The Spirit of Dharma Drum Mountain
By Master Sheng Yen
- 1-1:A Buddhist Master’s Mindset and Compassionate Will
- 1-2:The Style of Dharma Drum Mountain
- 1-3:The Founding Spirit of Dharma Drum Sangha University
- 1-4:Manifesting as Mahashravakas, Practicing as Bodhisattvas
- 1-5:Establishing the Spirit of a Sangha University
- 1-6:A Monk, like a Monk, Wandering Around as if a Monk
- 1-7:Blending Buddhadharma into our Lives and our Livelihood
- 1-8:Giving Oneself for the Attainment of Others
- 1-9:Spirit is Revealed through Vigorous Practice
- 1-10:Wisdom, Compassion, and Methods
- 1-11:Cherish Blessings, Virtues, and Causes and Conditions of Monastics
PART II: THE MINDSET AND CONDUCT OF MONASTICS
- 2-1:To Become a Monk, First be a Grandmother for Three Years
- 2-2:Giving and Caring
- 2-3:Daoxin: The Mind to Follow the Buddha Path
- 2-4:What is the So-Called Fanxing?
- 2-5:Dignified Mannerism
- 2-6:Joining, Stepping Forward, and Going with the Flow of the Group
- 2-7:At-Home Can’t be Better than Leaving Home
- 2-8:Don’t Try to Make a Reason, Just Have Compassion
- 2-9:Have a High Degree of Self-Confidence and a Big Heart
- 2-10:Healthy Body and Mind for Monastics
PART III: THE DEEDS OF THE ELDERS
- 3-1:The Buddha’s Compassion and Wisdom
- 3-2:Live Peacefully Together, Working Collectively
- 3-3:Practicing the Ascetic Way and Enduring Humiliation
- 3-4:A Few Deeds of Elder Dongchu
- 3-5:Deeds Transform the World, Spirit and Paragons Live on Forever
By The Editorial Board of Dharma Drum Cultural Publishing
Education is the primary avenue for putting into practice the beliefs of Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM). The establishment of Buddhist educational institutions at DDM has created a solid foundation for Buddhist studies and for nurturing qualified personnel to spread Buddhism. The promotion of education has always been the most critical mission of Dharma Drum Mountain. Since its opening the Dharma Drum Mountain World Center for Buddhist Education has taken a giant step towards accomplishing this mission. The openings of Dharma Drum Sangha University in 2001 and the affiliated Buddhist Seminary in 2003 have launched a new era in Sangha development education in Taiwan.
Knowing how difficult it is to develop qualified Buddhist talents, Master Sheng Yen’s persistent goal has been to develop the Sangha through education. His purpose has been to inject new life into modern Buddhism for the continuance of Buddhadharma. Because of his emphasis on Sangha education, almost every week during the academic term, Master Sheng Yen personally addresses these students who are preparing to become Sangha members. He tirelessly gives opening addresses, teaches, and renders encouragement, to instill in them the spirit, attitude, and code of conduct for becoming teachers of Buddhism. In this way, Master Sheng Yen hopes to contribute to the spreading and continuance of Buddhadharma.
This book derives from opening addresses to the students at Sangha University and from lectures at the Buddhist Seminary during the 2001-2004 academic years. The subjects include the mannerism and behavior for monastic members, attitudes and compassionate will of a Buddhist master, ways to foster compassion and wisdom, establishing a fundamental code of conduct, cultivating the spirit of bodhi mind, etc. Besides focusing on attitudes and correct views, part of the education of monastic members is to be attentive to all aspects of body, speech, and mind. During these talks Master Sheng Yen tirelessly urges the students with sincere messages and earnest wishes and also uses many little personal stories to enhance listeners’ comprehension and understanding. At the same time, the listeners can grasp Master Sheng Yen’s viewpoints towards favorable and unfavorable causes and conditions in life, and on the efforts and process necessary when faced with challenges.
In this book, Master Sheng Yen regards the Great Compassionate Vow as a requisite for all Buddhist masters and teachers “not for your own peace and happiness but for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.” This is the spirit that monastics must strive for. Furthermore this is not just for monastic members to solemnly remember, it is also what modern materialistic society lacks. Therefore, the contents of this book, in addition to being stern reminders to the Sangha members, serve as a revelation to the lay community: as we go through our mundane life in this extremely confusing world we can become our own guiding light.
PARTI:The Spirit of Dharma Drum Mountain’s Educational System
I-1: A Buddhist Master’s Mindset and Compassionate Will
Opening Ceremony, Sangha University, September 12, 2001
On behalf of the venerables and lay practitioners of Dharma Drum Mountain, I would like to welcome the new students of Sangha University who have come here to undergo training for monastic life. Some of you may already have a certain degree of understanding about our school. If some of you are not too familiar with us, do not be concerned; you will have plenty of time to learn gradually. Therefore, I do not want to further elaborate on that aspect here today.
Three-Part Educational Programs at Dharma Drum Mountain
The Dharma Drum Mountain organization can be said to be a very outstanding group, including its Sangha members and lay practitioners. Education is the great mission of Dharma Drum Mountain. In addition to the curricula at the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, Dharma Drum Sangha University, and the Chinese-Tibetan Buddhism Cultural Exchange Program, our education offerings also extend to society in general.
The educational programs instituted here are integral in nature. They comprise three parts: the first is Education through Academics, which consists of the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, Dharma Drum Sangha University, and the yet to be established Dharma Drum University. The affiliated DDM Sangha group is charged with the other two parts: Education through Public Outreach and Education through Caring Services.
Dharma Drum Mountain’s members consist of four kinds of people: monks and nuns, and male and female lay practitioners. All these four types are carrying on the public outreach and caring work. At DDM we call them the “drummers” because they are making the Buddhadharma be heard.
Spreading Buddhadharma means not only talking about Buddhist ideas, sutras, and sastras, but also revealing the spirit of Buddhadharma in our daily lives, and expanding and illuminating Buddhadharma in our society. This is the real meaning of spreading Dharma.
From the scholastic perspective, Buddhadharma can be seen from different aspects and divided into different levels. The different fields have their own research emphases with their own goals and values. However, academic studies and practice would be best carried out in parallel. The part of DDM for the spreading of Buddhaharma belongs to the practice side. They are what I earlier called Education through Public Outreach and Education through Caring Services. Members in the monastic and lay communities who strive to practice Buddhaharma are within the realm of education through public outreach and caring services. It is using Buddhadharma to elevate qualities in ourselves and in our society, and to enhance the whole realm of human spiritual growth. This is the ultimate goal of promoting Education through Public Outreach and Education through Caring Services.
On the other hand, the purpose of establishing Education through Academics is to strengthen the foundations for the implementation of the other two programs. At present, the Education through Academics program at DDM is categorized into two systems: one is to cultivate talents in humanistic and social works, as well as in scholastic research; and the other is to cultivate talents as Buddhism teachers. The former system is implemented through the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies and the not yet established Dharma Drum University. As to the latter, it is the function of the Sangha University.
Buddhist Master’s Mindset and Compassionate Will
In the past we seldom thought about what it is to be a Buddhist master. Usually, we just simply thought that when people leave home and shave their heads, they have become a Buddhist monk or nun. However, that only means they are monastic members and not yet considered real Buddhist masters. To be a Buddhist master one must know the concept of practice as well as the methods of practice. Also, ones own practice must be in accordance with Buddhist principles, and one must be able to lead and mobilize others to accept the wisdom of Buddhadharma, through which one can help oneself as well as others.
In fact, the concept of a religious master has existed in Western religions for many years. That is why Western religions have been able to spread all over the world. For example, among aborigine tribes in the mountainous regions of Taiwan, I have seen many Catholic nuns and priests as well as other Christian missionaries and ministers, who have gone deep into the aborigine regions to learn the native languages, live native lifestyles, and help the natives to live more comfortably and safely. Because of them most of the aborigines have become Christians. The dedication of these missionaries is worthy of our admiration. They are not reluctant to leave behind the free and comfortable life of Western society. Across the oceans, living a hard life in Taiwan’s remote land and poor villages, they think nothing of enduring hardship. It is as if one were exiled to a barren region. Most of us probably would not want to go there.
On the other hand some Buddhists want to start practice seriously soon after leaving home, to understand more about sutras and sastras, to learn to meditate, attain liberation, and to become a Buddha. These people end up becoming dull and ignorant, and cannot acquire the full understanding of the sutras and sastras. Furthermore, because they are self-centered they cannot attain liberation. They cannot achieve their own attainment, nor can they help others reach attainment. They just drift, drift, and drift along for life. Such people are parasites of Buddhism, scum of the community, and not Buddhist masters.
A true Buddhist master must have the spirit of offering oneself and all one has in order to practice, uphold, and propagate Buddhadharma. A Buddhist master should have this kind of mindset and the will to be compassionate. If one becomes a monastic only to have a peaceful life or escape from reality, this attitude will certainly produce a selfish, vexed “ghost” and it would be impossible to attain liberation. In addition, without the proper mindset to begin with, vexation would get more serious and more frequent with time.
A correct starting mindset is what I have just said: “Practice, Uphold, and Propagate Buddhadharma.” These attitudes are sequential and interrelated: when our practice begins to gain some footing, we need to protect and uphold the Buddhadharma – to spend our time and energy on all events related to spreading Dharma. As we protect and uphold Buddhadharma, we effectively propagate it, and in turn, we learn more about it. Spreading Buddhadharma can be carried out all the time and under all circumstances. One does not have to wait until one is as old as I am to feel comfortable doing it, and it does not have to be done all by talking. We can do it by our action, our mannerisms, and our viewpoint. In any case, there are many ways to spread Buddhadharma. Do not let a closed mind shrivel away or stifle your potential for growth.
There are nine lamas registered in this Chinese-Tibetan class. You have come from Tibet, Nepal, India, and even as far as Sikkim for religious exchange and learning. Your compassionate mind to spread Buddhadharma is an example and model for all your fellow students at Sangha University. Therefore, your coming is a gift from Tibetan Buddhism. Because Tibetan Buddhism’s protocols, customs, and concepts are somewhat different from Chinese Buddhism, we would like to learn from you, and would like you to take a closer look at what Chinese Buddhism has to offer. Where we are deficient or improper, please let us know. Please do not simply go back and tell Tibetan Buddhists, “Chinese Buddhism is all messed up, no good, and they have no decorum!” For the same reason, if there is something good about us, please pay attention and learn.
Principles of the Practice of Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony, and Respect
A year’s time is very short and very precious. Besides learning language and computer tools, you should also try to understand the basic concept and methods of practice in Chinese Buddhism. You can also introduce us to Tibetan Buddhism’s concepts and methods. As the purpose of this class is to exchange, we should emphasize interaction. Good interactive exchange is beneficial for all of us.
Finally, I would like to invoke the motto of the Sangha University: “Bei, Zhi, Huo, Jing” and urge your endeavor toward this ideal. Bei is to use a compassionate mind towards all sentient beings; Zhi is to use the intelligent mind and wisdom in all affairs; Huo is to use harmony as the fundamental principle in Sangha operations, and Jing is to respect every person’s standpoint, view point, duties and dignity. If these four principles are observed, you can be considered a graduate. When you arrive at this level of observance, you will be very qualified as a Buddhist master and teacher.
I urge you to maintain a persistent and enduring mind. I personally chose all your Sangha University schoolmates’ Dharma names. Every name has the first syllable, “Chang” which means persistence and forever-enduring. There is a saying, “Despite their frequency of occurrence, few bodhisattva vows are fulfilled, few fish eggs are hatched, and few mango flowers bear fruit.” Why are there many causes but few results? It is because there is the lack of chang – persistence and enduring.
To begin with a great mind is easy but to maintain an enduring mind is hard. Sangha University has a four-year curriculum. The Chinese-Tibetan exchange program is only one year. I hope that during the time of your study, you will not beat the drum of retreat, but will uphold chang and not drop out. I sincerely hope there will be no unhatched fish eggs and fruitless flowers among you, that once you generate the bodhisattva mind, you will persist in it.
I-2: The Style of Dharma Drum Mountain
Founder’s Time, Sangha University, September 18, 2002
What is the style at Dharma Drum Mountain? Let’s first say that a practitioner of Chinese Buddhism should meet two basic conditions: the offering mind and the learning mind. Being two sides of the same subject, learning and offering are interrelated. “Offering” is, as we say in the school Handbook at Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, “Give precedence to what is practical, value what is beneficial to others.” “Learning” signifies the first two phrases in the Handbook, “Plant our foothold in Chung-Hwa; take a broad view of the world.”
The term “Chung-Hwa” in the Handbook means Chinese Buddhism. This is why we choose “Chung-Hwa” as the name for our Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies. On the other hand, “take a broad view of the world” illustrates that Dharma Drum Mountain’s future is global in scope. Therefore, as you are here to learn, even if you are not here for graduate studies, you should also plant your foothold in Chung-Hwa and take a broad view of the world.
Though “learning” is centered on Chung-Hwa Buddhism, we should also take a broad view of the world, not cherish the outmoded and preserve the outworn. We cannot always say things like, “Chinese Buddhism is the best,” or “Only Chinese Buddhism is worthy of being spread.” We adopt the tradition of Chinese Buddhism in running the educational system because we are Chinese and Chinese Buddhism is linked to Buddhism.
Use Chinese Buddhism as the Foothold
Looking into the future, our Sangha University aims for university-level education and the intended scope of the Sangha University is not limited to Chinese Buddhism. We have also planned to include the Tibetan and Theravadan (Southern) traditions of Buddhism. It is also likely there are other departments and programs. Therefore, Sangha University endeavors towards a multi-disciplinary institution. Regardless, our foothold is Chinese Buddhism. Using Chinese Buddhism as the foundation, we can proceed to study, receive, and digest other traditions of Buddhism.
The purpose of learning is not only for scholarship but also for offering; it means to “give precedence to the practical, value what is beneficial to others.” I have had several discussions with the director and deputy director of the Institute, hoping that the people educated at the Institute, and the topics they study, will be of practical value. In addition they must be in step with the time and the environment in order to benefit society. Otherwise, it will be like staying in a closed ivory tower and studying only for scholastic purposes. Of course scholarship is not without value, but we strive to study the classics only “to make the past serve the present” and to think from practical aspects.
Additionally, our studies in Tibetan and Theravadan traditions of Buddhism are mainly for the benefit of Chinese Buddhism. It is not that after studying Tibetan or Theravadan Buddhism, we discard Chinese Buddhism completely and everything will change to be Tibetan or Theravadan Buddhism. This is what I would like for everyone to understand. To use an analogy: Thailand’s Dharmakaya Monastery has two bhikshu teachers here in attendance. The monastery is of the Theravadan tradition of Buddhism. They know that Theravadan Buddhism is one of the traditions of Buddhism. They realize that there are deficiencies in Theravadan Buddhism and there are things in Mahayana Chinese Buddhism that may supplement the deficiencies. Therefore, they come here to learn, not to change themselves into Chinese Buddhists.
It is the same for the lamas of the Tibetan Buddhism tradition. They come to Dharma Drum Mountain to study and their purpose is to see if there is anything in Chinese Buddhism that can be helpful to Tibetan Buddhism. In this way, gradually, perhaps after one or two hundred years, though there will still be distinct traditions such as Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Theravadan Buddhism, they will understand each other’s strong points and there will not be mutual criticisms.
This is somewhat similar to our Chinese Buddhism. Although there are Pure Land, Chan, Tiantai sects and the Mind-Only Yagacara School as well as the Avatamsaka (Huayan) and other different schools, they all belong to Chinese Buddhism. Similarly, though there is Theravadan, Chinese and Tibetan traditions in Buddhism, they are all based on the Buddhadharma of the Shakyamuni Buddha. We should be able to communicate with each other and at the same time, exist independently. We should have mutual respect for each other.
The spirit of our studies at DDM is to hope to advance along this direction. Our own style and the style we wish to develop are of Chinese tradition. If we suddenly turn around to be a Tibetan Buddhist, then why would Tibetan Buddhists come here to learn? If we have already changed to Theravada Buddhism, then what is there for Theravadan Buddhists to come here to learn?
In Chinese Buddhism there was a pioneering Buddhist of great virtue, Master Fazun, who studied and practiced Tibetan Buddhism. Even so, he had very strong foundation in Chinese Buddhism. The literatures, sutra and sastras classics, he had translated from Tibetan into Chinese are all very classic and elegant, and he used the styles and expressions easily accepted by Chinese. If he did not have a strong foundation in Chinese Buddhism or scholarship, it would have been difficult to bring out the true flavor of the literatures.
Learn from Each Other, Adopt Each Other’s Strong Points
Therefore, I urge all my fellow students: this is a very nice environment in which we can learn, observe, and emulate, and each can adopt the others’ strong points. Because Dharma Drum Mountain is in the Chinese tradition, naturally we pay special attention to Chinese Buddhism. After our students have completed their sophomore year, they will choose a field of emphasis, whether in Tibetan Buddhism or in other traditions. However, do not forget your past. After all, most of you are Chinese and it is Chinese Buddhism. You should plant your foothold in Chung-Hwa and take a broad view of the world. Do not study all the scriptures and forget your origin.
Next, I would like to share with you that most of us have big dreams in our lives. The dreams probably started soon after we began to understand things. I remember that there was a seven or eight year old child of a professor. He was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to be a police guard, because he saw the school guards, who wore stiff uniforms, and they looked very cocky and yelled out “Salute!” whenever they met people – they appeared to be very smart. When he grew a little older, he was asked again, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He said, “I want to be a professor” because he noticed whenever the school guards saw his father, they always said respectfully, “Professor!” He felt to be a professor seemed to be very distinguished. Therefore, he wanted to be a professor. When he grew even older, almost 20, he was asked again, “What do you want to be?” He answered, “I don’t know.” This goes to show that environment, cause and conditions change constantly. Our future is an unknown. Though it is often invoked, “career planning,” it is mostly a dream. Dreams are not dependable.
Our Goal Is to Give
The day before yesterday, I was on the television program, A Different Voice. On this program there were two honored guests, father and son. They are entrepreneurs, managers of their respective businesses. The son became the president of a large business at the age of 19 and wrote a popular book, Nineteen Year Old President. On the program, he talked about his career and said that he never thought about being a businessman. Since childhood all he wanted was independence, and did not want to have the same type of career as his father. When he was 18 as a freshman in college, there was an opportunity to start a business and he asked his father for money as the starting capital. His father said, “You have wanted to be independent since you were little. I think I should let you go. I am now giving you one lump sum of the money which I have planned for your college and graduate school education. From here on, if you succeed in business, it is your blessing. If you cannot make it, do not look for me either. Regardless, you should still get your education.” The young man went ahead and started his Internet-related business. Very quickly, he made a lot of money. He is now 21. I asked him “What is your plan now?” He said, “None. I’ll take whatever opportunities lie ahead.”
Later on, the program host, Ms. Susan Yeh, asked me, “Shifu, did you ever dream when you were little?” I said, “Basically, I have never had many big dreams about life. I have never planned for my future.” She asked again, “Shifu, you don’t plan. Don’t you feel there is no future to speak about?” I said, “I just keep learning – learning for the sake of offering. When I was 13 years old, I left home and became a monk. After I understood a little Buddhadharma, I wanted to offer Buddhadharma to others, giving what I know. What I did not know, I wanted to learn. That was my only goal. I did not know what I would do in the future and I did not have a goal.”
Although I said I did not often have big dreams about life, there were two exceptions. When I was a student at Shanghai Buddhist Institute, I heard that in Chongqing, Sichuan there was a Chinese-Tibetan Educational Academy established by Ven. Master Taixu. The one in charge at that time was Ven. Master Fazun. I began dreaming about going there when I graduated. However, in the end this dream was never realized. After I graduated from the Shanghai Buddhist Institute I entered graduate school. Originally, I thought when I finished my graduate studies with a presentable thesis I would then go to Chongqing. Unexpectedly, the Communists took over Mainland China and there went with my dream.
I had another dream, to become a monk. Although I have realized this dream, I have moved on, never thinking that there was something I must do. For example, my going to the mountain in solitary retreat for six years was not originally planned, and then my going to study in Japan for six years after the retreat was because there seemed to be no where to go. Therefore, I went along with causes and conditions and ended up in Japan.
Be a True Practicing Buddhist Teacher with Vow of Compassion
Later on, going to the United States was under similar circumstances. After I finished my doctorate in Japan and returned to Taiwan, nobody wanted me there. However, there were competitive offers in the U.S., so I went. After arriving in the U.S., I thought no one in Taiwan would want me any more. Then, someone invited me to be the director at the Institute of Buddhist Studies of China Academy in Chinese Culture University, in Taipei. Initially I did not want to assume the leadership position at the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Culture either, but because of the passing of Ven. Master Dongchu. and the prevailing cause and condition as such, I took the position. Later, because of the predestined changes at the Chinese Culture University, I ended up setting up a graduate school within the Chung-Hwa Institute . After that, again because of limited space at the Cultural Center, that was how the Dharma Drum Mountain came into being. None of these were planned. I never dreamed of being in charge of Dharma Drum Mountain!
Last week, we organized an Exposition of Protection of Spiritual Environment in Taichung. There was a panel discussion comprised of three guests to chat with me. One of them was Mr. Zhang So Yan, Chairman of a six-unit chain hotel enterprise, the Ya Du Li Zhi Hotel. Mr. Yan only had a high school education. He became the General Manager of Federal Express, a U.S. company, in his 30s. He told me that it was very difficult to find a good job with only a high school education. He could only be a xiaodee (little brother) or odd-job man, putting out the garbage, serving tea, sorting and distributing mail for people. Even though he was a xiaodee he always sought ways to make himself more useful. Because he was only a xiaodee, if there was a computer he was not allowed to touch it, for fear of him messing it up. Therefore, he made a promise: “Anything no one wants to do, I’ll do; jobs no one is willing to do, I’ll do; the shifts no one wants, I’ll take.” Federal Express is a multinational firm, so when it is night in Taiwan, it is daytime somewhere else; when it is a weekend or weekday here, other places are still working. Because many companies want to get answers immediately, there are times when people must work at night or remain in the office. When it is a holiday, everyone wants to relax. So, in those days he would say, “No problem, I’ll stay for you. Any mail you want to be sent, I’ll send; things need to be done, I’ll do them.” People would say, “But you don’t know how.” He answered, “Then, you can teach me. After you teach me, I will know how.”
Therefore, there were some workers, even section chiefs and managers who wanted to relax, agreed to teach him. As a result, he learned how to do the work of many managers. He also did other people’s work when they had left for the day, or when they were resting; and he did very well. Consequently, his company’s performance was the best. The parent company in the States found out and wondered, “Why is this Taiwan branch so efficient and producing such high quality work? Whom should we recognize and reward?” The person in charge of the Taiwan branch said, “The one who deserves the reward is probably xiaodee. From there on, he moved quickly to become a manager and his old bosses became his subordinates. Everyone was very envious of him. However, there was no reason to be envious since his success came by his efforts. Certainly, it was a very hard learning process for him. He did not know English, he did not know about computers. Nevertheless, he tried very hard to learn. As he put out the most, learned the most, and as he gained the most, he grew the fastest. He did not initially have any career plan; it developed naturally.
Because of Mr. Yan’s success at Federal Express, when Ya Du Li Zhi Hotel opened, they asked him to be the general manager. He used the experiences he accumulated to manage the Ya Du hotels, demanding quality service as the top priority. Although nothing seems to be exceptionally special about the hotels’ exterior aesthetics and their facilities, as they are not regarded as luxurious, what we see now at the Ya Du hotels is that anyone who has stayed at Ya Du would want to stay there the next time they are in Taiwan. Their service makes you feel warm and comfortable, safe, cordial, and convenient. This is what makes them successful. Mr. Yan tells the staff to have this kind of attitude in doing things. Consequently, he cultivated many good managers at Ya Du. Using this spirit in management, quality will naturally advance to a higher level.
Have a General Direction and an Overall Principle
My fellow students, you do not need to have many dreams; you only need a general direction and an overall principle, that is, to prepare to become a Buddhist teacher. Our environment here is to cultivate a Buddhist teacher who has the dedication to practice and the will to be compassionate. Therefore, the atmosphere here has a heavy religious presence.
Buddhist teachers do not have to be monastics. Last night a young woman came to see me, who was a graduate in English from Qing Hwa University. More than ten years ago she had several illnesses prior to graduation and did not know what to do. She told me, “A sick person like me, my only choice is to become a nun. There is nothing else I can do.” What she seemed to imply is that all monastics are ill and all sick persons can only be monastics. There is nothing else for them to accomplish. I advised her then that if she really wanted to become a nun, the only thing she needed to do was to make a promise that she could definitely become a nun sometime in the future, but she must finish her college and her physical health will eventually get well. Then, she finished college, and after that I did not seen her.
Yesterday, after more than ten years, she came to see me and told me, “Shifu, ten years ago, I wanted to become a nun but I did not get my wish. After ten years, although I have not shaved my head and changed my clothes, I have now been doing the work of spreading Buddhadharma. I consider myself a Buddhist teacher.” This woman has not married and has been doing Buddhist teacher’s work as a lay practitioner. I asked her, “Do you feel now that you are completely pure?” She said, “Not really, I often remind myself to purify my body, speech and mind. Dharmadharma practice can purify the mind. When I speak through Buddhadharma, it purifies my speech, and when I work all for Buddhadharma, I feel physically purified.” Therefore, it is not impossible for lay practitioners to become Buddhist teachers.
Daoxin (Practicing Mind) is Bodhi Mind
Looking into the future, we need both monastics and lay practitioners. Our Institute often urges students, “daoxin first, health second, and scholarship third.” When I was studying in Japan, there was a time I was without enough money for living and tuition. There were no Buddhist disciples who could help me. People in Taiwan, including my shifu, did not believe in me. Out of desperation, I went to see my adviser and told him I was going back to Taiwan. He encouraged me, “There is food and clothing in Dharma, but there is no Dharma in food and clothing.”
Tracing back to its source, this sentence was said by a great Japanese master in the past. Daoxin (“the mind that seeks enlightenment/practicing mind”) means bodhi mind; it includes wisdom and compassion. To deliver liberation to sentient beings is also delivering liberation to oneself. The mind of benefiting self while benefiting others is great bodhi mind. Great bodhi mind is also called “great practicing.” Maha-bodhisattvas are beings with great practicing mind. One can also say that for ourselves, we use wisdom to live, and for ordinary sentient beings, we use compassion to treat them. Let all sentient beings and ourselves be free from suffering and attain happiness. To benefit ourselves and others is to be a bodhisattva with a great practicing mind.
Hence, Buddhist teachers should not pursue food and clothing for themselves, but keep a practicing mind to pursue enlightenment. This is also called bodhi mind. If you do not have bodhi mind and are just looking around for a meal or money for nice living quarters and comfort, it will be as if “there is no practicing mind in food and clothing.” If you have practicing mind or bodhi mind, you will not have to worry about being without a house to live in and food to eat.
Nowadays, you might have seen that I, Sheng Yen, am not a simple fellow. At every temple, they treat me like a VIP and offer me good food to eat and a good seat to sit on. If I want to stay overnight somewhere, they will let me stay in the best-cleaned room, have a pillow and blanket neatly made for me to rest. You might say, “To be a person like Shifu is worth it.” However, you should know, I have never thought to be a person of this kind. Wherever I go and in whatever environment I live, I always think of how I can be helpful and beneficial to the environment and the people there. If I can not be of help and benefit to the people in that environment, I will not want to go there.
Yesterday, there was a rich businessman’s mother who passed away. Someone told me, “Shifu, the man is very rich, you should go!” I said, “Amitabha Buddha! If I have this kind of thought, I definitely will not go! My utmost concern is how can I be of help?” Later, I asked one of the businessman’s friends, a supporting lay practitioner of our group, “Is there any benefit to this family if I go there?” He said, “Shifu, yes there is. This family has many problems. You can introduce Dharma to them.” I did not know what kind of problems this family had. When I got there I faced the dead person, spoke about the Dharma of impermanence, and asked her to let go. I said, “Madam, please let go. You cannot take anything from this world with you. Now, you are going and you must let go of everything. Fortunes, children, grandchildren, and everything, right or wrong, all must be given up. Just recite Amitabha Buddha’s name and ask to be reborn in the Pure Land.” I spoke very simply and left. The practitioner who accompanied me came back with me.
On the way back, he said to me, “Shifu, what you had said was very useful. Since her husband passed away some time ago, the children have been fighting for the inheritance. Now, the old woman has passed away and the fighting will intensify. You talked about impermanence in life. The sons and daughters are all in their sixties and seventies. I believe after they heard what you have said, they will likely let go as well. At least, the fighting will be less.”
True Giving Does Not Expect Returns
If that could really happen, I would feel my being there was worthwhile. If I only thought of whether they would make an offering, it would be vexation. If I went there, spending my time and ending up with vexations, it would have been worthless. I was simply giving without expecting returns. Therefore, whenever we do anything, we should not always keep figuring, “In doing this I help someone, but what good do I get in return?” If you always think this way it means you don’t have practicing mind. What you have is greed. If you do not get something in return, you will be disappointed and end up with anger and resentment. Greedy and angry minds are not bodhi mind, not practicing mind, they are vexed minds.
My fellow students, I do not encourage you to be Buddhist teachers to make you suffer or feel short-changed. If you have the mindset of a Buddhist teacher you will always be happy. Offer whenever you can. If you have something good for another person, let them have it. This is practicing mind. Nevertheless, if at the end of the academic term, some fellow student wants you to be kind and write a term paper for them, would this be practicing mind? Just think: if that student graduates without learning anything, you in effect will have hurt them. You tried to help but ended up hurting them – this is ignorance.
I also want to emphasize that whether you are lay or monastic when you live in Dharma Drum Mountain, should observe the etiquette of the Mountain. I want you to keep the eight precepts: no killing, no stealing, no sexual conduct, no lying, no using of alcohol and drugs, no large and comfortable bed, without any perfume and cosmetics, and no willfully wandering around observing and listening. If sometimes there is an evening party, one can sing, but not the decadent type of music. Dancing can be of Tibetan Diamond Dance type, but not the types without dignity and mannerisms. On our campus, one must observe the living styles of Buddhist teachers, follow the Buddhist teachers’ moral code, and keep the relationship between man and woman clear and pure. This is our wish; otherwise, practicing mind will disappear.
I-3: The Founding Spirit of Dharma Drum Sangha University
Founder’s Time at Sangha University, October 12, 2001
It would be difficult to express the meaning of “spirit” in one sentence. For example when we mention the Dalai Lama, we immediately recognize him as the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and a representative of Buddhism in its general. His influence or the image he has displayed is one of non-violence, and he can let everyone in the world know about Dharma. By being non-violent he is saying that Buddhism is a non-violent religion. Insofar as spreading Buddhadharma, the Dalai Lama often talks about compassion and wisdom, the fundamental spirit of Buddhism.
Bodhi Mind and Renunciant Mind
It can be said that the spirit of Buddhism can be found in bodhi mind and the mind of renunciation. To have bodhi mind means to realize awakening as well as to feel compassion for others. Therefore, bodhi mind contains the aspirations of compassion as well as wisdom. If wisdom does not include the compassionate aspiration to deliver sentient beings, then this bodhi mind is incomplete; if bodhi mind and renunciant mind do not correspond then there is no liberation. The so-called mind of renunciation transcends a mind that leaves the passions and delusions of life behind, and transmigrates beyond the three realms of samara. Most people who talk about renunciation often mean renouncing the five desires. But even if one renounces the five desires, one is still in the desire realm. In other words, one must further transcend the three realms of desire, form, and formlessness.
