Six Things to Be Mindful Of
Buddhist sutras constantly exhort us to dispel our delusions and see the truth. Buddha asks us again and again to be mindful of everything we do so that our Buddha nature can be found.
The Flower Adornment Sutra says, “All phenomena and all things are nothing but mind. Mind is the source of all virtue and the root of all wonder.”
The true mind is as vast as all space. It contains all things in the universe. True mind is like a mountain of treasure; it holds all bounty, and no matter how much of it is used, it can never be used up. When we know our minds, we can do anything.
The mind is trained through concentration and mindfulness. Students must concentrate on their work if they want to learn quickly. In our professional lives, we must also concentrate and be mindful of everything we do. As Buddhists, we must apply ourselves to the Dharma with concentration and mindfulness, as well.
In the following sections, I will discuss mindfulness and concen- tration as they apply to members of the BLIA.
Agile and adaptable wisdom
Buddhism is a religion of enlightenment. If we do not learn to be agile and adaptable in our wisdom, we will not succeed in finding the depths of Buddhism, and we will surely not succeed in achieving enlightenment.
The Buddha taught prajna wisdom. Prajna wisdom has little to do with the calculation and cleverness that typify intelligence in this Saha world. Prajna wisdom is found deep within the heart and mind. It is something that is uncovered, discovered or found within. It is something that is revealed. Once one becomes aware of prajna wisdom, the eventual uncovering of one’s Buddha nature begins to follow naturally.
Prajna wisdom is characterized by a kind of agility and adaptabil- ity. Since it is everywhere, it can adapt to anything. Since it is every- where, it appears agile. When we apply wisdom of this sort to our lives, we quickly learn how to disentangle ourselves from suffering and delusion, and we quickly learn how to get along with others in a way that is beneficial to them and to ourselves.
When our wisdom is agile and adaptable, it also helps us learn the Dharma quickly and well. The Dharma has many levels, and when we approach it with an open mind at every level, we will not fall into the traps of intellectual attachment or over-conceptualization.
Wisdom of this sort also encourages us to be very effective when we employ skillful means in teaching others.
The BLIA needs members who are adaptable and agile in their wisdom. We have high ideals and great aims, and for us to achieve them, we need members who are adaptable and wise.
Compassion is the highest virtue. If one has compassion, the other virtues will follow. If one does not have compassion, Buddhism will soon lose its luster. Since compassion is so central to Buddhism, it is difficult to remain a Buddhist for long without it.
I have spoken about compassion often in this letter. Compassion is a state of mind, and it is a state of the heart. Human beings possess both minds and hearts. When we talk about intelligent compassion, we mean a mature compassion that listens to promptings from the heart and the head.
For example, if we listen only to our hearts, we might not do that hard work necessary to teach our children the discipline and skills they need to acquire if they are to become productive members of society. If we listen only to our heads, however, we may over-train our children and cause them to reject our values entirely. Intelligent compassion requires that we consider our children’s feelings as well as their needs.
Whenever we try to help others, our emotions usually spring from compassionate sources. In small matters, no further thought is necessary. However, in large matters, we need to think much more about what we are doing. We need to ask ourselves if our compas- sion will generate feelings of shame or worthlessness in the recipient. How would we feel if we were them? Are we prepared to allow our compassion to become the start of an ongoing relationship, or are we just acting out of pity, or to allay our own guilty feelings? If you do not want to have any further relationship with the person toward whom you are directing your compassion, there is a good chance you are looking down on him. This should not be an excuse not to be compas- sionate! On the contrary, this is an opportunity to ask yourself why you want to exclude someone from the circle of your larger concern.
The highest compassion can hardly be called compassion since it makes no distinction between the giver and the one given to. Until we reach a full understanding of that, however, we need to practice intelligent compassion.
In Buddhism there is a saying: “Sakyamuni Buddha was not born from nature, and Maitreya Bodhisattva will not be born from the sky.”
This means that Buddhas are not produced in the natural course of life. They are produced only after many ages of hard work. First the goal of becoming a Buddha is conceived, then many kalpas of purposive activity must follow. The path to enlightenment is a conscious path. The work of removing defilement from the mind is conscious work. In addition to following the morality of the path leading to enlightenment, a bodhisattva must make thousands of conscious decisions to desist from evil and do good instead. There is no one watching over the bodhisattva’s shoulder, and no one to tell him what to do. These decisions must be made in the privacy of his own thoughts. The bodhisattva’s entire world can change in “a swift moment of thought.” It can change for the better or it can change for the worse, depending on the morality of his intentions.
Buddhist practitioners are well aware of the difficulty of watching the mind so closely that progress toward Buddhahood is not impeded by self-delusion, which usually takes the form of deluded self-jus- tification. In the small moments of private decisions, human beings usually can find many ways to justify their behavior even though a larger part of them may actually realize they are doing wrong. This condition is the same for all of us. Morality is not easy.
To help us make the right decisions in as many situations as possible, Buddhism uses vows. vows are taken for the purpose of sealing our commitment to the bodhi mind. When our prajna wisdom is developed enough for us to see that, though we desire good, we may do evil, this is the time to take vows.
Vows make us stop and think about our behavior much longer than we would if we did not take vows. Vows remind us in moments of weakness that our lives have a purpose that transcends all delusion and all deluded self-justification.
Vows are like guardians that lead us toward a higher level of awareness. All of the Buddhas and all of the great bodhisattvas took vows. Sakyamuni Buddha himself preached the Dharma in this saha world for forty-five years on the strength of a vow. Without his vow, we would not have the Dharma!
If you want to progress in Buddhism, eventually you must take vows. I hope all members of the BLIA will consider these points very carefully.
