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Although a panoramic view of world religions reveals their great diversity, two features all religions share make them resemble each other: Each tries to guide its adherents to the greatest "good" and to divert them away from what is perceived as "evil" according to their respective traditions.
What we believe or have faith in depends on what we know and how deep our understanding is; our choice is determined by what we deem reasonable. Genuine, deep faith is invariable rooted in one's true understanding rather than being the outcome of tradition, feelings or attitudes. It is never rooted in superstition of any kind. Genuine faith is always accompanied by a deep understanding. Since all of us can be said to possess a certain amount of innate wisdom as well as the ability to understand the meaning of truth, we are well advised to adopt a religious tradition in accordance with our propensities in order to develop our spiritual potential the same way students study those subjects which maximize theirs. The quest for truth can lead us to the most profound understanding accessible to humanity.
These thoughts reflect the considered views of Elder Yuan Chin Lee who studied religions for many years and eventually settled for the direct approach of Buddhadharma. He kept a written record of his experiences, insights and comments for future reference and for the purpose of sharing them with those interested in the quest for truth. His observations are astute and rational. His approach to the subject of religion is as open as if it were any other subject, such as philosophy, literature or any other of the humanities.
A view based on the findings of modern science, attractive as it may seem, is inconclusive partly because modern science is a field of human knowledge which expands rapidly and also because there are disagreements among reputable scientists on just about all the fundamental issues. Perfect peace, it would appear, can only be obtained through one's own intuitive understanding. Only then can one be wide awake, clear-headed and joyful, smiling brightly.
In the text which follows, Elder Yuan Chin Lee presents existence as the product of causes and conditions. What is a cause, and what is a condition? Let us consider, for example, a seed: If we merely place it on the table and pray to it, reciting "seed, seed, tree, tree," the seed is not going to turn into a tree no matter how long we recite to it. Why? Because the seed is only a cause or a potential and requires certain conditions for its potential to bring results. What are the conditions requisite for its development? That soil, air, water, light, and time are all indispensable; furthermore, each of these must be in the appropriate quantity for the seed to become a tree. Let us consider another example: The materials used for the construction of a house are the causes. They require certain conditions such as a plan, a piece of land, a workman and his tools, if they are to produce jointly a house. Only when the requisite causes and conditions converge can the house materialize. Furthermore, within any given cause and condition there are further causes and conditions. In the example of the house, the bricks have brick-causes and conditions and beams have beam-causes and conditions, the same applies to the tools, windows, the doors, the nails, and so on.
By analogy, people have their causes and conditions and so do animals, plants and all the rest: Mountains have mountain-causes and conditions, oceans have ocean-causes and conditions; there are family-causes and conditions, nation-causes and conditions, and world-causes and conditions. There are also the universe-causes and conditions. No part of existence has been created by a supernatural being. All that exists is and has always been the outcome of causes and conditions. When this is understood, mind is freed from doubt and delusion and brightens and expands as the result of it.
Now that we understand how causes and conditions are jointly at the root of all existence we are able to understand to doctrine of cause and effect. It is easy to see that no part of all that exists can be viewed as separate. However, numerous distant causes are concealed and therefore rather difficult to discern. The proximate causes are always evident, but the more remote ones are not. Causes and effects manifesting as forms are self-evident, but those related to the formless plane tend to be elusive. Some causes and effects have shallow roots, while others are deep-rooted. Evil or good, the causes and their effects follow one another in the same way a shadow follows the foot. Thus it becomes obvious that one reaps as one has sown. When we plant an apple-seed, we should not expect to harvest peaches and, by the same token, good causes produce good effects and evil causes evil ones. Evil generated by people is in proportion to how well they understand this foolproof doctrine.
The doctrine of rebirth is yet another essential part of Buddhaharma. People in Asia are completely familiar with it, but those in the western world have discovered it relatively recently. The doctrine of rebirth is completely consistent with the teaching of cause and effect, and the present commentary deals with causes and their effects and how these influence one's rebirth by means of karma. Supramundane causes yield supramundane results, and the practice of ten virtues is a cause that will have rebirth in heaven for a result. When the ten evil causes are present, rebirth in hell automatically follows. Most of us neither have the virtue requisite for a rebirth in the heavenly realm, nor the evil necessary for rebirth in hell, and therefore we have to endure this world countless times over, reborn according to the karma we have accumulated so far; the retribution we receive is exactly proportionate to it. There is no supreme being rewarding or punishing us. Merely one's own karma, good or bad, is taking its course in the form of result or effect.
The doctrine of rebirth as understood by Buddhists does not automatically imply that one will be reborn as a human being. There are, according to Buddhadharma, six kinds of beings and their six respective realms in the wheel of existence. Retribution takes the form of rebirth in any one of these realms, and is determined by one's karmic causes. What beings inhabit these six realms? The first realm is the heavenly one, consisting of twenty-eight varieties of heavens and is inhabited by devas. The second one is that of human beings, and it includes all people living in this world at present. The third one belongs to the asuras, characterized by jealousy and envy. These three realms are considered fortunate. The animal realm, the fourth of the six, is a realm characterized by ignorance and confusion. The denizens of the fifth realm are characterized by insatiable craving and miserliness, and the sixth contains the hell reams; there, the hell dwellers must endure underscribable suffering. The last three are termed woeful. One's rebirth in any of these six realms is determined solely by one's karmic causes accumulated in one's lives up to the present.
Closely related to the doctrine of rebirth in the six realms is the important matter of abstention from taking life. I have met many people who are afraid to face this matter and yet, as long as we shun this issue, we remain confused. In each of our countless lives we had parents. Where are they now? We know that people are sentient beings, and furthermore, that the mind of sentient beings changes constantly. Their actions follow the same pattern and, amidst all that change, the many varied thoughts and actions result in wide range of retribution. Since our subsequent rebirths depend on present causes, we can safely assume that our parents are, likewise, still in the samsara or cyclic existence. But where, and in what form, we have no way of knowing; the same is true regarding friends and relatives from previous existences. When we participate in taking lives in the present, eating the flesh of living beings, it may be that we are consuming someone who was very close to us in one of our previous existences. When we consider this point carefully, can we still go on participating mercilessly in the continuous taking of lives? The Buddha advised us to establish this mind and this contemplation when eating meat. I would like to introduce countless friends to Buddhadharma in order to help them leave the wheel of life.
Elder Yuan Chin Lee's lucid commentary explains the Four Noble Truths, the Twelve Links in the Chain of Existence and the six kinds of Perfection. In addition, he makes available to us the guidelines for study and practice of the Buddha's teaching, thereby enabling us to transcend this world, the cycle of birth and death and the three woeful reams, and to attain complete enlightenment. Elder Yuan Chin Lee emphasizes the approach promulgated by the Pure Land sect, because in his view it is the most expedient, leading to rebirth in Pure Land. He explains it clearly enough in the following commentary and there is no need for me to expand on his topic any further.Dharma Master Lok ToOn Zen and Pure Land
New York, 1994
(from Awakening of the Faith Treatise)
Suppose there is a man who learns this [Mahayana] teaching [of meditation] for the first time and wishes to seek the correct faith but lacks courage and strength. Because he lives in this world of suffering, he fears that he will not always be able to meet the Buddhas and honor them personally, and that faith being difficult to perfect, he will be inclined to fall back.
He should know that the Tathagathas have an excellent expedient means by which they can protect his faith : that is, through the strength of wholehearted meditation-recitation on the Buddha [Amitabha], he will in fulfillment of his wishes be able to be born in the Buddha-land beyond, to see the Buddha always, and to be forever separated from the evil states of existence.
[If a cultivator follows this path], he will be able to be born there in the end because he abides in the correct samadhi.
/ s. Yoshito Hakeda, tr., p. 102./
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Perusal through the history of Buddhism since its beginning two thousand five hundred years ago reveals the significance of the Buddha's Teaching; translated into more than thirty languages it has influenced most of the nations and cultures worldwide. The textual foundation of Buddhism known as the Tripitaka consists of three parts, namely, the sutras, the rules of discipline or Vinaya, and the commentaries or sastras, Teaching contained in the Tripitaka is profound, subtle and extensive; the texts are quite voluminous and make the Tripitaka elude description. Buddhism has attracted scholarly interest in the areas of philosophy, religion, psychology and history, to name only a few, and continuing interest in Buddhism throughout the world has generated numerous publications internationally; its relevance to education at all levels is demonstrated by the on-going effort on the part of countless educators to implement its principles in their field of expertise. Buddhism is considered a religion by some, while others feel it is a philosophy. Whose view is correct?
Buddhadharma is the unsurpassed means to liberation from delusion and attachment. The Buddha's teaching is the Truth, pure and simple, focused on reality as oneness or Suchness. Dharma represents both the substance and function. Delusory thought does not reveal reality, nor is attachment conducive to Suchness. Most thought-systems available to us are contaminated by personal preferences and subjective views and cannot be applied universally for those reasons. Buddhism, by contrast, has a fully awakened mind for its source, as the term "Buddha" suggests. Since Shakyamuni Buddha's unsurpassed awakening more than two thousand five hundred years ago, his teaching, based on his realization of the most profound kind, has illuminated countless universes and has provided all without exception with an occasion to perceive one's own original face and to realize the essential truth of existence. Although great many accomplished thinkers have formulated a world view that is both brilliant and valid, none could withstand comparison with the Buddha's teachings in terms of their universal applicability and clarity. But the Buddhadharma is at its most powerful when directed toward the improvement of understanding and action on the part of those who study and practice it seriously.
Two such parallels can be established between Buddhadharma and the system of principles, practices and procedures as applied in scientific research today: A sustained avoidance of thought devoid of substance and expanding the field of experimentation when the results or evidence have been inconclusive. Central to all Buddhist practice are the three studies, namely, self-discipline, concentration of mind, and wisdom generated by intuitive insight.
Furthermore, every insight without exception should be evidenced by direct experience which, in turn, qualitatively improves through application of the three studies. The sciences are operative within an objective framework, while the Buddha's teaching is at its most efficacious in the context of subjective practice.
Whoever feels that Buddhism is a religion should examine carefully the features which distinguish it from the theistic religious traditions. The Buddha advised to rely solely on the four following points:1) Depend on the teaching, not on men;Although the historical Buddha is widely respected as the most exceptional human being that ever graced this world, according to his own Teaching he is, nevertheless, equated with the mind and with sentient beings. The concept of an "other" power, an "undefinable absolute", a "supreme being" or "God" as the creator and the law-giver whom all must fear, obey and supplicate is absent from Buddhist thought. That is the first difference.
2) Depend on the meaning, not on words;
3) Trust wisdom rather than consciousness;
4) Study texts containing complete rather than partial revelation.
It is customary in other religious traditions to rely on scriptural foundation consisting of eternally valid rules, commands, admonitions and comments which are to be accepted and obeyed. By contrast, the just mentioned four points recommended by the Buddha open the whole of his teaching to exploration and discovery, without losing any of its depth or subtlety. The truth promulgated by Buddhadharma can be evidenced by anyone interested and thought it is open to discussion, it has become widely accepted as rooted in common sense. There does not appear to be any need for debate, just as in geometry the theorem "right angle equals ninety degrees" though not sacred, is not debated either. This is the second difference to bear in mind when comparing Buddhadharma with theistic traditions.
