Chapter 2: The Virtues of Samantabhadra were Followed by All (continued)

A sangha is a group of four or more people who practice the Buddha's teachings together in accordance with the Six Principles of Harmony.

The Six Principles of Harmony are:

  1. To share the same viewpoints or goals.

  2. To observe the same precepts.

  3. To live and practice together harmoniously.

  4. To not quarrel.

  5. To experience the inner peace and happiness from practicing together harmoniously.

  6. To share benefits equally.

The purpose of the sangha is to spread the Buddha's teachings in helping all (Italicized words are explained in the glossary.) beings. Whether those committed to propagating the teachings or those devoted to supporting them, all are equally important in achieving this purpose. When one looks at a clock, one only sees the minute and hour hands and not the intricate parts within that keep it ticking. However, if one part is missing, the hands cannot move. Only in working together as one entity does the sangha accumulate infinite merits.
Buddha Shakyamuni teaches unceasingly, even during moments of silence. Through simply observing certain movements of the Buddha, beings with high levels of intelligence and wisdom can reach realization. His teachings not only include speech, but also languages of the body and mind.

Not only do beings from the six realms come to learn from the Buddha, but beings from all the nine realms do as well.

Delusion, our biggest obstacle, arises from afflictions and wandering thoughts; therefore, the Buddha teaches us first to sever our afflictions and cease wandering thoughts.

The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas help sentient beings see through delusion to completely understand the truth of life and the universe.

The goal of our cultivation is to replace the worries surrounding us with purity of mind. The Pure Land is our destination.

The Three Learnings are self-discipline, concentration and wisdom. They are important steps in one's practice.

Even in the present age, advanced medical science remains unable to surpass the perfect and thorough teachings of the Buddha to harmonize body and mind, which contributes to a healthy body. People who truly know how to attune their body and mind to peace and purity are immune from illnesses.

Continued practice of the Three Learnings will release worries, abolish longings and eradicate delusions and attachments. Only thus can we truly understand the Buddha's teachings.

The Pure Land School uses the sutra recitation method to help people sever their afflictions. The goal of this practice is to purify both body and mind, resulting in rebirth into the Western Pure Land.

When wandering thoughts cease to arise during sutra recitation, one's body, mind and speech commit no evil. One is cultivating self-discipline when one does not commit any evil deeds and practices only good ones.

One is cultivating concentration when achieving single-minded recitation of the sutra without giving rise to the analytical mind.
One is cultivating wisdom when reciting the sutra clearly and without error.

Losing one's purity of mind to analyze its meanings during sutra recitation would be the same as reading ordinary books, thus forsaking the purpose of the Three Learnings.

The length of a sutra such as The Infinite Life Sutra is perfect for recitation; they provide us with ample time to cultivate self-discipline, concentration and wisdom.

Ridding oneself of the three inner poisons of greed, anger and ignorance within the mind enables one to obtain a healthy mind and body. Having a healthy mind is important in helping one practice Buddhism, for without a healthy mind, one will find difficulty in accepting the true teaching.

Conditioning one's mind is an essential step towards learning the Mahayana sutras. A good teacher would have the students concentrate on their cultivation of virtue before learning the sutras. Just as a dirty bowl would need to be cleansed before it can be of good use or whatever it holds will be contaminated.

Reciting the sutras three hours or more daily for three years will deepen one's concentration. When one's concentration reaches a certain level, true wisdom can be revealed.

What is merit and virtue? It is the pure mind derived from practice of the Three Learnings of precepts, concentration and wisdom that are obtained from years of cultivation.

A pure mind is one without discriminations or attachments.

Anger is like a fire, being one of the three poisons of the mind. Once a person's anger flares up, all the merit and virtues accumulated from years of diligent cultivation completely disintegrate, sending the practitioner back to square one.
One accumulates merit and virtue when one is able to end greed in addition to diligently cultivating giving and following the precepts. The practice of endurance, diligence and concentration enables one to preserve one's merit and virtue.

A person who likes to practice giving and abides by laws and customs will accumulate good fortune.

Understanding what one practices is essential to one's success. Pure Land practitioners can start with the teachings from The Infinite Life Sutra, The Amitabha Sutra and "The Chapter on Samantabadrah's Vow and Cultivation."

One needs to cultivate good fortune before wisdom.

Those who are mindful of Buddha Amitabha can apply the practices of the Three Conditions in their daily lives. The Three Conditions, which are first of the Five Guidelines, are the foundation upon which Pure Land practitioners begin their practice.

Cultivating the first of the Three Conditions enables one to harvest good fortune as great as that of heavenly beings. The First Condition includes being filial and respectful to one's parents and teachers, being compassionate and not killing any living beings and cultivating according to the ten good conducts (no killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, abusive language, backbiting, seductive speech, greed, anger and ignorance).

The Second Condition consists of abiding by the Three Refuges, following the precepts, laws and customs, and committing no misconduct. By practicing the Second Condition, one's good fortune will be as great as that of Pratyekabuddhas and Arhats.

