Monthly Archives: August 2016

Day 4 Adhering to the Precepts (page 218-219)

The power of the liberated is inconceivable,

With wonderful functions more numerous than the Ganges sands.

They would not refuse to make the four offerings

To one who can accept ten thousand ounces of gold.

To have body broken and bones reduced to dust is not enough to repay

The words that enlighten, transcending countless eons.

You have to be willing to offer what you consider most precious. What is most precious depends on the person. In Sakyamuni’s time, there was a poor woman who had only one chipped bowl. She begged for oil and burned it as an offering to the Buddha. Rich men offered thousands of lanterns, but Sakyamuni said that the woman’s offering was the most precious in the world, because she offered the only thing she had.

Furthermore, making offerings is not as important for the recipient as it is for the donor. Buddha does not care if you give him anything. Neither do the Three Jewels, patriarchs and masters. Recently, someone told me, “Shih-fu, I’d really like to offer you something in order to show my gratitude for your teaching, but it seems like you don’t need anything, so I’ll just thank you instead.”

I said, “Making offerings is for your benefit, not mine. It’s your affair. It has nothing to do with me.”

You should be grateful to the Three Jewels for the Dharma teachings that you receive, and you should express your gratitude in an offering. What kind of offering? Any offering is a sincere offering if it is made unconditionally. I do not want you to reach into your pockets and give me every cent you have. The first offering I require from you is that you believe, accept, follow, and put immediately into practice what you have learned. Have confidence and faith in yourselves. Use that confidence and faith to increase your concentration and settle your minds. Every person, every event, every moment in this center during retreat can help your practice. Work hard. That is your offering.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 218-219)

Day 4 Adhering to the Precepts (page 216-218)

The power of the liberated is inconceivable,

With wonderful functions more numerous than the Ganges sands.

They would not refuse to make the four offerings

To one who can accept ten thousand ounces of gold.

To have body broken and bones reduced to dust is not enough to repay

The words that enlighten, transcending countless eons.

A truly dedicated practitioner would gladly give his life in exchange for a few lines of Buddhadharma. The sutras say that Practitioners who have benefited or would like to benefit from the Dharma should be willing to give everything they have in offering and respect to the Three Jewels. Lip service is not enough. You have to make sincere offerings. If you do not make offerings or pay respect to the Three Jewels, then whatever you hear or gain from the Dharma will be negligible. If you do not make sincere offerings, then you probably have come across the Dharma too easily. One cherishes most what requires the greatest effort to gain. Teachings that you cherish are the only teachings that will help you.

The wristwatch I wear is worth nothing in a material sense, yet I exchanged a gold one for it. This old watch is invaluable to me because it belonged to my master. When my Shih-fu died, his attending monk inherited it, but I traded him a much better watch for it. It does not work that well. I have to get it repaired all the time. Students have offered me better watches, but I am not interested because this one reminds me of my Shih-fu, and I respect him deeply.

I still have the robe I was given when I left home. These material things are worth nothing, but treasuring them symbolizes my respect for my master, the person who taught me Buddhadharma. Imagine how much more precious the Dharma itself must be! The Dharma is precious because it brings great benefit, but it brings benefit only when you realize how precious it is.

When you drink water, remember where it comes from. If the water runs out, you can always go back to its source and get more. When you benefit from Dharma teachings, you should be grateful to the Three Jewels ─ Buddha, Dharma, Sangha ─ because that is where they come from. Without gratitude, the benefit you gain today will be gone tomorrow.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 216-218)

Day 4 Adhering to the Precepts (page 214-216)

The power of the liberated is inconceivable,

With wonderful functions more numerous than the Ganges sands.

They would not refuse to make the four offerings

To one who can accept ten thousand ounces of gold.

To have body broken and bones reduced to dust is not enough to repay

The words that enlighten, transcending countless eons.

 

The first four lines of this stanza refer to a liberated practitioner. Such a person has transcended all attachments and interacts with others through his wisdom. He can accept ten thousand ounces of gold, as well as the usual four offerings made to the Sangha ─ food, clothing, medication and bedding ─ because he clings to nothing.