Bodhi mind and renunciant mind are very precious. Normally, when we explain bodhi mind to lay practitioners, we merely talk about making offerings, protecting and sustaining the Three Jewels, assisting the Sangha to deliver sentient beings, and vowing to serve sentient beings. When we speak of renunciant mind, we more often speak in terms of encouraging them not to be influenced by the environment, not to be affected by the phenomena of the world, and not to follow the desires. However, to truly possess a renunciant mind is to renounce everything in the three realms.
It is not easy for lay practitioners to arrive at total renunciation. To attain arhatship, however, one must join the Sangha community. Besides, in The Visualization Sutra, or Sutra on the Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and his Pure Land, it is also mentioned that one who wants to be reborn in the Pure Land and to realize “better karma, better incarnated being” must join the Sangha. Some people would say, “Although my body is not in the form of a monastic, my mind is that of a renunciant.” Unless they are great bodhisattvas of the first bhumi or above, people who talk like this are just boasting. Great bodhisattvas of the first bhumi and above are free from sense desires and do not transmigrate within the cycles of life and death. Therefore they are qualified to say that they have the mind of a renunciant even though their body has the form of a householder.
Therefore, it is a good thing that all of you are here to become monastics. However, monastic living is not equivalent to a guarantee of “better karma, better rebirth.” It is not that once you become a monastic you have bought insurance for the Pure Land, and that you will definitely be going there in the future. Actually, to arrive at a better reincarnation, being a monastic is only one of the conditions. The other requirements are devoted practice of Buddhadharma, and the practice of three purifying actions: (1) showing filial obedience to and providing for parents, respectfully serving teachers and elders, being kind, no killing, and performing the Ten Virtuous Deeds; (2) accepting and upholding the Three Jewels, embracing the Precepts, not violating dignified mannerisms; and (3) opening up the bodhi mind, sincerely believing in cause and consequence, reciting and chanting Mahayana sutras, and urging practitioners onward. The bodhi mind mentioned in these three purifying actions is the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. It also implies that if we walk away from bodhi mind, there will be no point to exert Mahayana Buddhism.
Besides, when most people talk about renunciant mind, they often forget about bodhi mind. We often hear people talking about wanting to deliver sentient beings. If asked when they will do this they might say, “After I have completed my own practice, then I will deliver.” Actually, bodhi mind and renunciant mind need to work in parallel and at the same time. It is not the case that when you have finished one then you can set about doing the other.
Hence, Mahayana bodhi mind is the mind for sentient beings. We practice for the sake of sentient beings. As we practice for ourselves, we are also practicing for the benefit of sentient beings – both work in parallel. It is not that after we have reached attainment, we begin to spread Buddhadharma to benefit others. On the other hand, the ones who can propagate and continue Buddhadharma are mostly the mortal Sangha, because after all, there are not that many buddhas. Therefore, while we are in the mortal stage we should begin having both bodhi mind and renunciant mind.
Set Your Sights on the World, Always for Buddhism
A patriarch of the Japanese Tendai sect once said that anyone who reads Master Ou Yi’s Lin Feng (Spirit Peak) Sect Sastras and does not weep, must not have bodhi mind. We can see from his biography that Master Ou Yi dedicated his whole life to Buddhadharma and endeavored for the sake of sentient beings. For sentient beings, he exhausted all his energy studying deeply into scriptures and extensively annotating sutras and sastras, as well as volumes of classic literature. His purpose was no other than the deliverance of sentient beings. For example, his annotation of the All-Embracing (Brahmajala) Sutra was for the understanding of the sutra by sentient beings; as was his research on the Dharma Flower (Lotus) Sutra. In addition, to enable lay practitioners to uphold the precepts, he wrote a Lay Practitioners’ Guide. And to enable monastics to uphold the precepts, he wrote several volumes of books on precepts and guidelines of conduct.
The mind of Master Ou Yi touched and influenced me. In accordance with his mindset, I also want to share Buddhadharma with others. So I have been writing book one after another. This is not to show off that I am very scholastic, and not wishing to attain a certain status of my scholarship. I have written only two books for the sake of scholarship: one was my master’s thesis, the other my doctoral thesis. My purpose in writing is to wish people in this contemporary world to accept Buddhadharma and to enjoy the wisdom of Buddhadharma. For example, the purpose of my writing The Essentials of Precepts was to let people know how to keep precepts, truly practice precepts, and understand the spirit of the precepts. It is not as Master Ou Yi had said, of someone “putting on an act”; and everywhere one goes, saying, “I practice the precepts,” “I am a person living by the rules,” always flaunting oneself as strictly keeping the precepts, but in reality ignoring the spirit of precepts. What I am emphasizing is the spirit of precepts, which we should apply and practice in our daily lives, not just the skeleton of precepts. Therefore, even though I am very busy, I do not forget to write. Writing should not be wagging one’s tongue freely without substance, like a heavenly steed roaring across the skies and irrelevant. Writing should gather information and have basis.
Master Taixu has also had great influence on me. In his time he was regarded by the traditional schools as a mo – a devil, a traitor of the Dharma who deviated from the sutras. This was because he attended various conferences, made friends with many well-known people, even read other unorthodox religious texts, and books related to revolutions. And his writings exhibited strong personal opinions and outlook. Despite all this, Master Taixu never haggled or became discouraged. He continued to regard and take care of all Buddhist temples and their followers as his own, regardless of whether the person was against him or not. Just like his Dharma name, Taixu – the mind is broad as an empty universe. It did not matter to him if he was criticized or misunderstood; his mind and thoughts were only for Buddhism as a whole and for all sentient beings.
I do not have as broad a mind as Master Taixu, but I use him as a model and emulate his spirit. Therefore, when I ponder over a problem, including passing on messages to the students, I always think according to the viewpoints of a “wholesome Buddhism” and “complete Buddhadharma.” Even though my standpoint is from Chinese Buddhism, in my heart I respect and praise all traditions of correct Buddhism, because Buddhadharma is of “one taste.” Just like ocean waters are of one taste; though they are in different regions – Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean – they are all ocean water, tasting salty. We should set our sights on the whole world and have global views. Do not confine ourselves in the “Taiwan Buddhism” or “China Buddhism” types of sectarian thinking.
This is the spirit of Dharma Drum Mountain. We should have the mind of learning to be steady and sure, modest, and respectful, in addition to being broad minded and not just thinking of self. Of course, we should safeguard our community but more importantly, think of Buddhism as a whole. Because Buddhism is the Buddhism of the whole world, all Buddhists are our own people,
In our future, we must be forward-looking and we must see far and broad; broadness for a global Buddhism and far-sightedness for the future of Buddhism. If we only think of the present, we are short sighted and there would be no future. If we think far and broad, without just thinking about ourselves, but always thinking for Buddhism and for the sake of sentient beings, it will not be so difficult for us to practice as monastics.
Master Taixu, as I talked about earlier, started thinking about Buddhism for all of China in his teens. I was in a similar situation; I was exposed to Buddhadharma when I was in my teens and I began to think of how to allow more people to understand Buddhadharma and attain the wisdom of the Dharma. Whatever I learned was for the sake of sentient beings. Based on this, though I cannot be compared to Master Taixu, I have used him as a model. The spirit at Sangha University should also be this way – to think of everything with broad and far-reaching views.
I had a good friend with whom I talked about what Buddhism would be like in 20 or 100 years, what the world or Buddhism would be, or if we focus on a global perspective, what would happen to Buddhism. Once, we saw each other in Tokyo and again we talked about these topics. At the time, I didn’t even know where my next month’s rent would come from or how I would live through the next few months. Nevertheless, the two poor souls were talking about what Buddhism would be like in 20 or 30 years. Some people there thought the two of us were not being practical. Now looking back, the ones who thought we were not practical are now the ones that seemingly have nowhere to go; and we, the two poor souls, actually have many ways to go. I am saying that do not to worry about your future. There is a future for Buddhism and there will be a future for you.
Live Up to the Founding Spirit of Sangha University
In the development of a school, its identity is bound closely to its founding spirit and the spirit of the principal. Sangha University is in the early stages of its development. As the founder, I cannot be with you on a daily basis, and can only give you the spirit and hope you can uphold the spirit, be sincere and humble, work hard, stand on a solid footing, have a broad mind, and not just think of yourself. Especially, as you are the first generation of Sangha students at the University, you need to carry on the founding spirit of the school and engage in its continual development.
Do not bury your head in just studying and pursuing good grades, and do not acquire the attitude that getting better grades is the same as being better. As to who will be truly outstanding, it will probably have to wait until the fourth year before we will have any ideas. There is a saying “Excel in both personal quality and scholastic studies.” To a monastic, when choosing between character and scholarship, “character over scholarship” would be more important than “scholarship over character.” The term “character” means behavior and moral qualities. Things such as dealing with others, contributing to and servicing the community, and solving problems for others, are difficult to score; and it may not be necessary to have a score, but they are very important.
A monastic does not have to memorize sutra and shastras, but must have a compassionate mind and be able to solve problems for others; must have a renunciant mind of few desires and be content, and must minimize vexation and anger. As well, a bodhi mind to offer and serve ordinary sentient beings. These are more important than grades. Nevertheless, it is not saying that you do not have to go to classes anymore; that everyday you just sweep leaves off the ground, clean the washrooms, and greet lay practitioners. What I mean is that you should not put all your time in studying; I want you to forget that studying is the most important thing.
Personally, I studied for ordinary sentient beings – this is my spirit. If you are not this way, then you do not have Dharma Drum Mountain spirit. Therefore, please master this spirit – studying for sentient beings and for the benefit of sentient beings. Naturally this also includes studying to reduce vexations and anger within. If you cannot master your vexations, what then? From here on, your contact with the outside world will be much less and your life regimented within the Sangha community. After a while, strange thoughts can come to your mind. For example, your haircut is very short. You don’t feel much in the beginning but gradually you may think that if your hair was a little longer it would look better. Maybe you don’t think this is vexation, but it is! Therefore, you should cultivate skills to control your mind. When situations prevail, you can then utilize these skills to retain control of yourself. For example, people praying to Buddha should have the name of Buddha in their minds; people practicing Chan should have a huatou in their minds all the time; and people practicing meditation should follow the right methods.
If these methods do not work, you can prostrate to Buddha and repent. However, when prostrating, do not just go through the motions while your mind if full of complaints, anger, swearing, mumbling. In this way, no matter how long you prostrate, it is useless and bodhisattvas also seem non-responsive. As a result, the more you prostrate, the more the vexation. In prostrating to the Buddha, one must pay attention to the movement of the body and the feelings in the mind. These fundamentals of practice are related to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: body, sensations, mind, and dharmas. When the mind cannot attain calmness, think of the body; when the body begins to feel more at ease, try to work on the mind again. By using this method to prostrate to Buddha, repenting can then be useful.
I once was teaching a disciple how to prostrate to Buddha. He prostrated a few times and then he ran away. I asked him, “Why did you stop?” He said, “Initially, I had pretty good feeling towards Buddha. However, the more I prostrated, the more I felt frustrated and angry at the statue of the Buddha for not helping me.” One ought to know that prostrating to Buddha is not asking the statue of Buddha to help you. What can a statue do to help you? Peace of mind can only be acquired by yourself; the statue of the Buddha cannot help you.
Now, do you understand what the word “spirit” means to us? After this, as you go out and interact with others, people will easily see that you are from Dharma Drum Mountain. Not because of your exterior appearance or the robe you wear. It will be from your temperament that appears imperceptibly and naturally – this is the spirit of Dharma Drum Mountain. All students at Dharma Drum Sangha University should obey the school motto, “Bei, Zhi, Huo, Jing” – “Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony, Respect.” This is not only the spirit of Sangha University, but also the fundamental qualities which every monastic member should possess.
Today’s talk about spirit is very important. Be broad minded, put out effort and stand on firm footing. The phrase, “Not for your own pleasure, but for the sake of delivering sentient beings from suffering” is the best illustration of this spirit. This phrase is useless if it is only lip service; the point is, do not always think about the self. Whether one can develop this type of spirit depends on daily practice with mindfulness approaches and on the results of practice.
I-4: Manifesting as Maha-shravakas, Practicing as Bodhisattvas
Conduct of Eminent Monks, Sangha University, February 25, 2003
Why do we use “Bei, Zhi, Huo, Jing” (Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony, and Respect) as the motto of Sangha University? Let us first talk about harmony and respect. Harmony means agreeing with others but not insisting that others agree with me. Respect means seeing worth in others without insisting that they see worth in me. Harmony and respect are the standard codes of conduct in a monastic community. This is what we call the “Six Ways of Harmony and Respect” A monastic community must have harmony and respect in order to be helpful to each other’s practices. Otherwise the community loses its meaning. It would be terrible if monastic members agree with and respect each other, always thinking about themselves and projecting their own thoughts, needs, and ideals – especially with personal desires.
Value Others, Practice Harmony and Respectfulness First
Once when I was little, my brother came home from Shanghai with a bunch of bananas. Traveling from far away, the skins of the bananas had turned black. Since I was the youngest, I got a whole one. I took a bite and it tasted good and sweet and smelled nice. I had never tasted anything so nice. I thought of my classmates who have not had chance to taste such a good thing. So, I took the banana to school to show off and wanted to make my classmates happy. I let them taste this good thing. Since there were many of them, I only allowed each of them a single lick. They licked and licked. Then one of the students took a big bite and ate it all up. Everyone was very angry with him and chased after him wanting to beat him up.
So, when you share with others everyone will be very happy. However, if someone is selfish and wants it all, others will be resentful. You could say even sharing a banana is an example of “Sharing promotes harmony” as in the “Six Ways of Harmony and Respect.” It is similar to the folk adage “Sharing the good fortune.” It is inevitable that our views and ways of thinking sometimes differ with those of others. If you insist you are right and another says they are right, then there is no sharing.
From the viewpoint of Buddhadharma, sentient beings have different dispositions and different attachments. We should treat others with harmony and respect, and value the views of others. Respecting and valuing the viewpoints of others does not mean we cannot have our own views. When we have disagreements we can still express them. However, when others do not agree with us, we should be willing to consider their views and compromise. However, someone will still claim, “Why don’t you respect me or my thoughts?” If he can be so insistent about his own opinion he is not respectful of others, and this is not harmony and respect. We should always ask ourselves to practice harmony and respect but not insist that others do the same. For the sake of harmony we should respect the thoughts of others.
People nowadays are very opinionated, having their own ideas. This is not necessarily bad. For example, I often have meetings and discussions with our managing Buddhist teachers at the school. Usually, after I hear their thoughts, I give them my own thoughts and opinion. Sometimes, they will say, “Shifu, your thinking is not correct. Our thinking is right and all of us wish it this way.” Then, I can only compromise because it is a matter of the minority deferring to the majority. I am only one person and I should oblige them. If I am sure my own opinion is correct, I should explain the reasons and use persuasion to convince them. Then, it becomes the decision of all. However, I would not use high-pressure tactics.
Therefore, if someone has a valuable idea they should express it. If others can be convinced of the same thought, then it becomes the joint opinion of all. If after the opinion is stated and people are still not willing to accept it, then you just have to give it up. The saying, “mutual understanding promotes harmony” is also part of the “Six Ways of Harmony and Respect”.
Furthermore, the Compassion and the Wisdom in our school motto is the spirit of a bodhisattva. Following the bodhisattva path is to have wisdom and to have compassion. To have compassion is to benefit others and to have wisdom is to transcend vexation. Having fewer vexations and less anger in you would create fewer vexations and less anger in others. Not being trapped by vexation is wisdom. To help others avoid being trapped by vexations is compassion.
Based on Compassion and Wisdom to Benefit Self and Others
Vexations originate from our physical and mental environment. Avoiding vexations is wisdom; helping others avoid vexations is compassion – this is the bodhisattva’s way. Practicing compassion, wisdom, harmony and respect together is the spirit of the Sangha bodhisattva. Using Dharma Drum Mountain as an example, we are a Mahayana Buddhist community and a Sangha community of bodhisattvas. As monastic members our form is that of not-yet-enlightened shravakas, but we still practice the bodhisattva path.
In the Mahayana sutras there are examples of great arhats manifesting as a maha-shravakas –highly attained disciples of the Buddha – and practicing the bodhisattva way. Our school motto is therefore the monastic members’ Mahayana bodhisattva way. Compassion and wisdom exemplify the bodhisattva’s way while harmony and respect exemplify the monastic Sangha community. In fact, all monastic bodhisattvas should adhere to the four words, Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony and Respect. This is our Sangha University’s distinguishing spirit, and it is also the distinguishing spirit of our Sangha community: to cultivate ourselves to be monastic bodhisattvas manifesting in shravaka form and practicing the bodhisattva’s way.
To manifest as a shravaka, one needs to be harmonious and respectful; and to practice the bodhisattva’s way, one needs to have compassion and wisdom. In order to be cultivated as a model monastic bodhisattva, one must practice these four ideas – this is our special trait and distinguishing feature.
I-5: Establishing the Spirit of a Sangha University
Founder’s Time, Sangha University, January 11, 2002
The definition of the term “school spirit” is very vague. Simply speaking, it is the common practice and style of a school. For the Sangha University it was mostly cultivated by the teachers and students of the inaugural class; they groped along and arrived at a tacit practice and style. Then, it was passed to the second class, from the second to the third, and so forth. Therefore, the inaugural class was very important, because the second class would observe and emulate what was going on with the first. If the spirit of the inaugural were not good, it would have been difficult to reshape. The students in our inaugural class were all very open and bright, positive and vigorous. They were harmonious, respectful, and cared for each other, whether they were a teacher, fellow student, or school staff. This is our school spirit.
The State of Mind and Attitude of Sangha is not Established in One Instance
The purpose of establishing a good school spirit is mainly to help one to feel at ease in becoming a monastic. Wishing to keep one’s mind on becoming a monastic is not easy. Once, I respectfully asked the Ven. Master Yin Chun, “It is not easy to leave home. After becoming a monastic one would often doubtfully ask himself, ‘Is this is what being a monastic is about?’” He said, “Surely, it is difficult.” Before leaving home one had status, the feeling of being at home, and the laypersons’ environment. After leaving home, putting on the robe, and shaving the head, though there is Buddhadharma in the mind, one’s mind is still full of secular thinking.
After first entering the Sangha we are willing to let go of everything: love, wealth, fame and gains, whatever. However, the mind will still often give rise to secular thoughts and mood changes in the manner of a layperson. Often one dreams at night, thinking as if one was still a layperson at home. This shows that even though one has left home, subconsciously one still thinks as a layperson; one’s attitude and thinking, as well as behavior and mannerism, are still those of a layperson.
My personal experience was also this way. When I was a young monk, I often dreamed as if I was still an ordinary boy. When I was in the army, I dreamed as if I was a monk. Even stranger, when I became a monastic for the second time at 30, I still sometimes dreamed as if I was in the military. For a long time I thought that I was still a layperson. Now regardless of where and when, I am a monastic.
In an interview, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that he became a monk at four; therefore, ever since he could remember, he was a lama. Then the reporter asked him, “How could you not have any interest in women?” The Dalai Lama said, “I am human, but if I dream of beautiful women, I will automatically remember that I am a lama, a monk, and know what is proper in treating women.”
I use this example to remind you that when you first entered Sangha University, you really did not know the meaning of being a monastic. Perhaps you became a monastic because you did not want to get married, did not want to be a layperson, or had some ideas that becoming a monastic, your life would be such and such. When young I dreamed often about becoming a monk. Even before joining the monastery, I thought of the knights in martial arts and the mountains where they lived, as described in novels about gods and spirits. An elderly monk was an old immortal and I was a boy immortal. The old monk would meditate under the pine tree while I would be at his side waving the fan, serving tea, and keeping him company. When the elder monk strolled about the mountain, I would follow carefree and leisurely. It seemed like paradise. That was what I thought being a monastic was like because the dramas presented it that way.
After entering monastery, I went to study at a Buddhist academy. I thought that after the academy, I would study at the Chinese-Tibetan Buddhism Institute. The Institute was established by Ven. Taixu in Chongqing, and was the most advanced Buddhist institute at that time. For example, both Master Fazun and Master Fafeng taught there. Therefore, studying at the Institute was my strongest wish. However, I later became a soldier and ended up not studying there.
During my ten years in the Army I always dreamed about being a monk, and returning to the Dharma hall of my younger days. The dreams seemed to tell me that I wanted to go back to the Dharma hall where I first became a monk, and be a monk again. However, after leaving service and becoming a monk for the second time, the “what do I want to be” dreams disappeared. My mind only thought of how to become a good monk. I realized the dreams that I had were all fairy tales and were not possible to be realized
Then how does one practice to be a good monk? First, do not crave power and influence; second, do not covet fame and wealth; and third, do not fall for the charms of romantic relationships. As to how we should offer ourselves, even before I attended the Buddhist academy, I had thoughts of sharing with others all I knew about Buddhadharma. All I had heard, seen, or learned from experience were shared as I understood them. Whatever I knew, I shared, not forcefully but to the best of my ability.
Furthermore, after learning Buddhadharma, one must practice accordingly; it is more important to practice than to see how much one can remember. Since I was young my memory has not been very good. Although I improved after I began to prostrate to Guanyin Pusa (Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva), I do not put emphasis on memorizing and reciting. I attach importance to experiencing Dharma through practice and integrating it with the bearings in one’s life. It does not matter how many books one reads because they may not be related to life. Talking about Dharma requires only a mouth; by itself that is not useful to anyone and cannot touch others. Therefore, what I emphasize is practice, using what you have heard and seen about the Dharma as the basis.
Steadily and Surely to Be a Good Monastic
You are not so young anymore, about the same as I was when I became a monastic for the second time. At the time I already felt old and that the days left are fewer. My dear bodhisattvas, if you are still dreaming, remind yourself not to have too many illusions, but to surely and steadily practice and experience the Dharma you have learned. Otherwise, your life is going to be very painful. You are here but your thoughts are still a layperson’s, and your physical and mental attitudes are still those of home. Your first step is to learn to be like a monastic. Some people think because they are in transition and have yet to shave their head, that they are still a layperson. In fact, without a change in attitude, even after your head is shaved, you will only be a bald person whose mind is still at home.
Next, I want to talk about our school motto: “Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony, and Respect,” which lay practitioners also stress. However, lay practitioners view the motto differently from monastics. I want to talk about the motto from the monastic point of view. The compassion of a monastic is non-preferential – it is equal compassion for all. In contrast, lay practitioners naturally distinguish between family and others, intimate and distant, thick relationships and thin. Compassion has two aspects: one is concern and caring, the other is forgiving and tolerance. When I was a young novice a monk came to our temple. He was very sick. Ordinarily, in such a serious case, most temples would not take him in because someone had to take care of him and it would be an extra burden. This seriously ill monk came to our temple and his first words were, “I am going to die soon. Please have compassion and take care of me. After I die, cremate me.” But he was not dead yet, and somebody would have to take care of him. One could not just beat him to death and then cremate him.
My Shifu told me, “Little Monk, we monks take care of dogs and cats and he is a monk. You have to take care of him.” Then, he said something else that scared me, “If you do not take care of a sick person, in the future when you travel far and wide and get sick, no one will take you in and take care of you either.” Those words made me nervous and I took responsibility for caring for the monk. Although our temple was very poor, after a few months he got well. When he left, he prostrated to me and said I was a life-saving little pusa (bodhisattva). I was only a little monk and he prostrated me! It scared me to death. This was an example of concern and caring – showing concern for and rendering loving care to the needy.
Later on I studied at Shanghai’s Jingan Temple. At first my knowledge level was very low; I could not understand what I heard and didn’t know how to take notes. There was a Dharma teacher who taught the Song of Rules of Conduct of the Eight Perceptions, which I really could not understand. It was the first time I heard the word “vexation,” let alone distinguish between sui, da, and siao (following, major, minor). Neither did I understand Master Nan Ting’s lectures on the Mahayana-shraddhotpada Shastra (Shastra on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana), or the lectures of Master Dao Yuan on the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment. Then and there I vowed that if ever learned and understood these works, I would also teach others to understand them.
In those classes the teacher would fill the blackboard with rows and rows of fine words. No matter how I tried I could not take them all down before they were erased. Luckily, the student in the next seat saw that I could not keep up and said, “I will also copy the writing on the blackboard. The ones you cannot finish, I will lend you my notes and you can continue to copy them after the class.” I was so grateful! Although I did not understand the materials in the class, I had my classmates taking care of me – not only lending me their notes, but also tutoring me on holidays. All of them became my good friends. Later on after I had caught up with them, they would jokingly say, “You didn’t even know how to take notes before!” This was how my fellow students at the Buddhist academy treated me.
Besides studying, there is decorum to learn. When I first became a monk, I did not know the fine points of dressing and eating properly. Sometimes, I could not even shave my head clean. This was when the schoolmates would also help each other. Actually, help from schoolmates is more useful than help from the teachers, as the teachers have so many students to take care of and we can only get their attention occasionally. Taking care of fellow schoolmates can take time away from you. Sometimes it can even drag down your grades but it is worthwhile. However, if taking care of each other becomes “I do something nice for you and you do something nice for me,” and if a few people become a clique, this would not be compassion or loving care – it would be a pack of rogues seeking private gains; it would be troublesome. Therefore, compassion has to be unconditional. Helping others and showing concern is not for the purpose of forming a clique or establishing relationships.
It was the same when I was studying in Japan. My spoken Japanese was very poor. Although I could read, I did not know how to listen. Therefore, I could not understand everything the teacher was saying in the class; it was very hard. Fortunately, my Japanese classmates were very nice. I could not help them with anything, but when they saw that I was not able to keep up with the class, they took the initiative to see if there was anything they could do to help me.
There is Compassion and Wisdom in Harmony and Respect
The people I met in Japan were all good to me. This was because I always treated people with harmony and respect. When I was 39, my classmates were all in their 20s. There were even some professors younger than me. I used harmony and respect to get along. They were also very compassionate to me. Later, when I gradually understood the contents of what we were learning in school, I also took the initiative to help other overseas students. In particular there were two students from Singapore and the Philippines, whom I helped to edit their theses and how to search for references. Finally, they learned how to study too. I was helping them unconditionally. It was because others had helped me and I should also help others. This is compassion.
Let’s talk about wisdom: to have wisdom means to let go of vexations. We have already come here to learn to be monastics. Then why do we still have vexations? It is because the “three thousands of hairs of vexations” are still around. Even though the Dharma teachers have shaved their heads they still have vexations. Shaving one’s head does not mean vexations disappear. Vexation exists because we are in a self-made cocoon of self-punishment and self-closure. This cocoon is self-isolating and self-perplexing. Ordinarily, people think that they have vexations because they are perplexed by others, by problems around them. This is backward thinking.
The other day I was at the An Ho Branch Temple, talking with a lay practitioner as we walked. All of a sudden she exclaimed, “Ah!” and at that same instant I felt a slap right across my face. She had suddenly raised her hand and the ring on her finger sliced across my face. My face felt hot and stung. This taitai (matron) realized she had cut me and felt very embarrassed. She kept apologizing, “Shifu, I feel so bad, I’m sorry!” I said, “No problem, it was just my face getting in the way.” Though your face hurts, if you can think this way you are not vexed. But if you thought, “When I greeted this taitai, she struck me.” Or, “I am having bad luck. How is it my karma to be hit by her?” This way, your vexation would get deeper.
While the environment can bring us discomfort, we should not let it become a cause of vexation. We need to use compassion to dissolve it. Compassion does not mean that one has to know the Tripitaka and twelve different sutras, but to be able to transform vexations with skillful means. Therefore, a person with wisdom is without vexation under any circumstances. Last night, an artist came to see me. She said, “Shifu, you probably never get angry.” I said, “I am not a saint. When I’m mad, I get angry. However, I know how to dissolve it. When there is a problem, I take care of it immediately then let the anger go.” This means that I will not be dragged into the subjects of my previous life or my karmic obstructions. It means solving a problem immediately with wisdom, and then not leaving any trace of it. This is called “wisdom stops vexation”.
If you are always tense to the extent you generate vexation and torment yourself – that is being “dull and ignorant.” You should always use wisdom; as the saying goes, “Compassion will not have enemies and wisdom will not cause vexation.” In treating ourselves, use wisdom; for others, use compassion. However, compassion must have wisdom. Otherwise, compassion without wisdom can turn people seeking personal gain into a pack of rogues.
I-6: A Monk, like a Monk, Wandering around as if a Monk
Monastics’ Mind and Behavior, Class of Learn through Practice, on March 4, 2003
In our organization there are three educational units: the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, the Buddhist College of the Sangha University, and the Monastic Practice and Sangha Cultivation Program. The three units are of a different nature and for different purposes. They have basic features in common, consistent with the needs of any educational system, but each has distinctive features and purposes of its own. The commonalities are basic functional and personnel elements, such as the library, classrooms, and some teachers and staff – resources shared by all.
As far as the differences are concerned, the purpose of the Institute of Buddhists Studies is to elevate Buddhist research talents and the quality of outreach personnel to spread Dharma. Its emphasis is on Buddhist languages and literatures and methods of research and dissertation preparation, in order to cultivate high levels of research and cultural talents. This is so they can be devoted to cultural and research fields, or be sent to overseas for further studies to become teachers in colleges and universities. Because students at the Institute do not necessarily remain at Dharma Drum Mountain – in fact, over 80% normally will leave – they can bring Buddhism to society and introduce Buddhism into the curricula of various universities and colleges. Currently, in many Buddhist studies institutions in Taiwan, there are many teachers who are graduates of the Institute.
In addition, there are differences between the Sangha University and the Institute of Buddhist Studies. The purpose of Sangha University is not to cultivate Buddhist scholars, but to cultivate younger generations of monastic talents as Buddhist teachers and Buddhist masters. Initially, I was hoping that the Institute of Buddhist Studies would also be cultivating Buddhist masters, but it seemed that it would not be easy with the present systems and organizational structures. Therefore, we decided to establish the Sangha University, so that students enrolled in the University would all be led by monastic Dharma teachers and, as much as possible, also taught by them. In this way, the focus is on Buddhist aspirations, beliefs and livelihood, in order to cultivate the next generation of young talents who harbor monastic aspirations.
The Purposes of the Three Educational Units at Dharma Drum Mountain
As a result of studying in Japan I have gained more understanding of Japanese Buddhism. In Japanese temples, those who are called “Sangha” are actually lay practitioners who reside in and manage the temples through inheritance, and do the work of a Buddhist monastic. They are not monks but are somewhat similar to Christian ministers and the same as priests in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Churches. They must be college graduates; otherwise, it would be difficult for them to hold the position of an abbot or become a Buddhist teacher. In the past, people in Taiwan generally looked down on monks and nuns because their education levels were not high.
At Sangha University we require our students to be of good character and have high aspirations of attaining bodhi mind. Therefore in the four years, besides fundamental knowledge of Buddhism, we also place great importance on Buddhist life, Sangha conduct, and relationships. Beyond learning how to be good monks and nuns, they should also be able to mobilize and lead various activities and motivate laypersons to learn Buddhadharma; they can then be considered outstanding monks and nuns, as well as people who can uphold the Three Jewels. Therefore, we hope that our graduates can gradually take up the responsibilities of upholding the Buddhadharma in a few years. This is our expectation and the purpose of Sangha University.
Before we set up the Sangha University, there were about one people who became monks and nuns at Nung Chan Temple; every one of them was slowly feeling about and learning from one another. There was no system and organized plan and they learned the hard way. For this reason we established the Sangha University to cultivate young Buddhist talents who would be outstanding in the three disciplines of morality, meditation, and wisdom. The Monastic Practice and Sangha Cultivation Program were not originally in our plan. It was established for two main reasons: the first was that only since we established Sangha University about two years ago, have we been systematically cultivating young talents. But, as we were completing one by one the different phases of construction on the Mountain, the young talents at the University were still in training. As the personnel resources in our community were limited, we began relying on middle-aged talents in the lay community to join our Sangha community. After receiving two years of training, they began to help us and became the mobilizing force in cultivating young Buddhist talents to study all the three subjects of upholding the precepts, meditation, and wisdom. Therefore, even though the general age of our students in the Monastics Practice and Sangha Cultivation Program is relatively high, the mission is also greater. After undergoing training for two years, they will go out to train other young people.
