Understanding Life 【Understanding Life】

From:Voice of Longquan     Author:Ven. Master Xuecheng     Time:2015-04-27 10:50:03
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On September 10, the last day of the Ulamabana Dharma Assembly after the summer retreat of the monastic community, Ven. Master Xuecheng transmitted the refuges to lay Buddhists in the Western Yard and gave a lecture entitled “Understanding life”, thus opening a new chapter of a systematic education for life in the Longquan Monastery. You have come to the monastery to study Buddha's teachings to improve upon your own habits and deficits. Then, by cultivating yourselves in accordance with Buddha's teachings, you may ultimately achieve the perfect merit and wisdom, and attain Buddhahood.Practicing towards these goals is a lengthy process which requires a very long time.If you want to practice Buddhism, here are the prerequisites: convert through taking refuge in the Three Jewels, and receive the precepts of the Buddha's teachings.

I. Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Why are taking refuge and receiving the precepts so important in cultivating the Buddha's teachings? Let us firstly think over the following issue: How does each one become human and for what purpose are we to live?

The question how each becomes human concerns the exploration of the cause of our being brought into this world; and the following question regarding the purpose of our life means the query for the meaning of existence. This is to say, how do we get here and for what purpose? These are the questions every Buddhist should concern themselves with, explore and solve.

Before taking refuge, we all live in a secular world which has its own set of standards, values and lifestyles.

In this secular life, sometimes we feel pain, sometimes happiness. More often than not, in pain, there is an element of happiness; in happiness, there is an element of pain.

In this mixture of feelings, pain is always stronger and lasts longer; in contrast, happiness is always more subtle and transient. As well, the duration of suffering is longer than that of happiness.

Given this state, Buddhism provides a path for us to sustain our happiness, to dilute and reduce our suffering, and to eventually get rid of all sufferings once and for all.

To take refuge means to "seek shelter" or to "rely on".

But, what exactly do we seek shelter in or rely on? We seek shelter in the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Teaching and the Community. We take refuge in them.

Imagine that a natural calamity occurs and your house gets destroyed: A typhoon blows it away, an earthquake crushes it, or a fire burns it down. What would you do in an emergency situation like this?when you haven't a house to live in, any food to eat, or any money to spend? You would have to go live with relatives, seek shelter with friends, ask for help from others or find someone whom we can rely on.

This is a case in real life which forces us to seek help from others out of confrontation from problems and miseries in the material world.

However, when it comes to problems concerning our inner heart, like afflictions, karmas and sufferings, many of us have tried, and keep trying to no avail, to find the right way to cope and the right people to help. In answer to this, the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Teaching and the Community of the monastery are the ones that can help us deal with these deeper problems of life.

In fact, for more than 2000 years, innumerable people have turned to the teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni for guidance, and have successfully freed their lives from sufferings. Such liberation is the realization of the ultimate meaning of life.

II. Mind determines whether it is virtuous or nonvirtuous

Each one of us is born into this world with a human body, with the five senses, and is given a unique name by our parents.

From the start, there is nothing wrong with the physical body itself. What is wrong then? It is that we misuse our body to commit bad and wrong deeds.

This creates troubles, disputes, problems and distresses for people who are connected to us both directly and indirectly. Contrarily, if we use our bodies, our hands, our feet, our eyes, ears and mouths to speak good words, to take correct paths and to perform good deeds, then many people will be able to benefit from our acts.

Why is it possible that we have inherited these two different kinds of behavior? On one hand, we are capable of committing wrong deeds; on the other hand, we are also capable of acting good. One is benefiting people; the other is harming people.

The root cause lies in our heart, our inner heart.

An honorable person in this world, who has made great contributions to the country and to the people, is often regarded as one who has high moral integrity.

In Buddhist terms, a person accumulates good deeds if he or she does many good things for others; while bad deeds are accumulated when a person commits many bad acts.

Good deeds make good karma, but bad deeds form bad karma.

Good deeds bring about a happy outcome for oneself and for others, while evil acts cause suffering for oneself and others.

