Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Sep 21st
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Faith in the Dharma

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[Master's Teachings]
Every day, before the break of dawn, I walk out of my study. The world is quiet and tranquil at that time. Gazing at the sky far above, I feel the difference between today and yesterday. The sky was a pale patch of white at this time yesterday, but it is dimmer today. This is the time when summer gives way to autumn.

How alive our earth is! How wonderful that the four seasons change! My heart is always filled with immense gratitude when I feel the laws of nature working like this. I thank heaven and earth for nurturing all our lives. I thank the immeasurable, wondrous Dharma that everything in the universe teaches us.

Every day, our Six Roots— our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind—sense the outside world and form our perceptions of external phenomena. The visual consciousness arises when the eyes see an image. The auditory consciousness arises when the ears hear a sound. The olfactory consciousness arises when the nose smells a scent. The gustatory consciousness arises when the tongue tastes a flavor, and the tactile consciousness arises when the body touches an object. Last but not least, the mental consciousness arises when the mind perceives a thought.

We can fully experience this world through our Six Roots. For example, every day I hear birds sing; sometimes they sing in chorus, and sometimes they sing solo. There is no way to know what the birds are thinking or how they feel, but we can still feel and appreciate their beauty if we mindfully listen to and look at them.

Similarly, can we ever know exactly the thoughts of the Buddha from 2,500 years ago? Can we know exactly the words he spoke, or what he felt, or what his environment was like? It is impossible to know for sure. However, when we open our heart to his teaching, when we ponder it and put it into practice, then we can come close to a full realization of the Dharma.

The Buddha expounded the Dharma for 49 years. What he hoped to pass on to people was an unsurpassable, wonderful law—an enduring truth. The truth has existed forever. It’s like the sky above, still and unmoving, eternal and unchanging. It’s just because the earth continually rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun that the sky appears different to our eyes from one moment to the next.

Having been exposed to the Dharma, we must have faith in it and do our best to learn from it and fully absorb the teachings. Only then will we be able to gain profound insight into the Buddha’s wisdom, uncover our pure innate nature, and help ourselves grow in wisdom.

Hold true to your faith
The following story appears in the Suratapariprccha Sutra:
When the Buddha preached in Sravasti, a practitioner named Surata listened to him mindfully and devoutly took his teachings to heart. Although Surata was poor, he believed what the Buddha said: “You do not need to have wealth or power to walk the Bodhisattva Path. All you need is love and a willingness to help others.”

Surata had a heart full of love. His heart ached when he saw people suffering from hunger, poverty, illness, or cold. He tried all ways to find work, and he used all the money he earned to help the needy.

One day, Sakra Devanam Indra, ruler of Trayastrimsa Heaven, was surprised to discover that though Surata was penniless, he was able to take care of so many poor and sick people, orphans and widows. Many people had even Surata’s influence. Seeing the power Surata was accumulating, Sakra grew scared. “He is amassing so much spiritual merit. Is he thinking of usurping my place in the future?”

To impede Surata’s spiritual progress, Sakra transformed himself into a group of people and went to Surata’s shack. They shouted and cursed outside, hoping to disturb the practitioner’s peace so that he couldn’t quietly meditate. But Surata remained unperturbed. Next, the group burst into the shack and threatened to beat him or even kill him. Despite all that, Surata remained composed and serene.

A man broke from the group and said to Surata, “These people do not understand you at all. I know that you love to help and give to others.” He then offered Surata gold, silver and other treasures, and he told him that he could sell the treasures and use the money to aid those in need. Surata smiled at the man’s incredible offer… and then turned him down. “I can’t take any money I didn’t earn myself. It’s not the right thing to do.”

Seeing that the offer of wealth could not tempt Surata, Sakra tried to entice him with a beautiful woman. But that failed too. In fact, all these temptations only made Surata grow more committed to his spiritual practice.

At his wits’ end, Sakra appeared in person before Surata and asked, “Why are you so diligently cultivating your spirituality? What are you seeking?”

Surata replied, “I’m not seeking anything. I just hope that everyone in the world can be safe and well, that they can grasp the Buddha’s teachings, be relieved from suffering, and do good deeds to benefit others. There is nothing more I want than this.”

Sakra was impressed. “With your level of cultivation, you have already transcended the Six Realms of reincarnation [heaven, human, Asura, animal, hungry ghost, hell]. You are already a bodhisattva.” With those words of praise, Sakra disappeared.

When the Buddha heard about this, he told his disciples, “Surata diligently cultivated his spirituality in his past lives. That’s why, even though he is destitute in this life, he doesn’t suffer from it. In fact, his poverty only helps him along on the path of spiritual practice.”

