《To Understand Buddhism》

Venerable Master Chin Kung (淨空法師)



The Three Conditions

After establishing Pure Land Learning Centers in   several countries, we set five guidelines for Pure Land
practitioners to follow. These five guidelines were extracted from the five Pure Land sutras to be applied   in daily living. The first guideline is the Three Conditions, extracted from the Visualization Sutra(觀經), which   provides a very important foundation for cultivation.

The Buddha stated in the sutra that these Three   Conditions are the proper causes of which all the   Buddhas from the past, present and future practice   their pure karma. In other words, all the people who   became Buddhas perfected these as their foundation; thus, we cannot disregard them.   

The First Condition concerns the good fortune of   heavenly beings and humans. Before we can be come a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, we need to first   become a good person. The criteria for this are:

1) Being filial toward parents,

2) Being respectful towards elders and teachers,

3) Being compassionate and not killing any living being and

4) Practicing the Ten Good Conducts.

With this first step, we begin to practice Buddhism.

The Second Condition includes:

5) Taking the Three Refuges,

6) Abiding by laws, customs and precepts, and

7) Conducting oneself in proper and dignified   manner.

The main principle of our practice is awakening,   proper thoughts and viewpoints, and purity. A be ginning step in learning Buddhism is to Take Refuge in   the Triple Jewels. After we generate the heart to   Take Refuge in the Triple Jewels by accepting,   learning and practicing Buddhism, we request a   Dharma Master to pass on the principle, goal and   direction of practicing Buddhism. The Triple Jewels   are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. In   appearance, they are pictures or sculptures of   Buddhas, Buddhist sutras, and monks and nuns, respectively. Another way of understanding them is   that they are the true Triple Jewels within our true   mind.

The Buddha taught us to take refuge in the Triple   Jewels of our self-nature. To return and rely upon the   Buddha is to rely on the awakening in our self-nature.   What is this awakening? Currently, we are deluded   and not awakened. How did we become deluded?

Delusion is due to our discriminating mind and at tachments. If we part from this discriminating mind   and attachments, can we still see objects clearly?    We cannot say we do not see them, but if we see   them very clearly without discriminating thoughts   and attachments, then we are awakened. When   there is the slightest discrimination or attachment,   one is deluded.

The same applies to our attaching to the form   we are looking at; it is delusion. Initially, objects do   not have names but are given them by people. The   names, like the object, are not real. Apart from the   names and appearances, what we see is the true   form. We are deluded about these forms, their   physical features and their names. Consequently,   when we rid ourselves of these delusions, we will not   be attached. This is how we can train ourselves to   return and rely upon the Buddha Jewel or Enlightenment.

If someone points to a table and asks what it is,   we will naturally say it is a table because that is what
everybody calls it. We go along with everybody's   attachment but if we are not attached to it ourselves, then we will be awakened. Therefore, the   minds of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are pure and   without the slightest pollution for they are completely   without these attachments. When with others, we   can go along with them but maintain our purity inside. In this way, we return and rely upon awakening. After taking refuge, when we apply this concept   to our daily living, whether interacting with people,   matters or objects, we will no longer be deluded.   Our mind will always be pure, non-discriminating and   able to help all sentient beings. This is to return and   rely upon awakening or the Buddha Jewel.   

The Dharma that we return to and rely upon refers to proper thoughts and viewpoints, which is hard   to accomplish. Only when we are truly enlightened,   will our thoughts and viewpoints be correct. Before   we reach enlightenment, we can adopt the proper   thoughts and viewpoints of Buddha Shakyamuni as   ours. All the thoughts and viewpoints within the sutras are correct. We can at first rely on Buddha   Shakyamuni, but only for a while, as he does not   want us to rely upon him forever. This is like a student   relying on teachers in school but becoming inde pendent after graduation. Likewise, before we at tain great enlightenment, we need to rely on Buddha Shakyamuni and Buddha Amitabha as our   teachers.

