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Home Our Founder The Mentor of Master Cheng Yen A Glimpse into His Thoughts - The key points in spiritual cultivation:the Three Immeasurable Studies ofprecepts, contemplation, and wisdom

A Glimpse into His Thoughts - The key points in spiritual cultivation:the Three Immeasurable Studies ofprecepts, contemplation, and wisdom

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Article Index
A Glimpse into His Thoughts
The key points in practicing Buddhism:this moment, this place, this person
The key points in spiritual cultivation:the Three Immeasurable Studies ofprecepts, contemplation, and wisdom
Facing social chaos:doing your best
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The key points in spiritual cultivation: the Three Immeasurable Studies ofprecepts, contemplation, and wisdom

Master Yin Shun's Teaching:

To gain fame or fortune, some people will try everything they can to gain the upper hand at the expense of others. However, a genuine Buddhist practitioner with the Buddhist precepts solidly in mind will have a pure body and mind and will refrain from harboring evil thoughts and demonstrating such behavior.

Based on the foundation of the precepts, you can develop authentic contemplation. Pure contemplation ensures that you will not go down the wrong path. You can then discover true wisdom.

How will the idea of "behaving like the Buddha" help one's life?
For some people, the idea of "behaving like the Buddha" involves nothing more than chanting Amitabha Buddha's name and prostrating themselves in front of the Buddha’s statue from time to time. But what can they get from all this? They are merely beginners in learning the Buddha's teachings.

The dharma (the Buddhist teachings) does not care what sect you follow. Rather, it asks that you know how to distinguish right from wrong and how to properly eradicate worries. If you get angry without justification and feel okay about it, then you are not learning to behave like the Buddha. Instead, you should learn to apply the dharma in your life by knowing what worry is, how to handle it, and the proper way to decrease it. Likewise, eliminating greed, anger, and delusions will help you unload a lot of mental anxiety.

In this way, you will gradually purify yourself. Truly "behaving like the Buddha" will eventually lead to an unencumbered and carefree life. Once you have no worries, congratulations! You have freed yourself from the bondage of life and death.

There are some shortcuts for learning the Buddha's teachings, and they can be used to help us cope with some of the problems that we encounter in life. However, their value is limited in that they can never help us deal with the core questions of life and death.

Examples of these shortcuts include using the notion of the filthiness of the human body to rid yourself of greed, or counting breaths to overcome worries. If you are scared of walking at night, you could chant Amitabha or recite a mantra to boost your courage. However, it must be remembered that these are only short-term solutions, to be employed only for specific situations. You have to know when and where to use them. Using them for long periods of time will prove ineffective or cause problems to arise.

What are the precepts? How can one obtain contemplation? And where does wisdom come from?
Precepts are rules for guiding behavior: how you conduct yourself, talk, and interact with others. The rules for Buddhists to follow in a group setting are the precepts. The precepts are the most basic of the three concepts. If you can't even abide by such basic precepts as "Do not kill," "Do not lie," or "Do not be greedy," then what can spiritual cultivation bring to you?

The principle of contemplation means giving undivided attention with an uncluttered, undisturbed mind that knows what you are doing at any point in time. You should cultivate contemplation by having a proper faith. If you constantly change your beliefs or become upset at hearing a contrary point of view, how can you be liberated from worries and earthly suffering? If you can behave in accordance with the Right View, then you will be fully at ease and at peace.

Contemplation means having a crystal-clear awareness of your own thoughts, from the moment they first begin to appear in your mind. It means being fully aware of a good thought from its inception, so that it can be protected and cultivated. It also means being aware when a bad thought is about to arise, so you can nip it before it ever has a chance to lead you astray.

Standing firm on the base of the precepts, you might reach the state of an undisturbed mind--that is, a small measure of contemplation. Many people will mistake this state for "enlightenment." It is just not so. We can only say that this small degree of contemplation is needed to stay on the right course. If you do not even attain this lower level of contemplation, there is no hope of obtaining real wisdom, no matter how many sutras you study.

Even after learning and abiding by all the precepts and achieving a high degree of contemplation, you still need to work hard to reach the ultimate state: wisdom.

A mind that is simply concentrated and contemplative is still far from attaining wisdom. Sometimes, people who have reached only thus far will let their guard down or allow external stimuli to distract them. As a result, their minds may at times slip out of that state of tranquility and begin to worry again.

We need to repeatedly practice, observe, and ponder our bodies, minds, and exterior circumstances so that our minds can remain in a state of contemplation at will. This degree of frequent contemplation will offer the conditions in which wisdom can evolve. 

The cultivation of wisdom can be based on three approaches: listening, reflection, and practice. For example, you read a sutra, and then you listen to how learned teachers expound on that sutra. You ponder, consider, and reflect, asking yourself what the Buddha was teaching and why he was teaching it. This will lead to understanding. This is a much more active process than mere memorization, which is not an effective way to perceive the Buddha's teachings. Finally, you must be able to tie everything together and put the teachings of the sutra into practice. This is true wisdom.

Some purport that practitioners of Buddhism only need to chant the name of Amitabha Buddha.
The proponents of Mahayana Buddhism encourage practitioners to seek a bodhi mind (bodhicitta) and to emancipate all living beings from their suffering. To achieve this, they are to conduct themselves in such a way as to benefit themselves and all others. Many people are discouraged by this seemingly daunting task and choose to chant Amitabha as a shortcut.

In Mahayana Buddhism, chanting Amitabha is considered an easy way to begin to develop a bodhi mind. Sometimes, a practitioner, whether alone or in a group, can chant Amitabha and attain the state of an undisturbed mind and be totally at ease and happy.

However, it isn't the actual name that is important; in fact, you can chant any buddha's name and achieve the same results. The most important point about chanting a buddha's name is that it must be accompanied by your attentive heart and mind, your full devotion and undivided attention.

Incorrect chanting--just mindlessly and perfunctorily chanting with the mouth--does not do a bit of good, regardless of how long or how frequently you chant. It is ridiculous for people who are so eager to reach buddhahood in this lifetime to think that they only need to engage in mindless chanting. In fact, I find this kind of chanting ludicrous.

I can suggest a correct way to chant a buddha's name. Start with brief but high-quality chanting. Focus your mind on the buddha's name without a tinge of worry and thought. Gradually, your mind will settle down. You can then increase the duration of your chanting. It is best if you can experience some degree of contemplation.

Some people state that when you chant a sutra, it is not necessary to understand it. They claim that you will naturally understand it after a great deal of chanting. What do you think of that idea?
It is essential that you understand the true intent and meaning of a sutra. There are two reasons for chanting the sutra. One is to settle the mind down by focusing on the sutra. The other is so that you will get a deeper understanding when the sutra is expounded by others. How can these be attained if you don't understand the sutra?

How do you suggest a practitioner should ensure the correct direction of his spiritual cultivation?
First, you must have complete confidence in Buddhism if you want to cultivate your spirituality. Get to know the beauty and pragmatism of Buddhism and learn the correlation between the extent of practice and the resulting pragmatic state that a practitioner can expect to attain. This will help build up a practitioner's confidence, helping him or her to progress gradually toward the goal. It cannot be attained overnight.

Furthermore, spiritual cultivation requires that the practitioners give their total and undivided attention to their objective.