Today we are blessed to have the occasion to gather here, to discuss life meaning in Buddhism. Why we should practice Buddhism and how to practice in order to obtain a liberation of mind.
All human beings have the wisdom and other fine qualities of the Buddha. If we realize that each of us has Buddha nature, the full qualities of the Buddha, this means we are awakened. That means each of us is equally intelligent like a shining mirror, no difference than Sakyamuni Buddha or Amitabha Buddha.
Buddha was born into the world to let us know that in nature, we all have the wisdom to acquire the wealth and good health we want. And he was born to this world to let us know that all material wealth is but nothing, void in existence, and we shall not have the greed for them. He reveals that life is but a dream, we are not going to hold on to this material wealth, and everything we acquire this life, we must leave them behind when we die. The pursuit for Material wealth does no good for us but causes an uneasiness of our mind that we cannot have peace in our life. And without peace of mind, we cannot see the meaning of life.
Buddha tells that it is not right to be greedy for physical things, to be in love with physical wealth, and to take these physical things as real. Too many of us have looked at material things around us as true, as long lasting existence. We love these physical things, we long for them, we want to acquire, keep them as our own belongings because we think they are good, they are real, they can bring about good for us. Buddha tells us that our pursuits for physical things lead us to the wrong path, further and further away from the path of the truth, our mind further and further away from enlightenment. Greed for material wealth has led us to a life of darkness instead of brightness. The Buddha says, our ego brightness is like that of the sun, because of dark clouds in the sky block the brightness of the sun, the earth is in darkness.
Our mind has the Buddha nature, bright as the sun. That Buddha nature is our ego, the real me, shinning as always. Our greed and all the wrong doings are the dark clouds, blocking our mind so that its brightness cannot be revealed.
So Buddha has come to awaken us, to awaken our ego, so that we come to realize the real “me”. The darkness is not the real me, the brightness is. The real me is a shining mirror, covered with dust. When we clear the dust away, we can see the real me, shining like a mirror. That’s our Buddha nature.
Our Buddha nature has magical powers. It has remarkable abilities. God’s power is limitless; we can compare this to God’s power. Because our Buddha nature is covered up by the darkness of greed and all other wrong doings, like the dust, we cannot put our magical power into full play; or we cannot realize we have been born with these magical abilities.
So Buddha has come to teach us this. To different people he might tell a different story, or different methods. That’s why we have some many sutras, over ten thousand books now in Buddhism, and different schools in Buddhist teaching. In China’s Tang Dynasty one thousand & 400 years ago, there were 10 schools of Buddhism; now only three main schools remain: the Pure Land, Zen, and the Tantric School. Why there are these different branches? To deal with difference problems of us human. Buddha is like a doctor. He makes different prescriptions for different patients, different medicines for different illnesses. Each patient has different symptoms, the doctor needs to prescribe different drugs for them. The buddha does not have one method only, he has many methods, hundreds of thousands of them, so we can see ten thousand Buddhist books, and different schools of Buddhism. They all serve the same purpose, to awaken us, to reveal to us the real me, to let us know about our Buddha nature and recover our natural brightness, like the drugs to cure our illness and recover our health.
Today we can print books easily, in great numbers. But in ancient times, books were not easy to find, and not in large supply. Buddhist practitioners might have only one or two books or sutras handed down from their teachers. They treasured that so much as they studied them closely, without the opportunity to read other books. All his practice was based on the single book; but still, he came to such great achievement and had so many followers that he finally built a Buddhist school on his experience. There is a saying that all roads lead to Rome. All schools can lead to the attainment of one goal, Buddha-hood.
So Buddhism has only one purpose, to find the real “me”, to recover our Buddha nature, to attain Buddha-hood. When we come to realize that the physical things are not real, even our human bodies are not real, my body is not real me, we have returned to our Buddha nature and attain enlightenment. Through practice, day after day, year after year, we can retain this enlightenment, it no longer changes, always the same, that is Buddha-hood. That’s what we need to achieve.
Our Buddha nature never changes, no birth no death, no more no less, non-defiled and non pure, non-increasing and non-decreasing. But our human body changes, it grows older day after day, month after month, year after year, or even minute after minute. It changes all the time. That is not the real me. The real “me” never changes, never dies.