Theistic religious doctrines invariably contain some dogmas which, though not understood by the faithful, must nevertheless be unquestioningly accepted by them. The Buddha's teaching, on the other hand, is rational and his intent is out in the open. His goal is the enlightenment of all sentient beings. All of the Buddha's teachings are merely expedient means to that end. Initially, everyone has the great Bodhi-mind, but defilements and obstacles impede its radiance and whoever wishes to retrieve it must seek true wisdom through the practice of meditation which, in turn, requires self-discipline. Meditation is the expedient conducive to wisdom, self-discipline is conducive to meditation. This approach typifies a broad and open mind completely free from dependence on external factors. This is the third difference.
Religious systems, Buddhism excepted, exercise control over their adherents, eliciting their obedience as a token of their faith. Buddhadharma, on the other hand, invites a reasonable approach to its teachings, its practice and its goals. In order to have a clear understanding of the truth, one must develop one's capacity to apply one's own wisdom and no one and no thing can do it in one's stead. In most religious traditions, the faithful are held in check by a system of rewards and punishments, while Buddhism, by contrast, fosters rational understanding on the part of its practitioners of the advantages benefiting one's own self as well as all the others through the practice of voluntary self-discipline. Where other religions worship one or several supreme powers or beings that are completely beyond reach of their followers, Buddhadharma recognizes wisdom and Self-nature as qualities possessed by all, thereby empowering all human beings to attain the great awakening. Such faith in one's own self, such self-respect imply a full recognition and acceptance of one's own mind and one's own Self-nature as pristine and perfect. Faith of that kind is superbly all-inclusive. It would appear that where other religious systems coerce the devotees through the power of authority, Buddhism promotes in its practitioners self-reliance and self-respect. That is the fourth difference.
Due to these fundamental differences, one cannot draw parallels between Buddhism and other religions in any meaningful way, at the face of it, Buddhadharma is the only comprehensive thought-system which offers clear and complete interpretation of one's own existence within a universal context. By means of Right Understanding all wrong views are severed. Due to Right Faith all superstition can be cast away, by means of Right Action all unwholesome or evil acts are defeated and, eventually, through perfect enlightenment all delusion is dispelled. Buddhadharma accommodates all other religious and philosophical doctrines and encourages the development of varied approaches to benefit all sentient beings. Kindly bear with me while I explain.
According to Buddhadharma, especially as developed along the Mahayana tradition, its adherents' lives are active and free from constraints other than those accepted willingly. Human life is perceived neither as superior nor inferior, but as equal to the rest of the universe. We must understand that in Buddhist thought all that exists is endowed with the same greatness, the tiniest mote of dust included. The cyclic pattern of births and deaths generate perpetual change in the incessant flux of contiguous mind-moments. Birth and death are discerned because one generates the other and the same applies to all opposites. To apply a current term, we call it the "steam of life". A person, an object, a mote of dust, the entire universe, all that exists is engulfed in that flow which has no beginning and no end: That is reality. Each present moment is the convergence of past causes and present conditions; it is the root cause for the following moment or, in other words, the future. Cause and effect follow each other the way they always did and always will. Neither the beginning nor the end can be traced. All that exists is thus interrelated or interwined and in each new moment all arises conjointly. Understood in such manner the entire universe arises with each rising mote of dust. Neither has a beginning nor end; both are devoid of a center and a boundary. Therefore we speak of the phenomena as rising all at once (since all being is interwined), and the forms we perceive as permanent all are fictitious and contrived.
Whoever attempts to trace the line from son to father, to grandfather to great-grandfather and so on, will soon realize that the very first father is nowhere to be found. Similarly, all the components of one's personality, such as the four elements, one's philosophy, one's psychological makeup, even one's kin, one's education and cultivation all are impossible to trace. If, for one moment, you consider your breath, you are bound to realize by means of own experience your own connectedness with the entire universe; there is no way to determine who or what is in the center, on the inside or outside. One represents all and all represent the one.
It would not be far-fentched to say that the purpose and the end of the universe is one's own self. Furthermore, it makes good sense to say that one is the creator of one's own universe, as well as its center and law-giver. This is the Dharmadhatu according to Buddhadharma. Dharmadhatu of Dharma-sphere is devoid of personality and ego. The human existence, just like the universe, is dynamic, unencumbered, without center and boundary, without beginning and without end. Perfect balance exists between the two. It is not an exaggeration to say one stirs the Pacific Ocean using one finger and with one breath one stirs the air in the entire world. One's finger is very small, but it has two sides, and therefore the ocean is affected. The movement is so subtle it is not perceptible by one's eyesight; the same can be said about one's breath. History provides many examples of the very real strength or impact of a particular human being on subsequent generations in terms of karmic force. In the more or less distant past, there lived occasionally some truly great individuals endowed with exceptional wisdom, and their influence on mankind is noticeable to this day. Their wisdom is reflected in all that exists, thereby confirming that all of us are inextricably interrelated one with another, as well as with the rest of the universe.
We find ourselves in a universe without a beginning and without end; all we need is a complete understanding that there is nothing to crave, nothing to cling to. Then the mind can reach its full potential, expand and meet the universe on equal terms by becoming boundless, immeasurable. At such time we are able to understand our life as birthless and deathless, and perceive clearly the radiance of the path to the supreme Bodhi and to enlightenment.
It is most unfortunate that the uniformed majority have not developed yet their capacities to understand this doctrine. Their idea of "self" is based on assumptions unverifiable by experience, restricted in terms of space along the horizontal line while along the vertical line such thinking is restricted by time, Although the self as understood by the uninformed is a delusion, it is vigorously protected against the "other", held to incessantly jeopardize the "I". Such an attitude is at the origin of countless conflicts. All discriminatory views which ultimately lead to confrontations result from the root delusion as regards the self. The worst possible scenario we can think of is not, as some might imagine, some natural disaster or shortage of food, but an on-going violent confrontation between people divided by irreconcilable views (whatever they may be), which both sides tenaciously hold on to. People destroying people or "the others", for their own benefit is about as low as mankind can sink.
People's reaction to life and its vicissitudes tends to be melancholy and the escape routes they devise frequently prove inadequate, with the result that many people today feel continually despondent and some even take their own life. Self-indulgence appears to be the most popular and the most deceptive way people deal with problems. Food, drink, sex, entertainment and consumerism are the perennial remedies often applied to excess; more often that not people bring about their own ruin not only financially, but in terms of their health and their character as well. The media cannot be relied upon for support because they thrive on bad news and we receive a fresh supply of it daily. The most reliable means to counter these states resulting from alienation is to understand, first of all, the causes and conditions underlying our relationships with others, and to refrain from making sharp distinctions between oneself and others. It is healing to realize as often as possible the essentially interactive character of all existence in this universe.
The distinctive mark of wisdom is to choose actions benefiting others, because that is where our own benefit is to be found. In the final analysis, when we hurt others we are hurting ourselves. We can resolve many difficult situations by means of a simple reminder that whatever happiness or grief we presently experience is the result of past causes and our present actions are the foundations of future results of effects. We interact with the world, it cannot be avoided, and therefore we need to be mindful of the effect our actions have on others. The sooner we all understand this, the closer we get to the peaceful, happy world we all long for.
At this point we all, hopefully, understand that life as such has no beginning and no end, and the forms we tend to consider real are actually not so. Yet most of us cultivate the view that one such false form is a more or less independent entity demarcated by birth and death, around which life structures itself. Only when it has been singled out as one complete sequence and designated as life of a person, does it become one of the countless manifestations in the steam of life. In reality, there is no birth that precedes duration and death. There is nothing there which begins, nothing that dies. There are only moments follows one another, the preceding one being the cause of the one which follows; each moment, though unique, is causally connected with the preceding one and with the one which immediately follows. The only reality, as far as mind is concerned, is change, and change, and change, without end. We speak of birth and death because we get caught up in the wheel of existence. Because our mind gets caught up in circumstances, there is birth and death, and when circumstances are favorable there is happiness, attachment and clinging; circumstances being unfavorable, there is aversion, hate and anger. We almost never perceive a given situation as a fabrication produced entirely by our own thoughts and feeling. On the contrary, we consider all of it real, and react to a given situation with clinging or with anger; in both cases we sink deeper into ignorance. Due to our conceptualizing of what we experience, we react to circumstances by give rise to greed, hatred and ignorance countless times. Each thought forms a new fetter and reinforces the old ones, tying together body and mind and we keep on turning in the wheel of existence without respite. Our bodies follow our minds; if our minds do not relinquish delusion and abide in greed, hatred and ignorance, our bodies will follow our minds and suffer, endlessly repeating the cycle of birth and death. In this manner countless karmas are produced.
Modern understanding of evolution does not address its full breath. The only real evolution means liberation from suffering and from unwholesome karma. It means, furthermore, allowing one's mind to settle in the teachings, thereby fostering emancipation from dependence on circumstances. Shakyamuni attained the great liberation from the fetters of circumstance by means of his perfect, incomparable enlightenment. Out of great compassion he shared his findings with all sentient beings so they may, likewise, set themselves free. All of his teachings are directed toward this goal. Whoever has entered the path to Bodhi will be able to appreciate the perfume and the flavor of freedom by means of dharmas along the way. Buddhadharma answers our questions directly and exhaustively. One of its fundamental teachings emphasizes the importance of abandoning unwholesome or unskillful actions through our body, speech and mind, because only in such manner can we abandon bad karma and progress on our path to liberation. As one rises from the status of sentient beings to buddhahood, one's wisdom and one's life gradually become boundless. The mind, freed from obstructions, feels comfortable and relaxed, and that is the principle of evolution.
Search for Truth has been in the forefront of human endeavor as far back in history as the available records allow as to go. What are the results? Modern science is effective in the realm of phenomena and intellect, working with the branches, not with the roots. Philosophers have proposed thought-systems such as monism, dualism idealism, materialism, liberalism and determinism, to name only few, and their ongoing debate has not yielded any plausible conclusion in the realm of metaphysics. Confucius, one of China's most influential thinkers, expounded on relationships between people in general and between society and its members in particular, but he did not address man's relationship to the absolute. These numerous concepts remain epistemological paradigms of little real value in terms of providing a method of dealing with the great matter of life and death.
Buddhadharma is the only source that provides a method together with the teaching. Why is it that no one, the Buddha excepted, could effectively address the problem? It is my personal view that the motivation of all those thinkers never really left this world: Their knowledge is the knowledge of the conditioned only, and as such bound by obstacles. In consequence, the arguments cannot be settled and a full understanding can not be reached in that manner. For full development of the mind, understanding the world of phenomena alone is not enough. The Bodhi, or the fully awakened mind, encompasses immeasurable spheres and countless universes. To attain that status, we must relinquish attachment and sophistry and eradicate the barrier of the known; only then can we get an unencumbered view. When we have achieved that, our defilements will drop off by themselves. Dear friends, do not think for a moment these states of mind are remote from daily suffering, secluded as they appear to be in happy and unhappy states. We should understand that if we want to resolve the common varieties of suffering as well as the accompanying attachment to happiness, we must transcend both. Presently the question is, what is meant by "transcend"? Abandoning the usual types of suffering as well as one's attachment to happiness does not imply not caring. In the words of an ancient sage, "Buddhadharma is just plain, ordinary food. When we teach it , it is just plain talk about commitment."
If there is one feature that may be said to characterize all of the Buddha's teaching, it is boundless equanimity and a wholehearted commitment to guide all sentient beings to a speedy awakening. A mind of equanimity and a great vow both are rooted in harmony and their range is boundless. When combined, they are jointly called the great compassion. We understand a mote of dust is minute, and the world is immense. Our perception of the world usually places closest to us other people, some distance away are sentient beings, and all of them interface, interrelate and interact moment to moment in the flow of life that never ceases. Such is the meaning of equality in the Buddhist context. All sentient beings possess a mind which means they all have the capacity to change and attain enlightenment. The single thought and the mind's true nature are of the same substance as the Buddha, but although he attained enlightenment, we remain confused. There neither was an increase because of his enlightenment, nor is there a decrease because of our ignorance and confusion. These are values related to material. Due to his enlightenment, the Buddha was in complete harmony with nature, but we suffer greatly because of our conflict-ridden attitude due to ignorance. The Buddha's mind was exactly of the same substance, but he delighted in Dharma, freed himself from all conditioning, applying his mind as boundless compassion and remembering all sentient beings moment by moment.