Where is the Buddha? The Buddha is within the   sutras, as Buddha Shakyamuni stated in the Infinite   Sutra and Buddha Amitabha relayed to us through   the Forty-eight Great Vows(四十八大願). Relying on the teachings   within the sutra is relying on the Buddha. We would   do well to practice earnestly what the  Buddha   taught us to do or refrain from doing. In this way we   will be true and good students. Applying this concept in our daily living is to return and rely upon the   Dharma Jewel.

The Sangha of the Sangha Jewel represents purity and harmony as in the Six Principles of Harmony.   Consequently, whenever we see a monk and nun,   we do not want to dwell on whether this person is a
great cultivator or a violator of precepts. Whether   they are or are not is not our concern. Seeing a   monk or a nun reminds us to see whether we ourselves have lived by the Six Principles of Harmony, or   have cultivated purity of mind. To truly take refuge is   to know how to reflect on ourselves, since we still   have all the same bad habits and are committing   the same offenses, having been deluded for infinite    eons.

It would be helpful for Buddhists to set up the Triple Jewels(三寶)in their home. When we make offerings to   the Buddha statue or picture, we will be reminded   that we need to be awakened. How? When our six   senses encounter the external environment, we   would not discriminate or attach, or give rise to any   thoughts. For example, meditation is not giving rise   to any discriminating thoughts or attachments. Thus   one achieves a high level of wisdom and is able to   see all situations clearly. However, ordinary people   like us, use the false mind and constantly give rise to   wandering and discriminating thoughts and attachments in these situations. The appearance of every thing we see is false. Once we have understood    these principles and learned how to not have wandering thoughts and attachments, we can also become a Bodhisattva or Buddha.

Taking the Three Refuges(三皈依)is a beginning step in   practicing Buddhism. From there, we proceed on to   the foundation of Theravada Buddhism(上座部佛教)then to Mahayana Buddhism(大乘佛教)for the Third Condition, which is   comprised of:

8) Generating the Bodhi mind,

9) Deeply believing in the Law of Cause and   Effect,

10) Reciting and upholding Mahayana sutras   and

11) Encouraging others on the path to Enlight enment.

Before practicing Mahayana Buddhism, we   need to generate the Bodhi mind(菩提心). Bodhi means   awakening, thus, the Bodhi mind is an awakened   mind. How will we be awakened? When we first realize and understand that this world is full of sufferings.

Upon careful and rational observation of society,   we may find our conclusions frightening. Looking   back over the last thirty years, we see that people   used to be kinder and more considerate. Whereas,   people nowadays are more selfish and usually only   think of benefiting oneself at the expense of others.

This selfishness has created a chaotic world making   even the climate abnormal. Therefore, the first thing   in generating the Bodhi mind is to realize that this   world is filled with sufferings and that the Western   Pure Land is filled with bliss. True awakening is when   we seek to escape these sufferings then to attain   happiness.

Second, awakening is the aspiration to benefit   and help all sentient beings, to think of others and   not of oneself. What are the urgent needs of sentient beings? There is nothing more important than   the Buddha's teachings. Thus, our most pressing   need is nurturing and training lecturers to continue to   pass on Buddhism. Today due to our advanced   printing skills, numerous sutras have been distributed   throughout the world, but regretfully, few people lecture on them. Since people have the tendency to   misunderstand the meanings within the sutras, we   need qualified people to lecture on and explain   them.

Today the best way to benefit others is to train   lecturers and at the same time gain innumerable   merits. We work toward this goal with a great tolerant mind, not just for one Way Place, area or country   but for the whole worid. If only one country prospers   and the others are poor, the poor will envy and re sent the prosperous, leading to conflicts or worse.   How could we pass the days peacefully knowing   this? If everyone is prosperous, then all will be happy   and peaceful.    

Once there is a good number of lecturers to help   others clearly understand the principles of the Buddha's teachings, they will in turn gradually help others in reaching awakening to break through delusion   and escape suffering thus attaining happiness. This is   the most beneficial way for us to put the Bodhi mind
into practice.

