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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over
Patience and Vigor
We’ve come together to have a Kuan Yin Recitation session. Usually when people have a Kuan Yin session, for instance in Hong Kong or Taiwan, they recite the Buddha’s name for a while and then they rest for half an hour before they go on with their recitation. But at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas we start in the morning and we go through to the evening without any rest periods. But you should realize that our not resting is not necessarily correct, and that people who rest are not necessarily wrong. What’s the principle involved here? It’s that early on, we didn’t cultivate and so now we have to increase our vigor in order to catch up with those who are ahead of us. So, it’s not that we do it right.
Perhaps those people who sit in Ch’an for a while or recite the Buddha’s or Bodhisattva’s name for a while and then rest have already been developing their skill for a long time, and are already well on their way to perfecting their skill to the point that whether they recite Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s name or not, they are without false thinking. In that sense, their “resting” is more vigorous than our not resting. That’s why we can’t say that if someone is resting it’s not right. If we get arrogant and think, “We are vigorous, and they are lax and lazy,” we wipe out all our own merit and virtue with that one thought. That’s because a thought like that is arrogant and self-satisfied.
So we must understand that if someone is resting while we are cultivating, that person may have been cultivating for limitless kalpas and is resting now just waiting for us to catch up with him. If you can think like that you will get a response from the effort you apply. There’s a way to develop your skill and there are ways to obstruct yourself in developing your skill. Self-satisfaction and arrogance obstruct your seeds of Bodhi.
People who work at cultivation must understand this point. No matter what’s happening, you can’t get arrogant or be self-satisfied; nor can you be selfish or out for self-benefit. You absolutely must see that “all dharmas are level and equal with no high or low.” As we just begin to develop our skill we have to maintain a proper attitude. If your attitude is not proper, then no matter what skill you use, you’ll get a demon. If your mind is proper, then regardless of the kind of skill you apply, you can become a Buddha. The difference between Buddhas and demons is just a single thought.
Now we are being mindful of Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva. Why are we doing this? It is because Kuan Yin Bodhisattva has great affinities with living beings in the Saha World. He follows the sounds to rescue those who are suffering. Someone may say, “Then we should wait until we are suffering to recite Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s name. Since we are not suffering, why should we recite?” You think we’re not suffering? We are in the Saha World immersed in the five turbidities: the kalpa turbidity, the view turbidity, the affliction turbidity, the living beings turbidity and the life turbidity. You don’t think that’s suffering?
Every day your false thinking never stops. Your false thinking consists of never being satisfied, or being endlessly greedy; you’re always thinking of what you can get and of how to benefit yourself. You may realize your expectations, but then you can’t sleep at night. If you don’t get what you seek you can’t digest your food. Isn’t this suffering?
Since we are being mindful of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, we should first know what the words in the Bodhisattva’s name mean. KUAN means “contemplate.” This refers to the Wonderful Contemplative Wisdom. Kuan Yin Bodhisattva has this kind of wisdom. Since he has Wonderful Contemplative Wisdom, no sound in the world is able to cheat him. Good sounds, bad sounds, wholesome sounds, destructive sounds, selfish sounds, sounds of self benefit, sounds of greed, sounds of fighting, sounds of seeking, are all retained in your eighth consciousness.
So, when you seek for Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva to protect you, to help you, Kuan Yin Bodhisattva has to contemplate clearly to see if you really have a true mind when you recite his name. Is greed mixed in with your recitation? Is contention mixed in with your recitation? Is a mind of seeking fame and benefit mixed with it? Is selfishness and self-benefit mixed in with your recitation? Are limitless and boundless views and knowledge mixed in with your recitation? If you have these faults, then even if you recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, it’s not for sure you will get a response.
Your mind must be totally pure when you recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. Your mind should be vast and great when you are mindful of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. Use the unconditioned mind to recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. “In reciting the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, I make transference to all living beings in the world; I do it so that all living beings can leave suffering and obtain bliss, end birth and cast off death. As long as there are beings who have not left suffering and obtained bliss, who have not cast off birth and ended death, I will continue to sincerely recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, beseeching the Bodhisattva to eradicate disasters and dispel the difficulties of living beings in the evil world of the five turbidities, and cause their offenses not to rise again.”
One does not just do it for oneself; whether you yourself are getting along all right or not is not a big problem. Rather, it is our vow that all beings in the entire world obtain benefit, and they are blessed by Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. If everyone maintained this thought as we recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, the response with the Way would certainly be inconceivable. You who recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva should understand the method of recitation used by a Bodhisattva who vows, “All living beings and I will accomplish Buddhahood together.”
