The Two Stages of Life
Written by Zen Master Thich Thanh Tu
Translated by Tu Tam Hoang
Enjoy the Way In Life
The Buddha’s teaching is precious
Only when practice one knows
When ignorance ends, the Bodhi mind turns brighter
Observe Heart sutra, the Buddha’s teaching isn’t easy to discern
Follow the patriarch’s teaching, it’s not hard to discern Zen
Pull down the flag of arrogance, discern the complete awakening, and should never let affliction retain in mind.
Burn evil forest with the flame of enlightenment
Hold the sword of wisdom, terminate the mind of differentiation
Honor leaders, parents, and masters to learn the Way
Love Buddha, abide the precepts by eating veggies
Admire Buddha’s compassion, pray to be near him for many life times
Graceful for his refuge, can’t repay enough even if this body is destroyed
Remember righteousness and the Way, a simple food offering depicts one’s goodness
Proclaim belief in Buddha with malicious mind, jewel offering depicts one’s immorality.
How excellent (1)
This is a prelude
The Buddha’s teaching is precious (2)
Only when practice, one knows (3)
When ignorance ends, the Bodhi mind turns brighter (4)
Practitioners need to clear ignorance in order to discern Bodhi, the enlightened nature. It gets brighter and brighter when affliction subsides, the practice becomes more enchanting. Thus, who keep holding on to affliction can’t make any progress in their practice. Sometimes, they even want to quit. Those who can end affliction will become more interested in practice, morality, and be desireless in everything in this world. We can understand why there’re Zen practitioners, who attain the tameness, can meditate from one night to another. They’re captivated in the sublime morality.
Line 3 and 4 have clearly stated that if practitioners can completely clear ignorance, their enlightened nature (Bodhi) will become brighter. If they can terminate affliction, their morality become stronger. The monks and nuns tend to complain to their relatives about a few things that they don’t like while practicing at the monasteries. Obviously, their affliction has discouraged them from the practice. Those who become happier in their practice have less afflictions to deal with. They’re eager to practice and work. Thus, in the sangha, we know each other’s practicing level from a quick look.
Observe Heart sutra, the Buddha’s teaching isn’t easy to discern (5)
There are 2 implication to the Heart sutra. One is for the Prajna sutra, and the second one is for the wordless Heart sutra that exist in us. If we know to return to the mind while reading sutra, we have already understood the Buddha’s teaching.
The Buddha said the mind is the sutra that contains everything. For instance, in Avatamsaka sutra, a phrase says, “break a dust mote to obtain a worldly scripture.” Such tiny mote has a big scripture that only people with bright view like Buddha would know how to break the mote to get the scripture. It also means that once we destroy this small impermanent body, we realize that within it, there’s a scripture that is as large as the universe. Therefore, when Buddha discerned the Buddha nature, he attained the Sublime Perfect Enlightenment. He had seem numerous lands as many as the sands in the Ganges. We’re not yet able to break the mote; therefore, we only know a bit or not even know anything.
Follow the patriarch’s teaching, its’ not hard to discern Zen (6)
It’s not difficult to follow the patriarch’s teaching and fully discern it. It Buddhist practitioners realize that the Buddha’s intention is to direct us to the true nature, then they definitely would see the Buddha’s trace.
Pull down the flag of arrogance, discern the complete awakening, and should never let affliction retain in mind (7)
In order to fully understand the Buddhist principles practitioners have to terminate all causes. They can’t take any chances. This is the root of practice.
We, need to terminate arrogance in because it’s one of the reasons that we’re unable to fully attain realization. We’re always better than everyone. We’re unhappy when others are better than us. We can’t take criticisms. We don’t accept the truth about our weaknesses, but rather believe in false complements. This problem is the cause that stops us from discerning the truth. The second problem is indulgence. When someone is madly in love with someone, he / she could go crazy if his / her beloved is bothered. Listening and believing in whatever people say is also a problem that can stop us from seeing the truth. The third problem is the hatred. When we hate someone, we think he/she is terrible no matter how nice the person is. We hate every deed that he/she makes. We even doubt his/her intention or sincere help.
Overall, because of arrogance, indulgence, and hatred, we’re unable to discern the truth. Therefore, we live more in illusion. What we know is incorrect. Now, we need to override these three problems to attain the Complete Enlightenment.