To believe deeply in the Law of Cause and Effect   does not simply refer to "What goes around comes   around." The profound meaning is, "Being mindful of   Buddha Amitabha is the cause and becoming Buddha is the consequence."

For the Pure Land practitioner, reciting and up holding Mahayana Sutras can be accomplished by   reciting the Infinite Life Sutra. Delving deeply into   one method can be achieved by concentrating on   one sutra. If we do not think this is sufficient, the four   other sutras and one commentary of the Pure Land   School could also be recited. These six are more   than enough. Simply allow them to take root and   flourish. Finally, we encourage others on the path to   enlightenment. The first three parts of the Third Condition benefit the self. The last one teaches us to   dedicate the benefits we have received to all others;   to help them to understand, practice and  succeed   in their cultivation of Buddhism. When attaining   achievement in the Buddha's teachings, we succeed in attaining infinite wisdom.

The Six Harmonies

The Three Conditions are the first of The Five   Guidelines of the foundation for Pure Land practice.   We have yet to become Buddhas or to depart from   this world. Even when we becomes a Buddha, we   do not leave all behind as Buddhas want to help all   sentient beings in the ten directions.

How does we get along with others harmoniously? The Buddha set six principles for us to follow.   Not only are these applicable within a Buddhist   community but also in all organizations or groups.   When we take refuge in the Triple Jewels(三寶), there is a   saying, "To return and rely upon the Sangha, the   most worthy of respect of all groups." Group means   a gathering of people. In our society, the smallest   group of people is a family, a larger one is a nation   and the largest is the union of many nations. Actually, the whole worid is a group of which we all are apart. Why is a Buddhist community the most precious   of all groups? The six rules that the Buddha set for   Buddhist communities are something all its members   follow, making this group the most worthy of respect   and of being a role model for all.

The first of the Six Principles of Harmony is to share   the same goals and viewpoints, in other words to es  tablish a common consensus. Everyone within this   group shares similar thoughts and viewpoints, providing the foundation for living in harmony. If everyone has different viewpoints and ideas, then conflicts   would be unavoidable, making the group discordant. Therefore, sharing the same goals and view points is very important, making this the first of the Six   Principles.

The second of the Principles is to observe the   same precepts and rules. There are both broad and   narrow meanings within the word "Precept." The   narrow meaning includes upholding the five or ten   layperson precepts, monk's or nun's precepts, or   Bodhisattva precepts and the Buddha's teachings.   In a broader sense, "Observing precepts" includes   abiding by etiquette, customs, rules and laws of the   entire world.

Today, through the advancement of technology   in travel and communication, our sphere of activity is   not limited to our country but expands to other countries as well. Whether sightseeing, on business, or visiting others, it is essential to observe the local customs   and laws, to live in harmony, thus being welcomed   and respected by others. This principle is practical   and brings joy to others; therefore, upholding Buddhist precepts also includes following the customs   and laws of the country. All governments welcome   law-abiding citizens, so to truly promote and be a   benefactor of Buddhism is to uphold the precepts. 

 With this as a base, people could then harmoniously   live without arguments and share the joy of practicing together. When living together and sharing a   common consensus, a group would naturally not   have any conflicts. To practice with the same goal   and to achieve improvement daily would ensure   that the  community would experience joy and innerpeace.

The last of the Six Principles is to   share benefits   harmoniously. Benefits refer to our daily necessities.   A Sangha does not merely represent a community of   monks and nuns. At home, the family can also practice Buddhism and accord with the Six Principles of   Harmony to make up a sangha. Even within a company, everyone, from the employer to the workers,   can practice Buddhism to make up a sangha.

Therefore, sangha has a very broad meaning. Within   a Sangha, we strive to share benefits. For left-home   people it means having the same manner of living,   from the abbot to one with no formal responsibilities   within the community, everyone shares the same   manner of living, with no special treatment.

