TEACHINGS IN CHINESE
1. Faith and Determination, Loving Kindness and Compassion, Wisdom
The philosophy expounded by the Buddha is very profound and broad. It is so broad and profound that sometimes ordinary people have difficulties in finding a right entrance into it. They do not know where to start. However, this does not imply that the Buddha’s Teachings are confusing or disorganised. On the contrary, Buddhism has very logical, well-reasoned and practical principles.
Wise men in the past commented that all the methods taught by the Buddha, whether the expedient or ultimate paths, serve the sole purpose of leading one to Buddhahood. Whether it is the path that leads one away from evil, and towards the right aspirations (the principle of the Five Vehicles) or the path that leads to disentanglement from worldly desires and to freedom (the principle of the Three Vehicles); or the path that turns one away from the practice of the Sravaka and Pratyeka-buddhas and redirects one to Mahayana thought (the principle of the one Vehicle);
the Buddha explained the paths to enlightenment in all these various ways for the benefit of sentient beings in all their corresponding variety. It is for this great reason that the Buddha appeared in this world.
From the stand point of one who wants to learn about Buddhism, it is important to understand that all the methods taught by the Buddha are in fact processes in the Bodhisattva’s practice. They are the Bodhi paths that lead to Buddhahood. Due to the differing conditions, causes, times and places into which we were born, the best ways towards Bodhi (Enlightenment) may differ for each of us. But if we try to seek the truth of nature through the various methods we will realise that there are no great differences in the teachings of the Buddha. Three themes characterize all the teachings and encompass them as one coherent whole. These themes are as applicable to the practice of “One Vehicle” as they are to the “Three vehicles” and “Five vehicles”. Thus, we call these themes the “The Three Essentials in Practising the Teaching of the Buddha”.
1.1 The Three Essentials of Practice Defined
What are these Three Essentials? As stated in the Sutra of Great Prajna they are; “To maintain mindfulness of supreme Bodhi (the mind of enlightenment), to centre oneself on compassion, and to learn the skilful means of emptiness (the wisdom of non-grasping or subtle intangibility)”.
The Great Prajna Sutra emphasizes the all-inclusive practice of a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva must learn all methods of practice, (which are in fact nothing more than the ways of cultivating goodness and wisdom). All these methods should comply with the Three Essentials, which are their foundation. The ultimate aim of all practices is to attain perfection in these three virtues.
Thus, these themes are in fact the heart of practising the Bodhisattva way. As the ancients said, “If we did not find the right direction of practice we would be wandering blindly around the eight thousand methods and teachings taught by the Buddha, just like walking in the darkness. If we could find the right direction of practice, the twelve divisions of the Mahayana Canon, would be as clear as ordinary simple conversation to us.”
a) Mindfulness of the heart of wisdom, or the Supreme Bodhi (wisdom of the Buddha), as the ground of faith and determination.
This is the perfect and ultimate merit of the Buddha that was attained through His enlightenment. Practitioners should contemplate always the wisdom of the Supreme Bodhi. One should have faith that the Buddha has attained the Supreme Bodhi and that the Supreme Bodhi may bring us the vision of splendour and boundless merits. Belief in the merits of the Supreme Bodhi arouses our determination and joy for it, and further inspires us to seek it out. In other words, appreciation of the wisdom of Supreme Bodhi meaningfully translates into our determination to attain perfect enlightenment.
b) Great Compassion.
Great Compassion may refer to sympathy or loving kindness and compassion in general, in a wider sense, it refers to loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. To be compassionate is to have the mind intent upon relieving living beings from their miseries. To have loving kindness is to be intent upon giving living beings enjoyment and happiness.
All the practices of the Bodhisattva begin with the mind of loving kindness and compassion. The mind of loving kindness and compassion is always first and foremost. As stated in the Sutra, “The status of a Bodhisattva is attainable through the mind of compassion, it is not attainable by merely meritorious deeds”. Without loving kindness and compassion, all virtues and wisdom will not comply with the practice of a Bodhisattva. Thus, the great mind of loving kindness and compassion is indeed the heart of the Bodhisattva’s practice.
c) Emptiness (The wisdom of non-grasping or subtle intangibility) as the wisdom of Prajna.
