Buddhism has begun to spread all over the world, but still there are not that many people who are willing to become monastics. The need for monastics is greater than ever before, and yet the supply is not increasing very quickly. At the same time, all of us are well aware that there are many lay followers who are very talented and very knowledgeable about Buddhism. The need for Buddhist Lecturer and instructors clearly can be met if we train lay followers to teach Buddhism. For this reason, the BLIA offers ways for lay followers to qualify as Lay Dharma Lecturer. When Lay Dharma Lecturer and monastics work together, our ability to reach even more people in the world is greatly enhanced. In the following sections, I will discuss this topic at length and mention some of the abilities lay persons need to become Lay Dharma Lecturer.
Right understanding, right view
A lay preacher must revere the Triple Gem and have a deep belief in Buddhism. Beyond that, he must have right understanding and right view. One who lacks right view is like a boat without a rudder. If he sails out onto the ocean, he will become lost and run the risk of capsizing and drowning his passengers. Right view is the first part of the Eightfold Path. The Buddha placed right view in the first position because without right view, the rest of Buddhism is easily misinterpreted.
What is right view?
Knowing the difference between good and bad, and true and false are right views. Understanding the abiding truth of the Dharma is right view. A lay preacher must have this basic understanding if he is going to be successful in teaching others how to find freedom from delusion through Buddhism.
Belief and wisdom
A lay preacher must have a firm belief in Buddhism and a developed ability to speak about the Dharma. He must believe in the Buddha and his teachings. He must entrust himself to the Sangha and have a positive attitude about the BLIA. A lay preacher must be strong enough to weather any and all difficulties that might present themselves along his path.
The Avatamsaka Sutra says, "Belief is the mother of the Way and of all merit. She nurtures all good roots."
In Taiwan, Fo Kuang Shan produces a TV show called "The Doors of Belief." This show is quite popular because it encourages people to hold on to their beliefs even as the world changes around them. If we have belief, we are able to bear up under any circumstances. Belief is the source of the courage all of us need to live stable and successful lives.
There are many precepts in Buddhism. There are the Five Precepts, the Six Precepts for Women, the Eight Precepts, the Ten Precepts and the Bodhisattva Precepts.
All of these different levels of precepts are designed to help us control ourselves and mold our thinking. Buddhist sutras use many metaphors to help us understand the value of the precepts. In some places in the sutras, the precepts are compared to a good teacher because they can teach us how to purify our behavior. In other places they are compared to a wheeled cart because they allow us to travel down the right road. Sometimes they are compared to a moat because they can protect our wisdom and clarity from assault. Or they are compared to a water bottle because they can cool us down when we become overheated. They are often compared to a bright lamp because they can dispel ignorance as a lamp dispels darkness.
Precepts are a basic foundation upon which our humanity can rest, and they are a standard upon which our wisdom always can rely. A good Buddhist must follow the precepts of Buddhism.
Beyond the basic precepts repeatedly mentioned in the sutras, the BLIA has dedicated itself to several other very important Buddhist virtues. These virtues are based on the precepts and stated in a positive tone. The BLIA is dedicated to "giving others faith, joy, hope and service." These positive ambitions, especially when practiced in accord with the aims and goals of the BLIA, do much to help us improve our characters as we raise our levels of consciousness.
BLIA Lay Dharma Lecturer must understand these basic concepts and aims of the BLIA. To become a lay preacher requires study, but the rewards of helping others will make the work well worthwhile.
Concentration does not mean only the Samadhi obtained through meditation or chanting. Knowing oneself deeply, controlling oneself and upholding the precepts also are very important kinds of concentration. If you have those kinds of concentration, you will be able to focus on the needs and trials of daily life with wisdom and compassion. You will not lose yourself in the variety and allure of the world, but instead, through your stability, you will gradually uncover your Bodhi mind.
Wisdom is familiarity with the truth. It is comprehension of the sameness within change and the emptiness of all things. True wisdom is different from the cleverness which typifies samsaric intelligence, and for this reason we call it Prajna wisdom. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Buddhism, which makes it different from most of the world's religions, is the emphasis Buddha always placed on developing wisdom. Compassion and faith are essential for Buddhists, but only wisdom shows us the way to overcome delusion and free ourselves from the cycle of birth and death.
