Today we are blessed to have the occasion to gather here to discuss life’s meaning in Buddhism. Why we should practice Buddhism and how to practice 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, we are awakened. That means we are equally intelligent, like a shining mirror, no different 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 in this life, we must leave them behind when we die. The pursuit of Material wealth does no good for us but causes uneasiness in our minds that we cannot have peace in our life. And without peace of mind, we cannot see the meaning of life.
Buddha says it is not right to be greedy for material things, to be in love with physical wealth, and to take these material things as real. Too many of us have looked at material things around us as true, as long-lasting existence. We love these material things, we long for them, and we want to acquire and keep them as our belongings because we think they are good and real, and can bring about good for us. Buddha tells us that our pursuits for material 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 dark clouds in the sky block the sun’s brightness, the earth is in darkness.
Our mind has the Buddha nature, bright as the sun. That Buddha nature is our ego, the real me, shining as always. Our greed and all the wrongdoings are the dark clouds blocking our minds so that their 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 wrongdoings, 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 many sutras, over ten thousand books on Buddhism, and different schools in Buddhist teaching. In China’s Tang Dynasty one thousand & 400 years ago, there were ten schools of Buddhism; now, only three leading schools remain the Pure Land, Zen, and the Tantric School. Why are there these different branches? To deal with different problems of us humans. Buddha is like a doctor. He makes different prescriptions for different patients and 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 a 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, Buddhahood.
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 the real me, we have returned to our Buddha nature and attained 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 and this flesh body deteriorates year after year. Its life can be divided into four stages: to be given birth, to survive for some time, to grow old, and to die. After birth, a baby grows up gradually into young age. He goes to school and 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 from 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 firmly believe that this flesh body with eyes, ears, hands, and feet is the real me. This belief is so strong that we grow an attachment to it. The affection for our body lets us do many things for it, and we have many desires, to eat well, dress well, live well, etc., to take good care of this physical body, me. Thus we strive for food, for women, for all kinds of resources that make us happy, to satisfy our wants and desires. We work hard for food, 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, there is killing, stealing, sexual assaults, and all the other wrongdoings. And there are political struggles, corruption, cheating, and other nasty 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 our selfishness of ourselves. He has great mercy for our wrongdoings 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 wrongdoings, and to save us from suffering. He has come to tell us that we are born with a Buddha nature, supernatural powers, and the potential for all good. We do not have to do all the wrong things to feed our bodies, which is not real. Because of our desires for material things and misconduct to acquire these material things, we are subject to lots of suffering. Our desires and misconduct are like the dark clouds blocking the sun’s brightness. These wrongdoings 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 are suffering; getting old and having an illness is suffering; death or separation of family members and loved ones 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, and some suffer at old age. No one can be free from suffering. 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 and set us free from physical and mental suffering.
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, 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, divine eyes, and 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 can see past events, and predict future events. It can look into other people’s minds; 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 minds being full of illusions, not enlightened. Like the dust that covers the face of a mirror so that our image cannot be reflected. The Buddha has taught us how to recover our supernatural abilities and regain our high powers to a greater extent than the above-mentioned. So there are different sutras and different schools of Buddhism. The Pure Land School is not one of them. One of the many methods taught by the Buddha is to reveal our intrinsic nature and regain Buddhahood.
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 Buddha is the best way to calm ourselves down, make our minds at peace, and keep our thoughts away from illusions. By keeping our mind in profound 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 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 about 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 Buddha’s era, we have a weaker base for Buddhist belief. Our minds are full of illusions; our desires for material wealth become much more substantial. Spiritual pursuits become less critical 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 minds away from delusions. We cannot have the thought of making more money, about our work or family affairs, etc. We should concentrate on the sound “Amitofo” and pay attention only to our chanting. Concentration can lead to 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 suffering; to reach the other side of the river, the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, free from suffering, we must 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 must have a pure mind; meditations help us gain purity of mind and return to the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. To reach the shore of liberation, we must give up everything on this shore of suffering. 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 ship go. We must not think of making money, our children, or everyday affairs while meditating towards enlightenment.
Every day we may have two to three hours for meditation, but 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 are like sharpening the blade of a knife; the rest of the hours are wood cutting to test if our knife is sharp or not. As good Buddhist practitioners, we still live everyday life; we eat, work, sleep, and care for the young and elders, but in everything we do, we keep our minds in peace. When we do our work, we devote our efforts and 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 strongly believe in “do good, good things follow.”
Everyone has his fate. But we shall not think we have a destiny that can never be changed. Let us tell the 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 course. At about 30, Liaofan went to a Buddhist monastery and met with 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 change. 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 indicated that he would die young at 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.