This is the wisdom of non-attachment and supreme emptiness. The wisdom of emptiness that was cultivated under the guidance of the compassionate vow (i.e. the Bodhisattva vow) will not be just a dull emptiness and still silence. It is a great skilful characteristic. By possessing this wisdom, the practice of loving kindness and compassion can be successful and hence lead us to the attainment of the fruit of Bodhi. Thus, these three themes, the Bodhi vow, the Great Compassion and the Wisdom of Emptiness are the real essences of the path of the Bodhisattva.
1.2 The Three Essentials in the Superior Practice of the Bodhisattva
The great Bodhi vow, the Great Compassion and the great wisdom of the Bodhisattva are an extension of the purest practices of all humans and devas as well as the Two vehicles. Summarising the merits of all teachings, in terms of aims, humans and devas practice to become saints or to be reborn in heaven. They look forward to the worldly reality, beauty and virtue. The practice of the Two Vehicles cultivates the mind to the extinction of worldly desire and Nirvana. It promotes the mind of leaving the deluded world. And the practice of the Bodhisattva emphasises the cultivation of the great Bodhi vow.
Loving kindness to living beings, in the practice of humans and devas, is aroused due to sympathy towards other living beings. In the practice of the two vehicles, it is the sense of universal altruism that gives rise to loving kindness. In the practice of the Bodhisattva, it is the wisdom of emptiness (the realisation of Dependent origination, non-self and non-attachment) that gives rise to loving kindness.
In terms of the cultivation of wisdom, in the practice of human and devas, wisdom refers to worldly knowledge. In the practice of the Two Vehicles, wisdom is one-sided dogma In the practice of the Bodhisattva, it is the wisdom of non-discrimination in all aspects.
The response of the mind to the external environment varies among the three realms of practice. The mental activities involved are basically the activities of faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion, and wisdom. The distinction among the three realms is that practitioners in each realm practise them at different levels. From the above analysis, it can be seen that the three main themes of the practice of the Bodhisattva are beyond all others, they encompass the practices of all virtues.
The Embodiment of Dharma: Faith and Determination; Loving Kindness and Compassion; Wisdom:
In Human and Devas Practice
To be a saint and to be reborn in heaven
Sympathy to living beings
In Two Vehicle Practice
To leave the deluded world
Sense of universal altruism
In Bodhisattva Practice
The Bodhi vow
Mind of loving kindness and compassion
Wisdom of Prajna
As we begin practising the teachings of the Buddha, either as a lay person or as an ordained follower, we should learn the practice of the Bodhisattva as this is the only way to Buddhahood. The real merits of the Bodhisattva are within these three themes. We should always reflect on ourselves: “Have I practised? Have I put effort into the practice of these three themes?” If not, how can we call ourselves a Bodhisattva? We should always remind ourselves to practice and to look upon the Bodhisattvas as our example.
2. A Comparison of the Confucian, Christian and Buddhist approaches to the Three Essentials
The main themes in the practice of the Bodhisattva way are faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion and wisdom. They constitute in fact a process of purification and improvement of the human mind according to its natural ability. These have some similarity with the other worldly practices such as Confucianism and Christianity. However, the worldly practices or ideologies tend to cling to one aspect and regard that as the whole, or adopt one aspect and neglect the rest. Hence the practice becomes incomplete.
Confucianism, which represents the mainstream of Chinese culture in China, advocates the Three Virtues, namely knowledge, benevolence and bravery. It takes them as they become moral values for dealing with people and living life in society. In brief, knowledge may be compared with wisdom, benevolence with loving kindness and compassion and bravery with faith and determination.
There is a saying in Buddhism, “Faith instils determination and determination instils diligence (right effort)”. With sincere faith we can arouse our greater determination. And with sincere determination, one will naturally become diligent and put right effort into practice. In short, faith leads to determination and determination will lead to bravery and diligence. This is the development of energy from faith. Diligence and bravery are needed in all meritorious deeds, but it has to begin with faith and determination.