We would do well to live by the Six Principles of   Harmony to learn how to better get along with others. When with other organizations or groups, regardless of whether or not they follow the Six Principles of Harmony, we ourselves need to accord with   the spirit of these Principles to truly follow the Buddha's teachings.

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are our best role   models while we are to be good role models for others who are not Buddhists. This is the spirit of Buddhism, using our own behavior to influence and   benefit others, thus promoting Buddhism. We do not    teach others in the formal sense but simply let them    observe us. Thus our daily conduct and practice   can unobtrusively and imperceptibly help to influence and change others like Buddhas or Bodhi sattvas manifesting in this world to teach sentient   beings.

The Three Learnings

The third guideline is the Three Learnings: discipline, concentration and wisdom. The Three Learnings summarize all the teachings from Buddha   Shakyamuni and all the Buddhas in the past, present   and future. The Great Canon of Sutras is divided into   three sections: sutras, vinaya or precepts, and sastras   or  commentaries. Sutras include the teachings of   meditation, vinaya includes the teachings of discipline or precepts, sastra includes the teachings of   wisdom. These Three Learnings of discipline, concentration and meditation represent the core of the   Buddha's teachings.

The teachings of precepts place most emphasis   on rules, regulations and laws. The earth has four   seasonal changes: spring, summer, autumn and winter. We need rules and laws to successfully interact   with people and matters, thus enabling the members   of society to enjoy a wonderful and fulfilling life. A   world absent of law and order is a world of chaos.

Although we may possess good fortune and wealth,   we may still be unhappy, living in fear and insecurity.   Why? We have discarded law and order. The precepts thoroughly explain the principles, methods and   the level of mind we need to bring about law and   order. The Three Learnings clearly explain this concept. We practice the Buddha's teachings in order   to attain the ultimate, perfect wisdom. Once we   uncover this inner wisdom, we will know the true real ity of life and the universe, including how to restore   our original abilities.

The Buddha told us that all sentient beings possess a Buddha's wisdom and virtuous abilities. While   the knowledge of the past, present and future is part   of our original ability, they are unfortunately covered
and hidden by our delusion. Delusion occurs when   the mind/heart is not still, while an enlightened one   remains unaffected. When our six senses encounter   the environment, our mind/heart moves, giving rise
to wandering thoughts.

The Buddha taught numerous ways to practice   so we can remain unaffected in all situations, not   giving rise to any wandering, discriminating thoughts   or attachments, thus recovering our original capabilities. This state of mind is deep concentration. Cultivation is correcting our erroneous thoughts, speech   and behavior.

What are the standards for these?   They are discipline and concentration. Discipline is   the external standard and precept observation is the   internal standard; concentration is the standard for   the pure mind. The  external standard is very impor tant, but much more important is the internal standard, because it helps us to achieve our goal in the   practice to attain wisdom.

With discipline, we attain the concentration that   gives rise to wisdom. This ultimate, perfect wisdom is
called "Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi(阿耨多羅三藐三菩提,就是「無上正等正覺」)." How do we   first attain proper realization, then equal and proper   realization, and finally perfect, complete realization?
These levels of attainment depend on the strength of   concentration, the extent of the purity of mind. As
Buddhists, the goal of our practice is Perfect, Complete Enlightenment. Ifwe depart from rules of order   and purity of mind, we are not practicing Buddhism.

No matter which method we practice, whether Buddha Name Chanting, precept observation, mantra   recitation, or Zen meditation; if we do not follow the   guidelines, we cannot attain the pure mind. All   would be just window dressing. With one degree of   pure mind, we attain one degree of wisdom. With   two degrees of pure mind, we attain two degrees of   wisdom, etc. Therefore, practicing accordingly and   maintaining and protecting the pure mind, which   gives rise to true wisdom, is exceptionally important.   