In society we often come across some specious views, like the notion that we will suffer losses if we help others, as if it is wrong for us to help and benefit others.

Buddhism is completely different in this aspect as it advocates for a notion, that to help others is virtuous and that we should do it as it brings happiness.

Here is the sharp contrast of two ways of reasoning: secularism often tells us not to help and benefit others given our desire to secure our own happiness, while Buddhism teaches us that helping and benefiting others is the only way to gain happiness.

Buddhism stresses the important principle of "cause and effect".

What choice shall we make, then? Help and benefit others or not? No matter if we are in the home with family, in the office, or out in society, there is always a concern about loss, and we try to gain as much advantage as possible from others. In fact, such concepts are unwarranted and should be rejected.

Why do we develop such thoughts? Why do we think about, consider and make such a decision? Very likely, we are not even conscious of the real drive behind our decision. We have no idea why we act and live in such a way.

We are in a state of unawareness. In Buddhist terms, this state is called ignorance.

III. How should our minds be subdued?

Rely on the Three Jewels to solve the inner problems

Many of us have come to the monastery in order to resolve the problems of our inner mind that have been left unattended for a long time, to discover the causes of our greatest suffering, and to correct the problems that are so deeply rooted that we ourselves don't even fully understand them.

Why is it that we are not able to come to know these deeply rooted problems and troubles?

This is because the skills and knowledge that we have acquired so far are what we call mundane dharma,

which is established on the basis of the reasoning of the secular world.

Buddha's teachings, on the other hand, comprise both mundane dharma and supramundane dharma.

In Buddhist terms, mundane is the relative truth, while supramundane dharma is the absolute truth.

We utilize the relative truth as an expedient method for attaining the absolute truth. The realization of the absolute truth is the direction and goal that we shall strive for.

I mentioned just now that each one of us owns a human body, which in itself is a very precious gift.

To begin with, there is nothing wrong with the body itself; what could go wrong is our behavior being driven by our afflictions.

In order to resolve our afflictions and the problem of evil karmas caused by our body, speech and mind, we have to rely on the guidance of the Three Jewels. This is the most important thing.

It can all be attributed to Buddha Shakyamuni, both for the Buddhist teachings that people study now, and for the ordination for one to become a Buddhist monk.

As a matter of fact, to become a monk is to study and preserve the teaching of Buddha, which was taught by Buddha Shakyamuni after his final enlightenment as a result of cultivation through innumerable lives and kalpas.

You have come to the monastery to study the teachings of Buddha, just like our monks.

For this purpose, we must take refuge in the Three Jewels and receive the Buddha's precepts.

These are the necessary steps that both monks and laity have to undertake.

While the objects to which we go for refuge, the Three Jewels, are the same for both monks and laity, there are some differences in the precepts they receive. For the monks, there are more and stricter precepts, which are simpler and more relaxed for the laity.

Without vowing to take refuge and receive the precepts, it is impossible to understand or grasp the essence of Buddha's teachings.

It is a fairly vital criterion and threshold.

After our going for refuge and taking shelter in the Three Jewels, we should follow their guidance, instructions and teachings while conducting our daily life and work.

We should connect our mind to Buddha's teachings, and endeavor to train ourselves to think about and appreciate things, and to speak, walk and do things in accordance with Buddha's teachings.

Meaning, before we say something, we need to reflect on how the Teaching would mandate us to speak; when we act, we need to be cautious whether such an action would violate the Teaching; when we walk, we need to be mindful of and watch out for not tramping on ants and other insects; when going somewhere, we need to mind whether our intended destination is appropriate, or beneficial to our body and mind. All such matters will have to be taken into consideration.

Taking precepts brings forth incalculable merits

If we have received the Five Precepts, the Eight Precepts, or even the Bodhisattva Precepts for lay people, then the resulting merit, significance and happiness from a virtuous deed will be much greater.

Why is this so? It is because after receiving precepts every good deed is performed on account of all sentient beings and the Three Jewels.

