The Meaning of Monastic Life
Sangha University Motto--Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony and Respect
Becoming a Monastic as a Commitment to Work for Humanity in the 21 Century
Living Lay Life versus Living the Monastic Life
The Mottos of Three Studies Institute
悲Bei – use ‘Compassion’ to care for others
智Zhi – use ‘Wisdom’ to deal with matters
和He – use ‘Harmony’ and happiness to face life
敬Jing – use ‘Respect’ to treat one another
Today I would like to talk to you about why ‘Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony and Respect’ is our motto for Sangha University. First, let’s talk about Harmony and Respect. Harmony is about being harmonious with others, but not about asking others to be harmonious with us. Respect is about being respectful of others, but not about requesting respect from others. ‘Harmony’ and ‘Respect’ are the standards of the sangha and it is also part of ‘Six Harmony and Respect’.
Within the sangha, everyone has to be harmonious and respecting of one another. In this way we can help each other on the path of practice. Otherwise the sangha loses its significance. It would be terrible if a monk (or nun) could not be harmonious with others, not respectful of others but always thinking of oneself, always desiring to express one’s own thoughts, demands, ideals, in particular one’s selfish desires.
Once when I was little, one of my brothers brought a bunch of bananas home from Shanghai. Shanghai was a long way away from home so by the time he got back the skins of the bananas had turned black. Because I was the youngest of all, I was given a whole banana (whilst others had to share). I took a mouthful and found it really delicious. It was so sweet and fragrant - I had never tasted anything this delicious in my life.
At the time, I thought none of my classmates would have had bananas before so I brought it to school to share with them. I wanted them to try the delicious taste of banana and make them happy. Because there were so many children in my class, none of them were allowed to bite into it. They were only allowed to lick it. One after the other licked and tasted the banana until one of them decided to take a big bite and ate it all in one go. Everyone was upset and chased after him. This story says that people are happy and in harmony when we are sharing our happiness. However when someone starts to become selfish and wishing to keep things for one self, people become discontented.
The act of sharing my banana with my classmates, it is called “sharing the benefits equally” within ‘Six Harmony and Respect’. This is similar to ‘sharing your blessings’ in our slang. Sometimes we have different opinions from others. If everyone insists on their own ways of thoughts then arguments arise and nothing gets solved. In Buddhism, sentient beings have many different types of characters and weaknesses. We have to treat others with thoughts of harmony and respect. Respect and understand others’ ideas and thoughts; this does not mean giving up on your own. You can express your own thoughts, though different, from others’, but you need to also prepare to compromise and respect other ideas. Of course, some of you may say ‘Why do you not give me the respect?’, If one insists on his or her own thoughts and not listening to others, this is not called ‘Harmony and Respect’. We use ‘Harmony and Respect’ as a standard to measure ourselves. To preserve harmony, we have to respect and consider others’ thoughts.
In the modern days people have their opinions and independent thoughts. This is not a bad thing. For example, when I hold meetings and discussions with our managing monks and nuns, I always listen to their thoughts and opinions before I express my own. However, sometimes people would say ‘Master, you are wrong and we are right. We all wish it to happen this way.’ In that case, I will compromise because I respect majority. If I was the only person thinking the different way, I would come to an agreement with others. However, if I am absolutely sure that I have the better idea, I will try to persuade others with reason and help others understand and accept my idea. In that situation, my idea will become everyone’s idea. I never use dictatorship to lead the group.
Therefore, if you have good ideas, you can still express it and help others understand and accept it. Then it becomes a common opinion amongst the group. If others still refuse to accept your idea after you express it, then you have to consider giving it up. This is building consensus and fostering common goals within ‘Six Harmony and Respect’. It benefits self and others, using compassion and wisdom as root.
In addition, ‘Compassion and Wisdom’ is the spirit of Bodhisattva. Being Bodhisattva requires wisdom and compassion. Compassion is to benefit mankind. Wisdom is to abandon worries. If you have fewer worries in your mind, the mankind will have fewer worries. Wisdom is about not being imprisoned by worries. Compassion is about helping others release from the imprisonment by worries. Worries arise from our mind and our surroundings. Not being affected by our mind and surroundings is ‘wisdom’. To help others free from the influence of their mind and surroundings is ‘compassion’. This is the deed of Bodhisattva and the way of Bodhisattva.
‘Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony and Respect’ - all together means the Mahayana sangha. On Dharma Drum Mountain, we are a Mahayana sangha and also a sangha of bodhisattvas. Our appearance as monastics is that of sravakas, but we cultivate the bodhisattva path. In the very Mahayana sutras, there are many instances of sravakas and great arhats who cultivate the bodhisattva path. Therefore, our motto of – ‘Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony and Respect’ is indeed a Mahayana sangha who follows the bodhisattva path. Within it, ‘Harmony and Respect’ represents the sangha and ‘Compassion and Wisdom’ represents the bodhisattva path.
Having the appearance of sravakas, we must adhere to ‘Harmony and Respect,’ and while cultivating the bodhisattva path, we must focus on ‘Compassion and Wisdom’. To cultivate a good bodhisattva sangha, we need to fully utilize these four aspects. This is our characteristic and specialty.
Becoming a Monastic as a Commitment to Work for Humanity in the 21 Century
Welcome to this orientation meeting for prospective Dharma Drum Sangha University students. There is a line on our recruitment poster that says, “In the Sui and Tang dynasties the top talent were to be found in the monastic community, and so will be the case in the 21st century.” The Three Kingdoms, Jin Dynasty and Southern and Northern Dynasties periods were times of war and division, and it was not until the Sui dynasty that China was finally unified. Followed by the Tang dynasty China then enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity.
The world of today is one in which even one small act can impact the whole world. If we only focus on Taiwan, which is but a tiny part of the global community, we will be acting like a “frog in the well”, as reflected in an old Chinese saying. In general, although we know the world, we know Taiwan, we have no idea of how the future will turn out, for the world or for Taiwan. Because in today’s world, we are all interconnected with each other. Regardless of region, and regardless of the nature of happenings, once a situation occurs, everyone in the world will be subject to its influence. As constituents of this world, we cannot simply remain an onlooker.
Devoting our minds and bodies
Take the Iraq War, for example. Iraq may seem very far away, but through the media’s reports, however, we feel as if we are watching people across a river, or street, fighting and killing each other every day. Don’t think that this war is taking place far away. Because, in fact, as long as there is a war, it will have a huge impact on the much larger environment as a whole.
Another example is the recent breakout of SARS, which has caused severe, widespread infections. The whole world is watching, listening, and paying attention to developments in the epidemic. On airplanes, passengers and flight attendants, alike, worry if someone has contracted the disease. Yesterday, when I returned to Taiwan from Japan, I saw airport staff checking every passenger’s body temperature, afraid of letting someone who’s been infected into the country to further spread the epidemic. From these two examples, we can see that, regardless of the event, we are all affected because we are all inter-connected and inter-related.
