The Direction of the BLIA
“A good beginning is the first half of success.” This saying itself is a good place to begin this topic. Whenever we start to do something, we should have a clear idea of what our direction is. This clarity makes us efficient, as it facilitates realization of our goals. Different direc- tions lead to different goals. For example, all Buddhists have as their final goal complete enlightenment in their inherent Buddha nature. However, some Buddhists take the Sravaka path, while others take the bodhisattva way. From the outset, their directions are different, and thus in the end, their accomplishments are quite different as well. If our direction is correct, and we clearly understand what it is, we will be almost certain to accomplish what we have set out to do. In the next four sections I will discuss the direction of the BLIA in some detail.
From monastics to lay followers
There are formal monastics who wear robes, and there are people who in their hearts are “monastics.” Monastics who wear robes are people who have dedicated their lives to preserving and upholding the true Dharma. People who are “monastics” in their hearts are people who take the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha into their homes and into the world around them.
There are many examples of people who are “monastics” in their hearts in the Buddhist sutras.
Vimalakirti was renowned for his excellent practice and for his ability to perceive errors in the views of some of the Buddha’s monks. Srimala was very successful in preaching the truths of Mahayana Buddhism. The Dragon Girl was so even-minded she was able to converse with Manjusri on the subject of emptiness.
Yelu Chucai (1190-1244) was so versed in Buddhism he was able to impress the emperor with his compassion, and thus, prevent the deaths of many people. Lu Pi-ch’en (1886-1946) traveled in Europe and America to preach the Dharma and translated many sutras into English. Charles Luk (Lu Kuanyu, 1898-1978) was an accomplished Chan practitioner and an excellent translator of Chinese Buddhist texts into English.
From these examples we can easily see that many lay followers possess as much talent and dedication as monastics. The BLIA was founded with this sort of dedicated lay follower in mind. By organiz- ing lay followers all over the world, success in spreading the Dharma to all sentient beings is assured. With many hands brought to the task, we cannot fail. I very deeply believe that monastics and lay followers working together form a body that is both strong and agile. These two groups can become like two wings of a phoenix, and when they work harmoniously together, there is no place where they cannot fly and no distance they cannot cover.
From the temple to society
In the past, many Buddhists believed that Buddhism only could be practiced in temples. Without temples, they thought, there could be no Buddhism. Since temples provide focus and stability to Buddhist communities, there is some truth in that belief. However, since
Buddhism is properly practiced in the heart, there is also much falsity in believing that Buddhism must have temples to survive.
The BLIA was founded to encourage the formation of Buddhist communities around the world and to give them something larger to belong to. By uniting Buddhists from all over the world, we will lend strength to each of them. By bringing Buddhism into the societies in which we live, we will empower ourselves as we encourage others.
One of the most important duties of the BLIA is to spread Buddhism beyond the doors of the temple proper. We do this in a large way by being an international organization, but we also do this in a smaller way by practicing Buddhism in all areas of our lives. In both of these ways, the BLIA and its members will bring about a solid expansion of Buddhism across the earth. We will take Buddhism out of the temple and plant it in homes, factories, schools, prisons, and hearts everywhere.
From study to teaching
In agricultural societies of the past, transportation was slow, so most students of Buddhism were forced to do much of their study on their own.
Examples of the difficulties faced by Buddhists in the distant past abound. Sudhana endured bitter hardship to travel throughout southern India in search of teachers. Xuanzang walked from China to India to study Buddhism and to bring Buddhist sutras back to China. At the age of eighty, Zhaozhou still was walking arduous mountain trails in search of new teachers. Wu Ch’ing-tsang, similarly, wore out her shoes in her efforts to study the Dharma.
These people, as well as many others not mentioned here, are excellent examples for all of us to emulate. Fortunately, most of us no longer have to endure so much physical hardship in our study of Buddhism, but if we can learn something of the commitment and dedication to truth that these great practitioners evinced, both the world and our own practice will be well served. If we apply that kind of energy to what is available to us today, there will be nothing that can stop us from penetrating the deepest truths of Buddhism.
All of the people mentioned above endured physical hardship and months of loneliness to further their studies. It is important to remember, though, that they endured these trials for the sole purpose of being with people. They progressed in their learning because they knew they needed to learn from others.
Very few people make progress in Buddhism entirely on their own. Most of us need other people to give us new ideas and fresh perspectives on our studies. There is a saying that applies here, “The happiness one feels when alone is never as great as the happiness one feels when in the company of others.” The Lankavatara Sutra makes this point as well when it describes an assembly of twenty-five bodhisattvas and sravakas who together discussed and penetrated the deepest levels of the Dharma. In the Complete Enlightenment Sutra, twelve people discuss enlightenment with the Buddha. Many in the audience that was privileged to hear their discussion came away with a profound understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.
There are really two lessons here. The first is we need others to help us learn. The second is others need us to help them learn. As we recognize our debt to others, we should also recognize our respon- sibilities toward them. We need them, and they need us. Since all of life is interconnected, it should be no great surprise that our practice of Buddhism must also be interconnected with the practice of other Buddhists. It is for these reasons that I strongly recommend that each and every BLIA chapter do its utmost to create discussion and study
groups. Talk to each other. Help each other. Don’t just read a few books and wander around with a cloud in your mind. Share yourself with others and expose your understanding to them. If they are reluctant to talk, start the discussion yourself. This is one place where being an “uninvited friend” will do both you and others much good. Speak, teach, share yourself with an open mind, and everyone will benefit.
