Our “spirits” are the fountains of our lives, and they are the resources upon which all good deeds must draw. If we consider examples from history, we can see that great deeds usually are done only by people who possess active and indomitable spirits.
Sun Yat-sen possessed these qualities, and thus he was able to lead the movement that overthrew the Manchu Qing dynasty in 1911. The American inventor Thomas Edison worked tirelessly and remained undaunted in the face of many setbacks. Because he had that kind of spirit, the world was enriched by his many inventions. The dedicated compassion of the Englishwoman Florence Nightingale emboldened her to lead medics to the front lines of battle during the Crimean War. Due to her saintly resolve, the Red Cross eventually was founded. The Japanese businessman Matsushita Konosuke almost single-handedly created modern Japan’s electronics industry.
The spirits evinced by these people provide examples all of us would do well to consider. If the BLIA is to be successful in achieving its aims, those of us who belong to the organization must find in ourselves the spirit and resolve to pursue our aims with dedication and courage. In the next few sections, I will discuss this topic in greater detail.
The four great bodhisattvas are our models
Most people believe the great bodhisattvas of Buddhism are figures
carved in wood or molded in gold and nothing more.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The great bodhisattvas of Buddhism are living beings, and their examples are something all of us can follow. The great bodhisattvas all look upward toward their own enlightenment, but they also look downward toward the needs of all sentient beings. These are examples all of us can follow, and when we do, we become bodhisattvas ourselves. In this regard, Master Taixu once said, “A Bhikkhu is nothing less than a Buddha who has not yet awakened. I am willing to be called a bodhisattva.”
In China, there are four great mountain monasteries. Each of these monasteries is associated with one of the four great bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism. In their different ways, these four great bodhisattvas fully exemplify the selfless compassion that characterizes Mahayana Buddhism.
Mount Putuo, off the coast of central China, is associated with Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva became a Buddha. As a Buddha, she is called the “Tathagata of Illuminating Right Dharma.” After she became a Buddha, however, her compassion led her to return to this saha world, where she would better be able to help sentient beings.
Northern China’s Five Platform Mountain (Mount Wutai) is associated with Manjusri Bodhisattva. He, too, became a Buddha, called the “Great Dragon Tathagata.” In that capacity, he was the master of the Seven Ancient Buddhas, and the mother of all other Buddhas. In his wisdom and mercy, however, he decided to return to this world as a bodhisattva. In the Tai shang Sutra he says, “In the past I was a master of Buddhas. Now I am a disciple of the Buddha. There is no need for two Buddhas, and thus I remain a bodhisattva.”
Mount E’mei in Sichuan Province is associated with Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. His merits are so great, his beneficent influence can be felt in all parts of the world. He has vowed to lead the dying to the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha.
The Nine Flower Mount Jiuhua (Jiuhua Shan) in Anhui Province is associated with Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, who has vowed, “Until all are saved and all are awakened to their bodhi minds, until Hell is empty, I swear, I will not become a Buddha.” Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva has vowed to remain in the six realms of existence during the entire age that lies between the appearances of Sakyamuni Buddha and Maitreya Buddha, when there is no Buddha in the world.
These great bodhisattvas exemplify such immense compassion and such determined spirits, the Chinese people have enshrined images of them on their greatest mountains. Their temples are magnificent, and through the ages, steady streams of believers have made pilgrimages to these temples to pay their deep respects.
The spirits of these bodhisattvas are not just a solace to the people of this world, they are also the means by which all of us may realize the transcendent wonder of the bodhi mind.
Those of us who are in the BLIA could not ask for better examples on which to base our own spirits. Let us look to the compassion of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva as we labor to help this world. And let us follow the determination of Manjusri Bodhisattva as we work to awaken the bodhi mind in others. Let us find in ourselves the resolve of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva as we strive to lift others out of their suffering. And let us always remember the wisdom of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva in everything we do. If we can succeed in that, we will surely succeed in bringing the truth of Buddhism into every home, as the light of its wisdom shines around the world.
The eight kinds of divine beings are our guardians
The divine beings of the Lotus Sutra are the heavenly beings (Devas) who live and move in pure delight, the dragon gods (Nagas) who combat anger and ignorance, the night demons (yakshas) who fly from hell, the gandharvas who do good deeds, the asuras who never rest, the garudas who are half bird and half human, the kimnaras who sing, and the serpentine mahoragas.
All of these eight kinds of divine beings have been saved by the Buddha. They use their powers to protect the Dharma throughout the six realms of existence. Buddhist sutras also mention ghosts and goblins in hell who took refuge in the Triple Gem and became guardians of Buddhism. Buddha’s tolerance was so great it included every kind of being in all the different realms. Buddha believed in using expedient means to protect his teachings and to spread them. With his physical body he preached in northern India, yet supernatural forces caused his teachings to be heard throughout all the realms of existence. In this way, he planted bodhi seeds in many worlds and in the minds of many different kinds of beings.
The ancients used to say, “If there is tolerance, there will be greatness.”
The ocean admits all waters, and thus it is great. The mountains are masses of small clods of earth, and thus they are tall. The BLIA was founded on “allowing diversity in unity, while seeking unity among the diverse.” This spirit has helped us to grow quickly and develop a very broad base. We have never been dogmatic or narrow-minded about whom we allow to join us. Everybody is welcome. Even non-Buddhists can participant in our activities as “friends of Buddhism.” We have roughly 1,000,000 members now in chapters all over the world. Our aim is to benefit Buddhism. It is that simple.