In Mahayana Buddhism, Prajna wisdom is crucial to the successful practice of the Bodhisattva.
The Maha-prajnaparamita Sutra says, "Prajna wisdom is the mother of all Buddhas."
All of the Buddhas achieved enlightenment because they were able to perfect their Prajna wisdom to the point where there were "no more leaks" (anasrava). There was no gap in their knowledge, and nothing they did produced karma.
Vasubandhu said, "Belief without wisdom only increases ignorance."
The responsibilities of Lay Dharma Lecturer truly are great. All who are interested in this position must study the Dharma carefully, and they must work constantly at developing their wisdom. We can not lead others out of delusion if we are incapable of seeing through its shadow play ourselves.
Cause and effect
Everything in the world depends on cause and effect. If there is no cause, there will be no effect. If you plant seeds in a field, but they are never watered and the sun never shines on them, they will not grow because the causes necessary for their growth are not present. Buddhism is different from theistic religions which say that all things are caused by a god. In Buddhism, an immense responsibility is placed on each person because Buddhism recognizes that the causes for everything that happens to us are all of our own making. This is why Buddhists speak so often about positive energy and forming good relations with everyone around us.
Cause and effect are always present, and nothing can escape them. Nothing good is made in this world without effort, and nothing bad ever happens without having been caused by some defilement. "Good and bad actions must bear fruits one day. The only uncertainty is whether those fruits will arrive sooner or later."
The laws of cause and effect are eminently fair. We should not feel pessimistic when contemplating them. On the contrary, when they are properly understood, they are themselves the cause for great hope. We hold our own "fates" in our own hands. If we do good today, tomorrow our lives must be better. When many people in the world come to understand the laws of cause and effect, societies all over the world will become peaceful.
The Dharmapada says, "If you can not do a thing yourself, others will never learn from your words alone."
BLIA Lay Dharma Lecturer must understand cause and effect, and they must live lives that exemplify this understanding. By their examples, they will be able to show many the way out of darkness.
Unity is strength. The BLIA is a positive and joyful community. Our ideal is to form a solid and harmonious community, not to encourage excessive individualism.
Buddhism has been part of Chinese civilization for almost two thousand years. However, it was only during the T'ang Dynasty that Chinese Buddhism really flourished. The reason for this was Buddhists were united during the T'ang. During other periods, Buddhists too often emphasized solitary practice, long retreats and the illusory bliss of removing themselves from the world. This led to a decline in preaching activities and a falling away of many lay followers.
The BLIA will not repeat this mistake. It is a contradiction of the basic tenets of Buddhism to be selfish and solitary in our practice. All of us who have learned the Dharma learned it from someone. It is our responsibility to recognize this debt and give something back to the community of the world.
"A single tree does not make a forest."
Everything is built from smaller components. When sand and wood and plaster are brought together, we can build a house. The components of a house provide the necessary factors for making a house, but the house itself gives the components a larger purpose than if they were left to themselves.
It is the same with an organization. When individuals are left to themselves, they usually are not able to get much done. When they are united, however, they can accomplish wonderful things.
BLIA Lay Dharma Lecturer must be aware of their need for other people and for unity with other BLIA members. When the small self of the individual merges with the large self of a dedicated organization, both the individual and the organization benefit because immense energies are released. When we work harmoniously with others, our greatest creative potential is fulfilled.
It is best not to, but a person can get along without wisdom if only he has compassion. All of the great Bodhisattvas developed themselves through active compassion. Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Manjusri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva all rejected nirvana without remainder because their compassion led them to want to return to this world for the good of all sentient beings.
Anyone who wants to be a lay preacher in the BLIA must contemplate the examples set by these great Bodhisattvas. Compassion like theirs is awesome and wonderful. Merely thinking of what they have done must move the heart. Their examples inspire us to overcome difficulties and muster the courage necessary to really care about other people.
Being harmonious with a group is a form of intelligent compassion. A group can not survive if its members are not harmonious. Thus, all of us who see the need for preaching, must also consider the necessity of being harmonious and cooperative members of the group.