Have you ever thought that where people in the 21st century will end up? What will become of our planet? I worry about this. If we, as human beings, only concern ourselves with thoughts of conquering and we never change our thinking, our planet will be destroyed before another 600 million years, or even shorter the next five thousand years; if we can change our views, I believe that our Earth will last another several billion years.
Yesterday I met with a minister from Kenya when I was in Japan attending the World Council for Religious Leaders and we discussed the topic of wars. I told him that all wars result from a simple and straightforward reason: both sides are insecure. The US feels threatened by terrorists and so it accused nations supporting terrorists of being “rogue states”, countries such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Syria. In order to prevent terrorists from creating chaos and unease within US borders, the US decided to take a preemptive measure and strike at them in their own countries. While Iraq may seem tough, in actuality, it is rather weak, and so it lacks a sense of security. In particular, Saddam Hussein, who might simply be attempting to protect himself by putting up a strong front. But in the end, it cost him his own country. If Iraq had not been so tough in the first place, the US wouldn’t have attacked them. But even so, the US also lacked a sense of security, which led them to start the war in the first place. From this, we can clearly see that, because both sides lack a sense of security and thus hope to protect themselves, and which results in war.
Only by keeping peace of mind can we positively influence others
Therefore it is essential to keep peace of mind. By keeping our minds at peace we can influence others in a positive way. And when others can keep their minds at peace, they can further influence others. Moreover, a public figure will be able to have even more influence on others. I may not be the most useful person, but I am, after all, one with some influence. Nonetheless, a single piece of log cannot build a big house. Instead, it takes many logs, beams, and columns. Therefore, I believe, we need to use Buddhist concepts and methods to build our world in the 21st century and those with the best talents should dedicate themselves to Buddhism.
There are many ways one can devote oneself to Buddhism, by either becoming a lay practitioner or a monastic. Typically, lay practitioners are not as influential as monks, because they cannot devote all of their time to Buddhism. Monks, on the other hand, can, thereby devote all their time to benefiting both themselves and others. Not only is their influence longer lasting, but it is also further-reaching. Take myself for example. I am more than 70 years old. If I were a layperson, I would be enjoying my life as a father and grandfather of many children. But because I am a monk, I never think about my age or whether I should be retiring and enjoying the rest of my life. Instead, I only wish to devote my life to Buddhism and serving others.
Leaving behind the “household” of afflictions
Today, for the future of humanity, there are three indispensable qualities: wisdom, compassion, and methodology. These three conditions can be compared with what Confucius referred to as “wisdom, kindness, and courage.” People often connect the meaning of “courage” with fighting a war, but in my view, however, genuine courage means perseverance. “Courage” in the true sense indicates the perseverance to stay firm, to enable oneself to develop more wisdom and compassion with unchanging resolve and perseverance.
The wisdom of the Buddhadharma leads us to broaden our minds, so we do not merely fix our eyes on current personal issues. Instead, we will learn to look at the whole picture, and deal with problems in the most effective, yet least harmful, way. With compassion, while grudges, hatred, and the desire to conquest are put to rest we will earnestly want to solve the problem. With wisdom, we will have fewer afflictions. With a compassionate mind, there will be less hatred toward others, society, and the environment, and possibly even no hatred or confrontation at all.
To be able to achieve all this, it takes a single concept: love. However, “love” can be explained in many different ways. That’s why we prefer the word “compassion”, which has a clearer connotation than “love”. In addition, there has to be some methodology. We use these methods to stay calm and keep our peace of mind, and this helps others to stay calm and keep their peace of mind as well.
Today, a monk or nun’s job has taken on a different meaning. For example, in the past, monks and nuns would spend most of their time knocking the Wooden Fish and reciting the sutras. Nowadays, knocking the Wooden Fish and reciting the sutras are still parts of their daily practice, but they should constantly think of world issues, humanity, and sentient beings. We cannot remain ignorant. As long as there are still problems in the world, major catastrophes, we should proactively participate and dedicate ourselves in an effort to do our duty and give people a sense of stability.
I can still remember that after the 921 Earthquake hit Taiwan, people on the island were all terrified. At that time, what everyone needed most was stability and some peace of mind. Therefore, I tried to ease people’s minds with Buddhist wisdom and compassion through television and newspapers, in addition to praying for everyone. I prayed for the survivors and I prayed for those who lost their lives. But mainly, I prayed for the survivors who lost their family and relatives, because the deceased had already lost their lives, while the survivors were the ones who suffered the most. In the past, a monk’s job was mainly to chant sutras in the deliverance of the dead; whereas today, monastics should put more effort into helping the living to gain some peace of mind and to point out a way for them. This is exactly the duty we as monastics should take on.
The main point of my speech here, is this: if we want to provide hope to ourselves, to society, and even to the whole world and its future, the best way is to become a monk or nun. Becoming a monastic, however, means more than simply shaving your head and putting on monastic garb; rather, it means leaving behind the “home” of afflictions and engaging in leading oneself and others to obtain true peace and happiness. Now that the economy is experiencing a downturn, many people are suffering from job loss. In fact, losing a job isn’t a painful thing in and of itself; it’s mainly because we cannot change our mindset that we feel like we are suffering.
Yesterday, I saw a report in a newspaper about a man holding his daughter in his arms, ready to commit suicide by jumping down from a bridge. Besides his other misfortunes, the man has lost his job. He was hopeless about the future and unhappy that his talent hasn’t been noticed. All these emotions pushed him towards suicide. But was it truly that hopeless? When we encounter a problem, as long as we face the reality and deal with it, the difficulty will pass. We don’t need to scare ourselves or others. We should aim to make ourselves happy, and make others happy as well.
I hope all of you can work together for humanity in the 21st century. I count myself a 21st century person and I hope you can all act as bodhisattvas to take on the responsibility of developing peace and happiness for humanity in the 21st century. People in the 20th century have suffered far too much. Let’s hope that in the 21st century people can have more access to the Buddhadharma and have less suffering as a result.
(A speech at the orientation for prospective Dharma Drum Sangha University students, April 12, 2003)
Living Lay Life versus Living the Monastic Life
When the Buddha set out to transform the world, he hoped that everyone would diligently cultivate precepts, concentrationd wisdom, and thereby eradicate greed, anger, and ignorance. Everything in the world is in and of itself devoid of greed, anger, and ignorance, as well as the different kinds of faults. If anything, the unwholesome is engendered by people’s greed, anger, and ignorance. Therefore, the fundamental goal in learning the Buddhist teachings is not so that one’s able to distinguish the purity from the impurity of things, but to change our deluded perceptions about the world by purifying our mind.
