' Obviously mice are not welcomed and they have to be dealt with. One method of dealing with it, is the cat. At the sight of a mouse, the cat puts his paws firmly on the ground and fixes its steely eyes on the mouse. On seeing the cat, the mouse trembles with fear, not daring to make even the slightest movement. Treat your mind as if it were a mouse and your awareness as the cat. At every moment observe your mind, in the same way as the cat watching the mouse. The mouse wants to live and hardly has time to think of its own safety, let alone of stealing food. If we can observe our minds, then we will hardly have time enough to treasure our wisdom life, let alone think of committing evil deeds.
Therefore when we are learning and practising Buddhism, we need to learn to "contemplate the mind". In this way, we will very quickly be able to avoid all evils and do all that are good.
"Avoid all evils; do all that are good; purify one's mind. These are the teachings of all Buddhas". Besides avoiding all evils and doing all that are good, we need to purify our thoughts. When our thoughts have been purified, then the mind is pure. The purpose of learning and practising Buddhism is to purify the human mind. If the minds of everyone in the family is pure, then our home is pure; if the minds of everyone in this society is pure, then our society is pure; if the minds of everyone in the country is pure, then our land is pure; if the entire human race in the world is pure, then our world is as happy as the Western Pure Land.
Our mind is like the stealthy mouse, ever watchful of a chance to creep out to commit evil deeds, and we are not even aware of that. I hope all of us will keep a cat to watch our minds, so that we can become Buddha quickly.
Why do we need to purify our thoughts?
When the thoughts are pure all Karma are pure
There are numerous types of karma, but generally they can be classified under three main types, namely, action of the body, speech and thought. However, our actions and speeches originate from our thoughts, that is, the thought preceeds the action or speech. Therefore, the first step to cultivation is to purify the thoughts. When our thoughts are pure, all our actions and speeches will be pure. When our actions, speeches and thoughts are pure, then all our karma are pure. Therefore, when we are learning and practising Buddhism, we should always be pure in our actions, speeches and thoughts.
How do we follow the Bodhisattva path?
Bodhisattva Path is Enlightenment Path
The Bodhisattva Path is the Enlightenment Path. To follow the Bodhisattva Path, one first has to aspire for enlightenment for oneself and for all sentient beings.
Having this apiration, one needs to cultivate and attain enlightenment. It is only when one is enlightened that all his thoughts and actions are considered to be on the Bodhisattva Path. If one has spent his entire life practising Buddhism without attaining enlightenment, his actions cannot be considered to be on the Bodhisattva Path. It can only be said that he is performing virtuous deeds.
What is the meaning of liberation?
The meaning of liberation
It is extremely difficult to talk about the meaning of liberation. Let us cite an example: if a robber has been apprehended and is being tied with a rope, he would struggle vehemently for his freedom. He seeks liberation. We human beings are bound by many invisible ropes that deprive us of our freedom. Yet we don't know about liberation. Thus, we learn and practise Buddhism to seek liberation. But, we must not think that we are liberated only when we die. We need to understand how to liberate ourselves at this very moment while we are still alive. If, while living we don't understand even the smallest liberation, then it is not possible to attain the great liberation upon death.
Let me illustrate with a simple example. During the time of the Buddha, there was a little rascal who felt negative about so many people paying reverence to the Buddha. He therefore cast insults at the Buddha. On hearing him, the Buddha broke into a smile and said unto him, "What you said is very logical, you are right!" He felt encouraged and continued with his insults. When he finally finished, the Buddha asked him if it is a practice in his family to present friends and relatives with gifts on special occasions. He said yes, and the Buddha continued, "What do you do if these friends and relatives refuse to accept your gifts?" "If they refuse then I will take them home with me!", he replied. The Buddha then said, "You consider the insults that you cast on the Buddha today valuable. But, the Buddha has no use for them. Would you please take them back!" At this point the rascal realized he had been disrespectful. He was repentant and immediately sought the Buddha's pardon. He then took refuge in the Buddha and became his student. Liberation is like this. When we are reprimanded, we should feel thankful. The matter is closed and we are liberated. Some people counter harsh words and sarcasm with their fists. That is not being liberated.
