TEACHINGS IN CHINESE
Today is the birthday of Sakyamuni Buddha. We are all inspired by Buddha’s beneficence and kindness to come together to celebrate his birthday. May we sincerely express our happiness deep from our heart. In today’s birthday puja, let’s speak about how to appreciate Buddha’s kindness. The purpose of Buddha being born in this ‘Five Impurities’ world more than two thousand years ago was to liberate distressed sentient beings like us. The Buddha is of great benevolence to us.
According to the Buddha, a sentient being who aspires to persevere on the path of Bodhisattva and accumulates unlimited pure merits for three Great Asogi Kalpa periods, may go to a pure land and attain Buddhahood. But in order to save the sentient beings, the Buddha had chosen to attain enlightenment in this Five Impurities mundane world. In other words, Buddha came to save and liberate us. Therefore, the Buddha’s presence in this world is of great significance to us. We should not forget about his kindness.
When the Buddha was diligently walking the path of Bodhisattva, he did not only aspire to achieve Buddhahood for himself. He also had a very deep concern for all the distressed sentient beings in this world. The Buddha showed much compassion in his constant actions of helping sentient beings. The world is like a dirty, stinking sewage tank and we are almost drowning in it. No one but the Buddha was willing to come to this suffering world to rescue us. Therefore, when Buddha was born in this world more than two thousand years ago, he denounced the worldly life, practiced diligently, attained enlightenment and then preached his teachings. If there was no distressed sentient beings like us, he wouldn’t have needed to come into this suffering world, as he had already freed himself from the cycle of birth and death and awakened to the truth of all phenomena.
The contributions of Buddha to us are profound and incomparable. As Buddhists we should reinforce the concept of appreciating the Buddha. Otherwise, if we do not understand the Buddha’s sincerity, do not learn his compassion, and do not pursue the vast merits of the great teaching in Buddhism, we do not qualify as the Buddha’s faithful disciples.
What are the benefits of the birth of Buddha to this human world? What are his ways to help all sentient beings?
1. The birth of Buddha has shone a light on sentient beings who live in this world of darkness. Please do not think that the mighty sun and these bright fluorescent lights are the mentioned brightness. The world we are living in, is full of conflicts and injustices. There is fear and darkness among people. It seems that the human world has lost the light of truth which poses as the biggest defect in human nature. At a glance, human actions seem to have ideals, plans and targets. But if we look more carefully, these actions are thoughtless and out of our control. Sentient beings in this world spend their whole life living in ignorance and distress.
Sariputra once said, “I am like a blind man before the emergence of the Buddha.” Even Sariputra, who was known as the wisest among Buddha’s disciples thought that he was as if blind before the emergence of the Buddha, not to mention sentient beings like us. The emergence of the Buddha brought, us the light of truth to this world, he showed us the right way to liberate our sufferings. He is of great benevolence to us.
2. The birth of Buddha in this world has also brought us warmth. Warmth comes together with light. For instance, when the sun rises, there is light as well as warmth. The warmth in this world is manifested in the love between spouses and siblings, the sincerity among relatives and friends, and the dedication to one’s community and country. However, when the worldly love and friendship break up, they instantaneously become enemies. This is the coldest and cruelest thing that can happen. The radiance and compassionate blessing of the Buddha is the only one that would never abandon any sentient beings.
Once, the Buddha went to look around in a monks’ quarters and saw a sick monk. His clothes and bed were dirtied by his excrete. The Buddha asked him, “Where are your companions?” “They have all gone!” He then regretfully continued, “In the past when people fell sick, I never took care of them. Now that I am ill, there is no one to take care of me.” The Buddha then consoled him, “Don’t be sad. I’ll look after you.” So, Buddha cleaned away the dirt and gave him medicine. Although others had abandoned him, the Buddha still cared and protected him.
There is another story of Ksudrapanthaka in the sutra. Ksudrapanthaka was a very stupid person. He denounced the world together with his brother and they lived together in a monastery. One day, his brother kicked him out of the monastery. He stood outside the monastery and cried pitifully. The Buddha approached him and asked him sympathetically, “Ksudrapanthaka, why are you crying?” “My brother said that I’m too stupid and won’t be able to learn Dharma. He won’t allow me to become a monk any more.” He cried more profusely upon finishing his answer. The Buddha then told him, “Dharma is mine. Don’t be afraid, follow and learn from me.” Although his brother had abandoned him callously, the Buddha still took him back warmly, stayed with him, and taught him Dharma patiently.
The great spirit of not abandoning any sentient being can only be performed with the Buddha’s profound compassion. Hence, the Buddha’s compassion is the true warmth in this world.