Confucianism over-emphasises the common relationship among human beings, and lacks inspiration. Hence, it is difficult to arouse sincere faith and determination in its followers. Without strong faith, the virtue of bravery cannot be fully expressed. The concepts of “being wise”, “being the saintly”, “the Law of Heaven”, “the conscience”, and “the fear of Heavenly commands, fear of the saint and fear of commandments of the authority”, all weaken the cultivation of faith and determination. The idea of bravery becomes “one who knows how to feel ashamed is close to being considered brave”. This ideology is difficult to spread among the general population, and the faith that arises from this ideology of “to be reborn in heaven” or “to attain Buddhahood”. The Chinese nation which has long been under the influence of Confucianism is withering and becoming weaker each day. It has failed to arouse the virtues of bravery from faith, and the Chinese lack strong motivation and enthusiasm for life. From the view of promoting human nature or strengthening the Chinese nation, and cultivating of sincere and dedicated faith and bravery, this decline is something that the Confucianists should take note of.
Christianity (Catholic and Christian) conditions the contemporary culture and spirit of the West. It also has three main themes: faith, hope and love. Christians believe in the existence of God and because of their faith in God there is hope of a bright future for them. Because God loves us, we must in turn love others. Everything was created by God. These teachings are of course very different to the teachings of Buddhism. However, in general, we may consider faith and hope to be equivalent to faith and determination in Buddhism, and love equivalent to loving kindness and compassion in Buddhism.
Although Christians claim that they have a rational belief in righteousness, it does not emphasise the virtue of wisdom in nature. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes brightened. This is the beginning of self-awareness and development of human knowledge. However, for the theist, this is a sin, and is the source of death. Teaching as such is shaken by the development and achievement of modern scientific cultures nowadays.
The Sravakas (the people who lived in the Buddha’s time and listened to his teachings personally) placed less emphasis on the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion. There were Sravakas who stressed faith and wisdom but there were none who stressed compassion. This is just the opposite to Christian practice. Christians emphasise faith and love but lack wisdom. The Sravakas stressed faith and wisdom, but undervalued loving kindness and compassion. Both modes of practice are narrow and incomplete. The practice of the Mahayana Bodhisattva, which puts great emphasis on the equal practice of all the three themes, is undoubtedly more complete. Although the teachings of Confucianism are not complete, Their three virtues are closest to the practice of the Bodhisattva.
The Pure Land sect in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism (originated in India and completed in China) also has three main themes. They are: faith, determination (dedication) and practice. The order of faith, determination and practice delineates the process. From faith determination arises, and with determination, effort to practice arises.
When we say the words “to practice” most people interpret it as “practicing diligently” without the concepts of loving kindness and compassion or wisdom. Some Pure Land practitioners practice by chanting the name of the Amitabha Buddha but do not cultivate wisdom or compassion and loving kindness. This type of person will have to wait for a long while before they can fulfil their wish to become enlightened and return to this world in order to relieve the suffering of the worldly beings. This is the result of the imbalance development and negligence of Mahayana philosophy in practice.
When the Pure Land sect spread to Japan, it immersed into its theistic tradition and changed itself into the “Truth” sect, promoting the ideology of rebirth with faith and determination. Even the chanting of the name was not important anymore. This is similar to the Christian doctrine, where those who have faith will be saved.
In short, other religions or ideologies do emphasise the Three Essentials in one way or another but not all. It is important for us to remember that, the main themes of the practice of the Bodhisattva are the completion and perfection in the cultivation of faith determination, wisdom, loving kindness and compassion.
3. Finding, entering and advancing in the Buddhist practice of the Three Essentials
a) Different ways of entering the practice
In the practice of the Bodhisattva, we should not emphasise one practice and neglect the others. However, as a beginner, one may find entrance through one (or two) of the gates. Those who are interested in philosophy psychology or theoretical subjects may investigate the righteousness and profundity of the teaching and hence arouse an interest in learning the teachings of the Buddha. These are people who enter through the gate of wisdom.
On the other hand, those who are engaged in social welfare work and who are fond of rendering assistance to others, are close to the Buddha’s teaching on relationship with others. They praise and appreciate the loving kindness and compassion of the teaching of the Buddha and hence begin to practise them. These are people who enter through the gate of loving kindness and compassion.
In addition, there are others who admire the perfections of the Triple Gem, or who because of the special experiences that they have had with the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, decide to practice the teachings of the Buddha. These are people who enter through the gate of faith and determination.