We vow to eliminate the three hindrances and all vexations
It is not easy to cultivate precepts, concentrationd wisdom. Lay people and monastics have their own methods of practice. Moreover, there’s also the distinction between beginners and seasoned practitioners, as well as the difference in terms of people’s capacity and inclination － all of which account for why the process and levels of practice can also differ. Compared to lay practitioners, monastic practitioners have fewer obstructions in their spiritual practice, and among the obstructions that monastic practitioners encounter, they’re more likely to be affected by mental hindrances than karmic hindrances. Hindrance can be categorized into three types:
1. Hindrance of retribution: The environment in which one lives or the caste to which one belongs prevents one from taking up or practicing Buddhism.
2. Hindrance of karmah the conditions for studying Buddhism are fulfilled, one is still prevented from practicing Buddhism due to one’s profession.
3. Hindrance of vexations: One is plagued with mental afflictions, making it hard for one to learn or practice Buddhism.
Devotees of Buddhism are not subject to hindrance of karmic result. However, both lay people and monastics are susceptible to karmic hindrance and hindrance of vexations. Those who take birth either in the three miserable realms of existence due to karmic retributions, or in the heavens of desire due to karmic blessings; are blind or deaf in spite of being born as humans, or are born in a society where Buddhism does not exist－ don’t have the chance to learn Buddhism, neither do they know that Buddhism exists at all, are suffering from the consequence of the hindrance of karmic result. Even though lay practitioners can study Buddhism, their lifestyle makes them more susceptible to their karmic hindrance, while monastics are more susceptible to the hindrance of vexations.
Practicing as a lay practitioner is conducive to cultivating merit, but disadvantageous to cultivating wisdom. For laypeople already possessing plenty of karmic blessings, it’s even easier for them to cultivate merit. As the saying goes, “It is easy to do good deeds when one is of high stature.” Lay people in high positions only need to do so much as lift a finger and give a command and it will impact countless people. The more authority and power they have, the more opportunities they have to benefit the general public. Therefore they can readily practice giving. Moreover, cultivating merit will bring one the karmic blessings of humans and heavenly beings of the Realm of Desire. Among the six paramitas－ giving, observance of precepts, and fostering patience are all practices for cultivating merit.
We vow to attain wisdom to gain insight on all things
Practicing giving is part of observing the precepts. The passive way to observe the precepts is not to do any bad deeds. On the contrary, if one is proactive in observing the precepts, one must do as many good deeds as one can. Moreover, not only are they not supposed to do bad things, cultivating good deeds also becomes a must. Whether it’s through utilizing one’s wealth, influence, intellect, physical strength, good intentions, or any other means, as long as it’s to bring people benefit, it’s the practice of giving.
Observing the precepts also entails cultivating patience. Those who cultivate patience not only have to learn to endure hardships, but they also have to learn to fight temptations. The poor endure sufferings, while the rich bear pleasures. While it’s hard to have to endure sufferings, it’s even harder to have to refrain from enjoying pleasures. Only when we can bear the unbearable can we achieve purity in keeping the precepts. Enduring sufferings is to accept all tribulations without asking for anything in return. Refraining from not indulging in pleasures displays one’s strong will power in self-restraint. Hence, those who are able to endure life’s trials are destined to achieve great things. This is something that lay people can also practice doing. In observing the precepts, we are also practicing diligence. The three cumulative pure precepts refer to observing all the pure precepts, cultivating all good deeds, and delivering all sentient beings. Not to carry these things out diligently is equivalent to violating the precepts. Although lay practitioners probably can’t do all of those things right away, they can still observe the precepts, cultivate good deeds, and deliver sentient beings as much as they can. However, among the six paramitas, it is more difficult for laity to cultivate concentration and wisdom.
Those who achieve meditative concentration do not necessarily have wisdom. Nevertheless, the undefiled, pure wisdom definitely accords with meditative concentration. Otherwise, even if one has wisdom, it is not undefiled but tainted, for it is the mundane wisdom that reflects greed, anger, and ignorance, and all that born of self-attachment. Undefiled wisdom is the liberative insight, not necessarily attained through practicing the four dhynas and eight concentrations, but achieved at the moment when liberation is attained, which also accords with meditative concentrations realized by an arhat who has attained liberative insight. Nevertheless, the common route for practicing Buddhism entails that in the beginning, we take the right view as the guiding principle, followed by observing the precepts as the basis of our practice while cultivating meditative concentration as we aspire to attain wisdom as the ultimate goal. And we use wisdom as the means by which we engage in the bodhisattva practice to benefit others and ourselves.
It is easy for lay people to practice giving as a way to cultivate merit, but, of the six paramitas－ practicing precepts, patience, and diligence in accordance with the Dharma may be difficult for them to do, much less the cultivation of concentration and wisdom. After all, how could having a family and possessions from one’s karmic blessings be in keeping with the pure conduct of observing the precepts? Also, sometimes given the karmic hindrance one has, how can one’s actions still be in accordance with patience and diligence? Those who practice meditative concentration must rid of all personal involvements, as well as focus on collecting their mind. With lay people’s lifestyle, although they can practice sitting meditation and come to feel ease and comfort in their body and mind, it’d still be rather difficult for them to attain the state of four dhyanas and eight concentrations. While it is possible for lay practitioners to sit in meditation for hours at a stretch, it’s extremely hard for them to enter meditative absorption for several days straight and come out feeling as if only a split second has passed. Lay practitioners can also attain through practice the right wisdom that corresponds with liberative insight; however, they are not going to achieve liberation in the present life and can only attain the third fruit at best. Without reaching the seventh stage (of a bodhisattva) or higher, Mahayana bodhisattvas won’t be able to achieve the wisdom of great ease, characterized by a liberated state of selflessness through the realization of the non-arising of phenomena. Outer path practitioners who claim to have attained the realization of non-arising are merely acting out of demonic arrogance, which forms the cause for descent into hell and so shall not be taken as a guide.
How can lay life be as great as monastic life
Legend has it that the great scholar, Mr. Su Dongpo of the Song dynasty was the reincarnation of Venerable Master Jie of Wuzu Mountain because his writings reflected Chan spirit so much that he strikes us as an enlightened practitioner. But in reality, he was not only romantically involved with different women, but also often took female singers with him on excursions. Had he not served as a high official but rather became a monk, I believe that he would have become an extraordinary Chan master of his time. Based on the stories in the legend, he vied with Chan Master Foyin in witty discussions, but lost every time because he was a lay practitioner. It is because of the profession and the roles in society that lay people have, the benefits they received from Chan wisdom were mostly on an intellectual level, and not the manifestation of the pure mind embedded in our self nature. He knew that Chan is something that’s natural and spontaneous, and not that which can be created. And when an unexpected situation arose, he still could not but be affected by external phenomena. Even for monastic Chan practitioners, even if they’re already at the doorstep of seeing their nature, they still have to go to the mountains to strengthen their concentration ability so as to pave the way for enlightenment. Or they needed to join a monastic community and cultivate the ability to keep the mind unruffled and not be affected by the phenomena in the surroundings. And only when they had become solid in their practice were they well prepared to set out to deliver others so long as causes and conditions would have it.