3. The presence of Buddha in this world provides us with refuge and gives us enormous strength. Once we take refuge in the Buddha, our mind is strengthened. The Buddha imparts an unimaginable strength for us. For instance, after learning the Dharma, we can bravely perform tasks which we once used to fail. The body and mind that are full of suffering become happy after learning the Dharma.
Buddhists who are away from home and have no one to look after them, may feel afraid sometimes. But once they visualize the virtue and the appearance of the Buddha, their fear will spontaneously be reduced. This is analogous to soldiers who generate great power to defeat their enemies once they see their flag standing tall at the battle field. Those who learn Dharma have a bright future. Even to the moment of death, they are still being protected and blessed by the Buddha. Under conditions as such, what disappointment and horrifying sufferings will there be?
Loving kindness and compassion are the Buddha’s special merit. He used his profound loving kindness and compassion to save and protect all sentient beings. This is the reason why we are still fervently commemorating him, even though he departed this world more than two thousand years ago. The Buddha always lives in our hearts. If the Buddha didn’t give us great beneficence, who would still hold this great puja celebration for him today?
Loving kindness and compassion are the Buddha’s special merits. Loving kindness is to provide happiness to all sentient beings, whereas compassion is to alleviate suffering from all sentient beings. Although loving kindness and compassion differ in certain degree, they are of the same principle. It is said by some that, loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha is the same as the humanity of Confucius and the love of Jesus Christ. But there are in fact great differences in the Buddha’s love. These include:
1. The loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha’s teachings are not bounded by strata or class. Someone asked me, “Buddhism mentions that people are suffering and are very pitiful. Does it mean that you will be free from being pitiful once you learn Dharma?” As a matter of fact, the distress that Buddhism mentions includes ourselves. We are all immersed in deep worry and misery. So, how can we say that we are not pitiful?
Realistically, only the Buddha who has realized the truth and released from the cycle of rebirth is the fortunate person full of perfect merits. If a sentient being does not pursue wisdom and end one’s defilements, no one can say that oneself is not pitiful. The truth is that all sentient beings in the cycle of birth and death always suffer great sadness. These are the sentient beings who gain sympathy of the Buddha, and he compassionately protects and helps them all the time.
If we make an effort to cease our worries and gain wisdom, we can also achieve the ultimate enlightenment and get rid of our worldly sufferings. The Buddha treats all sentient beings equally, gives them equal status, and equal help. Loving kindness and compassion are not the god’s privilege. Thus, we would not be pitiful forever. We should sincerely accept Buddha’s help and, at the same time, help other sentient beings with a compassionate mind. Then, we can be free from suffering, obtain happiness and possess the great loving kindness and compassion as that of the Buddha.
2. The loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha are free from partiality. In real life, it is not easy for a mother who has several children to be impartial to all her children. But the Buddha treats all sentient beings as one beloved child. He regards the elderly as his parents, his cohorts as his siblings and the young as his children. Human beings are close to their beloved but distant from those disliked.
Human interactions show great ‘close’ and ‘distant’ distinction. Buddha shatters this close or distant concept and uses his profound compassion and wisdom to liberate all sentient beings. The Buddha’s teachings will protect and bless even people who have committed hideous crimes.
In Christianity, one benefits from the god if one believes in him. Conversely, if one does not believe in the god, one is guilty of being a non-believer, and will never ever get away from the hell. If this is the case, if I believed in the god now, but my ancestors were not Christians, does this mean that they would be in a hell forever? The cruelty of hating people for disagreeing with them is hard to accept. We should not accept this cruel and strict love.
The Buddha never gave up any sentient beings. He helped and blessed everyone. Even the sentient beings in the hell that he couldn’t help at the present moment, he helped them once they were reborn in the human or heavenly realms. These sentient beings will eventually progress and attain Buddhahood. Therefore, the ubiquitous compassion and impartial spirit of saving of the Buddha’s teachings cannot be compared to other kinds of love.
3. The loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha is given with both generosity and wisdom. Parents’ love for their own children may sometimes lose its rationality. They always think good of their children. If they hear someone saying that their children are not good, they become very unhappy. In contrast, the loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha is full of rationality. His teachings have the ability to save us compassionately. But, why do we still grieve and suffer today? The door of Buddhism is wide open, but it is difficult even for the Buddha to help those with unwholesome karma.
Sentient beings have their own past good and evil karma. When their evil karma ripens, even the loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha’s teachings cannot save them. The Buddha hopes that all sentient beings will stop doing evil and begin to do good. But sentient beings choose to commit evil and do not believe in the Law of Cause and Effect. How can the loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha save them? If we do good deeds according to the Law of Cause and Effect, the Buddha’s principles would provide us with unimaginable protection and blessing.