Sentient beings, on the other hand, use their mind for different purpose. Ignoring their mind which has the same substance and the same standing that of the Buddha, they choose the small form of their bodies, hold that form to be their true self and endure unspeakable suffering as a result of it. Because they seek the outward form, they end up empty handed. For countless kalpas, sentient beings have been searching outside their mind and have produced innumerable karmas because of ignorance. Because we are unenlightened, we assume that the causes of our suffering are not in our minds, but outside, perceiving ourselves as the victims of circumstances. As we gradually come to understand the motivation of all buddhas, knowing the defilement of ignorance is exceedingly heavy among sentient beings, we will be more inclined thereafter to generate continually a mind of equanimity. At the same time we should be able to discern clearly the essence of Mahayana Dharma.
Mahayana Dharma can be described as simultaneously empty and not empty. It is empty in the sense of being empty of ego, yet it cannot be considered empty because there is compassion. The practice of compassion is void when there is compassion. The practice of compassion is void when there is no ego-grasping, but it is not void because it can be perceived as existing. Compassion that is ego-motivated cannot be called compassion. True compassion is saturated with substance, grounded as it is on the understanding that sentient beings are not different from self, and there is no room left for ego-oriented concerns. Only when the substance is recognized as the common ground of all sentient beings, can true compassion be generated.
In the context of Buddhist thought, true compassion has three distinctive characteristics, i.e., it is void of self, void of form and void of intent. The compassion arising from the condition of sentient beings, felt in every instance as inseparable from people, is of greatest benefit to the world. It is known as great compassion. Whoever has attained the great Void as understood in the context of teachings has abandoned ego-views and ego-clinging. Only in that state of mind can genuine acts of compassion be accomplished. At such time the actions offered for the benefit of sentient beings and for the salvation of the world truly are what they purport to be. Whoever attains that stage is free from attachment to his or her own body and mind, and therefore not capable nor tempted to neglect his/her duties, deceive others or misuse situation. Such a person abides in the great Void, his/her mind firmly established in the great vow to save the world and thereby benefit both self and others. The mind thus established provides the ideal frame for peaceful negotiations of any kind, and if statesmen and influential politicians would adopt this view and deal with the non-void while dwelling in the Void, they all would be bodhisattvas.
Buddhists who have the capacity to perceive both the Void and the non-void have found therein a firm footing for the cultivation of both. Through cultivation of the Void they eradicate the three poisons, being thereby released from the four forms and empowered to progress upwards to higher levels of insight while not abandoning the sentient beings to be saved.
The following is a dialogue between the Buddha and one of his disciples as retold in a Mahayana sutra. To the disciple's question regarding who ought to go to hell the World Honored One answered "I ought to go there; not only go there but stay there; not only stay there but be happy while there; not only be happy while there but become the adornment of hell." The one who has learned the Tao and generated the Bodhi-mind to the degree of being an adornment in hell has acquired an immeasurable strength of vow and his/her natural power is inconceivable. The following eight excerpts are from the Avatamsaka Sutra. They provide supreme guidance for all those who seriously study and practice Buddhadharma:1) a bodhisattva enters the teaching of equanimity by considering all sentient beings as own relatives and friends. When sentient being expresses unwholesome views in the presence of a bodhisattva, the bodhisattva remains untainted by anger and his/her attitude of equanimity remains unaffected; he/she maintains friendship towards all sentient beings, thereby improving their practice. A bodhisattva is like the great ocean that will not decay no matter how much pollutant is thrown in. The fools, the ignorant, those devoid of wisdom and kindness the selfish and arrogant whose minds are impervious to Buddhadharma cannot upset him/her.The eight excerpts from the Avatamsaka Sutra we have just quoted express the spirit of Mahayana at its clearest. Based on these, how can anyone hold the Budda's teaching as pessimistic and how can anyone say Buddhadharma is negative?
2) A bodhisattva does not abandon the foolish and the unwholesome even if they are difficult to be with, difficult to guide and have never helped another being. At such time the bodhisattva expediently applies the great Vow, wearing it as his/her adornment and as an armor to protect all sentient beings without exception, never considering abandoning the burden. He/she retains his/her determination when faced with ingratitude and insensitivity both of which are common among sentient beings. Bodhisattvas do not dwell on the faults of others, nor do they give rise to dislike; not for one moment do they consider returning to the status of worldings.
3) A Bodhisattva Mahasattva, when perceiving unwholesome actions of sentient beings, realizes they produce bad karmas which automatically result in suffering. He/she resolves to take on their suffering in their place. The bodhisattva remains dedicated to the progress of sentient beings on their spiritual path and never fails to carry out a promise or commitment; he/she does not backslide and does not yield to resentment or fatigue while fulfilling his/her great vow.
4) A bodhisattva takes upon himself or herself the suffering of sentient beings rather than watch them suffer and be defeated. He/she always keeps in mind what is in their best interest and accepts falling in hell, being taken hostage in dangerous situations or sitting by Maya's side in the animal-hells just to deliver sentient beings from evil.
5) A bodhisattva observes and then reflects on his/her observations as follows: The people in this world, greedy as they are, endure immeasurable suffering in order to satisfy merely a small portion of their desires. Therefore I never give up quest for the supreme Bodhi, not confusing it with the five desires, but always staying with the bodhisattva action. To save all sentient beings I set them free through practice of the great vow in its completeness, breaking of all fetters.
6) A bodhisattva practicing the virtues of bodhisattvas keeps in mind those who cannot save themselves and wonders how to save them. Starting with himself or herself, the bodhisattva makes the great vow, develops good roots and transfers the merit to others. This is called converting, illuminating and directing all sentient beings. As he/she protects and saves them, the bodhisattva helps them to overcome doubt and joyfully attain final deliverance.
7) A bodhisattva illuminates all without exception but never looks for reward, and in this respect he/she is just like the sun in the sky. When sentient beings fall into unwholesome, unskillful ways, the bodhisattva forbears, never abandoning his/her vow. Fastidiously avoiding unwholesome actions through body, speech and mind, he/she obtains happiness for all by means of his/her practice of virtues.
8) A bodhisattva shelters sentient beings from numerous forms of suffering. He/she is like a peaceful community into which sentient beings retire to find seclusion from defilements, from fear and from stress. A bodhisattva is like a garden where sentient beings enter for wisdom and safety. He/she is like a bright light which swallows the darkness of ignorance. A bodhisattva is like a pool that soothes as it cools, purifying all without exception. He/she is a teacher and a guide on the enlightening path to wisdom.
Teaching Regarding the Worldly
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For the purpose of an overview, teachings contained in Buddhadharma can be conveniently divided into two paths, i.e., the mundane Dharma, also known as the "Teaching Regarding the Worldly"; and the Dharma of the Supramundane, also called the "Ultimate Path". Dharma of the Ultimate Path is the essential constituent in each of the three major traditions of Buddhism practiced today, namely Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. We are going to study Buddhadharma by first turning our attention to the Mundane Dharma or the Teaching regarding the worldly.
Our connection with the world is most intimate although the fact usually escapes our attention because we take it for granted; we re-confirm it with each breath we take and every action we perform and there is no way we can control it. This connection continues after we die and therefore we keep turning on the wheel of birth and death. The only way to liberation from this fetter is to discern the true reality of our lives. Addressed exhaustively, this process of discerning will lead to liberation. According to Buddhadharma, the first step is to become fully aware of the world.
Questions regarding the origin and the purpose of the universe and how is it regulated have preoccupied people as far back in history as evidence can take us. The scope of the universe in terms of space and time exceeds our capacity for understanding. The earth's volume makes us insignificant by comparison, and all our attempts to control time and space are equally frustrating; their boundaries keep evading us. The riddle of the universe daunts philosophers and scientists alike. In theistic systems the answer to the riddle is invariably relegated to the uppermost echelons of divine power and worldings advised to regard these mysteries beyond their scope of thinking.
Answers to questions regarding the universe offered by Buddhadharma have been recognized on countless occasions as the most plausible; they are being considered seriously by an ever increasing number of scientists. The universe as posited by Buddhist metaphysics is powered by and depends on the dynamics of karma. The earth's enormous body and its life consist entirely of a network woven by the dynamics of karma. What do we mean by the word "Karma"? According to the Abhidharma Kosa, "to institute an action is karma." In more detail, every action through the body, speech and mind is manifesting the dynamics of karma. The karmic momentum is referred to as "karmic force".
Starting from the moment a human being is born into this world he/she enters a round of diverse circumstances beyond his/her control. Favorable to a greater or lesser degree, they are all a manifestation of karmic force. The functioning of karmic energy, when understood in terms of a non-spacial continuum or time as an apparently irreversible succession of events spanning the past through the present to the future, is known as "cause and effect". All that exists is totally controlled by and dependent on cause and effect for its continuation or demise. Birth and death of a human being, the length of his/her life, his/her prosperity or the lack of it as well as all the countless events he/she encounters during his/her life are the evidence of cause and effect. Flourishing and disintegration of cities or the establishing and dissolution of countries never happen haphazardly.
The formula of cause and effect can be compared to the simplest mathematical equation. Given such and such a cause, such and such an effect is inevitable. The immediate causes and effects are clearer and therefore easier to see, while the distant ones are concealed, hence difficult to discern. A given effect, though anticipated, may not materialize because additional causes influence the outcome. Complex causes should be expected to produce complex effects.
As a matter of fact, all that exists ought to be perceived as a complex, constantly changing process that corresponds to the intricate functioning of the human mind. The ways in which karmic effects are consistent with their karmic causes vary in complexity and therefore the retribution also changes in the course of time. For that reason conditions of sentient beings in the six realms on the wheel of existence vary so much. There are those who encounter blessings in the midst of calamity or vice versa. A good person may give rise to an unwholesome thought while an evil person may entertain a wholesome one. The overall tendency of a predominantly unwholesome karma may conceal numerous good actions. By contrast, a great plan for the benefit of all may contain some not immediately perceptible evil or unwholesome features. It may occur that a person born into the heavenly realm on the wheel of existence prior to having completed retribution for some bad karma will have to do so after his/her rebirth may occur in a much lower realm. The one born in hell, on the other hand, will have his/her chances for better rebirth improved by formerly accumulated good karma, activated once his/her retribution has been exhausted. Another example is that of a person whose present karma is good but there is retribution to be endured due to unwholesome circumstances at the time of his/her death; that will come first, while his/her present karma is ripening.
The rice we eat comes from last year's seed and failing to plant this year there will be no seed in the year to come. This explanation is as clear as can be, because the three-fold karmic action of body, speech and mind likewise continually produces good and bad seeds moment by moment, day by day. Some of the effects will occur while an action is in progress and others, after the fact. How soon after will retribution follow and for how long is determined by the karmic causes alone. Since these change moment to moment, their effect in the form of retribution has to change correspondingly with them. There are three kinds of retribution according to the length and timing of its occurrence. One kind is operative in the present, one in the life immediately following, and one kind of retribution will manifest after an interval of undetermined length. It may be positive or negative, i.e. blessings or trouble. Though this doctrine may appear complicated on the face of it, the causes within causes, effects within effects never fail. In the same way a creditor never forgets to collect, retribution is sure to follow each action.
