如何学修佛法(上)

益西彭措法师 讲授

目录 Table of Contents


一、佛法的核心 I. Essence of Dharma
1、轮回之苦 1. Suffering of Samsara
2、苦之根源 2. Cause of Suffering
3、断除苦难源头的方法 3. How to Cut off the Root of Suffering?
4、学佛难吗? 4. Is Dharma Hard to Learn?
5、小结 5. Summary
二、什么是如法的闻思修 II. What are Properly Listening, Contemplating & Meditating According to Dharma?
1、闻思修的定义 1. Definitions of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating
2、闻思修的误区 2. Pitfalls of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating
3、小结 3. Summary
三、闻思修的衡量标准 III. The Qualifying Criteria of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating
1、什么是闻思修的衡量标准 1. What are Qualifying Criteria for Listening, Contemplating and Meditating?
2、什么是闻思修三慧 2. What are the Wisdoms of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating?
四、闻思修三慧的殊胜作用 IV. The Distinguished Benefits of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating Wisdoms
1、三慧是上成佛道、下化众生的唯一津梁 1. The Three Kinds of Wisdom Are the Only Way to Attain Buddhahood Above and to Transform Sentient Beings Below
2、闻慧能认识烦恼 2. Recognizing Afflictions with the Wisdom of Listening
3、思慧能压服烦恼 3. Suppressing Afflictions with the Wisdom of Contemplating
4、修慧能根除烦恼 4. Eradicating Afflictions with the Wisdom of Meditating
5、闻思修三慧是检验学佛效果的标准 5. The Wisdoms of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating are the Test of Learning Results
五、缺乏闻思修的严重后果 V. The Aggravating Results without Listening, Contemplating and Meditating
1、缺乏修慧的后果 1. What Happens without the Wisdom of Meditating?
2、缺乏思慧与修慧两种智慧的后果 2. What Happens without the Wisdoms of both Contemplating and Meditating?
3、三慧俱缺的后果 3. What Happens with None of the Three Wisdoms?

这次趁国庆放假,大家利用这难得的空闲时间,来一起交流佛法,积累一些解脱的资粮。这次我想针对大家目前学佛的情况,根据经论中的教证,和大恩上师法王如意宝的珍贵教言,来和大家谈谈有关学修佛法的正确方法。

现在佛教团体比以前增加了不少,佛弟子们所从事的自利利他的事业也越来越丰富,闻思经论,修行打坐,放生护生,以及各种慈善事业,现在都逐渐开展起来了。在从事这些多种多样的活动的同时,大家也应该必须分清哪些是主要的,哪些是次要的,并且应该抓住其中的核心内容。

一、佛法的核心

那么佛法的核心是什么?要认清这个问题,就要从揭示众生轮回真相的十二缘起支中去寻找答案。

轮回之苦

在现实生活中,大家会看到许多需要帮助的众生,比如花光了积蓄还没有治好重病的家庭,遭遇飞来横祸而导致生活困难的人,在贫困地区上不起学的孩子,以及那些疾病缠身的流浪猫、流浪狗等等,他们的处境非常艰难,尽量去帮助他们,是一个佛弟子应该做的分内事,是慈悲心驱使的一种必然行动。

同时也应该看到,解决了他们的一时之需,是否能解决了他们的一世之需。世事是无常的,在那些需要帮助的人得到帮助后,他们是否从此就没有困难了呢?这是谁也打不了包票的。在现实生活中,一个凡夫人不能保证接下来会发生什么,那些现在接受帮助的人,在接下去的时间里注定还会遇到形形色色的各种困难。

为什么会这样呢?从十二缘起支中我们可以看到,轮回的因是业力、烦恼和无明,轮回的果是生和老死。如果没有从因的业力、烦恼和无明上去解决,那么在果的生和老死过程中,各种苦难将会源源不断地涌现。

由此可见,目前对他们做一些生活上的帮助,虽然能起到一定的作用。但这种作用的效果是有限的。就像“扬汤止沸”一样,在一锅水已经沸腾的时候,只是把表面的开水舀掉,是无济于事的。因为锅底的大火还一刻不停地在燃烧着呢。

而且还有更多的众生,生活在地狱或者饿鬼道中,他们遭受的痛苦与折磨,更是人类所难以想象的了。

苦之根源

导致众生苦难的原因,首先是业力。正是这些业力的不断成熟,才出现了各种各样大家不愿意见到的结果。如果有一种办法能帮助众生消除业力,这将是最有意义的事情,就能够给他们带来更深广和更长久的安乐。

消除众生的业力,比较直接的办法,就是用自己的功德回向给众生,让他们重业减轻,轻业消除。但是就业力的种子来说,从无始以来到现在,每个众生都已经积累了无数亿了。并且新的业力种子还在不断地产生之中,因此业力种子是无法通过回向的方法来彻底消尽的。

业力种子是因为烦恼而种下的。种下了的业力种子又需要烦恼的滋润才能不断地成熟。如果控制并消除了烦恼,就切断了业力的命脉,也就达到了消除众生苦难的目的了。那么烦恼是否有根源呢?再从烦恼的来源上去寻找,又会发现众生的烦恼来自对“人我”的执著,而人我执著又来源于众生的无明。

通过这样的寻找,就把导致凡夫众生苦难的从浅到深的各种原因都找到了。只要断除了处于源头的众生的无明,就可以一劳永逸地消除世间众生的各种苦难了。

断除苦难源头的方法

如果一个人没钱生活,有钱的人布施一些钱,他就立即能消除贫困。但要断除众生的无明,比起做世间的善事,要复杂和艰巨得多。这是世间的财富所不能解决的。就像医生给病人看病,医生本人要有一定的能力一样;要解决众生的无明,最理想的是自己已经消除了无明和烦恼,并且也具有消除他人的无明和烦恼的能力。至少,也要知道消除无明的正确方法。

那么从哪里能找到彻底消除无明的方法呢?单凭凡夫自己能找到吗?决定不能。否则从无始以来,那么多的时间里,自己要能找到的话,早就找到了。从外道和世间学说里能找到吗?也决定不能。否则他们也早就解脱了。纵观这个世界上,各种宗教、学说之中,只有佛法才揭示了苦难的根源,也就是无明导致了我执,从而产生了烦恼,制造了业力,形成了苦果这一缘起规律。因此一个聪明的人,理智的人,对自己前途负责的人,把他人的苦乐放在心上的人,就应该从佛法中,去求得能够脱离这种十二缘起支束缚的正确方法。

学佛难吗

佛法中确实已经清楚地指出了众生在轮回中受苦的原因,以及脱离轮回的方法。那么这些真理和方法是否能够马上学到手并付诸实践呢?这对于少数智慧高的人来说,是可能的。历史上也不乏这样的榜样,比如六祖大师、全知麦彭仁波切、上师法王如意宝等等。但是对于大部分人来说,不用说加以应用,单单是理解这些真理和方法,都会觉得是一件非常困难的事。

为什么会困难呢?是佛法故意弄得晦涩难懂吗?