We see from the Record of Branch Lamp of Lay Practitioners and the Record of Dharma Joy of Celebrated Lay Buddhists compiled in the Ming dynasty, that throughout the history of Chan school there have been a handful of lay practitioners who attained great insight from their practice, but that number was still no where near with that of the outstanding monastic Chan practitioners noted in the various works of the Records of Lamp. However, this is not to say that lay practitioners are less-endowed or don’t have as many good karmic roots as their monastic counterparts. In reality, it’s because they have more restrictions in their lives in terms of their living conditions and their profession and the roles they play in society, which make it hard for them to devote themselves wholeheartedly to practicing Chan and to give no regard at all to their personal responsibilities for long periods of time. This is why Shakyamuni Buddha, the World-Honored One, first had to leave lay life in order to engage in spiritual practice to attain Buddhahood. And after attaining Buddhahood, he went to Dear Park to ordain five disciples, and thereafter a religious order was formed which included a total of 1,250 monastic members. Up until the time before he entered parinirvana, his teachings and exhortations were still directed toward the monastics. During the early days, Shakyamuni Buddha also had a huge group of lay disciples who were supporters of Buddhism. In order to guide them, Shakyamuni Buddha also taught quite a few methods of practice tailored for lay practitioners. The Buddhadharma places great emphasis on renouncing desires, but there were only a few people suitable for and capable of leading a monastic life. Hence, the Sutra on the Merit of Leading a Monastic Life says that by leading a monastic life for only one day and one night before one’s death, one will receive the blessing of rebirth in the Six Heavens of Desire for as many as seven times, and one will not fall into the three miserable realms of existence for twenty kalpas, and eventually one will become a Pratyekabuddha. This goes to show that practicing as a monastic is more precious than practicing as a layperson.
We devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the innumerable Buddha lands
Monastics also have their share of difficulties when it comes to cultivating the Path. For starters, it’s hard to leave and to be separated from their loved ones. The Chinese are family-oriented who place great importance on continuing the family line, and hence normally parents would not allow their children to leave home to become monastics. Even though there were already various monastic orders in India in Buddha’s time, back then it was still not easy for one to get the family’s permission to lead a monastic life to cultivate the Path. In Mahayana Buddhism, though there were great bodhisattvas who appeared as lay practitioners, however, the Mahayana bodhisattvas who sustained the existence of the Three Jewels and spread the Dharma far and wide, such as Ashvaghosa, Nagarjuna, Asanga, and Vasubandhu, all appeared as monastics. Overall, due to the difficulty of leaving lay life, it is indeed rare and praiseworthy.
Attachment to family, the significant other, and friends, combined with the burden from work and family responsibilities, the influence of society’s remarks, etc. can all make those who aspire to become monastics hesitant about their resolve to leave lay life. Some Buddhists do know that they should respect the Sangha Jewel and praise those leading the monastic life, and that they should allow their children leave lay life. But when it comes to their own children, they have a hard time accepting it. In order to leave lay life, one has to first let go of all secular involvements, receive monastic education, and study precepts, concentrationd wisdom to lay the groundwork necessary for enabling one to guide the general public, and to transmit Buddhist teachings to benefit sentient beings. So, those who aspire to lead the monastic life may seem heartless at first to turn their back on their loved ones, and may also come off as passive and cowardly to have escaped from their lives. But in reality, they’re like those in ancient times who traveled far to take an official examination, or those in today’s society who study abroad or do business far away from home, in that the reason they leave home is so that they will become more capable and have more monetary means to be of service to their homeland, and even to bring benefit to all in society.
Those who practice as monastics should cultivate both merit and correct understanding, as well as the three studies of precepts, concentrationd wisdom in equal importance. Monastics respresent the practice of precepts. To give of one’s whole body and mind to the Three Jewels to help sentient beings is a great giving by which one cultivates great merit, and which also constitutes the practice of patience and diligence. After leaving lay life, one will have much fewer karmic hindrances and entanglements, so it will be easy to cultivate meditative concentration and wisdom. As such, their practice will be that of a bodhisattva exhibiting the spirit of all of the six paramitas.
Monastics are worthy of receiving offerings from humans and heavenly beings
Because newly ordained monks are still receiving monastic education, so they have nothing to give, nor are they able to expound the Dharma. Therefore, they are yet able to cultivate merit by practicing giving, and may even feel that they are depleting their blessings rather than cultivating them. Moreover, they are not as good at producing tangible results as lay people in providing charitable relief for the poor and the sick, neither are they as proactive or effective in receiving and guiding beginners into Buddhism. In fact, in India during the Buddha’s time or in today’s Thailand, Myanmar, etc., except for the yogis or aranya (forest) monks who live in seclusion in the forest or caves, most monastics, or what we call world-engaging monks, must go to villages to beg for food. While begging for food from door to door, these monks in turn bring blessings into the world. Though they don’t have to expound the Dharma to guide people, their lifestyle and deportment already provide the world with the example of peace, no contention, and a purified body and mind, thereby positively impacting the world. So how can we say that they have not cultivated the merit of practicing giving? Even in China, just being a monastic alone, represents the existence of the Three Jewels; even monastics who are unlearned can at least recite the word “Amituofo” to enable others to know about Buddhism and as a result plant the seed for practicing Buddhism in others, which makes it a practice of giving, too.
It follows that it’s more effective to practice giving, doing charitable work, and guiding beginners into Buddhism as a layperson. Therefore most great bodhisattvas appear in the form of laity, as humans or heavenly beings. Even the bliss body of the Buddha also takes the appearance of heavenly kings wearing a celestial crown. Lay followers support monastic communities and they make up the majority of the Buddhist population, outnumbering monastics in total. Since the Buddha’s existence in this world could not make everyone leave lay life to become monastics, his teachings must then be spread among the vast population of lay people. Great practitioners who appear as laypeople are noted in many works such as Sudhana, the young devotee in the Avatamsaka Sutra; the dragon’s daughter in the Lotus Sutra; Vimalakirti, and Queen Shrimala according to the Mahayana sutras. Stories of influential lay practitioners, both men and women, were also told in the Agama Sutras.