When you recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, you should also be mindful of the Kuan Yin Bodhisattva in your own self-nature. In cultivation, whatever is going on outside is also going on inside. If Kuan Yin bodhisattva is external to you, he is also internal. So, when we are mindful of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, we must recite until inside and outside are of a single suchness. Self and others are non-dual. Our self-nature is replete with the virtue of the nature of Buddhas as limitless as sands in the Ganges.
When your mouth recites the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, your mind must be pure and sincere and must not give rise to any extraneous thoughts. One doesn’t give rise to false thinking, but becomes single-minded in one’s concentration. There’s no need to be seeking anything or to be greedy for anything. There’s also no reason to question why we are reciting Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva. Reciting Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s name is exactly what our self-nature should be doing. When we recite to the point that we are reciting and yet not reciting, not reciting and yet reciting, then the Kuan Yin Bodhisattva of our self-nature will appear. We recite until everything comes together. We forget about people and also have no self, and so what affliction or ignorance is there?
At that time we are at ease and unobstructed and the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom spontaneously appears. The Wisdom of the Equality of the Nature spontaneously appears. The Wonderful Contemplative Wisdom spontaneously appears. The Wisdom of Accomplishing What Should Be Done also spontaneously appears. The first appearance of these Wisdoms is only the initial stage, because of course the Four Wisdoms have a myriad variations and degrees. It’s not that their initial appearance means that you have accomplished the Four Wisdoms of a Buddha. Every level of accomplishment, every step of the way, has variations and degrees. That is why if you are off by a hair in the beginning of your cultivation you’ll be off by a thousand miles in the end. Keep your mind on what you’re doing and apply yourself with vigor.
Don’t fall into the deviant knowledge and deviant views of side doors and outside ways. Always maintain proper knowledge and proper views. Keep proper thought before you when you recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. You must be mindful of your own Kuan Yin Bodhisattvas: don’t pay attention to other people’s Kuan Yin Bodhisattvas. What do I mean by “your own” Kuan Yin Bodhisattva? I mean that you recite until you become the same as Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, in that you are kind, compassionate, joyful and giving. You develop Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s ability to help those in the seven difficulties and those with the two types of seeking. You develop the fourteen fearlessnesses, the nineteen ways of speaking Dharma, and the thirty-two response bodies—that is what is meant by being mindful of your own Kuan Yin Bodhisattva.
When you are mindful of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, you must also learn to be like Kuan Yin Bodhisattva; you learn to have the great wisdom and great knowledge, the great vows and great strength, the great kindness and great compassion, the great joy and great giving of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. You have to do this truly, not superficially.
For instance, now there are some who say that they are practicing the Bodhisattva Way, but actually, they are just putting on a front. No matter what they do, in every move they make, they are just doing it for others to see. They don’t dare take a look at themselves. They don’t look at themselves and evaluate to see if the Dharma they are cultivating, and the skill they are applying is appropriate or not. They don’t ask themselves if they should be doing what they are doing. They don’t question themselves to see if they are simply involved in superficial aspects.
Those who are just putting on a show, and who, in all they do are just showing off for others, have let go of the root and are grasping at the branches; they have forgotten the source. They have forgotten what they should be doing. In cultivating, you should be looking at yourself. “Looking,” means returning the light and looking within. You’re supposed to turn the light in, not shine it outside. You are not supposed to emit your light so that people will recognize you. You may get other people’s attention, but by letting it out like that, you lose your light. That’s because your light is still not sufficient. You haven’t perfected your cultivation.
When you haven’t cultivated enough, then your light is really young. Young light is not the same as time-tested light. Young light cannot stand up against the wind and waves. Wait until your light is perfected, wait until it’s exactly right—not too much, and not too little—then you can let it out.
But now, while in the midst of cultivating, don’t be thinking about emitting your light. In studying you first go through elementary school, then high school, and then college, and then eventually obtain a Ph.D. It happens step-by-step. Cultivation is the same way.
Someone protests, “In the Ch’an school, they talk about sudden enlightenment.” But sudden enlightenment is in regard to the principle—the noumenon. The specifics—the phenomena—must be cultivated gradually. What is more, the person who experiences sudden enlightenment doesn’t do it upon first beginning to cultivate; his cultivation began limitless kalpas ago when he first planted the seed. After that, he watered and weeded it until it finally came to maturity. It’s certainly not the case that having never cultivated before, he became accomplished upon first beginning to cultivate. It doesn’t happen like that.
Although one suddenly enlightens to the principle,
The specifics must be gradually cultivated.