当然不是的。凡是佛法,都是圣者们的现量境界。这和大家现在的吃饭、喝茶等的现量境界一样,都是平白易懂的。同时也是符合理证,有理有据,论述得非常清楚明白的。既然佛法那么的明白,为什么就不容易学呢?原因主要在于,凡夫众生习惯了世间的轮回法。众生的兴趣和智慧,也都只局限在和眼前利益相关的事情上,从来就没有考虑过世间以外的境界,也不知道用什么样的方法来学佛。所以对弘扬以出世间功德为主的佛法感到陌生,也就不足为奇了。

但是不管多么陌生的东西,只要愿意学,都可以一点点熟悉起来。对于能给我们带来最大好处的佛法,当然要一而再再而三地去熟悉了。这个对佛法的熟悉过程,归纳起来,就是闻思修这三个步骤。这三个步骤,就是学佛的核心方法。

小结

轮回的实质是无尽的苦难。苦难的根源不是缺少财富,而是业和烦恼。业和烦恼又来自于无明。因此要彻底解决轮回的苦难,就要解决无明这个根源。而要解决无明,所涉及到的内容,都是在大家的所知范围之外的,因此必须通过闻思修三个步骤,才能够把这些佛法学到手,从而解决自己和众生的所有生死苦难。

二、什么是如法的闻思修

闻思修的定义

总的来说,闻思修是学修佛法必然要经过的步骤。闻是先从佛菩萨的经论里,了解到这个世界的本质是苦难,苦难的根源就是苦谛和集谛,以及摆脱这种苦难后的境界,及摆脱的方法,也就是灭谛和道谛;思是把听闻到的法义消化吸收,用它来提升自己的思想层次,成为自己的思维和行为模式;修则是用这些闻思到的法义,来替换掉自己旧有的习气,并最终使自己的心相续(或者说思想),和圣者们完全一致,达到彻底根除无明的目的。

这三个步骤,其实不是佛法独有的。学习世间上任何一个知识,也都是需要经过这三个步骤,最后才学习成功的。这其实是众生学习新事物的一个通行的步骤。

比如学开飞机,首先要从理论上学习飞机的各种原理和飞行要领,并牢记在心,这就是闻;其次要不断揣摩,并到飞机上去实地体验,理解、领会这些原理和要领,这就是思;最后阶段是在教练的指导下试验飞行,不断地练习已经理解的原理和要领,将其变成自己新的习惯和经验,这就是修。

那么在闻思修中,是否存在着误区,有哪些误区呢?下面来看闻思修的误区。

闻思修的误区

在闻思修的过程中,佛弟子要避免五个误区。

1、不认真听闻。有的人以为听闻佛法就是听个传承,求得传承的加持,在听的时候左耳进、右耳出,不专注于所听闻的法义。如果对法义不具备恭敬心和信心,就得不到传承的加持。反而缘正法而造下严重的恶业,而堕落恶趣。如果对法义具有恭敬心和信心,则必然会认真听闻,并把听到的法义牢牢地记在心中。

2、只听闻不思维。仅仅在进行听闻,听了很多法,念了很多经,背了很多书,却没有去认真理解其中的法义。大家要明白,一直只是在口头上念叨“苦苦”、“坏苦”、“行苦”、“空性”、“光明”,而不去动脑筋如理思维,是不可能理解这些法义的。如果没有经过如理的、扎实的思考,即使获得了闻慧,这个闻慧除了能帮助认识烦恼之外,还不能起到对治烦恼的作用。因为它就像画饼充饥中的饼一样。看了那画中的饼,能让人知道饼长得什么样,但是还不能用来充饥。全知麦彭仁波切在《定解宝灯论》中说得很清楚:“于基道果一切法,生起真实之定解,听闻生信此二者,犹如道与彼影像。”即对于基道果所涵盖的一切佛法,有两种不同的闻思结果。第一种是根据教理如理思维,从而引生出坚定殊胜的定解,依靠这样的定解所提供的真实道路,可以极快地证得涅槃;第二种是未随教理进行如理的思考,只记得一些听来的词句,这种是鹦鹉学舌,只是闻得生信,不能引生智慧、遣除障碍,因而不殊胜。就像纸上所画以及心中臆想出来的道路,没有实际的作用,不能导向涅槃。

同时,在思维时必须突破自己旧有的思路和观点。倘若以自己狭隘、偏执的观念来修改佛菩萨纯净的见解,这就落入到了秽器的过失中了。正确的方法,应该是尽可能地站在佛菩萨的高度上,如实地还原出佛菩萨讲说经论时的心态。这样才能最大程度上与经论相应,这是获得经论真正意义的一条捷径。

3、在闻思佛法时不联系实际。佛法的闻思必须和实际联系起来。佛陀讲授的一切法门,都是为了消除众生人法二执,以及由此产生的烦恼、所知二障。因此讲的不是别人的事情,就是自己身心相续中的问题。如果没有和自己的身心相续联系起来,没有和现实中的自己进行对应,这样的闻思就变成空谈了,没有效果,浪费了获得法义加持的机会。

4、只闻思不修行。修行是获得佛法中的证法的唯一途径,也是闻思的目的所在。已经通过闻思理解并结合自相续进行体验了,也形成了稳定的见解,但没有经过串习,没有用它来对治旧有的烦恼,替换旧有的习气,这是将快到手的如意宝放在了一边,更加是一种浪费了。

