One Mind Without Scatteredness

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      The Sutra of the Final Teachings Left by the Buddha says, “By fixing the mind on one place, you can accomplish all tasks.” In cultivation, we must be able to master ourselves and pull together this very mind as one, fixing it on a single point—in this way, we will gain strength.

      We must tune ourselves to cultivate properly in both action and stillness. Getting an education is also like this. There are two facets to the process of studying and learning: one is “stillness”, the other is “action”. Attending a classroom lecture is to be in stillness; exercising in a sports field is to be in action. These states of action and stillness must be balanced and harmonized. When action is required, we must be able to move properly; when stillness is needed, we must be able to settle down.

      When circumstances require action, we should put our classroom studies completely aside and charge forward with full effort, like a thousand galloping horses, or a fierce tiger descending the mountainside. We must have this kind of vigor, but also, wherever we are, that is where the mind is. Don’t be impudent or foolhardy; otherwise, we will lack presence of mind. If the mind has wandering thoughts, our every move may easily be a blunder.

      On the other hand, we must be able to settle down when listening to classroom lectures. The ancients say, “With ears deaf to things beyond the window, single-mindedly study the books of sages.” The eyes, ears, hands, and mind must all be present and focused on our studies. If we cannot settle down, sitting there looking around, listening half-heartedly, with the mind running amok like a monkey or unbridled horse, even if the instructor lectures in real earnest, the words will go right by us. We will have no way to learn effectively.

      Cultivation is the same: we must tune ourselves for both action and stillness. There are reciting sutras, prostrating in repentance, and meditation. When practicing meditation, there is also walking and running meditation. We must tune ourselves to cultivate properly in both action and stillness—this means moving when we should move, and settling down when we should settle down.

Guard the mind like a city, perfect oneself in perfect sincerity

      The sutra says, “By fixing the mind on one place, you can accomplish all tasks.” This is a function of our mind-consciousness. Always safeguard the six senses, do not let them be defiled by the six sense objects and do not be carried away by external conditions. If say, the eyes attach to form and the ears to sound…have contrition and repent right away. This is the most straightforward, most solid way to cultivate. If we can learn and master this way—we will surely achieve liberation in this very lifetime.

      A shramana who had been practicing meditation for twelve years had yet to achieve the Way. He was ashamed by his lack of progress and asked the Buddha, “World Honored One! I have cultivated here for almost twelve years, but have yet to realize the Way and attain its fruits. My practice is not effective. Why is this so?” The Buddha asked him, “Just now, did you see that turtle in the shade by the riverbank? When an otter tried to eat it, how did the turtle protect itself?” The shramana said, “World Honored One, I did. To protect itself, the turtle drew its head, tail, and legs into its shell.”

      The Buddha told the shramana, “Cultivators should know how to protect themselves, just like this turtle. The numberless kalpas of life and death we spend in samsara are all because our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind act improperly in response to conditions. When the eyes see attractive forms, we give rise to craving and delusive thoughts. When the ears hear agreeable sounds or praise, we feel delighted; but if they hear others malign us, we give rise to afflictions instead. The six senses are constantly attaching to conditions and misconstruing reality, taking external phenomena to be real and substantial. This is why we cannot realize the Way.”

      Then, the Buddha spoke a gatha: “Draw in the six senses like a turtle, guard the mind like a city. Use wisdom to fight the maras, with victory comes freedom from afflictions.” In our cultivation, we should be like the turtle, “drawing in the six senses” to safeguard the wisdom life of our Dharma body. The eyes must look inward, and the ears must listen inward; “listen” and “look” inward to our intrinsic awareness.

      The ancients said, “Cork the mouth like a bottle, guard the mind like a city.” It is easy for us to speak wrongly with the tongue and for the consciousness to raise distorted views. Thus, we must “guard the mind like a city,” like a garrison and its commander defending the city gate and be alert yet still.

      Learning and cultivating the Way is to be like the turtle spotting an otter and quickly retracting its head and limbs. Draw the six senses to look inward and abide internally; do not look towards external phenomena. If the senses happen to look outward, then do not raise conceptualizations or craving. Like the virtuous ancients said, “Perceive sense objects without giving rise to craving; realize the truth without conceptualizing it. When no conceptualization arises with respect to the truth, therein lies the highest blessing.” If we understand this teaching, cultivation will be like moving a thousand pounds with a few ounces of leverage. If we do not understand, do not know where the Way is and the buddha is, then we will easily set about a longer route or head the wrong direction.

      The Confucians teach “sincerity.” With the mind in perfect sincerity, we can accomplish all things, or to put it metaphorically, “touch stones into gold.” Here, with the mind in perfect sincerity, all dharmas return to this very mind; “perfect sincerity” is true reality.

      It is said, “Nothing works without sincerity.” If the mind has no sincerity, if it lacks focus and peace, then no matter what we do, we will not succeed. Therefore, the sutra says, “By fixing the mind on one place, you can accomplish all tasks.” In cultivation, we must be able to master ourselves and pull together this very mind as one, fixing it on a single point—in this way, we will gain strength.