"When a family is harmonious, it can accomplish anything." If this is true for a family, how much more true is it for Buddhism?
Cooperation within the BLIA is based on the Six Harmonies which govern monastic communities. In addition to these harmonies, we emphasize purity.
The Agama Sutra says, "The meaning of the Dharma never comes to an end, but all of it is based on purity."
When we are pure in our actions, thoughts and words, our inherent Bodhi minds begin to shine forth. We naturally become more helpful and harmonious because our basic sense of caring is augmented by the wisdom of knowing that caring demands cooperation. BLIA Lay Dharma Lecturer are standard bearers for the entire BLIA. It is imperative that they understand the need for cooperative and harmonious unity.
The Srimala-simha-nada Sutra says, "Desisting from evil is called meritorious. Doing good is called virtue. Virtue is increased through practice and doing what is meritorious."
Virtue is the basis of all good behavior. When virtue is complete and fully manifest, we become fit to teach others. Morality is composed of two interacting parts: behavior and understanding. As our understanding grows, our behavior improves. As our behavior improves, our understanding grows. Buddhism is a religion of consciousness and growth within the sphere of consciousness. To become truly moral, we must recognize that our understanding and our behavior are interdependent.
Upaya (skillful means) is a central concept in Buddhism. By using skillful means, we become very effective in teaching others. Without them, our words will fall on unreceptive ears.
Sakyamuni Buddha taught 84,000 ways of overcoming delusion so that all sentient beings would be able to find joy in the Dharma. He divided his teachings into five groups: one for people, one for Heavenly beings, one for Pratyeka Buddhas, one for Sravakas and one for Bodhisattvas. The Buddha designed his teachings so that there would be something for everyone, and no one would be left out.
All of the great masters of the past followed the lead of Sakyamuni Buddha in this. They preached without ceasing, and they preached to as many different kinds of people as they were able. Lay Dharma Lecturer of the BLIA must follow this tradition. The truths of Buddhism must be expressed in many different ways so that all people in the world can have a chance to hear them and learn from them.
The Surangama Sutra says, "There are many skillful means, but there is only one way back to the source."
The sutras sometimes talk about emptiness, and sometimes they talk about existence. Sometimes they talk about form, and sometimes they talk about essence. The truth is emptiness and existence are two aspects of the same thing, while form and essence are no different from each other. These concepts are spoken about differently in different places because the Buddha was employing skillful means in his teaching. When he spoke, he always spoke to someone, and he always tailored his message to suit his audience.
The Five Precepts, the Six Paramitas and many other of the prescriptions in Buddhism have similar origins. They are designed to be understandable to most people, and to be something all of us can remember. The Dharma is amazing in its ability to speak to so many kinds of people in so many parts of the world through so many different languages. BLIA Lay Dharma Lecturer must appreciate this fact whenever they speak to others about Buddhism.
The Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra says, "The Buddha speaks the Dharma with one voice. Sentient beings hear his meaning according to their types."
The tongue is the lotus instrument of the Dharma. It is only through language that the Dharma can be transmitted. Good writers and good speakers are crucial to the continuing development of Buddhism.
Modern society requires that we develop a facility with language. Precise and careful speech is important for the development of all of our social relations. Lay Dharma Lecturer must train themselves to speak about Buddhism in ways that will be appropriate to whatever situation they may find themselves in. This does not mean that all Lay Dharma Lecturer must be gifted orators before they can speak about Buddhism. It only means that they should be sensitive to the kind of language their listeners will respond to. The Dharma must be presented one way to children, but another way to adults. One way to Americans, but another to Chinese. One way to the educated, and another to the uneducated.
Lay Dharma Lecturer who are able to adjust to these differences will be very successful in communicating with a broad range of people. In addition to being able to adjust to people, Lay Dharma Lecturer need to have a good sense of humor. Laughter aids learning by dissolving formal defenses. Knowing more than one language also can be a great help in preaching the Dharma.
