THE ART OF LIVING
THE EDUCATION OF BUDDHA SHAKYAMUNI,
OUR ORIGINAL TEACHER
“Education – The field of study concerned with teaching and learning.”
-THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY
Buddhism is an education about our living environment and us. The Buddha teaches us to recognise ourselves; our thought, speech, and actions and the consequences they evoke. Most importantly, the Buddha wants us to restore our original and complete wisdom. He teaches that everyone possesses the ability to attain complete understanding of life and the universe, and it is only because of delusion that we are unable to realize it. We are blinded by discrimination, wandering thoughts and attachments, and forget the original pure mind of our self-nature. In this way, we have caused ourselves much unneeded suffering.
The Buddha also teaches us to view our environment clearly. Environment refers to the people, matters, and objects we come across everyday. When our hearts are free from discriminatory thoughts and attachments, we will be able to view everything clearly and deal with them appropriately. Thus, we can live in harmony with others and succeed in all our endeavours.
What did the Buddha mean when he taught us to cultivate? His intent was mainly to rid us of our delusions and attachments. If we drew together the Six Principles of practice taught by the Buddha, we would only end p with the practice of giving. Giving simply means to let go. If we can let go of our greed, anger, ignorance and arrogance, then we would always dwell in purity of mind. If we can let go of all discriminations, worries and attachments, then we would attain peace, spiritual liberation, health and longevity. If we can let go of our own views and work together for the benefit of others, then we can achieve harmony with others, harmony in society, and ultimately, world peace. From this, we can see that the main practice of the Buddha’s teaching is none other than giving.
When Buddha Shakyamuni was in the world, he not only used words to teach, but made an example of himself for all living beings to follow. He let go of all desires, worldly enjoyments, fame and wealth to lead the life of a left-home person. He lived a life of simplicity, purity of mind and body, and happiness. Ordinary people might see this as bitter and miserable, but this is only due to their lack of understanding. One with wisdom would view things differently. The wise would see the Buddha’s life as one of true liberation, happiness and fulfilment. The Buddha does not have useless thoughts, discriminations, attachments, or worries. How at ease he is! He accords with all conditions and emanates wisdom in every thought and action to teach sentient beings in this world.
The Buddha live lives if wisdom, while ordinary people live lives of affliction. Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings show us how to change afflicted lives into ones of great wisdom. From these teachers, we will learn how to restore the ultimate and complete wisdom and abilities of our self-nature; allowing us to attain true happiness and prosperity. This, is the Buddha’s Education.
THE FOUR KINDS OF BUDDHISM TODAY
In our world today, there are at least four different types of Buddhism. The first is the authentic Buddhism, the education of understanding the true reality of life and the universe originally taught by Buddha Shakyamuni. Unfortunately, the authentic education is rare and difficult to encounter nowadays. The remaining types of Buddhism are more or less distortions of the original teachings.
The second type is the religious Buddhism. Originally, Buddhism was not a religion, but now it has become one. We can no longer deny that there is a Buddhist religion because everywhere we look, especially in Asia, it is displayed as a religion. Unlike the monasteries in the past, which held eight-hour classes per day and provided another eight hours for self-cultivation, today’s Buddhist temples no longer uphold such a perseverance of the Buddha’s Teachings. Today we mainly see people making offerings to the Buddha statues and praying for blessings and fortune. In this way, Buddhism has been wrongly changed into a religion.
The third type of Buddhism is the philosophical study of the Buddha’s teachings. Many universities today offer courses on the study of Buddhist Sutras, considering the teaching as a philosophy. The content of the Buddha’s education is actually a complete university of knowledge and wisdom. Philosophy is only one of its courses. Just as it is wrong to recognize a university as a single course, it is also inappropriate to think of and limit the Buddha’s education to only a philosophy. The Buddha’s education can help us resolve our problems – from family difficulties to the great issue of life and death. The Buddha’s teachings are profound and vast, and teach us the truths of life and the universe. It should not be mistaken as only a philosophy.
The fourth type of Buddhism we see in our world today is the deviant and externalist Buddhism. This is an extremely unfortunate distortion, which only came to be in the past thirty to forty years. Religious Buddhism persuades people to be decent and philosophical Buddhism pursues truth, neither cause much harm to society. However, if Buddhism is changed into a deviant and externalist path, using the weakness of human nature to cheat and harm living beings, disturbing the peace and safety of society, then this conversion has gone too far. The speech and actions of these deviant and external paths can be very attractive and enticing. One should be very careful as not to be misled by these deviant ways or regretting it would be too late.