Thus, when we learn and practise Buddhism, at every moment, regardless of where we are, or whatever we are doing, we need to understand the principle of liberation. Then, we will be extremely happy. When we practised liberation whilst alive, then surely we will be liberated when we die. Thus, the principle of liberation is indeed simple; to those who do not know then it is not simple at all.
What happen to human beings after death?
Liberation is for the living too
A Chinese proverb says that "Human beings though intelligent know not about living and dying; monkeys though intelligent know nothing about untying a rope." We consider ourselves intelligent, yet we do not know what happens to us after death. Thus, the Buddha tells us that when we die we transmigrate to one of the six realms of existence: the realm of celestials beings or devas, human beings, asuras, animals, ghosts and hell.
If we perform virtuous deeds and are filial to our parents, our next life may be that of celestial beings where there is an abundance of happiness and blessings. If after death we are still attached and cannot let go of the things that concerned us when we were alive, for example, matters regarding properties, children's marriage or indeed the many other worldly matters, one type of rebirth will be in the human realm while the other is in the realm of ghosts. The hot tempered, quarrelsome type will transmigrate to become asuras. People who are foolish or ignorant and yet ill-tempered will transmigrate to become fighting cocks or fighting bulls. Doers of evil deeds such as inflicting pain, committing murder or other serious crime transmigrate to the hell realm.
If we can perceive that transmigration in the six realms is one of suffering and misery, we should learn and practise the Buddha's teachings and seek liberation. Many people think that death is liberation. However, Jen Chen Buddhism also teaches people that not only do we need to be liberated upon death, but also while we are alive and well. For example, when others dislike you or scold you, and you thank them and treat them as your teacher so that you may be awakened and further improve yourself, then you are indeed liberated.
To practise liberation takes great effort. Take another example, you cast your eyes on a stranger and he challenges you to a fight. Again, if you are not attached to your ego, you could say, "I am sorry, I looked at you because you bear great resemblance to somebody I know." When we are liberated in this manner, the matter is closed. If on the other hand, you retaliate because you were challenged, the hostility may lead to a fight and lives may be lost. That is an example of non-liberation.
If we practise liberation, be it at home or in the society, in all aspects of our life, then we will also be liberated when we are die. On the other hand, if in the course of our daily lives we do not conduct ourselves in a proper manner, and we do not cultivate, then it is impossible to attain liberation when we die. Let me tell you a short story about the ability of the Buddha to liberate himself:
After Sakyamuni attained enlightenment and became Buddha, he was widely respected. There was however a little rascal who did not have any regard for Him. One day, he came up to the Buddha and insulted Him. After he has finished, Buddha told him, "You make good sense, what you have said is correct." The rascal was very happy that Buddha agreed with him even though he had insulted Him. Buddha then asked, "Is it a practice in your family to give relatives and good friends presents whenever your family has auspicious occasions to celebrate?" The young man replied proudly, "Yes, indeed. On such occasions I usually help my parents distribute the presents." Buddha continued, "What would you do if they refuse to accept your good presents?" The young man replied, "Well, I will take them home since they are mine." Buddha then said, "That being the case, I feel that what you said earlier about Buddha is a very good present. However, I refuse to accept it. How about you taking it back with you?" The young man was dumbfounded. He realized his mistake, knelt before the Buddha and pleaded Buddha to accept him as His disciple.
Being a well cultured person, the Buddha's outlook of life is different from others. Even though he was treated in this manner, He remained composed and relaxed, and was able to reverse the situation without hurting anybody. This is an ideal example of liberation. When we truly understand the principle of liberation, then we are able to liberate ourselves in the course of our daily lives. To the extent that wherever we go, whatever we do, we are happy, then we have succeeded in our liberation. This is my answer to the question which at the same time explains the meaning of liberation.
