The Four Pillars of Goodness
Every organization must ask something of its members. Some organi- zations ask their members to meet people, others ask them to accumu- late information, and still others ask them to develop their talents. The BLIA is based on the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha, and because of that, our main goal is to aid all sentient beings. To accomplish this goal, we must ask all members of the BLIA to try to achieve a very high standard of behavior.
The Verse of the Seven Ancient Buddhas says:
Do nothing that is unwholesome, Do all that is wholesome, Purify the mind. This is the teachings Of all the Buddhas.
In the following sections I will discuss the principal responsibili- ties we must ask BLIA members to take on.
Purify your mind
The Buddha said, “There is nothing outside of the mind. The minds of people who are resentful constantly play tricks on others. The mind selects its own hell, its own realm of hungry ghosts, its own realm of animals, and its own heaven. Even our appearances have resulted from the workings of our minds. If you can control your mind and bring it to the Way, immense power is gained. I have contended with my own mind for many kalpas, and now I have succeeded in becoming a Buddha. Everything in the Three Realms is created by mind.”
Our minds are like kings who have absolute power. They can do anything when they are concentrated. However, if we become distract- ed by the allure of the world, even for a moment, then we run the risk of being assaulted by the demonic army of the six senses. In a moment, we may become lost and create terrible karma. In a moment, it is possible to turn completely from the good.
All Buddhists must know this. Our entire future can change in a moment of weakness and delusion. All of us must be prepared for moments like that, and we must be prepared to prevail. Those are the times when we most need to rely on what we have learned. Those are the times when everything we are counts the most. Those are the times when we must draw on our own belief, our faith, our virtue, our compassion, our moral sense, our patience and concentration. We can be sorely tempted in one moment, but we can also be completely victorious in the next.
Proper use of language
Buddhism often speaks of the ten unwholesome acts of human beings. These defilements are divided into three basic categories; those of body, mind and speech. Bodily defilements are three in number: killing, stealing and sensual indulgence. Mental defilements also are three in number: greed, anger and ignorance. The defilements of speech, however, are four in number: duplicity, harshness, lying and flattery.
The fact that speech accounts for the greatest number of defilements among these three types shows the importance, and danger, of how we choose to use language. Most of us create more problems with our mouths than with our bodies and minds.
The Pratibhana-matipariprccha Sutra (Bianyi Zhangzhezi Jing, 辯意長者子經) says, “The human mind is the source of poison. The mouth is the door through which calamity goes. It is the body, however, that receives the karmic retribution brought on by the mind and the mouth.”
The Sze Tsu Ch’in Sutra says, “Through the eyes of wisdom, the turbulence and troubles of the world can all be seen to arise from argumentation over unimportant matters. Calamity issues from the mouth causing a thousand crimes and errors to bundle up and revolve among themselves.”
The mind moves very quickly, and in a flash it can order the mouth to say terrible things that cannot be taken back. In the history of the world, there are many stories of excellent deeds being ruined in a moment of misspeaking. All over the world today, we hear angry words, and all of us well know the kinds of unforgiving responses they can produce. My guess is most of us have had similar experiences ourselves.
We must guard against the evil that is set in motion through bad speech. At the same time, members of the BLIA should also recognize that the tendency toward intemperate speech is almost universal. If we are spoken to harshly or lied to, we should be quick to forgive the speaker. We must do our best to stand above the drudgery of resent- ment and revenge. Bad words usually are not meant to be as bad as they sound. A good part of the defilement of bad speech often can be laid to the ears of the hearer.
The Buddha said that chanting his name was like spewing pearls from the mouth, and that preaching the Dharma was like having light shine from the mouth. He also said that speaking of doubt was like chewing wood shavings, that sarcasm was like a dropped sword, and that filthy language was like pinworms. The Buddha said that speaking of good things was like emitting fragrance from the mouth, and that honest words were as comfortable as soft silk. He said the deceitful language was like a thin cover over a pit trap, and that bad language was like a horrible smell.
These metaphors show clearly what the Buddha thought of defile- ments of speech.