The second reason to have this program was that the program did not intend to admit people over 35 to come here to become monastics. However, there were some practitioners who had served Nungchan Temple and DDM for many years, constantly asking to enter the program. They said that before they were 35, due to family, career, parents or spouse, the causes and conditions were not ripe and they could not join us. Now the causes and conditions seemed to permit them to join, so one after the other asked to join our Sangha community and become monastics. Hence, we set up the Monastic Practice and Sangha Cultivation Program.
To my fellow students in this program, regardless of whether you plan to take further entrance exams to enroll in the Sangha University, or whether because of your age, you cannot take the exams; everyone in our program is a member of our community. It is not because you are in the Sangha University that your status is higher, more outstanding, and while studying in this program, you would be inferior or considered lower class. There is no such thing! No matter which way you have enrolled in this program once in, you are the equal of everyone.
Further, after joining the Sangha group and enrolling in the Monastic Practice and Sangha Cultivation Program, my bodhisattvas, please do not compare yourself with the students in the Research Institute or the Sangha University, and ask for whatever the Institute or the University has to offer. That would not be the right attitude. The ways of teaching and the curricula in these three educational systems are not the same; their concepts and purposes of education are not the same either. So, please do not haggle over these matters. You are here to help our Sangha community to cultivate young Buddhist talents and to equip them with the three studies in moral disciplines, meditation, and wisdom. You are not here to argue with younger people. Aren’t older people supposed to take care of the younger ones? I hope you understand, or your vexations are going to get worse.
The Basic Mindset for Monastics
The basic thing that Sangha students should learn is not reading sutras, not talking about Dharma, not writing essays, and especially not wanting to be a great Dharma master; rather, what they should learn is how to become monks and nuns. There was an elder master who wrote a piece in The Sound of Ocean Tide magazine, where he divided monastics into three types: one is heshang. “He” means kind and harmonious and “shang” means esteemed. Heshang is the common name for Buddhist monks who are role models in human and divine realms. The second type is heyang. “Yang” is form or appearance. Heyang is a person who appears as if he is a monk and can put up a Buddhist front. The third type is Hechuang. “Chuang” means wandering. Hechuang is a person who seems to be a monk and wanders all over the place, cooking up stories to deceive, making a living by wandering from rivers to lakes, pretending and acting. For example, he would ask for small donations to build a little temple, pretend to be in a hurry to read sutra and to repent, and then he would drink and smoke. He has no clear understanding of the proper relationship between man and woman, and he is not concerned about being ridiculed or causing resentments. All these people are all called hechuang.
The first type, heshang, exemplifies a person whose speech and mind are regarded as a model in both human and divine realms. A divine being in the desire realm has not cut off desires and does not intend to cutoff desires, but a monastic that has cut off desire is a level above the divine being in the realm of desire. In addition, monastics have a mind of renunciation; hence they do not even indulge in the pleasures of samadhi. They do not covet samadhi regardless whether it is in the desire, form, or formless realm. A person, who is absent from the five desires and does not indulge in meditative absorption, is zhu cheng shang shi – a sage who leaves the dusty world of passion and delusion. “Zhu” is departing from; “cheng” signifies laboring in the mortal world, which is what we call vexation. Even though we may have vexations, we should learn to renunciate vexations, learn to be vigilant of not letting vexation rise.“Shi” is a person, and there are xiashi (layperson); chungshi (virtuous person); and shangshi (sage or saint). There is also dashi (a great person or bodhisattva). Monastics should use the mind of the virtuous sage as the standard. Therefore, we must have higher standards than the mortal beings in this world. “Higher” does not mean full of arrogance or haughty. Particularly, it does not expect respect and service from others. It means that we do not have to pursue what the lay people are pursuing, and we can turn down things that others cannot. This is “heavenly sage” or “model of human and divine realms”.
The first thing a monastic should learn is how to be a heavenly sage, a model of the human and divine realms. It is not about learning sutras and sastras or giving lectures as a Dharma master. This should be the fundamental mindset of monastics. But there are some who will say, “I am already a monk (or a nun). I have already renounced the passion and delusion in the world!” One should be ashamed of saying this! Do not think that because one has already left home, changed clothes, shaved the head, and left the family behind, one has gotten rid of all vexations. This would be the second type of monastic – heyang, one who behaves as if one were a monastic. He or she may conduct ceremonies, welcome visitors and see them off, and behave fairly well with a dignified manner and neat clothing, so people feel they are dealing with a monastic. For this type monastic you cannot always see that they have vexations. However, when they are by themselves they will still have outbursts of temper and often sit angrily in low spirits.
There was a fairly dignified Dharma master; who impressed people as being kind and honest. The fact was that he was suffering inside, struggling, and unable to get himself out of it. I happened to see him tearing up newspapers or other things as a release of his emotions. Although tearing up newspaper is not good and a little preposterous, it is better than quarreling, howling, swearing or even fighting. Monastics should be concerned about having dignified manners. Naturally, they cannot howl, swear or fight with others.
Another time I saw a young Dharma master quarreling with an elderly lay practitioner. The old abbot saw it too, but turned away and went back to his own room. The two quarreling people also saw the abbot. They had hoped that the abbot would listen to what they were quarreling about and arbitrate. So, these two people stood outside the door of the abbot’s room and continued quarreling loudly, back and forth, hoping to find an agreeable solution. The old monk, however, would not come out and did not interfere. The young Dharma master even raised his voice louder and said, “What happened to the old monk? He cannot even hear us talking!” The old monk still did not respond. Finally, the two could not settle who was right or wrong, and they lost interest and quit quarreling.
After it was over, the elderly lay practitioner went to the old monk, asking, “Shifu, didn’t you hear that we were quarreling?” The old monk answered, “I only heard someone outside my door, reciting the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.” This story simply tells us that though dignified manner is very important, the heart and mind are even more important. If one really cannot do well with heart and mind, one should learn dignified manners first. At least, one would have learned heyang– the appearance and manners of a monk, dignified and neat.
Dignified Mannerism is Basic in Mind Training
Observing someone with a dignified manner can give people a sense of belief. Even without hearing the Buddhadharma, it may be enough to give rise to people’s faith. For example, the cause and condition of Shariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana becoming monks was that they saw the dignified manner of one of Buddha’s disciples, Assaji Bhikshu. They felt that if a person had such a dignified manner, they must have very deep virtues. Therefore, they asked Assaji Bhikshu who his teacher was and Assaji replied that his teacher was Shakyamuni Buddha. After this Shariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana both took refuge with the Buddha.
The contrary is also true: I saw a layperson come into a monastery to ask the abbot to give him refuge in the Three Jewels. After the ceremony, the abbot prostrated the Buddha. But on his way back to his seat, as a matter of convenience, the abbot used his foot to push the meditation cushion to the side. Immediately, the color of the layperson’s face changed. He did not call this monk “Shifu” and left without making an offering. What this layperson saw was the abbot’s poor manners. To move a cushion, he could have used his hand or ask someone to help, but kicking the meditation cushion with his foot is very rude and not in accordance with Dharma.
I tell this story because if, as monastics, our mind has not adapted well to our new life style, at least we should adjust our language and our physical behavior. For example, take a person whose speaking manner is always loud, regardless of whether others are around, far or near. In Taiwan such a person is called a “big-noise man.” This habit is not good. If someone is leaving and it is important that he come back, do not shout after him. You can go bring him back but do not chase after him like he was a bandit.
And, whether there are things to discuss or not, do not chat so that the mouth is like a bell ringing non-stop… “pilipala, pilipala.” We call a person who likes to talk as one who “rings like a bell.” Also, idle chatter when there is nothing to discuss is a waste of time and can easily create trouble. So, if you have nothing to do, you can recite “Amitabha Buddha” or “Guanyin Pusa,” or try to finish the homework from the five courses you are taking.
As to physical conduct: whether walking, sitting, lying down, how you dress, the way you eat, or prostrating the Buddha, please pay attention to conducting yourself in an appropriate manner. Undignified manners can weaken our comfort-seeking mind. When the body gives way to the need for comfort, it indicates that our mind is unrestrained and has not attended the body well. Body and mind should always be maintained in a balanced and stable condition. There is a correct form to sitting: do not spread out the four limbs in eight directions, stick out crossed legs, or shake your legs. Do not cross arms, embrace shoulders, or hold hands with another person while walking, unless he or she is handicapped, sick, elderly, or otherwise needs your help.
A layperson saw a Dharma master placing his hand on the shoulder of another master while talking. This layperson asked my grandmaster, “Oh, Grandmaster, how long have these two young masters been monks?” He was asking because some new monastics still have worldly habits, such as talking with an arm on another’s shoulder. If they really understood monastic manners, they should not act this way.
When you eat, it should be like a “dragon holding a pearl in its mouth” or a “phoenix nodding its head,” that is to say, with dignity. Some people hunch over the table because they are hungry and think they are too tired to hold the bowl up; this is not very dignified. Maybe some of them would ask, “Will behaving in a dignified manner help me attain enlightenment, or become a buddha? Or rid me of vexations? I came here to train my mind to be rid of vexation. They havent taught me how to be free from vexation, but are they teaching me all these little things, not allowing me to do this or that. I don’t care about these unnecessary and elaborate rules!” People like this have very deep-rooted habits and they cannot change.
I want to tell you now that what you will learn in the five summers here are rules of proper conduct. Rules are standards, guidelines. Conduct applies to appearance, attitude, and behavior –it is to have a dignified manner. Monastics must learn the dignified manners well; at least they should be heyang – as if a monk. In this way others will not disparage Buddhism and the Three Jewels will not be met with shame.
True Dignified Manners Built on Mindful Conduct
During the Qing dynasty there was a talented literary scholar named Teng Bang Chao. Once he made a very critical and pertinent statement, “Scholars are the offenders of Confucius; monks are the offenders of Shakyamuni Buddha.” How can the monks be offenders of Shakyamuni Buddha? When Buddhism is criticized it is mainly because of monastics who have no dignity, low standards, no mind for practice, and whose manners are not in conformance to Dharma principles. Being without high scholarship is not as bad as being without manners. In ancient times there were many eminent monks who did not have much learning, but they were very powerful in setting an example to effect change in others. One of the reasons they could be this way is because of the way they conducted themselves. The other reason is their mindset is better than others.
Some people say, “Man wants clothes; Buddha wants golden clothes.” Must one have clothes made of quality materials with beautiful styling to have dignified manners and be respected? In truth, not so. The Buddha’s radiance was due to his compassion and wisdom. His dignified manner was natural and people looked at him and immediately felt there was light. Therefore, we often clothe the statue of Buddha in gold. In the same way, we should pay attention to our manners. It is not that we need fancy fabrics and nice styles to have dignified manners.
In modern India there was a great sage, Mahatma Gandhi. Wherever he went, he was always bare-footed and wrapped himself with a simple loincloth. Once, he went to England to visit the Queen. Normally, going to the palace, one must wear formal dress, but Gandhi said, “This is my tuxedo. If the Queen wants to invite me in, I will go in. If she does not, I will not.” Someone then said, “You would appear very impolite this way, wearing only a piece of cloth and bare footed. It seems like you are naked. We have prepared a pair of shoes and western-style suit. Please change over!” Gandhi said, “I don’t want to. This is I, Gandhi.” This was how the Queen received Gandhi. We should pay attention to our manners. It is not our clothes but our mannerism and attitude.
Furthermore, men, please do not grow your beard too long; and women, do not grow your hair too long. Hair should be neat, simple, and kept clean; as such, it will not be hard to take care of. Clothes should not be dirty, wrinkled, or smelly. Change clothes after you perspired or when they become dirty after you were outside. Mend torn clothes immediately, do not let them dangle. If one does not have enough clothes, apply to get more. When you have too many clothes, return some. Otherwise, it will be more trouble to take care of them. You should try to minimize the personal items you keep in your room. You come here to become monastics. You are not here with your dowry to get married. It is enough just to have your daily needs with you. Offer extra things you have brought here to others.
In addition, please do not greedily collect books. Do not collect a book just because you like it. Our library has an abundance of books, you do not have to buy or stock up books. Otherwise, your small room will become a place to store books. This is why we have a rule to move you to a different room every six months, so you don’t have the feeling of possession. The rooms belong to the community. Anyway, please keep everything simple; to us, more is bad.
Today, I use this opportunity to share with you these fine details. Even though they are fine details they are very important. If you cannot be heshang, a true monastic, at least, you are heyang – as if a monk. Be careful never to be hechuang – wandering all over as if a monk. A heyangs manner is good and he has the Three Jewels as the front, and is not easily ridiculed. On the other hand, a hechuang wanders around the rivers and lakes, spreading rumors, cheating, putting up a front, acting evil, getting people to provide him a living and making offerings by swindling. They are scum of Buddhism and sinners of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Besides, I also want to emphasize that because we all live together on this Mountain there will be interactions between male students, between female students, and between males and females. As you live in the same hut or attend the same classes, please do not form a clique to pursue self-interest. Among our Sangha community, everyone is a companion to the others. Treat each other as equals. When someone needs to be taken care of, we take care of him or her. When people need help, we help them.
On our Mountain, because there are a limited number of Dharma teachers, you must take care of yourself. Because of this, we have Class Leaders and Deputy Class Leaders. These cadres help Dharma teachers serve you; they are not officers and they do not have higher ranking than you do. In addition, they do not receive any special treatment. The teachers treat each of you totally equally. The cadres in class are bodhisattvas who serve you. As it turns out they actually sacrifice their personal time and spend a lot of energy to take care of the daily lives of fellow students. For example, the Dharma teachers often give the class leader things to pass on to you. Hence, please show some understanding to your fellow students who serve as cadres.
Having become monastics we should appreciate the care and services rendered by the cadres. Cadres should also be thankful for the opportunity to serve others. Cadres see you as bodhisattvas and you bodhisattvas also see cadres as bodhisattvas. This way everyone will get along and be happy. Besides serving yourself, you should also practice how to take care of the long term residents and the Sangha group.
I-7: Blending Buddhadharma into our Lives and our Livelihood
Opening Address, Workshop for New Students, August 19, 2003
As all of you have come to the College of Buddhism at Sangha University to participate in the Workshop for New Students, your mind and attitude should reflect that you are leaving home and your goal is to become model monks and nuns. Although you do not yet know how to become a monastic, once you have entered the College of Buddhism, you will gradually learn the mindset, the way of life, and the mannerisms of a monastic. You should clearly understand the proper mindset and mannerism for monastics. Mindset includes both aspects of concept and attitude. Mannerism includes expressions transmitted through speech and body movements; body, speech and intention represent the bearing of a monastic. In a layperson, these three bearings are different from those of a monastic. They are all human beings, but the layperson’s way of thinking is often backwards in perspective. Because of inverted views, they frequently give in to vexations, which result in the karma of death, not the karma of liberation.
This inverted view comes mainly because of the lack of wisdom and compassion and it causes vexations in self and in others. We monastics should not be this way. What we think should be the right view – it is bodhi mind and mind of renunciation. Hence, it is the karma of liberation. In addition, beyond the karma of liberation, if we continue to use bodhi mind to learn the way of becoming a buddha, we will be following the bodhisattva path.
When you first enter the College of Buddhism, you should pay attention to what you wear. The clothes you wear should be similar to those of monastics. At least they should be the same color, so you will be recognized as one of them. As to the way of living, you should live the way monastics live, in order to learn the style and manner of a monastics’ livelihood. Later, you will cultivate a monastic mindset to become a real monastic.
The first page in the Handbook for New Students has the four words: “Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony, and Respect.” These words are the school motto. In your daily life, whether you are by yourself, associating with others, or participating in group activities, never forget these four words, or act differently from them. They can be expressed thus: “Use compassion to care for people; use wisdom to take care of things; use harmony and cheerfulness to live together; use respect to treat each other.”
Care for People with Compassion
“Use compassion to care for people” means having concern for others. We should not ask others to show concern for us; rather, we should take the initiative to show concern for others. There was a student in the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies who had been studying in our school for three years. I could not call him by his name and he said to me disappointedly, “Shifu, I have been your student for three years. You still do not remember my name. It shows that you don’t care about me.” I knew his face but could not remember his name. It did not mean that I did not care for him. My concerns for people are equal, not individually, and not one-on-one.
In the past, I was often with the students and they easily felt that I cared for them. Now, the students at the Institute have very few opportunities to see me during their three-year period. Once every semester, there is a Founder’s Time, during which I lecture. During the first and second year, the students are obedient and come to the lecture. By the third year they do not always come anymore. Hence, due to the limited opportunities to be together, I do not know some of their names. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time going around soliciting funds, finding teachers and other resources in order to establish this Institute; one could not say I didn’t care for them, but they might still feel as if I am not concerned about them.
It is the same with you. I am the president of this Institute. You want me to be solicitous to you and be with you more often, but it is not really possible. On the other hand, you should concern yourself about Shifu and take care of this old monk! Indeed, I have always concerned myself about you. Whenever there was an opportunity, I often asked the vice-president, academic and teaching staff, and other Dharma masters, “How are the students doing?” Though I had no way to ask each of you, “How are your studies? How do you feel?” still, I have concerned myself about you.
There is a new student at the Institute; I met him as I was hiking up the mountain this morning. As soon as he saw me, he said to me, “Shifu, I took refuge with you ten years ago. You never knew who I was, right?” He was correct; I did not. He said, “It’s been ten years. Now I have passed the entrance exams and enrolled in the Institute. Shifu still does not know me. Today, it is my fortune to have met you on this trail. I am so happy.” He happily hiked with me for an hour. He said, “I am finally with my Shifu.” It seems like that before today, we were very far apart.
I often say it this way, “I have been studying Buddhism for a very long time. I took refuge in Buddha, but Shakyamuni Buddha has never seemed concerned about me!” Although Shakyamuni Buddha has never showed concern for me, I have been using the Buddha’s teaching daily and using Buddha’s wisdom to help others and myself. Shakyamuni Buddha does not have to show his physical self to show he cares for us, because from his Dharma and his wisdom, we have received grace and loving care. We should give thanks to Buddha that the Dharma will be in the human realm forever. This is how to show gratitude for the blessings of the Buddha. Therefore, for us to be solicitous towards people, we need to use compassion to care for others and use the compassionate mind of Buddha to care for all sentient beings. If you use compassion to care for others, you will feel very content and fully blessed.
If you are always waiting for others to show solicitude to you, you will feel helpless and filled with self-pity. You end up criticizing everyone and thinking that no one is compassionate: “No one knows my problems!” “I am having problems and no one helps me to solve them!” “Dharma teachers are not compassionate!” “My schoolmates are not compassionate!” “Shifu never knows us. Whether we are dead or alive, he does not know!” With these kinds of thoughts, your vexations will get serious and you will be ready to go home because you do not feel anyone shows solicitude for you here.
If we do not use compassion to care for others but wish others to show compassion for us, we will end up disappointed. If we use a compassionate mind to care for others, we will feel very happy and fulfilled. A compassionate mind is not fussy, constantly worrying, nor is it accomplished by forming a clique. It is not rendering small favors to others in order to establish a relationship. Compassionate mind is when someone needs help, I will help them. This is not saying that when someone has a problem I will help them; and when I have a problem they must help me – you help me and I help you; the two of you become good friends and cannot be separated; you jointly agree to live and die together. If the relationship comes down to this, for monastics it will be bad. However, it happens frequently for laypeople; it is called “forming alliance.” We monastics cannot be this way. Monastics use compassionate mind to help others and do not expect return from others.
In reality, people who understand the true meaning of caring for others are healthy people. For example, some people are healthy some are in poor health; and some are intelligent and some not. If you are not in good physical health but your mental health is good, you will be happy because you can show solicitude towards others. For the same reason, if you are not highly intelligent but can show solicitude towards others, you will feel that you are useful.
Use Wisdom to Deal with Matters
The second part of the motto is: “Use Wisdom to Take Care of Things.” This wisdom is not knowledge, experience, or scholarship but is based on a compassionate mind. Taking care of things the way they should be; getting things done the way they should be done. Do not put “self” into the equation. For example, you are here as a student. Do not think of how good or bad your grades are, what your teachers’ and Shifu’s impression of you is, or what you future will be. These things will occupy your mind and put “self” up front. You can never handle anything well with this kind of mindset. This is not “Use Wisdom to Take Care of Things” – it is using a selfish mind from a subjective standpoint to take care of things.
Use Harmony to Live Together
Third, regarding “Use Harmony to Live Together,” in order to become a “Sangha with all six harmonies” we monastics talk about a life of “six points of reverent harmony or unity in a monastery or convent.” Physical harmony enables group living, speech harmony eliminates argument, harmonious intent facilitates working together, similar moral codes facilitate joint practice, shared outlooks promote understanding, and mutual benefit creates equality, in order to become a “monastic with union of six senses of harmony.” Often, we want someone to be in harmony with us; it should be that we are in harmony with others. However, when there is someone who regards you as an enemy, an odd person, a target of jealousy, or looks down on you, and says, “How can a person like you be worthy of my friendship!” “It is surprising how a person like you can be in the Sangha University.” “It is a shame that a person like you sits next to me!” If you encounter a person like this, you still need to be harmonious with them. Don’t worry whether they are harmonious with you or not. At least, you are not having vexations.
When two people start quarreling about differences in opinion or a misunderstanding, quickly recite the motto, “Use harmony to live together” because if you are not in harmony with each other, it will create unhappiness. If the other person is still unhappy no matter what you do, you must maintain cheerfulness. If the other person dislikes you and you still show that you are cheerful, they may feel even worse, thinking, “This guy is shameless. I am already so mad with him and he is still so happy!” If that is the case, do not treat this person as your enemy and do not always intentionally approach him – if you can avoid doing these, the unhappy situation will disappear.
Treat Each Other with Respect
The fourth motto is, “Use Respect to Treat Each Other.” Even though some people’s mental or physical ability is not good, or their habit or personality is eccentric, we should still respect them, regarding them as a present-day bodhisattva and a future buddha. Even when they try to teach us Dharma and does so poorly, they function as a mirror and remind us of own behaviors. If this person is a great Dharma mind, we should respect him even more because he can stimulate our own practice.
Therefore, if there are schoolmates who lack dignified manners, speak without thinking, often come in late, always leave early, frequently sneak out to have a bowl of noodles, or has other tricks, do not learn from them or hate them, but advise and encourage them, show your concern, and respect them as bodhisattvas. Among yourselves, you should show respect, concern and caring for each other. Treating each other with mutual respect will result in harmony and happiness.
“Use compassion to care for people, use wisdom to take care of things, use harmony to live together, and use respect to treat each other.” These are the four parts of the school motto you should use to support and encourage each other. Try to get used to speaking them out aloud in order to apply these mottos in different places and times. For example, when you see unpleasant situations occurring between schoolmates, say, “use harmony to live together.” When you see A criticizing B, say to them, “treat each other with respect.” When you see someone with a problem but no one is helping, say to yourself, “care for people with compassion.”; when you see someone is totally messed up and unreasonable, say, “use wisdom to take care of things".
Living is Practice
“Living is practice” has two aspects: one is to take care of things in our own environment; the other is for everyone to take care of things common to the group. Do not think of coming to Sangha University only to study. Not knowing about fire, wood, rice, oil, and salt, and not caring for daily living matters will make you a lazy monk or a lazy nun! It confirms the opinion people had in the past that monastics are lazy. People used to look down on monks, believing that only lazy people entered monasteries. In fact, monasteries exist to serve others. Dharma mind cultivates the habit of serving others – it means helping others to succeed. When you help others to succeed, you will grow more and attain more benefits for yourself.
The first graduating class of the Institute of Buddhist Studies had a very caring classmate in Master Hui Ming. All his classmates received his loving care. Now Master Hui Ming is Vice President of the Sangha University, the Academic Dean and Head of the Department of Common Studies at Taipei University of Arts, and Vice Chancellor of the Institute of Buddhist Studies. Because he was solicitous towards people, extended care to them, and supported their endeavors, his own accomplishments are also great. People with Dharma mind and compassionate mind attain success quickly.
I always encourage the students at the Institute to place “Dharma mind first, health second, and scholastics third.” If people in scholastic studies, in research, and in school are without physical and mental health, they will not excel in their studies. Even if they do excel they will not be able to apply it. For example, I did not have very good physical health. When I was studying, I often had minor illnesses. However, my mental health was good and my physical health was such that I had to often ask for permission to be absent from school.
If you always remember to use the school motto, your mental health should be good and your physical health should not be too bad either. The worst is if you do not feel mentally balanced, but feel you cannot fit in and often feel: “How can this place be so bad!” “Why won’t it change?” “Why won’t it improve?” When you have these kinds of thoughts, for sure, your physical health will not be good. In addition, poor mental health leads to poor physical health. Under these conditions, you will not excel in your studies. Even though you have studied, you will only be a bookworm and can only mimic what the teachers have taught. Next time, you can only hold the book to read. It ends up that a book is still a book and you are still you. We, students of Buddhism, want to let Dharma merge into our lives. Otherwise, books are only books. You may be able to read and talk, but it is only the knowledge in the books and has nothing to do with your life. In this way, Dharma is only a tool to enable you to make a living, or to show that you are not useless as you can talk and write. This is not a healthy mindset. A health person should be able to apply what he has heard and learned. Learning to apply is the mindset we monastics should have. This mindset is also different from the mindset of studying Buddhadharma for scholastic purposes – these two are not the same.
I ask the students at the Institute of Buddhist Studies to have “Dharma mind first, health second, and scholarship third.” My fellow students at Sangha University, you should be even more so. Although the Institute offers many courses, in these four years our goal is not to make everyone a first-rate great Dharma master. We want everyone to become a solid and plain nun or monk, to attain the proper monastic mindset and mannerism. From there, cultivate the right knowledge and right view. Always place the four words, compassion, wisdom, harmony, and respect in your mind, to be what a monastic should be and not to fail to live up to your original intentions. You will then not become a burden to Buddhism, disappoint your parents, or make them worry.
If after your arrival, you let your family worry by often writing letters and making phone calls, saying, “This place is really bad. When it’s hot, it is unbearably hot. When it’s cold, it’s unbearably cold. Food is not good; sleeping arrangements are not good; schoolmates are not nice, and teachers are not nice. Dharma Drum Mountain is simply Dharma Ghost Mountain!” When this happens, your family will want you to go home. When a person with serious karmic obstructions comes to our Mountain, it is a hell for him. Contrarily, a person of wisdom and with blissful retributions will feel that our Mountain is a Pure Land.
I-8: Giving Oneself for the Attainment of Others
Founder’s Time Lecture, September 26, 2003
The common spirit of Dharma Drum Mountain is “Giving of oneself for the attainment of others.” On the other hand, what is the spirit of the monastics? It is to uphold the precepts, practice with diligence, endure humiliation, and follow the path of mendicant Buddhist monks. During Shakyamuni Buddha’s time the Venerable Mahakashyapa was regarded as the first mendicant Buddhist monk. The mendicant path is a way of life that has few worldly materialistic desires and possessions; it does not seek fame and wealth. This is the spirit of monastics.
Offering to the People in the Society
Looking back to the history of China as well Tibet and India, there were similarities in the state of affairs. When the royals and ministers of a monarch respected and worshiped Buddhism, there would be abundant offerings from them. The subordinates would then follow the example of their superiors. Soon the common people would also follow to provide, protect, and sustain Buddhism. In those times, Buddhism was very prosperous. Because of prosperity, the monastics gradually began to get lazy. They stopped their original responsibility to practice Buddhism and promote Buddhaharma. Corruption began; they were running around in the houses of powerful and wealthy people, climbing social ladders, and winning over followers. When it got to this state, it was often the beginning of the road to the extinction of Buddhism because monastics had become parasites. The crises of Buddhaharma in Tibet, China, and India all had this similar pattern.
Therefore, we monastics must be vigilant to “offer ourselves to others in the society” and to focus on education and caring works. We should provide resources to the general public, including the concept of Buddhaharma and methods of Dharma to attain peace of mind. To exert some of our mental and physical efforts for the society will prevent Buddhism from becoming merely ornaments for high officials and nobles. Furthermore, you should recognize that promoting Buddhism is not just focusing on believers. If this were the way, Buddhism might not survive from one generation to the next; it would mean the eventual disappearance of Buddhism. Buddhism is somewhat different from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, in which the tradition of worship is passed down generation after generation. Most Buddhists become so because of exposure to other Buddhists in society. It is very rare that a whole family believes in Buddhism generation after generation, because Buddhism is not a religion of a family, a nation, or a society. It is a very free religion.
The term “free” implies that if the previous generation believes in Buddhism, it does necessarily not mean the next generation will also believe. For example, a husband believes in Buddhism but his wife may not, and vice versa. Buddhism is very tolerant and forgiving in nature. For example, there is probably only one, or a couple of you who became a believer by following your mother’s beliefs when you were young. Most of you were not believers when you were young. Therefore, what we mean by “for the attainment of others in the society” is not only with regard to the believers, it also includes non-believers. From this point on, our responsibility is very great. How this generation of monastics will influence the next generation of monastics, and how monastics are to influence the general public to uphold the Three Jewels is very weighty responsibility indeed.
Please do not be naïve and think, “If people want to believe, they will believe.” You cannot be this passive and inactive. You must create the causes and conditions for people to learn about Buddhism. How do you create it? By forming ties with people, serving them and providing them with the causes and conditions to be close to Buddhaharma. For example, there was a very famous writer, who originally had no religious beliefs. At her father’s passing we went to offer condolences, provide services, and perform eight hours of memorial chanting to give her peace of mind while in mourning. Later, she was troubled in selecting a format for the farewell service because the common custom is full of confusion, noise, and chaos. Someone suggested hiring an orchestra to perform. There were people suggesting a dancing event to memorialize her father. There were others telling her to have exquisite things to decorate the mourning hall. Listening to all these ideas made her confused.
Then she called to ask for advice. We told her the story of the passing of another artist’s father: we, at Dharma Drum Mountain, went to help and conducted a simple and solemn mourning service. Not only did it have educational meaning, but it also had cultural significance. She said that would be fine. She wanted to have the mourning service conducted simply, solemnly, and with class. Because of this cause and condition, she came to realize something during the process and decided after the funeral service to begin studying Buddhaharma. This is an example of offering ourselves for the attainment of people and being of services to society.
An informal memorial chanting service and a solemn, simple, but elegant mourning service led a family to become Dharma Protectors (supporters) and believers of Buddhism. This can imperceptibly influence their relatives and friends to become disciples of Buddhism and to begin learning Buddhaharma. Our objective is to care for them. Therefore, we should have the spirit of serving and offering, no concern for whether there is fame or wealth, or whether there are returns. It is giving ourselves to the society and serving the people equally. Only this way, will Buddhism have the space to survive.
Following the Path of the Mendicant Monk
The mendicant monk’s path is not to seek materialistic fame and wealth, but to treat others generously and be strict with ourselves. However, one should not treat oneself strictly to the extent that one does not eat enough or clothe oneself sufficiently, becoming sallow and emaciated. All mendicant Buddhist monks and nuns should be healthy, because their hearts and minds are always bright, happy, and full of Dharma bliss. They are happy that they are monastics, they have nothing to worry about and no attachment, and they do their best in everything they do. They also live long. Like the Venerable Mahakashyapa, who did not starve or freeze to death but lived to be very old. Therefore, abasing oneself is not the mendicant path; it is asking for suffering.
