A Harmonious World Begins With the Mind

Talk given by Venerable Master Chin Kung
January 4, 2006
Hong Kong Buddha’s Education Association

When the mind is pure, the land will be pure
When the mind is at peace, all beings will be at peace
When the mind is impartial, the world will enjoy equality

Dear fellow practitioners,

Happy New Year to all of you!

All these years, we have been spreading love to the whole world. We agree that human nature is innately good and that everyone has Buddha-nature. We hope that everyone will learn to love him or herself, love others, love his or her family, love the country, love the world, and love all beings. Love starts from the heart and is received by heart. To feel love with the true mind is justice. The feeling of a sincere heart is love. To achieve this, non-Buddhists should practice the teachings in The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child (Dizigui), and Buddhists should practice the Ten Virtuous Deeds.

The teaching of all sages is the teaching of sincerity, love, and the standards of behavior in life as articulated in The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child and in the Ten Virtuous Deeds. This teaching flows from our true nature. May all fellow practitioners pay special attention to the understanding and learning of the Ten Virtuous Deeds and The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child, and make sure to perfectly practice them to the full. These basic but significant teachings can help us avert disasters and reconcile all conflicts, oppositions, and confrontations.

A few months ago, the World Health Organization made an announcement to remind the public to watch out for an outbreak of an epidemic. As everybody knows, that epidemic is bird flu. If this epidemic spreads throughout the world, the consequences could be devastating. Therefore, I would like to remind practitioners at our center and at all Pure Land centers in the world, and all of you who are watching this via satellite broadcast or the Internet to diligently study the Buddha’s teachings and chant “Amituofo.”

Why do we have to study the Buddha’s teachings in addition to chanting Amituofo? Because if we do not understand the Buddha’s teachings, our chanting Amituofo will be based on blind belief. But if we thoroughly understand the teachings, chanting Amituofo will be more effective.

Only sincerity can evoke the interconnectivity among people, between people and other things, and between people and spiritual beings. If one’s heart is not sincere, the power of touching the hearts of others will be weak.

Our chanting Amituofo ten thousand times cannot compare with an accomplished, virtuous practitioner chanting Amituofo once. An ancient sage often said that in chanting Amituofo, one’s every thought should be in consonance with the Buddha’s mind. It takes only one chanting of Amituofo for an accomplished practitioner to be in consonance with Amitabha Buddha. We, on the other hand, will not be able to be in consonance with Amitabha Buddha even if we chant Amituofo ten thousand times! Even though we chant Amituofo, as does this accomplished practitioner, the effectiveness of the chanting is different.

Buddhism came to China in 67 C.E. By the year 2067, it will have been in China for 2000 years. Passed down from generation to generation, Buddhism has declined to a low point today. I believe that there are more people chanting Amituofo today than ever, but the effectiveness of our chanting cannot compare with that of ancient practitioners. Why? Because their mindset of learning Buddhism was different from ours. The True Mind Pervades the Whole Universe Throughout All Time

The Buddhist Association of China and the National Religious Department of China will hold the World Buddhist Forum for the first time in Zhejiang, in April this year. The theme is “A Harmonious World Starts With the Mind” with a sub-theme of “When the mind is pure, the land will be pure. When the mind is at peace, all beings will be at peace. When the mind is impartial, the world will enjoy equality.” Very good points! I heard that representatives from many countries are invited to participate in this forum. So this is a large-scale event. I am very happy because Chinese Buddhism, or Chinese religion, is stepping onto the international stage. This is a positive step.

The topics of the forum are also extremely good. People all over the world are concerned about global disharmony. How do we resolve conflict and promote social stability and world peace? If the three statements in the sub-theme of this forum can come to fruition, conflict will not arise, and social stability and world peace will be achieved.

But how do we achieve a pure mind? How do we achieve a peaceful mind? How do we achieve an impartial mind? These three are core issues. In Buddhism, these are important issues. When they are resolved, all beings will attain Buddhahood. Nonetheless, these three issues are actually three in one and one in three. When one is resolved, the other two are also resolved. If the mind is pure, how can it not be at peace? How can it not be impartial? When the mind is at peace, it is naturally pure and impartial. Therefore, when we resolve one issue, we resolve the other two.