One reaps exactly as one has sow; it is as simple as that. This doctrine contrasts with the concept of fate or destiny, or God's will. These concepts contain unexplainable inconsistencies. Why some live in luxury and others must starve, and why must some newborn babies die before they had a chance to commit good or evil? Some are born into disastrous circumstances while others arrive into nurturing conditions. If such things happen as some believe, as a punishment for the parents' mistakes, how can it be explained that some children of very evil people live happy lives? There is, indeed, a lot about human life that seems unfair and therefore difficult to accept. The doctrine of cause and effect is the only explanation that is rational, plausible and fair. Most importantly, it discloses the mind as the creator of karma, thereby introducing the possibility of change. One can choose to turn it around as the life-stream flows on.
The following example is an illustration of how the karmic force works. A gentleman named Yuan Liao Fan once had a horoscope cast by a gentleman call Kung, an astrologer. The horoscope predicted that Yuan Liao Fan would receive fourteen points in national examination, seventy-one points in a state examination, and nine points in college examination. He was to become a scholar in such and such a year, and appointed to the office of governor on such and such a date. He was to die childless at the age of fifty-three. The events unfolded exactly as predicted until the time Yuan Liao Fan became the governor, causing him to experience great disappointment. Every event in this life is predetermined, he thought, wondering where, in that case, his accomplishment was and if he had any. At that time he made the acquaintance of Ch'an master Yun Ku of Hsi Hsia mountain who introduced him to Buddhadharma. By those means Yuan Liao Fan learned to be satisfied with his lot and concentrate on generating good karma. He was attracted to activities benefiting others to such a degree he eventually left his post and his prominent position in society in order to dedicate himself fully to the welfare of others. By changing the direction of his karma his life deviated from his horoscope forecast.
The prediction was proven incorrect on three points. The gentleman holds presently a position higher that of the governor; he has a son; and although he was to die at the age of fifty-three, he is sixty-three, alive and well. The astrological chart did not prove to be correct, however, we do not know the true bondage of karma force in his case. His case helps us to realize that fools can become wise and vice versa. All of us can bring about change in our lives and make it shorter or longer; more or less lucky; more or less rich in spite of it being said that heaven controls everything. It it does, it is because people have decided so. Very few of us realize that karma is created by the mind and therefore it can be changed by the same means. To understand that one is in control of own destiny empowers one to foster the right attitude grounded in self-discipline while endeavoring to obtain blessings for oneself.
One point we have discussed briefly deserves additional comment. It regards the causes or seeds of karma which, though planted, have not matured in order to take effect. The question is, where does their karmic energy abide? If we wish to understand this point we must look at the eight kinds of consciousness. According to Boddhadharma all that exists is produced by the mind, meaning one's own consciousness. This is not difficult to understand. Let us consider for a moment the way in which we edit what we experience. Although we are surrounded by countless manifestations of matter we notice only those touched by our consciousness. As for all the rest, although we look we do not see; although we hear we do not listen.
Our consciousness, according to the Teachings, consists of eight components, namely the five senses; the mind-consciousness; the Manah-consciousness; and the Alaya-consciousness. The five senses and the mind-consciousness correspond to five organs, i.e. eye; ear; tongue; nose; body; as well as the brain. Every mind-contact or piece of information results in guna or dust, resulting in form; sound; smell; taste; touch; idea. Each of sense corresponds to its specific kind of consciousness within its specialized field and is not interchangeable with any of the other kinds; its task is to know. The mind-consciousness has the capacity to rise simultaneously with any one of the seven components, and/or assist its functions: The eye sees form and knows it as form. Whether the seen is green, small, beautiful or shiny is discerned or decided by mind-consciousness. Any one of the five kinds of consciousness related to the five senses must have, at the time of its arising, the mind-consciousness arise at the same time in order to function. When mind-consciousness rises by itself it generates thought. It is known as the single mind consciousness. Psychology usually stops here, with the sixth consciousness.
Textual Buddhism recognizes two additional kinds of consciousness. The seventh is named Manah and it functions as the root of the sixth kind of consciousness. Mind-consciousness rests at times, but Manah does not. It is the agency of ego-grasping that functions without interruption. It is present in all sentient beings. Whatever is perceived by us as existing, we apprehend and retain because of ego. This teaching is referred to as the Dharma of Ego Clinging. Ego-projections constitute what is held as reality by the uninformed; misconstrued as lasting, it is tenaciously held on to. This holding on to things is known in the context of Buddhadharma as the Dharma of Grasping. Delusory thought, rooted in a misconstrued notion of self and its objects as lasting and as independently existing, brings in its wake selfish concerns in their countless variations. Karmas and the concomitant suffering are the inevitable results. Because of the incessant activity of the Manah, consciousness as such is obstructed in delivering its pure, clear message. Therefore the great sages of the past referred to Manah as defiled or defilement consciousness.
Where does the ego's counterpart dwell? It resides in the eighth consciousness called Alaya and constitutes the foundation for the other seven kinds of consciousness. It acts as the storehouse for all karmas as well as their transmutations. "Alaya" is a Sanskrit term, literally meaning "non-dissolution". It conveys that there is no annihilation, only variation on what preceded. The Alaya is at times referred to as "store consciousness" because it enshrines all the seeds, including the good; the bad; the mundane; and the supramundane ones. What is meant by "seeds"? It is just another term for the latent control the three karmas by body, speech and mind exercise over the store consciousness. The action of the karmas' latent power is known as the "perfume of the store consciousness". Remaining latent until the opportunity arises, the perfume then becomes outwardly manifest in the process called "manifested action". Manifested action re-perfumes the store consciousness and becomes a seed. The sequence from seed to perfume, to manifested action, to perfume and to seed moves on in that order. The process of one changing into the next never stops. This is how karma and store consciousness are interdependent and how they interact.
The karmic seeds contained in the store consciousness are countless. As they ripen, they produce birth after birth, death after death in a never ending process. Wholesome seeds result in good birth, unwholesome seeds, in an unwholesome one. Their wholesome quality or the lack of it depend entirely on karmic causes from a previous life. When sentient beings have produced birth in the six realms, the cycle is then termed "one round of impermanence". Karmic seeds are rooted in time and, therefore, impermanent, meaning they come into being from non-being only to vanish again, ripening one at a time. These countless karmic seeds contain the complete range of possibilities or, in other words, the full potential and therefore any sentient being may be a human being in the present life, deva in the next, and a horse in the one that will follow. The order in which karma ripens is very clear. It cannot remain the same under changing conditions and therefore rebirth has to change accordingly.
When we consider how diversified are the inclinations of the countless sentient beings, changing as they move through the six realms on the wheel of existence going back in time as far as we can imagine, we can appreciate the enormity of difilements and the resultant suffering. Innumerable texts handed down from antiquity testify to people's incessant preoccupation with wealth, power, beauty, and honor as the concerns central to their existence. We may disbelieve the unofficial histories, but the following excerpts are from trusted Chinese annals: Po Kun turned into a bear and Ju I became a dog according to the Book of Han. Yang Hu was the son of Lee in his previous life as can be seen in the Book of Ch'in, while Emperor Liang Yuan Ti was in his previous life a monk with tiny eyes. A girl of Liu was Lee Shu in her previous life and Liu Hang was Niu Seng Ju. Fan Tsu You was Teng Yu, Kuo Hsiang Cheng was Lee Tai Pai as disclosed by the chronicle of Sung. Hsia Yuan Chi was Chu Yuan according to Huan Ming Records. The above evidence can be verified since it is incorporated in the official annals as indicated.
The wheel of existence is kept in motion by cause and effect and the preceding discussion was an attempt to explain this Teaching and disclose its implications. It will further our understanding if we spend a little time considering the heaviest karma in the world, i.e., taking life or killing living beings. Most people are able to see their present lives, never considering they have had innumerable previous existences. Neither do they wonder what forms of life will be theirs in their further lives. Since all living beings are very closely related through previous existences, how can anyone take the lives of other beings and eat their flesh?
The Kuang Ren's record reports that he knew of a mutton that was the ghost of his wife deceased several years past, and in the sutra of comparison of dharmas we read about a chicken served to a young man; it had the same features as his father in his previous life. No one can be sure of the kind of relationship that really exists between ourselves and the creature killed to feed us. It could be someone very close to us in our previous life. When we enjoy eating the flesh of other beings in the company of our friends and family in the present we do not give any thought to how much suffering preceded that moment. Conversely, we are enjoying ourselves in the present and yet, as evidence indicates we will be the flesh consumed by others in our future existence. When observed with heavenly eyes the situation appears truly tragic. The reasons used to justify taking of another being's life are irrelevant. Wherever dying is involved, there is always suffering, more so when force or violence is applied. The resulting negative energy leaves an imprint in the form of ill will waiting to manifest itself at some future occasion with retribution following in its train.
The eight kinds of consciousness jointly form what is known as "the field". The field is a feature common to all. Whoever considers taking the life of another perfumes the field via the Alaya consciousness which in turn releases the karmic seeds on the wheel of existence. In every birth and every death causes and conditions converge and give rise to retribution in a never ending cycle. Consider for instance the chronicle of Tso Chiu Ming in the Chou Dynasty: The son of a ranking official P'eng Sheng appeared in a dream as a pig-farm owner and a guide to calamity and revenge. Chao T'ung and Chao K'uo were transformed into servants by Chin K'uo ghost for letting Chin K'uo die. Chinese history is replete with officials executed by their emperors in matters of honor; they are still waiting for their chance to avenge themselves. The picture turns from bad to worse when we consider the massive killings of innocents on a daily basis. The consequences are bound to be felt; what a pity so many people produce heavy karma during their life-span. Taking other beings' lives begins with a birthday celebration when a child is one month old and continues from one festive occasion to the next. Every special date and every celebration provides the opportunity for more killing and when there is going to be a party more killing becomes necessary. Do we need to mention weddings, national holidays and religious festivals? People take every opportunity to consume the flesh of dead beings killed for that purpose and whose wish to go on living was not taken into account. When the mind adjusts to unrestricted killing, there is no end to the heavy karma resulting from it lifetime after lifetime.
People almost never make the connection between their own wish for a long, happy and healthy life for themselves and the daily mass-killing in which they take part. In order for us to enjoy our birthday another being must die. When a man and a woman are joined in a wedding ceremony, the event is celebrated by killing other beings of both genders. For what reason do people act this way? In the world of animals, killing for survival is common, but human beings consume dead flesh for enjoyment, and in amounts that by far exceed necessity.
The millions of beings killed throughout the world would make a mountain. Just consider for a moment all the cutting, skinning, scaling, eviscerating, scalding, boiling or even eating these beings alive. It represents endless cruelty on the part of those who are connected with it. They shiver at the mere thought of being sick or having to endure the slightest pain, not mentioning losing their own life. The tragedy of it is truly unspeakable. Unfortunately, when pain is at its most intense, there is no opportunity to complain of the unbearable suffering. The unwholesome karma produced by the mouth is unimaginable. Some of the most vicious crimes have been committed by the mouth, generating ill will for hundreds of thousands of years.
We are not unaware of the amount of evil in the world as the result of the ten unskillful karmas responsible for producing it. To take the life of a living being is the first of them. What are the remaining nine?