At our Mountain, there is a bodhisattva volunteer who is 91 years old. This old madam still takes a hoe daily to work in the vegetable garden. Younger people see her working at such an old age and hide the hoe from her. She then uses a spatula to dig slowly, not in any hurry, but not slowing down. After planting for a period, she goes to the kitchen to wash and cut the vegetables. Afterwards, she goes to the Guanyin Hall to read a sutra, do walking meditation, and prostrate to the Buddha. She is quite good at using her time; when there is hot sun, she does not go to the garden. She also knows how to use the land well; she enabled the area, originally full of weeds, to grow vegetables. This old madam does not ask to be known or to be given a good living. She lives a plain life without squabbling with people and without wanting things. Her life style is so carefree and self-satisfying.
The Spirit of Mendicant Buddhist Monks: Diligence without Worldly Desires
Diligence – striving for betterment – is also part of the spirit of monastics. Besides serving people in society, life should be active with proper regularity and taking care of the Dharma center and its people. If we live an undisciplined, disorganized, and unsociable life, and do not strive for betterment, our physical health will not be good. By not getting up in the morning, not going to bed at night, not going to the services early when we should, not taking action when we should, and still be sleeping when everyone has already started the Eight Movement Chan (exercise), our health is not going to be good either.
We should not constantly worry about our health, always thinking of this or that discomfort, but we should go to a doctor if something is wrong. Otherwise, the consequences may be unimaginable. For example, if your eye hurts, and you say, “I don’t care, let it hurt. I can still see,” you may go blind. Therefore, when there is a problem with your body, you must pay attention. If it is real, go see a doctor. I had a case: my elbow was always hurting, perhaps because of writing too much or overusing it in some way; it is commonly called “tennis elbow.” Whenever I thought of it, it hurt. I didn’t take care of it and paid no attention to it, I ignored this pain. I wore the protective elbow band when I should. When the band was on, I felt a little better; but the pain was still there.
I asked a doctor at the veteran’s hospital what I should do. He said that he also had this problem and he told me to give the elbow more rest. I then asked him, “Doctor, have you been resting your elbow?” He said he had a lot of karmic obstructions and could not get any rest because he was very busy. He had to examine the outpatients, run to and from the central and branch hospitals, and also had to teach. So, he could not get any time to rest. He said, “Master, you are a monk, you should be able to find time to rest!” He believed we monastics lived a relaxed life with not much to do, and that we should be able to get more rest. I then told him, “I also have very serious karmic obstruction. I have no way to get more rest. So, please improve whatever you can. What you can’t improve will just have to be. I just have to live and die with my illness”. When there is an illness which cannot get better, then just live with it!
In any case, we must take care of our body and try not to be concerned about minor illnesses. For the more serious illnesses, when there is nothing we can do ourselves, we must see a doctor. However, there is a common saying, “long illness makes one a good doctor.” When we have a long period of illness, we are more experienced with the illness. As we get older, we know more about the condition of our illness, and we should know how to take care of it. Right now, I probably know more about the condition of my body than the doctors do. I know whether I need to get a shot, wear a medicine patch, or take medicine. Some people say that I am always ill, but this has been how I have been dragging along and I am still surviving. I don’t think of dying and am not afraid of dying. When I am tired, I take a little rest. An old man at 75, how much better can the health be? It is to face it – birth, aging, illness, death – accept it, take care of it, and let it be. This is also the spirit of us monastics.
There is a saying, “Monks and nuns are all 30 percent ill.” It means that being ill is a cause and condition (for becoming a monastic), which could help to show the meanings of illness and suffering. However, if monks and nuns are often ill and need others to take care of them, it would be troublesome. Being ill does not necessarily require people waiting on one; one can still be independent. Being ill lets one know that illness is suffering and understand that life is full of uncertainties. Hence, one should strive harder and try even more to lift one’s spirit.
When monastics let their illness bother them, it shows that they do not have a strong practice mind. Besides having a doctor to treat the illness, monastics should rely on faith; make vows often, be ashamed, and repent frequently before Guanyin Pusa (Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva). Then they should make a great compassionate vow to deliver all sentient beings from suffering: “I offer myself for the attainment of sentient beings. Let all sentient beings depart from suffering.” When one sees an ill person, one should see someone needing help. When one has a minor illness, regard it as a link in the cycle of birth-aging-illness-death. Since birth everyone brings with them illnesses. No one is 100% healthy. Keeping one’s heart and mind always happy and upholding Dharma bliss, one will not be defeated by illness and tiredness. It is normal that that our bodies have some illnesses. Do not think because of illness one cannot practice the mendicant monk’s path.
I-9: Spirit is Revealed through Vigorous Practice
Founder’s Time, Sangha University, March 19, 2004
By “spirit” I do not mean physical strength. At my age I am not physically strong but it does not mean I don’t have spirit. Being physically weak is not equivalent to being without spirit. Even after people die, their spirit is not necessarily gone.
Only Practice Can Reveal Spirit
The main purpose of talking about spirit is to arouse your mental and physical efforts, your conviction and your will on the bodhisattva path. The motto “Institute of Three Types of Education,” which you read every morning represents in effect, our school’s spirit. In addition, the guidance stipulated in our Monastery Student Handbook reveals a style that is also our school spirit as well as our own spirit. If you just read the school motto every morning, even though you may be able to recite it fluently, your behavior will not show any improvement. Even though the rules in the Handbook are very good, if in private, you still adhere to your old ways, is this spirit? Our school motto is “Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony, Respect.” If it is not reflected in your daily life, the spirit in it will not unfold.
Therefore, all this well-intentioned model behavior is not just lip-service but should be carried out accordingly and vigorously. If this is done anyone who comes in contact with members in our Dharma Drum Mountain community will be affected by our bodhisattva conduct in compassion, wisdom, blissful harmony, and mutual respect. This is spirit. It also shows that we are consistent in our speaking and behavior. Otherwise, if there is no relationship between the model rules of conduct and our own mindset and behavior, the spirit will not be present either. Therefore, true spirit is revealed by living up to our ideals and by carrying out our Institute’s and school’s motto. Even if you know a lot, have been exposed to the virtuous knowledge of all the famous, prominent Sangha in the world, or you can speak well about Buddhaharma, if your conduct does harmonize with Buddhaharma, naturally you will not experience the spirit of great virtuous knowledge.
Whether it is the Dharma Practice Class or the Sangha University, the purpose is to cultivate Buddhist teachers. As homeleavers, we don’t have to be good in speaking but vigorous practice is the most important. Every move we make, every expression we show, can let others feel the spirit of compassion, wisdom, harmony with each other, and respect to others. With this spirit, we can gradually touch and inspire others. In Shakyamuni time, there was this Assaji Bhikshu, who had great, dignified mannerism. Once, Shariputra saw him on the street holding an alms bowl. He was greatly impressed and envious and thought that a person with such impressive mannerism must know the Buddhist doctrine. So, he approached and asked, “You have such a dignified manner and you must know a lot about Buddhist doctrine. Would you mind teaching me some?” Assaji Bhikshu answered, “I am a disciple of Buddha. If you want to learn, learn from my teacher.” Because of this, Shariputra and another friend Mahamaudgalyayana both became the disciples of Buddha. Also from there on, whenever Shariputra knew which direction Assaji Bhikshu was from him, he always faced that direction when he slept and would not turn his back in that direction; he respected Assaji Bhikshu deeply. Assaji did not show off in front of Shariputra, but his impressive manners led people to feel the spirit within.
Recently, we promote the use of the Daily Lessons Form and use it to review the three karmas of our body, speech and intentions during the day. This is not a burden but a benefit and accomplishment. You should follow the items in the form to practice, and then you can exhibit the spirit of DDM. Don’t say that your class work keeps you busy and you don’t have enough time; hence, you cannot diligently follow the daily lessons form to practice. This type of thinking is backwards. It is like our daily classes, the daily lessons form is also our class. If you miss a day’s lessons, it is a lost day.
Living for the Continuance of Spirit
Anyone in this world, who can influence one or two people in his life time, would leave his or her spirit behind. One doesn’t have to be a teacher or a shifu, or do something on a grand and spectacular scale, in order to have spirit. For example, in the early days I had a jushi (lay follower) named Wang Zhekuan. You might have known the story from the book, The Teachers and Friends of Our Dharma Community. He originally was a lay Buddhist studying with another senior Buddhist teacher. Later, having heard my talk on sutras, he called me Shifu. This jushi had great and far-reaching influence on me. Back then, when I was going to Japan to study, every one who knew me did not agree and said that I would resume lay life. Except Wang Jushi who sincerely told me that he believed one hundred percent that I would remain a monk. When I left, he gave a hongbao –an offering. He was a retired person and his family financial situation was not really that good, but he gave me a hongbao. Though the amount was not that big, to me, it meant a lot.
After I arrived in Japan, people in Taiwan gossiped to my Shifu about some untruthful things about me, which led to my Shifu’s misunderstanding about me. So, my Shifu often called me to account for those untruthful things and even came to Tokyo to see me. However, this Wang Jushi never doubted me. Whenever there was a friend going to Japan, he would ask his friend to bring a little gift for me. I remember that one winter, it was very cold. He bought some fabric and took them to the Cultural Center. He asked Buddhist teacher Jian Shing to make a few winter clothes and asked his friend going to Japan to give them to me. I was very touched. These little things made lasting memories in my life! Therefore, after his passing, I wrote an essay in remembrance of him. Of all the articles of remembrance for passed away friends, this one was the earliest. His spirit still influences me till this day. It has been thirty years, his children and grand-children are still continuing the old jushi’s wishes to protect and support Dharma Drum Mountain, because in his will, he said, “You must diligently take care of this Sheng Yen Shifu. He is a monk of great virtue.”
Initially, I did not know that they were still supporting us. Recently his granddaughter asked if she could come to see me. Because her parents did not feel comfortable about seeing me, they never came forward to be converted to Buddhism. Now her parents were seventy years old and wanted to see me. After seeing them, I realized that for so many years, Wang Jushi’s children, grandchildren, and in-laws have been supporting Dharma Drum Mountain. Thinking back about Wang Jushi, he had always quietly protected and supported me and his children and grandchildren have continued their father and grandfather’s wishes, quietly supporting us. Though he had no fame, had I not written an essay in remembrance of him, there would not be anyone knowing him in Buddhist history. Nevertheless, he influenced me and also influenced his children and grandchildren. This old jushi’s spirit, when he was alive and after he passed away, has been very influential to me. Therefore, not leaving a name behind is not important. Leaving behind a good spirit with positive impact is precious.
Spirit is a force of influence. One’s speaking and behavior, even to the extent of writing, all can influence people. Whether influencing people from different spaces or in different times, they are all spirit. If someone asked you, “What is your family spirit?” most people probably would not know how to answer. However, using myself as an example, my parents were peasants living in the country side; they did not study much and were not scholarly. However, my parents had a saying which has influenced on me all my life: “Big ducks swimming make big waves and small ducks swimming make small waves. When there is no duck swimming, there is no wave.” This is our family spirit. The morals taught by our fathers will influence us; and when shared with others, it would also benefit them. This is family spirit.
I -10: Wisdom, Compassion, and Methods
Guidance Workshop for Prospective Students, April 12, 2003
I welcome all you bodhisattvas coming here to participate. In our student recruiting news release there is a slogan: “In the Sui and Tang dynasties, the first rate talents were believers in Buddhism. The cream of the crop in the 21st Century’s is also.” Before the Sui and Tang dynasties, during the Northern and Southern Wei and Jin Dynasties, the country was war-torn and divided. After that period, the Sui dynasty united the country and peace and prosperity then followed in the Tang dynasty. Today we live in a world where pulling a single strand of hair can stir up the whole body. If our eyes only see Taiwan, this tiny, bullet-sized place, we will be like a frog in the bottom of a well and think the world is very small. Generally speaking, though we know there is this world and also know there is this Taiwan, most of us don’t have a clue about the future of this world and of Taiwan. Because today’s environment is so closely interwoven, it does not matter which region, when something good or bad happens, the whole world is affected. Living in this big worldly environment we cannot afford to disregard the rest of the world.
Doing Your Best while Living, Offering Your Life
For example, the war in Iraq seems to be far away, but through reports in news media, it is as if we are only separated from Iraq by a river or a street. Everyday we can see people on the other shore, crossing the street fighting. So you should not regard this war as being far away. Any time there is a war, it affects the whole world environment drastically. Another example is the recent SARS epidemic, which came with the force of roaring waves, the sound of the wind, and the cries of cranes. Everyone’s eyes and ears were open and we were concerned with the course of the epidemic. Even when boarding planes, the flight attendants and passengers were having misgivings, not knowing if there was anyone on plane who may be infected. Yesterday, I returned to Taiwan from Japan. Through customs, airport personnel checked everyone’s temperature, in fear of an infected person would spread the disease after entering Taiwan. From this epidemic we can see when anything happens, it affects all of us.
I don’t know if you have ever given thought to what course people should follow in the 21st century. What is to become of the earth? About these questions, I am very concerned. We, the human race, often only know to conquer. If this attitude doesn’t change it doesn’t need another 600 million years or even 5 thousand years for the earth will to be destroyed. If we can change our attitudes, I believe there shouldn’t be problem to sustain the earth for another 100 million years.
Yesterday, I was in Japan to participate in the World Council of Religious Leaders meeting. A minister from the Kenya region of Africa talked to me about war. I said one reason why wars start is because nations do not have a sense of security about each other. For example, the war in Iraq can be attributed at least in part to the mutual distrust between the United States and Iraq. At some point the level of distrust can get so high that one or both sides feel it necessary or desirable to attack. The point I am making is that we are no longer in a world where such conflicts can easily be contained and isolated. As I said before, when there is war, even halfway around the world, it affects whole world environment drastically.
Only with Mind at Ease, One Can Influence Others
When our minds are at ease, we can then influence others. When the minds of others are at ease, they can influence more people. If a person has global influence, he will influence even more people. Although I am not a very versatile person, I do have some influence. However, one plank of wood cannot build a house. There must be many pieces of wood and pillars and beams to build a big house. Therefore, I say, “We need to use the concept of Buddhadharma in the 21st Century. Use Buddhadharma to build this world. And the most talented people in the 21st Century should join Buddhism.”
To practice Buddhism one can be a lay practitioner or leave home and become a monastic. However, lay practitioners are not as influential as monastic members because they cannot engage full time in the relief work of Buddhadharma. Monastics can offer all their time to benefit themselves as well as others. Hence, the influence of monastics can be sustained and be very broad. For example, I am over 70 year old. If I am a lay practitioner, my home should be full of sons, daughters, and grandchildren. I would be playing with my grandchildren, or taken good care of myself to fulfill my allotted life. But because I am a monastic person, I do not think about my age problem, whether I should be retiring or living out of my life in comfort. My mind always thinks of “Doing the best while living, offering my life.”
Leaving the Source of Vexation
To help the world and humanity we need to meet three conditions: we must have wisdom; we must have compassion, and we must have a method. Confucius said: wisdom, kindness, and yong (courage). But when we talk about yong, it is like going to war. I would say will power is real yong – resolute, persistent effort. We need to use unyielding will and persistent effort to cultivate wisdom and compassion.
The wisdom of Buddhadharma can open our hearts and minds. We will not only look at our immediate personal issues, we will consider things in their entire context and arrive at a way to gather and assert our energies to solve problems. Compassion will not result in complaints and hatred, or wanting to conquer or counter others, but will seek solutions to problems. Having wisdom will reduce our vexations; having compassion will reduce complaints in us and reduce hatred towards others and society. It can even achieve the state of no standoff and no hatred.
To achieve this state of mind, there is only one word, love. But there are many interpretations to “love,” so I think it is better to use the word “compassion” because its meaning is clearer and more precise. Beyond compassion, however, we need to have method to enable us to calm our minds at all times. In addition, it can also help others to have a way to calm themselves at all times.
The work facing the Sangha today is different from what it was in the past. Monastics of my generation or before mostly stayed in the temple beating on the muyu (fish-shaped drum) and chanting sutras. Although we still do that, we also think about world affairs, crises facing the human race, and problems related to the sentient beings. We cannot distance ourselves from these issues. As long as there are problems in our world, such as serious disasters and important events, we should be actively engaged to help people settle their minds. We are bound by duty to help people find peace of mind without shirking our responsibilities.
During the big 1999 earthquake, people in Taiwan lived in great fear. During that time the greatest need was for calmness and stability. I went on television and newspapers to use the wisdom and compassion of Buddhadharma to calm and stabilize people’s mind and to pray. I prayed for the living and for the dead but the survivors suffered the most. Sanghas in the past mainly focused on chanting sutras for the dead and praying to pacify the spirits of the dead. But today’s Sangha should do more for the peace of mind of the living and to point a pathway for them. This is the responsibility we should undertake.
If we want to give hope for our future, our society, and to that extent the world, the best way is to become a member of the Sangha. But to be a monastic, it is not enough to shave our head and change our clothes. We need to leave the home of vexations and participate in leading others to attain true peace of mind and happiness. The economy is not very good right now. Many people suffer from losing their jobs. Actually, losing a job is not that painful. It is because their mind can not adjust, that they feel the pain.
Yesterday, I read about a man who held his daughter on a pedestrian bridge threatening to jump. Because he lost his job, compounded by matters beyond his control, he was depressed about not having a future and angry at not having his talent recognized. All these feelings led him to choose this desperate act. The fact is, was his situation really that desperate? Actually, whenever we encounter some problem, we need only to face the reality squarely and deal with it. The difficult will pass over. Don’t scare yourself and scare others either. Let yourself be happy and others as well.
I hope, my fellow students, that you will exert your efforts for the human race of the 21st century. I can only be counted as a 20th century person. The peace and happiness of the people in the 21st century will rely on you bodhisattvas to jointly shoulder the responsibilities. People of the 20th century have had enough suffering. I hope people in the 21st century possessing Buddhadharma, will not suffer so much.
I -11: Cherish Blessings, Virtues, and Causes and Conditions of Monastics
Excerpts from Workshop for New Students, Monastic Life Practice Program, Feb. 19, 2004
and Founder’s Time, Sangha University “Founder’s Time," Feb. 20, 2004
Dear bodhisattvas, I welcome you to our Second Annual Monastic Life Practice Class. A year from now, you will formally enter the Sangha Cultivation Class. Last year at this time, I also gave a talk in the Monastic Life Practice Class of the Workshop for New Students. Time has gone by very fast. It is now another new school year. Today, I would like to talk to you about a few concepts.
First: Becoming a Monastic is Better than Remaining as a Householder
For a practitioner, it is better to become a monastic than to remain a layperson. The reason is because as a monk or nun you are letting go of ego for the sake of others. Only by letting go of self can one have the fewest vexations, and only by helping others attain the path, can your life be the most meaningful. Historically, people who were not self-centered, who endeavored to care for others and offered the most, were great people. We call this type of person yaoren. “Yao” means important; “ren” means person. So, yaoren is an important person. A person is considered important when lots of people look to them for help. If someone is selfish, self-profiting, and disliked by many, they are not yaoren. How to make one’s life meaningful? All in all, becoming a monastic is a very good choice.
Second: One still Fulfills Filial Duty and Responsibilities to family.
Some parents find it harder to accept their child becoming a monastic than if the child passed away. They think, at least when a child is dead, the parents would no longer have to worry about or continually care for him or her. On the other hand, they think, when the child becomes a monastic, they would be friendless and helpless, with no one to care for them. They end up continually worrying about their left-home child. Many people probably have this erroneous idea.
The fact is that since the monastic person has left home, he or she no longer has expectations about inheriting wealth. They would not be like siblings fighting over their parents’ wealth and otherwise making trouble. On the contrary, a monastic is still bound by filial duty to help care for parents and relatives. It is the best if the parents were healthy, and it is also good if siblings can care for the parents. But when there is no one at home, or the parents have no one to rely upon, we monastics are the best fallback. Besides, monks and nuns have fellow believers and disciples who can together take care of old and sick relatives. As monastics we will fulfill the filial duty and responsibilities of sons and daughters.
Having left home, monastics let go all of all love relationships, their affection towards their parents, and the customary sentiments towards sons and daughters and relatives. There will no longer be anxiety and worry and expectations regarding these matters. We do not expect gifts from parents and relatives because we offer ourselves to the Three Jewels and to sentient beings. From now on we will be cared for by the Three Jewels and the Buddhist community. Sentient beings need us and they will take care of us.
For example, I am now getting old but as long as there is daoxin – a practicing mind, I don’t need to worry. One of my teachers in Japan offered encouragement to me: “There is no Dharma in food and clothing, but there are food and clothing in Dharma.” As monastics, as long as we practice, we need not be afraid of not having food and clothing. Practicing Dharma will lessen self-centeredness in the mind and let in more of offering mind. This is daoxin.
Third: Now is the Most Appropriate Time to Become a Monastic
In the past, there was no social status for monastics because most did not have the skills to earn a living nor the ability to function in society. Therefore, they could only do rituals, light joss sticks and candles, and perform ceremonies to expiate the sins of the dead. So, they patronized and lived off the temple, and patronized deities and lived off deities – this is the often called “eating joss sticks and candles.” This kind of monasticism was very passive, avoided external reality, and caused people to look down on monks.
However, today most of our Sangha members serve society in community, educational, or cultural work, or doing spiritually uplifting work at Dharma Drum Mountain. Although the quality of modern day monastics is not uniform, generally speaking they are very good and standards have risen. Everyone contributes to society and this has generally been received positively by the society. When I was about your age the public held monks in low regard. For example, when I walked on the streets in Shanghai, especially in the morning, people would practically spit in my face. Why? Because the first thing in the morning, they would see a kongmen – an “empty door,” a shaved-head Buddhist monk. To them it was not a good sign. Bald implies nothingness; kongmen implies emptiness – nothing left. Therefore, people looked down on and were prejudiced against monks.
Later on, I went to Taiwan and became a monk for the second time under Master Dongchu. Once, I was on the street in Beitou, just looking around. Quickly, a policeman came over and asked me, “If I may ask you, what are you doing?” I said, “I am a monk.” He said, “A monk does not look around. Are you a spy collecting intelligence? I said, “I live on the mountain. The old monk on the mountain is my Shifu.” He said, “Really? Let me make a call to confirm.” Then he called asking, “There is a monk down here. Is he one of your monks?”
My Shifu said, “Yes, he is my disciple.” He said, “Ok, in the future, don’t let him look around. When walking, just walk.” I said, “I have just returned from my home in Kaohsiung. I’m just taking a look if anything has changed.” He asked, “What were you in Kaohsiung for?”
In the same way, local people also look down on monks. Once I went to a Beitou drugstore to buy some eye drops. The owner of the store looked cold and indifferent, as if I couldn’t pay him. He asked, “What do you want this medicine for?” I said, “I need it.” He said, “Your eyes look alright to me. Why do you want to use these eye drops?” I said, “Do you want to sell this medicine or not?” He even replied, “We sell medicine to those who are ill. I just think you look normal.” So, I had to go to another drug store to buy the medicine. In those times, these kinds of things happened.
When I was in Japan I observed that Buddhist priests were treated respectfully. In fact, Japanese Buddhist priests are lay practitioners living in the temple. They are equivalent to the ministers in Christian religion and not really monks. But they are respected because they are well-educated. They effectively serve Japanese society and have become role-models. At that time I envied them greatly not because they had wives or were householders, but because they were respected by society.
There was another time when the design of the Dharma Drum Mountain logo was finished. Many people put the stickers on the rear window of their cars. It was funny, but once I saw a car with a Dharma Drum Mountain sticker and thought he must be one of our followers. So, I went over to greet him and asked, “Are you a member of Dharma Drum Mountain?” He said, “You, the monk, what are you up to?” I said, “I see you have a Dharma Drum Mountain sticker. You must be a member of Dharma Drum Mountain.” “No, I don’t believe in Buddha.” I said, “Don’t you have a sticker on your car?” “I use that as a sign to warn people not to rear-end me.”
So, he did not recognize me as the person in charge of Dharma Drum Mountain and he was also not a follower. He just put a Dharma Drum Mountain sticker on his care to use it as a STOP sign. This must be 12 or 13 years ago. It should not happen anymore now.
At present, standards of monastic members in Taiwan have gradually risen, especially in several of the large Buddhism groups. Their standards are very high, their contributions to society are significant, and the images they project are very clear and refreshing. Whenever Dharma Drum Mountain, Buddha’s Light Mountain, or Zhiji Merit and Virtue Group are mentioned, everyone treats us with respect. And when meeting monastics, people know to join the palms and respectfully greet them with “Amituofo!” (Amitabha Buddha) This is to say that present day monastics are regarded differently from those in the past. They are just what the society needs; it is also just what Buddhism needs. To be needed by society and by Buddhism, hence, they are thought of highly.
It was the same in Shakyamuni’s time – monastics walked around alms bowl in hand, spreading the Buddhadharma; they were providing caring and teaching services. Buddha went everywhere to talk about Dharma, showing concern for people. His disciples also emulated Buddha’s spirit and followed his footsteps to spread Buddhadharma. Today, the Sangha groups in Taiwan have gradually returned to the Buddha’s time to humanize the bhikshu and bhikshuni image. Therefore, I consider that now is the best time to join the Sangha, the Buddhist community of monks and nuns.
Fourth: Joining the DDM is Wisdom and Will Bring Many Blessings
The goal of Dharma Drum Mountain is to become a modern and world-serving educational center. Although building is still in progress, Sangha University has now been established for three years. The Sangha Life Practice Program is in its second year. The Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies has been around for 25 years. When the facilities under progress are completed we can then integrate all the programs. So, you have come here just in time. We are in need of talents to implement the three great educational programs.
It is with wisdom you choose DDM and you will receive blessings as a result. On this university campus, our focus is on cultivating talents in modern Buddhist education. There are three categories of talents we wish to cultivate: university level training, Dharma dissemination, and caring services. Regardless of your former education, if you learn well here you will be well-educated for life and be a bodhisattva dedicating your life to education. Hence, it is with wisdom that you come to DDM and it will also result in blessings.
Dharma Drum Mountain’s practice ground is not limited to this confined space; it exists wherever our ideals are practiced. There are countless numbers of people who are influenced by DDM’s ideals. Even if one is only able to use a sentence, a book, a concept, or a practice method to help others settle down and find a path towards their goals, it is an accomplishment for Dharma Drum Mountain. Therefore the work we do benefits ourselves as well as others. There will be many, many situations where we will be needed. We don’t have to worry that we will have no place to settle down and get on with our lives, or that there will be no occasion for us to contribute.
Dear bodhisattvas, take hold of your life, learn well and offer yourselves. You will have many years to “offer yourselves for the attainment of others in society” Looking at a person just over twenty years old, it would seem like one has a lot of time yet; the truth is that time is very short. I remember that being twenty-something years old was not that long ago; suddenly, I am seventy-five. My Shifu said to me before his passing at age seventy, “Sheng Yen, twenty years from now you will be like me.”
Now, twenty years have passed. Soon I will be like my Shifu. But you don’t need to worry and say, “Shifu, soon after I come here, you will no longer be here.” You don’t have to think so horribly. I will have lived fully through of my physical life and made an offering of it. Because of it, the practicing ground of Dharma Drum Mountain will open up a broad and free flowing path, bright and far reaching, for your future. Thereby, you can settle down here and learn to benefit yourselves as well as others.
Sangha members trained at this campus have two focuses: first, to have fewer vexations, second to help others have fewer vexations. It is also our Dharma Drum Mountain ideal to “elevate the character of people and establish a Pure Land on earth.” Treasure and be thankful for having this predestined good fortune and virtue, and having the wisdom to come to Dharma Drum Mountain to become a monk or a nun and dedicate yourself to the Dharma.
Fifth: The Style, Mindset and Mannerism of Monastic Life
Next, I want to talk to you about the style, mindset, and mannerism of monastic life. Monastic people go to bed early and rise early and there is no vacation, unlike some lay practitioners who work five days a week and rest two days – a nice life, so it appears. But when they work, they work intensely with utmost energy and when they rest, they also rest nervously as if there is no tomorrow. And often what they mean by rest is to eat, drink, play, and be joyful. They regard that as balancing one’s life. In fact, they look for excitement. This is the life style of some laypersons. We monastics always interact with Buddhadharma. Life that interacts with Buddhadharma has no pressure. Therefore, though we are busy, we have nothing to prove, do not compete for better or worse, and don not fight for recognition when there is success and shrink from responsibility when there is failure.
Our business is striving for improvement, not competition. Therefore, do not have the mindset of comparing big and small, high and low; such as “I have to be better than some person,” “I’ll never be in the last place,” and so forth. Comparing with someone is competing. Striving for improvement is doing whatever you can and learning whatever you can. This is the spirit of “put your mind to it, put forth your best efforts, fulfill your responsibilities, do what you should do” to justify your own action to yourself. Therefore, there is no need to anxiously think, “The fellow besides me is running faster than me. I can’t keep up. What a disgrace I am!” That fellow is a fleet-footed runner; your legs are crab legs. Crab legs are not so bad, they are what you have. Just put your mind to it; put forth your best efforts, fulfill your duties, and do what you should do.
However, don’t be lazy either, thinking, “I already got an F yesterday. Who cares! No big deal if I get two or three more Fs.” This is the so-called “too much debt to worry about it, too many fleas to feel an itch.” After making too many mistakes, you lose your feeling, feel relaxed, and don’t feel uncomfortable anymore. So, you keep on making mistakes, thinking, “This is who I am. I can’t do anything about it. So, what are you going to do about it?” This is having no sense of shame. We don’t compete but we should strive for improvement: put our mind to it, put forth our best efforts, fulfill our duties, and do what we should do. This is the monastic style and mindset.
As to manners, we should always treat everyone with modesty. Not only we should treat our elders, our peers, and our school mates with modesty, but also we should treat people who are younger and are lay practitioners with modesty. Once, I wanted a drink of water and asked one of the students next to me, “Please get me some water.” He acted very quickly rushing over, and respectfully took my tumbler to get water. I thought this student was very nice. But then he immediately handed the tumbler to another person saying, “Shifu wants some water. Hurry up!”
The second person went and filled up the tumbler and started to bring it to me. The first student said, “No! Shifu asked me to get the water.” Then he took over the glass of water and respectfully gave it to me. I said to him, “This glass of water doesn’t count. You [the second person] come over, please pour out this glass of water and you [the first person] get me another glass of water please.” The first person still did not understand and he scolded the second person, “You must have gotten the wrong water, too much and too cold. What’s the matter with you? Shifu doesn’t want it. Do it again.”
What do you think of this kind attitude in life? Is it good or not? Then I said, “Fine! From here on, you [the first person} don’t need to help me anymore. Any of my needs will have nothing to do with you. I wanted you to do it. Why did you ask the other person to do it? If I wanted to have the other person do it, I know how to ask! Why didn’t you do it instead of asking the other person? From here on, there is nothing you need to do for me.” He knelt and repented, “Shifu, I am sorry! I know I am wrong!” I said, “You are totally wrong. This is enduring the one above and bullying the one below. It is flattering the superior and taking advantage of the subordinate – showing great respect for the one above and making a show of strength towards the one below.” This is not the kind of behavior and attitude that a monastic should have.
We had a bodhisattva here before who had very high education, and who was very knowledgeable and able. I said, “This place needs people with Dharma practicing mind (daoxin), not necessarily people with strong abilities. It is certainly good that one has the practicing mind as well as ability, but having daoxin without ability is better than having ability but not daoxin.” So, every one of you should understand that having a practice mind daoxin is more important than having ability. However, it is not to say that you don’t need ability. Ability with daoxin is very good. Therefore, people having high education and good ability should be especially modest. Even Confucius was modest enough to say one should “not feel ashamed to ask and learn from a subordinate.”
