The Meaning of the BLIA Verses
The Tach’eng Penhsing Hsin Ti Kuan Sutra contains the following verse:
Exhort all sentient beings To make this vow:
By the four verses Of the true Dharma,
I will help all sentient beings Find the bodhi mind.
This is called
The true perfection.
Verses are beautiful, and they are easy to remember and under- stand. For this reason, when Buddha spoke, he often used four verses to help us understand his points and to lead us away from suffering. Many great masters of the past also employed the method of using four verses to help us remember their teachings and effectively apply them in our daily lives.
Many of us are familiar with the “Seven Ancient Buddha Verses,” the “Four First Verses” and the many others from the past. Those are beautiful verses, but since the world has changed so much in recent years, we need to have new verses to express ourselves and to freshen our commitment to the great tradition of Buddhism. Verses appropri- ate to our modern lives can be a great aid in keeping our thoughts clear and in helping us overcome the inevitable obstacles we all must face from time to time. This is all the more true for BLIA members, whose responsibilities toward the world are greater than those of most people. Our BLIA verses must give voice to our commitments, and they must be such that they are appropriate to all the various kinds of situations in which we find ourselves. Our BLIA verses were composed to fill these needs. The four verses of the BLIA are:
May kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity pervade all Dharma realms;
May all beings benefit from our blessings and friendship;
May our ethical practice of Chan, Pure land and percepts help us realize equality and patience;
May we undertake the Great vows with humility and gratitude.
I will explain the deeper significance of these verses in the
following four sections.
May kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity pervade all Dharma realms
Clear intention (or commitment) is the deepest and most important force in all of Buddhism.
Let’s look at a few simple examples. If we sit down to eat with the clear intention to eat, when we are finished, we will feel completely satisfied. If we go to sleep with the clear intention to sleep, when we wake up, we will feel fully refreshed and very comfortable. If we notice the floor needs sweeping and we set out to do it with a clear intention, then we will be sure to go a good job. If we form a clear intention to write something, then our writing will be smooth and clear, and we will fully enjoy the work we are doing.
To be a good Buddhist, we must form clear intentions about that, too. Buddhists sometimes speak of the “four immeasurable minds.” They are immeasurable Loving-kindness, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable joy, and immeasurable equanimity.
Immeasurable kindness brings immeasurable happiness. Immea- surable compassion overcomes all suffering. Kindness and compassion are the foundations on which Buddhists should base all their behavior. They are the principal virtues Buddhists always should draw on when dealing with others.
In the past, there were many great Buddhists who exhibited these virtues so well, their deeds are still remembered today. Master Zhiyan (600-677) went to many dangerous places to help others. Kao An cared for the ill. Dao’an (312-385) risked his life many times to preach the Dharma. Throughout history there have been many Buddhist masters who gave of themselves to help others. These great masters succeeded in exhibiting kindness and compassion in even the most trying situations.
There is a Chinese saying that goes like this: “Amitabha in every home. Avalokitesvara in every house.”
Amitabha Buddha is the embodiment of great kindness. He has vowed to carry every sentient being who calls on him to his Pure Land. Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is the embodiment of compassion. She listens to the world and answers every being who calls on her for help. The kindness and compassion of these two beings is the reason why so many Chinese place images of them in their homes. They offer them incense and revere them as the great protectors they are.
Joy and equanimity are the next words in the first verse.
Joy and equanimity, like kindness and compassion, are funda- mental to the practice of Buddhism. In this world, there is nothing more important than joy! Sakyamuni Buddha extolled the wonders and the importance of joy in many verses throughout the Buddhist sutras. Vimalakirti was so good at preaching the Dharma, heavenly beings often would come and joyfully listen to him speak.
In Buddhist temples, Maitreya Bodhisattva is always portrayed with a joyous smile on his face. His image is presented that way to remind us of the importance of being joyful and of doing things to make others feel joyful too. One of the first responsibilities of Buddhist monastics is to be joyful and to bring joy to other people. Joy is fundamental to Buddhist practice. We all should stop and ask ourselves from time to time, do my words express joy, is my behavior bringing joy to others, am I serving others with a joyful attitude?
If we carry an egotistic sense of ourselves into our work of helping others, then real compassion will not be born in our hearts. If we base our joy on forms and things, then real joy will not be a deep part of our practice.
All BLIA members should put their hearts into learning how to help others with an attitude of unrestricted joy and compassion. This is how we give to others. We give them ourselves. We give them the best of ourselves. Once we have learned to give the best of ourselves – our best joy and our best compassion – then our practice of Buddhism will flow smoothly, and nothing will hinder us as we grow and move toward our ultimate goal.