This story from the Suratapariprccha Sutra points out that those who aspire to enhance their spirituality must hold true to their resolve to cultivate themselves so that no outside circumstances can sway or influence them. When they firmly believe in the Dharma, steadfastly uphold it, and put it into practice in daily life, they are truly embracing the Buddhist spirit.

To learn the Bodhisattva Way, we must go amongst people instead of shunning them. Everyone is like a sutra from whom we can learn. In fact, everything in the world expounds the Dharma to us. If we are mindful, we will recognize the Dharma everywhere and gain wisdom that will enable us to penetrate the truth of all things.

Embrace right beliefs
The teachings of the Buddha are timeless. Although we live in a different age from that of the Buddha, the truth he preached is good for all time. We can still follow in his footsteps and use his teachings to inspire people and to transform and purify their minds. But how can this be done? It requires our joint effort, a strong sense of commitment, and constant mindfulness.
In Chinese tradition, the seventh lunar month is popularly believed to be the “ghost month,” in which ghosts and spirits come out from the lower realm and roam the earth. The seventh month is thus looked upon as the most inauspicious time of the year. People often suspend important activities, such as weddings or business deals, during this time. They make lavish offerings of food and burn spirit money (the “currency” of the underworld) to appease the dead, ease their suffering, and pray for blessings.

Yet, when we understand the origins of this tradition, we find that the seventh lunar month is actually a favorable month, as well as a month of filial piety when we are reminded to show gratitude to our parents.

Back in the Buddha’s time, it was hot and humid in India during the summertime. It was also the rainy season when insects abounded. Because of this, the Buddha asked his disciples to remain in one place during this period instead of going out every day to beg for alms. During the three months from the 15th day of the fourth lunar month to the 15th day of the seventh month, the disciples concentrated on spiritual cultivation and meditation. Many monks thus achieved enlightenment, which delighted the Buddha. That is why, to Buddhists, the seventh lunar month is a month of joy and gratitude.

Maudgalyayana was one of the Buddha’s closest disciples. One time, he thought of his deceased mother. She had been greedy, mean and immoral during her lifetime, so it was likely that she would have been reborn in a lower realm of reincarnation. Maudgalyayana was anxious to know where she was, and through his supernatural powers he found her suffering in the realm of the hungry ghosts. He asked the Buddha for help. The Buddha told him that saving her would require gathering together the virtues and blessings of all the spiritual practitioners who had cultivated themselves devoutly during the three-month retreat. The Enlightened One instructed him to offer food to the monks on the last day of the retreat and ask them to pray for his mother. Maudgalyayana did as instructed and so, on that day, the entire community prayed for Maudgalyayana’s mother and saved her from her suffering. This eventually evolved into the practice of holding worship ceremonies during the seventh lunar month. During this time, we should remember the story of Maudgalyayana, learn from his filial piety, and be especially grateful to our parents.

In an effort to break the superstitions surrounding the “ghost month,” Tzu Chi volunteers around the world hold prayer events in their respective communities during the seventh lunar month. Instead of fearing this month, they celebrate and promote it as an auspicious time and an occasion to practice filial piety. They encourage people to observe vegetarianism instead of killing lives to serve as offerings to the dead. They also ask people not to burn spirit money in order to diminish air pollution. By doing all this, they hope to inspire people to get rid of misguided beliefs and to embrace right beliefs and right thinking.

Wu Jin-bao (吳金寶) used to sell spirit money for people to burn as offerings. This year, she came to a Tzu Chi prayer event in Wanhua, Taipei, where she told the attendants: “If burning spirit money could really help us gain blessings, then I wouldn’t have sold a single piece of spirit money. Instead I would have just burned all I had and made myself the richest person in the world!”

Wu was diagnosed with ampullary cancer in 2007, and she experienced the pain brought about by surgery and other treatment. She held a lot of resentment in her heart. “I devoutly worship deities every day and pray for their blessing,” she said bitterly. “Why don’t they bless me?”

Last year, at her mother-in-law’s funeral Wu met some Tzu Chi volunteers who were there chanting sutras to bring peace and comfort to the deceased and her family. The volunteers invited Wu to a study group organized to study my commentary on the Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentance. Wu went and took in the teachings mindfully. There she learned that everything we experience is due to the karmic law of cause and effect, that everything we did in our previous lives results in what we go through in this life. She thus realized that we cannot expect to receive blessings merely by praying—blessings only come to us if we have sown them. Therefore, instead of burning spirit money and praying to deities for blessings, she decided to join our recycling work and adopt a vegetarian diet to accumulate spiritual merits and blessings for herself.