5、只想修行,不想闻思。正是因为大部分人无法直接产生修行的功德,也就是说修不起来,所以才需要进行闻思。修不起来的原因,是不知道修行所需要的见解和方法。通过闻思来知道正确的见解和方法后,就为修行消除了违缘,打下了扎实的基础。不需要经过如法到量的闻思,而直接趋入修行,这对于像普贤王如来等少数善根深厚者来说,是可行的。但是对于眼光还只局限于世间的一点得失的大部分人来说,则完全是一种缘木求鱼的行为了。忙碌半天,不但没有结果,最后连对解脱的信心都有可能会被消磨掉。

小结

总之,佛法的八万四千法门都是修心的方法,修心是通过闻思修三个步骤来实现的,其中修是核心,闻思是修行的前提,三者都不可缺少。如理的闻思,必须充分理解法义,尽力体会出佛菩萨的原意,并和现实进行一一对应。

掌握正确的学佛的方法,对广大的佛弟子来说,是一件应该引起高度重视的事情。方法得当了,就能逐渐产生出烦恼业力减轻了的效果。就能首先用佛法感动自己,感动了自己之后,才有可能再来用佛法感动他人。而用佛法来感动自己的方法,对于绝大部分人来说,没有比闻思修更好的途径了。如果学佛方法不得当,不按闻思修的规律学习,就有可能学了几年、十几年,都还在原地踏步,没有丝毫的起色。

三、闻思修的衡量标准

什么是闻思修的衡量标准

闻思修的每个阶段,都有它的衡量标准。其中闻的标准,是产生出闻慧;思的标准,是产生出思慧;修的标准,是产生出修慧。无论闻思修哪个法门,因果法门也好,般若法门也好,净土法门也好,衡量的标准都是一样的,就是是否产生出了闻思修三慧。

什么是闻思修三慧

那么什么是闻思修三慧?总的来说,闻慧就是听闻之后得到的智慧。是心里对法义清清楚楚的了解,这相当于世间所说的学到了知识;思慧就是对闻慧如理思考之后所生起的智慧,是心里对法义清清楚楚的理解,这相当于世间的理解了知识;修慧就是对思慧进行串习、修行后产生的智慧,是把法义真正融入进了心相续,这相当于世间的能够运用知识。

比如学修中观的人无我,闻慧就是对于人无我的法义了解得清清楚楚,了解到了有情仅是身和心的五种蕴聚而已,即使在世俗中也根本没有一个恒常不变的、完整一体的、不受其他因缘影响的所谓的“我”的存在;思慧就是对于以上的法理进行了如理的思考,并最终接受,使人无我见解成为了自己的思想;修慧就是在串习了思慧,对治掉了我执习气后,在心中产生的无我的状态。

又比如学习菩提心法门,闻慧就是对于什么是世俗菩提心,什么是胜义菩提心,它们各自形成的因素,它们的功德等等方面有个清晰的了解;思慧就是仔细思考了闻慧的内容,对于菩提心各个方面的合理性有了清晰的、稳固的理解;修慧就是按照思慧的指导,在现实中串习、实践之后,内心逐渐转变成了菩提心的相续。

还有像学修净土法门,闻慧就是在对经论进行听闻、念诵、书写等之后,心中获得的对极乐世界的殊胜、娑婆世界的下劣,阿弥陀佛的愿力、念佛的方法等等方面的清楚了解;思慧就是对这些听闻到的法义举一反三,如理进行充分思考后所获得的正确的理解。这时再不需要翻看经论,当提起极乐世界,当下就知道它的殊胜,并明白它为什么会是如此的殊胜。想起娑婆世界,当下就知道它的下劣,并明白它为什么是如此的下劣。提起阿弥陀佛的愿力,当下就知道这些愿力为什么那么的伟大。提起念佛的方法,就知道这些方法的原理是什么,应该在什么阶段运用;修慧是对于以上的思慧不断地串习,不只是在理论上知道,而且已经能够实际地体会到娑婆世界的种种缺陷,极乐世界的种种殊胜,阿弥陀佛愿力的功德,以及念佛的实际效果。

四、闻思修三慧的殊胜作用

三慧是上成佛道、下化众生的唯一津梁

三乘佛法的功德,都是从闻思修获得的三慧中产生出来的。过去和现在的一切佛陀,都是对于法宝进行了精进的闻思,然后按照获得的思慧,不折不扣地进行串习、修行,才得以成就的。像本师释迦牟尼佛,广度了娑婆世界的无量众生。即使在当今的五浊恶世,众生仍然凭借着本师流传下来的法宝,在获得解脱道上的利益。但是大家要知道,在久远劫前,本师也是一位凡夫,而且还因为踢了母亲的头,而堕入在地狱之中。虽然以替代他人受苦的善念脱离了地狱,但是如果佛陀没有之后精进刻苦的闻思修行,以当时他的一介凡夫之力,他能够给众生带来这么大的利益吗?

比如阿弥陀佛,成就了西方极乐世界。这是一个连痛苦的名字也听不到的殊胜国土,利益了一切世界的众生。假如当年法藏比丘没有精进闻思修,能产生出如此大的能力吗?

再比如密勒日巴尊者,之前为报仇,杀死了35人。犯下如此重大恶业的人,世上也少见。但是尊者却凭借着对恶趣的畏惧,对上师的虔诚依止,以及如理听闻、思维和精进修持上师的窍诀,而终于依靠佛法的力量即身成佛了。佛法就是这样,如理闻思修后,所获得的力量,不但可以把一个坏人变成好人,还可以让人脱离轮回,成就佛果。从尊者身上,可以看到佛法的无穷力量。

还有,像曾经的难陀尊者,贪心很重。即使出家了,还念念不忘俗家的妻子。当他依靠佛陀的神力见到了天上的天女,则又移情别恋,开始贪求起天女来了;曾经的须菩提尊者,嗔心很重。就连听到风吹雨淋的声音,都会莫名其妙地生气;曾经的周利槃陀伽尊者,痴心很重。经书背到下句,就忘了上句。但是,他们最终都成就了,成了佛陀座下的大阿罗汉。他们靠的是什么呢?就是对于法宝孜孜不倦地闻思修行,而产生的智慧。

如果我们获得了闻思修三慧,这将比世间上最珍贵的东西还要珍贵上千百倍,这能实现我们暇满人身的价值,使自己成为世上最富裕的富翁,并且还能帮助亲戚朋友,使他们也能沾上佛法的光,获得佛法的一份加持。在倓虚老法师的《影尘回忆录》里,就记录了一位叫刘文化的居士,研读了七八年的《楞严经》后,在现量境界中,超度了自己的冤家、妻子女儿和父母。大家可以找来这本传记看看。