The Six Paramitas or Principles

The fourth guideline is the Six Principles or Paramitas that are the primary living principles of Bodhisattvas. Each principle encompasses our whole way   of living; for example, the first of the Six Principles is   "Giving." Some people think of giving as simply do nating money. Actually, this is only one of the infinite
kinds of giving. From the appearance, giving is sacrificing oneself to give to others. However, from its in
trinsic nature, giving is letting go.

We can practice giving of our wealth or physical   strength. For example, a homemaker keeps house   daily providing a comfortable environment for the   family. Without proper understanding, this homemaker may feel these daily chores are repetitive;   that washing clothes and cooking meals are boring.   If however, the homemaker clearly understands that   he or she is cultivating the Bodhisattva Way by practicing the Six Principles, then he or she will be filled   with joy.

Changing one's perception of doing the   same chores with a giving, non-attaching heart is   practicing the principle of giving. Not only does one    serve the whole family by keeping the house neat,   but one also serves as a role model for all relatives   and neighbors. In this way, not just one but all beings   benefit. One is thus a family role model for all families. Whether managing a store or business, being a   role model for others is practicing the Bodhisattva   Way in guiding sentient beings. The principle of giving can be expanded to the infinite universe and   beyond. With this extensive broadmindedness, one is   a Mahayana Bodhisattva.

Giving is comprised of three categories: wealth(財佈施),   teaching(法佈施)and fearlessness(無畏佈施).

The giving of wealth in cludes internal and external wealth(內財佈施、外財佈施). Internal wealth   involves all of our mental and physical labors that   benefit others. External wealth is the giving of all   other things, e.g. money, food, etc. Gaining wealth   is the result of giving wealth.

The giving of teaching is   the willingness to instruct others while not selfishly   holding back any knowledge. It is to do our best in   educating willing students.    As a result, we gain intel ligence and wisdom.

The giving of fearlessness includes soothing away other's fears and providing a   feeling of security. As a result, we gain health and   long life.

Most people wish for wealth, intelligence,   wisdom, health and long life. When there is a good   cause, a good reward will follow. We do not receive   a reward without first planting the good cause. By   practicing all three kinds of giving, we perfectly at tain all these rewards.

Observing carefully, we will see that there are   not many who have all they wish for. Some wealthy   employers do not possess great intelligence or wisdom, but have intelligent and wise employees working under them, following their instructions. These in telligent and wise employees have cultivated wisdom in their past lives but did not cultivate good fortune. On the other hand, these employers cultivated   good fortune but did not cultivate wisdom. Cause   and effect may be complex, but not hard to distinguish. Thus, using Buddhist principles to observe so ciety enables us to know how to conduct ourselves in   the future.

In reality, true wisdom is more important than   good fortune. Wealth is good fortune, but how we   use and allocate wealth requires a high level of wisdom. Without wisdom, possessing wealth may lead   us to create infinite bad karma from bad deeds,   thinking we are doing good. Without wisdom, we   are unable to distinguish true from false, proper from   deviated, right from wrong or beneficial from harmful. Often we are ignorant of having conducted ourselves in an erroneous manner.

All these principles are explained very clearly in   Liao Fan's Four Lessons(了凡四訓). Within good and bad there   exists true and false, half and full, right and wrong.   From its appearance, what may appear to be a true   good deed, due to changes in its nature some time   later, can turn out to have been a bad one. On the   other hand, what may initially appear to be a bad   deed can turn out to have been a good one.

Therefore, we need insight to understand the outcome of all good and bad deeds and not to judge   them by their initial appearance. We need a high   level of wisdom to understand deeply and to be farsighted enough to distinguish correctly the truth.

The second principle is "Precept Observation,"   which also has a broad meaning. We follow the   Buddha's teachings, accords with the customs of   society, and abide by the rules and laws of a country. In both the spirit of the law as well as the letter,   all rules and laws need to be followed. 

 The third principle is "Patience." Patience in cludes long-term patience whether interacting with   people, matters or objects. As the Buddha explained in the Diamond Sutra(金剛經), all dharma is attained   from patience and endurance. To succeed in either   worldly or spiritual dharma, we must have patience.   Without it we cannot attain achievement. Having   this patience to endure what others cannot, we   achieve what others cannot. Only then will we accomplish great deeds.