These four types of Buddhism exist in our society today, we should recognize them for what they are and think carefully as to which way is most beneficial to us and the one we will ultimately follow.
THE ART OF LIVING / SELECTED PASSAGES
Our goal in studying Buddhism is to open up our wisdom; to attain this goal, we cultivate purity of mind. In today’s society, our greatest obstacles are TV, radio, newspapers and magazines – these all contain contents that can pollute our minds. I often persuade people not to read or listen to these things. When our hearts are free from these unneeded afflictions, we can live every day in peace and happiness; thus, allowing our minds to return to purity. With an undeluded mind, one will see matters of life clearer, more deeply and farther than others. This is because a settled and concentrated mind is a mind of wisdom. The key in cultivating the Buddha’s teachings is having a settled and concentrated mind. In practicing the Pure Land method, purity of mind is a foremost importance.
The Infinite Life Sutrateaches us to cultivate purity, equality and enlightenment. Being mindful of the Buddha is cultivating the above, for Buddha Amitabha is purity, equality, and enlightenment. When we recite the Buddha’s name, we are reminded of these qualities.
In China, Buddhism can be divided into ten schools, Aside from the two Small Vehicle schools, which have already declined, the eight remaining schools belong to the Great Vehicle. Two schools (Zen and Shing) enter the Buddha’s teachings through the method of “Enlightenment”. They seek the great enlightenment, to understand the heart/mind and uncover the self-nature. Usually, those of lesser capabilities to become enlightened on their own have much difficulty in reaching their goals through this method. Thus, to cultivate the Zen School requires a high level of wisdom, ability and a considerably pure mind. Without these, one would have to start learning from the basis of Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings.
The study of these teachings is to help establish proper understanding and viewpoints; thus, the method of “Proper Views and Knowledge” is used here to enter the Buddha’s teachings. There are four schools in this category (Tian Tai, Shian Shou, Fa Shiang and San Lwun) The practitioners of these schools study and follow the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni to correct their erroneous views, thoughts, and actions. Most people are capable of learning this method, but it is a long journey, such as going to school. One must start from elementary school, then gradually advance grade by grade to junior high, high school, and college. In finishing one grade, one attains, the benefit of that single grade. The final two schools are the Pure Land and the Esoteric. These stress the importance of cultivating purity of mind; thus, their method of practicing the Buddha’s teachings is through purity. People of all capabilities, regardless of whether they are intelligent or less able can practice the Pure Land School. All can practice and succeed in cultivating Pure Land method. On the other hand, the Esoteric School requires a high level of purity of mind, making it very difficult to reach attainment.
The difference between the cultivation of purity in the Pure Land School and the Esoteric School is that the Pure Land School teaches us to cultivate purity of mind away from pollution, while the Esoteric School teaches us to cultivate purity of mind in the midst of pollution. The latter involves a state of being immersed in pollution but not being contaminated; naturally, this state is too difficult for most people to attain.
True wisdom arises from purity of mind, thus, the wisdom spoken of in the Buddha’s teachings is not attained from reading and studying books; the wisdom we attain from reading and studying is only worldly knowledge and not true wisdom.
True wisdom is the function of our self-nature. Our self-nature is complete with infinite wisdom, virtues and abilities; qualities that are present in everyone’s self-nature and we need to know how to bring them out.
“Buddha” is Purity, Equality and Enlightenment. The Buddha’s teachings can be summarized into ten simple phrases:
Purity of mind
in everything we see.
of life and the universe,
in helping others in a wise, unemotional and unconditional way,
to the truth of impermanence,
of all wandering thoughts and attachments,
of mind and spirit,
Accord With Conditions
to go along with the situation,
Be Mindful of Buddha Amitabha
Following his teachings and vowing to be born into the Pure Land.
The first five represent the Buddha’s heart and the virtues of our self-nature. Presently we are unable to completely manifest these qualities due to our lack of cultivating the latter five. Diligent practice is needed to bring out these virtues of the Buddha-nature within us.
The ultimate goal in learning Buddhism is the great Perfection. In all walks of life, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas act as role models for all people to follow. Students of the Buddha can be good examples of all others. Families that follow the Buddha’s teachings can behave in a way that is worthy of being the role model for all families. If one is still a student, then one’s schoolwork, conduct and health become ane example for one’s classmates. This is being a student of the Buddha. In going to work or running a business, one can be a role model for all businesspersons to follow. Thus, everything in the Buddhadharama can be number one. A family dwelling in perfect wisdom is the most content, fortunate and happy family in the world.