In our daily lives, language is the means by which we express our willingness to cooperate. In our professional lives, language is the crucial factor in determining whether we are successful or not. As Buddhists, language is the main way we communicate the Dharma to others, and it is the main way others learn about Buddhism. It is very important that all of us in the BLIA pay close attention to our use of language.
I am not trying to encourage weakness here, or passive habits of agreeing with everything we hear. That kind of language also sends the wrong message to others. We should be confident in our beliefs and confident in the truths of Buddhism. When we communicate with others, we should convey this confidence just as much as we convey our compassion and our willingness to establish harmonious relations with everyone we meet.
The mouth can produce great evil, but it also can create great good. Our mouths are our temples, and they are the best means we have to express the joy we find in Buddhism.
Buddhism has never been a strictly mental religion wherein we talk all the time, but do nothing about what we say. It is very important that we speak well, but it is just as important that we follow through on what we have said.
The Dharmapada says, “One who speaks but does not act is like someone who has stolen light and smeared himself with it. This is the wisdom of a small person. One who does what he says, however, is radiant like the sun and moon. He cares for all sentient beings, and he comes to the aid of all dharmas. This is the light of a great person. Action is like the ground, and all phenomena grow from it.”
A Buddhist must be careful to act in accordance with his words. There are many good things we all can do every day, and all of them are important. In my opinion, however, the best thing any of us can do is participate in the BLIA. The BLIA is an environment in which we can practice Buddhism, and it is a place wherein the effects of our good deeds can be magnified many times. When we act purely as individuals, our energies are scattered and often redundant. When we act through the BLIA, however, the effects of what we do can be maximized. A group of people can always do much more than an individual. Furthermore, the very purpose of the BLIA is to draw Buddhists together into a worldwide society. In this kind of group, we will find the most opportunity for personal growth and development. At the same time, we will bring the greatest help possible to others.
The BLIA has many projects. Each member can select the projects that inspire him or her the most. We have groups that work for the good of the environment. We have groups that visit prisons, schools, and hospitals. We have publications and translation projects. The BLIA makes films and recordings, and it produces radio shows. We need help in all of these areas. If you see something that needs to be done in your community, if it is in harmony with the ideals of the BLIA, try to find others who will do it with you. There are endless numbers of ways all of us can use our creative energies for the betterment of the world.
The beneficial effects of our actions are increased many times when we join with others in harmony and compassion.
When we become involved in worthwhile projects, everyone benefits. We ourselves will grow in understanding as we feel that our lives have become more useful, while others will benefit from what we have done. Active participation in a dedicated group like the BLIA confers merit on all of us, even as it works toward improving the world. There is no better way to repay our communities and nations than to unite within the embrace of the Dharma for the good of people everywhere.
There is a saying, “Don’t be afraid of doing too much good.” I hope all members of the BLIA will take this saying to heart. The world needs our help, just as much as all of us need to grow through the act of helping. I hope all members of the BLIA will try to budget at least half a day per week to participate in BLIA activities. The time you give is a gift that never can be measured. It is like compassion or light. It can be seen and felt, but it can never be calculated.
The foundation of all Buddhism is human nature. You cannot be a good Buddhist if you are a bad person. This point is obvious, and yet it is frequently ignored or minimized. People fool themselves in many ways. Don’t wait for the weekend to practice Buddhism. You must practice every moment of your life.
The Buddha said that there are basically five inhumane things people do. These are: when they ought to laugh, they do not laugh; when they ought to be joyful, they are not joyful; when they ought to be compassionate, they are not compassionate; when they hear of evil, they do not stop it; when they hear of goodness, they are not happy.
Mencius said something similar. He said that people are inhumane whenever they lack pity and shame, whenever their words are unyield- ing, or whenever they have lost their abilities to discriminate between right and wrong.
Saints and sages all over the world have said much the same. These truths have been repeated many times in many places for the simple reason that they are true.
The difference between morality and immorality is not so hard to see. All of us are capable of phrasing difficult moral questions that are hard to answer, but at the same time, we all are equally capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong in our own lives. In most cases, it is clear what we should do.
The knowledge of our own humanity is the basis of Buddhism.