Eliminating Desire and Ending Seeking
The Buddha said, "Those who have left the home-life and become Shramanas cut off desire, renounce love, and recognize the source of their minds. They penetrate the Buddha's profound principles and awaken to the unconditioned Dharma. Internally they have nothing to attain, and externally they seek nothing. They are not mentally bound to the Way, nor are they tied to karma. They are free of thought and action; they neither cultivate nor attain certification; they do not pass through the various stages, and yet they are highly revered. This is the meaning of the Way."
This second section of the Sutra is talking about non-cultivation and non-certification.
The Buddha said, "Those who have left the home-life and become Shramanas cut off desire." What should people who want to leave the home of the Triple Realm and become Shramanas do? They should cut off desire. Earlier, the Sutra said, "Severing love and desire is like severing the four limbs; one never uses them again." They renounce love and recognize the source of their minds. At that point when there is no more love, they recognize the source of their own minds.
They penetrate the Buddha's pro-found principles and awaken to the unconditioned Dharma. They understand the Buddha's most profound principles, which are neither conditioned nor unconditioned. Internally they have no-thing to attain, and externally they seek nothing. If you want to talk in terms of yourself, you have no understanding and no attaining. Inside, you obtain nothing. Outside you seek nothing and obtain nothing. Obtaining nothing inside is the unconditioned Dharma; seeking nothing outside is also the unconditioned Dharma.
So it's said,
The less you know of what's going on,
The less affliction you will have.
If you reach the point of seeking nothing,
Then you will have no worries.
When they reach the state of there being nothing to obtain inside, and nothing to seek outside, they are not mentally bound to the Way. They don't necessarily say to themselves that they are cultivating the Way. At the same time you can always find them cultivating. Nor are they tied to karma. They also find it impossible to create any kind of bad karma.
They are free of thought and action.They have no false thoughts; all they have are proper thoughts. They don't have even a single false thought, so they are free of thought. Since they perform no false or superfluous actions, they are "free of action." They don't do anything in particular. They neither cultivate nor attain certification. They have done what they had to do, they have already cultivated to the ultimate point. There is nothing left that they can cultivate. They don't certify because they have already obtained the fundamental substance of the Way. They have already realized the fruition of their cultivation.
They do not pass through the various stages.It is unnecessary to go through all these positions: from the Ten Dwellings to the Ten Practices, to the Ten Transferences, to the Ten Grounds. You need not go through them. You suddenly transcend them. And yet they are highly revered. The position that Shramanas occupy is lofty. This is the meaning of the Way. That is what a Shramana who has attained the Way is like.
Severing Love and Renouncing Greed
The Buddha said, "Shaving their hair and beards, they become Shramanas who accept the Dharmas of the Way. They renounce worldly wealth and riches. In receiving alms, they accept only what's enough. They take only one meal a day at noon, pass the night beneath trees, and are careful not to seek more than that. Craving and desire are what cause people to be stupid and dull."
This is the third of the forty-two sections; it praises the most excellent ascetic practices. If you can cultivate these supreme ascetic practices, you can become certified in your fruition in the Way.
The Buddha said. These are the words of the Buddha. What did the Buddha say? He said, "Shaving their hair and beards." People who leave the home-life shave off their beards and the hair on their heads, and they become Shramanas, left-home people, who accept the Dharmas of the Way. To accept the Dharmas of the Way means a cultivator should accept the Way in his mind and cultivate the Dharmas of the Way. A person who cultivates the Dharmas of the Way should renounce worldly wealth and riches; he doesn't want the riches of the world. Here, for example, we have several people who have left the home-life and are keeping the precept against holding money. That is very good. That's to renounce worldly wealth and riches. All the fighting in the world is due to wealth. Take a look: countries fight with countries, families feud with families, and people battle with people because of personal benefit. He can renounce worldly wealth; he doesn't want any worldly valuables.
In receiving alms, they accept only what's enough. Every day they carry their bowls and receive alms. They eat their fill, and that suffices them. Here, "receiving alms" means they carry their bowls and receive alms food. "They accept only what's enough" means that having eaten their fill, they stop--they aren't greedy; they don't eat more. They don't eat often--they take only one meal a day at noon--and they pass the night beneath trees. When they sleep, they sleep under trees. Further, they don't sleep under any one tree more than three nights. And they are careful not to seek more than that. You should be careful not to seek for more. Don't seek for anything beyond these simple things.
Craving and desire are what cause people to be stupid and dull. A person's stupidity is like weeds growing in his mind: the sod and rocks cover over the mind, making him dull. Like the sun obscured by clouds, we don't understand things; we can't fathom how to do things. And what causes this? Craving and desire. They make us stupid. You object to my saying you are stupid? If you weren't stupid, then why, once you've received the precepts, would you then break them? If you aren't stupid, then why do you want to do things that you should not do? Just because of craving and desire. You can't see through love and you can't put down desire, and so you aren't at ease. If you can see through and put down things, then you feel at ease; and then you won't have any worries, any distress, any troubles, or any affliction. Everything will be just fine. There won't be any problems at all. The way I like to say it in English is: "Everything's okay."