Buddhism is the education of wisdom; it encompasses all things and exceeds the boundaries between countries, races and religions. Since Buddhism is an education, followers of all religions are welcome and can learn and cultivate this education of true wisdom.
In the Visualization Sutra, the Three Conditions are the foundation of cultivation in Buddhism. Upon perfecting the Three Conditions, one will have complete wisdom, fortune and virtue.
The first condition consists of four practices based on the fundamental moral of humankind:
1) Being filial to our parents,
2) Respecting teachings and elders,
3) Being compassionate and not killing an living being and
4) Following the Ten Good Conducts.
The second condition consists of three practices based on cultivating the self:
5) Taking Refuge in the Triple Jewels,
6) Abiding by precepts, rules and customs,
7) Conducting ourselves in a proper and dignified manner.
The third condition consists of four practices, which follow the practices of Bodhisattvas:
8) Generating the Bodhi mind,
9) Deeply believing in the Law of Cause and Effect,
10) Reciting and upholding the Mahayana sutras and
11) Encouraging others on the path to Enlightenment.
Altogether, these eleven practices, each having its profound and vast meaning, needs to be put into use in everyday life, for they are the foundation of the forty-nine years of teachings given by Buddha Shakyamuni.
Great Vehicle Buddhism in China can be represented by the great Bodhisattvas of the Four Famous Mountains. First is Earth Treasure Bodhisattva of Jiuhua Mountain representing filial piety and respect. Second is Guan Yin (Great Compassion) Bodhisattva of Putuo Mountain, representing compassion. Third is Manjushri Bodhisattva of Wutai Mountain, representing wisdom. Fourth is Universal Worthy Bodhisattva of Emei Mountain, representing true practice. These four great Bodhisattvas represent the core of cultivation. As beginners, we start learning from Earth Treasure, for the earth is the root of life of all living beings. Because the great earth nurtures all beings and is the treasury of all that is precious, the Buddha uses it to represent our “mind ground” or “mind earth”. Our true mind/original nature is complete with infinite wisdom, virtuous abilities and talents; we must know how to open this treasury in order to attain its benefits. Earth Treasure Bodhisattva teaches us to be filial to our parents and respectful to our teachers, for in these practices lies the key to opening the treasury of our self-nature.
The field of filial piety is vast. Our parents have shown us great kindness in bringing us up and in educating us, therefore, we should not only nurture their aging bodies, but we should also nurture their spiritual well-being and minds thus helping them to be happy; this is practicing filial piety.
Regarding the practice of filial piety, we should strive to do our best in living up to our parent’s expectations. When they wish us to be good persons and the benefit society, we should do so; to act otherwise would be unfilial. For children going to school, it would be unfilial to do poorly in schoolwork, causing one’s parents to be worried and disappointed. It would be unfilial if one’s conduct was poor, of it one’s health was poor, or if one was disrespectful to one’s teachers or could not get long with others. After reaching adulthood and entering society, it would be unfilial to be rebellious towards one’s boss or unable to cooperate with co-workers, causing one’s parents to worry. From these, we realize how vast the field of cultivating filial piety really is, and that the entire Buddhadharma is actually just teaching the Way of Filial Piety. In Buddhism, the perfection of filial piety is only completed upon reaching Unsurpassed Enlightenment of Buddhahood.
Nowadays, humankind has been seriously polluted in heart, thoughts, views, spirit and body, thus leading to the appearance of many strange illnesses. The root cause of illness and disease is pollution; if one’s body and mind are pure one will not fall ill or grow old. To not become ill or grow old is true happiness and good fortune. To attain this goal, we only need to learn and cultivate according to the Buddha’s teachings.
In our world today, where foods have been polluted by poisons, we should harbour compassion, for compassion is the antidote for all poisons. A truly compassionate heart can neutralize all poisons. The Buddha once said, “All dharmas arise from the mind.” Thus, a pure, equal and enlightened mind/heart naturally brings health to one’s body.
When we recite morning and evening ceremonies in front of the Buddha and Bodhisattva images, it is just as if we were vowing to abide by their teachings right in their presence. Morning recitation acts as a reminder, preventing us from forgetting the Buddha’s teachings, and reminding us to act accordingly in the course of the day. Evening recitation is a reflection of the day’s practice, checking to see if we acted according to the Buddha’s teachings. If we did, then we can work even harder next time, if not, then we need to reform, seeking to renew ourselves each day. Only by practicing in this way can true benefits be attained. Morning and evening recitations are the most basic practices in learning Buddhism. It is necessary to remind ourselves each day and reflect and reform.