When I saw these three statements, I was reminded of the Zen master Huike. During King Liangwu’s reign, Bodhidharma brought the teachings of Zen to China. King Liangwu was a great patron of Buddhism but he had no affinity with Bodhidharma and thus did not support him. Bodhidharma went to the Shaolin Temple in the Song Mountain and isolated himself in meditation for nine years before someone came to learn from him. This person was Huike. He was sincere in becoming a student of Bodhidharma.

It was wintertime when Huike visited Bodhidharma. Seeing that Bodhidharma was sitting in meditation in a cave and not wanting to disturb the master, he waited outside the cave for the master to come out of meditation. He waited for a long time, and the snow was up to his knees, but Bodhidharma still had not come out of meditation. Huike was very determined. He took out a small knife, cut off his left arm, and presented it to Bodhidharma as an offering. Therefore, Huike, the second patriarch of the Zen school, only had his right arm.

When Bodhidharma opened his eyes and saw Huike’s left arm, he asked Huike, “Why did you do this? There is no need! Why cut off your arm and offer it to me? Why stand in the snow for so long?” Huike answered, “My mind is disturbed. I beg Master to ease it for me.”

Bodhidharma told Huike: “Give me your mind. I will ease it for you.” These words reminded Huike to search inside himself. After a long while, he replied, “Nowhere is my mind to be found.” And Bodhidharma said, “I’ve eased your mind for you!” Huike was immediately awakened. Then Bodhidharma passed the teachings of Zen to Huike and made him the second patriarch of the Chinese Zen school.

When the mind is at peace, the mind is naturally pure and impartial. The theme “When the mind is pure, the land will be pure. When the mind is at peace, all beings will be at peace. When the mind is impartial, the world will enjoy equality” provides great inspiration for us. People must be awakened before happiness, a pure land, social stability, and world peace can be achieved. All these must start with cultivating ourselves and teaching.

Master Huineng is the sixth patriarch of the Zen school. His yulu, or records of lectures, is called the Platform Sutra of the Six Patriarch. In other words, his teaching is accorded the same respect and importance as the teaching of Sakyamuni Buddha. The writings of all other patriarchs of the Zen school are called yulu; none are called sutra. Only Master Huineng’s yulu was given the status of a sutra because of the respect that people accorded him. He was indeed a remarkable person. He spent most of his life teaching. Under his tutelage and guidance, forty-three of his students saw their own true nature and attained great awakening. No one else in Chinese history has had this achievement.

In the Avatamsaka Sutra, one who sees one’s true nature is a Dharmakaya Bodhisattva, a being who transcends not only the Six Paths but also the Ten Dharma Realms.1 They are free of attachments, discrimination, and wandering thoughts. Wandering thoughts are ignorance. When one is free of ignorance, one is also free of discrimination and attachments. When the mind cannot be found, how can a thought arise? The mind that gives rise to a thought is the deluded mind. The mind that stays quiescent is the true mind. Where is the true mind? It pervades the whole universe throughout all time.

It is stated in the Avatamsaka Sutra that the whole universe, all phenomena, and all beings are “manifested by the mind”—they are manifested by the true mind. But then why are there so many differences in form? Because all phenomena are “altered by the consciousness.” Consciousness is the deluded mind. The true mind manifests phenomena, and the deluded mind alters these phenomena into the Six Paths and the Ten Dharma Realms. The deluded mind is not real. Only when we realize this, can problems be truly solved.

Purity, Equality, and Enlightenment Constitute the Highest Guideline for Cultivation

What is the goal of the 84,000 Dharma Doors? I t is to eradicate attachments, discrimination, and wandering thoughts. The term “Dharma Door” denotes method. Every one of the cultivation methods helps us achieve this goal. If any cultivation method does not have this as a goal, this method is not the teaching of the Buddha. Cultivation must lead to eradication of afflictions. Attachment is an affliction arising from erroneous views and thoughts, discrimination is an affliction arising from numerous delusions, and wandering thoughts are an aff l ict ion ar ising f rom ignorance.

It is well put in the Avatamsaka Sutra: all beings have the wisdom and virtues of a Buddha but cannot attain them because of their wandering thoughts and attachments. This explains that Buddhas and we are equal by nature. How did we become different from Buddhas? Because wandering thoughts, discrimination, and attachments arose in us and turned the One True Realm into the Ten Dharma Realms, the Six Paths, or the Three Evil Paths.2

When you understand this, you should help all beings. One must help oneself before one can help others.