Due to differences in the spiritual potential of living beings, beginners may find entrance through different ways. In brief, people who have more greed may enter through the door of loving kindness and compassion. Those who have more hatred may enter through the door of wisdom and those who have a simple mind may enter through the door of faith and determination.
b) The importance of the balance practice in faith determination, loving kindness and compassion, wisdom – the Three Essentials
However, after beginning our Buddhist practice, we should not remain confined to studying and practising in a particular fashion permanently. Otherwise, there will be no improvement even after ten years or even twenty years of learning, and its consequent benefits will be poor.
We should understand that even in the practice of Two Vehicles, there are people who emphasise faith whilst the others emphasise wisdom. This is mainly due to differences in individual spiritual potential, and does not mean that such practitioners stay permanently in one stage of that they only possess either faith without wisdom, or wisdom with out faith.
Both the Nirvana and Pitaka Sutra state that “Faith without wisdom leads one to become more ignorant and wisdom without faith leads one to a perverted view. “If we rely on faith only and do not cultivate understanding and wisdom we will be unable to comprehend the Triple Gem and the methods that we are learning. In that case, the real benefits of the Dharma would be beyond us. For those who practice in this manner, in their minds, they believe Buddhism is no different to the worship of ghosts or Gods. It is just an ignorant faith-superstition. This kind of attitude is in fact very commonly found in the circles of Chinese Buddhists nowadays.
It is more dangerous for one to have wisdom without faith. The Nagarjuna Bodhisattva said that, “If we try to attain ‘emptiness’ without the foundation of faith and precepts, such a concept of ‘emptiness’ will be a perverted one.” This perverted view of ‘emptiness’ rejects the Truth of the Law of Cause and Effect. Such a mistake is made due to self-approbation and the lack of pure faith in the merits of the Triple Gem. The foolishness of superstition is less than the foolishness of perverted views. Perverted view may lead one to Hell. Thus, it can be seen that faith and wisdom must be practised together, neither should be neglected.
In the teachings of the Great Vehicle, there is a ‘superior Bodhisattva of Wisdom’, and a ‘Superior Bodhisattva of Mercy’. We should note the word “Superior”, which simply means that they have greater emphasis on those aspects. If there is only wisdom without compassion or compassion without wisdom, the practice cannot be considered the practice of a Bodhisattva. Both compassion and wisdom must be cultivated together. Even if one practises compassion and wisdom together, if the merits and determination of compassion are not strong enough, one will be anxiously seeking for self-salvation and the attainments of wisdom for oneself only, one deteriorates to a selfish practitioner (Hinayanist) and cannot attain perfect enlightenment. If one’s mind of loving kindness and compassion is strong but weak in wisdom, in the process of practising the Bodhisattva’s way one may be defeated and become a “Defeated Bodhisattva”.
This is because the practice of the Bodhisattva cannot be successful without the skilful means of the wisdom of emptiness (wisdom of non-grasping). Thus, one may enter Buddhism through any one of the gates, however, if one is thinking of progressing and advancing further into the teaching and learning of the practice of the Bodhisattva, one must develop balanced strength in all these three areas, loving kindness and compassion and wisdom. These three areas of development will supplement each other and gradually lead the practitioner to a higher stage.
When one gains the profound wisdom of the Buddha, one is perfect in the practice of all three themes. This is the attainment of the great Bodhi or great Nirvana, in other words, Buddhahood. Some people think that it should be sufficient to just become expert in one theme, it is not necessary for one to learn all three together.
In fact, if one really becomes expert in one theme, one will naturally understand the interrelationship of the three and how they complement each other in order to lead one to completion. One theme may be used as the starting point of practice and its main focus. Looking deeply in this way one sees how each theme enfolds all the others at the same time It does not imply that one is giving up the practice of the other merits.
We, who are practising the Bodhisattva’s perfections and aiming for the fruit of Buddhahood, should ask ourselves, are the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas incomplete in their practice of the three themes? Do they have faith without wisdom, or have wisdom without faith? Buddha means the perfection of all merits. Thus, those who are determined to learn from the Buddha, should look upon the perfect merits of the Buddha as their goal and strive forward diligently.