In the unenlightened state, the practice environment for monastics is superior to that for lay people. However, having reached sagehood, appearing in the form of a layperson could in turn give one more freedom to receive and guide sentient beings. Unfortunately, as time went by, more outer path practitioners started claiming themselves to be Buddhists and posed as teachers of Buddhism, while in fact they were only using it as a façade to promote the belief in spirits and ghosts under the guise of great bodhisattvas, or even of Buddhas. It is true that, in today’s social environment, the idea of leading a monastic life of abstinence seems less and less attractive, but relinquishing and reducing desires is nevertheless the best antidote for relieving humanity from sufferings. There are lay people who claim that they have renounced all desires, and thus they are the manifestation of great bodhisattvas. If people say that they have no thoughts of desire but act otherwise, or if they claim they are already free from desires, but still harbor arrogance, then they have committed the misdeed of telling a great lie, thus violating one of the five precepts. One would be better off to admit that one is just an ordinary person, and although one’s still a householder, one can nevertheless benefit others while learning to keep desires at bay, as well as to cultivate the practice of precepts, concentration. This way, one is not only a bona fide beginner bodhisattva, but can also serve as an example for others as a lay practitioner.
We vow to deliver innumerable sentient beings
To practice as a monastic, one must first try to put down one’s job, family, as well as the affairs that one’s surrounded by and whatever is troubling one’s mind. Only when we’re able to put down all the entanglements in our body and mind can we take on the task of delivering and guiding sentient beings. All the great practitioners since the ancient times shared the great compassionate spirit for saving the world and humanity, and who also engaged in deeds of great compassion by going to various places to promote great causes. It is exactly because they could relinquish their self that they were able to make the great vow of delivering sentient beings.
Take myself for example. I know I am just an ordinary person, but having embarked on the Path, there’s always been this indescribable force that propelled me to strive in my practice for the sake of the Dharma, Buddhism, and sentient beings. Originally, I was a just a lone monk who had nothing at all. However, in the past ten years, more and more people and things —monasteries, institutes, books, publications, disciples, students— have all become associated with the name “Sheng Yen,” so now I’m met with obstructions again. But, does this mean that I’ve become a layperson only with a shaved head, who now owns both properties and family? No, it is still different from being a layperson.
In fact, I have never owned anything, even this person named Sheng Yen does not belong to me, either. I consider myself to belong to Buddhism and I’m just a tool owned by this age and environment. In spite of the toil and fatigue, I have very few vexations from a sense of burden, entanglements, cares, fears, or a sense of complacency. And so those who have just left lay life must learn to leave everything behind, while those who have left lay life for a long time already should take even further steps and let go of their self-centeredness. Letting go of one’s self-centeredness invariably leads to concentration and wisdom.
However, in order to entirely overcome one’s self-centeredness as a monastic, one must practice meditative concentration and undergo the trial of a hard, ascetic life. Furthermore, the practice will not only entail putting a tight leash on one’s deep-seated habits, but also to dissolve the mental obstructions within. To control one’s physical body is difficult enough, let alone eliminating one’s inner obstructions. Therefore, leaving lay life doesn’t mean that one has nothing to do anymore. If anything, it only marks the beginning that one will have to face the hundreds and thousands of obstructions that lie ahead. When the Buddha said that people have eighty-four thousand worldly troubles, he was referring to the innumerable obstructions of vexations as a whole. The vexations that plague us all are not only countless, they also weigh us down, and only when we believe in the Buddha, study Buddhism, and practice meditation will we come to realize this fact.
We vow to cut off endless vexations
The hindrance of vexations is common among lay people and monastics. Like the common saying: “One feels no itch no more when covered with numerous lice, and does not worry anymore when involved in too many debts”－ lay people have so many vexations that they don’t even realize it. That is unless something shocking happens to them such as if their wife runs away with someone else, or their husband has an affair, or if their child has an accident, or someone runs away with the money they lent them, which causes them great distress. Otherwise, they are never aware of the fluctuations in their mood, which can range from greed, anger, hatred, bitterness, worry, joy, sorrow, to pleasure. If monastics don’t practice meditation, it is also hard for them to see the numerous vexations they have. If they can cultivate samadhi, they will discover that their mind is in fact out of control like a wild horse or monkey in that they’re always thinking about what they don’t want to think about, and the thoughts that they don’t want to have only ceaselessly churn in their mind. And when finally they stop having wandering thoughts for one or two minutes, and feel ecstatic by it, but no sooner than that the wandering thoughts only start to come back again.
Although monastics get to live in an environment that’s conducive to cultivating concentration and wisdom, nonetheless without the right methods or the guidance of a qualified teacher, physical or mental illness and troubles may likely ensue. Moreover, even if they have already learned the methods for cultivating concentrationt is still not easy to achieve concentration mainly because of the difficulty in overcoming the hindrance of vexations. To overcome the hindrance of vexations, we must first observe the precepts. That is, we try to prevent any unwholesome conduct of our body and speech from arising through observance of the precepts, thereby enabling the flames of vexations within ourselves to die down little by little. In effect, this can counteract the coarse, gross vexations, such as thoughts about robbing or killing people. With this as basis, we can then proceed to work on the subtle ones. For monastics who typically engage in spiritual practice around the clock, the fine and subtle vexations can in fact become great troubles for them, in which circumstance we have to use concentration and wisdom in order to overcome or to eliminate them.
Our vexations can be either coarse or fine, and can also be broken down into subcategories. The Consciousness-only school in India classifies the vexations of our mind into fundamental vexations and associative vexations. Associative vexations are further categorized as big, medium, or small. In addition, there are also the universal operative state, other state, wholesome state, and the indeterminate state. Collectively these are called the 51 attributes of the mind, which also make up the categories for the vexations of the mind. The Tiantai school in China also classifies vexations into four major categories, which are: delusions of views, delusions of emotions, delusions as numerous as sand dusts, and delusion of ignorance － each category also contains many different types of vexations.
It is normal for practitioners to become aware of their vexations. It’s only a problem if we believe we don’t have any vexations while engaging in spiritual practice. The clearer we are about the thoughts in our mind, the less the hindrance our vexations are to us. When one has attained the first dhyana, one will discover that the arising and perishing of thoughts happen so fast the frequency of which can be up to as many as sixteen times in one single moment. So, when I guide students in their spiritual practice, I often teach those with especially strong vexations or with countless scattered thoughts that they focus on classifying the scattered thoughts they have and give a number to each wandering thought that appears, which can help them to see what it is that they are really thinking about, what kinds of wandering thoughts appear most frequently and what thoughts they find most annoying. After making such analysis, most students are able to let go of and ignore these thoughts, and settle their mind to work on their methods.