获得了闻思修三慧,还能认识到周围的亲戚、同事的烦恼,并用如理作意的法义来实际分析,帮助他们减少、压服烦恼。净化他们的思想,影响并带动他们过有意义、有价值的生活,做有意义、有价值的事情。这对于社会的和谐、国家的安宁都有很大的促进作用。而且,在根基逐渐成熟之后,甚至有可能修持六个月就能成佛的金刚乘密法。这对于沉溺在轮回无数劫,智慧与福报浅薄,甚至是小学都要读上六年的众生来说,是根本无法想象的事情。但是在获得了闻思修三慧之后,就完全有可能实现。

这样的闻思修佛法的三慧,在外道与世间的学说之中,是根本不可能出现的。因为它们最多只是让人祈祷一个并不存在的遍计神我。想都没有想到众生的心性中本来就存在着功德圆满的如来藏光明。因此我们应该好好地闻思修,努力获得闻思修三慧,让相续中充满佛法的功德。

闻思修三慧能产生出无量的功德。对于凡夫来说,最初表现得比较明显的功德是:能够分别并认识烦恼、进而能够压服烦恼、最终起到根除烦恼的作用。

闻慧能认识烦恼

获得了闻慧,能够认识烦恼。凡夫的特点,是整天都身处烦恼之中,但认识不了这些烦恼。还认为自己各方面还比较不错。其实世间人的很多认识都是颠倒的。比如凡夫总觉得世上最重要的是自己,和别人在一起的时候,往往只考虑自己的需求,不考虑其他人的感受;又比如世上流行着很多错误的认识,就像把对异性的贪执说成是“伟大爱情”、乱发脾气伤害别人说成是“张扬个性”、把为自己的名闻利养的努力说成是“有上进心”、把“执著”当作是褒义词等等。这些现象,都是没有智慧所导致的,是无明的直接体现。长期这样的非理作意,导致的是忙碌一生,最后还是一场空。不但什么都没捞到,还增加了许多新的业障。通过对经论的听闻,就能发现哪些是对自己和他人真正有利的,应该实行的。哪些是对自己和他人都有害的,应该放弃和断除的。对自他有害的,就是烦恼。这样当自己或他人的烦恼出现的时候,虽然没有能力进行对治,但是能马上认识到它。不会像以前一样犯了错还不知道哪里错了,这就是闻慧的作用。

比如有些人经常在说:哎呀,我的执著很大,就是放不下啊。这句话就是典型的虽然听闻了但是没有产生闻慧的情况。说这样话的人,往往只是笼统地知道了有一个“执著”,但是执著具体是什么样子,如何对应到自己的身心相续上,则是一点也没有考虑过。虽然他说的时候就处在执著之中,对于世间的恩怨、自己的功德等等都在当作实有,但是他却一点也不知道这些就是嘴里说的执著,连自己的执著都不认识,就更不用说如何去对治了。真正具有闻慧的人,会有一分惭愧心,不会若无其事地,甚至是炫耀般地说“哎呀,我执著很大”了。

思慧能压服烦恼

获得了思慧,能够压服烦恼。思慧是在思想上接受了之前学到的闻慧。这相当于世间说的思想得到了改造,得到了升华。虽然因为之前错误见解的习惯势力还在,心里还不断会有和它相应的烦恼的出现。但是当这些烦恼出现时,通过闻慧能马上把它们认识出来。通过思慧,则能运用如理作意,而把烦恼压服下去。

比如当自己看到某个人,感到很不爽的时候,具有思慧的人,就会用理解到的法理如理地去分析,知道自己之所以看对方不爽,是对方在某个地方没有按照我的标准在行事,伤害到了自己的我执。这样就通过对方,发现了自己还隐藏着的那些执著。而且,在这个方面会产生不爽,说明类似的其他事情都会让自己生起嗔心。这样的自己,还根本不可能出离轮回的牢狱。另外,对某个人不爽,说明自己慈悲心还非常肤浅。没有认识到对方过去世对自己的养育之恩,对不起过去世的这位母亲,就如同对不起现在世的母亲,这是非常不应该的事。根据思慧,可以有这样的种种的如理作意。这样就能把心中的不爽和执著给压制下去。甚至还会由此而感谢对方提供了让自己发现毛病的机会。

修慧能根除烦恼

获得了修慧,能够根除烦恼。修慧就像文殊菩萨的宝剑,它能断除无明。这就从根本上把产生烦恼的可能性给截断了。

比如修悲心,当串习成熟的时候,悲心成了自己的习惯思维模式。心里起心动念都在悲心的状态中。任何时候都会把众生的利益放在第一位。这样虽然贪嗔等烦恼的种子还没有断,它们的习气还会蠢蠢欲动,但是烦恼不会再有现行的机会了。而如果修的是般若法门,则当彻底见到了一切万法都没有实质,都是如梦幻一般的时候,众生即使要产生实执,也没有可以产生实执的所境了。执著断除,烦恼也就没有立身之地,连根拔除了。

又比如修人无我空性,当唯一对于假立的总体蕴和无我串习成熟后,现量可以感受这个世界就只有如幻的五种蕴聚。而它们又是多体的、刹那变动的、互相产生因缘作用的。在这样的世界中,根本就没有一个常、一、自在的“我”、“你”、“他”可以执著。这样心相续里就非常的寂静,没有任何的躁动不安,不会有任何的烦恼,因为没有一丁点可以产生烦恼的因素。

还有像修世俗中万法如幻,每天精进地串习一切法都是因缘所成,没有丝毫的来去,也没有丝毫的实质,就像镜子中的影像一样虚幻不实。功夫成熟后,就会在现量中感受这种空灵的境界。在这种空灵的境界中,烦恼的显现就得以永远消除了。