Clarifying Good and Evil
The Buddha said, "Living beings may perform Ten Good Deeds or Ten Evil Deeds. What are the ten? Three are done with the body, four are done with the mouth, and three are done with the mind. The three done with the body are killing, stealing, and lust. The four done with the mouth are duplicity, harsh speech, lies, and frivolousspeech. The three done with the mind are jealousy, hatred, and stupidity. Thus these ten are not in accord with the Way of Sages and are called the Ten Evil Deeds. To put a stop to these evils is to perform the Ten Good Deeds."
The fourth section discusses how good and evil have no fixed form. It's as easy to turn from doing bad to doing good as it is to flip over the hand from the back to the palm. It's simply up to us to do it.
The Buddha said, "Living beings may perform ten good deeds." There are ten kinds of good deeds that living beings can do. Or there are also ten evil deeds. Although these are good deeds, if done incorrectly, they become evil. What are the ten? Three are done with the body, four are done with the mouth, and three are done with the mind.
The three done with the body are killing, stealing, and lust. What is meant by killing? To kill is to take a life, to put an end to the life of another sentient creature. What is meant by stealing? It means to take some object without getting the owner's permission. Lust refers to sexual intercourse between men and women.
The four done with the mouth are duplicity, harsh speech, lies, and frivolous speech. Duplicity, or "double-tongued speech," doesn't refer to someone growing two tongues. It means saying things in two different ways. You speak about Mr. Lee to Mr. Chang, and then you speak about Mr. Chang to Mr. Lee. You speak out of both corners of your mouth. Harsh speech means scolding or profanity. Telling lies means saying things that aren't true. Frivolous speech means talking about things that are meaningless--frivolous, inappropriate things. Frivolous speech reflects deviant knowledge and deviant views.
The three done with the mind are jealousy, hatred, and stupidity.Jealousy refers to envy. When you're jealous, you don't wish good to come to others. When something good happens to another person, you become jealous. Hatred includes haughtiness, resentment, maliciousness, and vengefulness. When one is stupid, one doesn't distinguish between principles and facts.
Thus these ten are not in accord with the Way of Sages and do not lead one down a good path. They are called the Ten Evil Deeds. To put a stop to these evils is to perform the Ten Good Deeds. The Ten Good Deeds are: not killing, not stealing, not being lustful, not being jealous, not hating, not being stupid, not engaging in duplicity, not using harsh speech, not telling lies, and not speaking frivolously.
Reducing the Severity of Offenses
The Buddha said, "If a person has many offenses and does not repent of them, but cuts off all thought of repentance, the offenses will engulf him, just as water returning to the sea will gradually become deeper and wider. If a person has offenses and, realizing they are wrong, reforms and does good, the offenses will dissolve by themselves, just as a sick person who begins to perspire will gradually be cured."
The fifth section exhorts people to realize that if we have offenses, we can change them and start over with a clean slate. But if we have offenses and don't change them, then the offenses always remain with us. If we can reform and make a fresh start, then the offenses disappear.
The Buddha said, "If a person has many offenses and does not repent of them…" The category of offenses includes all kinds of mistakes and wrong deeds. If you don't change and repent of offenses, but conceal them and hide them away because you don't want anyone to see them or know about them, that's called not being repentant. The person cuts off all thought of repentance. You don't realize that you should repent. You abruptly put a stop to any thought of repentance. That is, you have no intention of changing your errors. If you stop your thoughts of repentance, then when the offenses come down upon you, they will engulf you. The offenses will engulf him, just as water returning to the sea will gradually become deeper and wider. It will be like a small stream flowing back into the sea. Gradually the small offenses will grow deeper and broader, and will turn into big offenses. Even tiny transgressions will become huge. Light karmic obstructions will become heavy karmic obstructions.
If a person has offenses and, realizing they are wrong, reforms and does good. You can have such monstrous offenses that they fill up the sky, but with a single thought of repentance you can melt them away. Your offenses may be as vast as the heavens, but if you can repent of them, they will disappear. You must repent, untie the knot of offenses and realize your own mistakes. After that, you should change your evil conduct into good conduct and practice all kinds of good deeds. The offenses will dissolve by themselves, just as a sick person who begins to perspire will gradually be cured. If you can become a new person, then your offenses will disappear. What is this like? It's like a feverish person who breaks out in a sweat and then gradually becomes well.
Tolerating Evil-doers and Avoiding Hatred
The Buddha said, "When an evil person hears about your goodness and intentionally comes to cause trouble, you should restrain yourself and not become angry or blame him. Then the one who has come to do evil will do evil to himself."