The Buddha explained the truth of life and the universe in simple, plain, and clear language. It may seem that we have awakened to the truth, but our awakening lasted only for a brief moment, as short as a flash of lightning, and then we were mired in delusion again. Why? Because our afflictions, which have accumulated over numerous kalpas, obstruct us from realizing the truth instantly! Very few people, like some patriarchs and accomplished virtuous practitioners, realized the truth instantly. For example, Master Huike attained realization after listening to only a few words of teaching. This realization is reflected in their letting go.

When we listen to the lectures on a sutra, do we understand the teachings in the sutra? We may think that we do, but if we still cannot let go, then we do not have true comprehension. If we have true comprehension, we will be able to let go. Then how long will it take for us to attain true comprehension? We know that for ty- three of Master Huineng’s students attained great awakening. Among them, some reached this stage in a very short time. They did so in a few months or in two to three years. But it took some students twenty to thirty years. They followed Master Huineng, listened to his lectures on the Dharma, and practiced according to his guidance. They attained awakening in twenty to thirty years. To attain Buddhahood after twenty to thirty years of cultivation is still a remarkable achievement. They deserve our respect.

Today, even if I explain the teachings very clearly, can any of the listeners attain awakening? No! None of them can attain awakening. This is what Mr. Huang Nianzu, an eminent lay practitioner, told me when I visited him in Beijing. He said that, in this day and age, the only cultivation method that one can succeed in practicing was chanting Amituofo and seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land, where we can take our remaining karma with us. Although Mr. Huang devoted himself to learning the Zen and the Esoteric teachings most of his life, he chanted Amituofo and sought rebirth in the Western Pure Land in the latter years of his life. When he was ill, he chanted Amituofo 140,000 times every day!

Mr. Huang was a student of Mr. Xia Lianju, who spent ten years working on the compilation version of the Infinite Life Sutra. I lectured on this version outside China while Mr. Huang lectured on it in China. We were the only two lecturing on this version in those days. Therefore, there was a bond between us when we met.

There are three words in the title of the compilation version of the Infinite Life Sutra: purity, equality, and enlightenment (The title of a sutra is the guiding principle of the entire sutra, just like the topic of a piece of writing). These three words accord with the theme of the forum: a pure mind, a peaceful mind, and an impartial mind. Impartiality is the same as equality, and a pure mind is the same as purity. When one is enlightened, one’s mind will be at peace, and when one is deluded, one’s mind will be disturbed. You see, the theme of the forum is the guiding principle of the Infinite Life Sutra. Purity, equality, and enlightenment are the same as a pure mind, a peaceful mind, and an impartial mind. Those who aspire to truly achieve a pure, peaceful, and impartial mind must therefore learn the Infinite Life Sutra.

The Difference Between an Ordinary Person and a Sage Is That the Former Is Deluded While the Latter Is Enlightened

Practitioners of the Pure Land school base their practice on the Five Guidelines. The first is the Three Conditions. This guideline is the general guiding principle of learning Buddhism. The first condition includes “be filial to and provide for parents, be respectful to and serve teachers, be compassionate and do not kill, and cultivate the Ten Virtuous Conducts.” Have we fulfilled this condition? If we have not, we do not even have the foundation. This is a basic condition and a condition for people of this world, not just Buddhist practitioners.

The second condition includes “take the Three Refuges, abide by all precepts, and behave in a dignified and appropriate manner.” Only after taking the Three Refuges does one become a Buddhist practitioner. Therefore, those who meet the first condition are considered good people in this world, and are called “good man and good woman” by the Buddha in the sutras. If we cannot even be considered good people by worldly standards, how can we learn Buddhism? The virtuousness taught in Buddhism is founded on the virtuousness of worldly teaching.

It is well put in the Fozang Jing [Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 15, No. 653] that if a Buddhist practitioner does not learn Theravada teachings first and then learn Mahayana teachings, this person is not a Buddhist practitioner. In other words, the Buddha does not recognize this person as his student. What does Theravada Buddhism teach? It teaches the standards for “good” in both the human and heavenly realms. Learning Buddhism has to be grounded on the First Condition.