The same good deed is weighted differently whether it is performed in accordance with mundane standards or Buddhist standards.

The meaning of the secular deed is confined to the thing itself, while the meaning of the deed performed in accordance with the Buddha's teaching differs greatly due to its broader and more profound implications.

Let me give you an example. Assuming that you were a painter and that you presented one of your paintings as a gift to a farmer,

who didn't know how to appreciate its value, your painting would very likely end up in the garbage bin.

However, should you present your painting to the State President, then the implication would now be totally different. The same gift would take on another significance and representation.

As the State President, he represents all of the people in the country?for example, let's say the President of China represents 1.3 billion people. In this case, the same act of presenting the painting is now very different and your corresponding merit will be gained in such a context.

This is especially true in the sacred place of the Three Jewels. When everything we do is out of the depths of our heart, having full sincerity in accumulating merit and wisdom, your actions will go different ways from the ways of doing things in society.

In the secular life, the reason to work is to secure a better life for ourselves and for our family.

If we do a good job, we may get a higher position or even become a man of enterprise.

That you have a career to pursue means that you have a vent for your intelligence and potentials.

Nevertheless, it could be hard to tell whether such realization of your potentials means good or bad to the society, other people or even yourself.

In this sense, the Buddha's teaching takes another approach. While Buddhism provides guidance for the realization of our potentials in life, it also directs us to benefit both ourselves and others, achieving happiness not only for ourselves, but also for others, not only in the present, but also in the near future, and in the distant future. Therefore, the secular pursuit of happiness and that of Buddhism differ in both the starting point and the destination of the actions.

IV. Impacts of environment on ourselves

For this reason, many people have come to the monastery to do volunteer work and engage themselves in dirty and tiring work, but they still feel happy and remain in high spirits. The more they work, the more motivated they are, and the happier they become.

On the contrary, if they stay at home or in another situation, they may become so lazy that even the household chores would be left to the care of others, or hourly workers.

Why do we behave so differently as if we were not the same person? Why is it that we should lose all our motivation at home or in office, but virtue can be brought out while in the monastery?

The same person in different environments would act as if being two different persons.

From observation, we know that environment has an important influence over people.

As the Buddhist monastery is the pure and sacred place of the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Teaching and the Community, it has the ability to help purify the afflictions of our inner heart.

When we go to a place with thin air such as in the Himalayas, our breathing may become so labored as if we are on the verge of death.

Then, if we are given oxygen to suck on or descend back to a lower altitude, our life will be revived and our spirit will recover. This example shows how important the environment can be to us.

If we come to the monastery to study Buddhism, we will definitely know that the Teaching is so helpful to us and gain real experience in it.

What is the Buddha's teaching really like? Step by step, we will have a sense about it, an understanding of its true essence. Bit by bit, we will be able to establish our faith, and go for refuge to the Three Jewels. This is a very important point.

V. Never forget our original motivation and closely observe our minds

Never forget our original motivation

However, there are people coming to the monastery to study Buddhism who do not seem to be making any progress. Their practice has become dull and unfocused. It seems as though the more they practice, the further away they turn from the Buddha's teaching. Why is this happening?

There are several reasons. The major reason is that after having studied Buddhism for a period and having attended a number of Dharma assemblies, our initial motivation may fade.

The initial intention is vital, for if we forget about the primary and principal causes of going for refuge and studying Buddhism, our behavior would fail to make much sense.

And without this, we can't expect to have a sensible result.

Buddhism attaches great importance to motivation; its being pure or deluded, kind or evil, distracted or responsive to the precepts, concentration and wisdom, the behavior will have completely different meaning.

This is analogical to a school student who doesn't have enough concentration and motivation. Even if he goes to school every day, he would still get poor scores on his exams.

Only if he works hard and studies whole-heartedly at school, finds the best teachers to learn from, and does homework according to the requirements, will his efforts then be satisfactorily rewarded.