闻思修三慧是检验学佛效果的标准

在今后的佛法学习中,大家应该以闻思修这三种标准来检验自己的学习效果。就拿现在在学的《入菩萨行论般若品释•净水如意宝》来说,首先,每次学习前,至少要先把偈颂背下来,并做相应的预习。预习不能走过场。要找出《净水如意宝》的脉络,标出自己不理解的地方。在听法时,认真聆听对法义的解释,同时还要能够知道“自性”、“空性”、“显现”等法相名词在现实中的含义。听法后及时复习巩固。这样就基本能产生出闻慧来。知道了自己在哪些地方执著了自性,哪些地方本来应该是空性的等等。其次,要对法义进行细致的分析,既要抓局部又要抓全局,抓局部是尽量理解每个法相、段落的意思。抓全局是把对法相、段落的理解放到全论的大背景下去理解,并在法义的指导下,在现实中观察自性为什么是空无的,显现为什么是如幻的,所谓的“我”为什么在世俗中也并不存在等等的道理。这样就能产生出对治烦恼的思慧来。最后,按照这样的思慧进行观察修和安住修,让思慧产生的分别智慧融入自己的相续,最终产生出能完整无遗呈现法义的分别妙慧来。

如果大家觉得效果不理想,没有产生三慧相应的作用。必然是没有如理按照闻思修的规律去学习,就应该重新检查学习的方法。

有些人刚学佛的时候,似乎信心很大,烦恼并不很强,但是时间长了之后,觉得烦恼反而增加了,信心也受到了影响。那他是不是退步了呢?其实不是的,因为刚学佛的时候,不认识自己心中的烦恼。之后随着闻思的增加,逐渐看清了自己的内心,这才看到了很多烦恼。这些烦恼是无始以来妄动的执著习气所形成的,是一直存在的。因此能认识到它们,这是一种进步。就像看大海一样,远远看大海的时候,看到的是一片宁静的海面。但是当走进之后,就发现海面上翻滚着许许多多的波浪。

另外,在不注意的时候,容易把闻慧当作修慧。口里说一些很高深的法相名词,比如自性光明啊、烦恼即菩提啊等等。然后盲目地认为自己也已经获得了这样的领悟。这是没有进行过认真思维,没有仔细体会,没有观察自相续导致的。连思慧都不是,更不是修慧。这一点大家要仔细提防。

总之,闻思修三慧的作用是强大无比的。是世间上的任何事物都无法相提并论的。虽然修慧的获得,需要对治自己的旧有习气,因此并不轻松。但是思慧和闻慧,只要认真、如理地学习,是不难获得的,它们产生的作用,也足可以认识和压服烦恼。反之,没有获得三慧,会对学佛者造成很大的障碍。

五、缺乏闻思修三慧的严重后果

缺乏修慧的后果

在经过精进的闻思,已经获得了闻慧和思慧之后,有的人会在这里停下来,不去进一步利用思慧来进行修持。这是对于如意宝的一大浪费,就像饥荒时代,已经饿得皮包骨头的人,好不容易找到了一些大米,煮成了热气腾腾的一锅米饭,却又放到了一边,不去享用一样。

这是旧有的习气在做障碍,也是业障现前的一种表现。修慧的作用是来自相续的深层,是持续不断的。相对而言,思慧还属于粗浅的层面,而且是间断的。只有进行相应的如理作意的时候,才会呈现出来。因此在不作意的时候,经常是隐没不现的。这时正需要不断地把它调取出来,进行反复锤炼,使它变成自己新的良好的习气,以对治掉旧有的习气。

没有形成修慧,就无法获得证法的加持,难以进行真正的续佛慧命的事业。不能真正有效地救度众生。因此在获得思慧后,应该百尺竿头更进一步,不产生修慧永不停息。

缺乏思慧与修慧二者的后果

如果只具有闻慧,不进行如理的思维,就不会产生思慧,修慧也就成无源之水,不可能产生了。

闻慧虽然能认识到烦恼,但是在没有深入思考烦恼的过患,对治烦恼的方法,以及烦恼被对治掉后的安乐的时候,这个修学者依然有可能会放纵自己,任凭烦恼的生起。

有些人在闻思一段时间之后,觉得烦恼难以调伏,就打妄想去求一个高深的窍诀,然后住到没有人烟的山洞里去修行。其实要压服烦恼,思慧就完全可以做到了。因为对于烦恼的真正面目、烦恼的起因、烦恼的过患等等经过深入的思考,在内心中获得了定解后,当这些烦恼再度出现时,自己就能对它们产生厌离,并马上能把对治这种烦恼的如理作意给调取出来。无论是贪心、嗔心、嫉妒、傲慢等等的烦恼,虽然还不能保证它们不生起,但是可以保证生起之后,马上就能进行有效的压服。

如果没有形成思慧,就不知道如何对治烦恼。在烦恼生起的时候,就只能眼睁睁地看着它扰乱自己的相续了,而且还可能继续以非理作意,来助长它、加重它的破坏力。这种情况下,大家就不用去找人打卦,去问自己是着了什么样的魔障。因为这时正是自己在生起和助长烦恼魔,自己已经向烦恼魔投降了,成为了烦恼魔的眷属。

而只要坚持不断地闻思,在心中形成扎实可靠的闻慧和思慧见解,就能避免这些情况的出现了。

三慧俱缺的后果

闻思修是佛法传承的主要形式,如果缺乏闻思修,就会直接导致佛教的衰退,使佛法变成名义上的佛法,实际上和世间法一样了。

佛法之所以与世间学说和其他宗教不同,最大的区别在于佛法指出了世间法的本质是苦谛,以及困扰世间安乐的根本因素,是业和烦恼的集谛,并指出了消除这些苦与烦恼、业障后的寂灭状态和途径,也就是灭谛和道谛。离开了这些内涵,佛法就失去了佛法的特色,和世间法区分不开了。

这会导致学佛者不知道佛法的宗旨和目标。不首先改造、提升自己的相续,而只去从事一些和佛法有些相似的影像佛法。这像世间的盲人一样,其实比盲人更可怜。因为世间的盲人还有可能善根成熟,精进闻思修。但是不进行闻思修的人,在世间的沾染中,会不断增长邪知邪念,助长贪嗔痴,这样解脱的命根就会被中断,而与解脱的机会再一次的失之交臂,实在是最为可惜的事情。

如果没有深入经藏,甚至还会退失掉对三宝的信心。因为如果仅仅从事一些世俗的善法,那么有很多宣扬人天善法的外道也在一样弘扬,这就很难和他们区分出来,很难突出佛法的不共解脱的特色。时间长了,退失皈依,变成追求物质享受的人,或者变成外道徒也不是没有可能。