      What is to be our own master? It is when this very mind is not driven by external conditions, yet can still clearly differentiate right and wrong, wholesome and unwholesome, proper and improper—this is to be our own master. Knowing that something is a wholesome dharma, we act to bring it forth; knowing that something is an unwholesome dharma, we never perform it—this is to be our own master. Sitting in meditation, we have no wandering thoughts or drowsiness—this is to be our own master. Thus, the Chan patriarchs said, “Be in command at every place; accord with the truth in every moment.”

      Wherever we are, that is where the mind is. In terms of meditation, that means not raising wandering thoughts or falling into drowsiness, there is only this very mind always present. In terms of walking, the mind is present in the walking. In terms of performing a task, the mind is there performing the task. In terms of reciting buddhas’ names, the mind is present with the reciting. In terms of reciting a sutra, the mind is there reciting the sutra. But as soon as we are done doing, nothing remains in the mind; as soon as we are done speaking, nothing remains in the mind—after reciting a sutra, we put it down as if we had never recited it. The mind is always clear and lucid—in this way, we will be able to realize the state of non-arising and achieve bodhi. This is the sincerest [way of life].

With non-duality of samadhi and prajna, actualize the wishes of the heart.

      I hope that everyone will apply this teaching. The past is already gone, so start from this very minute, this very second. Keep the mind free of scatteredness and distorted views, and always be clear, lucid, unmoving in suchness, and ever-present with the knowing of awareness—stillness and awareness must be one. “Stillness” is to be unmoving; “awareness” is to be clear and lucid; “stillness” is shamatha (calm abiding); “awareness” is vipashyana (insight contemplation). Succeeding in these two practices is to simultaneously abide in samadhi and prajna where they are non-dual. 

       This matter is entirely up to ourselves. We must realize the principle and apply it in practice. Having understood this, we cultivate with this very mind, never departing from its present awareness. Then, we will accomplish the Way in this life.


Chung Tai Magazine #233

Transform Afflictions and Realize True Reality

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      Our cultivation has two aspects: one is the mind, the other is dealing with external phenomena. Besides these, there is nothing else.

      The minds of sentient beings raise attachments toward external phenomena, believing that all things in this world are substantially existent. As sentient beings, we don’t realize that states like beauty and ugliness, suffering and pleasure, etc., are all illusory and insubstantial, dreamlike appearances created by our deluded thoughts and attachments. Thus, our minds have notions of gain and loss. When we see something attractive, we try to chase after and possess it. If we cannot get what we want, we give rise to afflictions.

      The Tathagata has complete, perfect wisdom and knows that all phenomena are illusory and insubstantial; he sees them for what they are: conditioned appearances. Sentient beings don’t know that all phenomena are conditioned appearances and habitually turn in circles, attaching to one form or the other. Therefore, they are subject to samsaric birth and death.

Use the mind to transform our thoughts, let the mind’s light shine naturally.

      Wang Yangming (王陽明 1472-1529) said, “It is easy to defeat the thieves in the mountains; it is difficult to defeat the thieves in the mind.” When the six senses encounter the six sense objects and we raise attachments toward external phenomena, miscomprehend reality, and give rise to afflictions of greed, anger, and ignorance, these are the “thieves” that steal away the intrinsic virtue of our true nature. Therefore, we must always be vigilant, reminding ourselves: when we do wrong, we must have contrition, practice repentance, and see through our attachments. If we do not overcome our attachments, have contrition and practice repentance, the thieves in our minds will always remain there.         

      The root of Buddhadharma is found in human beings. The root of human beings is found in the mind—the mind of compassion and equality, the unmoving mind, the mind of wisdom and no-abidance—this mind is the root.

      This very mind is the buddha and the Way. When the mind becomes deluded, that is a sentient being. When the mind raises a wholesome thought, there is the appearance of brightness; when it raises an unwholesome thought, there is the appearance of hellish realms and darkness. The Confucians say, “Sages who succumb to their thoughts become deluded beings. Deluded beings who subdue their thoughts become sages.” Whatever thoughts one raises in the mind, that is the dharma realm they resonate with. Raise a thought of greed, fall into the realm of hungry ghosts; raise a thought of anger, fall into the realm of asuras; raise a thought of ignorance, fall into the animal realm. These are not figures of speech. When we put real effort into observing and contemplating this, we will know that this is indeed the way it is.

      Therefore, when we understand the teachings in Buddhism, we must be the ones to subdue our afflictions when they arise. How? Use the teachings to contemplate them, and right away, we can transform these afflictions. Everyone has wrongdoings, deluded thoughts, and afflictions. Our cultivation is very much in order to transform these thoughts and afflictions, but we must know to apply and use the mind. By knowing how to apply and use the mind to transform afflictions when they arise, this very mind returns to a state of purity—then our cultivation will not regress. Otherwise, when we encounter a few afflictions and don’t know how to clear and overcome them, our cultivation will become very precarious indeed.

      The Buddhadharma is telling us that we must transform our thoughts. At every moment, keep the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha in mind. Use wholesome thoughts to counteract unwholesome ones. When there are no unwholesome thoughts left, let go completely of even the wholesome thoughts and return to no-thought. No-thought is the middle way; it is true reality.