Burn evil forest with the flame of enlightenment (8)
Hold the sword of wisdom, terminate the mind of differentiation (9)
In the past, we were ignorant to follow the evil path. But now, since we’re awakened, we use the flame of enlightenment to burn the evil forest. The evil forest is an illustration of the false perception, not the act of following the evil path. Next, we use the sword of wisdom (Prajna mind) to clear all differentiation and afflictions in mind.
In life, researchers are considered to be high educated. The knowledge that they attain from learning and researching is the intellect. It exists from external data.
Buddha had said that to attain wisdom, we have to abide the precepts and practice mediation. Concentration causes revelation of wisdom. Conversely, intellect is composed of much collected information from outside. The wisdom reveals because of the subsidence of afflictions in mind. Thus, wisdom is attained from practice, whereas intellect is attained from learning. Monastics who attained wisdom are called practitioners and the intellectual people are called scholars.
In mediation, practitioners do not sit unconsciously, but try to discover the precious bright mind. To reveal the true mind, we have to clear the false mind; like the patriarch said to use the sword of bright mind to clear consciousness that contains differentiation and opposition. Understand this would make our practice more valuable. In our life, we push hard to become scholars or scientists. But at the end, the knowledge that we gain is just a borrowing from outside. Now, instead of doing that, we sit down to mediate to tame the mind so that the true mind reveal. Then, we’re able to discern the truth about everything by our knowing. It’s accurate and not borrowed from outside.
The Buddha had described what he had seen after his enlightenment. Some had been discovered by today’s science and many have not been discovered. Not that his saying hasn’t been changed through time nor rejected by any theory or scientists. From this, we could see how sublime our unlearned knowledge would be!
It’s the reason that the First patriarch said that we have to use the sword of wisdom to fully clear the long-existing consciousness. In other words, terminate all differentiations so that our true nature can reveal. This is the most important matter in practice.
Honor leaders, parents, and masters to learn the Way (10)
Love Buddha, abide the precepts by eating veggies (11)
Bases on Confucius principle, the first line teachers us to honor parents and elders. The second line explains the behaviors that Buddhist practitioners should have.
Admire Buddha’s compassion, pray to be near him for many life times (12)
Admire Buddha’s compassion, we vow to be close to him for many life times because one life is not long enough to attain the Complete enlightenment.
Grateful for his refuge, can’t repay enough even if this body is destroyed (13)
To gratify the masters refuge in helping us to become awakened, we don’t mind if this body is destroyed or suffered for thousand times. This wouldn’t be enough to repay the master.
The previous two phrases (12.13) teach us to honor the Buddha and remember the patriarch’s compassion by practicing hard. We always admire their intention, honor them, and vow to meet them again in many life times. No matter how suffering it is, we would endure with no complain. This is a way to express our desire to learn and practice dharmas.
Remember righteousness and the Way, a simple food offering depicts one’s goodness (14)
Proclaim belief iin Buddha with malicious mind, jewel offering depicts one’s immorality (15)
The patriarch reminds us that true practitioners should live with morality. A small offering to the Buddha would reveal their goodness. Conversely, if their words are kind, but their heart is evil, they’re still immoral no matter how precious their offering is. Thus, practitioners need to be clever in their practice.
We should practice the mind and body
Never stop studying
Transform the obstinate mind
Control all false thoughts
It’s foolish to indulge in fame
Who have merits and wisdom are those who truly know
Build bridges and temples, such physical tasks for practitioners
Eagerly practice the joyful let go, habitat the compassion, and always read the Heart sutra.
Practice the mind to become Buddha and keep training ourselves
Filtering gold requires quite a number of times
Read sutra and documentation, exertive practice
Respect Buddha by practicing the body and mind, should never make a slight mistake
Fully understand the Buddha’s and patriarch’s teaching, should there be no worries
From Six senses, don’t let Eight Winds get in.
That’s why (1)
This is an introduction
We should practice the mind and body (2)
Never stop studying (3)
These two phrases encourage us to concentrate on daily practice of the body and mind, and should take the study seriously because we are still in the learning and practicing stage. If we take the learning lightly, it’s hard for us to make any progress.
Transform the obstinate mind (4)
Control all false thoughts (5)
We should gradually transform our mind consciousness so it no longer attaches to bad habits. These two phrases imply that in practice, we should focus on the mind as to let go all obstinacy and attachment to false thoughts. Don’t let them agitate.