This is the sixth section, which says that good can overcome evil, but evil cannot overcome good. The previous section told people to stop doing evil and to do good, to reform themselves. The Buddha feared that some people might be afraid that if they did good deeds, evil people would give them trouble. So the Buddha spoke this section.
The Buddha said, "When an evil person hears about your goodness and intentionally comes to cause trouble." Suppose an evil person hears that you're doing good deeds, and he intentionally comes to hassle you. He comes to give you trouble and to disrupt your practice of good deeds. At that time you should restrain yourself, you should remain cool and dispassionate. Don't get agitated or nervous.
And you should not become angry or blame him. You shouldn't get angry, nor should you scold him. Don't talk about his wrongdoing. Then the one who has come to do evil will do evil to himself. The evil person who comes to bother you and disrupt your practice will wind up giving himself trouble. He's just destroying himself; he's just giving himself a hard time. It's like a mirror in which an extremely ugly reflection appears. The ugly appearance is simply his own reflection in the mirror; it's not that the mirror itself is ugly.
This illustrates that no matter how bad an evil person is, the evil belongs to him and will bring him harm in the end. If you pay no attention to him, there will be no problem. As soon as you start paying attention to him, though, what happens? You fall in with his ilk; you become an evil person yourself.
Evil Returns to the Doer
The Buddha said, "There was a person who, upon hearing that I observe the Way and practice great humane kindness, intentionally came to berate me. I was silent and did not reply. When he finished abusing me, I asked, If you are courteous to people and they do not accept your courtesy, the courtesy returns to you, does it not?'
"It does,' he replied. I said, Now you are scolding me, but I do not receive it, so the misfortune returns to you and must remain with you. It is as inevitable as an echo that follows a sound, or as a shadow that follows a form. In the end you cannot avoid it. Therefore, be careful not to do evil.' "
The seventh section verifies the preceding statement that one who does evil harms himself. In order to explain this, the Buddha makes an analogy.
The Buddha said, "There was a person who, upon hearing that I observe the Way and practice great humane kindness, intentionally came to berate me." The Buddha is a person who observes and cultivates the Way. He also cultivates the practice of great kindness. On hearing this, a person came right up to the Buddha and started scolding him. The Buddha heard him, but was silent and did not reply. He remained silent and did not say anything. When he finished abusing me, once the person stopped berating him, I, the Buddha, asked, "If you are courteous to people and they do not accept your courtesy, the courtesy returns to you, does it not?"
"It does," he replied. "Right," he said. "It comes back to me. If they do not accept my courtesy and respect, then I take those back."
I said, "Now you are scolding me, but I do not receive it." "Now, sir," the Buddha said, "You are scolding me. You berate me, but I remain thus, thus, and unmoving. Whether you scold me or not, it's all the same to me. I'm not affected by your scolding; I simply won't accept it. So the misfortune returns to you and must remain with you." "Sir," the Buddha continued, "Your scolding me is not right, so there will certainly be an unfortunate result; it is inevitable. And that misfortune will fall back on you; it will follow you just as an echo follows a sound or as a shadow follows a form, just as the shadow of your body follows you. In the end you cannot avoid it, the misfortune that will result from your having scolded me. Therefore, be careful not to do evil. It is my hope that everyone will not do evil deeds."
Abusing Others Defiles Oneself
The Buddha said, "An evil person who harms a sage is like one who raises his head and spits at heaven. Instead of reaching heaven, the spittle falls back on him. It is the same with someone who throws dust against the wind. Instead of going somewhere else, the dust returns to defile his own body. The sage cannot be harmed. Misdeeds will inevitably destroy the doer."
In this eighth section, the Buddha teaches us that we must not do bad deeds, that we must not harm people, because to harm others is just to harm oneself. If you slight others, you only slight yourself. If you are bad to others, it's the same as being bad to yourself.
The Buddha said, "An evil person who harms a sage is like one who raises his head and spits at heaven. Instead of reaching heaven, the spittle falls back on him." "An evil person" refers to someone who does bad deeds of every kind, while a sage is a worthy and virtuous person. When an evil person who has no virtue tries to harm a sage who has genuine virtue, it's as if he were tipping back his head to spit at the sky. The spit doesn't reach the sky, but instead falls back on his own face.This is to say that an evil person is really unable to harm a sage. He may think of a way to harm him, but in the end he's still actually harming himself. In this world there are underlying principles of justice which govern all things, and which make it wrong to harm people.
It is the same with someone who throws dust against the wind. Instead of going somewhere else, the dust returns to defile his own body. If you face the wind and toss out a handful of dust, instead of flying forward, it will fly back to you and fall on your own body.
The sage cannot be harmed. Misdeeds will inevitably destroy the doer.You can't slander a sage or really harm him, because when you cause misfortune for others, you will also bring misfortune upon yourself. It's you who will have to undergo the retribution.