The last two lines refer to the priceless value of Buddhadharma. The Dharma of sudden enlightenment is so rare and difficult to encounter that we should be willing to make any offering in gratitude to the Three Jewels. Even one’s own life, Yung-chia says, is not worth a sentence of priceless Dharma. There is a story that makes this point clear. In one of Sakyamuni’s past lives, when he was still a Bodhisattva, he did not know the Buddhadharma. Indra, King of the Trayastrmsa heavens, turned himself into a demon and appeared in a tree next to Sakyamuni. He spoke two lines of verse:

All volitions are transient.

This is the Dharma of arising and perishing.

Sakyamuni was deeply impressed. He looked around and asked, “Who said that?” The demon ─ Indra made his presence known. Sakyamuni then asked, “What is this that you said? Where did it come from?”

Indra replied, “It is Buddhadharma.”

Sakyamuni asked, “Can you tell me more about Buddhadharma?”

Indra said, “There are two more lines, but I’m too hungry to speak now. I must have human flesh before I will say anything more.”

Sakyamuni said, “I’m willing to offer you my body as food, but first tell me the two lines.”

Indra refused. “No. First I must eat you to build up strength. Then I will tell you the two lines.”

Sakyamuni replied, “But then I’ll be dead. I won’t hear what you have to say.”

Indra said, “Let’s compromise. You stand on top of this tree. I’ll stand below looking up, and you jump into my open mouth. I’ll tell you the two lines as you are falling through the air.”

Sakyamuni decided it was worth it. “My body might die, but hearing Buddhadharma is more important. I’ll do it.” He climbed to the top of the tree and jumped. Indra kept his promise and recited the two lines. Sakyamuni expected to land in the demon’s jaws, but instead he found himself on the soft cushion of Indra’s palm. Thereupon Indra revealed his true identity and told Sakyamuni he had come to test him.

What were those two lines? How badly do you want to know? Is your pursuit of Buddhadharma sincere? If you jump off the roof, I’ll tell you before you hit the ground. Perhaps you do not yet have the courage of a Bodhisattvas. However, since you have come to a retreat to practice, you must be relatively sincere, so I will recite the last two lines:

When the Dharma of arising and perishing itself perishes,
Nirvana is the greatest joy.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 214-216)

Day 4 Adhering to the Precepts (page 213-214)

Two monks broke the precepts against licentiousness and killing.

With his shallow knowledge, Upali exaggerated the sin.

The great Vimalakirti instantly removed their doubts,

Like a hot sun that melts ice and snow.

In this stanza, Yung-chia alludes to a story from a Buddhist sutra. During Sakyamuni’s lifetime, two monks were practicing in the mountains. One went to beg for food, and the other fell asleep. A woman who was collecting firewood passed by, saw the monk, and had sex with him while he slept. He woke up just as she was leaving, and grieved that he had broken a major precept.

When the other monk returned and found out what had happened, he became furious, and he chased after the woman in order to speak with her. When the woman saw the monk, she panicked and ran, but she slipped and fell from a cliff to her death. The monk was grief-stricken: “First my friend broke the precept against sexual misconduct, and now I’ve broken the precept against killing.”

They went to Upali to seek his advice. Upali, a close disciple of Sakyamuni Buddha, was renowned for his strict adherence to the precepts. Upali judged that they had indeed broken the precepts, and told them to leave the monastery.

The monks were not satisfied with Upali’s verdict, so they went to Mahasattva Bodhisattva Vimalakirti (a Mahasattva Bodhisattva is a practitioner who is on the verge of becoming a Buddha). Vimalakirti said, “You have not broken any precepts because your actions were not intentional. Upali has a Hinayana mind. He does not yet fully understand Mahayana teachings. You two have Mahayana karmic roots that go back many lifetimes. You have broken no precepts.” His words cleared their doubts like a blazing sun melts ice and snow. In comparison, Upali’s wisdom was like the light of a firefly.