4. The role of the Three Essentials in mental development, practice and attainment
Those who sincerely develop the mind of Bodhi and make the effort to practise the perfection of the Bodhisattva, must equip themselves with the essentials of Mahayana practice, even though they may have inclinations towards certain aspects. The essentials are: faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion, and wisdom. Without the foundation of Bodhisattva teachings, one’s faith and determination will be similar to benevolence and knowledge in Confucianism; one’s loving kindness and compassion will resemble the faith and wisdom of the Sravakas; and one’s wisdom will be equivalent to faith and love in Christianity. The only practice that can fully convey the Truth of Buddha’s teaching, and can become the supreme way of practice for human beings, in the practice of the Bodhisattva-the unification of faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion and wisdom. These three themes supplement each other and lead one to the attainment of perfection.
The three themes are the essentials and cannot be ignored or neglected. In the process of learning, there is a certain order of progress. One progresses from emphasis on one aspect to another according to their order until the completion of the course. To begin practice from the mind of a worldly person, we must know the order of practice. If we boast about perfection and completion, all these will be just empty words of mouth and reality will prove that our success is illusion.
a) The Order of practice
The sutras and abhidharma have given many explanations about the practices paving the Path of the Bodhisattva. Generally speaking, it can be divided into two smaller parallel paths — the Path of Prajna and the Path of Skilful Means. The stages of the Paths are as follow:
i) To begin the practice of the Bodhisattva, one must first develop the mind of Bodhi (mind of enlightenment). With the mind of Bodhi one can then step into the practice of the Bodhisattva. This is the stage that emphasises the importance of faith and determination.
ii) After the initiation of Bodhi mind, one progresses in practice. The practice of the Bodhisattva emphasises benefitting others. The accumulation of virtues and wisdom is not only for oneself. This is the stage that emphasises compassion.
iii) When one is equipped with virtues and wisdom, and balance in the practice of compassion and wisdom, one then attains the wisdom of equanimity and non-discrimination. This is the stage of Prajna (wisdom of emptiness).
The above are stages along the Path of Prajna. The realisation of the wisdom of emptiness in the Path of Prajna represents the development of the mind for the Path of the Skilful Means. This is the supreme mind of Bodhi. It is the unification of faith and wisdom-the pure attainment.
iv) From then on, the Bodhisattva put great emphasis on relieving the sufferings of all living beings and the adornment of a pure land. This is the practice of loving kindness and compassion with wisdom.
v) At the stage of perfection, one realises the supreme Bodhi the wisdom of all wisdom.
The order of progress along the Path of Skilful Means includes the development of the supreme Bodhi mind, the practice and attainment of perfect wisdom. Together with the Path of Prajna, there are five stages. These are stages that a Bodhisattva must go through in the process of practice, and it is something that those who are practising the Path of the Bodhisattva should always bear in mind.
The Path of Prajna
To develop the Bodhi vow
To practice loving kindness and compassion
To attain the wisdom of emptiness
To abide with equanimity in faith and wisdom
The Path of Skilful Means
To develop a pure and joyful mind
To adorn and purify the pure land in all matters
To attain the perfect fruit of enlightenment
These two paths and five stages can be summarised into three: the first is the development of the mind, the middle three are the practice (the practice of compassion to wisdom in the Path of Prajna, and wisdom to compassion in the Path of Skilful Means), and the last one is the attainment of Buddhahood. They are the stages of practice from worldly beings to Buddhahood, which is in fact the purification and improvement of the three virtues (three virtues of the Buddha, perfection in detachment, compassion and wisdom) to the state of perfection.
In summary, the worldly beings are ignorant, impure and full of desires. From the state of a worldly being, one arouses one’s faith and determination in pursuing Buddhahood, through the practice of loving kindness and compassion one progresses towards the attainment of the wisdom of emptiness. The wisdom of emptiness is also the Bodhisattva’s faith and determination (the pure mind of supreme joy). It is the unification of faith and wisdom.
With this faith and determination (no yet perfect), one continues the practice of compassion and loving kindness more broadly until one attains the perfect stage of wisdom. This is also the time when one’s wisdom, loving kindness and compassion, faith and determination attain perfection. The practice of the Bodhisattva is boundless and profound. For one to practice the perfection of Bodhisattva from the stage of a worldly beings, one must always hold on to these Three Essentials as the guiding principles of practice.
