THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
Q : Why is it that some people use money as a measure for judging which Buddhist has cultivated well or poorly? How do we find the real path to Buddhahood?
A : The real path to Buddhahood is the poorest. Such Buddhists are not interested in money; they don’t want it.
Q : Please tell me how a beginner should study Buddhism? How do we choose wise advisors and the right place for cultivation? How do we judge whether a dharma is proper?
A : There is no one right way. You have to have the ability to choose the proper Dharma for yourself. If the Dharma is genuine, you should not treat it as if it were false; and if false, you shouldn’t treat it as if it were genuine. That would be enough.
Q : Why isn’t there a Dharma Realm for demons?
A : The demons are like bandits. They wander everywhere like a team of guerillas, having no permanent place to live or anyone to manage them. Demons are a group similar to bandits. Bandits are human beings, but since not everyone is a bandit, there is no realm for bandits.
Q : Can people be possessed by spirits?
A : Please ask someone who is possessed by a spirit this question. I am not possessed by spirits. Even if I knew the answer, I would not talk about it.
Q : What is more important, to save myself or others? Which is of higher priority?
A : Neither one is more nor less important. They’re of equal importance. It is a mistake on your part to want to differentiate between them by order of importance.
Q : Can Buddhists trade stocks?
A : Some Buddhists murder, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie, and drink alcohol. Do you think they should be doing these things?
Q : What is the reason behind burning paper money for our ancestors?
A : If this were reasonable, all the Westerners would be poor. You should look into the truth and never be superstitious.
Q : How do we teach and transform living beings who are difficult to tame and subdue? Is there really an end to this world?
A : We should be extremely patient in teaching and transforming them. The day each person dies is the end of the world for that person.
Q : Do you believe in ghosts?
A : If you don’t believe in ghosts then you won’t believe in Buddhas. Ghosts become Buddhas through cultivation.
Q : What are the basics in cultivation?
A : We should not have so many discursive thoughts. Don’t think so much. “A hundred things occur because of the movement of a thought; ten thousand things cease with the stopping of a thought.” Everything can happen because of one thought. If not one thought appears, then the entire substance manifests and nothing will happen. The basic issue here has to do with thoughts of desire.
Q : How should people new to Buddhism cultivate and maintain themselves?
A : Eat, dress, and sleep.
Q : So, how do we cultivate?
A : You should cultivate according to your ability, doing what you can and not forcing yourself into doing what you can’t.
Q : Are mediums, channelers, etc. part of the Buddhadharma?
A : All dharmas are the Buddhadharma; none can be obtained. Or we could say that all dharmas are no Buddhadharma. Anyway, we must let go of any attachment as we study Buddhism: sweep away all dharmas and leave every mark.
Q : by The Venerable Master : What is ultimately real? Everyone try speaking up!
Buddhist : Cultivation is real!
The Venerable Master : Then why don’t you cultivate? If you’re looking for what is real in the world, you will not find it. Cultivation may be real, but it’s invisible. What you see are just the appearances. Truth is soundless and scent-free, formless and colorless. Nevertheless, we must find the true in the false. Don’t search for the real by leaving the false.
Q : Some people say that the idea of a “soul” doesn’t exist in Buddhism. Is that correct?
A : Some people may say that, but this statement can’t represent the Buddha’s teachings in their entirety. I have never heard of such a theory and I am a Buddhist.
Q : What is the biggest problem with Buddhism?
A : The biggest problem is greed, exploitation, and selfishness.
Q : How do we make the Proper Dharma live long in the world?
A : To have the Proper Dharma live long in the world, you must not fight, not be greedy, not be selfish, not pursue personal advantages, and not lie.
Q : My son asked me how many preeminent monks have converted tigers and lions and given them refuge. Also, what would polar bears eat if they were to take refuge? The North Pole is too cold for any vegetables.
A : Eat ice! Eat snow! What if they were at the South Pole? Eat ice! Eat snow!
Q : Some people say that we can believe in Buddhism without having to take refuge with the Triple Jewel. Is that right?
A : Take education, for instance. If you want to graduate from elementary school, you must finish your courses for elementary school. If you want a high school diploma, you have to finish your high school courses. If you want to obtain degrees for bachelors, masters, or doctorates, you would naturally have to complete the required curriculum for those levels, pass your tests, and receive your degree. The same principle applies to taking refuge with the Triple Jewel.
Q : Some lay people tell us that the reason they don’t advance but retreat is because their karmic obstruction has shown up. How should we respond to them if this kind of karma is fixed? Do we force them to continue to be diligent?
A : That depends on the situation at the time. Prescribe medicine according to the specific illness. Afflictions and Bodhi are like ice and water. Afflictions are Bodhi. One is born after one is put to death. It is right to bear what one really cannot bear and to go through what one really cannot go through. No need to corner yourself; there’s no dead end.
Q : Can we cross over our late ancestors by reciting Sutras?
A : Somewhat. One-seventh of the merit will accrue to the deceased; six-sevenths, to the living who create the merit.