They are stealing; adultery; lying; double talk; coarse language; foul language; covetousness; anger; and perverted views. Each of these ten has its specific antidote, non-killing being antidote number one. This teaching is at the heart of self-discipline as understood by Buddhists. Voluntary abstention from taking life of any living being holds the first place in each of the six sets of precepts that constitute the discipline of Buddhadharma. The sets of five, seven and eight precepts for laity, as well as the ten precepts for novices, the Pratimokha for monks and nuns, and the bodhisattva precepts all reflect the essential tenet of non-hurting which characterizes the Buddha's teaching. Abstention from killing is thus the first requirement for generating wholesome or skillful thought. To bring about world peace, all that is necessary is to adhere to the Dharma of Ten Precepts. In the absence of intent to kill war is not possible. In the absence of intent to steal there would be no transgressions regarding property and in the absence of disregard for marriage and relationships, people's self-respect, reliability and trust would increase considerably . The degradation and the confusion due to lies, double talk, coarse and foul language would cease. In time greed, hatred and ignorance would be uprooted and sentient beings would have no further obstacles preventing them from attaining complete happiness and deliverance through enlightenment.
Buddhadharma According to Theravada
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Theravada or the way of the Elders and Mahayana or the great vehicle are two of the three major schools or traditions of Buddhism as practiced today. Both of them include special cultivation of faculties conducive to the attainment of supramundane knowledge. The teachings, referred to as the "Supramundane Dharma", are in complete agreement with what the Buddha taught.
The means or the textual foundations to be studied and practiced are not identical in both cases and consequently their practice and attainment are not identical either. Followers of the Theravadin tradition seek deliverance by themselves and for themselves alone. By contrast, the Mahayana teachings emphasize Buddhadharma as a vehicle similar to a raft or a boat transporting all sentient beings.
The amount of suffering in the world is unimaginable; whatever happiness there is, inevitably is lined with sorrow. The supramundane path was devised by the Buddha to address efficaciously the universal suffering and one should make a special point of studying it. In the brief discussion that follows we are going to consider the essential points of the teaching according to Theravada.
Shakyamuni Buddha was born approximately two thousand five hundred years ago in the outskirts of Kapilavastu in what is today northern India. In his late twenties he renounced his princehood and entered a spiritual path. He practiced close to nine years before attaining enlightenment and following that major event he taught Dharma for the rest of his life, converting sentient beings and leading a great number of people to enlightenment. Using expedient means, he taught according to the potential of his audience in each case and therefore his approach varied. Following the Buddha's final nirvana some five hundred of his most accomplished disciples, all attained arhats, gathered together in the Pippala cave to collect and to render his teachings in a form that would make them survive for posterity. Their joint effort at that occasion produced the basis for textual Buddhism, known as the Tripitaka, a term literally meaning "three baskets" because the contents were separated into three groups according to emphasis. The Tripitaka is also known under the name Pali Canon, Pali being the language used at the time to write the teachings down. Ven. Kasyapa and Ven. Ananda, two of the monks most senior in Dharma, were given the responsibility of supervising the project. The Buddha's adherents awaited in great numbers outside the cave the outcome of the gathering, and therefore the event, known as the Great Council, is of major historical significance. The record of the Buddha's teaching was based on Ven. Ananda's recollection and substantial editing was more than likely; the occasion marks the coming into existence of Theravada. The original Sangha reassembled forming several groups, two of which became firmly established in the five hundred years following. They are known as Mahastavira and Mahasanghika. Eventually there existed in India eighteen Buddhist sects, each having its specific interpretation of the teaching for a basis. All of these followed Theravada, making it prosper and flourish. The existing sects splintered into five hundred lesser groups as the quality of practice and the understanding of the doctrine gradually declined. Almost nine hundred years after the Buddha's Parinirvana, an Indian scholar named Vasubandhu, a Bodhisattva in his own right, wrote his Abhidharma-kosa, a commentary of momentous importance to the understanding and development of Buddhism. Another Indian scholar named Harivarman posited a doctrine of great relevance to the systems of Buddhist thought, that of Satya Siddhi. The Buddhist community of India rallied into two major branches, both Theravada, incorporating the two above mentioned texts into their textual foundations. In China under the Ch'en Dynasty, approximately one thousand years after the Buddha's Parinivana, the Tripitaka Master Paramartha translated Vasubandhu's Commentary on Consciousness Only into Chinese. Known as the "early" translation, the work has been replaced with a later version by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Tsang, dating from the T'ang Dynasty. Under Hsuan Tsang's leadership, the School of Consciousness Only has become the Dharmalaksana School (Fa Hsiang). The school held Vasubandhu's commentary as its only scriptural foundation and although referred to as a "sect", it was, more accurately, a specific type of teaching; following the decline of T'ang it was not heard from again. In the late T'ang, under the Yao Ch'in ruled by emperor Hung Chih, the Tripitaka Master Kumarajiva translated the Satya-siddhi-sastra into Chinese and made its content widely known, It was studied and taught by many Dharma masters during the rule of the six Dynasties. Satyasiddhi school was established at that time; the famous sastra constituted its sole textual foundation and like the Dharmalaksana, that school disappeared leaving only a written record behind. This brief historical outline traces the Theravada tradition in China. However, the school of three sastras, the Tien T'ai sect and several others in the Mahayana tradition have survived.
Buddhadharma as taught by Theravadins entirely transcends the world and therefore fosters great clarity of understanding of cause and effect as manifested in the context of mundane existence. Phenomena turn and change subtly and obliquely and the three marks of existence, i.e., birth, duration and death are without self, effectively controlled by karma. The adept observes the process by which phenomenon assumes form, one at a time; changes in the six realms on the wheel of life through past, present and future into birth/death; the adept observes causes and conditions until ego, wrong view and clinging are thoroughly understood. When it is understood beyond any doubt that the pattern of birth and death together with the many kinds of defilements rise as causes and effects, then from effects which are known their causes can be traced. When the causes are correctly identified and contemplated, they vanish and when there are no causes, there are no more effects. This is essentially the method as used by Theravadins. It liberates one from one's own karma. Phenomena are recognized as impermanent, unsatisfactory and void of self; eventually, complete liberation or nirvana is attained. To transcend the world is the purpose of Buddhadharma according to the Theravada. Within it there are two vehicles by means of which liberation can be attained, namely, the vehicle of the hearer or sravaka and that of pratyeka-buddha. The former heard, understood and thereby entered the Tao; the latter observed causes and conditions and by means of that effort attained liberation. The sravaka examines dharmas in terms of the Four Noble Truths as the following table illustrates:
The doctrine as taught by Theravadins commences with karmic power as the first of the Noble Truths, i.e. suffering as the root cause of past, present and future rebirths in the six realms. According to the Great Wisdom Commentary, three kinds of suffering are related to our physical bodies, namely, disease, old age and death, and three kinds of mental anguish generated by greed, hatred and ignorance. These manifest themselves in the realms of hells, animals, and hungry ghosts, In addition, we have pain and suffering due to decay as well as that due to action. There is also pain within pain, and there is the notion of suffering in the midst of happiness due to knowledge of pain's inevitability. Such deterioration of happy states is suffering as a result of decay". When there is neither the evidence of happiness nor its decay, there is still the change due to impermanence. It is referred to as "suffering as a consequence of action."
Physical pain is caused by external conditions such as experiencing extreme cold, heat, effects of pollution, poisonous plants, having to negotiate arduous terrain and such; or by internal conditions such as thirst, hunger, exhaustion, worry, and so forth.
Realms of mental anguish include all varieties generated by interactions and relationships between people such as deceit, loss of the loved one, ambition, jealousy, and so forth. The eight kinds of suffering common to all people are: Birth, old age, disease, death, loss of love, encounter with the detestable, frustrated ambitions, and the ills related to the five skandhas. All of us are affected by these and intelligence without the support of wisdom is of no help. The search for the cause of it all begins at this point; it leads us to the second of the Noble truths, the Cause of Suffering.
Suffering does not arise by itself but by its causes and they, in turn, arise due to karma. The three karma-generating sources are body, speech,. and mind. Mind is the worst offender by far because it directs all our actions including our speech and, of course, our thoughts. Karmic manifestations of mind include the following defilements: Desire, hate, ignorance, pride, doubt, perverted view regarding a permanent self, extreme views, deluded views, obstinate views, and rigid views regarding ascetic practices and prohibitions. Conjointly with the three realms, the above ten defilements produce eighty-eight delusory views and eighty-one kinds of suffering. Deluded views steer the nascent thoughts in the wrong direction and misinterpreted and misdirected feelings follow in its wake. Deluded views are not difficult to discard but to stop misleading or unskillful thoughts is hard to do. Defilements as causes and conditions for unwholesome karma all are rooted in deluded views and misleading thoughts and generate untold suffering. Whoever wants to get out of the endless cycle of birth and death must therefore abandon the deluded views and misleading thoughts in order to extinguish the karmic causes. This is the teaching of the third Noble Truth, i.e., the Extinction of Suffering.
Extinction is equivalent to cessation. When defilements cease, birth and death cease as well. The path to the cessation of suffering is the path to nirvana.
As the term "path" suggests, there is a destination or a goal which the path leads to. If one travels by means of "beholding the truth", one can eradicate the deluded view. By means of cultivating the truth, one can discontinue misleading thoughts. In order to achieve all this one needs to strengthen one's self-discipline, and that brings us to the three pillars of all Buddhist practice, namely discipline, concentration, and wisdom. Self-discipline is indispensable for the development of concentration which in turn stabilizes the mind and cultivates wisdom through the eradication of delusion. Thus the three studies are causally connected.
The discipline as understood by Buddhists consists of specific rules of conduct and the practice of concentration of specific dharmas. Wisdom in this particular context stands for the absence of ego-notion and all views derived therefrom. The method used by Buddhists for that purpose includes systematic observation of one's own body as impure; one's feeling or sensations as conducive to suffering; one's own mind as impermanent and all of this world as without a nature of its own.
Why should we regard our bodies as impure? Please try to reconstruct in your mind how you obtained your body starting from its very beginning. It commenced from the fluids produced by your parents' bodies, and was followed by a sojourn in the fluids of the womb; then the passage through the vagina into this world that is so dirty it can never be made clean again. The body spontaneously generates filth without and within and the process continues as long as one lives. After life's end, tiny creatures deep in ground as well as the countless bacteria will devour the remains, generating more uncleanliness. Examining this body, where is its purity? Embracing couples experience happiness, unaware it is like tow bags of bones embracing. To restrain and ultimately extinguish one's greed manifesting itself as desire is quite difficult and therefore we are advised to regard our bodies as impure.
Why is it said that feelings or sensations always result in suffering? Feeling or sensation is a combination of mind and body. When a happy state predominates there is nevertheless the awareness of its impermanence, and therefore the correct understanding of happiness is that it is layered with suffering. Pleasure is by definition enjoyable while it lasts, but once it has vanished, it is replaced with intense suffering. For those who have renounced the world there is neither suffering nor happiness. There is only an awareness of change, accompanied by equanimity. Such attitude is exactly the opposite of that adopted by people of worldly concerns. They never leave the seesaw of happy and unhappy mind-frames and the inevitable result is suffering. The observation of feelings as they turn into suffering is an excellent practice that reveals all attachments as meaningless bondage.
How can one observe the impermanence of one's own mind? Every rising thought is a shadow of the six conditioned sense-data. When observed closely, the activity of the mind is revealed as completely rooted in time. It consists of one thought following another, each of them rising when the preceding one has disappeared without trace and this pattern can never stop. The mind can only hold one thought at a time. To examine the passing thoughts one after another is to become fully aware of their insubstantial and deceptive nature. Every thought rises because of causes and conditions and since these change continually, the resulting thoughts change also thus manifesting their impermanence. Whoever practices according to this teaching can eradicate grasping.