      The Book of Documents says: “The human mind is precarious; the heart of the Way is subtle. Only with perfect purity and single-mindedness, may one abide in the middle.” Here, “perfect purity” is to let this very mind be like a mirror, cleansing it of afflictions. When afflictions arise, we should transform them right away. This very mind must always be clear and lucid, whether it be day or night, in favorable conditions or adverse circumstances—it is like a bright mirror at all times, without a single stain or speck of dust. This is “perfect purity”; this is “single-mindedness”. When this very mind attains perfect purity and single-mindedness, and always abides in this state, then “may one abide in the middle.” In this manner, we will realize the middle way.

      Having understood this teaching, we must nurture the mind in stillness and temper it through action. As the Diamond Sutra says, “Good men and good women who resolve to attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi should thus abide and subdue their minds.” Keep the three karmas of body, speech, and mind pure at all times; regulate the six senses so they do not cling to external conditions and become distorted. This very mind raises only wholesome thoughts and not unwholesome ones. In the end, realize that wholesome thoughts are also ungraspable and return to no-thought.

Relinquish the unwholesome through the wholesome; relinquish the wholesome through no-attachment.

      Thus, there are these different levels of cultivation. Buddhism teaches, “First, relinquish the unwholesome through the wholesome; then, relinquish the wholesome through no-attachment.” Although wholesome and unwholesome thoughts are both insubstantial, dreamlike states, we should first have good dreams—everyday think of wholesome dharmas like practicing charitable giving, upholding the precepts, and cultivating tolerance, diligence, meditation, and wisdom; keep the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, precepts, and giving in mind; bring forth the all-encompassing bodhi mind, spread the Buddhist teachings, liberate all sentient beings, and abide in the place of the Way. Continue like this in thought after thought, until no unwholesome thoughts remain, and every thought raised is a wholesome one, every word spoken is a wholesome word, and every action performed is a wholesome deed.

      Going one step further, we must understand that wholesome dharmas are also illusory, nothing more than a good dream. Do not attach to good dreams, awaken yourself to have no dreams—this is to transcend the mundane to enter sagehood. This is the realm of the tathagata.

      The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch says, “Think neither of the good nor the bad.” Understanding that good and bad are both illusory and insubstantial, this very mind abides in neither good nor bad, and is always clear and lucid, constantly still and constantly aware, just like a bright mirror that reflects all things truthfully— “when a form appears, so does its image; when a form disappears, so does its image.” We must maintain this very mind present at all times. This very mind is pure and intrinsic awareness; it is true reality and the true self.

      After realizing true reality, we “breath from the same nose” as Shakyamuni Buddha and all buddhas of the ten directions; this is our dharmakaya buddha. When we realize this truth, our mind will be filled with brightness, and no matter where we go, we will have intrinsic freedom and effortless composure.

Chung Tai Magazine #239

Transform Your Thoughts to Forge a Luminous Life

Be the Master of Your Life

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      Buddhadharma teaches us to understand causes and recognize their supporting conditions and corresponding effects. Then, we can change our fates and master our lives. The virtuous ancients said:

“With the right causes and conditions, success comes easily.
With the right causes but not conditions, the fruit cannot appear.
If in doubt, just watch the willows by the winter river.
All grow new leaves when the spring breeze blows.”

The principle of causality is a fact of human life. Causes are from within ourselves; conditions refer to external conditions. When we have both wholesome causes and conditions, our every step will be on a bright path. But when we accumulate unwholesome causes and conditions, our lives will head toward a darker and darker future.

All dharmas are empty of self-nature, they arise from causes and conditions.

      “With the right causes and conditions, success comes easily,” means that no matter what we do, we must first cultivate ourselves, body and mind, if we want to be successful—this is a cause. Besides the cause, we also need favorable conditions. “With the right causes but not conditions, the fruit cannot appear,” means that even with unrivaled talent, we cannot easily succeed without the right outside conditions. “If in doubt, just watch the willows by the winter river. All grow new leaves when the spring breeze blows,” tells us to observe nature if we doubt the law of causality. Look at the willows by the river bank: their leaves all wither and fall during the freezing winter. But when spring comes, they sprout new leaves as soon as the spring breeze blows. Because external conditions change with the seasons, the scenery we see is also different.

      Cultivation is like this too. If we want to realize the fruits of the Way, it is necessary to have both causes and conditions. Vowing to realize buddhahood, we bring forth a cause. But in order to succeed, external conditions are also required: we must learn from enlightened masters and great teachers. Under their guidance, we develop right view with true understanding. Then, we will not take a wrong or winding path—these are some of the necessary conditions. In addition, we also need a pure and quiet location, and Dharma supporters who will support us with clothing, food, accommodation, transportation, etc. When all these causes and conditions come together, our cultivation will succeed more easily.

      There are many people in today’s society who want to cultivate, realize the Way, or ascend to heavenly realms, but head the wrong direction. They cannot be reborn in the heavens, but instead fall into the hells; they cannot realize buddhahood, but instead fall into the path of maras. What is the reason for this? It is because they do not understand the law of causality.    