No sin is created if the mind does not move. Furthermore, when the mind does not move, previous sins disappear as well. If the mind moves again, then previous sins return. If the mind stops moving temporarily, that is samadhi. Samadhi, however, is not the “no mind” state of Ch’an. When a person genuinely attains the no mind state, his or her mind stops moving without the possibility of new movement. In this state, no sins are created, and previous sins disappear. This is the sudden teaching of the Mahayana tradition.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 213-214)

Day 4 Adhering to the Precepts (page 212-213)

Two monks broke the precepts against licentiousness and killing.

With his shallow knowledge, Upali exaggerated the sin.

The great Vimalakirti instantly removed their doubts,

Like a hot sun that melts ice and snow.

 For ordinary sentient beings, abiding by the precepts is both the foundation of Buddhadharma and a prerequisite for progress on the Buddhist path. It is difficult to enter samadhi if one cannot hold to them. This stanza explains the position of the sudden enlightenment teachings on the precepts.
The gradual teaching places great emphasis on obeying the precepts. The Hinayana tradition distinguishes between left-home practitioners and lay practitioners. Standards for the laity are not as stringent as those for monks and nuns. Since lay people raise families and accumulate wealth, they cannot free themselves from desires. A lay practitioner can therefore only achieve the third dhyana level in the Hinayana tradition. Only monks and nuns, through hard work and rigorous discipline, can achieve the fourth dhyana level ─ arhatship.
The sudden teachings of the Mahayana tradition emphasize the mind. With regard to the precepts, the question is, does the mind move when a person does something? You may never physically kill someone, but if you think about killing, that thought is an infraction of the first precept. You may never have sex with a particular person, but if in your mind you lust after him or her, then you have already broken that precept in your thoughts. On the other hand, if you physically kill someone, but there is no murder in your mind or heart, then you have not violated the precept. And, if it is possible to have sex with another person and yet be free of sexual thoughts, then you have not broken that precept.

 — The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 212-213)

Day 3 The Obstacle of Fear (page 209-211)

Even when one preaches fearlessly as the lion roars,

The minds of the perverse and obstinate only harden.

They continue to break the main precepts and obstruct Bodhi

And cannot see the secret the Tathagata reveals. 

Fearless preaching refers to Ch’an teachings. Ch’an teachings are likened to a lion’s roar because lions were thought to be the most powerful of all animals, and Ch’an is the highest of all Dharma. But even ultimate teachings are useless to ordinary sentient beings who are afraid of them. Actually, the highest teachings, those which are taught to Bodhisattvas, are wordless and formless. Such teachings are far beyond the understanding of ordinary people.

An ox that has been straining against its yoke for years will develop a thick callous around its neck. Even if you prick the callous with a needle, the ox will not feel it because its skin has grown insensitive. Many people are the same as this ox. They may think that Ch’an is irrelevant, or they may absorb the teachings so slowly that by the time they finally learn something, the sudden teaching has become the gradual teaching.

In Taiwan, many old people attend my lectures. Sometimes I ask them how they liked the talk. They usually admit that the lecture confused them. I ask what part they enjoyed most, and they tell me that the stories were the best part. I tell these stories to relax the audience, but also to get ideas across. If you follow the stories without catching the meaning, then you are missing the point of the lecture. You may as well be watching television.

I have told you that self-nature is empty, and that you can attain Buddhahood through sudden enlightenment. Unfortunately, many who hear such words are obsessed with the idea that they have sinned, and that they have tremendous karmic obstructions. They are convinced that practice will be too difficult, so they cannot accept the teachings. All you have to do is accept the teachings, have faith in yourself and the method, and practice. If you can do that, your obstructions will lessen and disappear.

If you want to accept the teachings of Ch’an, then you must let go of your thoughts immediately. If you cannot do it immediately, then work on your method; that is, hold on to your method, and do not think about yourself, or about whether you are gaining or losing something. Don’t expect me to have the energy to yell at you and push you all the time. You have to make the effort to drop your self-centeredness. Only then will you penetrate the method.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 209-211)