5. The Three Essentials and the recitation of the Buddha’s name, vegetarianism, and sutra chanting
The various ways of practice in the countless methodologies introduced by the Buddha boil down to the practice of the Three Essentials. They are very broad and profound. Now, let’s discuss the expedient ways for a beginner. To recite the name of the Buddha, to be vegetarian and to chant (to intone) the sutras are the main ways of practice for most Chinese Buddhists. They represent beginners steps along the Path of Bodhisattva.
a) Recitation of the Buddha’s name
The purpose of reciting the name of the Buddha is to arouse one’s faith and determination. A Bodhisattva’s faith and determination is the development of the Bodhi mind, and the maintenance of mindfulness on supreme Bodhi. The Buddha is the person who has realised the supreme Bodhi — the wisdom of all wisdom. He has majestic appearance and boundless power. He embodies all wisdom and incomparable loving kindness and compassion. Since his practice as a Bodhisattva, he has done countless meritorious acts benefiting others.
One should respect and admire the Buddha. The Buddha preaches the Dharma, and because of Dharma, the Sangha exist. Hence, the Buddha is also the embodiment of the Triple Gem. Thus we should look upon Buddha as our all encompassing refuge and ideal example at all times. With respect and admiration for Buddha’s merits, and sincere appreciation of His kindness and compassion, one’s faith and determination to practice will be strengthened. This is the main purpose of the practice of “reciting the name of the Buddha”, and “praising the development of the mind of Bodhi”, advocated by many of the Mahayana Sutras.
We recite the name of the Buddha to remind ourselves of the virtues of the Buddha, the marks of the Buddha, the essence of the Buddha, and the pure land of the Buddha. Expanding the scope of this practice leads into practices such as paying respect to the Buddha, praising the Buddha, making offerings to the Buddha, repentance in front of the Buddha, rejoicing in the merits of the Buddha and encouraging the promotion and distribution of the teachings of the Buddha; these are the broader means of practising.
The Prajna-Paramita Discourse states the “The Bodhisattva enters into Dharma with strong and diligent faith (determination), and happily accumulates the merits of a Buddha. This is ‘an easy path’ that was specially introduced by the ‘Superior Faith Bodhisattva’ in the Mahayana Teaching.
This ‘easy path’ is also the expedient alternative to the “difficult path” (the Path of Prajna and Skilful means that emphasise wisdom and compassion). Thus, “The Commentary on the Ten Stages of Bodhisattva” written by Nagarjuna Bodhisattva states that: “A beginner should practice reciting the name of the Buddha, repentance, promotion of the doctrine of the Buddha and other methods as mentioned above, so that the mind may be purified and faith strengthened. Thereafter he may be able to go a step further into the practice of wisdom, loving kindness and compassion.”
The Sraddhotpada Sutra also says that: “Beginners should learn such methods in order to strengthen their faith, as living beings are weak minded.” By teaching them to “concentrate on the name of the Buddha”, this will help them to maintain and strengthen their faith so that they do not fall back.
The main purpose of the practice of reciting the name of the Buddha is to initiate the faith and determination in those in whom they have not yet developed, and to strengthen and maintain faith and determination in those in whom they have. To recite the name of the Buddha is to recite with the mind. Also to remember the virtues of the Buddha whilst reciting with intense concentration is a skilful means of initiating one’s faith and determination. The normal practice of reciting by mouth is just a convenience among the conveniences, it is not the best way of practice.
To be vegetarian means not to eat meat. Vegetarianism is a tradition of Chinese Buddhism. It is not necessary for one to be a vegetarian in order to become a Buddhist. Theravada Buddhists in Sir Lanka and Buddhists in Tibet and Japan do take meat as an accepted part of their diet. Some Chinese Buddhists thought that to be vegetarian is the Hinayanist practice, and not the teaching of the Mahayana. This is a great misunderstanding. In actual fact, vegetarianism is a practice specially advocated in the Mahayana teachings. This can be found in sutras, such as the Lankavatara, Nirvana and Angulimala Sutras. There are various reasons for not eating meat, but the main reason is to cultivate one’s loving kindness and compassion. As the sutras say: “Eating meat nips compassion in the bud”.
