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Questions & Answers

Buddhist Terms

Q : The Buddhist scriptures often talk about the shakings of the great earth. Why do earthquakes happen?
A : Earthquakes can also be called people-quakes because people are connected to earthquakes. When people quake, the earth also quakes. If people were not to quake, then the earth would not quake either. Why did the earth quake in six ways when the Buddha entered Nirvana? It is because people panicked and were awfully scared, so their seven emotions and six desires seeped out, causing the earth to quake.

Q : What does “affliction is Bodhi” mean?
A : If you don’t know, how could you have become even more distraught than you had been? There’s not much to get out of this. It’s not at all difficult to understand. It’s as easy as flipping over the palm of your hand. Affliction is one side of the coin while Bodhi is on the other side. This, too, is just like ice and water.

Q : The Heart Sutra has this passage, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” Is this talking about women or men? It’s not necessarily an explanation of male and female forms only, right? Will the Venerable Master please explain?
A : All female and male forms are included here. True emptiness contains wonderful existence while wonderful existence contains true emptiness. True emptiness is not empty, therefore, it is wonderful existence. Wonderful existence is not existent, therefore, it is true emptiness. “Form is emptiness,” is simply about not looking outside for happiness because it is actually inherent to our nature. We don’t need to dwell on form. There’s true happiness in emptiness. Therefore, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.”

Q : What Three Impossibilities do Buddhas have?
A : Have you read the Avatamsaka Sutra? Go back and really study it.

Q : The Sutras say “To the Buddha I return and rely, vowing that all living beings understand the great Way profoundly, and bring forth the Bodhi mind. To the Dharma I return and rely, vowing that all living beings deeply enter the Sutra Treasury, and have wisdom like the sea. To the Sangha I return and rely, vowing that all living beings form together a great assembly, one and all in harmony.” Since monks or nuns have to manage the great assembly, everything that they do must accord with the Buddha’s way. But people are not perfect. People are still people. If they can’t even uphold the rules themselves, aren’t they misleading living beings by managing the great assembly?
A : There’s good and evil in the world; there are those who cultivate and there are those who don’t. There are those who truly support Buddhism and there are those who only use Buddhism to supply themselves with clothing and food. To the latter, Buddhism is a business. They try to fool people into believing that fish eyes are pearls. Whether people are fooled depends on whether they have the ability to select the right Dharma, the understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Without such an ability, people mistake the thief for their son, misery for joy, and black for white.

Q : What is the difference between nature, consciousness, thoughts, and mind?
A : Newborns are vivacious, free from identities like others, self, living beings, and life spans. Initially, an infant is “nature.” Once the baby begins to suckle, his “consciousness” is strengthened. After drinking milk, he learns to dress so that he will not be cold or embarrassed. He understands hunger, thirst, warmth, and cold. That would be “thoughts.” When he is grown, he wants this and that. That would be the “mind” working. These are actually four types of mental states, but they could be said to be one too because they are inextricably connected. They all belong to the same family. Although there are four terms, their funda-mental quality is the same. The offender that has created them is “karma.”

Q : Why are there asuras in the three wholesome destinies if they don’t belong there?
A : Although asuras belong to the three wholesome destinies, they are often dragged into the four evil destinies too. Why are they classified as one of the three wholesome destinies? It is because some of them have done some good deeds, such as fighting against injustice. Their deeds cover extreme good and extreme bad. That is why sometimes they are grouped into one of the three wholesome destinies and sometimes the four evil destinies.

Q : Which realm do ghosts and spirits belong to out of the Ten Dharma Realms?
A : Ghosts and spirits don’t belong to the same category. Ghosts belong to the Dharma realm of ghosts while spirits belong to the realm of spirits. Ghosts are yin in nature while spirits are yang in nature.

Q : I would like to ask the Venerable Master about sharira. Some people say they are rocks. Some people say one sharira will split into two while others say they will disappear. Will you please explain?
A : Sharira are a result of keeping to the precepts: no killing, no stealing, and primarily, no sexual activity. That way, one’s precious things are not lost. What are those “precious things?” I believe every one of us knows what is the essence of life, I don’t need to say too much. If we refrain from sexual activity, our sharira will naturally be bright and brilliant, more solid than diamonds. As far as what the average person says about it multiplying... I have never experimented with them or done tests on sharira before. I can only tell you this: by keeping the precepts, one will have sharira. On the other hand, if one doesn’t keep the precepts, there will be no sharira.