      It is said, “Bodhisattvas fear causes, whereas mundane beings fear effects.” Whether academics, professional life, or spiritual cultivation, all fields require us to work on the right causes. Bodhisattvas understand that causes are effects, thus they never seek effects outside of their causes. The mind is the cause: the mind is the cause that is nondual with the effect. To work on the cause means to observe and transform our thoughts. If we can do this, then our future will become brighter and brighter. If everyone can do this, families will be harmonious, societies and countries will be peaceful, and the whole world will be influenced. Everywhere will be full of harmony, peace, and joy.  

With the right causes and conditions, the result emerges naturally.

      There are two kinds of conditions: favorable and adverse. No matter which conditions we face, we must act accordingly. How should we act in accordance with adverse conditions? We can use the practice of accepting adversity as taught in The Essence of Mahayana Practice:

“Even though now I have done no wrong, I am reaping the karmic consequences of past transgressions. It is something that neither the heavens nor people can impose upon me. Therefore, I should accept it willingly, without any resentment or objection.”

      If we encounter favorable situations and wholesome conditions, what type of attitude should we have? The Essence of Mahayana Practice says:

“Sentient beings are without a self, being steered by karmic conditions, experiencing both suffering and happiness together as a result of causes and conditions…Knowing that success and failure depend on conditions, the mind remains unmoved by the wind of joy, experiencing neither gain nor loss. This is to be in harmony with the Way. Therefore, it is called the practice of adapting to conditions.”

      The saying goes, “Remain unmoved while adapting to conditions, adapt to conditions while remaining unmoved.” No matter what karmic conditions arise, whether wholesome or unwholesome, as long as they are conditional arising, then they are illusory appearances. Sentient beings exist because of myriad conditions, because causes and conditions come together. When causes and conditions fall apart, then they exist no more. They do not have substantial self-nature, but exist only as illusory appearances. Therefore, the true nature of conditional arising is empty nature. Illusory appearances are the effects of wholesome and unwholesome karma generated in the past. If we created wholesome karma, then we experience wholesome effects; if we created unwholesome karma, then we experience unwholesome effects. But whether the karma we created and effects we experience are good or bad, they are all conditional arising—illusory and insubstantial.

      Since everything arises conditionally, success in our careers is never the result of our own efforts alone. Other people must contribute as well, society at large must be peaceful and stable; we also need various other causes and conditions, like the kindness of sentient beings, before we can succeed. In the same vein, we should perform self-reflection when encountering failure: in the past, we did not cultivate enough merits, or create wholesome affinity with others. This is what caused our lack of success. By performing self-reflection in this way, having contrition and practicing repentance, we will not blame things on fate or other people. Then, we can dissolve our karmic obstacles.

      The Essence of Mahayana Practice teaches, “Knowing that success and failure depend on conditions, the mind remains unmoved by the wind of joy, experiencing neither gain nor loss.” Seeing others in our daily lives enjoy wealth and prestige, we neither grow jealous nor hateful; seeing those who are poor and destitute, we do not secretly feel pleasure or satisfaction. In this state, the mind “experiences neither gain nor loss.”

     If the mind experiences gain and loss, that is to be a sentient being; if it experiences neither gain nor loss, that is to be a sage. Neither increasing nor decreasing, always unmoving as it is—this is the mind of sages, the mind of bodhisattvas. It is also “to be in harmony with the Way”: to resonate and accord with the Way of bodhi, the Way of liberation, the unsurpassable Way. It also means to resonate and accord with the true nature and the pure Dharma body.

      The virtuous ancients said, “Even after a hundred thousand kalpas, the karma we create still remains; when causes meet their conditions, we cannot but bear the fruits.” For numberless kalpas, sentient beings have been trapped in the samsaric cycle of birth and death. If we do not thoroughly purify the unwholesome karma we created in the past through repentance, these karmic obstacles will always exist. Even after one hundred thousand billion kalpas, whenever causes meet their conditions, we must still experience their effects. For example, when two strangers feel close and familiar the first time they meet, it is because they made a positive karmic connection in their past lives. On the other hand, if there is mutual dislike at first sight, it is because they did not create wholesome affinity with each other in the past; it might even be because they made a negative karmic connection.

      The wise firmly accept the law of causality as truth. They cultivate all that is good, eradicate all that is evil; in this way, karmic obstacles will naturally fade away, turning misfortune into blessings. On the contrary, if we create unwholesome karma and do not have contrition and practice repentance, when this karma materializes in the future, we have no choice but to bear the fruits.

      Our thoughts are like radio waves: if their frequency matches with a karmic adversary, the mind can’t settle down, and we run into each other, then we have to experience the effects. This is the sympathetic resonance of karmic affinities. But if we calm our minds in meditation and raise not a single thought, even if adversaries pass by in front of us, we will experience no effects. Why is this so? It is because there are causes but no conditions, or there are conditions but no causes; therefore, no result materializes. When this very mind abides in intrinsic stillness, its frequency will not synchronize with bad karma, because it will have then transcended time and space. This is to dissolve karmic obstacles. 