It’s foolish to indulge in fame (6)
If people indulge in fame, they become naïve and not being able to discern the truth. Such practitioners are pitiful like adolescents. Their goal should be the termination of fame and wealth, and the finding of their true mind. instead, they irrationally return to what they have left for. Isn’t it silly? Such practice is unreasonable and unrespectable.
Who have merits and wisdom are those who truly know (7)
Buddhist practitioners should have both merits and wisdom. Thus, the sutra often remind us to practice merits and wisdom concurrently. Buddha said that a person with merits and wisdom is like a bird that’s able to fly with two wings. Without either one of them, the bird can’t fly. Merits come from goodness. When we make good deeds for us or others, we practice on merits. Wisdom reveals when our false mind is tamed. We become true Buddhist practitioners when we start from the Learned knowledge to attain Unlearned knowledge. In these two phrases (6,7) the patriarch makes a clear distinction between true practitioners and typical people. Typical people indulge in fame and wealth. To him, they’re naïve. True practitioners know the truth. Therefore, they have both merit and wisdom
Build bridges and temples, such physical tasks for practitioners (8)
In the physical form of practice, practitioners should gain merits by making good deeds such as building bridges, streets, temples, etc…But in the mental aspect of the practice, such deeds are the respectable appearance of practitioners.
Eagerly practice the joyful let go, habituate the compassion, and always read the Heart sutra (9)
We should always practice the mind of let go and be habitual with compassion. Our mind should always remember the Heart sutra.
The patriarch wants to say that making good deeds are just the physical aspect of the practice. We should practice our mind with the virtue of let go, compassion, and always remember the Heart sutra. Here, the Heart sutra has 2 meanings: The Prajna sutra that we usually chant. The other meaning is the mind. We need to return to the mind or to the Buddha. All Buddhist scriptures intentionally remind us to return to our mind. Returning to the mind, while reading the scriptures.
Practice the mind to become Buddha and keep training ourselves (10)
To become Buddha, we have to practice our mind so it’s always tamed and bright. This is the most important matter for practitioners. It’s difficult to become Buddha if we don’t practice our mind and change our negative behaviors. We should keep practicing and don’t let the mind wander.
Filtering gold requires quite a number of times (11)
Practitioners are like gold seekers. They filter the sand to get the gold. To succeed, they have to do the filtering so many times.
These two phrases (10,11) mean to say that who wants to become Buddha has to truly practice the mind like gold seekers, who filter the sands many times in order to get the pure gold.
Thus, if bad thoughts are still in mind because they haven’t been pacified carefully, we are unable to attain the Buddhahood. This is the patriarch’s advice to those with a goal to become Buddha. You need to make an effort.
Read sutra and documentation, exertively practice (12)
Respect Buddha by practicing the body and mind, should never make a slight mistake (13)
We need to achieve what we learn from the sutra or patriarch’s writing. We practice to become Buddha because of our respect for him. To accomplish that, we should never allow a tiny mistake in our practice.
These two phrases carry valuable meanings. As Buddhist practitioners, we should first read the Buddhist scriptures or patriarch’s writing to understand and practice them no matter what. Otherwise, it’s just a useless understanding. During our practice to attain Buddhahood, we should avoid making any mistake, no matter how small it is.
Fully understand the Buddha’s and patriarch’s teaching, should there be no worriness (14)
Once we fully understand the Buddha’s teaching, we have nothing to worry about. This is the goal of practitioners they should fully understand the Way, not just a plain act.
From Six sense, don’t let Eight Winds get in (15)
During the contact between Six senses and Six sensual objects, we should be careful not to let Eight Winds get in. For instance, don’t let the wind agitate the eyes when we see any object or don’t let the wind stir the ears when we hear my sound, etc…The eyes are untamed when we are attracted to what we hear. Thus, practitioners need to control the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind in such a way that they’re not moved by the Eight Winds, when they’re in contact with the Sensual objects. This is how being clever in practice. Because we’re unable to control our Six senses, we’re moved by the winds. And because Six sense are always untamed, the mind is as well untamed. Thus, it’s difficult to attain the Buddhahood.