It has nothing to do with the worldly life
There are many commonalities between practicing as a layperson and as a monastic. Lay people may practice giving, but they don’t necessarily engage in such practice. In spite of the difficulties monastics face in practicing giving, they are able to perform great giving nonetheless. It is easy for monastics to cultivate concentration and wisdom, but they don’t necessarily engage in this practice. On the other hand, despite the difficulties lay people have when it comes to cultivating concentration and wisdom, there are still lay people who engage in this practice. The difference lies in the amount of hindrance they have. Laypeople have more obstructions, as well as more cares and entanglements, though they may live in a monastery for a short period of time and lead the same life of abstinence like the monastics, but eventually they have to return to the secular world. Whereas for monastics, though sometimes they will leave the mountains to go on a trip and live in the secular world, if they don’t return to lay life, chances are they will end up living in a monastery for a long time, which is what makes leading a monastic life different from that of the laity.
Several years ago, I met a professor from Indiana University in the States.
“Does your family live in the States, too?” I asked him.
“Like you, Master, I never got married.” He answered.
“Why don’t you get married?” I asked again.
“To make married men jealous, and make unmarried women wait.” He said.
“If that is the case, we are totally different. I have no connections with neither the married nor the unmarried, you on the other hand, have already associated yourself with all of them!”
Hearing what I said, he burst into laughter. Being single is not the same as leading the monastic life, and practicing as a layperson certainly is a far cry from practicing as a monastic.
(An excerpt from Master Sheng Yen’s work entitled “He Smiles, With a Flower Holding in Hand”)
The Mottos of Three Studies Institute
In 1979, Master Sheng Yen established the guiding principles for the Three Studies Institute as follows:
The mission of this Institute is to train talented young Buddhists who emphasize the cultivation of all the three studies of precepts, concentration and wisdom.
Practitioners at this Institute should possess all of the essential qualities of purity, diligence, minimal desire, refraining from conflicts, tidiness, quietude, harmony, self-motivation, self-discipline, and self-rule. All should respect each other, help each other, readily forgive each other, and complement each others strengths and weaknesses. All should be well learned, and advance in cultivation on the path and study, in order to accomplish the noble goal of study and practice.
Practitioners at this Institute should take good care of all possessions of the Institute, and participate in the Institutes affairs with enthusiasm. Except for the purpose of the Institutes business, ones study, and ones work, one must not get involved in unnecessary social relationships. One should not go out for the purpose of seeking entertainment and socializing with others. One should fulfill ones responsibilities to the best of ones ability. By doing so, one cultivates the virtues of applying merit and wisdom as well as the vow power of spreading the Dharma and benefiting sentient beings.
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Before establishing the Sangha University, our Shifu, Venerable Master Sheng Yen, made the DDM Sangha the Three Studies Institute. Although it isn’t like the typical institute, the students are nevertheless urged to put the three studies of precepts, concentrationd wisdom into practice in their daily life, and to also complete their study and practice of the three studies while leading a monastic life devoted to the cultivation of the Path. In 1979, the Master personally set forth the guiding principles to spur all the monastic members. Now the DDM Sangha have to recite it at the end of each morning service as an encouragement.
The mission of this Institute is to train talented young Buddhists who emphasize the cultivation of all the three studies of precepts, concentration and wisdom.
Writing the school motto really struck a chord in me because those who practice in a monastery often fall into two extremes. One type of which are the young adults who come to study and practice Buddhism, looking to gain only knowledge and academic understanding, but who end up leaving when they find that they’re not satisfied with what they can learn from here. The other type refers to those who, after entering a monastery, devote all of their time to doing labor work, building temples, cleaning the temples, attending to the followers, receiving visitors, and taking care of the incense and lamps and other chores in the temple. Both of these types are problematic.
Those in the first type are inclined to learning through academic studies and knowledge; they are familiar with the Buddhist teachings and Buddhist studies, but have not engaged in real practice.Their knowledge is not fused into their lives, but stands separate. If that is the case, they might as well just study in a school; they don’t need to leave the lay life for they could very well attain such a goal as lay people.
Those in the second type are the caretakers of the temples, and not necessarily people who can help sustain the Dharma. They are not able to share with others the supramundane Buddhist teachings expounded by the Buddha, which is a great pity. That is not what we monastics want. Therefore, the Institute upholds the three studies as the guideline, and they are precepts, concentrationd wisdom.
Precepts can be simply defined as engaging in spiritual cultivation and doing all the good and virtuous deeds that lay people aren’t doing, as well as not to commit any unwholesome acts, or take part in matters with interest in the secular world. Concentration refers to the actual practice, such as meditation, prostrations, repentance, reciting the Buddha’s name, and reading sutras.
Precepts and concentration lead to wisdom. There are two types of wisdom: mundane wisdom and supramundane wisdom. Mundane wisdom is acquired through knowledge and study. Supramundane wisdom is the wisdom of selflessness, which is also the wisdom of great compassion; attained only when one’s enlightened. One attains enlightenment when one learns to change one is worldview or one’s character by observing precepts and cultivating concentration.
We hope to foster wholesome Buddhist talents with the cultivation of the three studies in equal importance. Most of our students are young people, however we won’t turn down the older students who want to join our Sangha for there is a different program designed for this particular group of people.
The essential qualities and attitude that practitioners at this Institute should have
One first strives to attain purity, both in one’s physical and verbal actions before one’s mind can be purified. Purity of bodily behavior is to refrain from killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct; verbal purity is to refrain from false speech, abusive speech, divisive speech, and frivolous speech. Mental purity is not to give rise to thoughts of greed, anger, or ignorance. Although it is not easy to comply at all times and in all places, we can still try our best to act accordingly.
With respect to purity of bodily behavior, the least we can do is to keep our living environment tidy and clean. If it is a mess, we won’t feel pleasant either, and people who see it will feel that the place lacks energy and spiritual vibe.
Verbal purity means to refrain from divisive speech, false speech, abusive speech, and frivolous speech. To say things to sow discord among people is divisive speech. No one likes a place where discord abounds. Not only is it difficult for ourselves being in a practice center overflowing with gossips, it’s also disheartening for newcomers. False speech is to lie to other people for the sake of personal gain, causing them harm or loss; this is not purity. Abusive speech means to quarrel with and to speak harshly of others. When this happens, both parties must leave the monastery, or the person who speaks in an ill manner leaves. We call this “being not allowed to live together in the monastic community.” Mental purity is not to generate worldly thoughts or vexations. Once we find that we have given rise to such thoughts, we repent immediately, disprove them to restore our mind in purity.