Since the middle period of the Tang dynasty, Chinese Buddhist practitioners have stopped learning the Theravada teachings. In lieu of it, they learned Confucianism and Taoism. In the past, both monastics and lay practitioners studied Confucian texts. In other words, they all studied The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child or other texts with the same teaching purpose, such as Five Bequeathed Rules (Wuzhong Yigui) compiled by Mr. Chen Hongmou.

In my time, we did not learn The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child. Instead, we learned Bequeathed Rules on Cultivation of Uprightness (Yangzheng Yigui)3 and the chapters of “Summary of the Rules of Propriety” (Quli) and of “Pattern of the Family” (Neize) of the Book of Rites. We learn the teachings and the rules in these texts to lay the foundation for cultivation so that we know how to “be filial to and provide for parents, and be respectful to and serve teachers.” 

Therefore, we fulfill these two principles by practicing The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child. If we cannot practice Standards to the full, we do not fulfill the first condition.

Recently, some fellow practitioners from China came to visit me and told me that the learning of The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child is popular in China. Some practitioners of the younger generation, a good number of whom are primary and secondary school teachers, considered themselves very filial. But after learning Standards, they felt ashamed because they had not fulfilled the duties of a child and of a sibling. They were far from meeting the standards in the teaching. This shows the teaching of s has produced positive results. This is quite encouraging.

“Be compassionate and do not kill, and cultivate the Ten Virtuous Conducts” refers to the Ten Virtuous Deeds. If we cannot apply the Ten Virtuous Deeds and the teachings in The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child in daily life, then we will not be able to fulfill the Three Refuges and Five Precepts. The Three Refuges are awakening, correct understanding,
and purity, which are the same as the forum’s theme of a pure mind, a peaceful mind, and an impartial mind.

In the Platform Sutra, when Master Huineng taught people, he did not use the phrase “taking refuge in the Buddha.” Instead, he said to take refuge in awakening. Taking refuge in awakening is the same as taking refuge in the Buddha. And when one is awakened, one’s mind is at peace. Taking refuge in correct understanding is the same as taking refuge in the Dharma. The mind will be impartial. Taking refuge in purity is the same as taking refuge in the Sangha. The mind will be pure. Therefore, awakening, correct understanding, and purity are the Three Jewels, and Master Huineng explained the term very well.

Today, when we speak of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, many people misunderstand. Upon hearing the phrase taking refuge in the Buddha, they think of taking refuge in images of the Buddha. When they hear the phrase taking refuge in the Dharma, they think of taking refuge in the sutras. When they hear the phrase taking refuge in the Sangha, they think of taking refuge in monastics. This is not what the Buddha meant when he spoke of taking the Three Refuges. The Buddha taught us to take refuge in the Three Jewels of the True Nature: awakening, correct understanding, and purity of our true nature.

How do we take refuge in the awakening, correct understanding, and purity of our true nature? First, we must be awakened. What should we awaken to? Sages always begin their teaching with the instruction of the general guiding principles. It is stated in the beginning of the Three Character Classic, “People are innately good at birth.” This is what we should awaken to. It teaches us to believe in the innate virtuousness of humankind. This statement conveys the same teaching as “All beings have Buddha-nature” in Buddhism.

We should believe that everyone has Buddha-nature and thus can attain Buddhahood. A person is a Buddha by nature. Therefore, a person is innately good. Why then does a person turn bad? Because he or she follows bad examples. Everyone has Buddha-nature. Why did we turn into ordinary people? Because we learned the wrong things! From here we can see how important education is.

The teaching of the Zen school is indeed brilliant. It starts by saying “Enlighten the mind, see one’s true nature, and attain Buddhahood.” The true nature or the true mind is the true Buddha. So attaining Buddhahood is nothing but uncovering one’s own true nature. Therefore, an awakened person is called a Buddha, and a deluded person is called a sentient being. The
difference between an ordinary person and a sage is that the former is deluded while the latter is enlightened.

For too long, we have been deeply mired in delusion. We have developed innumerable bad habits. We must first awaken. Only when we are awakened will we gain confidence. Without confidence, nothing can be achieved. In all undertakings, whether worldly or supramundane, how much one achieves depends on how much confidence one has. When we understand this, we naturally have confidence. Killing and stealing are not innate in the true nature. Why then do people have this behavior? Killing and stealing originates in wandering thoughts, discrimination, and attachments, and are not innate in the true nature.

Where should we start in correcting our faults? We start with the cultivation of the Ten Virtuous Deeds.