In this Kuan Yin Session we should get hold of our vigor and be energetic. One cannot be lazy and look for opportunities to take it easy. If you are like that, then you are letting the time go by in vain. That’s really a shame. Everyone works together in a session—exerting all their effort in applying their skill. This is a Dharma assembly which is extremely difficult to encounter.
Actually we should always recite the Buddha’s name or the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva just as if we were in a continual session. But since it’s to be feared that we don’t apply our effort under normal circumstances, we set aside a special time so we can come together and participate in the Kuan Yin Session. This is called, “Setting aside a time to seek for certification.”
In these seven days we will put aside the myriad conditions, and not give rise to a single thought. With a single straightforward mind uphold and be mindful of the name Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. When you recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva you should be apart from deviant knowledge, and maintain proper knowledge and proper views. Don’t be competitive when you recite, or get involved in making comparisons. Those are the attitudes of people in the mundane world. People who cultivate the Way don’t compare themselves with other people. They don’t fight with anyone or compete.
Everyone works together and when people do well it is the same as if you yourself had done well. However, this doesn’t mean you can use that as an excuse for not working on your own skill. You can’t think, “Well if others working well is the same as myself working well, then they can do the work and I don’t have to. I can rest.” That is an example of deviant knowledge and deviant views.
People who cultivate the Way cannot try to get off cheap. They can’t enjoy relaxation and despise toil. At all times you should be vigorous—in every moment, in every thought. With one part vigor you have one part response; with ten parts vigor you have ten parts response. Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva is there in empty space just waiting to see which of us is truly reciting the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. He will aid and bless those who are sincere. He will help them open their wisdom, and increase their good roots. All their evil deeds will be eradicated and their obstacles will be wiped away. He can help us get rid of our karmic obstacles, retribution obstacles, and our obstacles of affliction. All our evil karma can be wiped clean.
So when we recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva we must do it with a sincere mind, a true mind. Whoever has a genuine true and sincere mind will obtain benefit. But if your mind is not true and you just go through the motions of walking, sitting, and reciting, without ever being able to do it for real, then there won’t be a response. A “true mind” is one devoid of false thinking, without seeking for anything, without any greed, without any contention, any selfishness or any seeking for self-benefit. If your mind is true, then real things will happen, and your karmic obstacles can be melted away. If your mind is not true, then your karmic obstacles will continually pursue you. It is best during a Kuan Yin Session to speak less and recite more.
Say one less sentence,
And recite one more sound of the Buddha’s name.
Beat your thoughts to death,
And your Dharma-body comes to life.
But if your mind is not true, your karmic obstacles will hand around you and bother you. They will cause you to be so stupid you won’t have any wisdom. They will make it so you cannot apply effort to develop your skill. But even if you do have a true mind, your karmic obstacles still follow you. They still want to give you trouble. They still want to find a way to keep you from doing your work; do you realize that? But if you have a true mind, and proper knowledge and views, although the karmic obstacles try to make trouble for you, you recognize them as karmic obstacles. Then you are able to avoid being turned by the state, and instead you can turn the state around. If you have true knowledge, proper views, and great wisdom, then you can illumine all dharmas. That’s why it’s said,
When the Buddha comes, slice through the Buddha.
When the demon comes, slice through the demon.
You are able to not be moved by external states, and not be confused by internal states. Everything inside and outside is very clear and manifest. That’s the advantage of using proper knowledge and views, your genuine Bodhi resolve, in your cultivation. People who cultivate the Way, should know that we are doing it for the sake of ending birth and death, and taking living beings across. We’re not doing it because we seek a response.
It’s not that we cultivate so that if we want clothing, clothing will come, or if we want something special to eat, it will appear for us. It’s not that we do it so that whatever we think of we can have. That may be the way it is in the heavens, but if you seek responses here, you’re planting the causes to become a heavenly demon. The heavenly demons are afraid their retinue will dwindle so they come to the world and go all over recruiting for their army. They get human beings to cross over into their demonic retinue. So, if you’re not true when you cultivate the Way, there won’t be any demons, but the truer you are, the more demons there will be.
For instance, if you’re a left home person, but you don’t really want to be a genuine disciple of the Buddha, if you just do it half-heartedly, then no one is going to get jealous of you. They’ll all think you’re just a good old soul. If you want to become an outstanding person, and be a genuine disciple of the Buddha, then people who just go along with the crowd are going to be upset with you; they will be jealous of you. That’s the way it is in the world, regardless of whether it’s among ordinary people or members of the Sangha. If you are better than someone else, he is jealous of you. If you don’t match up to someone else, that person looks down on you. Everyone has this problem. If a person leaves home and cultivates for a while and figures he’s got something going, he gets arrogant. This is another case of deviant knowledge and deviant views.