What is the meaning of "all of this world is without nature of its own"? Absolutely everything including the last atom changes from one moment to the next and therefore all existence is a never ending transition. The timing or the pace at which transition occurs is determined by the dynamics of karma and since these are not the same in each case, the timing of the transition varies accordingly. For this reason it is stated that "all of this world is without nature of its own". One's own self, as well as that of other beings are merely inferred. A practice of this Dharma discloses where defilements come from. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, considered essential to the enlightening practice in the Theravada tradition. In addition, their practice includes the Four Good roots and the Five Meditations. We hope to study these at another occasion. This is the teaching of the Fourth Noble Truth, the Path.
In our present survey of Buddhadharma according to Theravada, we have covered so far the Four Noble Truths; the doctrine of cause and effect; an examination of feelings or sensations in terms of happiness and suffering; and delusion and enlightenment as the two opposites in reference to the Four Noble Truths. It may seem somewhat unusual to begin with the effect and than turn to the cause, proceeding backwards, but the effect and than turn to the cause, proceeding backwards, but the effect is easier to understand. To begin with that which is still fresh in one's memory and then retrieve the more subtle connections that have already meshed with the flux, is more efficacious. For the purpose of generating dislike for the worldly we have pointed out the resulting suffering in the three realms and showed how by eradicating the causes the joy of nirvana can be attained. Later on there will be an opportunity to examine the causes of the Tao.
A sravaka should understand the Four Noble Truths in the order they are presented. First, perceive suffering as retribution in the round of birth and death, and vow to eradicate its causes. Second, discern the link connecting karma with defilements and extinguish both. Third, realize that extinction of suffering is the prime cause leading to nirvana. Fourth, enter the path leading to the extinction of passion and to nirvana.
In all Buddhism regardless of tradition, practice is the essential expedient, indispensable for successful completion of the task at hand. Practice makes full liberation accessible to all potentials without exception. The next step along the path to enlightenment is the Path and the Fruit of the arhat, attained when ego-based notions and concomitant misleading thoughts are abandoned. Arhat is the last stage on the path of a sravaka, leading to the complete halt of the cyclic pattern of birth and death and leaving the three realms forever.
The praty-eka-buddha vehicle is focused on the causal structure of the round of existence, supported by the method of the Twelve Links in the Chain of Existence also known as dependent arising, defined as the arising of effects evenly in dependence on a conjunction of conditions; no single cause can produce an effect, nor does only one effect arise from a given cause. The world we live in is continually built by ourselves, the result of karmic force. Every constituent of our world is one part of an all-embracing net of views. The formula of Dependent Arising discloses what sustains the wheel of birth and death, making it revolve from one existence to another. The table on the following page illustrates cause and effect in relation to each other and to the world. Because they explain the causes and conditions of birth and death in transmigration, the Twelve Links of existence are sometimes referred to as the "twelve branches of existence". The term "existence" is all-inclusive while "branch" implies a change in direction, a branching out and a partial separation. The branches we are talking about are rooted in birth and death and in transmigration; the links follow one another in orderly fashion. The progression never stops, nor will it ever end.
1) Due to ignorance arise karmic formations: Ignorance is interpreted in this context as non-known or knowing wrongly and can be compared to the absence of light. It is most common among sentient beings and therefore they are unable to determine what is pure and what is defiled; what is cause and what is effect. Unaware of retribution in the form of suffering in the three evil realms not far off in their future they are stunted by the workings of humans and heaven. Ignorance is the chief condition of defilements.
2) With karmic formations as condition arises action: Karmas accumulated during previous existences manifest themselves as actions by body, speech and mind. Past causes produce present effects.
3) With action as condition arises consciousness: Karma-generated actions condition resultant kinds of consciousness both wholesome and unwholesome. At the moment of conception an especially potent karmic formation accumulated in the karmic continuum of the deceased being generates rebirth consciousness in the realm appropriate for that karma to mature. During the course of existence, other accumulated karmas generate other resultant types of consciousness according to circumstances
4) With consciousness as conditions name-and-form (mind-and-body) come to be: the term "name" denotes mind and "form" stands for material phenomena produced by karma. In those realms where all five aggregates are found, consciousness conditions mind and matter together. In the event of such rebirth, three mental aggregates arise simultaneously with the rebirth-linking consciousness, namely, feeling, perception and mental formations along with the form skandha that includes body, gender and heart-base. In the case of a human embryo, these are first present as latent potential and develop along with the development of the embryo.
5) With name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases come to be: Of the six sense bases, the first five are the sensitive matter of the eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. The sensuous plane mind-and-matter conditions the arising of all six sense bases. Then the karma-born material phenomena arise, as in the case of the human embryo, they condition the arising of the five sense organs, developing as the embryo grows.
6) With the six sense bases as condition arises contact: Contact here denotes the contact with resultant consciousness. It is the "come together" of consciousness and the mental factors with an object by means of any one of the six sense bases. As contact can occur only when the sense bases exist, it is said that contact is dependent on the six sense bases. It is the connection with the "outside world" once the baby is born.
7) With contact as condition arises feeling: Whenever contact occurs, feeling arises simultaneously, conditioned by the same contact. There are six classes of feeling corresponding with the six sense bases. In terms if its affective quality, feeling may be pleasant, painful or neutral, according to the base and contact. The above five links or branches are the result of suffering in the present.
8) With feeling as condition, craving comes to be: Feeling conditions the arising of craving. If one experiences a pleasant feeling, one relishes that feeling and desires the object only insofar as it arouses the pleasant feeling. On the other hand, when one experiences a painful feeling, one has a craving to be free from the pain, longing for a pleasurable feeling to replace it. Thus many kinds of desire arise, conditioned by feeling.
9) With craving as condition, clinging or grasping come to be: Craving ? a mode of greed or wrong view comes to be when craving for gratification of the senses intensifies and turns into clinging or craving. In the weak, initial stages the greed for an object is called craving; the intensified form of greed is called clinging or grasping.
10) With clinging as condition, existence comes to be: Clinging is a condition for active existence because, under the influence of clinging, one engages in action that is accumulated as karma. It includes clinging to the notion of an "ego" and all the states associated with it. Clinging is a condition for resultant existence because that same clinging leads one back into rebirth in a state determined by one's karma. When the seeds are sown, the paddy will grow. In the same way the karma generated in the present will produce an effect in the future. The three links given above are present causes, having suffering for effect in the future.
11) With existence coming into being as condition, birth comes to be: Birth is understood as the arising of mundane consciousness and karma-born matter in a new life, new realm of existence. The essential condition for future birth to occur lies in our present existence.
12) Dependent on birth arise decay and death: Once birth has occurred, old age or decay and death must inevitably follow, as well as all the suffering, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair in between. All of these are rooted in birth, and therefore birth is singled out as their principal condition. Birth and death are future effects of suffering.
Upon examining the above twelve links we, realize that ignorance, craving and clinging are rooted in delusion. Ignorance or delusion is a past cause, craving and clinging are two kinds of delusion operative in the present. Consciousness, name-and-form, the six sense bases, contact, feeling, birth, old age and death all represent retribution through suffering. Action and existence are karma-generating agents. As the above table illustrates, links number two through ten are completed in the present. Ignorance is the root of greed manifesting itself as craving and clinging; existence manifests itself as action, thus generating future rebirths and bringing suffering as retribution in its wake. This process is the same as when past experiences influence the present. Every future rebirth will initiate exactly the same sequence as the present one, for as long as ignorance is the root base, the cycle will predictably and inevitably repeat itself. The exact repetition of this pattern enables one to see one's previous existence. One is able to appreciate the amount of evil or unskillful karmas one has generated due to ignorance, thereby planting causes for suffering in the rounds of birth and death to come. One must endure another rebirth due to deluded view and misguided thought: Following that, one will develop the six sense bases with their corresponding six-fold data, formulate more deluded views and develop attachments generated by greed in the present, followed by retribution in the future. For most of the people, that is what they perceive as reality from which they proceed with the planting of further causes of suffering. Thus the cycle of rebirths is perpetuated. According to the formula of the Twelve Links in the Chain of Existence, this is the entrance into transmigration.
However, the supramundane Dharma provides a second alternative: By means of understanding the Four Noble Truths and by sustained practice, those on the path are empowered to eradicate ignorance and its concomitant defilements. The cessation of ignorance causes cessation of karma-generating actions, cessation of karma generating action causes cessation of relinking consciousness, that in turn causes cessation of name-and-form, cessation of name-and-form causes cessation of six sense bases and in the absence of the six sense bases there is cessation of contact, cessation of feeling and cessation of grasping. Since no karma is being generated in the present, there can be no rebirth and without rebirth no aging, no death is possible. Consequently there will be no suffering in the future. Without birth and death, the cause of cessation has nirvana or final extinction for effect. This is the final extinction according to the formula of Twelve Links in the Chain of Existence read anti-clockwise. The fruition thus attained is the most advanced stage of praty-eka-buddha. For a person of such attainment there is no more rebirth.
The formula demonstrates that the chain of existence consists of several layers of cause and effect. The present is the result of past causes; it also generates causes the results of which will mature in the future. Future first becomes present and then, the past. The effects turn in time into causes which, in turn, will produce more effects. Normally the pattern repeats itself without beginning and without end.
The entire universe can thus be viewed as an intricate net of karmic forces endlessly perpetuating themselves as cyclic patterns rooted in time. The Twelve Links in the Chain of Existence disclose the source of all karmas and consequently the source of all there is. Theravada practice approaches the twelve links in terms of the four Noble Truths as follows:
The first five links of the twelve confirm of second of the Four Noble Truths, i.e., the Noble Truth of the Causes of Suffering.
The first and the second of the twelve links tie the past to the present, and the third, fourth and fifth operate in the present. The five links following, namely, the links number six, seven, eight, nine and ten, are operative in the present, jointly with links numbered eleven and twelve that ripen in the future and assert the first of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Truth of Suffering.
Mindful observation of the twelve links is cultivation of wisdom that reveals the way to extinction, while the complete extinction of all twelve links is nirvana; it is the final attainment of praty-eka-buddha and of the arhat. Although the method for this path to enlightenment is unlike other methods, it shares with them the same foundation of the three studies, namely discipline, concentration and wisdom. All of Budhhist practice has one goal, namely, the eradication of defilement and the attainment of full awakening. It comprises the development of rare powers of the senses, the knowledge of pervious existences, the capability to appear in any place at will and insight into the termination of transmigration. As long as the meditator possesses a body, nirvana is incomplete. Parinirvana or "nothing remaining beyond nirvana" manifests itself at the time of dissolution of the retribution-body, when there is nothing left to hold on to. Such is the absolute state according to Theravada. Study of the doctrine according to Theravada reveals that the sravake, the praty-eka-buddha and the arhat all have for their purpose the extinction of birth and death, the eradication of greed, hatred and ignorance and the attainment of complete and perfect enlightenment.
Buddhadharma According to Mahayana
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Teaching according to Mahayana likewise aim to transcend the world, but they are at the same time aware of the world and useful to the world. Meditators in the Theravada tradition seek great awakening first of all for themselves alone and their minds, absorbed in practice, allow no room and no time to thoughts of the suffering of sentient beings. Those aware of their Bodhi mind will make the great vow, wanting to follow the Mahayana tradition.