By Returning to the Source, You Find the Way
The Buddha said, "Deep learning and a love of the Way make the Way difficult to attain. When you guard your mind and revere the Way, the Way is truly great!"
In this ninth section, the Buddha is teaching cultivators to hear the Dharma and to contemplate it, to contemplate the Dharma and to cultivate it, to cultivate the Dharma and then to realize it. Cultivators should not only be able to discuss or to listen to the Buddhadharma, they should also able to put it into practice. It only counts when you actually go and do it.
The Buddha said, "Deep learning and a love of the Way make the Way difficult to attain." Deep learning here refers to being well-read. Ananda, for instance, was foremost in learning. He could be called deeply learned. But someone who has only studied the Dharma and has not contemplated it as it is taught will never be able to understand the principles it contains. He relies on only rote memory and intellectual ability. Even if he has a sharp memory and can memorize a sutra, he won't get any response. If he fails to contemplate the meaning and fails to cultivate according to it, it will ultimately be of no use to him.
"Love of the Way" refers to cultivators who know that the Way is really excellent, but who don't realize that originally the Way is just their own mind. It is not apart from their own mind. Those people go searching outside their mind for another Way. Although they long for and cherish the Way, yet if they seek outside, they will go wrong. That "makes the Way difficult to obtain." By seeking outside, they will not understand the Way, nor will they be able to encounter it. Since they won't encounter it, even less will they understand the Way. The longer they run, the farther away they will get.
When you guard your mind and revere the Way, the Way is truly great! What does it mean to guard your mind? To guard your mind means to guard it from indulging in false thinking; it means not to seek outside. It is said, "Look within yourself; don't seek from other people. Seek within; don't seek outside." Seek within; in thought after thought, you must awaken; in thought after thought, you must understand; in thought after thought, you must aspire toward the Bodhi-mind.
Having no thoughts of seeking fame or benefits is to guard one's mind. What does it mean to "revere the Way"? It means to respectfully uphold the Way, never allowing it to be absent from your thoughts, and to comprehend the source of your mind in thought after thought. You merge with the essence of the mind, and you do not seek outside for it. That's called "revering the Way." Then the Way is truly great! If you cultivate like that, then quite naturally your accomplishment will be great.
Joyful Charity Brings Blessings
The Buddha said, "When you see someone who is practicing giving, aid him joyfully, and you will obtain vast and great blessings."
A Shramana asked, "Is there an end to those blessings?"
The Buddha said, "Consider the flame of a single torch. Though hundreds and thousands of people come to light their own torches from it so that they can cook their food and ward off darkness, the first torch remains the same. Blessings, too, are like this."
This tenth section expounds the merit and virtue of "joyfully supporting others." You gain benefits and so do others, and the blessings you create have no end.
The Buddha said, "When you see someone who is practicing giving, aid him joyfully." There are three types of giving.
The first is the giving of wealth, which is also called "giving that sustains life." This refers to the giving of two kinds of material wealth: inner wealth and outer wealth. Inner wealth refers to the head, eyes, brain, marrow, skin, blood, flesh, tendons, and bones. This is the inner wealth of the body. Outer wealth refers to gold, silver, precious gems, countries, cities, wives, and children. If you have gold, you can give people gold; if you have silver, you can give people silver; if you have jewels, you can give them to others.
If you have a country or city, you can relinquish it to others. If you have a wife, you can give her away; if you have a child, you can give him or her away. This is done in order to single-mindedly cultivate the Way.] This is outward giving. As for inner wealth, you can give away your head, eyes, brain, bone marrow, skin, blood, flesh, and bones. The above constitutes the giving of wealth.
The second kind of giving is the giving of Dharma. The gift of Dharma refers to explaining the threefold study of precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. You give all these various kinds of Dharma to people, so that they gain benefit.
The third kind of giving is the giving of courage. When someone undergoes a catastrophe or a frightening experience, you can dispel their anxiety and alleviate their distress. That's what's meant by giving courage.
And when you see someone practicing giving and you support him joyfully, praising and rejoicing in what he's doing, you will obtain vast and great blessings: your reward of blessings will be immense. Foolish people may say, "Well, if I do some charitable act and others amass vast blessings by following along and supporting me, won't that diminish my own reward of blessings?" Anticipating that foolish people might reason that way, there follows a dialogue to this point:
A Shramana asked, "Is there an end to those blessings?" He's asking, "Will the blessings disappear?" That is to say, the person who originally did the giving obtained blessings. When others rejoiced in his deed, they also obtained great blessings. Will the first person be able to keep his blessings? Or will they be snatched away by the others?
The Buddha said, "Consider the flame of a single torch. Though hundreds of thousands of people come to light their own torches from it so that they can cook their food and ward off darkness, the first torch remains the same." Although there is only one flame, a hundred thousand people all come and use the flame to light their fires. They share the fire and use it to cook their food and dispel the darkness. Still, the flame of the original torch remains as it was in the beginning. It won't go out.