Today, when I was walking on campus, there was a Dharma teacher with me and he said, “Shifu, this thing is such and such and the other thing is such and such.” I answered, “Yes, yes, yes.” He said, “Shifu, you cannot just say ‘yes’.” The fact is I don’t know every thing. When I don’t know but the disciple knows, I will listen to the disciple. He said, “Shifu, I feel embarrassed.” I said, “There is nothing to be embarrassed about. I want to hear from the expert.” What Shifu says is not always totally correct. You may see certain things better than I do. Amitabha!
PART 2:The Mindset and Conduct of Monastics
2-1: To Become a Monk, First be a Grandmother for Three Years
Sangha University “Founder’s Time”, September 21, 2001
When I was a young monk at Wolf Mountain, I had to get up early because I was supposed to raise the board [to wake up the others], strike the bell, and beat the drum. There was no alarm clock in those days, so sometimes I could not help but get up late. But the old monk was really strict. Whenever I missed raising the board or sounding the bell, he would bang on my room. If he knocked more than a few times my head would ring from “eating chestnuts” (the sound of knuckles on the door). It was not funny – my head would feel like it was swelling. So after a few times, this little monk would no longer dare to get up late.
In those times our water came from the sky. When it rained we would place vats under the eaves of the roof, a dozen or more next to each other. However long the eaves were, that was how long the line of the vats would be. The rainwater was very precious, being the sole source of water during dry season. If we did not use the water sparingly, the old monk would come around again.
In addition, our clothes were made from rough cotton with an old-fashion weaving machine. This kind of cloth was rough and thick, unlike the fabrics today which are light and convenient. When washing the clothes by hand one had to rub them very hard. Think about it – it was not that easy with small hands to wash the thick clothes clean!
When we wore clothes that had even a small tear, the old monk would be scornful: “Why are these clothes torn? It must be because of your mischievousness. Go, mend it quickly!” Fortunately, when I was home I watched my mother sew clothes, so I knew how to hold the needle, insert the cotton thread, and do a few stitches too. I had a xiao (young) shifu and he did not know how to mend. Then, the old monk would teach him, saying, “To become a monk, you must first learn to be a poniang for three years.” “Poniang” can refer to the grandmother who does things for the rest of the family. Hence, they were the ones usually sewing and mending, washing and cooking. The old monk meant that to become a monk, for the first three years, one must to do the things a grandmother would do.
As to taking care of flower beds, lawns, and trees, the old monk was like a “pro” too. He used taking care of growing things as opportunities to practice and of course, exercise. The younger monks naturally became his helpers. It was like mother ducks leading ducklings. The first generation leads the second generation and the second leads the third; afterwards every new generation would know how to take care of the courtyard.
Be Able to Stand on Your Own, then You are Able to Help Others
My purpose in talking about these things is to tell you that monastic people should learn to stand on their own. I used to visit Buddhist groups in Japan, Tibet, England, and United States. Most of them are fully functional communities called in Chinese, sequ. There is the Chinese saying, “The house sparrow may be small but it has all the vital organs.” A sequ includes everything from clothing, food, housing, transportation, management, education, health care, to security; everything is included. Whatever is needed for daily living, to the extent of schools, senior living, health and medical care, all must be self-sufficient. If a group or community lacks any one of the above, it would not be able to be self-sufficient and crisis would easily occur. Therefore, our group must always cultivate self-sufficiency, not depending on others’ capabilities and capacity. This way we are not only self-sufficient but we can also help others.
As an example, when typhoon Nelly came, it caused heavy damage. The Nung Chan Temple and our Cultural Center were among the sufferers. However, because our system was flexible and complete, we were not in disarray, but were able to provide relief. For example, the Nung Chan Temple was flooded to knee-deep, we could not start the stove in the kitchen, and we had to use a rubber raft to go in and out. But we could still make food boxes, which we sent out by the thousands to the residents in Taipei and staff at the village hall. This was because we had a complete functional system.
Currently, the number of students and staff in our school is about thirty. It can be considered a fairly large group. We should establish a complete system that can function in everyway and we should be able to do everything by ourselves, not relying on others. Of course, we are not asking you now to grow your own vegetables and to make your own clothes, but in the future we may. Regardless, you, the younger generation, should be able to do such things; you should learn well the monastery life style and monastic community operations.
In England, there is a very modern Buddhist community organized by monks and nuns. Located on a high-altitude mountain in Northern England, this group has had over twenty years of history. In the winter it can be snowbound for four to five months. They are very independent and self-sufficient. There are a few things which impressed me the most. The first is their kitchen, which normally only has two persons working there and being responsible to everyone’s food and beverages. Because they eat very simply, they don’t have to spend a lot of energy in preparing the meals. They can practice as they are preparing the meals. Though they eat very simply they are very healthy, unlike us who are fussy about nutrition, and if our meals don’t vary from time to time, our intestines become inert. But they have been eating this way for a long time and their stomach has not become inert.
In their sewing room I saw two monastics sewing, one of them a psychology professor and the other a medical doctor. They told me, “We must learn how to make clothes. Otherwise, we would not be able to change our clothes over to become a monastic.” What they meant was that they must learn how to make their own robes in order to become monastics.”
In their publishing section I saw a person editing on a computer and another doing design. They published their own books and literature because it would be expensive to get outside people to design and edit, and they had no such budget. Therefore, besides printing and binding, other things like writing, editing, typesetting, design, etc. were all done by themselves. So, they not only practice diligently but were also doing cultural publishing.
After that the abbot took me to visit another building. There I saw a group of people in working clothes, wearing hard hats mixing cement, carrying stones or climbing the scaffolding to repair the building. At first, I thought they must be workers hired from outside. After a closer look, I saw they were people from the monastery and there were two nuns among them. They said that men and women were equals in that place. In addition I saw a sculpture of Shakyamuni Buddha in the making. I asked and found out that a group of disciples led by the abbot were sculpting the statue. So you can see everyone in this group is versatile. The ones who initially did not know how, learned. This is a good example of what I have said about developing towards self-sufficiency.
Being a Can-Do Person
Recently, a female Dharma teacher at Nung Chan Temple said to me, “Shifu, monks are moving into the temple; we should utilize the nuns as monks.” I asked her what she meant by utilizing nuns as monks. She said, “Males originally are supposed to do the rough and heavy work.” I said, “In the monastery there are no distinctions as to what consists of men’s work or women’s work. Are sewing and mending women’s work? Are washing and cooking women’s work? These are the things all monks and nuns should know. By the same token, when electricity shuts down and things stop working, it is not only males but females who should know how to fix it.” When I visited a Catholic nunnery, its system and operations are similar to what I have described.
Therefore, I hope that after you have entered monastery, you should learn various work skills. Nuns cannot rely entirely on monks and similarly, monks cannot rely entirely on nuns. Also, monastery people cannot rely on laypeople. Monastics should cultivate indomitable spirit and self-reliant character. This is so that they can become the helpers of others, not for others to help them. Otherwise, if everything must rely on others and every problem must depend on others to resolve, it would be troublesome for the monastery.
2-2: Giving and Caring
Founder’s Time, Sangha University, March 22, 2002
I want to share with you my thoughts on what is required of a future monk or nun, so you will not be overwhelmed by the monastic environment. Upholding the precepts solemnly and strictly, living simply and plainly, and advancing diligently and meticulously in practice are the duties of monastics. It is the same for past, present or future monks and nuns. However, if simply meeting these conditions is not sufficient for today’s monastics, how can they be adequate for the monks and nuns of the future?
At present, Buddhism in Taiwan appears to be full of vitality. It is not because all Taiwanese believe in Buddhism. By tradition, people in Taiwan should be accustomed to folk beliefs, not Buddhism. Is it just because there are a few monks and nuns who uphold the precepts peacefully and quietly, live simply and plainly, moving forward in practice diligently, to allow Buddhism to flourish? If that were the case there would probably no Buddhism in Taiwan today.
Caring for Society for the Continuance of Buddhism
About a hundred years ago, the popular impression of Buddhism in Mainland China was of monastics “holding oneself aloof from the world, accompanying the green bell and wooden fish to finish the remaining years of life.” This kind of [ritualistic] Buddhism was a loss to society as well as a burden, because a healthy and useful monastic would not be productive for society. Furthermore, not being productive was one thing but a monk had to eat – yes, simply but he still had to eat. So, he could only beg for alms to live. He would say, “As we knock the wooden fish, we are practicing,” and “in our temple we chant ‘Long live the Great Qing Emperor’ for the prosperity of our nation and peace for our people and for humanity!” Since the coming of the Republic the chant changed to “Long live our president!”
At the time, there were about 5 million monastics in Mainland China. Most of them were sitting idle and enjoying the fruits as others worked. They did not work to spread Dharma and contribute to society. Even if they did it was limited to performing ceremonies in reciting sutras for the dead. But lay Buddhists can also recite sutras as well as the monks and nuns. If this is what we did today it would not work at all. The reason that Buddhism is so prosperous today in Taiwan is mainly because there are a few Buddhist groups who are providing services to society; hence the popularity of Buddhism.
Before the big earthquake of 1999 there was an ugly scandal in which a nun who held grudges had conspired with a dishonored member of the Bureau of Investigation, to wrongfully sue her master and grandmaster. It really shook up the whole Buddhist community. All the news media were turning the story over and over, chasing and digging into it non-stop, going deeper and deeper. It reopened all the past bad things and old debts of the Buddhist groups. Initially, it was only one case, which ended up chasing the wind and clutching at shadows, and made every monastic a target based on hearsay evidence. The new and refreshing image of Buddhism was destroyed.
However, following the earthquake this matter was forgotten because all the news media reported on the disaster relief work provided by the major Buddhist social service groups. In addition, Buddhist groups put up “Go, Taiwan, Go” public service messages and posters to encourage people in the recovery effort. On the strength of the work of the Buddhist groups in calming people’s minds, they also delivered important rebuilding efforts to the people. As a result news of the baseless slander disappeared. Because there was no evidence, the lawsuit was eventually dropped.
I mention this example to remind you that besides being dutiful Buddhists, we must also make distinct contributions to contemporary society. If after the earthquake the Buddhist community had not done so much, the scandal would have continued being stirred up. Now, we can say that damaging Buddhism and well-known Dharma masters would carry a high price, since Buddhist groups make positive contributions to society. Without Buddhism the stability and health of society as a whole would in some ways be affected.
Therefore, besides maintaining the traditional principles of Buddhism, we need to care for society. How is our group caring for society? Once a bodhisattva told me, “Dharma Drum Mountain has been doing real good work. During the 1999 earthquake, I happened to be in Nanto. People were using Shifu’s words to encourage others, for example, that a suffering person is a bodhisattva teaching us, and so on.” In addition, many friends said that even though Dharma Drum Mountain did not organize a big Dharma event, it is the Buddhist group they can most identify with. There were even non-Buddhists who regard that Dharma Drum Mountain as different from other groups, and is doing scholastic work and protecting people’s spiritual environment.
I say these things to you to let you know that we monks and nuns cannot leave society and be detached from it. Hence, caring and education services are parallel functions in our group. We are “using education to reach the goal of caring and using caring to accomplish the mission of education.” In the future if you forget to do caring work and only think about education, you will easily become one who lives in an ivory tower.
To care for society, we must begin caring within our Dharma Drum Mountain, and caring of our group must begin with taking care of ourselves. If we do not do this the idea of caring for society is like climbing a tree to catch a fish. Therefore, to be self-sufficient and strong, we must start from within our own heart and mind. But, how do we help ourselves settle our own heart and mind? If you say that we need to attain enlightment or cut off all vexations, it is not that easy. Basically, we need to follow the principles of bodhi mind. Having bodhi mind is to give our physical selves and our lives to the Three Jewels and sentient beings. As far as personal gains and losses, and glories and humiliations are concerned, they are not important points to consider. “It does not matter, if others do not honor me; I am only offering.” This is bodhi mind.
Bodhi mind is the mind for sentient beings. I have offered all my life to the Three Jewels and to sentient beings. As long as it is beneficial to sentient beings, whatever the Three Jewels want me to do, I will do it. Using bodhi mind to care for ourselves, then we can provide cares for our schoolmates, bodhisattvas, teachers and staff, in addition to the regular residents within our Sangha group. When we are doing well in caring within our own group, we can then extend the caring to society.
Caring for the outside community is offering to society. When you are a Sangha student, you sometimes also need to undertake responsibilities. But how do you care? You can participate in the group’s plan and perform work helpful to society – cleaning, Chan meditation education, community services, etc. We live in Jinshan. People outside are pretty curious about us; they may think, “These people have enough to eat but what are they doing up on the mountain?” “These young people, they are not deaf, not mute, not insane, or not dumb, but what are they doing up there?” Therefore, we should organize activities down there to improve the quality of their lives, and also to improve their impressions of us, let them know we are helping the environment – these all belong in the context of caring.
Offering Ourselves – to Benefit others is to Benefit Ourselves
The more we have of “offering mind” the faster we grow as practitioners. At present, most of the Sangha group need your cooperation – going to the kitchen or to the visitor center to render help. In the future, all the students can learn to make plans. For example, taking advantage of the New Year when people come to wish Shifu a Happy New Year, or when believers come to participate in various activities, try to work out the whole process and details, such as kitchen, transportation, receiving, promotional materials, etc.
As I see it, as a Sangha student you can independently do things. For example, you can help publish the Sangha University Newsletter. The managing can be one person’s responsibility, while the compilers and editors can be others. In this way, not only do you get training, but also the Newsletter gets published. You will grow very fast when you learn how to plan. Otherwise, your talents are not easy to be cultivated. Naturally, in the beginning, you will stumble and crawl, and stumble again. But, doing anything in the beginning is like this.
There will be people who think, “Don’t worry about anything else, just learn kitchen work first, and then we will see.” Or, “To be a receptionist at ceremonies, learn the job of being receptionist.” If this is the case, someone starting in the kitchen will forever be in the kitchen and a receptionist will forever be a receptionist. Students will learn very slowly. However, if one plans and executes independently, after one big event he or she will learn everything together. This is learning through interaction – one does not need to be a kitchen worker, receptionist, or office worker for three years each. If that were the case, by the time they have learned everything they need to, their hair would be white.
Aren’t there people in their twenties who already know everything? So, I think the way I described above is better and our 9/21 [inaugural] group would be more dynamic. During the four years as 9/21 students, we should cultivate the attitude of interaction and coordination in a group. When the kitchen is short of help, anyone should be able to fill in. It is the same in the reception center and temple hall. What you do does not depend on the strength of your vocal chords. You just need to be willing to do it and dare to get onstage. Otherwise, anyone can do it. There are people whose voice is OK, but they don’t dare to go onstage. However, as long as they are willing to learn and don’t close their mind, it will be alright.
To serve and to offer, there is nothing a monastic should not be able to do, and there should be no distinction between good jobs and bad jobs. If no one else is willing to do it, you should step forward. All it takes is one person who declines a task and others will follow suit. Therefore, when you have a chance to organize an activity, from this you may learn to assign responsibilities and to cooperate; it can enhance mutual understanding and self growth and at the same time, help and serve others.
You all have good literary skills and the basic ability to plan and organize. Therefore, you can set aside some of your regular or extracurricular time to think up an assignment for yourself, to simulate a plan and let others have opportunities to practice. Use the best performers as models for others. This is like the planning warfare on a sand table. After you finish planning you one can also learn to direct.
What does dajiang (great general) mean? On one side is the ability to plan and the other is the ability to make changes as situations demand. It also means that when something unexpected happens, the leader can immediately communicate, bring things into line, and decide on a resolution. When you react fast and direct properly, you will win the battle, otherwise your fate is defeat. Of course, when we organize an activity, there is no defeat. At most, the result is not very good and does not achieve the “grade,” or complaints may be heard all around. Some may say, “With a project like this, next time even if you invite me again, I won’t join!” This is because the person in charge did not have the ability, and mismanaged the activity. When the one in charge is capable, has vision, and can react quickly, the results of the activity will make everyone happy. Everyone feels they have grown and learned a lot; it will then not be torment.
On his own initiative a great general would show concern about people and take care of them. Whether one can do this is a matter of personality – someone who can take care of themself while having the offering mind to take care of others. But how do you take of others? You need only to think: “I dedicate this physical life, offering it to the Three Jewels and to sentient beings. Things related to Three Jewels are my concern, and sentient beings’ concern is my concern.”
Caring and Giving, Transcending the Realm of Life
When there is a problem no one is taking care of, there is a loophole. As long as you know there is a hole or a pit, go mend it or fill it up – take care of it. If you think: “As long as I don’t step into it, it is none of my business!” Or, “I just joined. Let me first focus on meditating, prostrating to the Buddha and reciting Dharma. Don’t keep asking me to do other things.” Or, “I am pretty old already; I don’t have enough time to meditate, prostrate to Buddha, and recite Dharma! Go ask somebody else to do it!” This would be pretty bad. You need to think, “I came for the purpose of offering!” Please do not say that you came to achieve attainment. The mind of monastics is to give. Giving is your achievement; the more you give, the higher the achievement.
In a novel I read, there was an infamous bandit who did a lot of bad things. He finally became a monk but no one knew about it. The first thing he wanted to do was build a road up the mountain so people can ascend it more easily. He worked hard every day to build the road. Later, a man showed up who was looking for the infamous bandit, seeking revenge. He saw this old monk and asked, “There was a big bandit who disappeared for no reason whatsoever. You have been working here for a long time. Have you ever heard of him?” “I have heard about him. But he has been working over here as a laborer for a long time,” answered the old monk. “Where is he?” “It is me.”
The vengeance-seeker, seeing the monk working so hard, said, “But there is still a section of the road not completed.” The old monk answered, “Right! If you killed me now, I won’t be able to finish it. Can you wait till I finish this road before you kill me?” The man said, “I will help you. After we finish this road, I will then kill you.” So, these two people worked together. But, while they were building this road, a lot of strange things happened. There were typhoons, snow, storms, wild animals, and many difficult problems. These two persons went through trials and tribulations together. During this period of building this road, both persons were in effect practicing Buddhist principles unknowingly. At the end, the two men looked around, smiled, sat down, and died. They finished the road with the understanding that you don’t kill me and I don’t kill you. And both gained attainment
I am not trying to teach you to model yourselves on this behavior. I use this story to illustrate that many people think that practicing Buddhism is to meditate, be a vegetarian, recite Dharma, prostrate to the Buddha, read sutras – this is so-called practice to them. But the best and most effective practice is to offer yourself to sentient beings. Therefore, Buddha says, “The path of bodhisattvas is realized from sentient beings, and sentient beings are the fertile fields of bodhisattvas.” All in all, the main point of the spiritual talk today is offering and caring, living through the remaining physical life and giving you life.
2-3: Daoxin – The Mind to follow the Buddha Path
New Students Workshop, Sangha Practice and Cultivation Class, February 24, 2003
Monastics can be of many types and forms. To you, all my bodhisattvas, it is probably not very clear what kind of nun or monk you want to be. Some of you may have some thoughts or imagined what is like after becoming a nun or monk. When I was little I had many dreams of what it would be like after I went up the mountain to enter the monastery and became a monk. Later on, all those dreams vanished into the thin air. So, there is really no need to dream about anything. To think about becoming a monk or nun, you need only two thoughts: one is having a mind of renunciation; the other having bodhi mind. Having renunciant mind is to leave behind all you have accumulated from your birth to present, whether they are achievements, habits, ways of thinking, or something disgraceful. All must be given up and left behind. Otherwise, they will become burdens.
After entering the monastery, if you still look at people with your old views and standards, through the same “glasses” you have worn for a dozen years, trying to use the “fiery eyes and golden eyeballs” (piercing eyes) of the Monkey King, it is certain you will have conflicts with others, feel discomfort in the eyes; feel wronged, discriminated against, even suppressed. You will probably want to start a revolution but we don’t do revolution here – we only have bodhi mind.
Therefore, renunciation means giving up what you have always thought as being “you” and letting go of everything about “you.” Once on Dharma Drum Mountain, everything starts anew – this is called “born again.” If you don’t have the determination to be reborn you will not be able to stay here long. You have come here to join Dharma Drum Mountain and offer yourself to the Three Jewels.
Regard Everyone as a Bodhisattva
Besides renunciant mind you must also have bodhi mind. After renouncing the past and discarding attachments, you should give rise to bodhi mind and move forward to the future. Having bodhi mind is not dreaming about being a patriarch, a great Dharma master, a Chan master, or abbot. You should not imagine yourself as a leader who delivers sentient beings and spreads the Dharma. It would be terrible once you start having these kinds of dreams. Rather, as a monastic you should have a remorseful and repentant mind; you should be grateful to the Sangha community which enabled you to come here. Therefore, devote yourself to learning and offer yourself wholeheartedly to the Sangha.
We are neither a concentration camp nor a labor camp; we are a Sangha community. The United Nations has suggested sixty-five as the retirement age. I reached that age a long time ago but I still work more than 10 hours a day, as many hours as younger people. This is because I only think of offering. My whole life is giving, and I never think of whether I can be a great Dharma master or a person of achievement. I was already forty-five when I finished my studies in Japan. A Buddhist group in the United States asked me to go there. After I arrived there, my job was to maintain and organize the warehouse. Some days I was needed to cook and went grocery shopping even though I was over forty and had a doctorate. But that was the training they gave to me and I lived for two years that way.
Opening up Bodhi Mind: Near-Term, Mid-Term and Long-Term Meanings
When we speak of opening up bodhi mind, there are near-term, mid-term and long-term meanings. Long-term, the goal is to become a buddha – this is our basic and ultimate goal. To become a buddha one must have bodhi mind and follow the bodhisattva path. But if you just talk about bodhi mind or vow to become a buddha, that is not realistic and you would never become a buddha.
To be a bodhisattva is “to deliver others before delivering self.” When they see or hear the words “deliver others” many immediately think: “How can I deliver others when I only know a few sutras and sastras?” I want to tell you that a Sangha is just like a ship. Even though there is only one captain, that captain cannot sail the ship alone. There has to be a first officer, a second officer, sailors, and so on. We cannot be the captain from the start and besides, not everyone is suited to be a captain. Therefore, even though you are a sailor all your life, do not think that you are not important. A ship cannot sail without a captain; but without sailors the ship can not move either. Don’t think that when the ship delivers people, only the captain is delivering; the crews are also delivering people, because everyone is playing a role.
The Dharma masters at Dharma Drum Mountain must undergo training and testing, until their mannerism and state of mind are cultivated. Then they can go spread Dharma. Otherwise, it would be like the blind leading the blind and hurting self and others. However, as soon as you enter Sangha University, you can immediately deliver sentient beings. Even as you clean the washroom, you are delivering sentient beings because anyone who visits, lives, or practices here will need the washroom. Hence, as you clean the washroom, you are enabling others to settle in and succeed – you are benefiting sentient beings. Everything you do, in any form and aspect, signifies that you have joined our community and are living together with the rest to deliver sentient beings.
Now, in this Dharma Drum Mountain community, I should be considered the captain, some others are first and second officers, and yet others, sailors. Though you are not yet a sailor, eventually you will become one. It is very important to open up the bodhi mind of benefiting and delivering sentient beings. Everyone we meet is a sentient being – classmates, teachers, volunteers, and lay supporters – so we see them as bodhisattvas and serve them. The lay supporters come to join us in advancing Dharma Drum Mountain’s ideals; they certainly are bodhisattvas. Although they call me Shifu, I regard them as bodhisattvas.
By the same token, although now you call me Shifu, I also regard you as bodhisattvas and call you bodhisattvas, because I believe you are bodhisattvas. In the process of learning to be a buddha, in this life I started earlier than you and I am older than you; therefore, I have become your shifu. In past lives, you could have started the learning process even earlier than I, and your practice would even be at a higher level then mine. Now you call me Shifu but in the next life, I could be your apprentice. This is how I think. Hence, I cannot take you bodhisattvas lightly. But you still should regard me as your shifu and all the Dharma teachers as teachers, because they joined the monastery earlier than you. They offer their time and energy to serve you, so you should thank them and every one of them is a bodhisattva. I myself should also open up my bodhi mind to become a bodhisattva and should regard everyone as bodhisattva. Only this way, will you have a base to move forward on.
Everyone is Equal in the Sangha
Whether you are male or female, varied in age, education, personal and professional skills, once you are in the Sangha we look at all of you as equals. You should also treat each other equally. Please do not be arrogant because you are older, or with higher education or stronger abilities. Conversely you younger ones should not feel superior because you are younger. Every one should treat any other person with modesty and respect. Persons with higher education should be modest and persons who are less educated need not feel inferior. Whether you are captain, first or second officer, or a sailor, we are all in the same boat. We should help each other and be of one mind.
Finally, I want to encourage all of you to have self-discipline. What is meant by self-discipline? It is self-discipline and self-managing. Do not let your Dharma teachers manage you. When Dharma teachers have to manage you, it is already a bad sign. It is better that you can manage yourself.
We do have rules for living here. These few days, during the new student orientation, you will be taught how to live here and you should carefully learn it. We hope you can have self-discipline and be self-managing. Unless it is necessary our teacher in charge of the class will not come to bother you. Nevertheless, your class teacher will bring you along for a while, instructing how you should live and how to behave. Insofar as appearance and behavior are concerned, because you were householders, you will not know how to be like a home-leaver. You need your Dharma teacher to lead you and instruct you. When you have adopted the normal conditions here, it will be a self-managing state.
In addition, you should know that you have unwholesome habits and admit that you have them. These unwholesome habits are called “poor taste.” Lay people’s thinking and behavior are often unwholesome. Sometimes it is in their personality, sometimes it is exhibited in their appearance and behavior. Please lay down all these negative habits. Some people may say,” I have been learning about Buddhism for over ten years and I have seen a lot of monks and nuns. I know all about what monks and nuns should be like and how they should live.” Please don’t say things like this. It is quite different between the way you saw things from the outside and after you have joined the Sangha to become a monastic.
The Standards of the Sangha Community are the Criteria
In summary, what we have talked about today are: first, we should have renunciant mind. Leave behind the ways of thinking and every bad habit you had before coming, and lay down all your past baggage. Joining the Sangha means giving up what you think as the right standards and decisions and adopting the standards and decisions of the Sangha. Do not look from your own point of view. To come here is to grind down the thorns on your body, the thorns that hurt others as well as yourself. Have you heard about the story of the Tibetan, Milarepa? His teacher always tormented him, but eventually Milarepa became a great lama, spreading the Buddhadharma. Therefore, you should not always feel resentful, wanting to redress injustice and always thinking “this person is wrong” and “that person is wrong.” If you are like this you have a problem. Secondly, to have bodhi mind is to offer and serve. Finally, be self-managing and have self-discipline; do not wait for others to manage you.
I hope all of you can safely and happily finish these two years of Dharma study, carrying through to the end. Previously I had a class of Research Institute students. We admitted eight and we had graduated eight. The learning spirit in that class was very good because several were very kind and willing to serve their classmates and lead them in study. So they raised the level of the whole class. Among them the one who opened up his bodhi mind the most was our current vice-chancellor, Master Hui Ming. In our Sangha community it is not enough to excel in study, have good grades and advance oneself but also to work together – the stronger taking care of the weaker and the weaker following.
Therefore, in this class we do not compare scholarship, skills, and professional proficiency. What we want to compare is daoxin – renunciant mind and bodhi mind. If you can be this way, I believe you will all grow, settle down and carry through to the end. I bless you and ask you also to bless yourself.
2 -4: What is Fanxing?
The Day Following Tonsure, Agricultural Chan Temple, September 7, 2002
In the three realms of the ever-changing world, there are two heavenly pure realms: one is the Inner Court of Maitreya, the other is the Five Pure-Dwelling Heavens. The Maitreya Pure Land is the Inner Court of the Tushita Heaven, which in turn, is in the heavenly abode of the Desire Realm. The Tushita Heaven is the fourth heaven and above the Four Directional, the Trayastrimsa and the Yamadeva Heavens.
The Tushita Heaven is divided into Inner Court and Outer Court. The Outer Court is inhabited by non-Buddhists with meritorious retribution and the Inner Court is for people who have made a compassionate vow to practice Buddhadharma. Maitreya bodhisattvas inhabit the Inner Court. In the future, when the Maitreya bodhisattvas return to the human realm to attain buddhahood, the ones reborn in the Inner Court will also follow and return to the human realm to participate in the Maitreya’s Assembly, and gain nirvana and attain liberation. According to Hinayana tradition they will at least attain the first arhat stage of shrotapanna and may even attain full arhatship. According to Mahayana tradition, they can reach the first bhumi of the bodhisattva. Therefore, people aspire to be reborn in the Maitreya Pure Land so that when they return to the human realm they can attain arhatship.
Keeping the Precepts and Practice Fanxing in a Peaceful and Quiet Way
As far as the pure land in the Realm of Form is concerned, it is in the Five Pure-Dwelling Heavens in Buddhist world (i.e., the various heavens in the Form Realm). The saints who have attained the third bhumi reside in the Five Pure-dwelling Heavens; it is also called Five Heavens of No Return, where the saints will no longer return to the human world and to the heavenly pure land resided by sentient beings in the Desire Realm. In other words, the Five Pure-dwelling Heavens are for saints to live. The heavens in the Buddhist world are peaceful and absent of desires; they are only at the second bhumi in the Three Realms and nine bhumis, where sentient beings are still conscious of the three senses of eye, ear, and body functions. It is also saying that only sentient beings in and above the third bhumi have no senses in eye, ear and body consciousnesses. This is what is said in the [Eulogy of the Rules of Eight Consciousness]: “The three eyes, ear, body senses reside in the second bhumi.” On the other hand, the two senses of nose and tongue are functional only in the Desire Realm. From this we know that sentient beings born in the Desire Realm have highly active cognitive abilities with respect to the five organs of consciousness, eye, ear, body, nose, and tongue.
Therefore, being born in the Desire Realm but wishing to become monastics practicing the Buddha path, we must not let our eyes be lured by sexual matters, ears by sound, etc. We should not even be lured by sensations of rough, smooth, cold, warm, light, heavy. To achieve this is the celibate way, fanxing. After becoming a monastic, if one still clings to the pleasing sights and pleasing sounds, and desires for touch to the body, it is not the fanxing.
Chinese Buddhism very seldom talks about celibacy. For the most part, it teaches people to uphold precepts and live peacefully, which is not equivalent to absolutely not allowing eyes to see and ears to hear. If we do not allow our eyes to see it will be harder to walk; besides we cannot plug up our ears completely anyway. Therefore, we can use our eyes to learn and to practice. It is the same with ears, nose, tongue and body; they are tools for practice – not to satisfy desires.
Nevertheless, most people liked to be hugged and touched by adults since they were little, because it feels very good – this is a form of insatiable desire. Therefore, once we become a monastic, be cautious in dealing with the opposite sex. Do not freely make bodily contact with or touch each other. Otherwise, the comfortable feelings would easily rise. People of the same gender should also keep a proper distance and do not come in contact freely and touching.
Pay Attention to Our Body, Mind, and Behavior
How should you pay attention to your body? If it needs washing or is ill, you should take care of it. But some parts of our body are fairly sensitive, feels very good when touched, and that insatiable desire would rise. Therefore, even it’s your own body you should not freely touch it for the sake of feeling good; you are in trouble when you start to enjoy the good feeling. If the skin is a little itchy, disregard it; severe itch, scratching a little is fine. If the eyes or ears are itchy, something could be wrong and you should go and take care of it. Regardless, if it is not because of illness or discomfort, you should not touch your body because it is not the celibate way. You are now a practitioner who has taken the precepts similar to those taken by the novice. It is very important that you also should know and comply with these rules.