During the five hundred years following the Buddha's Parinirvana the master's teaching spread throughout India and Theravada was its only vehicle. The first literary work characterizing the distinctive features of Mahayana was the Awakening of Faith by Ashvaghosa Bodhisattva. Seven hundred years after the Buddha's Parinirvana, Nagarjuna Bodhisattva founded and perfected the Madhyamika system. Two brothers, the fully emancipated Bodhisattvas Asangha and Vashubandha, founded and systematized the Yogacara philosophy almost nine hundred years after the buddha's final nirvana. The early development was followed by the splitting up of the Mahayana doctrine into two schools: The school of nature and the school of form. The first taught Mahayana Dharma of the formless, sometimes referred to as the School of Voidness, and the second taught Mahayana Dharma of Form and was known as the School of Existence. The two schools gained considerable ground and attracted numerous outstanding teachers. By the time the profound teaching was introduced to China it has been already meticulously formulated by a host of illustrious sages and propagated the world over.
Buddhadharma blended harmoniously with the Chinese thought and its teachings were thoroughly understood there. Eventually, ten sects came onto existence; most were Mahayana, some Theravada, while some combined the two.
During the late Han and Chin Dynasties, three monks were engaged in a translation of Buddhist texts. Venerable Kasyapamatanga, An Shih Kao and Dharmaraksa translated some of the Mahayana sutras from the original Sanskrit into Chinese but their translations have not become widely known. It was not until the eastern Tsin that the Tripitaka was translated in full by Kumarajiva and made known to a very large audience. Several major sutras of the Mahayana cannon, namely the Avatamsaka, Nirvana, Vaipulya, and the Vijnanamatra-vada as well as many additional texts were translated by Bhadrapada, T'an Wu Chen, Bodhiruci and Paramartha and others. In the T'ang Dynasty, Tripitaka Master Husan Tsang journeyed to India in search of original Buddhist texts which he subsequently translated, thereby assuring their authenticity. Esoteric sutras were translted by Wu Wei, Vajrabodhi, Amohavajra and several other monks whose practice was Tantric and the Avatamsaka sutra was translated for the second time by Siksananda. Due to great and continuing efforts by numerous translators endowed with inner light, people were taught by these expedient means and as the result of it the following eight sects have survived and continued to prosper: The School of Three Commentaries; Fa Hsiang; T'ien Tai; Hua-Yen; True Word (Esoteric); Pure Land; Ch'an; and Vinaya (Discipline). The preceding was a brief summary of the historical and textual development of Buddhism in China and now we are ready to glance at the goals set out by Mahayana.
Mahayana is often referred to as the "Bodhisattva Vehicle". The Sanskrit term "bodhisattva" is composed of the root word bodhi, i.e. perfect wisdom (prajna), and sattva, meaning an "awakened being whose actions without exception make for harmony". Thus the term stands for a being both enlightened and enlightening. A bodhisattva is often referred to the "great sentient being". By what means can one become such a person? Generating great compassion and great vow; endeavoring to attain concentration, the level of which is equaled with that of one's wisdom; being determined to benefit all sentient beings and by those means achieving perfect unity with all others; applying the most expedient Dharma in each situation as the best method of teaching. For the completion of the bodhisattva career it is necessary to generate the Bodhi mind and thereby obtain the great Tao.
One should be frequently thinking of all buddhas; contemplating body as suffering; seeking the supreme fruit steadfast on the path; and practicing kindness and compassion for all sentient beings. The following is an excerpt from Vashubandhu Bodhisattva's commentary (sastra), consisting of four points essential for practice, each of which is elucidated by five explanatory notes:
Five Contemplations of all Buddhas1) Contemplating all buddhas past, present and future in the ten directions, and realizing that initially theirs were minds defiled just as ours are presently. They have attained complete enlightenment, each deserving the title of the World Honored One.Five Contemplations of Body-as-suffering
2) Contemplating all buddhas in the three periods, I endeavor to generate an intrepid mind like theirs; since they have attained the great awakening, I should be able to do likewise.
3) Contemplating all buddhas in the three periods, their giving rise to boundless, luminous wisdom, their great endurance and purifying actions: Through their own effort they uprooted obstacles and defilements and transcended the three realms. I shall follow their example and attain the way they did.
4) Contemplating all buddhas in the three periods, great heroes among human beings, who have crossed the ocean of defilement, of birth and death. I recognize that I am a human being like them and that I am capable to following their example.
5) Contemplating all buddhas in the three periods and how they made enormous progress abandoning mundane concerns and wealth bringing to light unfathomable wisdom. I presently determine to learn how to follow their example.1) Contemplating my body as five skandhas and four elements, and the numberless evil karmas generated thereby, I want to abandon it all.Five Contemplations Leading to the Attainment of the Supreme Fruit
2) Contemplating my body with all its impurities and all the dirty outflows from its nine openings, I cultivate revulsion.
3) Contemplating my body with all its greed, hatred and ignorance and countless defilements, I want to abandon it all.
4) Contemplating my body as a bubble, as froth, as birth and death, thought after thought, I want to depart from it all.
5) Contemplating my body as being imbued with ignorance, generating immeasurable evil karma and turning on the wheel of life in the six ways with no benefit whatsoever, I want to abandon it all.1) Contemplating the distinctive and luminous adornment of the characteristic marks on the physical bodies of all Tathagatas, I want to learn and to practice, knowing that to encounter them is to be rid of defilements.Five Contemplations of Compassion for Sentient Beings
2) Contemplating the Dharmakaya of all Tathagatas, forever stainless and completely free from defilements, I want to learn and practice.
3) Contemplating all Tathagatas, their irreproachable morality and tranquillity, recognizing their relinquishment of delusive thoughts, observing their limitless wisdom and omniscience rediate the unconditioned state of nirvana, I want to learn and practice.
4) Contemplating the Tathagatas and their ten powers, four kinds of fearless states and their boundless compassion, I want to learn and practice.
5) Contemplating all the Tathagatas who pity, commiserate and protect all sentient beings, correcting delusion due to their many kinds of wisdom, I want to learn and practice.1) Contemplating all sentient beings as confined by ignorance and attachments, enduring great suffering. They shun the teaching of cause and effect and generate evil karma. Ignoring the true Dharma they stray on the heterodox path and drown in the sea of defilement.In all four articles above, compassion for all sentient beings hols a place of special importance. In the words of Vashubandhu Bodhisattva, "When observing sentient beings endlessly perpetuating evil karma that results in suffering due to ignorance, bodhisattvas give rise to great compassion and seek to attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi as if their heads were on fire. They think that all sentient beings are defiled and resolve to save them all." The sentient beings are greatly deluded and boundless compassion is necessary in order to help them. Compassion can bring them happiness and let them depart from suffering. All bodhisattvas practice the six paramitas and ten thousand pure actions to assist and save all sentient beings. Compassion is the foundation that supports all existence and sentient beings are expediently converted by countless dharmas.
2) Contemplating all sentient beings hamstringed by many kinds of suffering, I see their dread of birth, disease, old age and death. Oblivious of liberation they perpetuate evil karmas and their actions never cease to produce sorrow, suffering and defilements. When separated from their loved one(s) they continue to cling. When compelled to face what they hate, they do not relinquish their resentment. Furthermore, they continue generating anger and jealousy, thus bringing more evil to this world.
3) Contemplating all sentient beings committing evil karma due to their countless, varied desires, I pity them. Although they may have reached an understanding of desires as tied to suffering, they cannot relinquish them. Then wishing to reach the joyous states, they lack the requisite discipline, and though they need not necessarily suffer in these instances, they plant causes of suffering.
4) Contemplating all sentient beings and their actions laden with evil, the way they transgress the grave precepts while trembling with fear and apprehension, engage in the five rebellious actions, devoid of shame, slander true Dharma as well as the Mahayana Dharma. They follow ego-based views and their actions are self-serving and arrogant and while sentient beings do not lack ability, they are intoxicated by conceit and see no reason for repentance; thus they break off their good root.
5) Contemplating all sentient beings as they reject the practice of true Dharma, born at the time when due to eight conditions it is difficult to see a buddha and hear the Dharma; reflecting on those who, though born at the time of the Buddha and having heard the true Dharma, did not accept and upheld it, but became involved in heterodox practices and/or harsh ascetic discipline instead. They overlook the right path then and they overlook it now. Those who have reached the heavenly realm of neither thinking nor non-thinking, mistake it for nirvana and do not realize that when their wholesome retribution runs out, they must return to the three ways.
In the discourse on Samantabhadra Bodhisattva's practices and vows, the Avatamsaka sutra says" "When a bodhisattva accords with sentient beings, then he accords with and makes offerings to all buddhas. To honor and serve all sentient beings is equal to paying homage to all Tathagatas. Why? Because an all-embracing, compassionate heart that welcomes all sentient beings is the essence and the origin of the Tathagata." It is the means of generating Bodhi-citta, whereby incomparable enlightenment is attained.
When a tree grows in the poor soil of the wilderness and its roots receives water, it develops plentiful foliage; it blooms and bears fruit. The Bodhi tree, king among trees, growing in the wilderness of life and death, has all sentient beings for its roots and all bohisattvas and all buddhas for blossoms and fruit. When sentient beings encounter all-embracing compassion, the Bodhi tree will bloom and bear the fruit of bodhisattvas and buddhas. How? The bodhisattvas have attained supreme, perfect enlightenment. This being so sentient beings are indispensable to Bodhi. Without them no bodhisattva would ever attain the incomparable enlightenment.
Men and women from good families, please consider this parable carefully. Look upon sentient beings with an impartial mind and cultivate all-embracing compassion. To bestow this compassion on all sentient beings without exception is comparable to being successful when making an oblation to all Tathagatas. A bodhisattva's effort to compassionately yield to all sentient beings will never cease, not even when sunya-dhatu, spheres, karma and defilements of sentient beings come to an end. My effort of concord will never cease, but will be pursued with incessant and unremitting concentration, culminating in indefatigable actions of my body, my discourse and my volition."
For the practice of bodhisttva action it is required that one aspires upwards, seeking buddhahood, and proceeds downward converting sentient beings. Faith is the dynamic of the upward move, compassion that of downward.
For saving sentient beings Bodhi is the key expedient. But what kind of karmic action is needed to produce expedient Dharma? Discipline, concentration and wisdom are , no doubt, the universal foundation. In addition to these, three more virtues are recommended for well rounded practice. Charity, patience and zeal, in addition to discipline, meditation and wisdom complete the set of the six paramitas or virtues. Zeal assures progress, charity or giving fosters openness toward all sentient beings, and patience supports diligence in study and practice. The six paramitas can ferry oneself and others across the sea of birth and death to the shore of nirvana.
The first perfected virtue is giving or dana-paramita in Sanskrit; it includes three kinds of giving. A pure being endowed with morality can give property or wealth to the point of giving up all he/she has. Or a bodhisattva who has understood poverty makes the gift of his/her body, speech and thought by means of spreading Buddhadharma. He/she may renounce his/her head, hands, or any part of his/her body while maintaining the mind of equanimity; or give up own country, family or spouse and turn the merit over to all sentient beings. Providing protection from danger or assurance of safety is the last of the three kinds of giving (abhaya-pra-dana in Sanskrit). The most excellent of all is the gift of complete enlightenment for the benefit of the world. When a bodhisattva has given a gift, he/she never expects a reward, nor does he/she give any thought to the recipient of the gift. According to the Vajracchedika-prajnaparamita Sutra (Diamond Sutra) "A bodhisattva's mind should not abide anywhere when giving alms". Although the mind does not abide anywhere, it nevertheless does not exhaust cause and effect and the bodhisattva's merits of retribution and blessings surpass by far those of someone with a hidden agenda when doing good. The pure and passion-free being, liberated of karmic action, can recover the original perfection of his/her luminous mind and by comprehending it he or she, the bodhisattva, can surpass all the merit in the world, Such circumstances are pristine, incomparable and outstanding.