Blessings, too, are like this. The reward of blessings is also like this. The analogy explains that someone who cultivates the Way by practicing giving can realize the fruition in the future. Cooking the food is analogous to realizing the fruition of one's cultivation. Warding off the darkness is analogous to warding off the delusions caused by the threefold obstacles: the obstacle of karma, the obstacle of retribution, and the obstacle of afflictions.
What is being said is that the merit and virtue of your acts of giving will enable you and others to realize the fruition in the Way. You will be able to wipe out the three obstacles, and other people who joyfully support you will also be able to purge them. This merit and virtue will be shared by all alike.
The Increase in Merit Gained by Bestowing Food
The Buddha said, "Giving food to a hundred bad people is not as good as giving food to a single good person. Giving food to a thousand good people is not as good as giving food to one person who holds the Five Precepts. Giving food to ten thousand people who hold the Five Precepts is not as good as giving food to a single Srotaapanna. Giving food to a million Srotaapannas is not as good as giving food to a single Sakridagamin. Giving food to ten million Sakridagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Anagamin.
"Giving food to a hundred million Anagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Arhat. Giving food to one billion Arhats is not as good as giving food to a single Pratyekabuddha. Giving food to ten billion Pratyekabuddhas is not as good as giving food to a Buddha of the three periods of time. Giving food to a hundred billion Buddhas of the three periods of time is not as good as giving food to a single person who is without thoughts, without dwelling, without cultivation, and without accomplishment."
The eleventh section of the Sutra compares the superior and inferior fields of blessings and lets people understand the superior and inferior aspects of making offerings.
The Buddha said, Giving food to a hundred bad people is not as good as giving food to a single good person. The previous section discussed giving in general terms, but when one gives, the important thing is to know how to do it. If you plant blessings but you don't know the right method, if you don't plant in accord with Dharma, then you won't get any blessings.
So the text says that giving food to one good person plants a greater field of blessings than giving to one hundred evil people. Why? Because after you feed a hundred bad people, all they can do are evil deeds. You become an accomplice to the bad things that they do, because you helped them do their evil deeds. If you give food to even one good person, then the good things he does after he's eaten his fill are deeds that, you could say, you helped him accomplish. That is why it doesn't equal giving food to a single good person.
Giving food to a thousand good people is not as good as giving food to one person who holds the Five Precepts. "Food" here implies every kind of offering: food, drink, jewels, money, even your head, your eyes, your brains, and your marrow. If you give your life's energy to help people do good things, then the good deeds they do are done with your help. But if you give your life's energy in order to help bad people, you actually create offenses. Therefore the merit and virtue of feeding one thousand good people is not as great as that which accrues from giving to even one person who holds the Five Precepts.
Giving food to ten thousand people who hold the Five Precepts is not as good as giving food to a single Srotaapanna. "People who hold the Five Precepts" here refers to people who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel, who hold the Five Precepts, and who cultivate the Ten Good Deeds. The merit and virtue of giving food to ten thousand people who hold the Five Precepts is not as great as that of making an offering of food to a single Srotaapanna, a sage of the first fruition.
Giving food to a million Srotaapannas is not as good as giving food to a single Sakridagamin. Giving food to a million Srotaapannas, sages of the first fruition, wouldn't be as good as giving food to a sage of the second fruition, a Sakridagamin, because those of the first fruition do not know the state of those of the second fruition. Sages of the first fruition have already broken through delusion in views; those of the second fruition have also cut off six grades of delusion in thought in the desire realm. This was discussed in a previous section. Therefore, making an offering of food to a Sakridagamin of the second fruition has more merit and virtue than making an offering to a Srotaapanna of the first fruition.
Giving food to ten million Sakridagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Anagamin. Giving food to ten million sages of the second fruition, who have cut off six grades of delusion of thought in the desire realm, would not be as good as giving food to a single Anagamin, a sage of the third fruition. An Anagamin has cut off all nine grades of delusion of thought in the desire realm.
Giving food to a hundred million Anagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Arhat. Making an offering of food to a hundred million Anagamins of the third fruition does not have as much merit and virtue as making an offering to one Arhat.
Giving food to one billion Arhats is not as good as giving food to a single Pratyekabuddha. Arhats are called Sound-hearers because they hear the sound of the Buddha's voice and awaken to the Way. A Pratyekabuddha is one who has been enlightened by conditions. When a Buddha is in the world, Pratyekabuddhas contemplate the Twelve Conditioned Links of Causation and awaken to the Way. When there is no Buddha in the world, they are called "solitarily enlightened ones" because they awaken to the Way through contemplation of the illusory transformations and the impermanent nature of the myriad phenomena. If you give food to one billion Arhats, it is not as good as giving food to a single Pratyekabuddha.