As for the ears, unpleasant sounds can annoy us, but pleasant sounds can make us crave more. When the eyes see beautiful things or scantily dressed people, they may have an insatiable desire to take another look. These responses are inconsistent with celibacy and you should immediately feel shameful, recite Amitabha’s name, and tell yourself, “I am ashamed! I am already a monastic who has taken the precepts and made the novice’s vows.” Only by frequently reminding yourself can you uphold your daoxin, the mind of following the bodhisattva path, and practice celibacy with pure mind. In addition, as a monastic do not use sideways glances and do not stare; these are not very dignified mannerisms.
It is the same with the mouth. When interacting with people, besides words of compassion do not speak of other things. If it is for working or for delivering sentient beings and spreading Dharma, certainly speaking is necessary. As such, it is also practicing meritorius deeds. What you speak should be words of compassion and wisdom. Do not speak with a greedy and desirous mind. When eating other than what the doctor forbids or your body cannot accept, do not covet their taste, do not crave or binge on food, favoring this or disliking that. To do that is not practicing celibacy. The celibate way keeps the body and senses pure so they can be used for practice, spreading Dharma, accumulating merit, and attaining wisdom. We need to eat but not for enjoyment and not to satisfy the desires of our mouth and stomach.
How about the sense of smell? Many males who wear perfume, not to mention females, do not smell that good. If you hanker after them, you should be ashamed and remind yourself, “I have already left home. How can I still feel reluctant to part with these smells?” Whether it is the smell of food, people, vegetation or flower, they are in the same category. Since we have a nose, naturally we can’t help but smell things. As long as it is not with coveting minds, it is celibacy.
One Becomes a Fanxing Practitioner upon Receiving Novices’ Precepts
In summary, we have left home and upon taking the novice precepts, we have become a fanxing practitioner – that is, we practice pure living in celibacy. Our five senses should not associate with desires and covetousness. Do not use the senses to create karma in the non-celibate way. In the past, in many novels as well as in the biographies of eminent Chinese monks, monks from India were often called fanseng and eminent monks in Chinese Buddhism were called gaoseng. Some people mistakenly associated the word “fan” with being Indian because Indians speak the fan (Sanskrit), so “fanseng” was mistakenly taken to mean “Indian monk.” In fact, “fanseng” means “celibate monk.”
So, for monastics, whether Indian or Chinese, as long as you practice fanxing (celibacy), you are fanseng (celibate monk). “Gaoseng” (eminent monk) is meant for monks of high attainment, who are also fanseng, since monks who do not keep the precepts do not become eminent monks.
Not all students of Sangha University have shaved their head, but all have taken the novice’s ten precepts. Therefore, this morning I especially emphasize the meaning of fanxing and hope it is of some benefit to you. It should also benefit those, who had taken the precepts a while back, to hear this again today. The words in the precepts are few, but the important thing is that we should pay attention to our mind, body, and behavior. We have five sense faculties and five senses. Do not use them as the tools for insatiable desire. On the contrary, we should use them as tools to purify our mind to practice. If we can uphold the principles of celibacy, it means we are upholding the precepts with pure mind. A monastic who can uphold the precepts with pure mind is fanseng.
2-5: Learning the Mindset of Monastics
“The Conducts of Eminent Monks” Course, Sangha University, Feb. 25, 2003)
Random Thoughts upon a Dream was the writing of Precepts Master Jian Yue of the Ming dynasty. From his writing one can see that he had the compassionate mind of not dwelling on hatred or harboring enmity against anyone. Also he would not hold a grudge or harbor jealousy. He had self-confidence and at the same time was very modest. Likewise, hatred, jealousy and arrogance should not be the mindset of monastics. You are all just at the beginning of learning monastic life. The first is to learn to respect others; next, offering yourself and sharing whatever you have with the needy.
We need to respect others and not insist that others change, because requiring others to change is not easy and painful for ourselves. The other person would think, “What is so special about you? Why do you keep asking me to do this and to do that?” He or she might also think, “Why are you not learning from me but asking me to learn from you?” Therefore, we should have the attitude of treating others with respect; they will then gradually learn about our good parts. However, we need principles from which we will not deviate, and know how not to go astray concerning others.
It is best said in the Wie Mo Jing (Vimalakirti-nirdesha Sutra), “Get people’s attention with benefit then lead them to learn Buddha’s wisdom.” Benefit is what sentient beings want and like, such as when we provide educational opportunities and convenient access to things in society. Gradually they will join our community. “Offering ourselves for the attainment of others” is the attitude we monastics should have. We do not only think of ourselves when we do things. In your current situation at least you should think of the accomplishment of your class as a group. It only takes one person to get into trouble, and then it becomes the problem of everyone. We should always be thinking, “It matters nothing for me personally – the benefit of the whole class is more important”; “Our class should have our glory and spirit”; or “The offerings of our class are for the Sangha community and for the Three Jewels.” Anyway, do not consider the gains and losses to ourselves when we do something. If after joining the monastery you still think about your own gains and losses, it will be very painful for you.
Whenever there are differences in opinion between yourself and others, it is best to think about the reasons for the differences, or the way the words and opinions were expressed. It is possible that the differences are due to differences in social background, physical condition, or learning environment. It is also possible that is the way their natural personalities are. As I have said, don’t force others to be the same as you and don’t think, “If I can do it, why can’t you?” There are too many things that you can do but others can’t and vice versa. Hence, do not coerce others. The mental attitude of just asking yourself what you can do for others is very important. If everyone can be this way our Sangha community would be united and we will always have the power to focus and come together.
The worst thing is to ask others be modest while excusing yourself; to ask others to feel shame without you feeling shame; to ask others to repent but you don’t; to ask others for respect but you give them none; to ask others to make offerings but you do not; and to ask others for help but you don’t help them. Many people have these attitudes. It is likely this is what you were like when you first arrived here. But now you have received the novice precepts. Even though you have not taken the tonsure and not changed clothes, you are learning to be a monastic. Therefore, please do not use the old values as when you were at home, to get along with others, and freely thinking, “I think such and such way”; “My disposition is such and such”; “I this think this” or “I think that.” Otherwise, you will be vexed with intolerable pain and you cannot continue to learn here.
2-6: Dignified Manner for Monastics
Excerpted from Founder’s Time, Sangha University, April 11, 2003
In the course, Rules of Conduct for Novices, there is a systematic introduction to the subject on how a monastic should keep a dignified manner. So today, I will mainly explain that in our daily life, what should be the mannerism when interacting with others.
Proper Daily Conduct with Respect to Time and Place
Let’s start with your interactions with elders. It is generally thought that when you are out with an elder, one must walk on his or her left and behind. Actually, there is no standard rule; it should depend on the situation at the moment. For example, when you are out with Shifu and if you insist on walking behind me, then it might end up I would open the door and push the elevator button for you. Or, in places when the road conditions are not very good, such as the road is muddy, full of potholes, or unevenly covered with stones and bricks, it is very easy to slip or fall. To let Shifu walk in the front is not very appropriate either.
In addition, when visiting places or greeting people, if you are trailing behind and as we arrive, you would have to hurriedly rush to the front of Shifu and greet the people, saying “My Shifu so-and-so comes to visit you.” This is not very convenient either. So, whether you should walk behind or at the front will depend on time and place.
Another situation: When Shifu is talking with people or meditating, you should slowly and quietly pass from behind. Do not walk by “dingding, dongdong” noisily as if to let me know you are walking by. If for some reason you have to walk by in the front, you should walk sideways and slightly bowed. Your movement should be gentle and swift, not rude, flurried, or rough; but you don’t have to walk by tiptoed or gingerly.
Further, when my water glass is empty and I ask you to get some water for me, if the glass is on my right, you should walk around behind me to my right to take the glass; if it is on my left, you should walk around to my left; and if it is right in front of me, either side is alright. If there is not enough space on either side for you to take my glass, you should come over slightly from the right or the left and do not come over right in front of me and block my view. In this case, the correct way to do it is that you walk with bowed body and joined palms to take the glass and then retreat a step before walking away; do not immediately turning around with your back facing me; that would not be polite. The above examples are for situations when interacting with elders.
Next, I want to talk about the things we should watch for when interacting with lay people. We should not think: “We are monastics and we are now ‘teacher and model of men and devas,’ and therefore lay people should serve us tea, move things around for us, or do things for us, etc.” Then, when meeting any layperson, we automatically exhibit that mannerism, “We are monastics, Dharma teachers, high above everyone and a model for all to emulate,” and want people to provide for us. If this is the case, it will be very difficult for you to go on to practice Buddhism.
Some people when still a householder, did not respect monks and nuns. After becoming a monk or nun, they turn around and want lay people to respect and provide for them. The reason for this attitude is man, or arrogance. Not respecting monastics is au man. After becoming a monastic, hoping that others come over to respect you is also arrogance. Monastics do not ask others for respect. Once we leave home, if we still exhibit a grand haughty stance, it is man.
Lay householders can generally be divided into three categories: first, they are not disciples of Buddhism and they don’t know anything about Buddhist etiquette; second, they are Buddhists but they have hang-ups for having scholastic achievements, prominent positions or wealth, etc.; third are the very devoted disciples of the Three Jewels – they believe in Buddha, learn Buddhaharma and respect the Sangha, and they know they should respectfully provide for monks and nuns. The third kind of lay people, if you are polite to them and serve them, they will say, “Shifu, I am a disciple, let me do it myself.” But I may still say, “This is because it is the first time you are here, or you have only been here a few times. From here on when you come frequently or when you have time to come to do volunteer work, I will then not serve you tea anymore or move over a chair for you to sit. Because now you are our guest, I treat you as a guest – a bodhisattva now, a buddha in the future.”
Day before yesterday, I attended a conference. Whenever there was a person who wanted to speak, a microphone was passed around. I happened to be sitting in the middle, so I was passing the microphone around for them. Another time I was going to instruct some lay people to meditate. When I arrived, the cushions had not been set up. So I helped them set up the cushions. When the people saw me setting up the cushions they rushed over to do it. When Chan meditation was over they did not think of putting the cushions back, and one by one they walked out. But when they saw me doing the moving, they hurried back to get the place to its original condition.
Some may think that doing these menial tasks is losing face. In fact, it is not disgraceful at all. We monastics do not have position; we only have our monastic status. To begin with, monastics should serve and respect others; therefore, we must have the zeal to serve others.
Master the Spirit of Willingly Assuming Responsibility
Assume you are all thirsty right now but there is no water to drink. Would your first thought be, “I will get water” – taking the initiative to serve others? Or, “If someone gets water, I would like some, otherwise it does not matter” – waiting for others to serve you? Usually, most people would be the latter type. People with the first thought of getting water would be in the minority. In situations, the first thought that occurs to you is very important. I hope you will cultivate yourselves to have the first thought of “I’ll go” and the habit of “I want to be of service to others.”
The SARS epidemic in Hong Kong is pretty serious right now. There are many people who want us to go there to show our care, but some people think it would be asking for trouble. As monastics we know we should not fear death. Not going to Hong Kong, one can still die. However one still has to be careful. Take precautions but do not be afraid of death.
When something needs to be done, do it. But should you still do it if it is something you should not do? For example, should you go to Iraq to fight the war? Hence, we still should think first: should we or should we not do a certain thing? As monastics we should cultivate dignified mannerism, respect others, and serve others. This mannerism comes from within, not out of hypocritical display of affection but from sincere modesty.
Some people often misinterpret modesty as “I can’t do it,” or “I am not as good as others”; therefore, they feel that modesty and confidence contradict each other: “Since I am not as good, let someone more capable and more intelligent do it.” The truth is modesty is respecting others. To respect others is letting others do the easy thing and you doing the hard thing; letting others do the high-profile things with fame and merit; you doing the hard work without concern for merit.
When there is a mistake made in the group who should be responsible? Most people would think, “This is bad for my reputation. I better leave quickly and not let people say that I am a member of this Sangha.” Or, “I just came to become a monk. I have not even shaved my head and the responsibility falls on my shoulders. I might as well go home.”
To clear things up this way is not correct. To me, though I don’t know whose mistake it was, nevertheless, it has happened in our Sangha group. It must be because I did not teach or train people correctly, consider the entire situation thoroughly, plan imperfectly, or take care of everything sufficiently. If somebody asked I would say, “It is my responsibility!”
To you, it depends on which department made the mistake and the department head should take the responsibility. If the department head is at fault and goes into hiding, and does not solve the problem, there still should be someone to come forward to take responsibility, to “face it, accept it, and deal with it.” To evade the problem will only make it worse and cause the situation to deteriorate. Taking responsibility means facing the problem and dealing with the facts to solve the problem; it does not mean, whether true or not, accepting the responsibility for the mistake. We should use wisdom and compassion to deal with it, to let things clearly understood and transparently shown.
Furthermore, whatever happens in a group, take care of it immediately. Otherwise, it will get worse. For example, if you are injured or with inflammation, if you do not apply medicine your condition may worsen. Eventually, it may mean losing a limb. Therefore, as soon as we discover a problem we must take care of it, but take care of it with a method. When undertaking a problem, first, understand the facts and then solve the problem according to the facts at hand. This is also called crisis management.
A Sense of Urgency Is the Impetus to Grow
As an organization we should have a sense of urgency. Any organization without a sense of urgency cannot last and will quickly wither away or even disappear. With a sense of urgency, one would have a vision of the future and what may happen in the future. As such, when something happens, we have anticipated and prepared for it, and it will be easier to deal with it. I have absolutely a sense of urgency for Chinese Buddhism, particularly with respect to educating and cultivating Buddhist professionals. Based on my experience in the international arena, Tibetan lamas have caught the attention of scholars internationally. The main reason is, besides their educational system and their good fundamentals, as well as being culturally attractive, they emphasize language training. Most importantly they have a sense of urgency, so they actively continue and spread Tibetan Buddhism.
Individuals should have a sense of urgency, and so should a community, society and country. If a country is not prepared for danger, or is not vigilant in time of peace, it would not be able to handle a crisis without difficulties. To be “vigilant in time of peace” is to have a sense of urgency at all times. “Handling crisis without difficulties” means that when meeting dangers it is like having an ordinary event.
Whether or not you can be a model monastic depends on your own moral character and behavior.” Many people think that monks and nuns should be ashamed to accept offerings. But if our mindset is correct for the practicing Dharma, for continuance of Buddha, for offering to others, and for service to the Sangha and Buddhism, then accepting offerings is serving sentient beings. It is not the case that we are only delivering sentient beings when we are giving a Dharma lecture.
A machine is assembled from numerous parts. If we look at a clock, only the hour, minute and second hands are moving, but without the many parts operating inside, none of the arms would move. A group is like that. Whether you are on the podium or a little screw or spring, you are always important. Your whole life is in the work – carrying water, watering vegetables, chopping wood, cleaning the washroom – this is also spreading Dharma and benefiting sentient beings. Always offer, cultivate blessings, and develop wisdom. Don’t think you are not yet ready to spread Dharma and benefit others. As soon as you become a monastic you are spreading Dharma and benefiting sentient beings.
If people [in the group] sometimes have vexations, we want to bless them to diminish their vexations, and wish them to settle down and live peacefully in the Sangha; we want to help them as well as others to follow the bodhisattva path. Bless you all!
2-7: Joining, Stepping Forward, and Going with the Flow of the Group
Founder’s Time, Sangha University, April 12, 2002
Today, I would like to talk about “joining the group,” and by group I mean the Sangha. A Sangha must be a community that is peaceful and plain, diligent in practice, and following the Dharma and truth; then, it is a true Sangha. Therefore, to join the Sangha is to join a harmonious and cooperative community.
After joining the Sangha one should “step forward from the group,” which does not mean to leave or lead the group, but to avail oneself to serve the others. If we all serve one another, then we all will have stepped forward from the group. For example, I have stepped forward, availing myself to serve others. If no one wants to step forward then, this group would be in trouble.
Pool the Power of the Group in Order to Deliver Innumerable Sentient Beings
While walking this morning I saw a flock of birds flying in the sky and I thought: little birds only act separately when they are close to the ground; otherwise, they tend to fly in flocks. It is because hawks tend to catch birds that fly alone; so, for protection, smaller birds fly in flocks when high in the sky. In Canada I saw geese flying in a “V” formation. Initially I thought that the one in front must be the leader. Later I learned that there is no single leader but one bird would lead the formation, and when the leading bird got tired it would drop back, and another bird would take over as the leader. This is cooperative and gregarious living. Because the leading bird has to meet with the most wind resistance and must work harder, the ones flying behind did not have to spend as much energy. So, when the lead bird gets tired and retreats to the rear, another bird will fill in to lead. They all have the same destination but there is not a single leader who leads the whole flock. They always fly as a flock; if there is one flying alone, it would not dare to fly too far behind.
After arriving at their destination they spread out to forage for food. When it’s time to move on, they cry out “wa! wa! wa!” as if calling out to the others, “Come on, come-on!” Then one after another they take flight and gather together in the sky. After circling around, the whole group then flies in formation. This is what called, “know to join the group” and also “know how to come forward from the group.”
Don’t be “Water in the Gutter”
If a monastic has an odd temperament, is not gregarious, looks at others and the surroundings with disdain, and acts like a “Lone Ranger,” then he would be like “water in the gutter” meandering from place to place, to the Five Lakes and Fours Seas and through the Three Hills and Five Mountain, from one port to the other. On the surface he is like a roaming monk but in fact he is a vagrant fellow. As a householder this person is proudly contemptuous and lofty, unsociable and eccentric, and lonely and solitary. Because he is not welcomed in society and has nowhere to shelter himself, he “escapes to become a monk” – to the shelter of the Buddha. After escaping to a Buddhist temple, he is still contemptuous and aloof, unsociable and eccentric, lonely and solitary. Finally, he simply has no alternative but to become “water in the gutter” or find a little temple somewhere for himself, “accompanied by the green stone chime and the wooden fish to finish his remaining life.”
To him, it is a wasted life; to Buddhism and the Three Jewels, it is also a waste of resources. This kind of person cannot protect the Dharma or know how to spread it. He is there only to enjoy the resources of the Three Jewels. The more we have this kind of person, the weaker the Buddhadharma will be and the more Buddhadharma will be looked down upon by people. Currently, there are many people in Taiwan who have this kind of mindset. From what I know in several places in the northern, middle, and eastern parts of Taiwan, there are many monks and nuns who live by themselves in a one-room hut, in the lifestyle of the “seventy-two thatched cottages in the Zhong Nan Mountain.” The huts are illegally built and occupy public land.
They live in the mountain to “practice.” Once in a while they go down the mountain to beg for alms, carrying a little rice, vegetables, salt, and oil back to the mountain. When the food supply is short they go back down again. They think that when they have reached complete realization and attainment, they will then go to spread Dharma. But these people are hopeless even till they die; we should not even hope that they would ever do something for Buddhism. On the other hand, don’t say these people are useless. At least, they don’t rob or steal; they just meditate in the mountain, prostrate to Buddha, and there is one less person in society to do bad things. But in the end, these people rot in the mountain, together with the weeds and wood, they are just lazy people. On the surface they seem to have renunciant mind, but in fact what they have is a mind of running away from this world. They not only do not have bodhi mind but also practice self-centeredness.
Renunciant mind is neither coveting the world not escaping from it. If our Taiwanese Buddhists or the Buddhists in the future are full of these kinds of people, Buddhism will have no future. The reason these hermits still exist in Taiwan is because many Buddhist groups actively engage in caring services and make positive contributions to society. Therefore Buddhism in Taiwan is being valued and looked upon favorably. But all of us should be vigilant in that if we do not continue offering to society or we lose touch with society, it would mean a road leading to death.
The Sangha is a Living Community that Benefits Itself as well as Others
This school is called Sangha University. A Sangha is a monastic group. In the past we call a female monastic “nun” and a male monastic, “monk.” This was not correct as they should all be called “monastics”, with females as “bhikshu monastics” and male as “bhikshu monastics.”
A Sangha is a living community that emphasizes benefiting oneself as well as others. The Buddha defined a Sangha as a community. For instance, after the Buddha became enlightened and before he delivered the first five bhikshus, a merchant came to see the Buddha, seeking to become a disciple. Although there was no Sangha at that time, the Buddha asked the merchant to take refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the future Sangha.” Taking refuge in the Dharma is to gain the benefit of Dharma. Taking refuge in the “future Sangha” was because Buddha already knew that spreading Dharma to benefit sentient beings would need group effort – a Sangha. Therefore, a person who only takes refuge in the Buddha and the Dharma, but not the Sangha, cannot be counted as a disciple of Buddhism, because they would be short one of the Three Jewels. However, the term “Buddhism” only came into being in later generations. In ancient India there was no “Buddhism,” only the so called shramanas, religious ascetics, who wandered around begging. Thus the earliest groups formed by disciples of the Buddha were referred to as “Shakyamuni shramana groups”.
In a group, there must be people of different abilities – physical ability, intellectual ability, and skills. Among these abilities, some can be cultivated as one matures, and some must be naturally endowed as the so-called “body of retribution.” Abilities are also influenced by differences in virtue and wisdom built up in each person’s previous lives. A Sangha can be composed of people from all over, coming from a different backgrounds and environments; everyone having their own character, ability, and basic quality. There is no reason why everyone has to look the same, think the same, and have the same accomplishments! The lengths of our fingers cannot be the same, so how can we ask everybody to be the same?
With this understanding, after we join the Sangha we must adjust and cooperate with the group in order to serve and offer. Adapting to the group is learning; cooperating with the group is growing; offering to the group is achieving. Put simply, adapting, cooperating and offering are the three secrets towards the attainment of oneself while achieving the attainment of the group.
We used to have a bodhisattva who was outstanding and highly capable, but there were very few who could work with him, and most could not do what he asked them to. When the others could not keep up with him, he often became very impatient and unhappy, thinking, “[They] can’t even do such a simple thing! It is obvious it should be done this way, how could it ended up the other way!” Gradually he began to think, “This group has no system, this group has no talent, this group is all messed up,” or “Besides Shifu, no one has discipline. How can there be hope?” So, he stayed for less than a year and left.
However, if this bodhisattva had the mindset to adapt, cooperate, and offer, when one of the others could contribute 100%, let it be 100%; if it is only 20% then let it be 20%. There is nothing he can do if others cannot keep up with him. This is like the geese – the stronger ones lead while the others follow behind. When the leader gets tired and slows down, someone from behind takes its place.
Going with the Group Is to Adapt, Cooperate, and Offer to Others
There is a common saying, “Married to a chicken, follow the chickens; married to a dog, follow the dogs.” Once joining the group, one must go with the group – adapt to, cooperate with, and offer to the group. Please understand: going with the group is not good if it means following others blindly. To go with the group is to go with its causes and conditions to adapt, cooperate, and offer. The leader of the group should also have the attitude of adapting, cooperating, and offering. It is not that leaders can cling obstinately to their own way, like the bodhisattva I described earlier. Although his ability was very strong, he could not adapt and cooperate. Therefore, you should know what it means to join, come forward, and go with the group. This is the wisdom of conducting oneself in society. Even though you may not be a student at the Sangha University, it should be helpful after hearing this.
At Sangha University, we hope that we can cultivate our students to be “dragons and elephants.” The [mythical] dragon and the elephant are the most powerful and the freest creatures in the sky, in the oceans, and on land. Although the dragon represents the largest animal in the sky and the oceans, it protects and upholds the Dharma; so we call it the “Dharma protecting dragon in the sky.” And it does not eat sentient beings nor tyrannize other animals! Similarly, even though the elephant is huge, with big tusks, and very strong, it is strict vegetarian; even we do not eat as simply. Hence, when we call monastics “dragons and elephants of the Dharma,” we are praising and admiring them, for they are compassionate as well as able to assume a proper role.
However, a newborn dragon looks like a snake and a newborn elephant looks like a dog with a long nose; and a newborn phoenix is like a little chicken. My bodhisattvas, you are now baby dragons, elephants, and chicks; you must learn great compassionate mind and plant the seeds to become a fully grown dragons, elephants, or phoenixes. Otherwise, though you became a monastic, changed your clothes, and shaved your head, and you may look like a monastic, still you will never become a dragon or an elephant. Some people, as soon as they become monastics, expect lay people to prostrate to them, make offerings to them, praise and admire them. This kind of mind is shameless. We want lay people to take refuge in the Sangha, to respect the Sangha, and to make offerings, but we should ask ourselves, “Do we deserve offerings from others? Do we deserve the respect of others?”
Adore Virtues and Praising Merit, be Courteous and Respectful to Others
Since ancient times Chinese had the concept of “adoring virtues and praising meritorious services” and “being courteous to virtuous persons and respecting able people.” We should adore the virtues of great people in history and praise the meritorious deeds of prominent personages. Furthermore, we should be courteous to people of virtue and humble to the learned and able. I treat my monastic students the same way. I do not address them only by their names, but as “Dharma Master so and so” or “Dharma Teacher so and so” depending on their status. I don’t call them just by their Dharma names behind their backs and certainly not in front of people.
I do not credit myself if our students are successful. Their success is due to their wisdom, their fortune and virtues, and their hard work. Our supporters contribute the money and I am not only one of the teachers. I am just happy to be part of this group and be able to contribute. I have no merit to give them and have done them no favors. I respect their virtues and praise their achievements and appreciate them. But we should not expect people to respect us and make offerings so soon after we become monastics. We should not be worldly people trying to adopt the virtuous and the able as our godparents – linking arms, rubbing shoulders, embracing their waist – this is not being courteous to the virtuous and humble towards the able.
Even though monastics should not seek causes and conditions [opportunity], there is also no need to become a mountain hermit. There is nothing wrong with being a hermit; some people have no zeal for company, nor do they covet what society offers. The world can forget the hermit and the hermit will also forget the world. These people are the type who can “leave the world behind and become a recluse.” There are people who are repulsed by those who scramble for power and gain; to them it is rare to still find people who are not ambitious. Therefore hermits and recluses draw their admiration.
In fact, at present, many monastics have withdrawn from society and are living in solitude in the mountains. The reason these hermits survive is because many Buddhists groups keep up the work to let people know that Buddhism is contributing to society. If all of the Buddhist groups ceased to exist, hermits in Taiwan would not survive either. Society is very practical – once Buddhism is regarded as useless, it will not survive.
Everyone is a Dragon or Elephant
Great damage was done to Buddhism in Mainland China during the Cultural Revolution of the late 60s and early 70s. It was reported that there were then 5 million Buddhist monastics, and many properties belonged to Buddhist temples. For example, there was a big island called Monk County. It was Elder Dongchu’s practice center – Jiao Shan Stable Wisdom Temple. On the island, the monastery owned several thousand acres of land and the farmers on the island were tenants of the monastery. Each year the monastics would collect rents [in the form of rice]; whether it was a good year or a bad year for the farmers, the rent was the same.
To prevent the tenant farmers from adding chaff, stones or mud pieces to the rice, the rent collectors were very strict about having the right quantities and qualities; they nearly picked the rice grain by grain and they would accept only the very clean and pretty looking ones. Anything not meeting the requirements would be returned. When the produce was returned, the farmers often said, “Our harvest was not good this year! What you received was the low quality rice we harvested!” The rent-collecting monks would say, “Do you still want to farm next year? If you don’t want to, you don’t have to pay rent anymore!”
Therefore, the farmers had really bad feelings towards Buddhists and thought that the monks were terrible. The original intention of the monastery was to encourage the tenant farmers to concentrate on farming and producing, because after paying the fixed amount of rent, the remainder would be theirs. But gradually the system had developed in a way that could not be sustained. When Buddhism reaches this stage, it is inevitable that it would perish.
Serving Society is the Condition for our Survival
Therefore, there are people nowadays asking if Dharma Drum Mountain has manufacturing or investment businesses and I always tell them, “In order to preserve our next generation of children, Dharma Drum Mountain is not allowed to be in producing industries. What we produce are Buddhadharma and offerings to society. Serving society is the condition for our survival.”
As a matter of fact, manufacturing industries are not necessarily dependable. Many big enterprises of today will not exist forever. The names may survive but the management will change often because the heirs sit there and enjoy the success, and before long the business is gone. Therefore, what the Dharma masters and teachers of our Sangha need to do is to have compassionate mind, to offer, for the sake of the Sangha and society. For example, since we live in Jinshan, we should offer services to the community and provide benefits to the local residents. If we only reap the results that we have not sown, it will be very dangerous for us in the future. To assure our continuing existence we need to offer ourselves.
Don’t be afraid after hearing me talking like this and think, “How terrible, we don’t have a profitable business and we don’t have any assurance of our future livelihood. When Shifu is alive, we would be able to survive. If he is gone, what shall we do?” Actually, we need only to offer ourselves diligently; as such, not only we can continue to exist, but also will enable others to continue living.
In addition, when offering, we want to use the power of our Sangha. For example, even though it does not seem that each of you bodhisattvas individually has offered much, as a group our efforts will appear to be very significant. Contrarily, if every one of you wants to endeavor yourself independently, it would be like “ant prostrating to the gods; no one would ever know about it.” Hence, in a group everyone is a dragon or elephant. By yourself, you would just be an ant. Dragons and elephants come out of a group – it is called, “the one who steps forward is a dragon or elephant.” If you don’t step forward, no one will recognize you. Therefore, our group should also stand out among the Buddhist groups and be recognized. Then we will all be dragons and elephants.
2- 8: Being at Home can’t be Better than Leaving Home
Workshop for Students, Sangha University, April 13, 2002
Some people ask me, “If a young person becomes a monastic before they have contributed to society, isn’t that a waste of the investment in their education by parents and society?” In fact, the purpose of fostering is precisely that a child can contribute to family and society. But does that mean that a monastic cannot contribute to family and society?
Let me say that your becoming a monastic is far better for the family and more helpful to society! Thirty years ago, I had a student, who when she joined the monastery, was tied up and taken home three times. Eventually, with her firm resolution she did become a monastic. Afterwards, she even went to Japan to study. She has now returned with a doctorate and is teaching at a university. Some time ago, her parents were ill and in the Shi Pai Veterans Main Hospital. Although they have four children, none of the others could come to take care of them. So, only this monastic daughter was by their side and taking care of them. Sometimes, she could not do it all by herself, so her students and disciples were there to help, even calling her parents “Grandpa” and “Grandma.” Her parents had literally gained some new “grandsons” and “granddaughters” and received meticulous care in every possible way.
Later, when I went to see these two elders, they said with tears, “When she wanted to leave home, we tied her up and beat her. We would rather she died than become a nun. We had real bad karma!” I said, “You are now receiving meritorious retribution. If you had not forced her to such an extent, her will to become a monastic might not have been so resolute. She would not have thought that becoming a monastic was a very difficult thing to do. Now you not only have her to take care of you; you also have her students and disciples. And I have the cause and condition to come to see you.”
There is a saying, “Taking on spreading Dharma as doing household duties.” Our mission as monastics is fundamentally to spread Dharma to benefit sentient beings. Male or female, once they have become monastics, should offer all their time, their mental as well as physical energy to serve society and sentient beings. Further, it is not only for living sentient beings but also for future sentient beings.
Therefore, my answer to the person who asked the questioned is: “Monastics have all sentient beings in their thoughts, whereas, too many householders, if they do not have their thoughts on family, would be thinking about their businesses or jobs; they bustle about only for a few people and let their lives go by without purpose. It is really a pity. Therefore, a person with high aspirations should become a monastic.”
I am not saying that lay people are not good but their thoughts, if not on marriage, are often on jobs. Even after they start working, whatever their line of work they complain about it. People who really love their work are very few. Even if they are crazy about their work, it is because many of them can’t help it; they just keep themselves busy to reduce the internal conflicts in their heart and mind and to let their mood to calm down.
How about love? Some people say that a love affair is like a glass of bitter wine – love each other to death and all in all, it is very hard. It is like Romeo and Juliet and Liang Shan Bai and Zhu Ying Tai – although their love affairs were on a grand scale, they nevertheless suffered unbearable misery and hardship. However, many people think that if they have never had a love affair and gotten married casually, it would be prosaic. Even though they get married, it will be fine in the beginning, but likely will not last very long. After all, happily married couples are rare in our world and heavenly families are few; every family has its own dogged problems to face.