The second is morality (silaparamita). Perfect morality is the foremost quality of enlightenment. The object of this virtue is to develop an acute sense of wholesome action strengthened by refraining from evil actions, thus generating the cool calm of perfect morality while the one practicing it is still attached to the sense-qualities. The guidelines, called precepts, are usually arranged in sets. In Buddhist practice seven sets of precepts are known; within these , the number of precepts increases in proportion to the depth of commitment on the part of the practitioner. Chinese adherents to the teachings of Confucius, for example, follow rules whereby ceremonies are performed at the sound of appropriate music as a means to establish the mind of courtesy, delight and happiness. There should not be anything contrived and during such an occasion everything should happen naturally. Our practice of precepts, once we have accepted them, should by uninterrupted in order to eradicate our defelements.
The third is the perfected virtue of patience (ksantiparamita). Insults are very difficult to bear. When a bodhisattva hears someone speaking to him/her harshly and offensively, he/she wisely remains quite at ease and contented. Some insults can be considered good teaching and there is no reason for anger. One may ask oneself, "who speaks, who hears, how, to whom, by whom? How can one's left hand fight with one's right hand? To separate oneself from the thieves-as-difilements, one should think "as many ills as there are in the world, I will endure them all." Then the practitioner stands in the perfection of patience.
The fourth is the perfection of vigor or zeal (viryaparamita). The practitioner on the enlightening path needs to foster a pure and courageous mind when practicing the excellent perfection of vigor. Keeping in mind his/her duty towards other beings, day and night in his thought free from hesitation he/she abides in his/her resolute intention similar to that of a mother attending to her only child.
The fifth is concentration or meditation (Ch'an in Chinese, dhyanaparamita in Sanskrit). In its early stages, this practice calms the body and focuses the mind, freeing it from stay thoughts. The concentration applied to daily activity may lead to samadhi of action. Practice-of-Principle samadhi is described in the Awakening of Faith as follows: "(The adept) should be in a quiet place, sit erect and even-tempered and should not pay attention to breathing, nor to form or color, space, earth, water, fire, wind, the seen, the remembered, the heard, the conceived. Arising thoughts should be instantly released and the thought of releasing them should, likewise, be allowed to vanish. Whatever is out there transcends thought and should not be produced and extinguished moment to moment. The meditator should not meditate on the external' objects of the senses and subsequently negate them, eventually negating the meditating mind. Should the mind wander, it should be gently led back to the correct thought. It should be understood that correct thought' is the thought that is of the moment. All is mind only and whatever externals' are there cannot be truly known to us. The mind is likewise void of given moment. When the meditator engages in activities such as walking, standing or moving about, he/she should be mindful at all times, continuously observing and examining. This discipline of the mind takes a long time to master, but once it is accomplished the mind is completely subdued and dwell trained. Such a quality will, in turn, empower the meditator to bring to fruition cessation' and to sustain the state known as the concentration or samadhi of suchness'; all his/her defilements are eradicated and faith is increased. Thereafter the state of non-retrogression follows." To summarize, there is mundane absorption, supramundane absorption, and an absorption that surpasses the supramundane. There is a fourth absorption as well; it will be discussed at another opportunity.
The sixth is the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita). It is said that the one who trains in perfection of wisdom trains in buddhahood. To abide in perfect wisdom one must abide in Emptiness, meaning that the mind is like a perfect mirror that reflects everything but has no wish to hold on to any of the reflections. Perfection of wisdom arms the adept with acute discernment of true from false as applied to teachings, to views and to paths. In the Mahayana tradition it is expected that the practitioner will attend to all six paramitas because they are designed to be mutually supportive and enhance one another. Without concentration, wisdom is difficult to attain, and without wisdom meditation is mere physical exercise. Without the virtue of giving, vigor or zeal will be thwarted and the meditator will not be able to accept and save sentient beings. And without the three studies, namely discipline, concentration and wisdom, the practice of giving will not result in planting good causes for heavens and for human beings. Upholding discipline without patience makes work with one's anger futile. Vigor by itself can only lead to a dead end.
In according with the Mahayana Dharma, all of the six virtues must be perfected and that is a task that requires more than just one or two lifetimes. To attain such perfection one will have to endure the cycle of birth and death for many kalpas to come. It is distressing to realize that we not accomplished any in our previous existences, and what we have learned, we have forgotten at the time of our rebirth. We have to make the following four great vows:Sentient beings are numberless. I vow to save them.These vows should be repeated daily, made to act as a rudder, maintaining the meditator steadily on the course to enlightenment. When the six paramitas are practiced diligently, supreme enlightenment can be attained independently of what school or vehicle the adept practices.
Defilements are countless. I vow to eradicate them all.
The dharma-doors are limitless. I vow to master them.
The supreme enlightenment I vow to attain.
It is hoped that the above presentation of Mahayana Dharma has succeeded in conveying its great potential for the enhancement of spirituality.
To hear the Dharma and to see it practiced is a rare privilege, the result of great causes and conditions converging. The dharmakaya, or the Buddha's essential nature or the Void aspect, formless and inconceivable, completely pervades the Dharmadhatu. The visible human body of the Buddha in the world of mind-produced forms is called Nirmanakaya or the transformation body. Because sentient beings are numberless, the stature of the transcendental Buddha is commensurate or boundless. He manifests himself in form and size that correspond to the potential of those he is responding to. Initially, Buddhadharma was not distinct from all other existence and there was nothing to be said; the term "Buddhadharma" did not exist, the teaching had no form. If there was no Buddha and no great enlightenment first, there could be no Dharma to be taught and no path to be revealed afterwards. The Buddha's appearance in the world and his teaching were expedient means to save all sentient beings, and since sentient beings vary greatly, the Buddha adjusted his method accordingly. This point is particularly important for the student to Buddhist history in order to avoid biased views. It is difficult to assure perfect delivery of the teaching in every single instance and it is twice as difficult to adjust it to the capacity of the audience in each case so the two mesh without residue. Teaching that matches perfectly the potential of those who listen is perfect Dharma. Because of the varied potentials, there are dissimilar versions of the teaching and therefore Mahayana and Theravada are unlike each other.
A rule of conduct for bodhisattvas advises them to "be particularly cautious on two points: First, one should not expound small teaching to a great potential lest he/she give rise to doubt. We need to keep in mind there is only one source of all teachings and remind ourselves that is why all of the dharmas are perfect; the differences come from diverse formulations mesh, providing us with a configuration of check-points, helpful to our orientation when we first encounter Dharama. The result is similar to a map, where longitudes and latitudes intersect at specific points. They are interdependent and the one cannot attain full significance are interdependent and the one cannot attain full significance without the others. There are really no grounds for without the others. There are really no grounds for disagreement; a square table, when observed from diverse vantage-points, offers dissimilar views; yet though dissimilar, they all related to the same table. The same may be said in respect to Mahayana and Theravada. Although they are dissimilar, both truthfully related the same teacher's teaching.
Buddhadahrma makes true reality of all existence in the universe comprehensible. The flux of life has no beginning and no end, as witnessed by all buddhas past, present and future in the ten directions. In our era, the teacher we learn from is Shakyamuni Buddha on whose ocean of enlightenment we have been drawing for over two thousand years. Today, his Dharma is known and practiced in the greater part of the world with some variations due to time, place and to personalities.
The history of early Buddhism sheds light on what motivated Buddhist practicioners then; since most adherents were concerned with their own salvation, the expedient teaching was what later became the Theravada. To this day, that tradition has remained dominant in India and in the countries of south-east Asia. The Buddha's teaching, however, contained not only the beginnings of Theravada, but of Mahayana as well. Some of those were subsequently reiterated by Manjusri, Maitreya and others who attained the Bodhi mind. The Tathagata was self-enlightened and he guided countless others to enlightenment by teaching them his method; the Venerable Mahakasyapa and Venerable Mahamaudgalyana were among them. When the World Honored One raised his hand holding a flower and Mahakasyapa smiled, the astonishing Dharma-transmission independent of words was initiated at that moment.
During the five hundred years immediately following the Buddha's final nirvana, two schools of Buddhadharma predominated, namely the Mahasanghika and Mahasthavira. Both adhered to the small' Vehicle (Theravada). The aspect of the Buddha's teaching subsequently formulated as the Great Vehicle or Mahayana remained latent and emerged gradually. Close to nine hundred years after the Buddha's Parinirvana, Bodhisattvas Nagarjuna, Asangha and Vasubandhu, assisted by their teachers Manjusri and Maitreya gave that part of the Buddha's teaching its present form. In India, the surviving remnants of Buddhadharma have Small' Vehicle for their bases; Mahayana sustras written in Sanskrit, discovered in northern India and Nepal, were damaged. Furthermore, no centers for the dissemination of Dharma were in existence there. The sutras made available to us by the school of Theravada were written in Pali and preserved for posterity in Ceylon (present Sri Lanka) during the reign of King Asoka in India. These sutras and commentaries serve as textual foundation for the Dharma centers in Burma and Thailand as well. Many Buddhists from North America and Europe travel to south-east Asia study Theravada Buddhism there.
The third major system of Buddhist thought has headquarters in Tibet. The lamaic "Red Sect" was established by means of "Born in Lotus Flower" Bodhisattva Mahasattva and somewhat later Tson-kha-pa founded the "Yellow Sect", developed and centralized chiefly in Mongolia. Because of the marked similarity between the Tibetan and the Sanskrit languages, many fundamental Mahayana sutras were preserved in Tibet; the esoteric school was transmitted directly from India; the sutra and sastra on nature and form, and the Mahayana Vinaya (rules of conduct) survived the ages in perfect condition there. Although the esoteric Dharma was taught in Tibetan, it was beneficial to numerous devotees through translations. Japan and Korea, on the other hand, acquired their Buddhist system from China where, by then, it has been established for seven hundred years. It was a very powerful source that carried Buddhadharma far and wide, and via Japan and Korea the propagation of the teachings spread even further. Chinese Buddhism developed along characteristically Chinese lines and its roots are in the Chinese culture, but it has taken more then seven hundred years of assimilation. Both the Small' and the Great Vehicles reached China due to scores of Buddhist monks who came from India by land from the West and via the maritime route from the South. The texts the monks brought with them were then translated from the original Pali or Sanskrit. Several heroic Chinese, namely Fa Hsien, Hsuen Tsang and I Chin journeyed to India in search of authentic textual Dharma and the materials they brought when they returned to China were meticulously translated and avidly studied. At the decline of the T'ang and the Sui Dynasties, both Mahayana and Theravada textual foundations were assimilated in China.
Since four of the Chinese Buddhist sects, namely the Dharma Nature, the Dharmalaksana of the great Vehicle, the Satyasiddhi, and Kosa of the Small Vehicle, were transmitted directly from India to China, both the Mahayana and the Thervada Vinayas or rules of conduct came along with them. Dharma in its completeness can be found in the teachings of the Tien T'ai sect and of the Hwa Yen sect. The Ch'an sect was initiated by Bodhidharma, a scholarly monk from India, who continued the line of teaching practiced by the Buddha himself, namely, attaining the ocean of enlightenment by pointing directly at the mind. That approach leads to the region of enlightenment without detour: It is the core of Buddhism generally and the marrow of Buddhism in China. The Pure Land sect continues to benefit numberless practitioners and in that respect it is second to none. For this reason it will be dealt with in greater detail in the chapters that follow. Although Buddhism in China may have appeared to flounder at times, it has never lost its vitality and structure. If more people would open their minds to the Buddha's teaching, the three major traditions might form a partnership and together propagate the enlightening practice.
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