One who wishes to become a student of the Buddha should first learn from Maitreya Bodhisattva, better known in America as “The Happy Buddha.” Maitreya Bodhisattva represents the most basic conditions necessary to become a Buddhist - a smiling face and a big heart, represented by his big belly. All the Buddha images serve to remind us of the teachings and are not idols or gods of worship. “The Happy Buddha” teaches us to give rise to a non-discriminating mind and to be happy; thus being able to enter the Buddha Way.
The content of the Buddha’s teachings is infinitely profound and vast; one is unable to speak of it all, for the essence of it is unfathomable. Understanding it can bring great help tour living, work and interacting with all people, matters and affairs. Buddhism truly surpasses the boundaries of nationality, race and religion – it encompasses everything. The Buddha’s teaching is truly a perfectly complete education.
TAKING REFUGE IN THE TRIPLE JEWEL
Taking Refuge means to return and rely. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we are returning from our deluded state of mind and relying upon an Awakened, Enlightened Mind. When we take refuge in the Dharma, we are returning from deviant views and relying upon proper views and understanding. When we take refuge in the Sangha, we are returning from pollution and disharmony and relying upon Purity of Mind and the Six Principles of Living in Harmony. Taking refuge in the Triple Jewels restores the complete wisdom and abilities of our Self-Nature. We will attain Purity, Equality, Honest, Freedom, Compassion and overall, True Happiness.
The Buddha Jewel
Buddha is a Sanskrit meaning Awareness and Enlightenment. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we vow to return from blind faith and delusion and rely upon Understanding and Awareness as a way of life. Images of the Buddha serve as a reminder for us to practice awareness and understanding, and are not objects of worship. Prostrating and showing respect towards these images are only ways to counter arrogance and cultivate humility. This is taking refuge in the Buddha.
The Dharma Jewel
Dharma means Proper Understanding and Views. Delusion has obstructed us from seeing the true face of people and the reality behind matters and objects. This has caused us to look at life and the universe in a distorted and deviant way. When delusion is cleared and our minds are pure to an extent, we give rise to wisdom. With wisdom, we are able to see all people and matters completely and clearly. When our hearts are pure, we can see the past, present and future. Only when we have clearly seen the Whole can our viewpoint and Understanding be considered Proper.
The Buddha’s mind is pure without the slightest pollution and therefore sees everything clearly and entirely. We can rely upon the Sutras, recorded teachings of the Buddha, because they speak entirely of the truths the Buddha has seen. They teach and show us the way to attain Purity of Mind, to see life and the universe most clearly, and become just like the Buddhas. When we encounter sutras, we should immediately forth a mind of respect and remind ourselves to cultivate Right Understanding and Views. This is taking refuge in the Dharma.
The Sangha Jewel
Sangha means purity and harmony. Today’s world is filled with pollution; pollution of mind, spirit, views and body. Even the earth and the atmosphere are hazardly polluted. The Buddha taught, “The environment changes according to the mind.” We should return from all these pollution and rely upon purity of mind. Purity of mind is the key to saving our Earth.
There is also great disharmony in our world today, among spouses, families, friends, societies and countries which has brought us much suffering and many disasters. The Buddha taught us to rely upon the Six Principles of Living in Harmony to establish harmonious relationships between others and ourselves.
Sangha also refers to a group of four or more persons who practice the Buddha’s teachings and abides by the Six Principles of Living in Harmony. This includes the life-home people we may encounter. When we see left-home people, we should immediately give rise to a mind of purity and harmony. This is taking refuge in the Sangha.
THE THREE REFUGES
To the Buddha I return and rely,
returning from delusions and
Awareness and Understanding.
To the Dharma I return and rely,
returning from erroneous views and
Proper Views and Understanding.
To The Sangha I return and rely,
returning from pollution and disharmony
and relying upon
Purity of Mind and the
Six Principles of Harmony.
HOW HOMEMAKERS CAN CULTIVATE THE BODHISATTVA WAY IN EVERYDAY LIFE
It must be very tiresome to do the same kind of work everyday, and especially for homemakers. It seems as if one cannot be free from household chores for a single day, and many are greatly troubled by their duties. However, if we can learn to change our way of looking at things, we will be able to perform our chores with great joy.
Much of the problem is that ordinary people are very much attached to the “self”. They think, “Iam doing all this work; poor me, Iam so tired; why should Ido this for the?” The more they think this way, the more afflicted they become. If we were to learn the Bodhisattva Way, the Way of Understanding and Enlightenment, and vow to universally help all living beings, then our viewpoint would be much different.