Q : The Avatamsaka Sutra says, “To the Buddha I return and rely, vowing that all living beings proliferate the seeds of Buddhism and bring forth the unsurpassed resolve.” And yet when we recite the three refuges, it’s been changed to “To the Buddha I return and rely, vowing that all living beings understand the great Way profoundly, and bring forth the Bodhi mind.”
A : No dharma is fixed. He changed it because he thought it was easier to read, that’s all!

Q : What is the “transmission that occurs from one mind to another mind?” How does the transmission of one mind to another occur?
A : The transmission of Dharmas occurs often. The amount that you receive is yours. No one sees this transmission and no one knows who has received how much.

Q : Then women can’t be intimate with men?
A : Right! That’s right too. That’s why Buddhist monasticism doesn’t allow monks or nuns to marry; instead they watch and encourage each other to avoid promiscuity. To be sexually promiscuous is to violate precepts. Cultivators must be very clear on this issue between men and women. If they’re not clear about this, they would merely be pretending that fish eyes are pearls.

Q : Is actual truth “emptiness?”
A : It could also contain “existence.” If you think it exists, then it exists. If you think it’s empty, then it’s empty. Emptiness does not obstruct the mundane, while the mundane does not obstruct actuality. Wonderful existence is contained in true emptiness, while wonderful existence contains true emptiness. You don’t want to be confused by true emptiness or misled by wonderful existence.

Q : Buddhism is separated into the two schools of the Manifest and the Secret. Which one is more helpful to living beings? Do those at the City of the Ten Thousand Buddhas study both the Manifest and the Secret schools?
A : The “Secret” in the Secret and Manifest schools is not the kind of secret we imagine. The Manifest isn’t what we imagine it to be either. The Manifest School in Buddhism means that it allows everyone to understand: when I speak Dharma for person A, person B also understands; when I speak Dharma for person B, person A also understands. This is Manifest. Secret means that I speak Dharma for Smith but Lee doesn’t understand that Dharma. When I speak Dharma for Lee, Smith doesn’t understand. It is definitively “secret.” It doesn’t mean that it is secretive so that people wouldn’t understand. It’s not talking about Tantric practices for couples, for singles, for the confused, or for the outrageous.

Q : What is the difference between consciousness-only and prajna?
A : Consciousness-only is what is known only to consciousness. Prajna is wisdom, which is unknown to consciousness.

Q : What are the three kind of non-retreat?
A : The non-retreating position is a resultant position for Mahayana Bodhisattvas whereby they do not retreat to study and practice of the Two Vehicles and the Theravada teachings. The non-retreating resolve refers to one’s resolve for Bodhi. One would never withdraw from cultivating enlightenment and achieving one’s vows. The non-retreating conduct means that one always moves ahead boldly and cultivates vigorously, never backsliding or becoming lazy after cultivating for a while. For instance, one does not stop and turn back after cultivating for two or three days, asking, “Why haven’t I
become a Buddha yet?”

Q : What’s the difference between Sutras and mantras?
A : What do you think the difference is? Mantras include vows and functions for fulfilling those vows. Sutras discuss methods of cultivation that we must learn. Once you understand the principle, you must do it. In addition, the meaning in the Sutras has been translated from Sanskrit into Chinese. Mantras are not translated from Sanskrit into Chinese; only their sounds are transliterated. These are the esoteric true words of all Buddhas.

Q : How should we go about liberating life for a deceased ancestor who in life had become mentally disabled as a result of an accident?
A : Don’t be too superstitious about the ceremony to liberate life. You should act according to the golden mean: not too much and not too little. Do what you can and try your best.

Q : Earlier you talked about a past disciple who had the Five Eyes and the Six Penetrations, including the penetration of no-outflow. What exactly is that? From what I understand, that means he has already certified to arhatship.
A : Precisely how do you define the penetration of no-outflow? The Five Eyes and the Six Penetrations that I talk about are not necessarily what you perceive them to be, either. There are approximate penetrations and ultimate penetrations. The person I mentioned had attained approximate penetrations, so he understood very little; he only knew, for instance, others’ thoughts. Most people can reach that level. On the other hand, someone who has ultimate penetration knows not just the thoughts of one individual but the thoughts of each and every individual in the entire world. Not only does he know the thoughts of human beings, but the Thus Come One knows the thoughts of all kinds of living beings.