Human beings need only to do good, why do they need to practise Buddhism?
Good people need to liberate themselves too
It is true that human beings need to do good. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. The real problem is that many people want to do good, but they do not know how. In Buddhism there is a standard as to how good or bad a person may be. But, most people do not know what that standard is. Buddhism advocates that we perform the Ten Virtuous Deeds and when we do these, our rebirth may be in the realm of the celestial beings, that is, as devas. This is the standard for rebirth in this realm.
The Ten Virtuous Deeds are
" refrain from killing,
" refrain from stealing,
" refrain from lying,
" refrain from adultery,
" refrain from frivolous and meaningless talk,
" refrain from tale-bearing,
" refrain from slanderous speech,
" refrain from covetousness,
" refrain from ill-will,
" refrain from pereverted views
Besides perfoming these Ten Virtuous Deeds, one also has to practise widely the virtues of giving, generosity, and filial piety. With these, we can be assured of rebirth in the celestial realm. There are of course numerous different ways in which one can perform goodness. However, all of these stem from the above ten basic principles.
If we, on the contrary, kill, steal, are promiscuous, lie, indulge in frivolous gossips, use harsh words, make slanderous remarks, crave, habour ill-will and cling to perverted views, we are committing the "ten evils". Furthermore, if we do not show filial piety to our parents and commit many other evils, they all fall within these ten evils. The consequence is rebirth in the three evil realms of animals, ghosts and hell. In fact many religions teach that human beings should avoid doing evil and do more good. Buddhism, besides teaching us to perform the Ten Virtuous Deeds for rebirth in the celestial realm, also teaches us how to develop wisdom, liberate ourselves from our sufferings, emulate the practices of all Bodhisattvas, and ultimately attaining Buddhahood. Hence, it is insufficient to just do good and seek a celestial realm of existence.
Buddhism also teaches us to liberate ourselves from this mundane world and elevate ourselves into the supra-mundane which is nobel and superior. There are four levels of attainment in the supra-mundane : Arahat, Pratyeka-Buddha, Bodhisattva and Buddha. These four levels of attainment are not taught by other religions. Therefore Buddhism is indeed more subtle and profound. Hence, besides advocating the performance of good deeds, Buddhism also advocates the cultivation of the mind - to eradicate all evil thoughts, achieve inner-liberation, and finally attain enlightenment.
I lose my temper easily, how shall I cultivate?
How Shall I Cultivate
You need to cultivate endurance. But, when you have reached the stage where you cannot endure anymore, your temper will still explode. Thus, the need to achieve the endurance of non-endurance. The power of endurance is the greatest in this world. For example, an object may be indestructible when soaked in water or burned with fire, but it can be crushed on impact. However, Sarira or relics can never be crushed. One who cultivates the non-origination of the mind, and the endurance of non-endurance, will upon death produces Sarira. Thus, the capacity of endurance is indeed great!
I get angry over trivial matters, what should I do?
Get angry over trivial matters
Very simple. Just do not be angry. If you are not able to do that, prepare yourself a mirror. Whenever you become angry, have a look at yourself in the mirror. When you see your angry face, you will probably cool down. In this way, you are less likely to be angry again in future.
If the anger is suppressed and though it has been endured the anger still exists, what shall I do when it is beyond endurance?
What to do if the anger is beyond endurance
When it is beyond endurance, the best thing to do is to let it explode. After the explosion, then you will understand that you need to endure.
Can a vegetarian buy meat for the family?