One does not accomplish anything just by going through the ceremonial ritual of taking the Three Refuges. Truly taking the Three Refuges is to return from delusion, erroneous thoughts and viewpoints, and impurity and to rely on one's enlightened self-nature, proper viewpoints and thoughts, and purity within the six senses.

Practicing the Third Condition enables one to harvest good fortune like that of Bodhisattvas. One generates the Bodhi mind, deeply believes in the Principles of Cause and Effect, recites Mahayana sutras and encourages others to advance on the path to enlightenment.

The second of the Five Guidelines for practitioners is to follow the Six Principles of Harmony, which show one how to get along with others. By practicing the Three Conditions and the Six Principles of Harmony, one will harvest good fortune.

After reaching a degree of attainment, one vows to practice the Bodhisattva way, teaching and benefiting all sentient beings, and working on behalf of the Buddha to publicize and advocate this remarkably ultimate perfect method of the Pure Land School.

As one generates a true and sincere heart to learn an unsurpassable method, one will naturally meet a genuine teacher to guide the way. If one does not harbor sincerity and respect in one's learning, it is useless even to have the best teacher in the world.

"Bodhisattvas unceasingly practice in accordance with limitless cultivation." (Infinite Life Sutra) To accord with Bodhisattvas' manner of living and cultivation, one applies the principles such as those within The Five Guidelines which are the Three Conditions, Six Harmonies, Three Learnings, Six Paramitas and the Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva into his/her daily lives.

By "maturing boundless Bodhisattva's good roots," (Infinite Life Sutra) beings will be able to become Buddhas once they have perfected their merit, which involves helping all beings, until they too become Buddhas.

"Being the mindful ones of whom all Buddhas were protective." (Infinite Life Sutra) The kindness the Buddha shows us is like that of parents for their children, the only difference being that the Buddha remains mindful of us life after life, until we ourselves become Buddha.

As we observe all the world's phenomena, birth and death seem to exist. However, this is not so. In reality, they, what we perceive as birth and death, are just the coming together and dispersion of causes and conditions. Thus, nothing is really gained or lost. If we can see through this concept of gain and loss, appearance and disappearance, we will attain comfort and happiness.

Our afflictions come from caring too much about gaining and losing. When we lack something, we search for it everyday. Once we have it, we are afraid to lose it. However, gaining and losing are only false conceptions of the mind. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas fully comprehend this truth. Thus, although they have already helped innumerable beings, their minds do not attach to the notion of having helped. They have neither attachment nor the thought to accumulate merits. The minds and hearts of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are always pure and at peace.

Those who simply go through daily rituals of prostrating and offering incense and fruit may not achieve as much benefit as those who practice in accordance with Buddha's teachings may.

All the beings in the infinite universe and beyond, including us, are interrelated. In past lives we may have been born in other worlds and were related to the beings there. When we become a Buddha or Bodhisattva, we will be able to travel to any Buddhaland that we have affinities with to help those beings to walk the path of awakening. "These Bodhisattvas could appear in all the Buddhalands" (Infinite Life Sutra)

Everything we see in this world is not real in the sense that it has a separate self, but are actually accumulations of causes and conditions. Although we may think it is real, in the Buddha's mind, there is neither existence nor emptiness, appearing nor disappearing, gaining nor losing. This misconception of reality results in our delusion. Afflictions come from the inside and not the outside. They arise from our own deviated thoughts and viewpoints.

The Buddha's education helps us to break through this delusion and refrain from wrong actions, thereby avoiding adverse consequences.

Buddhas appear in this world to educate people so that we may attain enlightenment. However, they are not attached to the idea that they themselves are Buddhas or teachers. In addition, they are not attached to their ability to teach or to the idea that others are students accepting their teachings. Harboring these ideas would be attaching and discriminating and would block one from obtaining a pure mind.

The Buddha does not take credit for any achievements, nor does he linger on thoughts regarding his activities. Therefore, he does not become weary or overwrought like ordinary people.

"Like a flash of lightning, Bodhisattvas can transform into different forms." (Infinite Life Sutra). Not being attached to any forms, Bodhisattvas are able to manifest all forms.

There are four similes within "a flash of lightning." First, its speed; life is short, most people do not realize how short until stricken with illness in their old age. Second, its application; a brief flare of lightning exposing the darkness which represents our ignorance. Buddhas appear in this world to help us break through this ignorance. Third, non-attachment; there is none for any Dharma, ability, phenomena, or achievements. Fourth, it is non-discriminatory; lightning appears anywhere, having no discrimination over what it illuminates.
Demons and ghosts of the world are not as terrifying as demons of the mind. These demons torment our minds and bodies causing us to suffer and age quickly. They are simply brought about by our false viewpoints: the worries, miseries, and our attachments to things that go against ur wishes create the demons that we inflict upon ourselves.

Cultivators should refrain from deviated emotions and conditions such as the absence of embarrassment and shamefulness, and the presence of jealousy, stinginess, misdeeds, drowsiness, sleep, agitation, greed, anger and ignorance.