Marriage is followed by children, luck and suffering, quarreling on and on, and sadness and resentment. Before long they get old; after getting old, they put their hopes in the next generation: “I am getting old. My whole life is almost over. I hope the next generation will be better.” Though there are cases of prosperous families, most of them will not last more than three dai (generation or “sack”). The term is similar to a common folk saying, “Gunny dai, straw dai,” or, “One sack is worse than the other sack.”
Monastics do not seek love nor pursue a career and do not covet goals for themselves. Whatever we do, we offer the best we can with our heart and mind, and do as much as we can, gathering our energy to offer to the sentient beings. Isn’t this a very meaningful thing? Therefore, if we really have our family and society in mind, becoming a monastic is what we should do. Naturally, I am not asking all of you to be like me in the future; everyone should develop their own way. As long as the concept is correct, the road after becoming a monastic will be smooth and straight and every moment will be full of happiness. Like what is written in the Buddha hall: “No obstruction when at ease with yourself, show your natural self.” We basically act naturally and are at ease with ourselves, without obstructions in our heart and mind. This is what is nice about being a monastic.
2-9: Don’t try to Give a Reason, Just Have Compassion
Founder’s Time at Sangha University, March 7, 2003)
To become a monastic is not easy. Often, we cannot succeed because we have complicated obstructions. Obstructions can be karmic obstructions, retribution obstructions, and vexation obstructions. “Karma” means “action;” therefore, if one cannot be a monastic one reason is because of our non-virtuous acts of body, speech, and intention – our karmic obstructions. On the other hand, environment and body are the effects of retribution. So, if one cannot be a monastic because of the obstructions of the body and environment, it is retribution obstruction.
People with Long-held Habits or Strong Personalities also have Vexations
Vexation obstructions can be due to attitude and to habit. Vexations stemming from attitudes are easier to deal with; one needs only to change their attitudes and clear up what they have learned and seen, and they can become monastics. However, vexations stemming from habits are more difficult. For example, one who has a greedy, angry suspicious, rude, or lazy personality will experience pain even if they become monastics.
Even with shaved heads, monastics still have habits and personalities which are not easy to change immediately but we should still try. People with deeply ingrained habits and willful personalities will have correspondingly serious vexations. Furthermore, they will think that other people’s vexations are serious. This type of feeling is not easy to detect in oneself. If detected, one should change; otherwise, during the whole time they are monastics, they will feel that “everybody is drunk except me.” Then they will detest the world and its ways, and consider themselves above politics and worldly affairs. This person’s mind is filled with arrogance and anger. If they have it, monastics must put down this kind of mind.
Therefore, whenever you see that someone is not pleasing to the eyes or not capable, and by comparison you are terrific, then you should reflect on yourself. If you do not feel shame and still think you are good in every way and know it all, tell me: the world is so vast, how much of it do you understand? With so many capable people in the world, how capable are you? In fact, those who are arrogant, suspicious, and jealous suffer a lot because they harm others as well as themselves.
You are here to become monastics, and the purpose of this practice ground is to digest your vexations, but vexations are usually dispelled through little things. Therefore, Buddhism emphasizes small behaviors – daily living, walking, sitting, lying down, all must have dignity. We call this “learning Buddha’s behavior and temperament” and it is the road we follow to buddhahood. Its purpose is to let us look into our heart and mind amidst the trivial matters in our life, to restrain and discipline ourselves. If you can reduce your ingrained habits as a result, you will dispel most of your vexations – that is what I mean by digesting your vexations. Otherwise, you could be saying, “I have always been this way!” “I have never owed anything to anyone, including my parents.” Or, “I don’t care, I am right!”
Someone told me that since he was little, he has stood on the side of reason. He was saying that “with reason one can walk anywhere in the world.” I replied, “With reasoning, can you walk side-ways anywhere in the world?” Although there is a small difference between “walk” and “walk sideways,” that difference is food for thought. Monastics rely on compassion instead of rationality because the latter depends on standards that vary according to time, place, and status. If one always insists upon his own reasoning irrespective of what others think, it is “walking sideways.” Something may be reasonable to a grownup but not necessarily to a child, and the standards between males and females could also be different. Furthermore, what may be reasonable to lay people may not be reasonable to monastics. If we monastics follow the reasoning of lay people and get married, that is going to be problematic! Hence, reason and common sense vary according to situations and personal status. There is a saying, “The old man insists he is right, the old woman insists she is right.” Everyone has his own reasons and it can never be cleared up. This is why monastics don’t rationalize.
Offer our Bodies and Minds to the Three Jewels
You may not be aware that you are full of bad physical and mental bad habits because you have been feeling, thinking, and acting this way since you were young. So, you have never thought that you have any problems but according to Buddhadharma, that is “to the contrary.” Sometimes when students run into problems with one another they come to me. Both sides may think they are in the right, but in fact the so-called reasons are always in conflict. It is because thinking they are right, neither side is willing to step back from their position. But monastics should not rationalize, they should use wisdom. With wisdom there are no vexations.
We are here to become monastics. From the start we should covet nothing from society, not fame, profit, status, or affection from relatives and friends – all must be let go. Instead, we offer our bodies and minds completely to the Three Jewels, ask for Buddha’s guidance from above, and deliver sentient beings from below. What is there to quarrel about? What is there that one can’t let go? Therefore, you should realize that your bad habits are still very deep.
If you always talk about “reason” you will have endless vexations and cannot help but be afflicted. We need to use compassion and wisdom, not affection and logic. If we use compassion and wisdom, we can live together in harmony and happiness. On the contrary, if one always want to insist that “I am reasonable” then who is being unreasonable? When this happens we suffer together. Monastics do not to talk about passion or affection because it is easy for moods or emotions to be afflicted, and that would then be very troublesome. Monastics must use compassion and wisdom. To be compassionate is to protect and to help, and to give with no strings attached, without being possessive and self-centered, expecting nothing in return. In fact, affections are mutually entwined, as they say in Southern Fujian, “taitai,” a term that refers to a married woman, but also means “holding hands,” or “tied together.”
Furthermore, wanting to become a monastic, one must have the determination of Emperor Chu Ba Wang in sinking the boat with axes and making a last ditch fight with backs against the sea. Do not come here to become a monastic and still leave a trail or carry “baggage.” It should be like Master Hong Yi in that once he decided to leave home he gave up everything with very firm determination. Therefore, it should be said: “Becoming a monastic is a real man’s job, not even generals and prime ministers can do it.” Generals and prime ministers can offer their life for their country; but as for becoming monastics, they would have a hard time giving up success, status, interests, and monetary benefits. However, we monastics must be like a real man, like the story of “Jing Ke Assassinating the King of Qing.” He said before he left, “I spite of whistling wind and chilly water, the warrior leaves and will never return.” If a warrior leaves and there is a route for his retreat, he can not be counted as a real man. My fellow students, whether you are male or female – be a warrior.
2 -10: Have a lot of Self-Confidence and a Big Heart
Founder’s Time, Sangha University, January 10, 2003
Buddhism believes in gender equality. The world has also begun to emphasize gender equality and the contributions of both men and women have also received equal attention. However, in the workplace women still occupy the less important positions. For example, in the U.S.A. gender equality has been proclaimed for a long time, and the laws have clearly prohibited sexual and racial discrimination, but America has still not had a woman president.
In the cabinets of US presidents and in both Houses of Congress, women are still in the minority. There are still relatively few chief executives in the top 100 U.S. corporations.
Even with laws in the U.S., as well as in society in general, safeguarding against gender discrimination, opportunities for women are still limited. Recently, our Sangha sent members to attend the World Conference of Women Religious Leaders, where a female Christian minister interviewed me after the conference on how I thought we can elevate the status of women. My answer was, “The key to elevating the status of women is not how one promotes it, but women needing to develop self-confidence. If women do not have confidence in themselves and always rely on their husbands at home, superiors in the office, or men in general in their daily lives, it would not be possible to elevate the status of women. Hence, we must first help women to establish their self-confidence.”
I continued, “In order to establish self-confidence, first, we must open and broaden our hearts and minds, look at things from the perspective of people and the world. If one can look for benefits for a group as a whole and always think about the group, then everyone would need women to become leaders. If people only look out for themselves or a few people around them, there is no way they can stand on their own.”
Self-Confident and Tolerant Mind
During Shakyamuni Buddha’s time, if there were only women at home, it was easy to treat them high-handedly because men were physically stronger than women. But back then it was an agricultural society where one had to be strong. But in today’s industrial and commercial society it does not take muscles but brains to create things. In this regard female and male should be equal. Therefore, I encourage women to have self-confidence and be independent.
At present, the number of females in Sanghas has been increasing steadily, not only in Taiwan but also in Mainland China. In the past, nuns on the Mainland did not have much status and very little protection; for example, in Buddhist circles nuns were called ai er, secondary worship group; their status was lower than the male members of the Sangha. When someone wanted to take refuge in the Three Jewels, they would look for a bhikshu (monk) to perform the ceremony. Very rarely would one want to take refuge with a bhikshuni (nun). Therefore, there were not many female monastics and their monasteries were few too.
Now it is different. For example, in the Sichuan Province of Mainland China, there is a Lung Lian Fa Shi. She is like Taiwan’s Zheng Yan Fa Shi, who has very high status and is admired by all. In addition, at present, several Buddhist colleges in the universities on Mainland China have a female Sangha division and the female student Sangha are all very outstanding. It is unlike what I had seen in the past on the Mainland, where the female Sangha seemed to be timid and avoiding society – not daring to appear in public. There are at present many executive secretary and deputy executive secretary positions held by bhikshunis, to the extent that in many regions the presidents of Buddhist associations are female. It is evident that the status of females in Buddhist circles is greatly improved.
In Taiwan an elder once told me, “Now, our male monastics are in the minority. If there is an election, the male monastics would lose to the females.” If we look at it this way the presidents of Buddhist associations should be females, but strangely, female monastics do not vote for female. It may be because of low self-confidence and insufficient tolerance. Therefore, even though male monastics are in the minority, it is still males who are in charge. But here is a warning – if male monastics do not make themselves useful and have no tolerance and much open-mindedness, in the future female monastics will outshine them!
There Are No Gender and Age Differences in Serving and Offering
Besides gender, age barriers have also been broken down gradually. As an example, I have seen that the abbots of several large monasteries are people only in their 20s and 30s. People in their twenties are commonly seen in supervisory and managerial positions even after being monastics for only a few years. I asked them, “How can someone who has been a monastic for only two years be a household manager? Aren’t there older people, and why aren’t they the manager?” They answered, “It is not that there are no older persons but young people are more suitable to be the household manager to serve the Sangha.”
To lead, elders are respected, but to serve the Sangha, it is not necessary that elders do it; on the contrary, younger people are more suitable. During Shakyamuni’s time there were examples like this. Older people’s physical and learning abilities are not comparable to those of younger people. It is not to say that an older person can no longer serve Buddhism. My book, Orthodox Chinese Buddhism, was written in my early thirties and The Concise Rules of the Precepts at around thirty-three, thirty four. I was thirty-nine when I went to Japan to study, and already forty-five when I finished my doctoral dissertation. That is considered late but one must still try.
You may think that I like to study. In fact, I am not a good scholar. I only want to introduce Buddhadharma to others and never think of becoming a person renowned in writing and speaking in Buddhist circles. The reason I wrote Orthodox Chinese Buddhism was because I saw that too many people misunderstood Buddhism. Therefore, I sorted out some of the questions and problems, and wrote articles about them to offer to people.
And I wrote Concise Rules of the Precepts because in taking the Precepts, I saw that many Dharma masters did not understand them. It is pretty bad when those who confer the Precepts do not understand them! The Dharma master who conferred and explained the Precepts to me always said that they were difficult to understand, that it was a long time since anyone knew their true meanings, and if anyone wanted to know more they should explore it by themselves! Hence, I wrote the Concise Rules of the Precepts. But my purpose was not to become an expert in rules. I thought that as long as Buddhism teaches the Precepts, I should help people understand their true spirit, and how that spirit prompted Shakyamuni Buddha to establish the Precepts. Then, there would be a path for people to follow and uphold. Otherwise, whenever someone talks about upholding the Precepts, one immediately thinks of upholding the “noon rule,” or thinks “this is not good” or “that is not be allowed.” An originally very happy monastic life ends up being only stiff rules and pains.
Practicing Chan and Believing in Buddha Together
Recently I wrote a book, Keys to Tiantai Teachings – Connotations to Buddhist Teachings which won the Chung Shan Scholastic Award. The reason I wrote the book was because in recent times, Chinese Buddhism was regarded by many as being impractical, so everyone was learning Tibetan Buddhism or Southern Tradition (Theravadan) Buddhism. Therefore, I wrote the book to explain and clarify the value of Chinese Buddhism. If it is possible, I would like to write a book related to the Huayan (Avatamsakda) School, because the Tiantai, Huayan, and Chan schools are representative of Chinese Buddhism. The Tiantai and Huayan schools are the fundamental bases of my beliefs, Chan is my method, and the Precepts are the guidance for my daily life.
Then, what about believing in Buddha? Many people think that chanting the name of Buddha means only believing in Pure Land. Actually, chanting the name of Buddha is also practicing Chan, since the Chan School also believes in the Pure Land. The Western Pure Land is a domain of “Mind-only Pure Land.” In this teaching when one’s mind is perfectly pure, even while in samsara, one attains the Pure Land. Therefore, very few people in the School of Chan do not chant the name of Buddha. On the other hand, people only chanting the name of Buddha are not necessarily practicing Chan. Hence, even though we promote Chan practice, we also promote chanting the name of Buddha. This is a special characteristic of Chinese Buddhism.
In fact, Chinese Buddhism, particularly the Chan School, in order to survive had to fit into the society and culture of Han people in China. For example, very few Buddhist monasteries in China do not have characteristics related to the Chan School. Even though they do not understand or practice Chan meditation, the signs outside of their monasteries say “So-and-so Chan Temple.” The phenomenon is also the same in Taiwan.
It is worth mentioning that Chan School’s adaptation is not limited to Han culture. It is rather easy for Westerners to accept Buddhadharma, if it is not restricted only to the teachings of the Middle Way or Mind-Only. But if these teachings are accompanied by Zen/Chan or esoteric Buddhism, it is easier for Westerners to listen to and accept. As to chanting the Buddha’s name so that one will be reborn in the Pure Land, Western people would consider it equivalent to the Christian Heaven. Therefore, in the West, Zen and Chan are relatively easily accepted. This is why I mainly promote Chan whether I am in Eastern or Western society.
When people mentioned Chan in the past, they always thought of it being the teachings of tathagata-garbha or zhenru (truth, the source of all things) – the Chan methods of true Mind-Only School. The Chan I talk about is not tathagata-garbha teaching, which is the teaching that buddha-nature is inherently present in everyone; rather, I talk about the buddha-nature being emptiness, which is the emptiness in the Middle Way. When I teach Chan practice, I also use this as the base. Therefore, to confirm that someone has seen their true nature is not easy, because only the characteristics of emptiness is verified, can one say they have seen their true nature. Ordinary people talk about realizing Tathagata teaching, such as “becoming one”, unification of fore-thought and aft-thought, and unification of inner self with outer environment – they are all referring to unification of mind and it is the big self, not the true nature of emptiness.
This is the crisis in [Chan] Buddhism: Chan which does not integrate with the “nature of emptiness” can easily become a perverted “godly self.” It is like many priests and rabbis who come to learn Chan. Although they have obtained confirmation from Japanese or Korean Zen masters, they are still Christians, Catholic, or Jewish missionaries. I ask them, “If you have seen the buddha-nature, why are you still a clergyman?” There answer is, “Our God is the same as the nature of Buddha!” But if one can give them further guidance, they will discover that they should go deeper and further in order to truly realize the “nature of emptiness.”
Many people think that if there is nothing in one’s mind – the mind being empty, or clear and bright with nothingness, then that is the nature of emptiness – but they are wrong! What they have experienced is mere emptiness, not the nature of emptiness. Experiencing emptiness is not the same as seeing the nature of emptiness. Grandmaster Xuyun gained enlightenment when he was fifty-six years old. There are not too many people here beyond fifty-six, so there is still chance and hope.
2 -11: Healthy Body and Mind for Monastics
Founder’s Time, Sangha University, February 22, 2002
From the moment of birth we are connected to [the causal chain of] nao (aging), bing (illness), and shi (death). Every day we are alive, we are one day older and one day closer to death. But some people think that when they are born (sheng), they are “fresh and green” until, with white hair, falling teeth, and halting gait, they are finally nao, old. But the fact is that we begin to age the moment we are born; we are united with time, aging with every tick of the clock.
Then, there is illness, which reflects imbalances within our body. These are of two kinds of imbalance: those due to the four elements – earth, water, fire, and wind; and those due to what we consume. There are many reasons for not fitting in well with the four elements: some are related to the working and resting conditions in our daily lives, some are mental factors, and some are related to the environment. Sometimes, being unable to adjust to food, drinks, daily living, or surroundings will also not fit in well with the four elements.
Facing Illness with a Positive Attitude
Often, we even bring illness with us from the embryo. Hence, it is not always possible to avoid illness but we can help ourselves in three ways: one, not always worrying about being ill; two, taking care of it when we are ill; and three, when ill not scaring ourselves thinking, “It’s disastrous! I am sick! I am done!” When I was in Buddhist seminary I had a schoolmate who seemed always listless, moaning and groaning, “I am sick! I am sick!” He told people, “I probably will die in two or three days. I hope you will perform a memorial service for me, and please make sure that you will help me to recite Buddha’s name!”
As a result, this Dharma teacher, who is still alive, has been sick for all his life. Because he always lamented that he was sick, others felt pity for him. Actually, he was very scholastic, but people did not approach him to learn Dharma. People approached him out of pity and because of he had no one to turn to, so people brought over food or helped him to sweep and wash – it is because providing for ill bhikshu is equivalent to making offerings to Buddha.
Let me ask you, “Would you want to have this kind of obstruction?” To learn Buddhadharma, mental health is more important than physical health. It is normal to be ill. How we face illness with positive attitude is important. Otherwise, when we are ill it is easy to convince ourselves that we don’t need to work, and don’t need to offer to sentient beings. Our whole life can be wasted in this way.
Buddhadharma has already told us, “Our body is a stinking bag of skin.” Of course, that is not necessarily a good thing. However, it is still valuable as the physical form which we use to practice. As this bag often becomes sick, it confirms that what Buddhadharma says of the body is true. Because Buddhadharma says life consists of birth, aging, illness, and death, they are connected with us and are part of us.
The day before yesterday, the Dharma Drum Mountain staff was imparting the Bodhisattva Precepts in San Yi. There were two Dharma teachers besides me and we were all ill. I stood between them and the ceremony lasted two hours. Afterwards, I started having a headache. This was the problem with the environment we were in. But, I could not walk away from the task just because I was sick. If there was no one to substitute for me, things which should be done still must be done.
Therefore, I often say that I am a person without meritorious retribution – I don’t even have the privilege of recovering from my illnesses. When I am in the hospital, people bring over documents to discuss and sometimes even bring people over to have meetings. I will never be able to skip away from this world. Going to the U.S. is the same as there are many things waiting for me to take care of. However, looking at this from another angle, with a body like mine, I am very happy that I can still can do many things and serve others! And, I have not collapsed because of this. There are people who accomplish little, while being ill all that time. On the other hand, some people accomplish a lot even while being ill. I am not saying that people should not get sick, only that even when sick, we should still make use of our sick bodies, together with treatment and in moderation.
Use Wisdom to Change Your Attitude and Face Adverse Situations
To be mentally healthy, one must train the mind to adapt to the environment. Using myself as an example, because my immune system is not very good, doctors prefer that I avoid being in crowded places. I said, “Amitabha, how to avoid? Once I am separated from people, I can no longer do anything. I try to make every day I live count as a worthwhile day. I want to live through the physical form of this life for what I am destined for. While my body still can, I will use it but with care.”
Because I want to use my life to offer, I want to use it till my last breath. As life is very precious, we need to utilize it well. Besides paying attention to eating and drinking, working and resting, and environmental effects, we should always have the attitude of, “I live to offer.” Do not worry about long life or short life, or about being peaceful and comfortable. While you can, use every day that you have. With every passing day, you have earned one more day. When a day is over, you have earned another day of opportunity to offer. Therefore, do not worry about your life and your personal gains and losses. While alive, live; when dying, accept dying. What you may gain or lose are often attachments to illusions. There is nothing for monastics to lose.
For example, if you misplaced the textbook for one of your classes, you should still attend the class. If someone asks, just say you can’t find it, but don’t feel embarrassed and miss class. Besides not having this kind of concern for gain and loss, don’t be too concerned with grades. Good grades are normally expected, and if bad grades result from being slack, of course you need self-examining. But if you have done your best, you need not have a guilty conscience. Doing your best is not to risk your life – it is to exert your mental and physical energy, and to give your time. Do what you can do, don’t be so tense and anxious, and keep a calm and peaceful mind.
Most important is not to worry about people’s impression of you, because it is naïve to hope that you will never be criticized. If you are a good person, the bad person will criticize you, or the other way around. Even when you are neither good nor bad, the good ones may think you are not good enough and bad ones may think you are not bad enough. Therefore, don’t worry about what others think of you. Just be sincere, modest, tolerant of others, and willing to offer; the rest is not important. To be tolerant means to be open to different opinions, different ways of thinking and doing things. From your point of view, what someone else does may not be reasonable, but if you consider it from their point of view, you may have more tolerance for them.
Recently, I met the former president of Qing Hwa University, Liu Jiong Lang. The day before his term was up he went to the prison to see a former student named Hung. About three to four years ago, fighting over a boy friend, she killed a female schoolmate. Most people would think that she is a shameful and wicked person. But President Liu went to see her, encouraged her, and reminded her to be strong, study more, look to the future. She was much moved. This was tolerance and acceptance. She did something wrong. Of course we should point it out to her and correct her, but we still need to be tolerant of her to let her have a chance to reform. Do not consider her to be unpardonably wicked and reject her.
Furthermore, do not keep thinking of your future. A Dharma teacher once asked me, “Shifu, what will be our future?” My own meritorious retribution was not as good as yours when I was little and I did not know to ask my shifu what my future will be. When I became a monk for the second time, I was afraid to ask my shifu, Elder Dongchu. I just felt as long as they let me be a monk, I would be satisfied. As to the future, I just took one step at a time and only thought of doing well for the present. The future is a result of causes and conditions.
A few months ago, during the preparation of a round table discussion, I read a novel, “Braving the World in Jest.” The main character, Ning Hu Chung, was in great sorrow because his shifu’s daughter gave her love to another person. Then, he went to see the Sun Moon Theistic Sect founder, who said to him, “You will have other causes and conditions in your future. Do not always look back and continue to suffer for the causes and conditions of the past. You should look towards the future.” Buddhadharma talks about “causes and conditions of meritorious retribution” and “causes and conditions of merits and virtues.” If in the past you sowed merit and virtue, then you would now harvest good cause and conditions. But if you did not sow merit and virtue well in the past, then your present causes and conditions would be less favorable, and not without difficulty. Therefore, you need to sow more merit and virtue and your future causes and conditions will also mature.
Serve, Giving, Sowing Merits, and Cultivating Virtues
There was a high monk who was very much afflicted, because people made no offerings to him and he had no disciples. He asked an old monk, “A person like me without being provided for, what can I do in the future?” This old monk told him, “Let’s do it this way: when summer comes, take off your clothes and go sit in the bushes. If any mosquitoes or bugs bite you, just let them bite. You don’t have anything to give to them and you don’t know how to teach Dharma to them, so just give them your blood.”
After hearing that, this monk took off his clothes and went into the bushes to meditate. He conferred to the biting mosquitoes and bugs the Three Refuges, “You should take refuge in Buddha, take refuge in Dharma, and take refuge in Sangha. I am the cause of your condition. You will learn about Buddha and be the disciples of the Three Jewels.” As it turned out, this monk later had many disciples after he was over sixty, and all the disciples were young.
For me, I didn’t have much merit and virtue in the past and did not have much meritorious retributions either. My Shifu, Master Dongchu, the revered old man, always told me, “Sheng Yen, you are pretty clever but you lack meritorious retribution. You should try to create good conditions with people.” I said, “I don’t have anything with which to create good conditions with people.” He said, “Serve others more, like Dharma Teacher So-and-So, his meritorious retributions were great and his causes and conditions were abundant. Learn from him and do more to build up your merit.”
Back then, I did not know when I would be able to accomplish this. Still, I made a vow to do my best to offer all the Buddhadharma I knew to others. Nevertheless, I was unable to talk to everyone I met about Dharma or ask them to be my students – I didn’t have the nerve. I could only tell people all I knew when they came to ask me about Buddhadharma.
Facing Up to Adverse Conditions, Proceeding with Firm Steps
I remember the first time I lectured on a sutra, there were only 13 listeners, all students at Fu Yan Jing She. It was at Xing Zhu Lay Practitioner Group, to speak about the “Book of Bodhisattva Precepts in the All Embracing Sutra.” Strangely after the first two days of my lecturing, gradually the lay practitioners were not coming anymore. At the time, I was staying at the Fu Yen Buddhist College. Because the teachers there saw that no one was coming to my sutra talks and felt pity for me, the dean then told the students, “There is a young Dharma teacher lecturing on The All Embracing Sutra. You should go to listen!
Go hear someone else speaking about the sutra now; when it’s your turn, people will come and listen.” So they came and supported me, the Dharma teacher. Otherwise, there would have been only three lay practitioners listening to my talk. Afterward, I felt deeply that I did not have the causes and conditions with people, and Dharma conditions are difficult to create. Therefore, I went into solitary retreat.
My causes and conditions were created through writings. In those days, I wrote a series of articles on the correct beliefs of Chinese and Chan Buddhism, and gave them to Bodhi Tree magazine to publish. However, at that time, no one thought there was anything special about Sheng Yen; they only knew that there was a Sheng Yen who published articles in the Bodhi Tree. Later on, the Buddhist Cultural Services of the Ven. Master Xing Yun collected the articles into a volume called Orthodox Chinese Buddhism, and printed 1,000 copies for me. For the edition size, we mainly relied on my soliciting pre-publication commitments from the students at the Buddhist College. The teacher told the students, “You should read this Dharma teacher’s book, and then your book will be read by others.” It was in this way that the teachers got the students to read my book.
Orthodox Chinese Buddhism was actually published while I was in solitary retreat. After that, I went to Japan and came back with a doctoral degree, ten years afterwards. I asked Master Xing Yun, “How many editions of Orthodox Chinese Buddhism have been published?” He said, “I am really sorry. There are still a few hundred copies of the first edition of your book which have not been sold.” I then said, “How about letting me print my own book? I’ll print it myself and I can give them to people.” He said, “Since they cannot be sold anyway, you go ahead and print it yourself.”
After I printed it, because there were a few lay practitioners who purchased copies of the book and actively distributed the copies to make connections with people, the book then became popular. Up to now, over three million copies of this book have been printed. It has become a Chinese Buddhist classic and has been circulated not only in Taiwan, but also overseas and on Mainland China. It was also translated into Vietnamese. [Editor’s note: In 2007 an English translation was published as Orthodox Chinese Buddhism.] It was only later that my name became known and more people began to read my books. Nowadays, when people discuss Buddhadharma on the Internet, besides the Ven. Master Ying Shun’s book, this is the most frequently referenced book. Causes and conditions prevail themselves in this way.
This book has gone through a strange journey. When others helped me to publish the book, it could not be sold for years. Thinking about this, it was a humbling disappointment – the book had been published for ten years but no one wanted it. But what I really want to tell you is: How the future is going to be will depend on the causes and conditions of each individual. The ones who have meritorious and virtuous causes and conditions before will naturally be met with good causes and conditions; the ones who have had none; will need to give selflessly and to cause more conditions with others, now.
PART 3 : The Deeds of the Elders
3 -1: Buddha’s Compassion and Wisdom
Founder’s Time, Sangha University, January 11, 2002
“Spirit” can be a very abstract term. Under what conditions does spirit exist anyway? If a person is ill or dead, is there still spirit? Recently, I met a gentleman of Hindu beliefs. He had a picture of his guru in his office. Usually, when he enters his office, the first thing he does is to face the picture of his guru, join his palms and bow. Then, he looks at the picture attentively for a while. I asked him, “Is your teacher still around?” “Yes, he is.”
“How old is he?” “He has no body.” I thought it was getting to be interesting and asked, “Without body, how can you say he is still around?” He told me, “I look at his picture everyday, greet him, bow to him, and I feel there is an exchange between us. Often when I have difficulties, I just come and look at him and invariably I gain some revelation. This is not using voice and language; it is simply linking up with his spirit.
The kind of spirit this Hindu talked about is the body of merit and virtue, the body of wisdom, or we can say, the body of Dharma. Recently, the relic of one of the Buddha’s fingers was discovered in the lower chamber of the Dharma Gate Monastery in Xi An, and it is going to be brought to Taiwan. Because of it, someone asked me, “Is the Buddha’s finger real?” I said, “It’s hard to say if Shakyamuni Buddha had left any finger as a relic. However, looking from the legends in history, this finger was passed on from India to the Western Regions and from there to China. It was also documented in the literature of the Tang Dynasty. Therefore, whether it is real or not, it is an important cultural relic. Even it is not real, it has value because it represents the Buddha’s spirit.
Use Heart and Mind to Experience Buddha’s Spirit
In other words, although this relic may not really be something from his body, as long as we regard it as Buddha, to us it is Buddha. This is like prostrating to the statue of the revered Shakyamuni; the statue is not really he but it symbolizes him, and it represents Buddha’s spirit. Nevertheless, Buddha’s spirit does not necessarily have to reveal itself through a relic. Because everyone has different needs, different beliefs, and different reliance, spirit hence presents itself in different forms. Then, what is Buddha’s spirit after all? We may say that Buddha’s spirit is compassion and wisdom; form is only a representation. For example, at our Dharma Drum Mountain campus, we have several Buddha halls and every one of them has a statue of Buddha. A statue of Buddha represents Buddha – it symbolizes Buddha.
Therefore, I now ask you, “If I am ill, lying in the hospital unconscious, would I still have my spirit? Where is my spirit?” It is in your heart and mind! When you realize that this world has felt the influence and effects of what I, as an individual, have rendered to you and the society, then that is my spirit.
The day before yesterday, the Information Library officially opened. While there I saw an exhibit of several different editions of the Tripitaka. Among them, one was published by my shifu, the revered Elder Dongchu, under the auspices of Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Culture. It was the earliest edition of the Tripitaka in Taiwan; only 500 sets were printed. Therefore, when Dongchu’s edition of the Tripitaka was published, people from many libraries and large temples came to take home copies of it. The replica edition had great influence and made great contributions to the Buddhist and scholastic institutions in Taiwan at that time.
After the publication of the Tripitaka edition, I learned that many temples were displaying the scriptures in cases on each side of the Buddha statue, or else locked in a case inside of the Buddha’s niche. I asked, “Does anyone look at them?” They answered, “We look at them every day, and when believers come to prostrate they see them too.” It was similar to looking at a Buddha statue as representing the Buddha. They were treating the replicas as treasures, representing the “spirit” of the Dharma.
Even now, the influence of this edition of the Tripitaka is still great, and Elder Monk Dongchu’s offering is still contained within it. Therefore, wherever this edition of the Tripitaka resides, our Elder Monk’s spirit is also there and will not disappear with his passing.