There are too many evils. They can be summed up into the Ten Evil Deeds: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, enticing speech, greed, anger, and ignorance. We must rid ourselves of these bad deeds. In other words, we must fulfill the Ten Virtuous Deeds. When we fulfill the Ten Virtuous Deeds, our minds will be pure. From a pure mind, wisdom will arise. Why don’t we have wisdom now? Because our minds are not pure.

The mind is like water. When water is calm, it reflects everything with perfect clarity, like a mirror. When we have a bad thought, the thought is like a wave, and when all ten evil deeds are committed, tidal waves will occur! How can one maintain a pure mind under these circumstances? Therefore, if one wants to attain a pure mind, one must practice the Ten Virtuous Deeds.

Cultivation Is Correcting Wrong Behavior

We now know that we should practice the Ten Virtuous Deeds, but we simply cannot accomplish them. Why? Because we did not receive the teaching of The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child in childhood. Cultivation means correcting our wrong actions. Although wrong actions are innumerable, they can be grouped into three categories: physical activity, oral activity, and mental activity.

These three categories of activity cover all actions. Killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct come under the physical category. Lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, and enticing speech come under the oral category. Greed, anger, and ignorance come under the mental category.

None of these actions is innate in the true nature. Can we break away from these actions that are not innate in us? Of course we can! And we can uncover what is innate in the true nature. All Buddhas and bodhisattvas have done so, so can we. From here, we can establish a firm faith. When the faith is pure, the truth will arise. Then wisdom innate in our true nature will arise.

Only when wisdom arises can we take the next step of eliminating erroneous views. Master Huineng talked about the Eight Improper Practices: wrong view, wrong thought, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong expediency (i.e., the best methods are used on wrong causes or movements. There are many such cases. If we do not have wisdom, we can easily make this mistake.), wrong mindfulness, and wrong meditative concentration. Together they are known as the Eight Improper Practices.

When we abandon the Ten Evil Deeds, our minds will become pure. When we abandon the Eight Improper Practices, our minds will be at peace. When we abandon residual habits [from these deeds and practices], our minds will settle down and thus will be impartial.

Master Huineng also talked about eleven afflictions. The first is an evil mind. We should not have any evil thought. The second is a deluded mind. A person who has this mind is inquisitive and likes supernatural powers and contact. When this person hears someone talk about supernatural powers or supernatural contacts, he or she gets tempted by the talk. Why do we have this residual habit? Because we have not abandoned the Ten Evil Deeds and the Eight Improper Practices. If we have, this residual habit cannot affect us even though it is still there. Why can’t it affect us? Because we will be alert to it the moment it arises, and once we are alert to it, it will disappear. Therefore, the Ten Evil Deeds are the most difficult to abandon.

We cannot abandon the Ten Evil Deeds because we do not apply the teachings in The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child in our lives This is the root cause. Thus, we must start by conscientiously practicing the teachings in The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child and then progress step by step to the next level. Only in this way will it be easy for us to start our cultivation and achieve success.

The third is a malicious mind. A person who has this mind has the habit of hurting others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The fourth is a vicious mind. The fifth is a jealous mind. A person who has this mind feels unhappy, and even angry, about others’ achievements. When this feeling arises, how can one maintain a calm mind? We should emulate Buddhas and bodhisattvas and feel joyful and admire others instead of feeling jealous. We should know that feeling jealous would hurt ourselves the most.

The sixth is a fawning mind. A person who has this mind fawns on the rich and the powerful in the hope of receiving some benefits. This is wrong. We should maintain a pure mind and perform good deeds as best as we can. This way, the merit from performing good deeds is perfect. It does not matter how much or how little we do. When we have an opportunity, we do it as best as we can, and the merit will be perfect regardless of how much or how little we do. When we do anything, we should not overexert ourselves.

The seventh is a self-centered mind. A person who has this mind always puts him or herself before others. He or she only thinks of his or her own benefits. This is not a virtuous mind. Why? Because the cause of our transmigrating in the Six Paths, life after life, is ego-attachment. The Buddha explained this clearly in the sutras.

The first thing we do after we learn Buddhism is to eliminate ego-attachment. If we no longer cling to the idea that this body is “I,” we can transcend the Six Paths.

Because sentient beings in the Six Paths committed different karmic causes in their past lifetimes, they have different retributions. In this lifetime, some are rich, some are poor, some are healthy, and some are unwell. Why are there so many different retributions? Because the causes planted are different.