May all beings benefit from our blessings and friendship
Due to karmic forces, each one of us in this world can only receive so many blessings. If we waste what we receive, then we soon will find ourselves left with nothing. Our blessings are something like money in the bank. If we only spend and never save, then the day will come when we have nothing left in our account. If you learn to appreciate the value of money, then you will also learn how to save it, and how to make it grow.
“It is better to appreciate what blessings we have than to try only to accumulate more.”
This old saying is quite true because the only real way to accumu- late blessings is to fully appreciate whatever it is we have now.
Recent advancements in the world’s material well-being have caused many people to become wasteful and foolish in their use of money and material goods. They buy more than they need and they throw away things that are still quite valuable.
“The heavens and humans hurry together toward their doom.” Even as we become more wasteful and selfish, our planet seems to be recoiling under our irresponsibility. Species are dying while the water and air have become foul with noxious substances. Fortunately, across the world, people are waking up, some of them slowly, some of them more quickly. We must learn to appreciate what we have. We must learn to appreciate everything that we have. A piece of paper, a pencil, a drop of clear water, a simple leaf – we must hold each of them dear. There is beauty and wonder in every little thing in the world.
It is very important to appreciate the material bounty of this world, but it is even more important that we appreciate the people in this world. All of us are interconnected, and we circulate through life and meet one another due to objective conditions and due to karmic forces.
We should engage ourselves with other people in a very positive manner. With positive energy, we will succeed in achieving the deepest levels of friendship as we fulfill our karmic imperatives.
When positive energy is applied to friendship, untold good forces are released. There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the positive energy that can be generated between people and among friends. This kind of energy is like water that can wash away bad karma. It is like an oil that smooths the progress of good karma. Positive energy among people is the single greatest force for bringing good into this world.
We all can see the differences among people. Some people seem able to comprehend the depths of life no matter where they turn; others cause resentment wherever they go. Some people always are lonely, while others are welcomed everywhere. These differences among people are caused by their different abilities to awaken positive energies in others.
There are many ways to awaken positive energies as we build friendships with others. We can help others materially, or we can use language to praise and encourage them. We can use our skills to help them, or we can use our knowledge to help improve a situation they are in.
The important thing to remember is to be positive and bring out the best in others as we bring out the best in ourselves. We don’t need to do big things to accomplish this. A simple smile, a look of encour- agement, a bit of kindness is all that is necessary to start a positive flow of energy between people. It may not look like much at first, but in the end, that energy is the greatest force in the world.
May our ethical practice of Chan and Pure Land help us realize equality and patience
There are two main ways people practice Buddhism today. One way is the Chan way, which emphasizes meditative concentration above all else. The other way is the Pure Land way, which emphasizes contem- plation of Amitabha Buddha’s name above all else.
The best way to practice Buddhism is to practice both of these ways at once.
In his four brief guidelines of practicing Chan and Pure Land, Master Yanshou (904-975) said, “Practiced together, Chan and Pure Land are like a tiger with horns. In this world you become a teacher to others, in the next world you will be among the Buddhas.” If BLIA members conscientiously practice both Chan and Pure Land, they will be sure to improve the quality of their lives while increasing the atmosphere of harmony among all with whom they come in contact.
The sutras often say, “Keeping the precepts is the foundation of bodhi realization.”
Whether you study Chan meditative concentration or Pure Land contemplation of Amitabha Buddha’s name, the basis of good practice must always be a firm resolution to uphold the precepts of Buddhism. The Buddhist precepts are the basic rules of life. When we follow them, we protect ourselves from harm. Look in the prisons. Is there anyone in there who isn’t there because he or she violated one of the precepts of Buddhism?
The basic Five Precepts are: no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct, and no abuse of drugs of alcohol.
Our jails are filled with people who broke these precepts. When we break these precepts, we violate other people. When we kill, we violate others’ lives. When we steal, we violate their property. When we lie, we violate their trust. When we engage in sexual misconduct, we violate their persons or their trust. When we abuse drugs or alcohol, we violate our own senses, and that violation too often leads to even more serious violations of one of the other precepts.
We must not violate others. We must not be a source of harm to others. We must not harm their persons, their property or their reputa- tions, and we must never lead anyone into evil ways.
If all of us would follow the basic precepts of Buddhism, this world would become a peaceful and beautiful place.