Suppose that he came to school without paying attention to the teacher's instructions and wouldn't follow the teacher's guidance to work hard and improve himself, attending school would become only motions.

This is an important point to take note of, as this problem occurs so frequently amongst Buddhists who have studied for a given period of time.

At times, we could state, "Okay, I know for sure that to come to the Three Jewels place is to accumulate merits, study and practice Buddhism."

Nevertheless, this claim remains nothing but theory. At that moment, you are experiencing an aberrant state of mind far from what you experienced during your first visit to the monastery.

Jealousy and arrogance

The Buddha's teaching tells us to cultivate on the refuge and practice the instructions in earnest, in supreme sincerity and in whole-heartedness. Only in this way, can the cultivation have a response.

If there isn't enough ardency, respectfulness and sincerity when practicing and supplicating, then we must be caught in a state of distraction, arrogance, restlessness, jealousy etc., and we must be experiencing discriminating or afflictive thoughts.

Before such problems are settled, there will be obstacles preventing us from reasonably listening to, contemplating on and gaining certainty of the doctrines, and therefore being able to absorb the teachings in the heart and mind.

What problems, then, are we prone to? Let's mention two of them?jealousy and arrogance.

To be arrogant means to be prideful and self-conceited. Arrogance is featured by the tendency to look down upon others.

So far as jealousy is concerned, it is as if you look up at other people from a lower place and feel that everybody seems more outstanding in every respect.

Despite that being superior in itself should be normal, you may have fostered a feeling of sadness, disappointment and agony at the idea that others appear to be more advantaged in cultivation, ability, wealth, character, appearance, career, family, etc. Then this is jealousy.

What is arrogance like?

In doing things, when we have accomplished a bit more, we would have a feeling that others are not as good as we are, that we have done much more than they have. When we have performed a bit better, we would take it for granted that others have done poorly. When we appear a bit smarter than others, we would think of others as stupid. If we are a bit more competent, we would look down upon others and treat them as incompetent. If we are educated a bit better, we would be inclined to snort at those we consider poor-educated. If we have a bit stronger physique, we would take others as the weak. Our innermost mind could never be calmed or balanced, and we couldn't meet ourselves or others or issues with a balanced heart or ordinary mind. Nor could we study Buddha's teachings with such a mind.

The ancient patriarch masters often instructed, "Ordinary mind is the path."

That is to say, one needs to truly understand his own mind, perceive clearly the conditions and problems of the mind, without ups and downs in thoughts.

All problems seemingly arising from the outside actually originate in our inner mind.

Among the inner problems, some are problems of the present time, which you can't see clearly due to you lacking wisdom, and having lots of afflictive and noetic hindrances. Some problems can be traced back to your habitual way of thinking inherited from a time long past, which have become inner obstacles which block your benevolent, pure and dignified mind in the primary form.

What should be done, then?

You should remove them, remove all these obstacles and problems through repentance.

VI. Power of vows and wisdom

Therefore, we have to improve ourselves, to transform the unreasonable and inappropriate behaviors into reasonable and appropriate behaviors, to turn bad into good, and to change what is harmful into what is beneficial. What can be relied upon if we want such modifications of behavior and attitude towards life?

Wisdom and the power of vows are the reliable forces.

Just now I mentioned that in the secular society, after getting a job, one will in effect pursue a kind of career. As for whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, beneficial or harmful to himself, other people or society, it is of second importance to ponder.

However, in the view of Buddhism, it is of first importance to benefit people, including oneself and others. Motivation comes first, which underlies behavior and its results.

In society, one finds the resources in occupation and career; while in Buddhism, we find the resources in wisdom and the power of vows.

Wisdom matters because it decides your success.

If you are full of wisdom, you will become successful or you are more likely to succeed, and will make great achievements. Lacking wisdom, you are less likely to be successful, and you will have poor achievements.

Why does the power of vows matter, then?

Basically, it decides the course from beginning to end, from start to finish.