A reverent attitude reveals that a person's inner nature is both profound and well developed. The Buddha himself was characterized by his "excellent demeanor and attention to detail." He attained such magnificence only through refining himself for many kalpas while he was still a Bodhisattva on the "causal ground." The following verse well describes the kind of dignity and reverence members of the BLIA should aim for:
His voice sounds like softly running water
He walks and chants with a smooth rhythm
He holds his palms in reverence before him
As if lifting clear, clean water
He stands straight and still
And sees what is around him
He moves with an easy, graceful stride
Considering his left and right
With halfway open eyes
His dignity moves softly and
He would feel no shame if
Placed among Zen masters
No matter how we speak about the Dharma, our words will carry much more weight if we are dignified and reverent in our behavior.
Sariputra, who became one of Buddha's greatest disciples, was first attracted to the Dharma by the dignity of Asvajit. Asvajit was one of Buddha's monks.
There is a saying, "A teacher's comportment teaches as much as his words."
Confucius said, "If a sage is not serious, he will have no dignity."
Lay Dharma Lecturer must learn to carry themselves with inner respect and reverence for the Dharma. We do not want to project an attitude of arrogance, and we do not want to forget the importance of humor, but we must also remember that the Dharma and our audience always must be treated with great respect.
Tone of voice
When we give someone a gift, we must be dignified and respectful. If we are not, the recipient of our kindness may misunderstand our purpose and feelings. In the same way, when we speak about the Dharma to others, we must be careful that our tone of voice projects sincerity and respect, both for the Dharma and for our listeners. If we become too casual or flippant in our tone, our audience will tend to consider that what we are saying is unimportant, or that we do not really believe it.
As we speak, we should move carefully, and pay close attention to the things around us. Our movements and our expressions should project reverence and honesty. We should watch our audience to determine what their mood is. We must respond to their mood and try to lead it toward receptivity to the Dharma.
We should speak carefully, at an even and measured pace. We don't want to rush through our material, and we don't want to go so slowly people become bored. Our voices should be loud enough for everyone to hear, but not too loud. We should move through our talk smoothly and finish with enough time for people to ask questions. When we answer questions, our answers should be complete, but not so long that people forget what the question was.
Remember, when you speak about the Dharma, you are "standing in for Buddha."
The Five Precepts
Lay Dharma Lecturer must follow the Five Precepts at all times. The Five Precepts are basic to all Buddhism. They are the minimum standard of behavior for all good Buddhists.
The fundamental meaning of the Five Precepts is do not violate others.
Not killing means do not violate the lives of others. Not stealing means do not violate the property of others. No sexual misconduct means do not violate the self-respect or the reputations of others. Not lying means do not violate the trust of others. No alcohol or drugs means do not violate your own senses so much that you may be seduced into breaking one of the other precepts.
Upholding the precepts saves all of us much fear and hardship. We derive the benefits of peace, freedom, joy and self-respect when we are firm in our moral behavior.
When we speak about the Dharma to others, we will succeed in projecting these benefits only if we actually are experiencing them ourselves. When, through your own life, you know the value of upholding the Five Precepts, your audience will sense it, and they will be attracted to the Dharma.
A good family life is a piece of the Pure Land brought into this Saha world. BLIA Lay Dharma Lecturer must have their family lives in order before they can expect to teach others how to live. If we can not practice successfully with our own families, how can we expect to lead others to the truth? Our families should accept the Dharma, attend BLIA meetings and understand the value of teaching Buddhism to others. When Lay Dharma Lecturer come from homes wherein the Dharma is held in high regard, they carry with them a living experience of the value of practicing Buddhism in this world. This is precisely what we want to give to others.
The standards I have mentioned above are not meant to be daunting. They are meant to encourage all of us to bring our best efforts to our practice of Buddhism.
No member of the BLIA who wants to become a lay preacher should feel discouraged by the belief that they may be deficient in some of the areas mentioned above. Feelings of deficiency are signs of humility and a willingness to learn. Those very feelings are a superb starting point from which to grow into the position of lay preacher.
There is much work for all of us to do. I want to encourage, once again, anyone who wants to become a lay preacher to begin the process of training for this very important position as soon as possible. Together we are capable of doing anything. Through unity and compassion, the BLIA will succeed in bringing Buddhism to all of the world's people.