Q : Is it in accord with the Dharma to make Buddhist songs like popular music? Will it invite criticism?
A : If you’re afraid of being criticized by others, then you might as well not do anything. Just ask yourself if anything good happens in the world without criticism. If you’re scared of criticism, then don’t do it. If you’re not afraid of criticism, then go on and forge ahead.
Q : I would like to ask the Master what kind of practice I should do to help me have more faith.
A : Faith can be likened to reacting to the five flavors. The various practices that the Buddha described can be likened to these flavors: sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, and salty. No flavor can be called the best. Everyone has a favorite flavor, that’s all.
Q : This path is so arduous. Will I be able to persist to the end and not retreat?
A : You will reach your destination as long as you are bold and vigorous, strong and indefatigable.
Q : Your Buddhadharma seems different than that of Asia’s.
A : During the Dharma-ending Age, Buddhism focuses on superficialities. Corruption and deficiencies are rampant in Buddhism. If we don’t rescue it immediately by revolutionizing it, then the lifeline of the Buddhadharma will also be cut off. We need to improve many different aspects of Buddhism for this time and age.
Q : What are some guiding principles for propagating Buddhism in the United States?
A : The most fundamental are the Six Great Guiding Principles: no greed, no fighting, no seeking, no selfishness, no pursuit of self-benefit, and no lies. These six mirrors reveal monsters by reflecting them. These six pestles also tame demons. If we can base ourselves on these Six Great Guiding Principles at all times, then demons, heretics, and phonies will have nowhere to hide. They will be exposed for who they really are. Our principle will create more proper energy for the universe and shatter and eliminate the heightened violence and toxic resentment that permeate the entire globe.
Q : How do we tell the difference between good teachers and bad teachers?
A : That’s easy. Just observe to see if he is greedy for money. Is he licentious? Let these two be your standards of measurement.
Q : Will the Master predict when Buddhism will flourish in the United States?
A : It’s already flourishing. Don’t be discontent! Isn’t Buddhism flourishing since the number of Buddhists is relatively large in a country that is predominantly Christians and Catholics?
Q : How can we make the Buddhadharma flourish in the countries of the West?
A : Cultivate according to the Dharma! Keep the Five Precepts and practice the eight virtues. Do it bit by bit, and it will flourish!
Q : Why can’t Buddhism be simpler so that more people can understand it at once?
A : Why don’t we think of ways for kids to go to work as soon as they’re born?
Q : A national leader once said, “Buddhism is the humaneness that saves the world. Buddhism is the mother of philosophy. Studying Buddhism can fix the slant of science.” Why did he say this?
A : Buddhism is true science. Before science was developed, several thousand years ago, the Buddha said, “The Buddha sees 84,000 insects in a bowl of water. If one doesn’t recite this mantra, it is as if one is eating living beings’ meat.” From this, we can tell that although the Buddha didn’t have a microscope or magnifier, he knew there were numerous microorganisms in a bowl of water. It wasn’t until recently that people have proven this to be correct. So the level of people’s wisdom today is far below the level of the Buddha’s wisdom. That national leader may have said that Buddhism can fix
the slant of science, but my opinion is that Buddhism not only can fix the slant of science, Buddhism contains science while science cannot contain Buddhism.”
Q : What is the Vinaya?
A : The Six Great Guiding Principles of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are the Vinaya. To avoid fighting is to avoid violating the precept against killing; to avoid being greedy is to avoid violating the precept against stealing; and to avoid being selfish is to avoid violating the precept against lying. Why do we lie? We go around telling lies because we want our own interests served. To avoid pursuing self-benefit is to avoid violating the precept against taking intoxicants. Drinkers think that drinking is good for their health because alcohol makes their blood circulate faster. When they’re drunk, they feel so high that they think they’ve become gods. Drinkers’ false thoughts and self-interests are troublemakers. To avoid lying is a principle already included in the above five items, but to caution everyone especially, we emphasize the liability of lying by adding the sixth principle as a precaution.
Q : What happens if we are illiterate and do not understand the words to the text?
A : This is easy, just learn! You can ask others if you don’t understand! To draw near good teachers is to find good friends!
Q : Why should I adhere to the Five Precepts if I haven’t received them?
A : The Five Precepts are the precepts of our inherent nature. You should keep them whether you have received them or not. Receiving the precepts is a phenomenon while keeping the precepts is a noumenon. You must keep the precepts purely so that the noumenon becomes perfected.
Q : How can we realize Buddhahood soon?
A : First learn to be human and deal with different situations.
Q : Some people think that Buddhism is a passive religion. Will you please expound on their perspective?