Giving food to ten billion Pratyekabuddhas is not as good as giving food to a Buddha of the three periods of time. If you make offerings to any Buddha, whether of the past, present, or future, the merit and virtue is much greater than giving to that many Pratyekabuddhas.
But giving food to a hundred billion Buddhas of the three periods of time is not as good as giving food to a single person who is without thoughts, without dwelling, without cultivation, and without accomplishment. It would not be as good as making an offering to a sage who is without thoughts, without dwelling, without cultivation, and without accomplishment. "Without thought" means thinking and yet not thinking. "Without dwelling" means dwelling and yet not dwelling. One cultivates and yet does not cultivate; one becomes accomplished and yet does not become accomplished. One like this reaches the level of the Initial Stage of the Perfect Teaching. He is known as a Great Knight Who Realizes the Dharma-body. Such beings manifest the Eight Signs of Realizing the Way and are able to accomplish Buddhahood in one hundred worlds.
We should realize the various principles involved in making offerings and the advantages of making offerings to each particular type of individual. Therefore, we should draw near to Good and Wise Advisors. If you draw near to evil advisors instead, you will learn their deviant knowledge and viewpoints. If you keep company with Good and Wise Advisors, you will learn right knowledge and viewpoints. If you make offerings to evil people, you are committing offenses; if you make offerings to good people, then you create merit and virtue. This is something that we should all know.
A List of Difficulties and an Exhortation to Cultivate
The Buddha said, "People encounter twenty different kinds of difficulties: It is difficult to give when one is poor. It is difficult to study the Way when one has wealth and status. It is difficult to abandon life and face the certainty of death. It is difficult to encounter the Buddhist sutras. It is difficult to be born at the time of a Buddha. It is difficult to be patient with lust and desire. It is difficult to see fine things and not seek them. It is difficult to be insulted and not become angry. It is difficult to have power and not abuse it.
"It is difficult to come in contact with things and have no thought of them. It is difficult to be vastly learned and well-read. It is difficult to get rid of pride. It is difficult not to slight those who have not yet studied. It is difficult to practice equanimity of mind. It is difficult not to gossip. It is difficult to meet a Good and Wise Advisor. It is difficult to see one's own nature and study the Way. It is difficult to teach and save people according to their potentials. It is difficult to see a state and not be moved by it. It is difficult to have a good understanding of skill-in-means."
The Buddha said, "People encounter twenty different kinds of difficulties." All people have twenty kinds of difficulties. Difficulties are things that are not easy. Easy things are not difficult. Things that are not easy are adversities. Adverse states are not easily understood or recognized. Easy things are convenient; convenience makes people feel better about them. The twenty items on this list are all hard to accomplish.
The first difficulty is that it is difficult to give when one is poor. If you have money and you want to give, it's easy; because if you give a little money, it doesn't count for much. But if you don't have anything to give and yet you still can give, that is genuine giving. What counts is to do things that can't be done. Anybody can do what's possible, and there's no particular value in doing what anyone can do. An outstanding person does what others cannot do. He surpasses everyone else. This person transcends the common lot.
Speaking of the difficulty of giving when one is poor, there is a story that illustrates this truth. When Shakyamuni Buddha was living in the world, there was a very poor person. Now, although he was poor, he still had a wife. This couple had each other, but their lives were very difficult. They had only a little hut to live in; they had nothing to eat and no clothes to wear. Being so poor, they had to beg for their food every day out on the streets.
Begging isn't that difficult a thing, but what made it hard was that the couple had no clothes to wear. All they had was one pair of pants. How could two people wear one pair of pants? They could only take turns. One day the husband would wear the pants and go out begging for food, and bring it back to share with his wife. The next day the wife would go out wearing that pair of pants. Her husband, left at home, had no pants to wear. The one who went out to beg would wear the pants and bring back the food for the two of them to eat. In this way they were able to sustain themselves day by day. Alas! You might say they were about as poor as could be.
At that time there was a Pratyekabuddha, and as mentioned before, Pratyekabuddhas have the spiritual power of knowing past lives. He took a look at their situation and saw that the couple was not able to give in past lives; that's why they were so poor that they owned only one pair of pants in this life. The Pratyekabuddha thought, "I must try to take these two people across." He made a vow to take them across by helping them plant the seeds of blessings.
So the Pratyekabuddha went begging at the couple's door. He looked like a Bhikshu as he stood there, with his bowl in his hand, seeking alms. The couple saw the monk seeking alms, but they didn't have any food or drink to give him, and all they had in the way of clothing was their one pair of pants. The husband said to his wife, "We ought to do a little giving and seek some blessings. Why do you think we're so poor? It's because we couldn't give in the past. We should give now."
And the wife said, "Give? Well, what do we have to give?"