People who really cultivate the Way don’t have false thoughts about clothing, or about food and drink, or about name and fame, or about profit and benefit. All false thinking stops. Why? Because cultivation is not for the sake of these worldly advantages. It is for the sake of ending birth and death. How can one expect to end birth and death, and at the same time be striking up such worthless false thoughts? If you have worthless false thoughts, in the future you will reap a worthless fruit. We must bear what others cannot bear, yield where others cannot yield. We must eat what others cannot eat and undergo what others cannot undergo.
All food and drink should be regarded as a single flavor. When you eat don’t be greedy for flavors which appeal to you and eat more of them, while avoiding food which is not as tasty. That’s a trick of the discriminating mind. You should know that the good-tasting food, and the food which is not good to eat are both simply medicine. We eat them to cure our sicknesses. Some of us are always sick with one sort of illness or another. If it isn’t the sickness of greed, it’s the sickness of anger; these illnesses are incurable. Why? Because you keep getting turned by those states.
You’re greedy for flavors; when that happens you’re turned by defiling flavors. If you’re greedy for forms, you’re turned by the defiling objects of form. If you are greedy for sounds you’re turned by the defiling objects of sound. If you’re greedy for scents you’re turned by the defiling objects of scents. If you are greedy for touch, then you are turned by the defiling objects of touch.
If you are greedy for dharmas, then you are turned by the defiling objects of dharmas. It’s in the very minutest places that you have to genuinely apply your skill. You can’t be lax or negligent in the least. If you have false thoughts about food, that’s being lax. The same is true if you have false thoughts about fame, reputation, fine clothing, etc. You are not in control of your six thieves. Your six sense organs play tricks on you and you can’t keep it together. If you’re like that you can cultivate to the ends of future time, and still you won’t have any accomplishment.
So cultivating the Way is not that easy. This is especially true in the West where we are just breaking the ground. It’s very difficult to get Buddhism started in a country that is predominately Catholic and Protestant. Those religions can do as they please, but in Buddhism we cannot cheat ourselves. We cannot seek the blessings of gods and humans. We cannot just take it easy. We can’t just make it on a false name and a phoney reputation. To do it that way will always bring barren flowers and no fruit.
At all times seek the true. No matter what Dharma door it is, we must actually put it into practice. We must make sacrifices and be reliable in doing the work. It won’t work to cheat yourself and cheat other people as well, not to speak of trying to cheat the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which basically can’t be done.
Here in America things are peaceful and uneventful compared to the way it is in the refugee camps. If you have to go through the experience of being a refugee, then you will know how bitter and difficult it is. Don’t be the kind of person who ordinarily doesn’t even bother to light incense, but when something happens you run and hug the Buddha’s feet. Don’t wait until it rains to patch the roof, or until you’re thirsty to dig a well.
We are reciting the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva as a prayer on behalf of all the refugees in the whole world. We hope that all refugees will be able to separate from suffering and obtain bliss; may they all escape danger. That is why the Kuan Yin Session has a direct connection with the lives of everyone in the world. If we are sincere we’ll be able to save more people. If we are not sincere, fewer people will be rescued.
At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, our aim is to rescue all the suffering beings in the world. We recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva with the hope that the Bodhisattva’s thousand eyes will shine on them and see them, that his thousand ears will hear them from afar, and that his thousand hands will protect and support all living beings.
In this session period everyone should strive to be first and fear to fall back. No one should be lazy. If you don’t have Way virtue, if you lack merit and virtue, if you don’t have the thought to benefit yourself and benefit others, then this will have a direct reflection on the level you achieve.
Now we are cultivating the Great Vehicle Dharma which means we renounce ourselves for the sake of others. We act as models for living beings; we seek peace on behalf of all living beings. We pray that living beings will be able to leave suffering and obtain bliss. We are not reciting the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva for the sake of ourselves. We are doing it for the sake of all beings in the world, and because we are doing it this way, it is certain that our recitation of the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva will bring a tremendous response.
Kuan Yin Bodhisattva is truly a savior; he truly follows the sounds and rescues beings. So don’t be lazy in the midst of this session. You should realize that every person who recites adds that much more strength to the recitation. With more strength to the recitation, more of the world will become peaceful. So it is extremely important. We don’t seek for ourselves but pray for all beings in the world. In that way there is no selfishness or self-benefit involved. In addition, there is no selfish seeking, greed, or contention. You should nourish the thought of renouncing yourself for the sake of others, and put it into practice. With Great Vehicle thinking like that you will certainly obtain the protection of the Bodhisattvas.