      Many people do not understand the law of causality. They see palm readers one day, draw fortune telling lots the next, and pray to the Earth Deity after that. All along, their bodies and minds are restless and unsettled; thus they lose the ability to be the masters of their own lives. But if we understand the law of causality, and work on the right causes and conditions, then for every bit of effort we put in, we get an equal amount in return. In this way, we can change our fates and lives.

      Always raise wholesome thoughts with the mind, speak wholesome words with the mouth, and perform wholesome deeds with the body. If we affirm and believe in this truth, the pure land is wherever we are, every moment is a good moment, and every day is a good day.

Chung Tai Magazine #213

According with Conditions, the Mind Experiences Neither Gain nor Loss

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      Buddhism teaches that all dharmas arise conditionally. Everything in our world, whether worldly or supra-worldly dharma, arises when causes and conditions come together. All things rely on causes and their corresponding conditions to exist: a wholesome effect appears because its causes and conditions come together; an unwholesome effect appears for the same reason. Since all dharmas arise as aggregates of causes and conditions, they have no self-nature. The absence of self-nature is “no-self”, which is to be without an autonomous, independent self and empty of substantial existence.

All dharmas have no-self. Emptiness inheres in suffering and happiness.

      The virtuous ancients have a poem about this truth:

“With the right causes and conditions, success comes easily;

With the right causes but not conditions, the fruit cannot appear.

If in doubt, just watch the willows by the winter river.

All grow new leaves when the spring breeze blows.

The spring breeze represents external conditions. If a tree is to sprout or bloom, it must depend on these conditions. When spring comes, the weather improves, and causes unite with their corresponding conditions. Thus, a tree can grow and flourish. The same is true in our studies, careers, and cultivation. Causes and conditions must come together if we are to succeed.

      All the suffering and happiness we experience in this life are due to causes and conditions coming together. Causality includes the past as well as the present. If we planted wholesome causes and created wholesome karma in the past, then the effect that materializes in the present will be favorable. However, if we planted unwholesome causes and created unwholesome conditions and karma, then the effect that appears in this life will be undesirable instead. When a favorable effect appears, we experience joy; when an undesirable effect manifests, we experience suffering.  

      Over the course of our lives, we may receive favorable or wholesome results such as academic achievements, a successful career, or spiritual attainments… generally speaking, when we gain certain stature, honors, or acclaim, we typically feel delighted or even overjoyed. At this stage, if we do not understand the truth of no-self, our minds will attach to favorable circumstances or become deluded by joy, where we find “extreme joy begets sorrow.”  But if we understand the truth of no-self, that “all dharmas arise conditionally,” that “all conditional arising is empty in nature,” and that all things are effects created by causes and conditions coming together, then we will absolutely not attach to favorable conditions. Moreover, we will know to share and dedicate the wholesome effects of our actions with all sentient beings.

      Buddhism teaches us to “dedicate merits to the Three Jewels, attribute credit to other people, but accept and reflect on criticism by ourselves.” Why should we “dedicate merits to the Three Jewels?” If not for the Three Jewels, we would never know cultivation—all the merits we realize thusly are by virtue of the Three Jewels’ guidance and the kindness of sentient beings. Therefore, we must “dedicate merits to the Three Jewels.” When we succeed in performing wholesome deeds, it is never due to our personal efforts alone, so we must “attribute credit to other people.” If not for myriad causes and conditions coming together, our efforts would be fruitless. Therefore, when we gain some merits, do not become arrogant, overly-proud, or indulge in emotional highs. Know that it is because of wholesome causes we planted in the past, and wholesome conditions that manifested in the present. Causes and conditions came together, that is why a wholesome effect appeared. Even so, these causes and conditions will fall apart someday. Without them, the effect also disappears. What is there worth getting overjoyed about?

      On the contrary, if things are not going smoothly, if we have many failures, do not be discouraged. Do not think that buddhas and bodhisattvas have forgotten us and blest us not, or that fellow practitioners are unsupportive. Our situation is the effect brought forth by unwholesome causes, conditions, and karma that we created in the past. Once these causes and conditions fall apart, their effects will also cease to exist. All things are effects of causes and conditions coming together. By understanding that all dharmas arise and cease on account of causal conditions, we will see the reality of all external circumstances and put down our attachments to them.

Unmoved by gain and loss, accord with conditions to enjoy intrinsic freedom.

      The Essence of Mahayana Practice states, “Knowing that success and failure depend on conditions, the mind [experiences] neither gain nor loss.” When there is success, do not become self-satisfied; when there is failure, do not raise afflictions. Do not become elated in favorable situations, nor distressed in unfavorable ones. Remain unmoved in success and unmoved in failure.  Act according to the conditions at hand, with “the mind experiencing neither gain nor loss.”   

      If we encounter favorable situations such as being praised by others, and thus experience an emotional high, then the mind experiences “gain.” If things are not going our way, like when others talk behind our backs, spreading rumors or disparaging us, and we thus hang our heads in dejection, feeling like everything is over, or that life is not worth living, then the mind experiences “loss.” With this attitude, it is not only difficult to succeed, but we may also turn back on the Way and regress from the bodhi mind.