Diligence means to exert full efforts, either mentally or physically, to cultivate the path, and to benefit others and ourselves. We should always be engaging in spiritual practice wherever we are. Everything we do in our daily life, even eating and sleeping, is spiritual practice. We are to observe ourselves at all times, being mindful of whatever we are doing. That is diligence.
However, being diligent does not mean to go all out or to be all tense when we practice, but to do our best both physically and mentally in a very relaxed manner with unwavering determination and incessancy; that is diligence. Laziness, on the contrary, is when we’re too generous to ourselves and always wanting to take a rest, ask for time off, or skip the morning or evening services or the dining formalities whenever we feel a little bit uncomfortable or out of sorts. Know that practicing with a group is the most effective way to strengthen our aspiration for the path; the collective willpower is a great force that can help you to transform yourselves. That is why we need to practice together in a group.
When you leave lay life, don’t bring anything or any money with you, and it is best if you don’t bring your fond clothes with you, either. Just come empty-handed. This way, you won’t have anything to worry about in the future and not only that, after you join the monastic community, you will be on equal standing with everyone, and unlikely to compare yourself with the others.
Having joined the monastic community, you are not allowed to own any personal possessions, either. If someone gives you money as offering, you are not allowed to accept it. You may say to that person, “Please donate it to the monastery.” If the person says, “I just want to give it to you!” Then just tell him or her, “Alright, give it to me, but I’ll still hand it over to the monastery.” This way, you will come to have fewer desires, only then will you have a settled mind conducive to practice.
Only by having few desires will you be content; only by being content will you be happy. It is easy to have vexations when you have money. Even if it is the money owned by your family, you are not allowed to use it or ask for it. Since you have already left lay life, your family’s money and possessions are no longer your business. If the members of your family want to make an offering, ask them to offer it to the Three Jewels.
The monastery will be responsible for administering discipline, providing education, food and protection for all of you. The Three Jewels will sustain the monastery. Although I myself do not generate any income, the more monastic members we have in the Sangha, the more karmic blessings there is as they bring along when they join the Sangha. Likewise, the deeper your practice goes, the more spiritual response there is. Hence, don’t save money or stock up on possessions.
Refraining from conflicts and contention
The Sangha is a harmonious monastic community, and as such monastic members shouldn’t hold any grudge against each other, nor should there be any conflict of opinions. When exchanging opinions, we don’t insist on our own views. But what can do we when a dispute arises? There is a line in the vinaya which reads: “It is like covering the ground with grass” which means that that when the ground is dirty, we just cover it with grass and walk over it. That is to say, when an argument arises in the Sangha, the members should not ask the Master to arbitrate who is in the right or who is in the wrong, much less ask lay people to be the judge of the matter. When there is a dispute, all parties concede, and act in the best interests of the Sangha and just leave the contended issues behind. This is called refraining from conflicts and contention.
We have to keep everything in our environment in order, and not leave things strewn about. If our environment is a mess, chances are our mind will also be in a mess.
Quietude means not to talk loudly or clamor about, and not to make loud noises when getting and moving things around, or when opening and closing the doors. Walk with gentle steps, make no clinking sounds with the dining utensils while eating. Lest make noises from fighting.
Just now I talked about quietude and refraining from conflicts, so some of you might think, “Fine, then I’ll stop talking with others, and they’ll stop talking with me. As long as we don’t talk, then there will be quietude and no conflicts will ever arise.”
But that’s not right! To be quiet does not mean not to talk at all, and refraining from conflicts does not mean not to interact with one another. The Dharma brothers of the Sangha should be friendly toward one another as they were siblings. One should take care of one another, and be considerate and understanding toward one another.
Only when there’s harmony can people feel joyful. If we always wear a long face, vexations will arise even when there was none originally, because our attitude will make others think that “Maybe he is angry with me” or “I wonder whether something is wrong with him. I had better stay away from him to avoid any trouble.” We monastics should always look relaxed and friendly when seeing others so as to create harmony that both parties will feel happy.
To be self-motivated means that when I see something that needs to be taken care of, and although it may not be my responsibility, I can get it done with little effort. Nevertheless, it does not mean that we should be meddlesome all the time. If we can all get into this habit, in addition to the designated persons to attend to the matters, help will also come from everyone who are willing to pitch in.
It’s not easy to exercise self-discipline. Everyone wants to live in a lawful environment; we have no trouble recognizing unacceptable behaviors when seeing other people violate rules and regulations. But when it comes to ourselves we tend to make a lot of excuses in our own defense. We don’t have self-discipline if we forgive ourselves when we have done something wrong. To have self-discipline is to try one’s best to comply with the rules required by the group.
To exercise self-rule is to govern oneself. Because I am very busy so I cannot always be with you all the time. But the senior monastic will take care of you, live together with you and offer you guidance and counseling. However, there are only so many senior monastic, and monastics should learn to be independent, and learn to manage themselves.
To readily forgive others
Being candid means not to harbor schemes or ulterior motives. Since we have come to practice, most of the people here didn’t come with an ulterior motive. However, sometimes we could be too straightforward to the point that we are not merciful. Being straightforward is to speak bluntly, saying whatever comes to mind. And the other party may find your opinion unacceptable or offensive. So, be more tactful and avoid direct confrontation, this is to be forgiving.
To be forgiving is to be understanding and to forgive. For instance, though we may not know what the matter is with the other person, we should think, “Maybe something is bothering him, either emotionally or physically, so I should be understanding toward him.” To be straightforward is right, however it’s best if it’s shown with a forgiving attitude.
Be well learned
To be well learned means to always strive to learn as much as we can wherever we are. However, we don’t learn from books alone. Those who have just taken the monastic vows are just like newborn babies, and should learn all kinds of things. They should take notice and learn about all there is to know, at all times and all places. This is what it means to be well learned.
Do not say, “Since we have to be well learned, so I want to study a canonical treatise, a sutra and become a great Dharma master.” That is wrong. For now, you should start by learning how to be a novice monk or a novice nun and how to do the basic things in daily life such as cooking and sewing. Only when you have learned to do those things well will it be possible for you to become great Dharma masters.
To learn from each other
To learn from each other is to encourage each other, to help each other grow, and to learn through discussion with others. And even though we may already have our own views or ideas, we will still ask for other people’s opinions. Take me for example. I can’t possibly know everything. Sometimes there are things in the Sangha that I do not know while some among you probably know more than I do, so I would ask for your opinions. This is what it means to learn from each other.
To encourage each other
The Chinese word for “encouraging each other” refers to two stones rubbing against each other, thereby rubbing away the edges of the stones to smooth out the surfaces. Because there’s friction in the process, encouraging and learning from each other may not necessarily be a very pleasant experience for all parties. After all, good medicine tastes bitter, and sincere advice is often unpleasant to the ear. Sincere advice is like a whetstone that hones us, an experience that we may not find enjoyable. We might feel hurt while taking advice, but it can nonetheless help us grow.
