The Hopes of the BLIA
People live through hope! If material life ever became so satisfying that one no longer had reason to hope, one soon would find existence joyless. A cloud of boredom would cover the world, and life itself would seem meaningless.
Hope is a higher faculty, and without it human beings deny the very possibility of a higher life. The BLIA has hope at its very core. When a person joins the BLIA, he or she does so out of hope. And when he or she joins the BLIA, his or her hopes are encouraged and increased. The hopes that characterize the BLIA not only add to the beauty of life, but they also can be instrumental in the development of each member of the BLIA. In the following eight sections, I will discuss in greater detail how the hopes of the BLIA can aid each of us in our own spiritual development.
Hope supports our faith
People sometimes say that human beings are “creatures of faith.”
All religions and philosophies are founded on faith or belief. When faith is strong, powerful energies are released. With the energies of faith, amazing things can be accomplished. Faith, however, can sometimes lead to error. Generally speaking, there are four basic categories that can help us understand faith.
The worst kind of faith is faith placed in false teachers who preach evil beliefs. The next worst kind of faith is no faith at all. People who have no faith at all see life as a continuous series of accidents that have no meaning whatsoever. They are not interested in where they came from, and they do not care where they may be going. This is an unhappy way to live, but at least it is better than actively believing in evil.
The third kind of faith is full of sincerity and decency, but it lacks proper discrimination between truth and superstition. Supersti- tion is not a good thing, but it does often draw on good emotions and sometimes, superstitions can lead people away from evil.
The fourth kind of faith is the highest kind of faith.
This kind of faith is very powerful, because it is founded in truth, wisdom and purity. This kind of faith has the power to elevate the emotions, raise the consciousness, and improve the morality of its adherents. Acceptance of this kind of faith will lead to an end of suffering.
Buddhism, of course, is based on truth, wisdom and the firsthand experiences of its practitioners.
In the sutras, Buddha explains many times that all sentient beings possess a Buddha nature, and that if we follow his teachings, we will perfect ourselves in our Buddha natures.
Members of the BLIA should conscientiously work at perfecting themselves in their Buddha natures by contemplating Buddha, respect- ing Buddha and by practicing the teachings of Buddha. Through our deep faith in the truths of Buddhism, all of us will succeed in unlocking the unlimited strength and wisdom at the heart of all life.
We must contribute to the well-being of our families
Most of us spend most of our lives within the circle of some family. We spend our early years in our parents’ home, and when we are
grown, we establish our own families. Families do not only produce and raise new lives, they also are fundamental to the growth of the individual and the stability of the nation. For this reason, Buddhism places special emphasis on the family. Many Buddhist sutras are concerned principally with the family. The Singalaka Sutra, the Great Treasures Collection Sutra and the Great Nirvana Sutra not only teach us how to live in a family, they also specifically teach us how to manage the finances of a family so they will be in accordance with the Dharma.
Members of the BLIA should always remember that our work of creating a Pure Land in this world must begin within our own families. Before we can ever hope to save other people, we must first success- fully implement our ideals within our own homes. We must treat our wives and husbands with compassion and respect. We must raise our children with love and wisdom, and we must treat our parents with kindness. The family is where Humanistic Buddhism must start, and it is through the family that Humanistic Buddhism will be passed from one generation to the next.
We must contribute to the well-being of society
We owe nearly everything we have to society.
Society provides us with material goods, an education, our friends, and professional opportunities. Society gives us our language, and it teaches us our values. We should be deeply grateful for what has been given to us, and we should work willingly to give something back. We should feel compassion toward the societies that have reared us, and we should do our best to repay them. When we feel compassion toward the society in which we live, we can be sure that we are beginning to really grow in wisdom.
During the Eastern and Western Jin dynasties (265-420), the great monk Fotuchen (232-348) took great risks in his persistent attempts to soften the cruelty of the rulers Stone Tiger and Stone Force. His brave and compassionate efforts saved thousands of people from terrible suffering. During the Northern Wei dynasty (424-535), Tan Yao built and stocked a granary to help people in times of famine. His compas- sionate actions saved many from hunger.