      The poet Su Dongpo claimed to be “unmoved by the eight winds,” which similarly refers to a state where “the mind [experiences] neither gain nor loss.” The eight winds represent eight types of experiential states that can blow our mindfulness away: praise, ridicule, defamation, honor, gain, loss, suffering, and happiness. If we habitually attach to outside circumstances, like behaving based on others’ opinions and giving rise to thought after thought driven by outside situations, then the mind experiences gain and loss—this is the state of sentient beings.              

      Now, we must learn to see through outside circumstances and relinquish our attachments to them: fame and profit, grasping and rejection, gain and loss—these external things have nothing to do with me anymore. When others praise me, I do not get happy; when others speak ill of me, I do not raise afflictions. If this very mind is not driven by external conditions, that is to “experience neither gain nor loss.”               

      When the mind experiences neither gain nor loss, then it is neither coming nor going; when the mind neither comes nor goes and is unmoving in suchness, then it is the tathagatha. This is to transcend the mundane and reach liberation in the here and now—where we obtain real and substantial benefits. Know that all things arise as aggregates of causes and conditions: they are illusory appearances. When the wind of external conditions blows our way, our minds abide in the wisdom of suchness, not carried away by these conditions. Then, this very mind present now has samadhi power and wisdom, and resonates with the Way of bodhi and with the Way of nirvana. Being in tune with the state of equality and non-duality, we realize the mind that is ultimate reality.

      Our life experiences can be understood as favorable results and undesirable outcomes. Undesirable outcomes bring suffering, while favorable results bring happiness. When we can bring lasting peace to the mind in the midst of suffering and happiness, that is a state of sages. Otherwise, we are still ordinary beings. Cultivation is to practice on this very mind as the cause. When circumstances bring suffering, we must not be dejected or raise afflictions. When they bring happiness, we should not indulge in joy. Then, this very mind is liberation—it will enjoy intrinsic freedom. If we practice according to this teaching, then every aspect of our lives will be filled with Buddhadharma. This is the true Dharma.

Chung Tai Magazine #238

One Must Be Diligent in Seeking the Buddha Way

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      Cultivation requires us to be diligent: set our thoughts on practice, bring forth great compassion, make great vows, and always keep the Buddhadharma in mind. In all hours of the day and three parts of the night, constantly ask ourselves, “How were the past buddhas and bodhisattvas diligent in their practice? Now, I must also practice that diligently!” If our minds are negligent, not raising right mindfulness, then that is not diligence. Without diligence, our cultivation will not succeed.

      This is analogous to two people both trying to reach Puli. One is diligent and travels quickly; therefore, he arrives in Puli very fast. The other ambles along, stopping here and there for leisure and sight-seeing, even making detours to visit other places along the way. Naturally, this second person has no means to reach his destination. Cultivation is like this too. The bodhi path is available to everyone and anyone can walk it to completion—it all depends on if we are diligent or not. Only with diligence, will we realize the Way.

Diligently cultivate the three karmas without a thought of exhaustion.

      There are two forms of diligence: one is diligence in body, the other is diligence in mind. For example, the first of Samantabhadra’s Ten Great Vows is “pay homage to all buddhas.” It means paying homage to all buddhas over the entire span of empty space and across the Dharma realm, not only in the present, but also into the infinite future. This is diligence in body. Moreover, “raise thought after thought without interruption, be indefatigable in body, speech, and mind”—we must also be diligent in mind. Perform all great deeds attentively and thoroughly, keeping them in mind thought after thought, uninterruptedly and without any irrelevant thinking.

      When the minds of ordinary people are not raising wholesome thoughts, they are otherwise inclined to raise unwholesome ones. Then, if the mind is not raising thoughts of greed, anger, or ignorance, it is thinking about money, lust, fame, or personal gain. When not abiding in the Dharma, the mind gives rise to deluded thoughts, thinking about past, present, future, and all sorts of things we should not dwell on. Indeed, this is how we are. Because we have already grown accustomed to raising these kinds of thoughts, we may not even notice when they come up now.

      Because the minds of sentient beings tend to have deluded thoughts, we must first counteract them by raising wholesome ones. For example, the four kinds of right effort are:

“Grow the wholesome thoughts that have already arisen.

Quickly raise the wholesome thoughts that have yet to arise.

Eradicate the unwholesome thoughts that have already arisen.

Never raise the unwholesome thoughts that have yet to arise.”

Always raise wholesome thoughts and never unwholesome ones. Keep the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, precepts, giving, and impermanence of death in mind…in thought after thought without stopping.

      The Universal Gateway of Guanyin Bodhisattva says, “When thoughts do not go idly by, one can extinguish the suffering of samsaric existence.” Reciting Guanyin’s name and keeping the bodhisattva in mind are to raise wholesome thoughts; we must do so in thought after thought without stopping. All of this is to be diligent in mind. If we are not, then the mind will raise deluded thoughts. Thus, it is essential to practice like this in thought after thought without interruption.

      At the same time, we must also be diligent in body: prostrate in repentance, practice recitation, teach and spread the Dharma, and perform the work of buddhas (i.e. hold Dharma ceremonies and events). Perform these actions constantly, without slacking off or wearying, indefatigable in body, speech, and mind. We must be diligent in this way. If not, we will become negligent.