Can a Vegetarian buy meat
If a vegetarian can avoid buying meat, then that is a good thing. As a housewife and a vegetarian, and with the rest of the family meat eating, then what should you do? You have no choice but to buy meat for them. Under such a condition which prevents one from being a total vegetarian, it is all right to eat the *'five clean meats'. If, as a Buddhist, you observe a strict vegetarian diet, and this causes resentment in the family, then that is not good. It is important that the family is a happy one. It is much better to encourage them to embrace Buddhism than to force yourself to be a strict vegetarian. * Five clean meats :
(1) I did not perform the killing
(2) I did not ask anybody to kill
(3) Others did not kill because of me
(4) I did not hear the killing
(5) I did not see the killing
What merits are there in being a "half-day vegetarian"?
Being a "half-day vegetarian" refers to having a vegetarian breakfast. A vegetarian breakfast is also called "brightness vegetarian breakfast". Why is this so? It is because to be carnivorous is an auxiliary cause of life taking, and whether one performs the killing himself or provides an auxiliary cause to the killing, such are acts of darkness. Abstention from killing itself or from providing the auxiliary cause to the killing are acts of brightness. A vegetarian breakfast is like the brightness of the sunlight at dawn. Thus it is called "brightness vegetarian breakfast". A vegetarian breakfast a day reaps the merits of a meal. 365 days a year reap the merits of 365 meals. Just imagine the merits that we accumulate if we live to a hundred. Thus, being a "half-day vegetarian" has immense merits.
There is an abundance of cattle and if they are not slaughtered then wouldn't we face an over-population of cattle?
Over-population of cattle
It is not true that if the cattle are not slaughtered, there will be an over-population. Aren't there many cattle in the wild? But, many countries do not have them, perhaps Africa has. They have become extinct through natural causes, not because human beings feed on them. There are innumerable chickens and ducks because they are farmed and naturally their numbers increase. It may also be that because of feeding on animals that human beings are reborn into animals in their later lives as retribution. Although tigers and lions are strong enough to eat human beings, why is it that they are decreasing in numbers, rather than increasing? When you understand the reasoning, you will not think that human beings should feed on cattle because they are large in numbers. If they are not farmed, they will decrease in numbers and perhaps become extinct someday.
Having undertaken the Bodhisattva Precepts, must one be a vegetarian? Can a non-vegetarian undertake the Bodhisattva Precepts?
Must one be a Vegetarian
Abstain from the flesh of sentient beings. This is a point that has been raised in the Bodhisattva sutras. During the time of the Buddha, a Bodhisattva* once asked the Buddha, "Buddha, I originally practised the Small Vehicle (Sravaka) Buddhism and attained Arahat-hood. I ate the 'five clean meats'*. I accepted whatever well-wishers donated. But now I am practising the Greater Vehicle (Mahayana) Buddhism, extending from self to others, and I have to be a vegetarian. Why is this so?" The Buddha explained, "It is because Bodhisattvas are very compassionate. To feed on the flesh of sentient beings is to alienate from the seeds of compassion. Since you are learning and cultivating to be a Bodhisattva, you need to be compassionate. Thus, how can we eat meat?" Therefore, when we wish to follow the Bodhisattva Path, to cultivate to be a Bodhisattva, we need to be a vegetarian.
Bodhisattva: Pu-Sa; An awakened being, who has feelings, enlightens self and others, and benefits self and others. A Bodhisattva can become a Buddha through observing the six Paramitas, but vows to remain in the realm of incarnation to help others.
What is the significance of offering incense, flowers, water and fruits?
Offering incense, flowers, water and fruits
The fragrance of the incense is symbolic of ethics and morality. These are the virtues of the Bodhisattva spirit of benefiting others and self. If we do not practise ethics and live immorally, then the offering of incense does not serve any purpose. Offering of incense is only meaningful if our conduct befits the correct standard and principle of ethics and morality.
Flowers are symbolic of wisdom. We learn and practise Buddhism to unfold and develop our wisdom. When the wisdom blossoms in each and everyone of us, then as human beings, our conduct is like flowers in bloom. Everyone admires beautiful flowers and they are welcomed everywhere. Thus, when we make an offering of flowers to the Buddha, it is that we want to be like the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas who are so filled with wisdom.