A Bodhisattva should always seek to benefit others and to relieve the sufferings of all living beings. If one is cruel enough to kill beings and eat them, then where is one’s mind of kindness and compassion? The practice of the Bodhisattva emphasises the mind of compassion. Hence, the virtue of vegetarianism is certainly the conclusion of the Mahayana teaching.
c) Sutra Chanting
The chanting of sutras is also an expedient way of practice. Although the practice may have other purposes its main aim is to develop wisdom. There are three stages in the practice of wisdom before the realisation of the true Prajna (the wisdom of enlightenment). They are the stages of hearing, thinking and analysing, and practising.
These three stages of cultivating wisdom can also be classified into the Ten Righteous Practices (The Ten Ways of Devotion to the Buddha’s Teaching), namely: to copy sacred texts, to offer places for keeping and maintaining sutras or Dharma writings, to preach or give such exposition of Dharma to others, to listed attentively to their exposition, to read them, to teach others about them, to intone them, to explain them, to think and analyse them and to practise them. In this traditional schema, the first eight are practices of wisdom through hearing. Sutra chanting reminiscent of schools in olden days when one would intone the text before giving an explanation of it. After one intones the sutra one becomes familiar with it. Then one may eventually understand it or at least seek such an understanding. These are the expedient paths in practising wisdom through hearing.
d) Righteous practice of the Expedient Path
The most common methods of practice amongst Chinese Buddhist are the recitation of the name of the Buddha, vegetarianism (releasing lives) and chanting the sutras. These are in fact expedient steps for anyone who wants to begin the practice of the Bodhisattva. These are expedient measures that will strengthen one’s faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion, and wisdom as stated in the Mahayana teachings.
However, some people stress the merits of chanting the sutras whilst placing little value on the understanding of their meanings. In this case, the chanting will not expedite the development of wisdom.
On the other hand, those who advocate the practice of vegetarianism and the release of captive lives may emphasise their practice of these two methods but may not show loving kindness and compassion towards sufferings human beings or act to protect and help them. They only care about other living beings but neglect their calling to care for and protect human beings. This perversion of practice arises due to ignorance of the purpose behind true practice and cannot lead to the development of true loving kindness and compassion.
By comparison, reciting the name of the Buddha cultivates one’s faith somehow or other as the action reminds one about the virtues of the Buddha. However, the problem is that most followers incline towards superstitious acts whilst others are only seeking personal salvation. Thus it is very rare to have someone who will develop the Bodhisattva’s faith and determination in seeking attainment of Buddhahood and relieving the sufferings of all living beings through practising the recitation of the Buddha’s name.
Recitation of the name of the Buddha, vegetarianism and chanting the sutras are the supremely expedient practices on the path to the perfection of Bodhisattvahood. But due to the lack of enthusiasm in seeking wisdom and the lack of loving kindness and compassion, the practices are faith oriented. As a result, the full benefits arising from the skilful application of these expedient practices, cannot be fully expressed. This is the sad and source of deterioration in Chinese Buddhism.
Practising in this manner cannot be considered the practice of a Bodhisattva, nor can it reflect the greatness and beauty of the Dharma. Those who practice in this way will not be able to save themselves, let alone save the world. When we are practising the path of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva, we must understand clearly the aim of these expedient practices. We should not recite the name of the Buddha just for the sake of reciting; become a vegetarian just for the sake of becoming a vegetarian, or chant the sutras just for the sake of chanting. We should recite the name of the Buddha hoping to develop our faith and determination; become a vegetarian in order to strengthen our loving kindness and compassion; chant the sutras with the aim of developing our wisdom. These are methods of practice and their aim is to cultivate one’s faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion, and wisdom.
Thus, one who is sincere in practising the Teaching of the Buddha and is learning the Path of the Bodhisattva, should practise the recitation of the Buddha’s name in a righteous way and develop great determination and effort in seeking the attainment of Buddhahood and relieving the sufferings of all living being. From the practice of vegetarianism and releasing captive lives one should cultivate loving kindness and compassion and take part in social welfare activities that are of benefit to mankind. From the chanting of sutras one should go a step further into understanding their meanings, and hence develop wisdom.
In doing so, these expedient practices will fulfil their purposes and lay the foundations for one to progress along the Path of the Bodhisattva. These are only initial steps. There is still a long journey ahead. We should start here and strive forward in pursuit the boundless Teaching of the Buddha.
Translated by Neng Rong, edited by Mick Kiddle, Proofread by Neng Rong.(16-6-1995)