Above all, it is compassion that inspires people to contribute to the well-being of others. Most of the problems in the world today are fundamentally caused by a lack of compassion. Due to this fundamen- tal lack, people refuse to cooperate with one another, they refuse to adapt to one another, and they refuse to forgive one another. Conflicts often arise, and without the warmth of compassion they rarely are solved without someone suffering far more than is necessary. Only through study of the Dharma will people learn the profound value of compassion. Then, through this understanding, they will begin to learn how to truly contribute to the well-being of society.
Only compassion teaches us how to beat swords into plowshares. Only compassion teaches us how to turn violence and cruelty to peace and harmony. Members of the BLIA should think deeply about this point. We should follow the best examples we can find of compas- sionate behavior in the past, while at the same time creating our own new examples of the deep kindness and caring all people are capable of. Let us have our hearts swell with compassion as we contemplate our world, and let us have our minds expand to their widest levels of tolerance and generosity. The entire universe is in our hands, and all sentient beings are an intimate part of us. Through profound, heartfelt compassion, we will succeed in producing a lasting and beneficial effect on the entire world, and we will not succeed by any other means.
We must contribute to history
An important part of human life lies in continuing and enhancing traditions inherited from the past. Each generation stands on the shoulders of the one before it. If we recognize our debt to the past, we must surely be able to recognize our responsibility to the future. It is our duty to maintain the traditions that have been passed down to us. Naturally, we must always be willing to adapt them to changing circumstances, but in the end, we should pass them on in good condition to the generations that follow. Our contribution to society will have little or no importance if it has no beneficial effect that lasts over time.
Kumarajiva’s disciple, Sengzhao (384-414), lived to be only thirty-one years old, but the Zhao Lun he wrote on the Madhyamika has remained a significant work on the subject of emptiness to this day. Master Chih Yi’s (538-597) organization of the Buddhist sutras in Chinese influenced the development of Buddhism throughout East Asia. Master Jianzhen’s’s (688-763) persistence in taking Buddhism to Japan is still remembered today as one of the great feats of compas- sion and determination in Buddhist history.
Clearly, what we do in this world can transcend the life of the body by many years, just as the importance of what we do in our lives may not be fully appreciated at the time we do it. The important thing is to try daily to contribute in a positive fashion to whatever lies around us. If BLIA members all devote themselves wholeheartedly to the kindness and compassion that are the basis of our organization, then we will be sure to build a living tradition that will be gratefully received by the generations after us.
We must contribute to our temples
Historically, Buddhist temples have always done far more than just preach the Dharma. They have also been used as schools, hospitals, refugee camps, military camps, links in transportation lines, storage houses, and focal points for organized social work. Historically, Buddhist temples have been the centers of so many different kinds of activities, they have functioned almost like second homes for millions of people. It is important that BLIA members recognize the very important roles their temples can, and should, play within the societies in which they reside. People look to an organization for leadership and guidance, but they look to its temples for community and friendship.
There is an old saying, “The life and death of a nation is the responsibility of all its people.” That saying could well be rewritten to apply here. “The life and death of Buddhism is the responsibility of all its believers.”
All of us – both monastics and laity alike – must give something of ourselves to our temples. If all of us contribute our time and energy to our temples, then the larger work of preaching the Dharma for the good of all sentient beings cannot but succeed. Our voices can be used to praise and preach Buddhism. Our hands can be used to help in the temple. Our heads can be used to plan our greater effectiveness. Our energies can be used to support our temples and the monastics who reside in them. If all of us willingly give of ourselves in these ways, how can Buddhism possibly fail to grow?
When we succeed in reaching more and more people through our temples, the merit accruing to those who have contributed to the effort truly is immeasurable!
When Anathapindaka gave money to build the Jetavana, not only were monastics on earth given a place to live and work, but the beings in Trayastrimsa Heaven also made a palace for Anathapindaka in return. When the impoverished Nanda lit a small lamp in the temple, the utter sincerity of her act ultimately led to her becoming a Buddha. When we in the BLIA do our utmost to see that our temples are serving our communities, we set in motion an energy that will benefit all the world.
We create positive conditions for all beings
When Buddha became enlightened under the bodhi tree, his enlight- enment arose from positive conditions present at that time, and it produced the Dharma that is still with us today.