Beyond these basic precepts, Buddhism also offers its adherents other ways to improve themselves, such as the Eight Precepts and the bodhisattva Precepts. These more inclusive precepts lead us to even higher realizations. Through them we learn the importance of making our own commitments to helping all sentient beings everywhere.
The next word in the verse is equality.
Equality is one of the most important principles in all of Buddhism. Virtually all the world’s problems arise out of inequalities and the tensions they produce in societies. Women and men are not equal in most parts of the world, races are treated differently almost wherever you go, the young and the old are not equal, the rich and the poor are not equal, the powerful and the weak – the tensions caused by these inequal- ities are serious, and they eventually lead to very serious problems.
The Buddha said, “All beings have the wisdom and virtue of Buddha.”
On the outside we may all appear to be different, but inside we are all the same. Inside, we all posses Buddha nature, no matter what our circumstances may be. If only we could all realize that! Imagine how peaceful and beautiful the world would become if each one of us could realize that truth, and with that realization go forth to treat everyone with compassion and equality.
The next word in this verse is patience.
The Teachings bequeathed by the Buddha Sutra says, “Anyone who consistently practices patience can be said to be powerful and great. If one is not able to greet slander, defamation and ridicule with joyful patience, if one is not able to accept them as if they were sweet dew, then one cannot be said to have achieved wisdom or to have entered upon the true path.”
Patience is not only the greatest force on earth, it is also the highest state of wisdom.
Buddhism speaks of three kinds of patience.
The first kind of patience is called “life patience.” A person who possesses this kind of patience is fully aware of all the basic demands of existence, and is able to handle calmly whatever contingencies may arise.
The second kind of patience is called “Dharma patience.” A person who possesses Dharma patience understands the flux and changeabili- ty of the phenomenal world. He is able to accept change and adapt his mind to any and all conditions.
The third kind of patience is called “Dharma patience beyond birth and death.” A person with this kind of patience is able to see the deepest levels of reality. He sees that there is no real birth or death. He is able to wander freely wherever his mind will take him. His consciousness has fully transcended phenomenal conditions and is beyond the contingencies of this world altogether.
May we undertake the Great vows with humility and gratitude
The most beautiful of all the human virtues are humility, gratitude, and the taking of vows.
Humility looks two ways. When we are humble and we look at ourselves, we feel dissatisfied. When we look at others, we feel ashamed.
When we are dissatisfied with ourselves, we feel that our learning is insufficient, that our vows are weak, that our compassion is shallow and that our abilities are but feeble. When we feel ashamed of ourselves, we feel that we have not lived up to our parents’ expectations, that we are not worthy of our friends, that we are not fit to be part of our nation, and that we owe society a debt we may never be able to repay. Only when people are suffused with a deep sense of humility do they fully understand how to expend all their efforts in their work. Only when people are humble do they understand how to swim against the swift currents of defilement and worldliness. Thus the Teachings bequeathed by the Buddha Sutra says, “It is magnificent to submit to a sense of shame.”
People who have a strong sense of humility and gratitude are the most fortunate people in the world.
The sutras say that when a person takes the bodhisattva vow, he should contemplate with a supreme sense of gratitude his parents, his nation, his teachers, and all sentient beings. He should contemplate these with gratitude because if he had no nation to protect him, how would he live? If he had had no parents to raise him, how could he have become a man? If he had had no teachers to teach him, how could he have learned anything? If his society had no farmers, no manufac- turers, no businessmen, where would he get his clothing, his food, a roof over his head?
All of us are deeply connected to one another. We all depend on each other. Without other people, most of us would be entirely helpless. There is an old saying, “A drop of gratitude gives access to a fountain of blessings.” When even a crow knows how to feed its young, and even a sheep knows how to kneel for milk, how can a human being not know how to feel gratitude?
Vow is the last word of the verse.
Master Sheng’an (1686-1734) in his Inspiration for the Bodhicitta pledge said, “There is a door to entering the way. Intention is the head, cultivation is the duty, and taking vows is the beginning. When vows are firm, all beings will be saved. When intentions are strong, Buddha- hood will be achieved.”
In this world, is there anyone who is good and true to his heart who has not taken a vow to be that way? In this universe, is there a bodhisattva anywhere who has found the bodhi mind by not taking a vow to do that first?
Vows give us direction and they give us the strength to preserve. All members of the BLIA should take deep vows to aid them in all that they do in life.
The sutras say repeatedly that the merit gained from following one verse in the sutras is greater than all the merit that can ever be gained from even the greatest acts of material generosity. I hope all members of the BLIA will take these verses to heart, and from them learn and receive all the bounty and beauty that Buddhism has to offer.