Water serves two purposes. Firstly, it quenches our thirst. A drink of water is so soothing and comfortable when we are thirsty. Secondly, it is for cleansing, for example, washing our clothes or the floor, etc. When we learn and practise Buddhism, the Dharma is like the morning dew, cleansing the impurities of our hearts and minds so that we are soothed and happy.
The offering of fruits is made not because Buddha wants to eat them. When we learn and practise Buddhism, and perform virtuous deeds, these virtuous deeds should bear sweet fruits. Thus, the offering of fruits is symbolic of the results of our virtuous deeds. It is best to offer fruits that are round. This is again symbolic that when we cultivate in accordance to the Buddha's teachings, we will eventually be perfectly rounded and attain the fruit of Buddhahood. For obvious reasons, we should not offer fruits that are sour, bitter or of unpleasant shapes.
What are merits?
Merits are consequences of the non-orignation and non-cessation of the mind. During the Tang Dynasty in ancient China, Emperor Liang Wu-Ti asked the patriarch Bodhidharma, "Venerable One, I have built many monasteries for the well being of the Sangha and I have also performed many virtuous deeds. What merits have I accumulated? Bodhidharma answered, "You have no merits." Why is that so? It is because when Emperor Liang Wu-Ti performed those acts of giving, he was attached to them. Thus, even though he had performed many virtuous deeds, because he had not cultivated the purity of his mind, he did not attain "non-origination and non-cessation". Therefore, his actions can only be considered as cultivation of blessings, not merits. Without liberation there are no merits. On the other hand, when there is liberation, all virtuous deeds will reap merits.
What is the significance of bowing before the images of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas? Is there any merit in doing so?
Bowing before the Buddha image
It is definitely true that bowing before the Buddha and Bodhisattvas to pay respects has merits. However, merits and blessings are different. Generally, when a person performs an act of giving, it is often knowledged that his "merits are boundless". Over time, the practice becomes a habit, resulting in a confusion between merits and blessings. To one who has enlightened to the truth, his virtuous deeds can be considered meritorious. Prior to that his noble deeds are acts of cultivating blessings.
Many people criticize Buddhism for worshipping idols and images. In reality, many religions in this world worship idols and images. Those who pass such remarks about Buddhism may themselves pray religiously to idols and images. From an ultimate point of view, we will realize that Buddhism is the only religion that does not worship images. It is only because of sentient beings' attachment to forms and images that the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas manifest themselves in these forms. Generally speaking, people who do not yet have a profound understanding of Buddhism, need to rely on the image of the Buddha as a guide. To those who have been enlightened to the truth, they are capable of realizing that in Buddhism the ultimate reality is formless.
Let me illustrate with an example. Supposing there are some young children in kindergarten whose grandparents have long passed away, and they never knew how they looked like. The teacher may use pictures to illustrate how generally grandpas and grandmas would look like. These children will learn to understand that grandpa looked like an elderly man, and grandma looked like an elderly woman. These children soon progress to primary level education, followed by secondary level and eventually university education. It would be ridiculous for the university professor to use the same pictures that the kindergarten teacher had used in reference to their grandparents. At that level of education, the professor would perhaps use other more appropriate terms of ancestral relationship.
It is the same with learning Buddhism. To a beginner, it helps to introduce the images of, for example, Amitabha Buddha, Avalokiteshvara (Kuan Yin) Bodhisattva or Sakyamuni Buddha, in order to inspire their respect for them. When one has attained a certain higher level of understanding, then one will be able to realize the following as stated in the Diamond Sutra: "All forms are but illusions; in seeing that all forms are illusory, then one sees the Tathagata." As to the true meaning of the "Buddha characteristics" of "all forms are illusory", it can only be realized through cultivation and awakening.
What are the differences between deities and Buddha?