在出世间圣者位见道之前的凡夫心里,都有外道遍计我执的种子。外道也会说某些法是如梦如幻的,但是他们把要祈祷的神啊、自性啊之类的肯定会说成是实有的,他们所谓的解脱,就是一个实有的神,把自己超度到天上去了,而不是通过闻思修消除我执、消除烦恼实现的。如果没有通过闻思修,认识到三宝的殊胜意义、认识到阿弥陀佛的不共功德,很有可能修的是内道的法,但是持的却是外道的见解。有可能在按外道的方法在祈祷三宝、在祈祷阿弥陀佛。虽然这样也能得到一些加持,但是这和三宝没有真正相应,和阿弥陀佛没有真正相应哪。没有相应的祈祷,得到的加持是很少很少的。

要避免自己不正确的见解和修法时的外道倾向,就要一切以正法为标准,不能以自己的分别念为标准。要通过踏踏实实的闻思,理解到轮回、涅槃、众生、佛陀、烦恼、智慧等等的实际意义,而不能按自己的习惯,去作似是而非的理解。这样就能保证自己在修行的是真正的佛法。

总之,没有了闻思修三慧,就没有了法宝的加持。这个世界就像太阳陨落,重新又回到了黑暗一样,这是众生最大的损失!佛陀历经三大阿僧祇劫修行而获得的,度化了无数的众生,又经过历代祖师代代相传的珍贵佛法,到我们这里就中断了,没有了。这就像世间家族的香火中断了一样,众生解脱的可能性也就从此中断了。这是对佛菩萨的最大的不敬、是对广大如母有情的最大的不孝。是当今佛弟子们最应该共同努力来竭力防止的。

How to Learn and Practice Dharma

Khenpo Yeshe Phuntsok Rinpoche

Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy

Sertar, Sichuan Province, China

2011/10/4~6

With the blessings of my noble guru,

To all dharma practitioners,

For the benefit of all sentient beings.

— Translators

During this national holiday, we have precious free time to gather together, to learn and practice dharma, thus accumulating merits on the way towards Buddhahood. Seeing the current situation of how people study dharma, I’d like to talk about the right method to learn and practice dharma, according to the sutra guidelines as well as the precious teachings from my noble guru H. H. Wish-Fulfilling Gem Jigme Phuntsok. So the title of my talk is, How to Learn and Practice Dharma.

The number of Buddhism organizations and groups has increased much in recent years. Buddhists involve themselves in more activities for the benefit of others and of their own, such as sutra and shastra studies, meditation, animal protection and releasing, and many other charitable efforts, which are all booming. Since there are so many choices for our Buddhist life, we need to figure out which ones are the most essential, which ones are less important. We must not forget the essence of all these.

I. Essence of Dharma

So what is the essence of dharma? To answer this question, we need to look in the twelve links of dependent origination that depict the truth of samsara, the life cycles that all sentient beings go through.

1. Suffering of Samsara

In daily life there are always many cases calling for help. Patients can’t be cured after exhausting all family savings; a family is struck by sudden accidents and falls into despair; children can’t afford basic education in rural areas, even many sick stray cats and dogs in streets. They are all suffering tremendous adversities. As Buddhists we are obligated to help them, and we naturally do so driven by our compassion.

Meanwhile we should ask, by offering a hand at the moment, do we make their life free from any more problems? As life keeps changing, they get what they need for now, but how about the future? Nobody can guarantee that they will remain happy for the rest of their lives. We never know what will happen tomorrow. But one thing for sure, future problems down the road are inevitable.

Why is adversity endless like the waves of the ocean? From the twelve links of dependent origination, we can see the cause of samsara is karma and affliction, and the effect of samsara is birth, aging and death. If the cause isn’t removed, then suffering won’t stop in the sequence of birth, aging and death.

Therefore, even if it does help to address their immediate needs, this kind of help is limited. As you can imagine, ladling out surface water in a boiling pot won’t stop the boiling, because the pot is on a big fire.

More than that, countless sentient beings have been undergoing unbelievable sufferings for eons. They live in the realms of hells or hungry ghosts and are tortured by severe pain that we human beings can’t imagine.

2. Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering for all sentient beings is karma. As long as karma continues, the unfavorable situations will keep occurring. If we find a way to eliminate karma, then we bring more profound and more lasting happiness to sentient beings. As a Buddhist, this is the most meaningful contribution.

The dedication of our merits to sentient beings is a sort of direct way to relieve their karma, as the big karma may be reduced and the small ones eliminated. However, if we think about the seeds of karma, from beginningless time, every being has been accumulating countless karma seeds, and new seeds are continuously produced. Therefore, just by dedicating our merits the seeds of karma cannot be completely eradicated.

The seeds of karma are sowed by affliction, nurtured by the water of affliction and continuously grow and ripen. If we are able to control and eliminate affliction, karma wouldn’t grow any more, since its water line is cut off. Thus we can release sentient beings from suffering. Then we ask, does affliction have its own source? We can see that the source of affliction is just self-attachment. It is due to ignorance that sentient beings hold on to the non-existing “I” as real.

Questioning and analyzing like this, we can reveal all the direct and indirect causes of suffering. As long as the root, the ignorance of sentient beings, is cut off, all kinds of suffering in this world will be eliminated forever.

3. How to Cut off the Root of Suffering?

If someone is too poor to make a living, a rich person may give him some money which lifts him out of poverty immediately. But to enlighten a sentient being is a much more complicated and daunting task, as it cannot be achieved by wealth alone. We need skills to work on ignorance, just like a doctor knows how to treat patients. In the ideal situation, we’ve already cleared our own ignorance and afflictions and have the ability of clearing those of others. Or at least, we know the authentic remedy to clear them.

So where can we find this method of enlightening ignorance? Can an ordinary being find it by himself? Absolutely not. Otherwise since beginningless time, they should have found the answer. How about non-Buddhism or other philosophers? Neither can they, because none of them have liberated themselves. In this world, among all different religions and philosophies, only Buddhism points out the root of suffering. As the Buddha said, ignorance causes self-attachment, which produces affliction, affliction generates karma and karma leads to the results of suffering. This is the law of dependent origination. So if an intelligent and wise man cares about the wellbeing of himself and all others, he ought to seek effective methods from dharma to break the chain of twelve links of dependent origination.