Our physical body changes, this flesh body deteriorates year after year. Its life can be divided into four stages: to be given birth, to survive for a period of time, to grow old, and to die. After birth, a baby grows up gradually into young age. He goes to school and then to work, becomes a parent and soon goes into old age. Although we can live up to 100 years or more, we are doomed to die. Most people live only for several decades, some die young of traffic accidents or natural disasters. Life is short, and our physical body is subject to decline and destruction. This is called impermanence.
But most people don’t understand this, they regard this physical body as “me”. We all have a strong belief that this flesh body with eyes, ears, hands and feet is the real me. This belief is so strong that we grow an attachment for it. The affection for our own body let us do lots of things for it, and we have many desires, to eat well, to dress well, to live well, etc, all these to take good care of this physical body, me. Thus we strive for food, for women, for all kinds of resources that make ourselves happy, to satisfy our wants and desires. We work hard for food, for entertainment, for money. We struggle for them, we compete for them, we fight for them; thus come human conflicts, fights, wars, etc. When we want something, and it’s hard to get, then there is killing, stealing, sexual assaults, and all the other wrong doings. And there is political struggles, corruption, cheating, and other bad things. And our world is not in peace. This is the consequence of mistaking the false “me”. This is the karma, causes and effects, or retribution as a result of the wrong things that we have done.
The Buddha has great compassion. He knows that our intrinsic nature of wisdom and brightness has been covered up by the selfishness of ourselves. He has great mercy for our wrong doings and related sufferings. He has come to tell us the real “me” that never dies, to lead us to the path toward enlightenment, to direct us away from wrong doings and to save us from sufferings. He has come to tell us that each of us is born with a Buddha nature, with supernatural powers, with the potential for all good. We do not have to do all the wrong things in order to feed our body, which is not real. Because of our desires for material things and misconduct to acquire these material things, we are subject to lots of sufferings. Our desires and misconduct are like the dark clouds that block the brightness of the sun. These wrong doings of us have covered up our intrinsic nature so that our wisdom of full brightness could not be revealed.
We are born to suffer. Our birth and death is suffering; getting old and having an illness is suffering; death or separation of family members and loved one is sufferings; when our desires for money or sex cannot be satisfied, we feel the suffering; when we are hungry or do not have warm clothes to wear, we know we are suffering. Some people suffer more, some suffer less; some suffer at a young age, some suffer at old age. No one can be free from sufferings. We even suffer from the thought of miseries of others, like our friends or family members. With his great mercy and compassion, the Buddha has come to save us from these sufferings, to set us free from physical as well as mental sufferings.
The solution from Buddha is that we need to purify our mind through the realization of enlightenment, an illumination of our intrinsic nature. This intrinsic nature of us is like energy, electric power. It’s formless, we cannot see it, we cannot hear it or taste it, but we can feel its existence, functioning as we walk, talk and eat, like energy powering the engines.
Buddha says our intrinsic nature has many supernatural powers, like Clairvoyance and clairaudience, that is divine eyes and divine ears. Our intrinsic nature has the ability to see persons and events that are distant in time or space, to walk on water and through walls; it has the ability to see past events and predict future events. It has the ability to look into other people’s mind; it has the ability to recall our past lives. The reason why we do not carry these powers in our life is that we have been confined by our mind being full of illusions, not enlightened. Like the dust that covers the face of a mirror, so that our image cannot be clearly reflected. The Buddha has come to teach us how to recover our supernatural abilities, how to regain our high powers to a greater extent of the above-mentioned. So there are the different sutras, different schools of Buddhism. The Pure Land School is not one of them. One of the many methods taught by the Buddha to reveal our intrinsic nature and regain Buddha-hood.
The method of chanting Amitofo with the Pure Land School is the most simple way of Buddhist practice. This meditation by chanting the name of Amitabha Budda is the best way to calm ourselves down, to make our mind in peace, and keep our thoughts away from illusions. By keeping our mind in deep peace, we come to feel the connection of our body with the universe, to feel the loss of existence of things around us; time after time, our meditations help to clear the illusions of our mind, this concentration of mind leads to awakening and enlightenment.