Do Not seek Fame and Status, only Strive to Give Your Best
Yesterday, I was being interviewed at a Chinese television studio, and we touched upon subject similar to this. On the program, there was a former member of the Legislative Branch who was to be the Christian counterpart of our discussion. He ran for the Legislative Branch as an incumbent and was defeated by a large margin. In the program, he mentioned that he felt when he was in the Legislative Branch he had put out a great deal, but ended up being abandoned by the voters. I then told him, “When you were a member of the legislature, you did your best for our country and our government. In the future, even though no one would know what you did or your name, it is not important because the spirit you had shown will always be there.”
People have short memories. Now, I, Sheng Yen, am here and this place was established by me, so people may feel that Shifu Sheng Yen is our founder and our benefactor. But let me tell you: if there were no outstanding young people showing up to continue this work, this old man of the past will fade away in a few years. However, one’s spirit does not disappear just because one’s name is gone. So, please never look at success and failure in external terms.
When we think about it, spirit seems to exist within a limited time frame, but in fact it lasts. For example, today you cleaned the washrooms and made them very clean. People feel very comfortable using them and everyone will feel very pleased. After they leave the washroom, they will continue to be in a pleasant state of mind. In this way, the effects of a function performed in a limited time span will continue and, in turn, the effects of functions performed in an entire day will continue on. Hence, do not attach to big or small titles and how much merit and virtue are involved. As long as you are doing your best in the present, it will be influential and its spirit will last.
3-2: Living Peacefully Together, Working Collectively
Founder’s Time, Sangha University, April 9, 2004
Of the many Buddhist seminaries here in Taiwan, why did you come to Dharma Drum Mountain? Perhaps before coming some of you harbored thoughts and imagined what monastic life was going to be like, and what you might be doing here. Some of you vaguely thought of leaving home to become a monastic, so with a hazy mind, you come here, bump around, looking here and there. If it seems like a good fit you will settle in; if not, you will leave.
Then, what is a good fit? You are not really clear about that either. It may mean fitting to your personality, fitting to your living habits, or fitting to your fantasies, etc. If it is like this, then what is the difference between a monastic and a lay practitioner? As if it were a backpack, you bring your old thinking, old habits, and old addictions to a new place. If that were the case there is really no difference between leaving home and staying home.
Living Peacefully Produces Power to Practice
People leave home and become monastics for different reasons. Some see families separate, and finally part forever in death and they say, “I have seen enough of [family] life; I want to be a monastic!” But, after shaving their head and changing their clothes, the facts of separation and death still exist. Some may leave behind failures in personal endeavors, love affairs, and so on. They now say, “I have seen enough of the mortal world; I want to give up everything to become a monastic!” Some middle-age people see abandoning their current life style and environment as a career change. They think they have tasted all the bitter and sweet parts of life, but not yet life in a monastery, so they join one.
If you ask these people, “What do you want to do after becoming a monastic? How will you live as a monastic?” they probably do not have any clear idea and can only say, “I will see after becoming a monastic!” If it is this way, people can go to any Buddhist practice place; it would make no difference. All they have will have done is find a place to shave their heads. There is really no need for them to come to Dharma Drum Mountain.
Another case is when people cannot live peacefully where they are, and they think “this place cannot accept me but there are lots of other places”, or “a home-leaver is without a home, but everywhere can be a home.” The thought is that a monastic does not need to settle down in one place, and can go anywhere they want. They do not identify with where they practice and have no sense of belonging. Their mind absolutely can not settle down, so they think of sneaking off to lead a wandering and vagrant life.
If a monastic has an unstable and unsettled character and is unwilling to settle down in one place, his feet become itchy after a few days and he starts thinking about other places. He might think of himself as “a monk who travels far and wide” but in reality he is just a drifter. As a result, he roams around till he dies. He did not fulfill his duties to society, nor did he make any contribution.
To leave home is to settle down at a monastery and adjust to its practice ground as the place we would depend on in the future. It is not to ask the monastery to adjust to our habits and fantasies. Every monastery has its own style of practice. Dharma Drum Mountain has its own way and ideals. In accordance with that we live together, we grow together, and together we realize our ideals and spread our way of practice. It is also saying that we settle down where we place our reliance, and settle down to realize our destiny.
In the biographies of eminent monks, we often come across ancient monastics of great virtue. As they were learning to practice and grew to a level that the monastery had nothing more to offer, their shifu would send them to some bigger monastery to be close to great virtuous people and to learn. In Taiwan, in some small temples there is only one shifu with a few disciples. Because there is no systematic approach for training, the abbot would send them to Buddhist schools to study, and put them through the mill and be tempered. Their abbot hopes the disciples will return to serve the temple after finishing their schooling.
Furthermore, monastics who have been studying with a virtuous master for some years could respond to causes and conditions and move on to serve in another place. For instance, a monastic who gained recognition at a temple or remote practice center could become abbot at another temple, or open a new practice center. However, they must have gone through the mill at the type of monasteries mentioned. Monastics that have not been properly trained but just go out to wander often end up being worthless.
Use Harmony and Respect to Fit in with Others
Since you came to be a monastic, you must first learn the existing way of practice which is cultivated by all of you practicing together. Our school motto, “Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony, and Respect” describes our style of practice. Within the motto, “harmony and respect” are the most fundamental aspects. How then, do we achieve harmony and respect? For example, when we have differences in opinion, we should express it tactfully and not directly confront others. It does not matter if the other person insists on his opinion and does not care about being in harmony with you. You harmonize with him or her. If he or she strongly holds onto his thoughts, you just let them have their way this time. There is no way that they can always have others abide by their thoughts.
Some people have very high regard for themselves, always considering themselves right and others wrong. In a group, this type of person with very strong personality will usually become authoritarian and not allow others to have an opinion. If you are this type of person, all others will be afraid of you. They will stay away from you with respect but think, “We are all not right, so go ahead and be right by yourself.” In this way, we will not be able to be together harmoniously and with respect to each other.
Therefore, though you think your opinion is correct, when all others cannot accept it, you should temporarily lay down your thoughts and go along with others. If you still think your idea is bright but others cannot understand it, in order to help them you should try to adapt. Although you are intelligent, capable, and of high wisdom, the group you are in is not at your level. In such situation, you need to blend into their levels in order to be able to help them.
It is like I am with a group of little friends. When they chirpily give me many ideas, should I refute and object to their ideas? They would ask me, “Grand Teacher, am I right?” I would say, “Right! Right! Of course, you’re right.” The little friends would be very happy and love to be with me and be my friends. They would think that I am very amiable, and when I speak to them later they would listen. If I think they are very naïve and immature and do not agree with their ideas, they would feel that this old monk is very odd and would not dare to be with me. Hence, to get along or to work with people, we need to use harmony and respect as the foundation.
Among you there are many intelligent and capable persons, but you should understand that when living with a group it is better to adapt to them than expect them to adapt to you. When you fit in with others you will naturally be able to bring everyone up. It is “embracing tongsi in the four all-embracing bodhisattva virtues (methods).” “Tongsi” means “cooperating” or “being agreeable.” The virtue of embracing tongsi means co-operating with and adapting to others in order to lead them to the truth. When I can tongsi with others, others will be agreeable with me.
Take the Thousand-Armed-Thousand-Eyed Guanyin (Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara): the reason he can respond simultaneously to as many sentient beings as the sands of the Ganges, is because he adapts to them. This is why he is represented as having innumerable helping hands and eyes. Therefore, we should learn from Guanyin: when we deliver sentient beings we need to adapt to them. In a group, you should adapt to everyone. When you are able to adapt to everyone you will be a leader.
The leader we are talking about does not necessarily mean an abbot – it is a leader with ideas, duties, and moral integrity. Leaders with moral integrity rule with morals. This type of person does not necessarily have fame. They just quietly live in the monastery for many years. During these years, every word they say and every conduct they exhibit can influence people.
If we can exhibit the spirit of Guanyin in our daily lives by learning to adapt to everyone, we can develop the power of persuasion and influence others. Whether one has any managerial functions or fame does not really matter. Some people are suited for leadership while others are not, but they can still exist quietly while contributing to harmony and blending differences in the group.
Melting Away Self and Serving Others
There was a monk who went to a monastery and lived there for many years. His face was yellow as a candle, like he had jaundice. But everyday he cleaned up the washrooms in the temple and nobody knew when he did it. Regardless of when people got up in the morning the washrooms were cleaned up. Besides cleaning the washrooms, he was also very diligent in practice.
After a while he suddenly disappeared. Everybody missed him very much, until they found out later he was actually the abbot of another temple. After he left one monastery he would go to another to be the janitor. In so doing, he influenced the spirit of practice in that temple. When he was recognized for who he was, he left. Using this monk as an example, whether we are recognized or not, in a high or low position, whatever the type and amount of work performed, it really does not matter. What matters is that one has dioxin – the mindset to practice – in our conduct and manner. These qualities can touch, transform, and influence others.
Similarly, even though you are a student you can still transform yourself as you are transforming others. You should always help each other among your schoolmates. Learn the good things from them and forgive their shortcomings. “Among any three people, there is always a teacher” – you can learn something from this teacher. You transform her and she transforms you. Mutually you can be teacher and friend to each other.
Furthermore, our Dharma Drum Mountain ideal is to “Uplift the Character of Humanity, Build a Pure Land on Earth.” Uplifting human character should begin by elevating one’s own character – correcting one’s own habits, improving one’s own thoughts, attitude, and behavior. “Building a Pure Land on earth” is not asking others to build it, but to change your own environment into a Pure Land. Only this way can we influence others.
In addition, Dharma Drum Mountain’s ideal adapts to our time and our society – this is the very special characteristic of being monastics here. There are some Buddhist sects that adhere and return to past practices. This will not lead to anywhere because the world moves forward and a return to ancient ways will lead you back into history and make you an antique. It will not only be difficult to spread Dharma, but also your survival will be in question. Therefore, our group should link to the past, but as a means to usher in the future. Following the examples and spirit of most virtuous buddhas in the past, open the path to spread Buddhadharma that will fit in with our time and our society.
3-3: Practicing the Ascetic Way and Enduring Humiliation
Course on Mindset and Mindset and Behavior of High Monks, March 4, 2003
In Taiwan there was a very well known and great ascetic, Old Monk Guang Chin. Because he ate only fruits, people called him the Fruit Monk. I jokingly asked this elder monk once, “You only eat fruits; you know they are very expensive. Most families can not easily afford one piece of fruit a day to eat.” He answered, “You are right! But I am not intentionally eating only fruits. It is because there are only fruits in the mountain; it is not because I do not want to eat rice.” What he meant was he ate whatever is available. Since there was nothing else to eat in the mountains, he ate wild fruits, and not necessarily the good looking ones.
When there was nothing to eat, he even ate seeds that only birds would eat. Therefore, you should not think the mindset and behavior of high monks as very romantic. Do not think that everyday he had bananas, apples, pears, and so on. And don’t think living in the mountain is such a happy life.
Paragons, Mindset and Behavior of Monastics
There was also a bhikshuni in Taiwan who was called No Name. I knew her before she became a monastic. She once lived at the Chung Hwa Institute of Buddhist Culture. This bhikshu’s physique was not quite the same as many ordinary people. She seemed to never get sick and her living style was also very different. She did not need a bed and when winter arrived, she did not need much clothing to protect her from the cold weather. Before she came to our Cultural center to live for a while, she traveled far and wide and lived in many other places. Very strong willed, not too many people would be able to do what she did.
It is rare in any era to have even one or two like the Old Monk Guang Chin and No Name. If there are many, most of them are likely to be fake and only imitate the appearance of an ascetic so they would be admired and be provided for. If this is the mindset, these people have some fundamental problems. For Bhikshuni No Name and Old Monk Guang Chin, their austere practice was not for show but developed naturally because of the background in their lives, the living environment, and survival conditions. In the mountain where Old Monk Guang Chin lived, there were only fruits to eat, so he ate only fruits and his physique adapted to the fruits since he was little. When I was in solitary retreat, there was nothing much to eat. What I often ate was the leaves of potato plants. Later, it became a habit and the food most fit to my digestive system was potato leaves. Same as cattle and sheep eating grass to which they are naturally adapted.
Therefore, do not pretend to be worthy of pity and say you want to start ascetic practice. That is not ascetic practice; it is playing games. Some people put on an act in order to get people to provide for them, to respect and be courteous to them and to an extent, to acquire fame and gain monetary benefits. Ascetic practice does not come from learning, but it comes naturally. If someone scorns you, treats you unjustly, and throws you out of the temple, a real ascetic monk would thank them from the bottom of his heart and say, “Amitabha! I know you are trying to help me.”
During the Cultural Revolution in Mainland China, temples were destroyed and monastics were forced to return home. During those times, monastics wore common clothes, and monks and nuns worked side by side in the factories. They did not look like monastics at all. But, there were still some bhikshus and bhikshunis, who insisted on remaining as monastics and alone, regardless how much they were tortured. Often, after attending political indoctrination classes, they would hide away to meditate and chant. Without access to liturgy, they would quietly chant whatever text they could remember for morning and evening services.
After the ban on religious practices was lifted in 1976, one after another the temples reopened and monastics were needed to join the recovery work. However, many had already returned to secular life and had children. A small number remained monastics. One of these was Elder Ming San, a senior fellow disciple of mine. Another was Elder Yi Chen, who is currently president of the China Buddhist Society, as well as being a Dharma heir to my own shifu, Master Dongchu. Then there were Elder Chi Zou of Jinshan, Elder Beng Huan, and one bhikshuni, Long Lian. However, monastics like these were rare, and despite great hardship never wavered in their mind and will. These were the kinds of respected monastics who led the revival of Buddhism in Taiwan. My teacher, Elder Yu Mae, also went through great hardship, but with unsurpassed determination and perseverance, maintained his will to remain a monastic. He later led the recovery of Buddhism in the Nantong region of Mainland China.
How about those who married? One famous Dharma master was invited back to the temples, but because he had a family, people looked down on him and did not call him Dharma Master. Though he wore robes he was in fact no longer a monastic. Besides Elder Yu Mae, the teachers I had at Yushan (Wolf Mountain) mostly got married and had children, even grandchildren. As to former classmates, when I returned to the Mainland for a visit, I met many in their 70s, mostly married. Some became monastics again but at that age they merely assigned duties to younger monks, received orders, or receiving offerings for chanting sutras for the dead. It was pitiful to see their monastic careers end up this way.
Under Adversity, Remain Flexible
Monastics adapt. Remember these words: “When walking with a beggar, not feeling mean and low; sitting with royalty, not feeling honored and noble.” Nowadays, many government officials are followers and are very respectful to me. But, I do not take advantage of their power to bully others and swagger around. Politicians’ futures are not predictable – today in power, tomorrow out of power; today leading people, tomorrow in prison. Rich people are the same and can go bankrupt overnight. Power and money are not what monastics want to pursue.
There are people who would say that Dharma Drum Mountain is a big organization, doing a lot of things, and very well known, but these do not belong to me. The money is not mine, either. I took vows to serve and put my heart and mind to make Dharma Drum Mountain a reality. And, yet nothing is mine. I eat very little, sleep in a simple bedroom, and my clothing is just these few. When the time comes, I close my eyes and can’t catch my breath anymore, to whom will all these things belong? All these things belong to people with recompensed blessings – anyone who knows how to use it and live by it is with recompensed blessing.
The day before yesterday, I went to Kaohsiung Zi Yun Temple to pay my respects and celebrate the completion of the Buddha statue. I stayed there for two nights. Is that temple mine? Several Dharma teachers live there, managing the temple. The temple is used by local followers and a few old bhikshunis. I am only offering myself and performing my duties. When food supply is low or troubles among the followers, I am the one to solve the problems. This is what I am good for, nothing else. During the celebration everybody was pretty happy, but I ended being busy for a whole day.
This is the way the world is. Nothing belongs to us monastics. So, why pursue fame and personal gain? Why would we want anybody to respect and provide for us? Aren’t the sutras always reminding us that fame, recognition, money, and gains are the reasons why there is a hell? When I was little, I often heard virtuous Dharma teachers who scorned monastics as being the seeds of hell. This is saying that when we move in a circle of fame, recognition, money, and gains, we sow seeds of hell.
For example, in the past on the Mainland, there were people who had worked hard and gained success in business or in society. Then, because their life did not go smoothly or they had some setbacks, they became monastics. But as monastics, their old competitiveness and ambition did not change. When they saw that monastics in the temple just cooked, cleaned, looked muddleheaded, and seemed to be mediocre, they thought that being so intelligent, they could at least try to be abbot. This is the kind of mindset that constantly revolves around fame, recognition, profit, and growth. It is very bad! What does one become a monastic for? We should all carefully think about it.
After becoming a monastic, one may feel wronged if a fellow monastic yelled at them and the manager did not step in immediately to take care of it. They would feel weak and bullied and think of leaving because temple life is even more painful than at home. Monastics should not talk about fairness and being reasonable and fear being wronged. If we did we will never succeed being a monastic. In a group, there is no designed plan to train a few “tigers” to eat people. Actually bullies were bullies even before they left home; they ate people before they became monastics. After becoming monastics, they could not eat people so they roared at them. It is possible that there are these kinds of people in every group. We as a group just have to train the tiger not to roar. Then, the frequency of roaring would become less and less
Those who are howled at should endure humiliation and just continue to practice. If you are being howled at, you should just think, “Tiger is roaring now!” Then, you would feel better. Your heart should not be jumping every time he howls and you get scared to death. When you talk to him, take a deep breath and let him roar, as he can’t bite you anyway! We monastics should adjust our mind this way. We would be helping ourselves. But we are not encouraging these tigers to roar at people. It is simply what a group is. There are people who can’t control themselves and they are actually suffering pain within.
To be an accomplished monastic, one must first be able to accept humiliation, accept being wronged, and accept all kinds of unreasonableness. Just think of people who afflict others as bodhisattvas – they teach us to practice enduring humiliation. In fact, they are vexed and feel pain by their own behavior. If we regard them as bodhisattvas, their pains would make us practice to be accomplished monastics.
Today in Taiwan becoming a monastic is a very glorious and noble thing. When I became a monk, if I walked outside in the morning and came across a gambler, he would likely swear at me – “bald thief!” It is like he lost all his money with nothing in his pockets. Because the treasure we put in our Buddhist’s treasure box is “emptiness,” if in the bright morning, the first person a gambler saw was a penniless monk, he would feel it was a very bad omen. But nowadays, wherever we Buddhists go, most people would sincerely respect us and address us “Fashi”– Dharma master.
So, outstanding people should become monastics and monastics should also be outstanding and contribute to our society and our country. We give ourselves to the whole world and to history. It was like that with Shakyamuni Buddha and all the eminent monks in history – they all give themselves to mankind and to history. We should will ourselves toward this end and have confidence in ourselves.
3- 4: A few Deeds of Elder Dongchu
Course on Mindset and the Deeds of High Monks, March 25, 2003
My shifu, Elder Dongchu, did many good deeds worthy of emulation. For example, in his whole life he lived frugally and never complained that he was poor. As a monastic who did not have many followers, he naturally did not have money. But he never told people, “I am poor.” He always said, “As a monk, you are naturally poor. If you are moaning about being poor, people will be wary of you.” Many people are afraid of poor people; even beggars. If you keep saying you are poor, poor people will fear you and rich people will fear you even more, afraid that you are going to beg. By not saying you are poor, you show that you have no intention of begging. If you do not tell people you are a poor monastic, they will not be suspicious of you, and you might even spread a little Dharma.
My Shifu lived his whole life frugally. For breakfast, he ate rice gruel. The best things that went along with his gruel was seasoned tofu (bean curd), a piece of it would last a week or two, and salted fried peanuts, which after preparing he would keep in a bottle. Every time he ate the peanuts, he would pour out only seven pieces, never exceeded seven. I asked him, “Why are you only eating seven?” He would say, “Seven is a very nice number.” That’s his best breakfast, gruel, seven peanuts, and a little seasoned tofu.
Nowadays, when we buy tofu in bulk, we buy several big slabs, stacked up. When we eat, we put a piece onto our plate and eat it up quickly. Back when we were in the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Cultural with Dongchu, we had 5 to 6 people. When we bought tofu, we bought only one piece and then cut it into small slices to add them in our dish. The little white thing we could see in our dish was tofu. Sometimes, the slices of tofu were pan fried, so they would not easily be broken up. That’s how frugally we ate.
Furthermore, when we built our new building, the first thing we did was to tear down the old walls. Dongchu would pick up the old bricks, knocking off the old cement mortar stuck on the brick and matching this piece of old brick with another one, so the old bricks could be reused again. Actually, the bricks were not that expensive. When you counted the labor, it was really not worth it to do it that way. So, some workers laughed at us, “Nao (Old) Shifu, you work so hard to knock out the old mortar. It takes a whole day’s work to save a few bricks. Why are you still knocking at them? Besides, some of them are broken, they can’t be used.” The old monk would answer, “Your work is worth money but mine is not. If I can knock out a few more pieces of these old brick, we can still save a few dollars.” That’s how frugal he was.
Another time, I had a razor which had been used for a long time, and someone gave me a new one. The old one was no longer sharp so I threw it away. Later I found it in my shifu’s room. He knew I had noticed it and felt a little embarrassed. He explained, “Sheng Yen, I picked it up from the garbage bin. I didn’t steal it!” This made me feel very ashamed! The old razor was dull, so he asked someone to grind it, and it could be used again, so that saved some money. Since then I have always used my things until they can’t be used and I can’t find a way to use them any longer.
The reason this nao heshang (old monk) can be called a high monk, is not because he had built the Cultural Center and printed the Tripitaka. Any contractor and architectural company could have built the Center – there was nothing unusual about it. As to the printing of the Tripitaka, lots of books are published nowadays and there is nothing special about it either. What we should examine is the background behind his deeds. How was he able to build the Cultural Center without money? It was his frugality that gradually touched many people and he could build the Cultural Center. Deeds like these are not written in his biography.
3-5: Deeds Transform the World, Spirit and Paragons Live on Forever
Course on Mindset and Deeds of High Monks, February 2, 2004
The life of high monks can be looked at from three aspects: thoughts, deeds, and achievements. Among these deeds can be simply described as the spirit and paragons left by high monks’ lifelong conduct in society. I don’t need to elaborate too much here, as talks are best when concise and to the point. Most important is to understand and apply. I want to introduce to you the deeds and spirit and paragons of a few highly virtuous people, including the Ven. Master So Ye, the Ven. Master Ming Zi, and a lay practitioner.
Use Compassionate Mind to Serve Sentient Beings
Old Monk So Ye was a man with a very big heart. It didn’t matter whether his life was comfortable; whatever others needed, he would manage to help them. For example, in the winter he would give clothes, and in the summer he would give water and teas. When people had no money for traveling, he would send over money. It is like timely rainfall, as long as people need rain there is rain. However, if the needs were not genuine, he would not give easily. Therefore, some people said he was stingy. In fact, it was often that people were greedy and asked him to help. If people indeed needed money or matters, he definitely would help. When I first went to New York, I received many nice things from him. Once in a while, he would send something over to me; sometimes it was cooking oil, sometimes it was rice, and so on.
Not only was he this way to people but also to animals. During the winter in New York City, when it was snowing and icy, he would push a little cart with corn, soybeans, and grains to feed hungry pigeons in City Hall Plaza. Because it had become a routine, when it was snowing in the morning, the pigeons would circle around the plaza always about the same time and followed him to the plaza. After arriving at the plaza, he would spread the food on in a large pattern resembling the swastika symbol, which in Buddhism, signifies the mind of Buddha. The pigeons would fly down to eat the food and thus arrange themselves in the pattern of the Buddha symbol. He would always say, “Look, even animals have Buddha nature!” After the pigeons finished the food, he would return to the temple with his cart. The pigeons would follow him as far as the temple. This became a very interesting winter scene in New York, but he would only feed the pigeons in the icy and snowy winter. When spring came he would stop the feeding till the next winter.
Besides giving to others and helping others build temples, he spent his life copying sutras using his own blood for ink. He used blood from pinching his fingers and tongue to write the entire Avatamsakda Sutra (Huayan). Regrettably, when he left Mainland China, he could not take the blood-written sutra with him. After the Cultural Revolution, the whereabouts of the sutra could not be determined. Even when he was old and physically weak, he still could use brushes to reverently write the Avatatamsaka Sutra. It had become one of his routine projects.
There was also the Ven. Master Ming Zi. His way of doing things was not the same as Old Monk So Ye. Most notably, he was very compassionate, sincere, and dedicated when he taught. Anyone, who had listened to his talks on sutras, attended his classes and followed him in studies, would feel his deep and eager compassion. To help others understand and be clear, he always patiently and repeatedly explained the points. No matter how often you asked, he was always very patient and kind to teach you. His hope was that there would be people who could learn and spread Buddhadharma.
However, there were people who thought he was very stingy. They never saw him giving for the sake of forming ties. Once, I asked him, “Elder Ming, people say you are stingy!” He said, speaking in Cantonese, “Guhan” (literally, “lonely and cold” or “miserly”) He continued, “I am guhan, because I am very poor!” He had no money because he had only a few followers and they were young people with no money. Master Ming Zi was very strict in self-discipline and he lived very simply and assiduously – it could be described as “light and dull.” Later, he became the President of Buddhist Association in the U.S. But this president was not one who took charge of things. When people wanted to elect him president he told them, “Fine! But I want you to know, as the president, I would not want to take care of the administrative chores, people, and money.” Hence, besides lecturing sutras and spreading Dharma, he would not take care of anything else. Because he was not involved in money and power, there was hardly anyone bothering him. This kind of person can be said to be solitary, eccentric, and cold. However, from the point of enthusiasm in Buddhadharma, he was very hot
He was not good at asking for money, and he would not ask for things he did not need, so he had nothing material to give. When he saw a practitioner come in he did not think, “Here comes a sheep. How much money does he have? Is he generous?” This kind of mind is not consistent with Buddhadharma. Instead, when a follower came in, his mind would be full of happiness and he would think, “Here comes a bodhisattva who wants to learn Buddhadharma.” With this sincere thought he formed ties with many people. Hence, when he passed away, the disciples, students, and followers who came in to pray for him were many. Originally, he was the abbot of Jiangsu Province, Changzho Tian Ning temple. His personality was that way even then. Above him, there were senior monks, below him there were supervisors. All he did was participate in morning and evening services, go for meals, prostrate to Buddha, meditate, and lecture about sutras. When there were problems, he would say, “Big problems – go ask the senior monk; small problems, the supervisors.” In our Dharma organizations, this is also a model and a way of practice.
Using Respect to Approach Kind People
I would like to talk about a lay practitioner, who passed away more than 30 years ago, by the name of Wang Zekuen. When I got to know him, he was in his sixties and I was in my thirties teaching sutras at Taipei San Dao Temple. He came to hear my talks regardless of the weather. He was always diligently taking notes, but never asked any questions or tried to talk to me. When he came, he always followed the routine of prostrating three times [to the Buddha statue] and then sat down quietly listening to the talk. He would also always prostrate three times before he left.
At that time, the number in the audience could be as many as 60 to 70 and as few as 20 to 30. I discovered that even on days when attendance was low, he would always be there. Because we had no interaction with each other, I did not know what kind person he was.
When I was making plans to go overseas to study, people in the Taipei Buddhist community –lay practitioners as well as Dharma teachers – seemed to be against my going. They thought Sheng Yen’s plan of going to Tokyo to study meant he was returning to lay life. At this time, a certain Mr. Wang came to see me and gave me a thick red envelope. I asked him what it was for. He answered, “This is for you to use when you study [in Japan].” I opened the envelope which was filled with currency. In Taiwan at that time, it amounted to a lot of money.
I asked him, “Aren’t you afraid that I may become a lay person again?” He said, “Shifu, don’t make jokes. Others are saying that, but I believe you will not. And Shifu, don’t pay any attention to what they say. I believe Shifu is going overseas to study with a compassionate will.” I looked at him. He did not look like a rich person, so I asked again, “I am very grateful but are you fairly well-to-do?” He said, “Shifu, I am not rich, but I do have enough to eat. I have saved some money, which can let you buy a few more books or pay for a month or two’s rent when you are studying in Japan.”
After I arrived in Japan, he often asked others to bring to me some tofu sheets and gluten-based vegetarian food, because there was not that kind of food in Japan. Another time he asked me, “Shifu, do you have enough clothes for the winter?” When winter came the Cultural Center sent a bag of clothes to me in Tokyo, saying Mr. Wang asked them to send them to me. I was very moved, because it was right in the winter and very cold in Japan and I felt embarrassed to ask people for things. The winter clothes he sent me allowed me to avoid suffering the chilly and freezing weather.
After receiving my master’s degree I returned to Taiwan. Mr. Wang was very happy and immediately came to see me. Because he did not tell me beforehand, I missed him three times. The fourth time, finally we met. I was very happy and said, “Why didn’t you call me first? I made you run around for nothing.” He said, “Shifu was busy. I didn’t have much to do anyway. It really was no bother. I rode the bus, which did not cost me much. If I called first, Shifu would make it a big deal and wait for me. Then, I would feel really guilty.” And he continued, “Shifu, you should continue to get your doctoral degree. I have a few things I want to give to you. Would Shifu accept my invitation for a vegetarian dinner at my home and I can give the things to you at the same time”
I went to his home. The house was very small. Besides him, his wife, son and daughter-in-law, there were a granddaughter and three grandsons. It was so crowded even water couldn’t leak through between us. The so-called kitchen was merely a small stove next to the living room. There were only two bedrooms: one for his son and daughter-in-law and the other, for his grandchildren. As for the two elders, they slept on a sofa bed in the living room. I sat on that bed and ate my dinner. He apologized, “Shifu, we let you sit on our bed to eat. Very sorry!” They lived so simply to this extent, very assiduous, because the whole family was supported only by his son.
But, even though he was living so simply and frugally, he gave me two things: one was a Japanese Daruma doll; the other was painting about Jiang Taigon fishing. I asked him, “What are these for?” He said, “These two things are the gifts for you to give to your major professor after you finish your doctoral degree.” I said, “I don’t know when I will finish my doctoral degree!” He answered, “Shifu, I know you will finish your degree.” I said, “Wait till I have gotten my degree.” He said, “Please take them! When the time comes, they will be useful.” So, I took those two things, returned to Japan, and finished my degree.
The Daruma doll has a round bottom, and is made in the image of Bodhidharma [the first patriarch of Chan]. No matter how much you push it, the doll returns to its upright position. Jian Taigon was a famous military strategist who went fishing using a straight hook hanging three feet over the water. Not only little fishes could not bite this hook, big fishes could not either. But finally the fish who got caught was a very special one: it was Emperor Zho Wen Wang [who was curious about this strange fisherman] which implies that the ones who want to be caught get hooked. So, both of these articles had hidden meanings. But Mr. Wang passed away two years later in1963. It seemed that he knew that his time was up and that we would never see each other again. So he prepared the gifts for me in advance. This gentleman meant a lot to me. In my book, My Dharma Teachers and Friends, I have recorded this cause and condition. As a layman, he had no intention to fawn on a Dharma teacher. He had only a mind of respect and offering, as well as absolute confidence. It made me feel very gratified and moved. It was not an easy thing to have happened.
Intimate friends are hard to come by. It is not often that a person has many intimate friends in his life. Everyone was in doubt that I would remain a monastic in Japan, but Mr. Mr. Wang never doubted, and even prepared gifts for me to give to my major professor when I got my doctoral degree. This kind of friend is rare and deserves high praise and admiration! In My Dharma Teachers and Friends, there are only a few virtuous laypersons that I wrote about. But Mr. Wang Zekuen was the earliest one I wrote about, to memorize his kind deeds.
My purpose in talking about a layperson I esteemed highly was to let you know the attitude you should have towards laypersons and lay friends. Do not attach to them, but do use 100% of your practice mind to show respect, offering, and gratitude when befriending virtuous laypersons.