Buddhists must have a sense of shame and a strong sense of humility. There is nothing worse than a Buddhist who becomes proud of his progress and starts looking down on others. When people do that, they begin backsliding immediately. The truth of all reality is emptiness. How can anyone erect a complex fantasy of arrogance and still hope to make progress?
In contrast, humility and shame speed the path like nothing else. Humility is a state of unimpededness. Humility has no hard edges, and so it moves gracefully with the promptings of wisdom.
The Great Nirvana Sutra says, “All the great Buddhists say this often: There are two inner methods that can save all who practice them – one is humility and the other is shame. Those who have a sense of shame will not do evil, while those who have a sense of humility will never lead others to evil. Those who are humble feel their humility in their hearts, while those who have shame show their humility before others. Those who have shame feel shame before others, while those who have humility feel humble before the heavens. This is what is meant by shame and humility. Those who do not have these virtues cannot be called people; they should be called animals. Those who have humility and shame are respectful to their parents, their teachers and their elders. Only those who have these virtues are fit to have parents, brothers and sisters.”
In the early years of this century, Master Yin Kuang called himself “the eternally humble monk.” He said that because he knew Buddhism needed to grow, and because there were many sentient beings who had not yet been saved. The world was still full of defilements, and he felt humbled by that.
All the saints of the past have expressed similar feelings. I hope that members of the BLIA will contemplate the work ahead of us with emotions like these. If we are not sufficiently humble, we will not approach our task with the dedication and purity it requires.
We all should feel that our learning is insufficient, our compas- sion weak, our vows but feeble. Toward our parents we need to have a sense of shame for not having fulfilled their desires for us, while toward our children we must feel humbled by the fact that we have not taught them well enough, and that we have not provided them with the skills necessary to be confident and independent.
Without a sense of humility toward those who are near to us, we will never succeed in understanding the magnitude of the task before us. How can we possibly expect to save all sentient beings from delusion without first having a well-developed sense of shame? How can the BLIA possibly be of service to Buddhism if its members have no humility?
“Humility is the abode of the victor. If you can be humble, you can climb high.”
I hope that all members of the BLIA will vow to be humble before the task we have set for ourselves.
The Sutra of Bequeathed Teachings says, “If you make a constant effort to progress, you will find that nothing is too difficult. This is because your constant effort is like running water; it can even cut through stones. Contrariwise, if you frequently abandon your effort to progress, you will go nowhere. You will be like someone who tries to start a fire by rubbing sticks together but stops before the wood gets hot. You may desire to start a fire, but you will never succeed.”
While they were both on the “casual ground,” Maitreya Bodhisat- tva vowed to become a Buddha before Sakyamuni Bodhisattva. His Buddhahood will be accomplished, however, nine kalpas later than Sakyamuni Buddha’s. The main reason for this delay is Sakyamuni Bodhisattva made greater effort to achieve enlightenment than Maitreya Bodhisattva.
The story of the tortoise and the hare reminds us of this truth as well. The hare was naturally much faster than the tortoise, but since he was lazy, he lost the race. The tortoise won because he persevered and did not give up.
Everything in life is like this. If we want to succeed at anything, we must keep at it and do our best all the time. How could Buddhism be an exception to this rule?
I hope all members of the BLIA will make the effort necessary to progress quickly in Buddhism. Constant effort is a form of energy that grows on itself. Coupled with proper vows, constant effort becomes a way of life that brings goodness to the self, as well as to all others.
The great Chinese translator Xuanzang vowed to walk to India to bring sutras back to China. Then he vowed to translate them. His vows were constantly reinvigorated by his tireless efforts to fulfill them. Because of his work, millions of people were able to learn the Dharma, while the sutras he translated formed a foundation on which all later Chinese Buddhism has grown.
If Sakyamuni Buddha had grown tired and decided to quit during his six years of austerity, do you think we would have achieved Buddhahood?
It takes a long time to become a Buddha. Without the application of constant effort to the task, there is no hope of succeeding. All of us need to make the effort, while at the same time enduring hardship, insult and improvident conditions. The BLIA must depend on the commit- ments and efforts of its members to succeed. All of us must make the effort to be productive members of the BLIA by attending meetings, practicing compassion and willingly taking on new responsibilities.
Like hope, faith is a higher function of the human mind and heart. Faith is based on higher intuitions that we can feel even in times of hardship. It is important that all of us learn to rely on these higher intuitions in time of need and to reaffirm them in times of certainty.
Sun Yat-sen once said, “Faith is strength.” On another occasion he said, “Religion is the staff of life.” When we allow ourselves to rely on our faith, we release very powerful energies that lie deep inside of us. Faith gives us strength, patience, endurance and the capacity to persevere.
Faith also teaches us to respect other people, because it draws on an intuitive understanding that completely transcends the individ- ual self. When we have faith in the Dharma, we naturally learn to have faith in other people. This kind of faith forms an enduring bond between friends. The trust that gradually develops among friends who share the same faith is very deep, and it is a foundation on which profound cooperation can be built. If there is faith in the Dharma, there can be trust among people. If there is trust among people, truly wonderful things can be accomplished.
Buddha’s disciples all followed him because they had faith in him. Buddhism has flourished as a religion because people through the ages have believed it. Nothing great is ever built in the absence of great faith. Offer trust and it will be returned. Depend on faith and you will be strengthened.
As you work to serve Buddhism, don’t let yourself be blown back and forth by transitory moods and setbacks. Outward conditions are never more than means for us to learn more about ourselves and the Dharma. As you go through life, don’t waste your time looking toward outer things you think you may gain or lose; look instead toward the vast ocean of faith rising within you. This ocean is the source of our motives and the goal of all our practice.