Let's take the example of generating the Bodhi mind for attaining Buddhahood. Primarily, the cause for which we are able to develop such a kind of aspiration in this life lies in the fact that we had been practicing it in many previous lives. So it becomes easier for us to generate such Bodhi mind now. In this instance, what we shall do is remind and encourage ourselves constantly to let the Bodhi mind persevere and never fade. And as a result, step by step, we will attain Buddhahood someday.

If we had never aroused such a kind of Bodhi mind in past lives, we can endeavor to generate it now. Then, with the Bodhi mind, we will go through the whole way from start to finish. Thus, it's of great importance to develop such an aspiration to continue from beginning to end.

We will then generate a great power to perform all the deeds.

If someone doesn't have enough drive for action and finds no joy in life, it means that he hasn't generated such a great aspiration.

And only by making great vows, can he have the strength to overcome all kinds of hardships and problems, and face up to various afflictions and dark sides in his mind.

Without making vows to guide himself, he won't have a strong power from within.

Still it is insufficient to have merely aspirations but poor wisdom.

By making a vow of aspiration, we mean that, whenever we decide to do something, we will bring it to an end and do it well anyway. After our having made such a vow, wisdom becomes very necessary to guide us in action and tell us how to accomplish it.

Where does wisdom come from then?

It comes from the cultivation of Buddha's teachings.

How to cultivate them?

Observing the precepts is involved, and taking refuge is also involved. So there is a sequential process here.

VII. Transcend our limits

You have accumulated plenty of merits and done many things in the monastery.

The newcomers here also have great good karma and a close relationship with Buddhism; otherwise, you wouldn't have come here.

Your future will be very hopeful because you have found the place of the Three Jewels, guided by your good karma with Buddhism.

For disciples, fellow devotees and monks who have practiced Buddhism for some time it is especially necessary to generate Bodhi mind and make great vows, as well as continuously cultivate the Buddha's teachings.

As a novice or newcomer, what can be done, then?

The aim will be to transcend the self.

What does that mean?

The self to transcend is the worldly self.

In secular life, the goals are relatively short-sighted, and much of our behavior tends to be problematic.

Just now I mentioned jealousy, arrogance and being unwilling to benefit others.

How can these problems be solved?

We should surmount and transcend the self.

Certainly this is not easy to accomplish at all, as all of us have been so used to the worldly self that we don't doubt it. Incorrect may seem correct in this case.

If we want to go beyond it, to get liberated from it, we must make enough efforts and transcend the self-centeredness.

By self-centeredness, we mean that one always thinks about his own interests and problems, and neglects other people. So we need to transcend the shortness and limitation of life.

If we are short-sighted, we see only the things of today or tomorrow, things that are very near to us.

If we are limited in mind, we only care about ourselves, our families, or our colleagues.

Then we would become narrow-minded or misled in thinking. All such shortcomings need to be transcended.

The word "transcend" is used here to make the idea more understandable, clear and acceptable.

Every person, every society, every country and every community has a history of its own.

Our entire life becomes the history of our self. The development of a Buddhist community becomes the historical accounts of a monastery and records of Buddhism. The experiences of every ethnic group and every citizen constitute the history of a country.

Hence the making up of the history of countries, Buddhism, communities and individuals. During the process of making history, we should strive to make great contributions to the welfare of all, to the happiness and joy of everyone.

This effort becomes equally positive for ourselves, the community and the country. How valuable it is!

All kinds of activities in the monastery such as chanting sutras, dining together, discussing the teachings, exchanging ideas and cleaning, or actions such as walking, standing, sitting and sleeping, appear to be but processes and life itself; but when being put into record, they become the culture and history, and presentations of life.

Therefore, we should endeavor to realize the value of infinite life within a finite life span, and to fulfill and accomplish the maximal Buddhist undertakings as well as the blueprint of our own life despite the limited temporal and spatial conditions.

All these points I mentioned, every detail, need our careful appreciation, whole-hearted acceptance, and heart and soul learning.

I dedicate the above words as offerings to you and hope to share them with you.


Tags:Master Xuecheng,teachings,happiness

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