In giving advice, we’re looking out for our friends because we want what’s best for them. I will point out to you your faults; I should also let the person know if he or she is in the wrong. Likewise, I also hope that other people would tell me about what I can improve on.
However, it’d be wrong if you’re always setting out to point out other’s faults to them, as if to hone them with coarse stones or to thrust them with thorns, a knife, or a sword, but refuse to be on the receiving end of it. We should let others hone us as well because this is what it means to encourage and hone each other.
To advance in both the cultivation of the path and study
What is the cultivation of the path? We are to engage in spiritual cultivation and in learning no matter where we are. When engaging in study, we have to study sutras, vinaya, and treatises, but learning does not always have to come from books. If we are mindful wherever we are, paying attention to things at all times, then that is also learning.
To accomplish the noble goal of study and practice
Studying enables us to acquire knowledge, and practicing helps us to grow spiritually. This is your noble objective in coming here.
Practitioners at this Institute should take good care of all possessions of the Institute (or Sangha), and participate in the Institute’s (or Sangha’s) affairs with enthusiasm.
The way we handle the Sangha’s affairs and possessions are not the same as how lay people would their own affairs and possessions. The Sangha’s possessions are not your household goods; the Sangha’s affairs are not your personal affairs.
Many monastics had work before leaving the lay life, and when they are assigned to do the same work here, they would think, “This is what I did when I was a layperson, and I’m still doing the same work as a monastic. Why did I bother to leave lay life in the first place? I might as well just go back!” To such people, I would say, “Lay people eat, and they still eat after becoming monastics. According to what you say, you had better not eat any more after becoming a monastic.”
In fact, we monastics think about work differently from laity. Lay people work in order to sustain themselves and support their families, while in the Sangha, you are not working for livelihood, for Shifu, nor for yourselves or anybody, but rather you’re working for the sake of sustaining the Dharma center where spiritual practice can take place. Dharma Drum Mountain is a Dharma center for people to have a place for practice, and where Buddhadharma can be shared with them. It is a place to benefit other people and ourselves, as well as to spread the Dharma to benefit sentient beings. Everything we do is meant to benefit others and ourselves, and to spread the Dharma to benefit sentient beings. If you can change your mindset, whatever it is that you’re doing will feel pleasant to you, and everything you do becomes spiritual practice.
To undertake the Sangha’s affairs is to cultivate merits; to take good care of the Sangha’s possessions is to cherish blessings. The Sangha’s possessions do not belong to us as they were given by donors from various places as offerings to the Three Jewels; therefore they belong to the Three Jewels. Donations don’t come easily, because the donors worked very hard to earn the money to make the offerings. So we have to make the best use of the donated goods until they can no longer be used. As long as they are still usable, we’ll still use them even if we have to mend, wash, or alter them. Do not entertain the thought that because times have changed, so new things will come as soon as we throw away the old ones. We should not think in this way. Why? It is because resources are hard to come by, and it is not easy to get offerings from devotees.
Except for the purpose of this Institute’s business, one ‘s study, and one’s work, one must not get involved in unnecessary social relationships.
To associate with others for one’s personal gain is to get into unnecessary social relationships. Social relationships refer to those with lay people, including one’s own lay family. You have come here to practice; once you try to seek social relationships, your aspiration for the Path will dissipate. All day long you will be wondering what is happening in the lay followers’ families, such as if their son or daughter is getting married, or if they’re celebrating the first month birthday of the newborn child; events in their lives for which you feel that you should show your concern. How can we still engage in spiritual practice if we were like that?
Monastic practitioners should not get involved in the matters of lay people. In particular, you have just taken the monastic vows; it’s very likely that you’ll run along with the lay person with whom you’ve gotten acquainted. Seeing as there is not even enough time for you to learn the Buddhadharma, how can you still have time to get involved in social relationships?
At the Dharma center, our job is to enable lay people to learn about the Buddhadharma, and not seeking social relationships. Guiding people and seeking social relationships are different. In social relationships, one is only concerned with one’s own interests, hoping that others will be of value to them or give them some help. This is not guiding or receiving people, but seeking social relationships. What we monastics should be concerned about is whether we have anything to offer to other people, whether we can benefit others in any way. Then that is to receive and guide others.
One should not go out for the purpose of seeking entertainment or socializing with others
You are not allowed to go to the movies or attend any social functions. Socializing means to hang out with your relatives, friends, or classmates when they ask you to meet them for any sort of matters. If you must go, you may still go if you are not tonsured. If you have already tonsured and you appear as a monastic, then you are not allowed to go. Still, try your best not to meet with the lay people you used to associate with before the tonsure ceremony.
One should fulfill one’s responsibilities to the best of one’s ability
Most of you are able to do this, but you can still exert a little more effort with wholeheartedness. Your share of work is not just something I asked you to do, or something the group assigned you to do, but an opportunity for you to cultivate merit and wisdom. So you should put your heart into your work, committing yourself to making it as perfect as possible and try to find ways to improve it, and make it better. That is what it means to do things to the best of your ability.
By doing so, one cultivates the virtues of applying merit and wisdom as well as the vow of spreading the Dharma and benefiting sentient beings
Without the cultivation of merit and correct understanding, or the application of both compassion and wisdom, it will not be possible to spread the Dharma and benefit sentient beings. If we do not fulfill the basic requirements and possess the attitude expected of monastics mentioned above, we would be setting ourselves up for criticism when we try to spread the Dharma and to benefit sentient beings in the future. For instance, people would probably say things like, “That Dharma teacher is pretty good. He is fairly good at giving lectures on the sutras, but …….” or “That monastic practices very hard, but…….”
If you can only choose one from the two, which one do you think is more important? Of course practice is more important, because if you can only lecture on the sutras, but don’t measure up in terms of the mentality and deportment required of a monastic, you’re better off working as a professor or lecturer. After all, many lay Buddhists can also give great public speakers, so what is the need for you to become a monastic? Therefore, we should strive to exert every effort so that other people won’t get to finish off their sentences with“but ………”
That is all for my talk today. As your Master, I’m ashamed. I’ve spoken so much, but I have not necessarily lived up to all the requirements myself. However, a student can learn from and also be better than his or her teacher. When I taught at schools I also used to tell the students, “I am not a very good scholar, but I hope that you’ll become better scholars than me.” “I am not a Master with accomplished practice, but I hope that you’ll become very accomplished in spiritual practice.” or “I am not well versed in scriptural teachings, nor am I an extraordinary Dharma master. But I hope that you can become all-around Dharma teachers.” Do not take me, your Master, as the standard, but take what I have just said as the standard.