When the Buddha explained karmic retributions, he pointed out two kinds of karmic retribution in the Six Paths. One is directive karma, or generic retribution. It determines which path one will be reborn into. For instance, we human beings all have the same directive karma that led us to be reborn in this path. The other kind of karmic retribution is particularizing karma, or specific retribution. Even though we are all in the human path, it is different for every one of us.

Every person’s wealth, social status, good fortune, and misfortune are different. What caused this specific retribution? Our physical, oral, and mental activities in our past lifetimes! When these activities were virtuous, we would enjoy good fortune in this lifetime. If they were not virtuous, we would suffer bad retributions in this lifetime. When we truly understand this, we will not blame others for our suffering. Why? Because we bring about our own suffering. How can we blame others? If we blame others, we commit yet another grave transgression. We planted causes, so we have to take the retributions in this lifetime. [Whether we enjoy good fortune or we suffer] has nothing to do with others.

Islam teaches cause and effect spanning two time periods. But after reading the Qur’an, I discovered that it does teach cause and effect spanning three time periods. Islam has six articles of belief, and one of them is believing in predestination. It is stated in the Qur’an, “Allah creates all things according to predestination” According to predestination, this person was created to enjoy good fortune, and that person was created to suffer. This does not mean that Allah has discrimination, liking this person and disliking that person. Allah was merely following predestination.

What is predestination? It is similar to cause and effect spanning three time periods. If one planted good causes in the past lifetimes, one would enjoy good retributions in this lifetime. If one planted bad causes in the past lifetimes, one would suffer bad retributions in this lifetime. Therefore, wealth, social status, good fortune, and misfortune are all predetermined.

Hence, from the perspective of predestination, Islam does teach cause and effect, but spanning three time periods, not two. If we observe carefully, we will be able to truly understand the teaching of sages. The Buddha’s teaching of cause and effect spanning three time periods is perfect and thorough.

If One Knows the Principles and Uses the Right Methods, Every Wish Can Be Fulfilled

Almost all sentient beings wish to be wealthy, clever, wise, and healthy, and live a long life. During the Chinese New Year holidays, one can hear Chinese greeting one another with Gong Xi Fa Cai (May you strike a good fortune). Is this possible? Can one have wisdom, health, and longevity by wishing for them? Regardless of his or her religion and ethnic group, everyone wishes to have these things. In Buddhism, there is a saying, “Every wish can be fulfilled.” If you get something you are not destined to have, your wish is truly fulfilled. However, if you get something you are destined to have, your getting it has nothing to do with your wishing. One can still get what one is not destined to have.

When I first studied Buddhism, Zhangjia Living Buddha taught me that if I knew the principles and used the right methods, all my wishes could be fulfilled, and if I did not use the right method, I could not get what I wished for.

What do we do in order for our wishes to be fulfilled? In Liaofan’s Four Lessons, Master Yungu taught Mr. Yuan Liaofan the principles and methods for getting what one wanted. If you learn these principles and methods, and conscientiously practice accordingly, you will surely be able to get what you want in this lifetime.

The Buddha taught us in the sutras to end wrongdoings and to practice virtuous conduct in order to accumulate merits. This is a general principal. To apply this in daily life, we practice giving. The giving of wealth is a karmic cause that will result in one having wealth. The giving of teachings will result in one being intelligent and wise. The giving of fearlessness will result in one enjoying good health and longevity. Buddhist practitioners usually practice all three kinds of giving. But why are the results not obvious?

I think that this is because the practitioners still have not thoroughly understood the principles. If they truly understand the principles, the results will be particularly obvious. If they do not understand the principles and are still dubious about the Buddha’s teaching, they may ask, “Was the Buddha telling the truth? If I give away all my money, what do I live on tomorrow?” We should know that doubting the teachings of Buddhas and bodhisattvas is similar to doubting our innate virtues. Doubt is a grave obstacle and will reduce the merits we gain from giving, so much so that the effect of giving will not appear.

What i s the giving of fearlessness? Being a vegetarian is a form of the giving of fearlessness. Vegetarians do not eat meat and thus will not incur the enmity of other beings or arouse fear in them.