4. Is Dharma Hard to Learn?

Answer: Truthfully and clearly, dharma has revealed the cause of suffering in samsara, and the way to break free from samsara. But can we really take in the dharma teaching and quickly enlighten our daily life? For few people with extraordinary wisdom, it is doable. We do have good models in the past, like the Sixth Patriarch Huineng of Zen, the omniscient Mipham Rinpoche, as well as my guru, H. H. Wish-Fulfilling Gem Jigme Phuntsok. However as ordinary people like us, it will be hard enough to comprehend the truths in dharma, let alone practice them.

Why is it hard? Is dharma deliberately obscure and difficult?

Of course not. All of the dharma describe direct experiences of the enlightened beings, which – like our daily perception of a cup of tea or three meals – is intuitive, straightforward, and easy to understand. Meantime dharma is consistent with the Buddha’s teaching in sutra texts, and is very logical and evident. Then why is dharma so hard for us? It’s mainly due to our old habits. We ordinary people have adapted to this mundane world manifested by samsara. Our interest and intelligence are limited to what we see in this manifestation, and never give much thought beyond this world. We don’t know how to practice dharma, and feel it is distant from the world. No surprise because dharma advocates supra-mundane merits and aims to go beyond this world.

Nevertheless, no matter how unfamiliar dharma feels, we can get used to it so long as we want to learn. Since dharma brings us the greatest benefit, definitely we should get acquainted with it again and again. This process comprises three steps: listening, contemplating and meditating, which are the cores of dharma learning.

5. Summary

The reality of samsara is endless suffering, and the cause of suffering isn’t lack of wealth, but karma and affliction, which are produced by ignorance. Therefore, to eliminate the whole suffering of samsara, we have to eradicate ignorance. All of these teachings, however, are beyond our common sense in daily life. So only following the approach of listening, contemplating and meditating, can we really live the dharma and stop the endless suffering cycles for ourselves and for all sentient beings.

II. What are Properly Listening, Contemplating & Meditating According to Dharma?

1. Definitions of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating

In short, listening, contemplating and meditating make up the necessary process to learn and practice dharma. Through listening to sutra and shastra teaching, we realize the substantial suffering of this world and its root cause. We learn the truths of suffering and arising of suffering, as well as the state after suffering is eliminated and the way to reach the state, i.e., the truths of cessation of suffering and the path. Through contemplating, we digest the teaching we hear, grow faith in it and thus think and act according to the new principles. Through meditating and practice, we transcend our mind and replace old karmic habits with dharma teaching. Eventually our wisdom, or consciousness, will align with the Buddhist sages’ and our ignorance will be eradicated permanently.

The three steps are not unique to dharma learning. To learn any worldly skill one needs to go through these same steps. It’s the common process for us to learn anything new.

For example, you want to become a pilot. First, you study the mechanism of an airplane and the instructions of how to control it, and then memorize the theory. This is listening. Then, you review the knowledge and familiarize yourself with everything in a real aircraft. This is contemplation. Finally, you fly with your coach, and after repeated practices, you’ll turn those instructions to your new habits and reinforce them. This is meditating.

So what are the common misunderstandings and pitfalls during this process? Let’s take a look.

2. Pitfalls of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating

Generally speaking, there are five mistakes to watch out for.

1). Not listening carefully. Some sit through teachings just to receive the transmission and some blessing from it. They do not pay attention to the meaning of dharma, and the teaching just goes in one ear and out the other. Well, without sincere respect and faith for dharma, one wouldn’t be able to receive blessing from the lineage. Worse, this kind of attitude towards dharma will produce bad karma and lead to lower realms. On the contrary, with deep respect and faith, one will listen attentively and dedicate the mind to memorizing the teachings.

2). Listening but not contemplating. Some people just prefer listening. They may have heard much teaching, chanted and recited many sutras, but have not contemplated dharma meanings. We should know that one doesn’t reach dharma by just repeating the dharma words without absorbing their meanings. For example, continuously reciting the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, all-pervasive suffering, emptiness, luminosity, etc., can’t help us to approach the real dharma. Even if we obtain the wisdom of listening, lacking logical and solid contemplation, the wisdom will only help us to recognize afflictions, but will not be strong enough to fight them. It’s like a bun drawn on paper, we see how it looks, but can’t overcome hunger by feeding on it. The omniscient Mipham Rinpoche once explained this clearly in The Precious Beacon of Certainty. As he said, for all of the dharma teachings from ground, path to result, there can be two learning results. One is to think through the teaching exactly according to the sutra, which will allow faith and unflinching determination to arise. Following the path described in the teaching, one can attain enlightenment rapidly. The other is to remember only bits and pieces of the wording, without ever examining the meanings, like a mindless parrot mimicking human speech. One may get a little faith in this way, but won’t acquire enough wisdom to cut through the jungle. The liberating path would be a picture on paper or some imagination in head, without any practical effects to lead to nirvana.

Meanwhile, we must break old thinking patterns and views. It is a fault to subject Buddha and Bodhisattva’s pure vision to one’s narrow and biased view, just like making a clean vessel dirty. We’d better look from the level of Buddha and Bodhisattvas as much as we can, to comprehend their thoughts as they are in the teaching. This is a shortcut, rightfully so, to align one’s mind with sutras and shastras, and to master their profound meaning.

3). Not associating listening and contemplation with reality. One has to link dharma teaching to reality during learning. All of the dharma that Buddha taught is for eliminating the two attachments of self and phenomena, and the resultant two obscurations of affliction and cognition. So dharma is exactly to solve our own problems, not something or someone else. If we ignore this connection and separate the teaching from our own situation, then both listening and contemplation would become useless, and we would just be wasting the opportunity to obtain any blessing from dharma.

4). Only listening and contemplating, but without meditating. Meditation is the only way to experience dharma teaching. Meditation is the purpose of listening and contemplation. Once the view is formed through listening and contemplation and also get confirmed in our daily experience, we need to continuously meditate on it with our mind. Otherwise, the view wouldn’t have strong enough power to overcome afflictions and to replace old habits. This would be an even bigger waste, just like giving up the wish-fulfilling gem that’s almost in your hand.

5). Only meditating, but without listening and contemplating. Because most of us are not able to cultivate merit directly from meditating, we need the first two steps. Without listening and contemplating, we don’t have the right guide and methods for meditation. Listening and contemplating according to dharma provide us with the right view and methods as a solid foundation and effective protection against obstacles during meditation. Skipping steps and jumping straight into meditation might work for a few with deep virtuous roots and merits of wisdom, like Samantabhadra. But for most people who confine themselves in daily gain and loss, meditating without learning is useless, like barking up the wrong tree. In the end it will not generate any merit, and worse, may even erode the faith of liberation.