From tranquility to action
In the past, most Buddhist practice was characterized by long medita- tion sessions, chanting, and religious contemplation of the Buddha’s name. These techniques are very important foundations for individ- ual practice, but if they are overemphasized they can lead us into a self-serving way of life that has little to do with the bodhisattva vow. An overemphasis on these techniques has also caused many non-Bud- dhists to believe that the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha are pessi- mistic, and that he advocated complete withdrawal from this world.
The truth is Sakyamuni Buddha taught 84,000 ways of overcom- ing delusion. After his enlightenment, the Buddha lived among a community of monks, and with them he traveled all over northern India bringing his message to all who would listen. When the Buddha preached, he often used melodies and musical instruments to help his listeners understand and remember what they had heard. And when he spoke, colorful lights shone from his body and eyes, as the wonderful sound of his enlightened voice graced the ears of everyone present. The eight kinds of divine beings scattered flower petals over him. They did this to show their respect for his words and to arouse his audience to even greater attentiveness.
We find these beautiful descriptions of the Buddha in the sutras.
As we read them, it is important to remember that one of the most
important aspects of these representations is that they show how much emphasis Sakyamuni Buddha placed on actively preaching the Dharma to as many sentient beings as he could, and how much emphasis he placed on making the Dharma appealing and understandable.
Asvaghosa (100-160) and Siladitya (7th Century) composed dances, and they wrote Buddhist poems and plays to make Buddhism appealing to a large number of people. Zhu Xi(1130-1200) of the Song dynasty once said, “If you ask how a stream can be so clear, it is because there is running water at its source.”
It is easy to see your original face in still water, but doesn’t running water express the vitality of life even more as it surges over rocks and bubbles through crevices, twisting and moving in perfect conformance with the conditions of nature?
Remember the saying, “As the Dharma Wheel turns, Buddha’s light is made splendid.”
The Dharma Wheel must turn for Buddhism to continue flour- ishing. We live in an age now where people expect bright colors and wonderful sounds. We should not turn away from these qualities that characterize our age so much. We should, instead, encourage people to sing and perform, to play games together, to visit places together, to brighten their temples and unashamedly proclaim the joy they find in Buddhism.
The ancients used to say, “heavenly bodies move constantly, a sage should strengthen himself without ceasing.”
The universe is characterized by motion and change. The seasons come and go, the sun rises and sets, the stars turn in the sky, people are born, then they grow old and die. Flowers bloom and fall. Is there anything anywhere that does not move and change?
I hope all members of the BLIA will consider how important it is for us, too, to move and change. The bodhisattva Way is a way that must be filled with activity. It is a way that requires each of us to be willing to adapt actively to changes in the world, as we constantly seek out new ways to make Buddhism as vibrant and responsive as it should be.
From disciple to teacher
In most professions all over the world, people receive promotions according to their experience and the time they have given to their work. In Buddhism, however, a layperson generally remains nothing more than a layperson for his entire life.
Since so many Buddhist laypeople do so much for Buddhism, and since so many of them are so talented, the BLIA provides ways for them to express their learning and share their abilities with others. We have created three very important positions within the BLIA. These are the positions of lay instructor, lay teacher, and lay preacher. These positions are open to all BLIA members who have demonstrat- ed a sufficient knowledge of Buddhism to be able to perform the duties required of them.
It’s a big world! Only through dynamic cooperation between sangha and lay followers will ever be able to spread the Dharma to all who have a need of it.
The Buddha himself encouraged “good men and women” over and again. He often praised all protectors of the Dharma, heavenly soldiers, and even demon kings who were willing to work for the good of sentient beings in this truly huge universe in which we live.
The Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Samantabhadra and Maitreya bodhisattvas work tirelessly for the sake of all sentient beings. For this reason, they are called the “Great Teachers,” and everyone who knows of them praises them for their commitment and compassion.
I hope all members of the BLIA will look to these great bodhisattvas for inspiration. When we advance in our studies of Buddhism, we gain something we can share with others, and when we share our knowledge, we share something more valuable than gold.
The positions of lay instructor, lay teacher and lay preacher are open to all who qualify for them. I encourage everyone who feels a calling for this kind of work to make the extra effort needed to bring their knowledge to the service of others.
From the local to the global
Buddhism has never been restricted to a single place. Our root teacher Sakyamuni Buddha never preached only to one place, or to one kingdom, or one country. He always included the entire universe whenever he spoke.
The Vimalakirti Sutra describes nine million bodhisattvas coming from all over the universe with offerings of scented rice for Sakyamuni Buddha.
The Amitabha Sutra describes how beings in the Pure Land arise every morning to make offerings of beautiful flowers to all Buddhas in the universe.
Buddhism is a religion that belongs to all sentient beings no matter who they are or where they are. No one should ever be left out of the circle of our compassion.
As the BLIA continues to grow and become more active, I hope that all of our members will appreciate the importance of cooperation and unity in everything we do. As we ourselves draw closer together, the energy we create will radiate to other parts of the world where Buddhism has not yet had the chance to flourish.
Our basic commitments are made in our local areas, but our funda- mental concerns always should be with all sentient beings everywhere. The direction of the BLIA should proceed from monastics to lay followers, from the temple to society, from self-study to teaching, from tranquility to activity, and from our local areas to the whole world. Every day is a new day, and all of us should try to improve ourselves every day. I hope all members of the BLIA will succeed in achieving this kind of understanding. We must free ourselves from the restrictions of our traditional societies as we dedicate ourselves to the improvement of life everywhere.