I am sure all of us feel a sense of satisfaction at knowing that the BLIA has so many members. However, we should be careful not to let our success lull us into a mood of complacency. It was hard work that put us where we are today, and it will only be more hard work that will lead us on to great success. If we truly can touch the deep resources of compassion that lie in the depths of our own hearts, we will find the inspiration necessary to continue growing and serving the world. When all of our strengths are united, we will form an organization that has the will and the resources to protect the Dharma, as we advance it.
The Four Diamond Kings are our strength
Buddhist pedagogical techniques place special emphasis on saying the right thing at the right time to the right people. This means that when we teach we must be sure that our audience is able to understand what we say and that they will be receptive to us. In most cases, this means that we must be sure to exhibit compassion and tolerance, both in our words and through our actions. When we are dealing with people who are hostile to us, however, we must augment our compassion with courage and determination to stand our ground.
Most Buddhist temples have images of a smiling Maitreya Bodhisattva at their gates. Somewhere inside, however, they also have the images of fierce-looking Dharma protectors holding weapons in their hands. These two kinds of images symbolize the two sides of the spirit of Buddhism. For the most part, Buddhism welcomes all sentient beings, no matter who they are or what they have done. At the same time, Buddhism is not a religion founded on weakness, so the Four Diamond Kings also stand guard in our temples to show that we can be strong if we have to be.
The Four Diamond Kings of heaven are: in the East – Dhrtarastra, in the South – Virudhaka, in the West – Virupaksa, and in the North – Vaisravana. These Kings use all their powers to help sentient beings overcome delusion. At the same time, they work tirelessly to defeat enemies of the Dharma.
In Buddhism, the use of the word “diamond” is very common. There is the Diamond Sutra, which explains what is meant by emptiness and how an understanding of emptiness can liberate us from suffering. There is “Diamond Samadhi,” which takes consciousness beyond all phenomena. There are the “Ten Diamond Lands” of the bodhisattva Way. When a bodhisattva reaches these stages of development, he no longer can experience regression to lower degrees of understanding. There are the “Brilliant Diamond Precepts,” which are central to the vows of all Buddhas. Anyone who works long and hard in a Buddhist temple for the good of the Dharma is called a “Diamond Dharma Protector.”
The word “diamond” is used so often in Buddhist appellations because a diamond has the qualities of hardness, indestructibility, power, clarity and sharpness. When our spirits become diamond- like, they are made strong with determination, indestructible in their compassion, and sharp and powerful in their wisdom. In 1994 in Taiwan, a group of very misguided people almost destroyed a statue of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Only the courageous and diamond-like intervention of members of the BLIA prevented an insulting tragedy from occurring.
I hope all members of the BLIA will distinguish themselves through acts of strength, perseverance and courage. We need a core of fearlessness if we are going to be successful in our chosen task. Goodness, kindness, truth and clarity need to be defended sometimes.
The Buddhas of the ten directions are our ideals
The Lotus Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra both describe the super- natural hearing of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. “She hears everything without attachment. She perceives emptiness in all things. Her perception of emptiness is perfect. All things are extinguished in emptiness. Birth and extinction are extinguished. Nirvana is before her.” Buddha had nothing but praise for Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. He said of her, “Her compassionate eye gazes on all sentient beings. Her bounty is without limit, like the ocean itself.”
In the Diamond Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra there is a verse that says, “The Tathagata speaks only of truth and only of reality. He does not speak lies, and he does not change what he has said.” In another place, there is the verse, “The Buddhas of the ten directions all sing the praises of Sakyamuni Buddha for his ability to plant his Dharma in the five degeneration periods of kalpa, view, affliction, sentient beings and life -span.” In the Vimalakirti Sutra, Vimalakirti says, “If their minds are pure, the Buddha Land will be pure.”
Why do people even notice the degeneration and corruptions of this world? Brahma King Luoji said it is because “the mind makes distinctions between higher and lower, and does not cleave to the Buddha wisdom, and therefore it sees this world as unclean and impure. A bodhisattva sees everything in this world as equal, and in his deepest mind, he sees that everything is pure. His wisdom cleaves to that of the Buddha, and thus he sees purity and the Buddha nature everywhere.”
In the Buddha realms there is no jealousy, anger or hatred. There is no self separate from others and no distinction between right and wrong, or true and false. I hope BLIA members will be able to take something of that kind of wisdom and purity into their own lives.
When our spirits are turned toward a goal like the Tathagata, we cannot but see this world in a very new way. Our eyes will be graced with the wisdom of Buddha, our ears with the compassion of Buddha, our speech with his kindness, and our actions with his benevolence.
There is no greater standard possible on which to base our behavior, and found our spirits, than on the standard of the Tathagata realm.
The world today needs our examples as never before. If we are determined and resolute in all we do, and if we are compassionate and wise about all that we see, then we will succeed in carrying the truths of Buddhism to all concerns of the world. Our commitments will be instruments that raise the awareness of people everywhere, as they provide the means for people everywhere to experience the liberating wonders of Buddhism.