Therefore, we should learn to love all beings and to protect life. Some people think that freeing life is a good deed and will bring about merit. But how do we do this properly? If we go to the market to order [animals] in advance, the sellers will catch what we want to buy. This is harming life, not freeing life.

Many cultivation centers fix a day for freeing life and would order birds and fish in advance. This practice encourages the sellers to catch that many birds or fish. Why? Because they do not sell that many on a normal day and would not go and catch that many. This so-called freeing of life is actually harming life. This is wrong!

These details have never occurred to us. Moreover, there is a ritual for freeing life, but it is very long. Many creatures die during the ritual. Therefore, the ritual should be as short as possible, and the animals will be grateful if they are released as soon as possible.

The eighth is an arrogant mind. Everyone has this fault—feeling that he or she is better than others.

The ninth is a mind that belittles others. The tenth is a haughty mind, one that puts oneself above others.

These ten are residual habits coming from our having committed the Ten Evil Deeds and Eight Improper Practices. We may have stopped committing the Ten Evil Deeds and Eight Improper Practices, but we still have the habits. Only when we eradicate these habits will our minds be peaceful, and then purity, equality, and enlightenment will manifest themselves. Therefore, Master Huineng urged us to rid ourselves of all bad behavior.

Furthermore, we should see our own faults often. Not those of others. Our learning should reach this level. Often seeing one’s own faults is “Enlightenment for Self,” or awakening. What is awakening? It is knowing one’s faults. After we have awakened to our faults, we correct them. This is cultivation. Therefore, we must see our own faults first.

Those who see their own faults are sages. An ordinary person only sees the faults of others when he or she looks at them, but he or she never sees his or her own faults. Herein lies a difference between sages and ordinary people. How do we detect our own faults? It is not easy to do so.

If we cannot see our own faults, we can look at others since it is easier to detect the faults of others. But having detected the faults of others, we should not criticize them. Instead, we should reflect on ourselves to see if we have the same faults. If we do, we should correct them. If we do not, we should guard against them.

The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child teaches “If a person has a shortcoming, I will not expose it. If a person has a secret, I will not tell others. Spreading rumors about the wrongdoings of others is a wrongdoing by itself. When the harm done has reached the extreme, misfortunes will surely follow.” Others serve as a mirror for us. We should learn to use this mirror to see if we have the same faults. All sages of this world and beyond teach us to do so. A beginning practitioner should put effort into this. If we find that we have a fault, we correct it immediately. If we do not have this fault, we guard against it. This is true cultivation, and [by cultivating in this way] we are a true student of the sages.

The third is a malicious mind. A person who has this mind has the habit of hurting others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The fourth is a vicious mind. The fifth is a jealous mind. A person who has this mind feels unhappy, and even angry, about others’ achievements. When this feeling arises, how can one maintain a calm mind? We should emulate Buddhas and bodhisattvas and feel joyful and admire others instead of feeling jealous. We should know that feeling jealous would hurt ourselves the most.

Another cultivation method is reading the sutras. The sutras are also a mirror. For example, when we read Liaofan’s Four Lessons, we should not read it too fast because we will not be able to appreciate the teachings. 

We use the teachings in the book as standards and examine our behavior to see what we have done right and what we have done wrong. We should continue with our correct behavior as well as correct our wrong behavior according to the teaching of the sages. This way, we will be able to cultivate virtues and eliminate faults.

When we get together with f e l low practitioners, we can have one person read the book out loud or have a few persons take turn reading it. After the reading, we can compare our actions to Liaofan’s Four Lessons to see if we have acted properly as indicated in the book. We should not ask others. It is wrong to ask others. We should ask ourselves. Everyone should ask him- or herself whether he or she has followed the teachings and encourage one another to do so.

I will end my talk here. This is the first day of the New Year. We talked about a pure, peaceful, and impartial mind, and I hope that every one of us can attain this mind. This is the highest enjoyment in life. This is my New Year gift to all of you.

May you do nothing that is bad, and be safe and well year after year.

May you do all that is good, and all your wishes be fulfilled year after year.

Thank you everyone!

1. The Six Paths comprise the paths of the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, heavens, humans, and demi-gods. The Ten Dharma Realms comprise the realms of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, pratyeka buddhas, and sound-hearers, and the Six Paths.

2 The Three Evil Paths are animals, hungry ghosts, and the hells of the Six Paths.

3 This is the first of Five Kinds of Bequeathed Rules.