The difference between deities and Buddha
There is a big difference between deities and Buddha. The ten Dharma-realms are categorized into four enlightened and six unenlightened realms. The four enlightened realms are the Buddha, Bodhisattva, Pratyeka-Buddha and Arahat realms. The six unenlightened realms are the deva, human, asura, ghost and deity, animal and hell realms. Of these, the deva, human and asura realms are virtuous realms, whereas the ghost and deity, animal and hell are evil realms. The Buddha, Bodhisattva, Pratyeka-Buddha and Arahat are enlightened beings who have already surpassed the Three Planes of existence (World of sensuous desire, form and formless) and liberated from the transmigration in the six realms of existence. On the other hand, ghosts and deities are sentient beings of the three evil realms, and they are worse off than human beings!
Some people like to worship ghosts and deities to seek wealth and fortune. This is just impossible. Ghosts and deities cannot even save themselves from their own sufferings, therefore how can they protect and bless human beings? In this world there are only two methods of creating wealth; one is to use wisdom and the other hard work. For example, an engineer who designs buildings uses his wisdom to create wealth for himself. Others, like the drivers of heavy vehicles that transport the building materials depend on their hard work to create their own wealth. If one does not use either his wisdom or hard work, and dreams only of the ghosts and deities' protection and blessing, then he is just wasting his time!
With regard to the Three Vehicles of Buddhism, they are Small Vehicle, Medium Vehicle and Greater Vehicle. The Small Vehicle is also called the Hearers or Sravaka Vehicle. They listen to the Buddha's teaching on the Four Noble Truths, the three Dharma of the Buddha's teaching, its practice and realization, and other supra-mundane methods to cultivate the path of liberation. The highest attainment is the Arahathood. In the Medium Vehicle or the Pratyeka-Buddha Vehicle, there are two types of cultivation. In one type, one realizes the path to enlightenment upon hearing the Buddha speaks on the Twelve Nidanas (Twelve links in the chain of existence). In the other, one is not born during the time of the Buddha, but because in his past lives he had cultivated the supra-mundane Dharma, he possesses virtuous roots of liberation. And, in his present life when he sees the "flying flowers and the falling leaves", the changing of the four seasons and other manifestations of impermanence, he realizes the path to enlightenment. The highest level of attainment in this vehicle is the Pratyeka-Buddhahood. The Greater Vehicle is also called the Bodhisattva Vehicle. Practitioners of this vehicle cultivate to enlighten self and others, save self and others, and practise the Six Paramitas (giving, observing the precepts, endurance under insult, zeal and progress, meditation and wisdom) and the countless virtuous deeds. The Bodhisattva's cultivation has the ultimate attainment of Buddhahood. "Vehicle" is like a car or a ship and has the connotation of ferrying or conveyance. Practitioners of the Small and Medium Vehicle Buddhism cultivating the supra-mundane Dharma are like riding on a bicycle, ferrying himself, saving himself and liberating himself. Practitioners of the Greater Vehicle Buddhism cultivating mundane and supra-mundane Dharma are like the trains or ships that can ferry many people to the Buddha land at the same time.
Regardless of the Arahats of the Small Vehicle, Pratyeka-Buddhas of the Medium Vehicle, Bodhisattvas of the Greater Vehicle or the wholly complete and ultimate Buddha, they are already liberated from the cycle of birth and death, and surpassed the Three Planes of existence. They are liberated and enlightened beings. These four categories of enlightened beings are the results of cultivation from human beings, and therefore we want to advocate Jen Chen Buddhism. The main reason for advocating the cultivation of Jen Chen Buddhism is to encourage everybody to practise the Bodhisattva Path through the Humanity Vehicle, establish a pure land on earth and to enable everyone to accelerate their attainment of Buddhahood. With regard to the ghosts and deities, they were human beings before, but they were driven by greed, desire, defilement and illusion into the evil realm. The status of human beings is much higher than ghosts and deities, and therefore these cannot be discussed at the same level as Buddha.