Contemplate suffering and practice the Way with discipline and diligence.

      The Buddhist sutras teach us to be diligent through the first, second, and third parts of the night. To ordinary people, however, this may seem impossible: “If I’m diligent all day and all night, does that mean I can’t rest?” But, if we understand the anguish of samsara, we will not slack off in any way. Because the suffering experienced as we cycle through the three lower realms of hell beings, animals, and hungry ghosts in beginningless samsara is utterly indescribable. Even as a human being, there is great suffering if we have ignorance or are mentally or physically handicapped. It is impossible to read the sutras with blind eyes, recite buddhas’ names if we cannot speak, or make prostrations with a disabled body…once we understand these facts and think them through, then we realize the temporary hardships of diligence are nothing compared to the endless suffering of samsara. How can we not be diligent?

      Because of this, we should contemplate our own suffering and that of sentient beings as well. Without contemplating, we will not understand suffering and fail to bring forth a mind of diligence. But if we understand, then we know for certain: we must be diligent in body and mind.  With diligence in body, refrain from creating unwholesome karma; with diligence in mind, raise no wandering or deluded thoughts. When we finally achieve a state of “one mind without scatteredness,” then we can realize both merits and wisdom, broadly accumulating them as provisions for our practice. However, this is not something that can be done in a few days or months, so we must not only bring forth a mind of diligence, but also one of perseverance.

      The ancients said, “Do not lose the beginner’s mind, that is more than enough to reach buddhahood.” After raising the initial resolve to reach buddhahood, each of us is extremely diligent. But as time goes on, some people improve very little. Seeing a great many sutras to study and sitting in meditation with our legs getting sore, painful, and numb, we feel cultivation is really too difficult and think, ‘I should just plant some virtuous roots.’ Thus, our beginner’s mind regresses—this is how we lose diligence.

      Diligence is to proactively take on everything we must do in cultivation, like Shakyamuni Buddha, who was able to reach buddhahood before Maitreya Bodhisattva because of his diligence. The sutras tell us when Shakyamuni was still cultivating the causes of enlightenment, he saw Pusya Buddha radiating light from his body, which was replete with the thirty-two good physical marks and eighty fine attributes. Awed by the Buddha’s splendid appearance, rarely seen in the world, Shakyamuni’s mind gave rise to boundless reverence. For seven days, he did not avert his eyes. Afraid that he might doze off or lose diligence, he stood with one leg raised and the other on the floor for the entire span of seven days and nights. Then, Shakyamuni praised the Buddha with a gatha:

      “In the heavens above and the earth below, no one can be compared to the Buddha. Throughout all the worlds, he is peerless.

      I have seen all that is in this world.
      There is no one who is comparable to the Buddha.”

These seven days of diligence surpassed nine great kalpas in time, and thus Shakyamuni was able to reach buddhahood before Maitreya.

      The six paramitas include diligence paramita. It is to counteract our slacking off and negligence, so we must be diligent in whatever we do. Furthermore, we must also understand: diligence in body, speech, and mind is conditioned diligence. In the end, cultivation must go from the conditioned to the unconditioned. From being diligent in conditioned dharmas, we go on to relinquish all attachments and reach diligence in the unconditioned dharma. The unconditioned dharma is to not raise a single thought, to abide in no-thought in the present, the future, and even across three incalculable eons. With no-thought in the here and now, this very mind transcends the three periods of time—this is true diligence.

      Once we understand this teaching, we must not slack off and become negligent. In addition, the mind must remain focused, and further go from having thoughts to having no-thought, where myriad dharmas return to one, to this very mind. In the end, we attach not even to this very mind. Then this is true diligence, the highest form of diligence. By deeply understanding the Buddhist teaching of diligence, we will surely attain the Way in this very life.


Chung Tai Magazine #254

Accumulate Merits and Wisdom, Life’s True Wealth and Eminence

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      The Buddhadharma teaches: “As this exists, so does that; as this does not exist, neither does that; as this arises, that also arises; as this ceases, that also ceases.” Both worldly and supra-worldly dharmas require us to cultivate the right causes diligently before we can achieve anything—we absolutely cannot just sit and idly wait for results. Buddhism teaches that there is the causality of three periods: past causes, present results; present causes, future results. Nothing in this world happens because of chance—everything has its causes and its effects. Having wealth and eminence in this life is the wholesome result of wholesome causes planted in the past. If we hope the future unfolds according to our wishes, then we must diligently cultivate wholesome dharmas in the present. This is right understanding and right view.

Accumulate merits and virtues,
cultivate the right causes here and now.

      Some people do not understand Buddhism’s teaching of the causality of three periods. They believe that the past is already gone and the future is what comes after death, something distant and unreachable. They think the results of our actions will not appear right away, and thus see causality in a passive light. This is to define “past” and “future” too narrowly and misunderstand the principle of causality.

      What is the past and what is the future? Yesterday, the last quarter hour, and even the last second are all “the past.” Tomorrow, the next quarter hour, and the next second are all “the future.” Let us observe carefully: all our everyday activities, from morning to night, are in line with the law of causality. For example, I give you a friendly smile; this is a cause. You immediately respond with a nod; this is an effect. Students study hard, never slack off or cut loose; this is a cause. They have the potential to perform well in the future; this is an effect.           