In following the Bodhisattva Path, the first thing we learn is the Practice of Giving. By serving the family at home, the homemaker Bodhisattva is already cultivating Giving. Giving includes the Giving of Wealth, the Giving of Teaching and the Giving of Fearlessness. The Giving of Wealth can be divided into outer wealth and inner wealth. For example, outer wealth refers to making money for our family and providing the means for living. Inner wealth refers to using our physical energy and wisdom to support our family. So, the practice of giving can be completed perfectly at home.
When we do our housework with care and organize our home to be clean and neat, this is bringing comfort to the family and admiration from our neighbours; this is cultivating the Practice of Precept Observation. Abiding by precepts simply means abiding by rules – rules of the country, society and family, and doing everything in an organized and proper way. Endurance in doing our chores without complaint or fatigue is cultivating the Practice of Patience. In seeking improvement everyday, hoping that tomorrow’s attainment will exceed that of today’s, is cultivating the Practice of Diligence. In performing one’s various duties daily but still maintaining a pure and undeluded heart, is cultivating the Practice of Concentration in Purity of Mind, being apart from discriminating thoughts and attachments. From within purity of mind, one will give rise to wisdom, and will be filed with inner peace and happiness, this is cultivating the Practice of Wisdom. Thus, with true understanding, we will discover that these Six Principles Cultivated by Bodhisattvas (Giving, Precepts Observation, Patience, Diligence, Concentration in Purity of Mind and Wisdom) can be practiced to perfection in the everyday acts of dusting, sweeping, washing and cooking.
Once we have performed our duties well, we become role models for homemakers all over the world and an example for all families to follow. Thus, not only can be help our neighbours, but extended, we can influence society, the country, and even the world in a positive way. From this we come to see that in dusting, sweeping, washing, and cooking, a homemaker Bodhisattva is actually carrying out the great vow of helping all living beings. This is truly being a student of the Buddha. So, if we can contemplate our duties as described above, we will be filled with peace and happiness in our work. How then could anything trouble us?
The most important factor in learning and cultivating the Buddha’s teachings is that one be able to practice them in everyday life. Understanding this, we would be able to practice the Six Principles Cultivated by Bodhisattvas at our work and office. A Bodhisattva, in all walks of life, whether appearing as a man, woman, elder, or child, cultivates by living up to his/her own responsibilities. Cultivation and living are one – this is the life of enlightened beings.
SELECTED PASSAGES FROM LIVING BUDDHISM
Buddhism is an education, not a religion. We do not worship the Buddha, we respect him as a teacher. His teachings enable us to leave suffering and attain true happiness.
It is best to treat all people with respect and sincerity, being responsible for our actions and careful when handling other’s property. Be conservative with speech and actions to avoid harming others.
It is best to show our gratitude to those who have shown us kindness, such as parents, teachers and even society. Everyone in the society is interdependent and inter-related; we can practice good deeds to repay them.
How many people recognize the kindness shown by parents? Usually, people do not realize until they themselves become parents or lose their parents. We can show our gratitude through practicing filial piety by being responsible, considerate and compliant to our parents.
To be a poor, content, and happy person is better than being one who is rich, worried, and afflicted with greed.
Buddhism is a teaching, which shows us how to live a happy, fulfilling, and content life.
True love is undiscriminating, unattaching, and unconditional; we can share this love with all beings. This is called compassion.
If we wish to bring peace to the world, we need to start by changing our erroneous ways. World peace stems from inner peace.
Our goal in studying the Buddha’s teachings and cultivation is to attain complete understanding of life and the universe.
Be considerate and kind in your speech. To put down another person is only proving your own arrogance and lack of self-confidence to others.
Life is short and fragile, why not cultivate kindness instead of committing acts which cause harm to living beings and oneself?
Cultivating virtue is to keep a kind heart, speak kind words and do kind acts to benefit others.
Wise persons do not harbour feelings of gain or loss. In this way, they constantly dwell in the joy of possessing great peace of mind.
The point of practicing giving and charity is to forsake greed, hatred, ignorance, and arrogance.
When helping others, we should think about benefiting the entire society or even the world instead of limiting our help to just the ones we love. Expanding the boundaries of our care for others makes our lives more meaningful, full of freedom and happiness.
The Buddha’s teachings are a teaching of wisdom. Living Buddhism is to fill our lives with utmost wisdom and happiness.
In all circumstances, we must first reflect upon ourselves. Confucius once said, “Do not give to others what you yourself do not desire”. This is teaching us to keep a humane and sincere heart. If we want others to smile at us, we must first smile at others. In dealing with matters, we must not speak personal gain but should work for the public welfare.