In ancient times, people lived a simple life; their thoughts and ideas were comparatively more direct and straightforward. They were more ready to follow Buddha’s guidelines or precepts. And it was easier for practitioners to make achievements and attain enlightenment. Later, life became more complicated, and there were more social activities. People tend to have doubts and more thoughts on what they learned or heard. Instead of direct following what they were told to do, they studied the writings of Buddha to look for correct answers. Chances for achievements became less apparent. Now over 2500 years after the Buaddha’s era, we have a weaker base for Buddhist belief. Our minds are full with more illusions; our desires for material wealth become much stronger. Spiritual pursuits become less important in the lives of most people. People don’t even want to read books or listen to teachers. Mindful practice becomes a rare thing. This simple way of chanting “Amitofo” thus becomes a workable method. So the Pure Land School of Buddhism has become popular.
During meditation, we should keep our mind away from delusions. We cannot have the thought of making more money, about our work or family affairs, etc. We should concentrate our mind on the sound “Amitofo”, pay attention only to our chanting. Concentration can lead to the complete calmness of mind and enlightenment. Buddhist practice is like a journey, likened to a voyage across a river. We are now living on the shore of sufferings; in order to reach the other side of the river, which is the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, free from sufferings, we need to take a boat trip across the river. This journey is our practice, which includes meditation. To have a rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha, we have to have a pure mind; meditations help us to gain purity of mind, a return to the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. In order to reach the shore of liberation, we have to give up everything on this shore of sufferings. If we tie the boat to a stake, we can never be able to cross the river; we must release the rope and let the boat go. We must not think of making money, of our children, or familiar affairs while we are meditating towards enlightenment.
Every day we may have two to three hours for meditation, we still have 21 or more hours for work or other things. This two to three hours of meditation is practice, but it is only an assisting practice, a supplementary course. Our main practice is the rest of 21 hours or more, eating, drinking, working, wearing clothes or even sleeping. Every hour of daily life activities is part of our practice. The two or three hours of meditation is like sharpening the blade of a knife; the rest of the hours is wood cutting, to test if our knife is sharp or not. As a good Buddhist practitioner, we still live a normal life, we eat, we work, we sleep, we care for the young and elders; but everything we do, we keep our mind in peace. When we do our work, we devote our efforts, try our best, success or not, we don’t mind. Whether life is hard or not, it’s not a big deal. No hardship or life difficulties can disturb our mind of constant peace. We only do good things, things that good for us and good for others, we are always ready to give others a helping hand. Doing only good things won’t bring us disasters. We have a strong belief that “do good, good things follow”.
Everyone has his own fate. But we shall not think we have a destiny that can never be changed. Let us tell a true story of Yuan Liaofan in the Ming Dynasty. When Liaofan was young he met a fortune teller who predicted his future. The predictions were so accurate for over ten years that Liaofan started to believe fate had decided his life courses. At about 30, Liaofan went to a Buddhist monastery and met with the Abbot Yungu. The abbot admitted, “there is fate, but fate can be changed”. He told Liaofan that to change his fate, he must make changes to his life and always do what is good. He gave Liaofan a book of merit and demerit grids and told him that he should mark the merit grid with red if he did a good thing, and mark the demerit grid with black if he did a wrong thing. And when the grid was marked with only red dots, his fate would be changed. Liaofan made up his mind to do 3 thousand good things. And after three years, he started to see his life changes. The fortune teller had predicted that he would not have children, but at the age of 50, his wife gave birth to a baby boy. The fortune teller had predicted that he would die young at the age of 50, but he lived up to 79. The fortune teller had predicted that his education would not bring him any honorable achievement in life, but he finally became a high ranking official and built a good reputation. He had changed his destiny so typically that he recorded his life courses of remarkable changes for future generations.
Buddhist practice is not complicated. Do what is right, never do evil; this is Buddhism. We do not have to learn about the profound insights of Buddhist terminology. We do not have to recite all the sutras to become a Buddha. If we only do the good and right things, the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss must have a seat reserved for us.