      The same is true for having a job or career. If we put work first and follow the law, never arrive late or leave early, perform our duties conscientiously and responsibly, refrain from cutting corners, and do a little more than what’s expected of us—this is to practice giving and we will thus have merits. If there is an opportunity for promotion in the future, our supervisor will immediately think of us. On the contrary, if we slack off at work, indulge our bad habits, or take company paper and envelopes for personal use, believing these to be trivial matters not worth considering, then we do not see the seriousness of their ramifications. If there is a promotion in the future, unfortunately, it will not go to us. This is cause and effect.

      When we understand causality in this way, we will see how things truly are. 

      The Dharmapada says: “Disregard not the small good deeds, assuming they bring no merits. Tiny are droplets of water, but gradually they fill a great vessel.” Water on the eaves, falling drop by drop from morning till night, can fill half a bucket as the day goes by. Saving money in the bank is similar. If we save a few dollars today and a few dollars tomorrow, continuing this way for three years, five years, ten years…we can accumulate a small fortune. Cultivating wholesome dharmas is like this too. Perform a few good deeds today, a few good deeds tomorrow…if we keep practicing like this without fail, small good deeds will accumulate over time to become great virtue, thus bringing us great merits. 

      There are many ways to cultivate wholesome dharmas; for example, practicing giving is one of them. Besides giving money, we can also donate our expertise and labor. Or when we see other people doing good deeds, we can praise them and be joyful in their efforts. Confucianism teaches having filial piety for our parents, respecting our elders and teachers, loving our siblings, being loyal to the country and upright with friends…these are all wholesome dharmas. If we can practice them, our blessings and merits will grow, our minds will be joyful, and our families harmonious. Harmony can lead to good fortune, bring auspicious signs, and even cause Dharma guardians to sympathetically support our cultivation. This is also cause and effect. Therefore, do not think of causality as something lofty and remote. If we understand the principle of cause and effect, then we know that cultivating the right causes here and now is the most important thing.

Cultivate both merits and wisdom,
realize wealth, eminence, and a luminous future.

      Buddhism teaches us to cultivate both merits and wisdom. Merits come from performing wholesome deeds and must be accumulated over time. In addition to merit, we must also cultivate wisdom: perform wholesome deeds not for personal gain, but to benefit the public, liberate all sentient beings, and help more people awaken and enlighten themselves. This is wisdom.

      Without wisdom, we have erroneous thoughts and views. Even with blessings and merits, we will likely bring ourselves trouble. For example, say we are rich and affluent, which is a blessing, but because we lack wisdom, we do not know the right way to use our wealth. We squander the money on overeating, drinking, entertaining ourselves, living the high life, and investing indiscriminately, otherwise creating unwholesome karma with the “blessing” of wealth.

      People who have wisdom are different. They know how to use their wealth, using it to practice giving and benefit others. In this way, they improve and elevate themselves. Taking it one step further, they practice giving without the notion of giving, realize triple emptiness, and relinquish attachment even to wholesome dharmas. As the Diamond Sutra says, “By cultivating all good without the notions of a self, a person, a sentient being and a lifespan, one attains anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (unsurpassed complete enlightenment).” When we cultivate wholesome dharmas without attaching to them, worldly dharmas are then none other than Buddhadharma.

      The teachings in Buddhism can be both profound and accessible. If we wish to reach the highest teaching, we must begin with the basics. Both monastics and lay-practitioners alike must understand: cultivating wholesome dharmas is like investing capital and provisions for our success in realizing the Way. Even if it is hard work, it is still worth doing. Without these provisions, it will be impossible for us to go far.

      It is said, “towering buildings are built from the ground up.” Everyone hopes to achieve great things, leave a great legacy, accomplish great undertakings, or even realize the unsurpassed bodhi. These are high aspirations and long-term goals. If we want to reach them, we must make effort in our daily lives. The four kinds of right effort are:

“Grow the wholesome thoughts that have already arisen.

Quickly raise the wholesome thoughts that have yet to arise.

Eradicate the unwholesome thoughts that have already arisen.

Never raise the unwholesome thoughts that have yet to arise.”

We raise wholesome thoughts with the mind, speak wholesome words with the mouth, and perform wholesome deeds with the body; this is to have immeasurable merits. When we do not have the opportunity to perform good deeds, at the very least, we can still raise good thoughts. Practicing like this, broadly accumulating provisions of merits and wisdom, walking a luminous path every step of the way, we will perfectly realize unsurpassed bodhi.

      Buddhist cultivation is a lifetime endeavor, even one that spans the measureless future. It is not something we do for ten days or half a month. When, in this life, we accumulate provisions of merits and wisdom, it naturally brings us one step closer to realizing the Way. By continuing to practice diligently in this way, we can go from poverty to wealth, from darkness to light, from samsara to nirvana, from mundane existence to the realms of enlightened beings, and realize the true wealth and eminence in life.

Chung Tai Magazine #249