Her husband said, "Well, we still have a pair of pants. We could give that pair of pants to this Bhikshu."
The wife lost her temper at that. "You're really an idiot! We've only got one pair of pants, which we take turns wearing. If we give it to that Bhikshu, we will lose our only means of going out to beg. With this one pair of pants that we take turns wearing, we can still go begging for food. If we were to give it away, how could we go out?"
The husband exhorted his wife, "That's true, it's not at all easy, but we shouldn't take ourselves into account. We should just give the pants to the Bhikshu, and if the two of us can't go out and beg, we'll stay here and starve to death. Why worry so much about it? You see, the Bhikshu isn't leaving."
His wife, after hearing him out, sighed and said, "Okay, if you want to give, then give!" So this is what they did: they stuck their only pair of pants out the window and handed it to the Bhikshu. The Bhikshu, who had reached the fruition of a Pratyekabuddha, took the pants to where Shakyamuni Buddha was and offered the pants to him. He then explained, "I just received this pair of pants from a poor household. It was all they had in the house, and they gave it to me."
Shakyamuni Buddha took the pair of pants and said to everyone, "Here is a case of great merit and virtue. A poor couple had nothing but a pair of pants in the house, and they were able to give it as an offering to this Bhikshu, who is in fact a Pratyekabuddha. They will reap limitlessly great blessings in the future."
The king of the country was in Shakyamuni Buddha's Dharma assembly at the time. When he heard that there were people in his own country so poor that they had no clothes to wear and no food to eat, while in his palace he himself ate so well and dressed so elegantly, he felt ashamed to face his citizens. In his shame, the king sent people to that poor household bearing rice, flour, and lots of food and clothes. The couple immediately received a reward for giving up their pair of pants. They had given their one pair of pants, and now they got everything they wanted. Later on, they went to see the Buddha. The Buddha spoke Dharma for them, and as soon as he did, the two of them immediately reached the first stage of Arhatship.
Therefore it is difficult to give when one is poor. If you can give when you are in difficulty, that is really a true mind of giving. And if, when giving, the more difficult it is, the more you are able to do it, then the more value it has. For example, you can't stand to be scolded. However, if people scold you and you can endure it, then you have virtuous conduct.
Or, if you can't stand being hit, but when somebody hits you, you bear it and look at it like this: "Oh, this is my Good and Wise Advisor who has come to help me eradicate my offenses and leave the sea of suffering. This is a rare Good and Wise Advisor!" No matter what kind of state arises, you should recognize it clearly. People who criticize you are truly your Good and Wise Advisors. It shouldn't be that when people praise you, you're like a child who gets some candy and becomes overjoyed; but when you get slandered, it tastes as bitter as bile. That's not the way it should be.
The Buddha named twenty kinds of difficulties. Actually, in human existence there are many more than that. To be able to easily resolve difficulties when they come shows a true understanding of the Buddhadharma.
It is difficult to study the Way when one has wealth and status. "Wealth" means you are rich; "status" means you have power and influence. If someone is rich and honored, then of course his life is pleasant. It certainly isn't as difficult as it was for the couple that I just spoke of who owned nothing but a pair of pants.
A wealthy person will have clothes to wear and money to spend; he will also have eminent relatives and renowned friends. Right then, if you were to tell him to cultivate and work hard, to leave the home-life and study the Way, he would find it difficult to do. Why? Because he has everything he wants and he's happy with what he has; he's very carefree. His house is like the emperor's palace, and he dines on the best gourmet food and on expensive dishes that most people can't afford. So it's not easy to convince him to cultivate.
It is difficult to abandon life and face the certainty of death. To abandon life means you don't want to live. However, even if you don't want to live, you may not be able to die. For instance, some people may want to commit suicide, so they take sleeping pills. But they don't take enough, and they survive. You might prefer to die and not necessarily be able to do so. If it were the case that, whenever you felt you had had enough of living, you could definitely die, then there would be no difficulty here!
There is another way to explain this. If you don't want to live, you can certainly die. But even if you want to live, and you employ every possible means to prolong your life and avoid death, you cannot succeed. Eventually, everyone has to die. There isn't anyone who will live forever and never grow old. No one can live forever and never die. Therefore the Buddha says that it is difficult to abandon life and face the certainty of death.
It is difficult to encounter the Buddhist sutras. All of you should not think that it's easy to get to hear lectures on the sutras or to read the sutras. It's not easy at all.
The unsurpassed, subtle, wonderful Dharma,
Is difficult to encounter in millions of eons.
Now that I can see and hear it, accept and uphold it,
I vow to understand the Tathagata's true and
Think it over. It's not easy to encounter Buddhist sutras, much less to obtain a human body. And yet in this life we have obtained a human body, we have encountered Buddhist sutras, and we can listen to people lecture on them. This, too, is not easy. It is the result of our having planted good roots throughout limitless eons in the past.