If there is a slight chance, the Buddha will help us through the cause and effect of right action. Without our own right action, even the profound and infinite power and compassion of the Buddha cannot save us. The loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha’s teachings to sentient beings is not due to the faith of sentient beings towards the Buddha. This principle is worthy of emphasis. If every action of sentient beings is good, then naturally they will receive good results. Their good nature will grow. Although they may not believe in the Buddha, the Buddha will still protect and bless them. Eventually, they will be attracted to the Buddha and take refuge in him. If this is not the case, it would be a violation of the Law of Cause and Effect. Even though the compassion and the aspiration of the Buddha’s teachings to help is great, the karma of sentient beings is greater. Realizing this, we should understand that the compassion and aspiration of the Buddha is full of rationality.
There are many people who do not understand Dharma correctly. When they fall sick and cannot endure the suffering of illness, they feel that it is useless to learn Dharma. This indicates that they do not have the right understanding of Dharma.
For example, there was a businessman who used various speculative and illegal means to swindle money out of somebody else. In the end, he failed and broke the laws. Under this circumstance, how could Buddha save him? Therefore, the Buddha’s teachings protect and save all sentient beings by not violating the worldly Law of Cause and Effect. This shows rationality in loving kindness and compassion. In addition, The practice of loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha is complemented by rationality. Not only that it does not contradict the worldly Law of Cause and Effect, it also fully resembles the truth of the supramundane world as in the Buddha’s state of mind. Therefore, the loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha’s teachings is balanced in both compassion and wisdom. He is able to be compassionate yet knows the truth. He has wisdom, yet is able to protect and save all sentient beings.
Most religions in this world only talk about faith and belief. They are sentimentally inclined and tend to neglect reasoning. Those Theravadins who live in seclusion emphasize rationality, but lack the compassionate mind of saving others. The Buddha combined sentiment and rationality into one, and was not partial to either. This shows the equality of compassion and wisdom and the peak of ultimate realization. This is the most respectable part of Buddhist loving kindness and compassion.
4. The loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha’s teachings provides us with thorough and complete help. To treat an illness in this world, one may treat the cause of the illness or provide symptomatic treatment, i.e. to treat the head when there is headache or to treat the leg when there is leg pain. The latter may give temporary relief but it won’t be able to eradicate the cause of the illness completely.
Similarly, there are two ways of alleviating human suffering in this world:
(a) Circumstantial help: for example, when we meet a poor person who does not have food and clothing, we can offer them food and clothing.
(b) Fundamental help: that is, to find out the reasons for their poverty. If the poverty is due to a lack of skills of making a living, then we could teach them the skills. If their poverty is due to annual floods, perhaps we could find ways to dredge the rivers. Only then could they be free from the suffering of their poverty.
Similar situations apply to the Dharma. The circumstantial help emphasizes giving (dana) etc., whereas the fundamental help stresses the importance of self effort. Our suffering can be solved by our own efforts. Therefore, a true practitioner of the Dharma will ultimately be free from suffering. If we don’t practise diligently under the guidance of the Buddha but only think of getting protection and help from the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas, we will never get the fundamental help and will be in the cycle of suffering forever.
Human beings usually see things superficially and do not see the important part within. Once there was a person who invited a friend to his house. The guest went into his kitchen and saw the chimney leaning towards the eaves. He then showed his concern by telling the host, “The chimney is too close to the eaves, it will catch fire easily. It is better to shape the chimney into a curve.” At that time, the host didn’t listen to the guest. Not long after that, the house unfortunately caught fire and part of the property was burned. The host was very sad about the fire but he also appreciated those people who had come to help extinguish the fire. However, he forgot about the guest who had advised him to shape the chimney into a curve. Some Buddhists believe in the Buddha and ask for his help and protection but neglect the fundamental ways of help taught by him and do not practise properly. This is the same as the ignorant host whose house caught on fire.
The learning of Dharma emphasises fulfilment of the teachings. It is only when we follow and practise the Dharma that we gain the endowment from the Buddha. Then all our difficulties will be solved perfectly. If one continues to do evil deeds, or is reluctant to follow the teachings of the Buddha, even though the Buddha is compassionately saving and protecting all sentient beings, he will not be able to assist us.
When we follow the teachings of the Buddha, we are also accepting his help. Indeed, we are deeply indebted to the kindness of the Buddha. I hope everyone who came to celebrate his birthday today would not forget the beneficence and kindness of the Buddha!
[Recorded by Wei ci] (Translated by Chen I-Chen, edited by Ke Rong, proofread by Shi Neng Rong. (21-9-96)