Monthly Archives: March 2016

A Correct View Is the Compass for Proper Practice (part 4)

Wrong is not wrong; right is not right;

The slightest deviation veers a thousand miles off course.

If right, the dragon maiden becomes Buddha at once;

If wrong, the monk Suraksatra falls alive into hell.

This stanza mentions two stories from Buddhist scripture. The first illustrates that if your view is correct, then you are instantly enlightened. In the Lotus Sutra there is a story of an eight year old naga maiden who became a Buddha. A naga is a dragon, not a human being. According to the Hinayana tradition, it is impossible for anyone to become a Buddha who is not male, an adult, and human. You must cultivate practice for three asamkhya kalpas (one asamkhya kalpa is billions of years). When your karma ripens, you will be born as a human male, and as an adult you may attain enlightenment through practice. It seems that the naga maiden had three strikes against her.

Once, she was attending Sakyamuni Buddha, and she offered him her pearl necklace. The maiden turned to Sariputra, an arhat and disciple of the Buddha, and asked, “What do you think, Sariputra, is this an easy thing to do?”

Sariputra answered, “Yes, it is easy.”

Then the dragon maiden said, “Becoming a Buddha is as easy as this.” In that instant, she became a Buddha in a distant realm of the universe.

If you cut off the past and future, and discover that the present does not exist either, at that moment there is no mind. This itself is becoming a Buddha. But if, in the next instant, mind, past, future and present return, then you are again an ordinary sentient being.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 186-187)

A Correct View Is the Compass for Proper Practice (part 3)

Wrong is not wrong; right is not right;

The slightest deviation veers a thousand miles off course.

If right, the dragon maiden becomes Buddha at once;

If wrong, the monk Suraksatra falls alive into hell.

If you leave the path of Ch’an, even by a hair’s breadth, you are completely wrong, and can plummet to hell like the unfortunate monk, Suraksatra. If you are right, then you are completely right, like the dragon maiden who instantaneously attained complete Buddhahood.

A person may turn things upside down and say something is right when it is actually wrong, or say something is wrong when it is actually right. How can you judge what is right and wrong? Can you say there is no Buddha, no Dharma, no Sangha, no enlightenment?

It depends on who you are and who you say it to. I would not say such things to most people. It would be absolutely wrong to do so. But I would say it to a person who had been practicing hard and had gotten some results from his practice. Before saying anything, however, I would make sure his view, or understanding, is correct. If a student is practicing hard, but with the idea that he is becoming enlightened, and his teacher says, “Yes! Yes, you’re correct! You should try to become enlightened, reach Nirvana and become a Buddha, ” the student’s practice will be ruined. It would be an evil thing to do.

A phrase may help or hurt, depending on the person and the condition he is in. Let me ask you a question: Do you believe there is a Buddha, or do you prostrate just for the exercise? If you believe that there really is a Buddha, and you practice so that you can become a Buddha, and you prostrate in order to appease the Buddha because you rely completely on him, then you are in for trouble.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 185-186)

A Correct View Is the Compass for Proper Practice (part 2)

Buddhism guards against two fundamental misconceptions. One is nihilism: the idea that everything is non-existent and meaningless. The other is a belief in permanence, or eternalism: the idea that inside yourself is an eternal soul; that the soul is you ─ your ego ─ and it endures forever, either in heaven, or from one birth to another, changing bodies as one changes clothes. People who believe this say that the soul remains untouched and unchanging through countless births, and they believe that by performing good deeds, it will attain higher and higher levels through each life, until eventually the unchanging soul becomes a deity.

The nihilistic view is wrong in presuming that there is no cause and effect, no karma, no relationship between present, past and future. When people are born, they appear out of nowhere, and when they die, nothing remains. Some people with this belief are very ambitious in life, and they try to accomplish something grand, so that at least their names and deeds will live on. It can be good, but it can also be terrible, as in the case of Hitler.

The eternalistic point of view is more benevolent because people with this belief emphasize doing good deeds and accumulating positive merit.

If an enlightened person meets someone leaning in either of these directions, he will try to help the person from falling headlong into either trap. On the other hand, Buddhism does not advocate evangelism. We do not knock on people’s doors. Preachers of other faiths often burst into Buddhist temples in Taiwan and evangelize. It sometimes happens to me, even while I am in the middle of a Dharma gathering. Preachers stand at the exits handing out pamphlets. Once, one of my students asked an evangelist, “Why don’t you come inside and listen to a lecture?”

The preacher said, “It says in the Bible, ‘Thou shalt not worship false gods or idols.’ Buddhism is paganism, and the Bible prohibits my listening to it.”

Not all preachers are like this. Most are open-minded, but a few, as in this case, tend to be fanatical. Buddhists with the proper attitude are not like this. We do not force our ideas on anyone.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 183-185)