Is there really cause and effect?
Undeniable cause and effect of the Three Periods
The sufferings that you experience in this life are caused by what you have done in your previous lives and to know your future lives, simply take a look at what you are doing in this present life. The law of cause and effect transcends the Three Periods. However, some are still not clear about the Three Periods. You think the period before you were born is your 'previous life'. Now that you are living here, this is your 'present life'. And after you passed away, that's your 'future life'. This is explanation is not wrong, but the Three Periods also refer to the three relative stages of time: past, present and future. It can be yesterday, today and tomorrow, or it can be an hour ago, this very minute and an hour from now. The time just before you came is the past period as compared with the present and later when you leave, that's the future period.
Once we understand the law of cause and effect through the Three Periods, we will know that whatever we do or hear now is subject to this law. We know this law which transcends the Three Periods to be absolutely correct. No one, be he a scientist, a politician, or a jurist, can deny this fact.
How to be convinced of the cause and effect of the Three Periods?
Cause and effect transmit through the Three Periods
The Three Periods refer to the past, present and future. This is the characteristic of time in this universe. Since the innumerable kalpas, the past, present and future progress continuously. It is analogous to screening a movie which comprises numerous frames of images. Even the lifting of the hand produces many frames of images of the hand. All these frames are in a continuous sequence of the past, present and future, and this results in a movie. In fact, our human life is just like a movie which progresses in a non-stop sequence of past, present and future. How do we know about this? It is very simple. For example, if at present you are a university student, then what were you in the past? You were a high school student, and before that you were a secondary school student, a primary school student and a kindergarten student. What about the future? At present you are a first year student, next year you will be in the second year, then the third and fourth year. After graduation you may proceed to do research as a Master degree candidate, followed by the Doctor of Philosophy degree. All these are instances of past, present and future.
Time progresses through yesterday, today and tomorrow. In retrospect, there is last year, the year before, two years before; hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of years before; the past life and even the aeons of countless lives before. In anticipation, there is tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, two days later, next year, the year after next; the next life and even the aeons of many lives to come. The past life, the past *kalpa; the present life, the present kalpa, the future life and the future kalpa, they are all the Three Periods. The effects created by the causes of the Three Periods are called cause and effect of the Three Periods.
How do we know that there is cause and effect of the Three Periods? 'To know the causes created in the past, look at what one has to bear with in the present life. To know the retributions of the next life, look at all the deeds created in the present life.' Cause and effect transmit through the Three Periods. It is a simple matter to know the Three Periods. Now you are sitting here and it is the present. Before you sat down and as you walked in, that is the past. Later when you walk out from here, it is the future. Isn't this very realistic! Buddhism always emphasise reality.
* Kalpa: A long period of time; an age. 1 small kalpa = 16.8 million years; 1 medium kalpa = 336 million years; 1 great kalpa = 1.344 billion years.
After learning Buddhism, some people become pessimistic because they feel that all things have already been decided by the causes and effects of previous lives, and since they are empty anyway, therefore there is no need to do anything at all in this life. Can Master enlighten us on this?
Understanding cause and effect
As Buddhists, of course we believe in the cause and effect of the Three Periods. This refers to the past, present and future. After we know about the cause and effect of the Three Periods, we need to understand the principle of the Causes and Conditions of the Three Periods: The causes of the past will become the effects of the future; the causes of the past influence conditions of the present and give rise to the effects of the future.
Those who know the cause and effect of Three Periods would not commit evil and are pessimistic towards them. For example, when invited to gamble with money, you could say that you are busy. Then, you are being pessimistic about gambling. Similarly, when you turn down invitations to the night-club or drinking sessions, then you are pessimistic about activities of such nature. If, in the past you had the habit of abusing others and now you stop doing that, then you are pessimistic about abusing others. Thus, when you discontinue with the bad things which you used to do in the past, that is "Avoiding all evils" and being pessimistic about them.