The fourth principle is "Diligence." Diligence is   seeking focused improvement daily, not trying to   advance in many different directions. Advancing   with diligence to a certain level, we attain concentration. This concentration does not simply mean cultivating while sitting in a lotus position facing a wall. It   is to have a firm hold of our mind and not to be influenced by external conditions. This accords with the   Diamond Sutra, to remain unmoved by and unattached to any phenomenon. Not attaching to any   phenomenon is to not be enticed by temptations   from external influences. We achieve concentration   when we are unmoved by all phenomena, such as   the advancement of scientific technology, so confusing yet dazzling to our eyes. It is seeing everything   clearly and knowing that all is intuitive wisdom, the   prajna(般若)wisdom. In this way, we will then live happily.

For example, when we buy a refrigerator, use   and maintain it nicely, it can last at least ten years.   During these ten years, there will be improvements   and changes in refrigerator manufacturing. Will we   want to exchange it for a new one? When there is   no need for a new one and we continue to use it,   we have concentration. When we are moved upon   seeing a new model in the store and want to buy it   to replace the old one, afraid that guests will laugh   at the latter's appearance; we have neither con centration nor wisdom.

Living in this way, we would   not be happy because our income would slip   through our fingers just trying to keep up with new   products. Buddhism calls this Mara, what comes to   make us suffer, in this case, to tempt us to spend all   our hard-earned money. A truly wise person would   be unmoved and live a happy fulfilling life without   worries or afflictions, unlike ordinary people.

The Ten Great Vows of   Universal Worthy Bodhisattva

The fifth and last of the guidelines is the Ten   Great Vows of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva. Universal Worthy Bodhisattva is unlike any other Bodhisattva   due to his great broadmindedness, where his every
thought is of helping all sentient beings. He does not   think of himself, his family, country or world but of the   infinite universe and beyond, reaching true perfection. With this great broad mind, all that he practices
is great. 

The order in practicing Buddhism is belief(信), under standing(解), practice(行)and attainment(證).

First, we need to   have unwavering belief, for without it we are unable   to accept the Buddha's teachings. It is not that easy   to instill this belief, as it depends on affinity or condition. In  Buddhism, these conditions include good   roots, good fortune, merits, virtues and cause. With out these, it would be extremely difficult to have this   unwavering belief.

In believing, we need to first be   lieve that we possess the Buddha nature and that we   can definitely become a Buddha. Second, we need   to have confidence in our original teacher, Buddha   Shakyamuni, knowing that he would not lie to us. We   also need to believe that what the great masters   and Patriarchs have passed down to us is truthful.   

However, simply believing is not enough.   Equally important is that we seek the correct and   perfect  understanding. After understanding, we   need to accomplish, to practice, to apply Buddhist   principles,  methods and levels of attainment into our   daily living. Lastly, the attainment is to prove within   our daily lives that all the teachings and under standings are correct.

Lately, I have heard some fellow practitioners   mention that lacking a blessing from an Esoteric Master(密宗大師) would seem to make us inferior to others. In reality, are these kinds of blessing all that effective? In   America, many fellow practitioners were so enthusiastic about this ritual that they would even drive ten
hours or more just to find a Master to obtain a consecration.

After they came back, I asked them if   they had uncovered their wisdom and had fewer   afflictions. They honestly shook their heads and said   no. I said, if a consecration is achieved by sprinkling   a few drops of water on the head, then we might as   well go take a shower to receive a great consecration.

Not understanding the true characteristics and   meanings behind all the rituals reveals a very sad   phenomenon in Buddhism. Mr. Nian-Chu Huang   who was an Esoteric master, stated very clearly in his
commentary of the Infinite Life Sutra, "The consecration is a blessing of compassion and kindness; one's
head symbolizes the act of instilling in the person the   outstanding teachings of the Buddha."


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