A : It would be wrong to think that Buddhism is passive. Buddhism is most pro-active. It’s just that most of us don’t understand this kind of pro-activity. In today’s world that is fragile, chaotic, and war-torn, people are in a daze all day, oblivious to the fact that their lives could end the next day. Buddhists, however, remain completely calm in this state of affairs, still cultivating and doing the work that they should be doing. Take the Sangha at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, for instance, which grounds itself in Buddhist traditions, getting up at 3:30 a.m. to participate in the 4 a.m. service. There may be universal bowing, meditation, Sutra recitation, a repentance ceremony or individual work after the morning service. Think about it, is it passive to get up so early and work hard on cultivation all day long?
Q : We can only cultivate the Buddhadharma by having no desires, but this world would make no progress unless there were desires. How do ordinary people balance the two?
A : When you say there’s progress only because of desires, what kind of progress might that be? So what if there is progress? How is that beneficial?
Q : What kind of status and role do women have in Buddhism? If they were to learn the Buddhadharma from you, how should they apply themselves?
A : There’s no difference between men and women in Buddhism. There are only rules in Buddhism. Women have more rules to follow than men do because women have the habit of being picky over the smallest things. Men are unrefined and more imprecise. So Buddhism is about equality, but each gender has its set of rules that they have to follow.
Q : How can we tell who is truly a teacher who understands?
A : To tell, just check to see if he contends and if he is greedy. Check to see if he pursues only personal advantages. See if he always lies but claims that he is being expedient. If you still consider people like that to be good advisors, then you can’t tell right from wrong.
Q : The Vajra Sutra says, “Thoughts of the past cannot be gotten at, thoughts of the present cannot be gotten at, and thoughts of the future cannot be gotten at.” Could the text be explained by using the line, “give rise to the mind that is nowhere produced”?
A : Thoughts of the past have already gone, where will one find those thoughts? Thoughts of the present do not stop either, so where are those present thoughts? Thoughts of the future have not yet come! Therefore, thoughts of the past, present, and future cannot be gotten at means that we should not entertain any false thinking.
By a student : Will the Venerable Master please tell me how I can strengthen my determination?
Venerable Master : How do you obtain determination? Why do you want determination?
Student : I’m not strong enough.
Venerable Master : Who took it away?
Student : It’s right here in me.
Venerable Master : If it’s right there inside you, why are you asking me?
Student : Well, should I just practice on my own?
Venerable Master : Since you have it, just turn around, find it, and use it! You’re asking me, but how can I teach you to be strong? Your determination belongs to you while my determination belongs to me. By asking me this question, are you going outside yourself for answers? Aren’t you asking a blind man for directions?
Student : Maybe I have not lost it, but I just want to strengthen it.
Venerable Master : When did you lose it? And why are you so determined when you’re chasing after women?
Student : I understand.
(The crowd laughs.)
V enerable Master : If you’ve got determination in that area, why don’t you have determination in this area?
Student : Now I’ve got it.
Q : What does “the mutual unknowing of dharmas” mean?
A : Do you need to ask? They don’t know one another! Do you think dharmas can be cognizant of one another? Do dharmas have awareness?
By a student : You say each religion has its strengths and weaknesses. What are the weaknesses of Buddhism?
A : There are many weaknesses. Cheating people! Claiming others’ money for themselves! These are all weaknesses. Buddhists should not exploit relationships and try to get people to make offerings to them. These types of Buddhists let their blessings slip away. Buddhist monastics should not touch money, but why do some monastics have so much money in their pockets? They’re suppose to be eating one meal at midday, staying under a tree at any given location for a limited time only, remaining uninterested in valuables, owning no possessions, and just going on their alms rounds barefoot and eating whatever they receive. That ought to be enough. So why do they live in high risers? Why do they live in such luxurious housing facilities? Eat such delicious food? Dress so nicely? What does this mean? Are these weaknesses?
Q : Why doesn’t Buddhism build more monasteries and give more Sutra lectures? Would more people learn about Buddhism that way?
A : Buddhism has odious aspects, too, sometimes. How is it odious? In China, Buddhists want to rule their individual turfs. They’re in chaos, like sand that has been strewn about.
Q : Some people say that it seems like there are more Buddhas than human beings.
A : Buddhas do not have conflicts. They are all one. However many Buddhas there are, there are just as many human beings. Human beings, however, fight with each other.
Q : How do people who believe in and accept the Buddhadharma protect their Bodhi resolve?
A : Who told you not to protect it?
Q : Buddhism says “All beings have the Buddha nature.” Why are beings so lost that they need to continue to suffer now?
A : All beings have the Buddha nature; all beings also have the ghost nature; beings also have the animal nature; beings also have the nature of gods and of Bodhisattvas. Beings come complete with such potential. But most only know to go downhill and not to move up. It is said, “The superior person understands what is lofty while the petty person understands what is base.” Beings are greedy for visible and tangible objects in the world. They think that eating, drinking, and making merry are real. They don’t recognize the happiness that is in their true and inherent nature. Therefore, there are actually “two paths are one of good and one of evil. Some cultivate goodness. Others commit evil.” You say that living beings are all lost, but there are those who are not lost. There are those who seriously cultivate, taking one step at a time and working as hard as they possibly can. So you can’t say that all beings are lost.