When our minds are deluded and confused, we lose our way. Our thinking and actions can become misguided, and as a result can negatively affect others and bring harm to ourselves. That’s why every one of us must take good care of our minds and watch our every thought as we deal with people and things in daily life. We must think carefully about what we do, learn mindfully, and harbor pure, upright thoughts so that we can stay on the right path.

Open your heart
In April this year, a girl was brought to Fuding Hospital in Fujian Province, China. Medical workers at the hospital found that she was suffering from a severe lung abscess and needed emergency treatment. They immediately gave her first aid. The person who had brought her to the hospital had disappeared, so hospital personnel also notified the police of the case.
Despite being physically weak, the girl was hostile to everyone who approached her. The police visited her time and again to ask for her personal information, but she refused to divulge it. Consequently, they had no way of reaching her family.

Tzu Chi volunteers visited her during her hospitalization and cared for her like mothers would care for their daughters. They cut and washed her hair and tenderly administered to her needs. The hospital staff also looked after her with great care. With time, she slowly opened up and revealed her aunt’s address. Through her aunt, the hospital was finally able to reach her father.
It turned out that the girl was from the countryside of Guangxi Province. Her parents had divorced when she was three years old, and she had been brought up by her blind paternal grandmother. When she was 13, she ran away from home and went to a city, where she became addicted to drugs. Her father had been looking for her for more than two years by the time she ended up in the hospital. When he learned that she was very ill, relatives helped pay his way to Fuding so he could visit her. He stayed with his daughter until the end of July when the girl had recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital.
Because the girl had run up a huge medical bill during her three months of hospitalization, hospital personnel and Tzu Chi volunteers raised money to help her pay it. Feeling the love from so many people, the 17-year-old girl finally let go of her coldness and unfriendliness and expressed her gratitude to everyone. “Now I know I’m loved by many people. I’ll change my behavior and begin giving of myself and contributing to society.”

Everyone is born with an innate good nature. It’s just that as people grow up, they may be exposed to bad influences and thus allow ignorance and delusion to taint their innate purity. Thanks to the love of the medical staff at Fuding Hospital and our volunteers, the girl not only regained her health but learned to pay back and live a life of value.

If we close ourselves off and refuse to take in good influences, our hearts will be plunged into darkness. Therefore, we should open our hearts and let the sunshine of goodness flood in so that our hearts can be filled with light. In addition, we must hold on to that goodness and put the love in our hearts into action so that we can live a life free of afflictions. When we can constantly act out our love and sow blessings for ourselves by helping others, we are leading a most blessed life.
End suffering

After the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago, he returned to Deer Park to find his five former companions. Although the five monks had at first stayed close to him, thinking that he would attain enlightenment, they later lost faith in him and left him. When the Buddha found the five men in Deer Park, he expounded to them the Four Noble Truths—Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the Cessation of Suffering, and the Path leading to this emancipation—in hopes of leading them to enlightenment.

After the five monks listened to the Buddha analyze the various afflictions in the world and the root of suffering, their doubt turned into faith. Yet although they all listened to the Buddha’s sermon at the same time, they were awakened at different times.

Kaundinya was the first to really understand the Buddha’s teachings. From what the Enlightened One taught, Kaundinya realized that suffering was caused by greed, anger, delusion, arrogance, doubt, and other spiritual impurities. To gain liberation, he had to work to remove those impurities from his mind.

The other four monks were slower to comprehend the Buddha’s teachings. They could not understand why all suffering originated from the mind. So the Buddha further explained his teachings and talked about how to practice the Four Noble Truths. Then he elucidated what he himself had achieved: He had understood suffering; he had abandoned all desire, which is the cause of suffering; he had experienced nirvana; and he had followed the Path to its conclusion. By imparting all this to them, the Buddha hoped to help relieve them from the pain of endless reincarnation in the Six Realms. Only after the five monks had thoroughly understood the Four Noble Truths did the Buddha take them on as his disciples.

To help people get rid of the delusions in their minds, the Buddha tirelessly expounded his teachings to help them realize that to be freed from suffering they had to understand the source of suffering, and that the way to eradicate suffering was by diligently cultivating themselves and eliminating all spiritual impurities from their minds.

As spiritual practitioners, we must not seek only our own liberation. When we have found the right path to follow, we must tap into our compassion and help guide others onto that path as well. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, let us mindfully take in what the Buddha taught, practice his way, and realize what he realized. I sincerely hope that we will all allow our faith to take deep root, hold firm to our commitments, and diligently do good deeds to benefit others. This article is excerpted from a series of sermons delivered by Master Cheng Yen from September 4 to 18, 2012.

Translated by Teresa Chang


" Be careful and mindful when dealing with others, but do not be narrow-minded. "
Jing-Si Aphorism

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