But, "Doing all that are good" is being optimistic. As long as they are good, we need to do them. The Buddhist sutras speak of "Zeal and progress". The Four All-embracing Bodhisattva *Virtues and the Six **Paramitas speak of "zeal and progress in ferrying one across the sea of suffering to the shore of enlightenment". Thus, zealousness can overcome laxity. If we are lax about learning Buddhism, then our attitude is wrong There are innumerable things in this world and we need to consider them collectively. For example, a student, a housewife and the breadwinner of a family, they all need to work with zeal and progress. In whatever we do, we must not forget these two words: Zeal and Progress. In performing virtuous deeds and promoting Buddhism, we need to do them with zeal and progress too. Since Buddhism speaks of zeal and progress, then how can it be pessimistic?
In learning Buddhism, we need to be thorough. We cannot afford to be vague. It is wrong to learn and practise Buddhism blindly! Thus, the phrase, "Avoid all evils; do all that are good; purify one's mind. These are the teachings of all Buddhas" is spoken by all the seven Buddhas of the past. "Avoid all evils" is to be pessimistic about all evils and therefore avoid committing evil. "Do all that are good" is to perform all virtuous deeds with zeal and progress. Avoiding all evils and not to think of them is what one should do. However, it is wrong to perform virtuous deeds and then continue to be attached to them.
In performing virtuous deeds, we need to maintain the emptiness of the three-wheels. For example, when we give, we should not feel attached with thoughts such as: I am rich, he is poor, and I give him a present to assist him. When you have emptied all thoughts of good or evil, then at this moment, it is called "Purify one's mind." When you are attached to the good deeds, your thoughts are still not pure. Although you have performed a good deed, you are still not liberated. The main difference between Buddhism and the other religions is that Buddhism teaches us to purify our minds. The others are religions that transmigrate within the six realms of existence. Buddhism is the only religion that is beyond transmigration within the six realms of existence - realm of celestial being, human being, asura, animal, ghost and hell, and beyond the Three Planes of existence - world of sensuous desires, world of forms and world of formless.
*Four All-embracing Bodhisattva Virtues
" Giving what others like in order to lead them to love and receive the Truth
" Affectionate speech, with the same purpose as above
" Conduct which is profitable to others, with the same purpose as above
" Co-operation with and adaptation of oneself to others, to lead them into the Truth
" Charity or giving, including the bestowing of the Truth on others
" Observing the precepts
" Patience under insult
" Zeal and progress
" Meditation or contemplation
" Wisdom, the power to discern reality or Truth
Where does ignorance stem from?
Not Knowing Is Ignorance
Not knowing where it stems from is called "ignorance". Knowing is called awareness.
Once there was a king who had great respect for his imperial preceptor. He often offered him the best food and lodging. This upset the chief minister. One day, he called on the imperial preceptor at his holy abode and asked, "What is ignorance?" The imperial preceptor replied, "You are not qualified to ask such a question.", and immediately elicited the response he expected from the chief minister. The latter was engulfed by anger and embarassment at the same time. His face turned red and then, black with fury. It was beyond endurance and he was on the verge of exploding. Just then, the imperial preceptor calmly handed him a mirror and asked him to look at himself. "This is ignorance.", he said calmly.
Ignorance is a "dark, bottomless pit". One falls into such an abyess when one is in distress and finds great difficulty in deliverance. Ignorance is also the "cause of darkness". It causes distress and is known to cause people to take their own lives or commit evil deeds such as homicide, banditry, vice and delusion. Such phenomena are products of ignorance. As to where ignorance stems from, one can only answer with uncertainty. If it is known, then it is not ignorance.
Jen Chen Buddhism Centre
Home .END=NAM MO SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA.( 3 TIMES ).RESEARCH BUDDHIST DHARMA BY TAM THANH.AUSTRALIA,SYDNEY.VIETNAMESE.