Some people are unconsciously jealous of others who they feel are superior to them. These thoughts lead them to commit wrongdoings that result in ill consequences. Not only will they be afflicted by arrogance and jealousy life after life; these negative characteristics will block their own path to enlightenment

Lacking a conscience and the ability to feel shame, one would commit any evil. Moreover, one will suffer the consequences of their actions.

Stinginess arises from greed when one will not give to help others.

Misdeeds include all behaviors that are not virtuous and logical, thus blocking our virtuous nature.

Sleeping too much clouds our minds and obstructs our practice of the way.

An agitated mind is one that harbors too many wandering thoughts and is bound by worries and unrest.

Drowsiness is feeling tired and spiritless, impeding one's diligence.

The above eight afflictions, along with greed, anger and ignorance can hopelessly ensnare one in the cycle of birth and death.

Chanting the Buddha's name can diminish and eliminate one's accumulated karmic transgressions from the above eight afflictions. By replacing wandering thoughts with mindfulness of the Buddha, one can eliminate countless eons of transgressions.

The essential practice in Buddha name chanting is not quantity but quality, using every chant to replace wandering thoughts, thus eventually reaching purity of mind.

It may be more suitable for beginners to concentrate more on sutra recitation rather than Buddha name chanting, as one will have awareness of dispersion of wandering thoughts when one recites incorrectly. Buddha name chanting is easy to do, but it is not sufficient to help beginners suppress their wandering minds. However, once a person attains deeper awareness and concentration, Buddha name chanting becomes more suitable. One should choose the method that will be most effective in countering wandering thoughts and attachments.

One day the great master Yuan Ying was meditating in his room, his mind was very calm and pure. Suddenly he thought of something and immediately went to take care of it. Getting off his bed, he headed straight out of the room. Only when after he was outside, did he realize the door was still closed and locked. How did he get out? In that instant, he had forgotten that there was a door, and having no attachment, had simply gone through it. But when the thought of the door arose, he was no longer able to go through it.

Not knowing the empty nature of all appearances and phenomenon, we delude ourselves by not realizing their falseness. For example, if we perceive a wall as real, then we will not be able to go through it. However, perceiving one's body and the wall as not real allows one to pass through it.

Having an affinity, a natural bond, with this world, the Buddha will stay. Once this affinity ends, the Buddha will enter Nirvana.

The Buddha teaches us that we need to search our true self from within, not from the outside. To search from the outside would be superstitious and futile. The need is for one to end one's afflictions, greed, anger, ignorance and arrogance that block our true self from coming through.

The great Zen master, the Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng said in The Platform Sutra, "not being attached to any outside phenomenon is meditation, no thoughts arising from within is concentration."

Meditating is settling the mind, not just the practice of sitting in the lotus position on a cushion or platform while having wandering thoughts, one after another.

Meditation is when one is not tempted by the exterior factors of reputation, power, prestige, wealth, the five desires (wealth, lust, food/drink, fame and sleep.), and impurities in the six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and idea). Concentration is when no afflictions arise from within.

He, who regards others as Buddhas, is a Buddha, while an ordinary person would regard the Buddha as ordinary. In other words, an evil person would regard all as evil, whereas, a virtuous person would regard all as kind and virtuous. In reality, there is no good or bad, beautiful or ugly in the world but just reflections from our mind. The outside environment changes according to one's state of mind.

When one sees other persons as displeasing, disgusting, etc., this perception comes from the afflictions arising from within one's own mind and has nothing to do with exterior factors. "True practitioners do not see the faults in others." (Platform Sutra)

When one's self-nature arises from within, it also naturally brings out one's infinite wisdom and virtuous capabilities. This is true goodness.

For most people the usual driving force behind their hard work is reputation and wealth. For enlightened beings, the driving force in the Buddha's teaching is compassion and wisdom. With wisdom one sees very clearly the true reality of life and the universe, regarding others as oneself. With compassion one understands that spreading the Buddha's teaching is one's duty and responsibility. One should do so, expecting nothing in return.

There are two kinds of understanding. One is understanding the truth of our existence and the universe; the other is reaching deeper realization from cultivation. The first one is understood through the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas' education; the latter one is relying on our own diligent practice.

There are many methods within Buddha Shakyamuni's teachings; the Pure Land School is one method that does not need to overcome so many levels of accomplishment before becoming a Buddha. Reciting Buddha Amitabha's name with unwavering belief, vowing to reach the Pure Land and practicing diligently will enable one to be reborn into the Western Pure Land.

"Numberless and limitless Bodhisattvas like these came and gathered together. There were also five hundred Bhikshunis (nuns), seven thousand Upasakas (laymen), five hundred Upasikas (laywomen), and Brahma Gods from the realms of Sensuality and Form who attended the assembly." (Infinite Life Sutra)

Not only these twenty thousand attended this teaching but additional other uncountable beings from higher realms attended as well. This signifies the great importance of this teaching.

Established date: 03/06/10