《To Understand Buddhism》

Venerable Master Chin Kung (淨空法師)







Today, we see an increasing number of people   around the world starting to practice Buddhism.    However, not many people truly understand what   Buddhism is. Therefore, this becomes a very impor tant topic. What exactly is Buddhism? We need to   understand it clearly. Buddhism is a most virtuous   and perfect education directed by the Buddha to  wards all sentient beings in the nine realms.

How can   we tell that Buddhism is an education? First, we can   tell from the way we call Buddha Shakyamuni our   "Original Teacher" that he is the founder of Buddhism   and that we are his students. From this, it is very apparent that the Buddha and we share a teacher-student relationship. This is only found in education.

If Buddhism is his teaching, who then is the Buddha? Buddha is a Sanskrit word meaning wisdom   and enlightenment. However, this wisdom is not the   worldly wisdom we think of today. Broadly speaking,   the Buddha's wisdom is the ability to ultimately, perfectly and correctly comprehend the true reality of   life and the universe in the past, present and future.

One who has perceived this wisdom is called a Buddha. Buddha Shakyamuni told us that all sentient   beings, including ourselves, possess this innate wisdom and ability. Thus Buddhism regards all beings   equally.  Although we are equal in origin, presently   we cannot see this because everyone's wisdom and   abilities differ.

In our society, there are those who are intelligent   and those who are not, those with great ability and   those with less. How do these things come about?    The Buddha told us that they are due to our varying   degrees of delusion. Our innate wisdom and abilities    are temporarily lost due to this delusion, but are not   truly or permanently lost. If we can break through   this delusion, then we will be able to recover these   abilities. Therefore, the Buddha's teachings show us   how to rid ourselves of delusion and to uncover our   innate  abilities.

It is often stated in Mahayana sutras(大乘佛經)that the   Buddha did not directly help sentient beings. Then   how do sentient beings become Buddhas? By themselves. The Buddha only assists from the side by explaining the true reality of how we delude ourselves.   After realizing this, we diligently put his teachings into practice to attain enlightenment of true reality. We   then become Buddhas. Buddha Shakyamuni clearly   explained that becoming a Buddha is attainable by   all sentient beings.

From this, we can see that Buddhism is a teach ing. However, a teacher can only educate us about   the principles, tell us of his/her experiences in practice and attainment, and suggest various methods   for our attainment. The rest ultimately depends upon   us. We are the ones who need to be enthusiastic   and diligent in order to attain achievement. Once   we understand that Buddhism is an education, we   will logically regard the Buddha as our teacher.   

From this, we understand that in proper Way Places,   we do not regard the Buddha or Bodhisattva images   as gods to be worshipped. We make offerings to   these images for two reasons. First, to remember and   repay our gratitude for this truly great education,   which we have so fortunately encountered and accepted in this lifetime.

The opening verse to sutras says it very well; "It is   extremely difficult to encounter this teaching in infi
nite eons."(百千萬劫難遭遇)The debt of gratitude we owe the Buddha is similar to the remembrance, which some Chinese have toward their ancestors. We reflect on our   origins for without these ancestors we would not exist. The second reason we make offerings to the Buddha   is to follow the examples of the virtuous.

Buddha   Shakyamuni was an ordinary person like us; yet, he   was able to be awakened and become a Buddha.   What is there to stop us from achieving this as well?   Therefore, the pictures or statues of the Buddha serve   to remind us every moment to advance diligently   towards this goal. The images are not to be regarded as gods or objects of superstition.

In Buddhist Way Places, the images of Buddhas   and Bodhisattvas have many appearances. This has   often led to the misconception that not only is Buddhism a religion but one that worships multi-deities as   well. Indeed Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have many   names. For example, in the Tripitaka there is the Ten
Thousand-Buddha Names Sutra(萬佛名經), which gives us over   twelve thousand Buddha's names and even more   names for Bodhisattvas.

Why are there so many   Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? Within our original nature there exists infinite wisdom, virtuous and artis  tic abilities that cannot be completely represented   by merely one name. It is similar to a highly accomplished person in a prominent position; his or her   business card could have numerous titles.   The names of the Buddhas represent the complete, innate and virtuous abilities within our self-nature.    All the Bodhisattva names represent cultivation of different virtues. The original abilities within ourself-nature are infinite, but temporarily lost. Without   genuine cultivation, we will not be able to uncover   any of them.    All the Buddha and Bodhisattva names   are none other than ourselves.

Once we understand   this, we will realize that a high level of artistry represents the styles of the Buddha's teachings. For example, sculptures and pictures can express the   Dharma. Understanding the true meaning of these   images will help us to gain the true benefits of the   Buddha's teachings.

If Buddhism is not a religion, why is it not then a   philosophy? In philosophy, there is both a subject   and an object. In Mahayana Buddhism(大乘佛教), there is no   difference between subject and object; they are   one. This meaning is very profound and difficult to   understand. For example, a great master said, "Utilizing gold to form utensils, all utensils are of gold."   Are the gold and the utensil the same thing or different? From their appearances they look like two different things. However, from their composition we   realize that they are the same.

We need a profound intuitive comprehension to   truly understand the reality of life and the universe.   All of the Mahayana Sutras try to explain this concept and truth. We will share the same viewpoints   with the Buddha when we truly understand and   clearly recognize this truth. Ordinary people, like we   are deluded. In what way? Because we see every thing in opposition to the other, not knowing that in   reality everything is actually one and not two.


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