Q : Is a demon that appears during one’s meditation a creation of the mind? If it is made from the mind alone, is that the same kind of demon that you talked about earlier?
A : When you have offended demons outside of you, the demons in you will also act up. There’s not just one kind of demon and not just one kind of ghost. There are heavenly demons, earth demons, spiritual demons, ghostly demons, demons who are people, demons made from the mind, and demons that are created by external states. There isn’t just one kind, but many kinds.

Q : Is Mt. Sumeru a material entity that really exists? Or is it a state seen during meditative concentration? Or is it just a part of the Indian philosophy?
A : Mt. Sumeru is right before your eyes. Who can you blame if you can’t see it? “Everything is wrong when we are attached to forms; and yet non-doing means that we sink into the void.” Let’s see what you’ll do.

Q : What are the three obstacles in the saying, “All evils are eradicated and the three obstacles are completely gone.”
A : The three obstacles refer to the obstacle that is karma, the obstacle that is retribution, and the obstacle that is affliction. There’s no form to the obstacle that is karma. It’s fortunate that there’s no form to it, otherwise it would burst open the trichiliocosm.

Q : The Buddha said that the Buddha nature is pure originally. Then where did ignorance come from?
A : Ignorance was that single unenlightened thought we let happen, which in turn caused us to speculate on three subtle mental states. From those, we became caught in six coarse mental concepts which lead us to assume those states to be our conditions. Ignorance comes from emotions and love. Ignorance is an alias for delusion.

Q : Please clarify the relationship between the external Triple Jewel (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) and the internal triple jewel (essence, breath, and spirit).
A : The spirit is parallel to the Buddha, essence is parallel to the Sangha, and breath is parallel to the Dharma. The internal Triple Jewel is the Dharma body and wisdom life of people while the external Triple Jewel are role models for people. While we are protecting and supporting the external Triple Jewel, we should also take care of our essence, breath, and spirit. Be chaste so that we don’t expend any of the internal Triple Jewel. Sangha doesn’t simply refer to people who have left the householder’s life. Ultimately the term refers to those who don’t waste their essence and energy. Laypeople who don’t waste their essence and breath are Sangha members, too, believe it or not!

Q : What is the Vajra Bodhi Sea?
A : What is Vajra? It means indestructibility. What is the Sea of Bodhi? It is the sea of great enlightenment. Actually, the Vajra Bodhi Sea is deeper and wider than any ocean.

Q : “If people wish to know all Buddhas throughout the three periods of time, they should contemplate the nature of the Dharma Realm and that the Thus Come Ones are made from the mind alone.” What shape is this mind?
A : It’s shapeless. The mind is just the mind. If it were to have any shape, it wouldn’t be the mind. We’re not talking about that gray matter that’s our brain; we’re talking about the real mind, which is omnipresent, pervading all of space and the Dharma Realm. If we recognize this, we will have reached the true mind completely.

Q : What is bliss? What is soul? How do we make contact with our soul?
A : I’ve already talked about what is bliss. Not fighting is bliss. Not being greedy is bliss. Not being selfish, not pursuing personal advantage, and not lying are bliss. When you’re fighting, you expend a lot of effort and brainpower thinking about how to fight people, which will make you quite miserable. When you’re greedy, you can’t sleep at night and the food tastes bland to you. That’s misery. When you search for things outside, including men pursuing women and women pursuing men, you forget everything. You don’t even care about your parents; you only know to go after the object of your affection. That’s misery. Being selfish, you always do things that hurt others and help yourself. Pursuing self-advantage means that you only know about benefiting yourself but not others. Lying is misery too. Being discontent is misery. Being content is bliss. I’ve already said that earlier. The soul is your Buddha nature. To most people, the Buddha nature is the soul. It can become a Buddha if you cultivate well. If you don’t cultivate, then it becomes a ghost. You want to make contact with your soul, but you can’t see your soul. To see it, you have to cultivate spiritually and sever your desires and love. You cannot possibly know what your soul is like if you don’t sever desire and love as you cultivate the spiritual path.

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