THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

The Record of Water Mirror Turning Back Heaven:
By Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

From the 1998 issues of Vajra Bodhi Sea
Translated by the International Translation Institute

The Importance of Faith

 

Text:  

Faith is the foundation of cultivation of the Way, and the mother of merit and virtue, because it is capable of nourishing wholesome roots. The Buddhadharma is like a vast sea; only by faith can it be entered. Therefore, the single word “faith” is the key to escape from birth and death, and is the wonderful means for returning to the source.

Commentary:

Faith is of utmost importance. Without faith, you wouldn’t succeed at anything. Faith is the foundation of cultivation of the Way. If you want to cultivate the Way, you must have faith. Without faith, the foundation of the Way would be cut off. And faith is the mother of merit and virtue. If you want to have merit and virtue, you also need faith. The mind of faith is the mother of merit and virtue. No matter what good deed you set out to do, if you lack faith, it won’t succeed and it won’t bring you merit. Because it is capable of nourishing wholesome roots. Faith can nurture every kind of good roots and wholesome power. The Buddhadharma is like a vast sea;only by faith can it be entered. Without faith, you cannot enter this great ocean. Therefore, the single word “faith” is the key to escape from birth and death. It is the essential secret for gaining release from birth and death, and is the wonderful means for returning to the source. It is also the most surprising method for regaining your original face—your true identity. If you have faith, you will be able to produce all kinds of wholesome roots and merit and virtue, and you’ll be able to cultivate. If you lack faith, then it’s all over for you. So faith is a very inconceivable method.

Text:  

It is a precious raft in the stream of affliction, a torch in the dark cave of ignorance, and a guide who leads us out of dangerous by-paths. It is a compass for those floundering in the waves on the sea of suffering, and a sagely teacher for those in the three paths and the eight difficulties. It is the resolve for enlightenment made by the four kinds of creatures born within the six paths. Faith cannot be ignored. An author of ancient times said, “If a man has no faith, I do not know what he can accomplish.”

Commentary:

This passage continues to discuss the importance of faith. It is a precious raft in the stream of affliction. Our afflictions are like flowing water; one affliction passes, and another one comes. They come in endless succession. What can we do? We can get on the precious raft—actually it’s a big ship—and go from amidst afflictions to the opposite shore, and reach paramita. There’s another analogy. Faith is like a torch in the dark cave of ignorance. If you have faith, then you don’t have to worry about being in the darkness of ignorance, because you’ll be illumined by the torch of faith.  

And a guide who leads us out of dangerous by-paths. If you are travelling on a road and reach a point where it branches into three forks, and there are no signs, you don’t know which fork to take. You need to ask someone; you need a guide. Some of the forks could be dangerous; you might lose your life if you take them. So you have to ask someone whether the road is difficult to travel. If you have faith, it’s equivalent to having a guide. When you reach a fork in the road, you’ll know which branch to take, and the dangerous roads will no longer be dangerous.

It is a compass for those floundering in the waves on the sea of suffering. Living in this world, we are actually in the sea of suffering, where the waves are immense. There are temptations everywhere you turn: you want to strike it rich, or get a high position in the government. All of you are young, so you don’t see the advantages of being rich or being a high official. These temptations are not that strong yet. But when you get a little older, you might develop the ambition to make a fortune or get a high position. Or you might dream of having a lovely family, a fancy car, a nice jet, or a rocket to take you to the moon. These desires are like huge waves. But if you have faith, then it’s like having a compass to guide you.

And a sagely teacher for those in the three paths and the eight difficulties. The three paths are the realms of hell-beings, hungry ghosts, and animals. The eight difficulties include being born before or after the time of a Buddha, being born blind, deaf, or mute, being born in the northern continent of Uttarakuru, and so on. I explained these before, so I won’t go into them now. Being in the three paths and the eight difficulties, it’s necessary to have a teacher of sagely wisdom, a very wise teacher.

It is the resolve for enlightenment made by the four kinds of creatures born within the six paths. The six paths are gods, people, asuras, hell-beings, hungry ghosts, and animals. The four kinds of creatures are those born from wombs, from eggs, from moisture, and by transformation. Being among the four kinds of creatures born in the six paths, we should make a resolve to seek enlightenment. If we have faith, then it’s like having a resolve to become enlightened.