It is difficult to be born at the time of a Buddha. This is also not easy. Although the Buddha has entered Nirvana, the Buddhadharma still remains, so we can still study Buddhism and cultivate. This is very fortunate!
It is difficult to be patient with lust and desire. Lust and desire refer to the emotional love and desire between men and women. That kind of love and desire is not easy to bear, because ordinary people feel it is biologically natural for men and women to get married. It is not easy to endure the feelings of love and desire, to have the strength of patience to not be turned by emotional states. You may be patient once and patient twice; then you can't be patient anymore, and so you are turned upside down. Therefore, it is not easy to be patient with lust and desire.
It is difficult to see fine things and not seek them. Everybody who sees something fine wants to own it and feels greed for it. To see something good and not be greedy for it is quite difficult.
It is difficult to be insulted and not become angry. For instance, someone may suddenly hit you, scold you, or insult you for no reason whatsoever. If he maltreats you and puts you down, it is truly difficult not to get angry, to remain calm as if nothing happened. If you can do that, then you're someone who has already walked the road to its end. You pass.
It is difficult to have power and not abuse it. An example of a powerful person is a government official who decides he'd like to kill someone and goes ahead and does it. He uses his authority to oppress people. He uses his power to execute people even when they are innocent. If he has this kind of power, and he casually kills people, that's an abuse of power. If he has power yet still respects people, and therefore he doesn't casually kill or oppress them, then he is not abusing power. That's not easy. Nevertheless, if he can avoid abusing his power, that is the very best.
It is difficult to come in contact with things and have no thought of them. No matter what you encounter, you just go ahead and deal with it without a second thought. When something comes up, you don't get worried. You handle it as the situation requires. When the matter is over and done with, you remain calm. That is to say, "When something happens, you respond. When it is over, you are calm." That's called having no thought: you don't have any attachment or any false thinking.
It is difficult to be vastly learned and well-read. To be vastly learned means to study widely, and to be well-read means to do extensive research. This is also not easy.
It is difficult to get rid of pride. Everyone has a measure of pride, and if you want to get rid of that pride, you'll find that it's not easy.
It is difficult not to slight those who have not yet studied. Those who have already left the home-life should know about this above all. You cannot slight people who have not yet studied the Buddhadharma. If you do slight them, that's called slighting those who have not yet studied. If you encounter someone who doesn't understand the Buddhadharma, you should use various kinds of expedient means to teach and transform him. You cannot look down on him and be impolite. In Buddhism, there is a list of four things that you cannot ignore. The Buddha often discussed them.
What are they?
1. Even if a fire is small, you can't ignore it. You can't be careless and casual. You have to pay close attention to it, because if you don't, it's likely to burn up everything.
2. Even if a dragon is small, you can't ignore it. This is because a dragon can change from small to large, since it has spiritual penetrations and transformations.
3. Even if a prince is young, you can't ignore him. The prince is the son of a king, and even though he is young now, he will become the king in the future.
4. Even though a Shramana may be young [in the Buddhadharma], you can't neglect him, because in the future he will become a Buddha. It's easy to slight those who have not yet studied the Buddhadharma, but you should not do so.
It is difficult to practice equanimity of mind. To practice compassion and equanimity with the mind is not easy; yet you should go ahead and do it.
It is difficult not to gossip. For the most part, people enjoy gossiping. To refrain from gossiping is a difficult thing to do. I have a disciple who told me that before he left the householder's life he never gossiped at all. After he left home, however, he picked up the habit. But he awakened very quickly, so I believe he won't be gossiping anymore.
It is difficult to meet a Good and Wise Advisor. It's hard to meet a Good and Wise Advisor. Just consider how many people study the Way; most of the people you meet are muddled and confused. A Good and Wise Advisor is not confused. He will not allow you to walk down the wrong road. People who cultivate the Way should certainly listen to the instructions of a Good and Wise Advisor. If you don't listen to a Good and Wise Advisor before you realize the fruition of the Way, and if you only listen to your own opinions, you're making a mistake. If you go that way, you will be in for a fall. You'll eventually encounter a demonic obstruction. You definitely must draw near to a Good and Wise Advisor and listen to his instructions. Yet it is difficult to find a Good and Wise Advisor.
It is difficult to see one's own nature and study the Way. It is not easy for people who study the Way to understand their mind and see their nature. If you can understand your mind and see your nature through your study of the Way, you have done what is not easy to do.
It is difficult to teach and save people according to their potentials. To teach and transform living beings in the appropriate way, according to the conditions and affinities, is not an easy matter.
It is difficult to see a state and not be moved by it. No matter what situation you may meet, if you are not turned by it and you can turn it around instead, then you have done something which is hard to do.
It is difficult to have a good understanding of skill-in-means. To understand the right expedient method to use in teaching and transforming living beings is also not easy.
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