Conditions are the most wonderful and powerful aspects of the whole world!
When we learn to work positively with whatever conditions we find ourselves in, amazing and beautiful things can come into being. When we are positive, even negative causes can produce good results. Everything in the universe is produced by causes and conditions.
All sentient beings are both born and live within a matrix of common conditions and interrelated causes. It is imperative that human beings abandon the false notions of “survival of the fittest” and “might makes right.” These notions not only are not true, they also produce very harmful effects on human consciousness.
Each one of us must contribute to the well-being of the whole world and not simply try to seize as many resources as we can for ourselves.
Our lives are interconnected. When we live in accordance with the higher virtues of tolerance, generosity, kindness and compas- sion, we create energies that increase the happiness of others as they continuously expand the circles of our own awareness. This is the right
way to deal with whatever conditions we find ourselves in.
In the Diamond Sutra, Buddha says, “All sentient beings, whether they are born of eggs, wombs, moisture, or transformation, whether they have form or no form, whether they have thoughts or no thoughts, whether they have no thoughts or do not have no thoughts, I will lead them all to Nirvana without remainder. I will save them all, and not one of them will be left behind.”
The Buddha pledged to aid all sentient beings so matter what their conditions. I hope that all members of the BLIA will work to find in themselves the virtues of equality, magnanimity, compassion and generosity so that as we engage ourselves with the conditions we find ourselves among, all of our efforts will produce good effects on all who are around us.
We vow to contribute to the future
The things of this world are transient. None of us can know what tomorrow will bring. However, if we truly vow to make positive contributions to life, our efforts will transcend the limitations of time. Amitabha Buddha made forty-eight vows for the good of all sentient beings, and upon those vows his Western Pure Land was created. The Eastern Pure Land of the Medicine Buddha, similarly, was founded on his twelve vows. Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva has vowed to remain in helluntil all sentient beings have been released from it.
That vow gives hope to all who hear it.
In the same way, the illimitable compassion of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is like a light piercing the darkness of this mundane world. Xuanzang traveled on foot to India across hundreds of miles of dangerous deserts. If he had not vowed, “I will walk west to my death before I ever turn back to the east,” he would never have found the energy to succeed.
All of us need to learn how to draw on the deep resolve evinced by these great Buddhists of the past. We must learn to endure the unendurable and to do the impossible. If our resolve is strong, then our lives will benefit Buddhism as they give hope to all who come in contact with us. If our vows are deep, then the value of our contribu- tions will be felt for many generations to come.
We must contribute light to the world
The highest thing in the world is light. The sun rises at dawn, and as it proceeds on its course, it shines light around the world. All living things are sustained and warmed by the light of the sun.
A lighthouse on land gives direction to ships at sea. It prevents them from foundering, and it saves the sailors on board much fear.
We who are in the BLIA should try to make our own lives like the light of the sun and like the light of a lighthouse. In places where there is suffering, we should light the lamp of compassion. In places where there is anger, we should light the lamp of tolerance and reason. In places of doubt, we should light the lamp of truth and faith. In places of sadness, we should light the lamp of joy. Amidst hopelessness, we should light the lamp of hope. Amidst ignorance, we should light the lamp of wisdom. And in the end, all of us together should produce a light that covers all the world.
The value and wonder of life is not to be found in fine living or in expensive homes. The value of life cannot be equated with length of life, either. The value of life can only be found in the contributions we make to the world and in the service we give to others. Similarly the value of Buddhism will never be realized if we spend our time trying to become famous Buddhists or if we try to wrap ourselves in the glory of our own understanding. The value of Buddhism can be found only when we give fully of ourselves to others and only when we try with deep sincerity to help others understand the truths of Buddhism.
I hope all members of the BLIA will adopt selfless attitudes toward themselves, their work, and their contributions to Buddhism. When we work selflessly to achieve a compassionate goal, we are assured of helping both ourselves and others at the same time. And we are assured of engaging ourselves in work that is of the highest order. When we are selfless and compassionate at the same time, we will benefit our families, we will be positive elements in our societies, we will create energies and traditions that will influence future gener- ations, and we will improve the very conditions in this world in which our fellow human beings must live. The vows we take today will one day light the whole world.