Faith cannot be ignored. No one can be without faith. An author of ancient times said, “If a man has no faith, I do not know what he can accomplish.” If you lack faith, you won’t be able to achieve anything. That’s the importance of faith.

Text:

Once two Bhikshus were travelling to see Shakyamuni Buddha, the World Honored One. As they travelled, they became extremely thirsty but could not find any water. As they walked they happened upon a human skull containing water in which some small bugs were swimming, enjoying themselves tremendously. One of the Bhikshus picked up the water, drank some, and offered the rest to his companion.

Commentary:

Once two Bhikshus were travelling to see Shakyamuni Buddha, the World Honored One. Probably these two Bhikshus had some problem that they hoped the Buddha could help them solve. As they travelled, they became extremely thirsty but could not find any water. Because the distance was very far and there was no efficient means of transportation in those days, they walked a long ways without water and became extremely thirsty. There was no milk, no soda pop, nothing at all to drink! There weren’t even any people around. If there had been people, there would have been water. So they looked and looked, but didn’t find any water. As they walked they happened upon a human skull containing water in which some small bugs were swimming, enjoying themselves tremendously. If you think about it, a human skull doesn’t hold much water--hardly enough for people to drink. But it holds more than bugs could drink, and so these bugs were frolicking to their heart’s content in the water. One of the Bhikshus picked up the water, not caring whether there were bugs in it or not, and drank some. Probably he just took a few sips and then offered the rest to his companion, saying, “Please drink some.” This Bhikshu still had some sense of courtesy. He didn’t feel right drinking all the water himself.

Text:

The companion replied, “This water contains bugs and the precepts do not permit drinking such water. I would rather die of thirst than violate the precepts in order to stay alive.” After this incident he died of thirst. When the Bhikshu who had drunk the water reached the place where the Buddha was residing, he bowed and said to the Buddha, “Your disciple was travelling in the company of another Bhikshu who perished of thirst on the road. I hope the Buddha will be compassionate and rescue him.”

Commentary:

The companion replied, “This water contains bugs.” He was in effect saying, “I won’t drink it.” The Buddha had said, “When I look at a bowl of water, I can see 84,000 bugs in it.” Although there were no microscopes or other such devices in those days, the Buddha could see the tiny bugs (germs) in the water. So the Buddha set up a precept that forbids Bhikshus from drinking water with bugs in it. Thus the other Bhikshu said, “The precepts do not permit drinking such water. I would rather die of thirst than violate the precepts in order to stay alive.”

After this incident he died of thirst. After his companion was done speaking, the first Bhikshu didn’t say anything else, but simply drank all the water himself. Because the weather was hot and dry and the second Bhikshu was so thirsty, he died. When the Bhikshu who had drunk the water reached the place where the Buddha was residing, he bowed and said to the Buddha, “Your disciple was travelling in the company of another Bhikshu who perished of thirst on the road. I hope the Buddha will be compassionate and rescue him.”

Text:

The Buddha said to the Bhikshu who had drunk the water, “Because he stringently maintained the precepts and was so firm in his faith that he would not violate the Shila even in the face of death, he received the awesome power of the Buddhas and arrived here before you. He has already seen the Buddha and heard the Dharma. He is a Bhikshu who has true faith.”

Commentary:

When the Bhikshu who had drunk the water with bugs in it asked the Buddha to save his companion, he was doing it out of a good heart and in the spirit of practicing the Bodhisattva Way. The Buddha said to the Bhikshu who had drunk the water, “Because he stringently maintained the precepts and was so firm in his faith... This refers not only to faith in the precepts, but to faith in the Buddha, faith in the Dharma, and faith in the Sangha. So this shows the importance of faith. To believe, you must have faith. This Bhikshu had such faith in the precepts that he would not violate the Shila--the precepts--even in the face of death, he received the awesome spiritual power of the Buddhas, which saved him and brought him here. You thought he died, but he arrived here before you. He has already seen the Buddha and heard the Dharma. He is a Bhikshu who has true and firm faith in the precepts.”

If you understand the precepts, then you can penetrate the entire Buddhadharma. If you don’t understand the precepts, then you’re like a cloud floating in the sky— you lack foundation.

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