The last two phrases (14,15) mean to each us two things. First, we should fully and undoubtly understand the Buddha’s teaching. Secondary, control our Six senses by not letting the winds affect them. This is the true practice. His saying is simple, but it’s not easy to do. We need to be determined and brave in order to achieve it. We can examine it right away. Pretend that we just walk outside of a temple and someone shows up pointing his finger to our face and curse. By looking at our facial expression, people know if the wind has gotten into our ears. It’s not easy to stop the winds from getting inside of the Six senses. If they can’t get in, we’re saints. Thus, to attain sainthood, we need to practice slowly to change our negative behaviors, instead of doing an excellent job in our chanting or meditation.
At this point, I want to add a new idea about the impermanent body and mind so that the monks and nuns could understand better. In the sutra, the Buddha said that the body undergoes four stages: birth, aging, ailment, and death. Our body and the universe are similar as the universe also undergoes four stages: formation, aging, disintegrations, and emptiness. Our body has four elements: earth, water, fine, and air. It’s the same for the universe.
In agama sutra, the Buddha said that when this world ends, water is the first element that we loose. The seas are gradually dried up. Next element is fire. The fire burst from the ground. It flames this world until everything is destroyed. A big wind comes to blow away everything. At the end this world vanishes with the wind. So, the existence is caused by earth, fire, water, and air, while separation is also caused by these four elements.
How about our body? What makes its existence and disappearance? Just a breath – if no inhalation, we’re finished. It’s the same for the universe. How about the mind? Is it impermanent? I believe it is. Our mind has greed, which is like water. Hatred is like fire. Ignorance is like earth, and unsteadiness is the air. The common greed is the greed in affection: affection in the body, the self, the people, and the sexuality. For instance, if we love someone who is in suffering we cry. The tear is the water of affection. In craving, we salivate if we smell an odor or our favorite foods. This is the water of affection. Everybody should know the resented mind is like a blaze. When we’re angry, our face and eyes turn red. At the moment, the whole body is burning by fire. Ignorance means the mind is dull as it can’t distinguish the right from wrong. It obstinate like earth. The mind is untamed as the thoughts always change like the wind. The special term for this is the Wind of karma. It’s the last element, which is quite strong and able to push the consciousness to reincarnate.
Understanding this, we know how to practice to reach to liberation. If greed, hatred, and ignorance still exist, the Wind of karma definitely will take us from one life to another to submerge in suffering. Conversely, if our mind is tamed (reveals the bright nature), could the Wind of karma blow it away? This is the key to liberate from birth and death.
Thurs, everything that is made and destroyed by earth, water, fire, and air is subjected to birth and death. The earth evolves rapidly because it binds to the law of revolution. In Buddhism, it’s called reincarnation. When this world ends, it follows the next condition to form another object. It’s not completely gone. Our body is the same as the blood circulates constantly. When we die, the body follows the karmas to reincarnate into other forms. It’s such an analogy among the body, mind, and world. They are impermanent objects.
Today, people are eager to find new planets for humans to live so that the human life expectancy could be extended. I think it’s impossible to do. The Buddha said that the realm of Quan Yin has no sun and no moon. However, it glows because of the individual’s body radiation. Thus, depends the realm and blessing, sentient beings’ body conditions are similar or different from others’. There’s no such condition that all realms and sentient beings are the same. Practitioners of the Four Contemplations will be reborn in the realm of form. Their longevity bases on their effort of meditation and blessing, thus, their realm is spectacular. Those who practice the Four Emptiness will be reborn in the realm of formlessness. This realm has no objects and their people live in visualization. We, the Zen practitioners, have a goal to terminate desire, form, illusions, and all seeds (mental objects); therefore, we could extricate from the reincarnation in the three Realms.
This helps us know that these realms are developed by sentient beings’ blessing. There should be a similarity among the individuals in order for them to live there. The scientists already reached to the moon, Mars, etc…But the four aggregates up there (earth, water, fire, and air) are not appropriate for humans to live. To live in a particular planet, we should first have our body adapt to that place. But if we reform this body, isn’t it same as changing our karma? If so, then we should return to ourselves and practice instead of looking around for solution. At the end, we still can’t get away from the karma that we created.
My saying probably opposes science. However, it’s exactly what the Buddhist scriptures have said. There are things that the Buddha had said 25 centuries ago and now, scientist have discovered. But, they still have not yet discovered all. Thus, we hope that in the process of advancement, one day, the science will agree that the Buddha’s mind was great, incomparable, and immeasurable.
Completed typing section 7 & 8