3. Summary

All in all, each of the eighty-four thousand kinds of teaching from the Buddha are methods of taming our mind, which can only be achieved through the three steps of listening, contemplating and meditating. Meditating is the key, and listening and contemplating are prerequisites. So none of them can be skipped. Excellent listening and contemplating require us to fully understand the teaching, reproduce the original meanings from Buddha and Bodhisattvas, and also apply each of them to reality.

The correct way of learning dharma is of high priority for us Buddhists. Only following the right way, will we be able to gradually feel the afflicted karma diminishing, thus commit ourselves to dharma. Only after we commit ourselves, is it possible to influence others with the same dharma. Following the process of listening, contemplating and meditating is the best way to get this point. Ignoring them and breaking the natural pattern will lead one to being stuck with old afflictions and karma for years without any progress.

III. The Qualifying Criteria of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating

1. What are Qualifying Criteria for Listening, Contemplating and Meditating?

Each of the three steps has a measuring standard. The criterion of listening is to attain the wisdom of listening; for the other two is to attain the wisdoms of contemplating and meditating. No matter which dharma gate we are going through, such as cause and effect gate, prajna gate or pure land gate, the gauge is the same, which is whether the wisdoms are produced.

2. What are the Wisdoms of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating?

Simply put, the wisdom of listening is attained after listening, as we hear and understand the dharma teaching. It is analogous to the studying stage in worldly terms. The wisdom of contemplating is attained after much reflection of the dharma, when the meanings are accepted and engraved in our heart. It is equivalent to the understanding stage as usually called. The wisdom of meditating is attained when the dharma embed in our mind, after it is repeated and practiced for a while. It is called the application stage in worldly terms.

Take as an example the selflessness of persons in the teaching of the middle way. With the wisdom of listening one should know all sentient beings are nothing but five aggregates of body and mind, and also that even on a relative level there isn’t a permanent, complete “I” who is immune to causality. The wisdom of contemplating is that, one thinks about this logically and truthfully, eventually becomes convinced and able to turn it into his own thoughts. Finally, with the wisdom of meditating one can break the habit of self-attachment and create a no-self state in his mind.

Another example in learning Bodhicitta, the wisdom of listening is to be able to explain relative and ultimate Bodhicitta, their merits and how to arouse them. The wisdom of contemplating provides us a much more lucid and stable understanding, and the wisdom of meditating can change our mind to be consistent with Bodhicitta after applying the former wisdom to reality for practice.

One more example of pure land. After hearing, chanting, and transcribing the sutras and shastras, we realize the superior beauty of the pure land, and the inferiority of the saha land. We also gain good knowledge of the great vows of Amitabha and the right chanting method. This is the wisdom of listening. Then we continue to contemplate these teachings and develop such an unflinching determination that putting sutra aside, we are still clear about why the pure land is superiorly beautiful and the current world is inferiorly ugly. Whenever thinking about the vows of Amitabha, we know why they are inconceivably powerful. Whenever reciting Amitabha, we know the effects of different methods and to which situation they apply. These are all coming from the wisdom of contemplating. At some point, by cultivating these thoughts and visualizations, we can practically, not only theoretically, verify the defects of this current world and the marvels of the pure land, and feel the great merit of Amitabha’s vows, as well as the practical benefits of the mindfulness of the Buddha. These are all from the wisdom of meditating.

IV. The Distinguished Benefits of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating Wisdoms

1. The Three Kinds of Wisdom Are the Only Way to Attain Buddhahood Above and to Transform Sentient Beings Below

All the merits of three vehicles of dharma originate from the wisdoms cultivated through listening, contemplating and meditating. All the Buddhas, from the past to present, had heard and contemplated the dharma jewels diligently, exactly perceiving the teaching by continuous meditation, and then accomplishing their enlightenment. Our Fundamental Teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, liberated countless sentient beings in this saha land, and his dharma jewels still transform the mass in today’s evil age of five turbidities, so that sentient beings can rely on them to get the benefits of liberation. But eons ago, our own master was an ordinary sentient being, and once fell into hell because he kicked his mother’s head. Although he got out of the hell due to the virtuous thought of taking on other’s suffering, but without diligently listening, contemplating and meditating on dharma, as an ordinary being, how could he bring such grand benefits to all sentient beings?

Amitabha built West Utmost Joyful Land, a distinguished pure land where even the name of suffering is never heard of. He benefited countless beings of all the worlds. If Monk Fazang hadn’t put great efforts in listening, contemplating and meditating, how could he have generated so much energy just by himself?

Another example is Venerable Milarepa, who had killed 35 persons for revenge, very rare and horrendous evil karma. However, with the fear of being reborn in lower realms and with the strong devotion to his guru, Venerable Milarepa became Buddha within the same life through practicing dharma. This is a wonderful demonstration of how powerful dharma is. Following dharma and practicing, the incredible power may not just turn a bad person to good, but also liberate one from samsara and achieve Buddhahood. Venerable Milarepa had shown this inconceivable power of dharma.

There are more examples in history. Venerable Nanda used to be very attached to women, and couldn’t forget his early wife after he became a monk. When the Buddha showed him heaven, he saw the goddesses and desired them even more. Venerable Subhutti used to be easily irritable, and even the sound of wind and rain could anger him. Venerable Suddhipanthaka used to be dumb and often forgot the first sentence when going onto the second one. However, they were all enlightened and became great Arhats under the throne of the Buddha. What made this happen? It was nothing but the wisdom gathered through continuous and diligent listening, contemplating and meditating.

So the wisdom obtained from dharma is hundreds and thousands of times more precious than the most valuable thing in the world. It will dig out the values of the precious human body, and make us the richest in the world. Meanwhile, we can help our friends and relatives by sharing dharma with them, so they can also receive the dharma blessing. In the biography of the old master Tanxu, Recollection of Shadow and Dust, there’s a story of a lay practitioner, Wenhua Liu. After reading and researching on Surangama Sutra for seven or eight years, he freed his enemies, wife, daughter and parents in his own vision. You may want to find and read the book.

With these three kinds of wisdom, we can recognize negative emotions of the people around us and help them with dharma to analyze and overcome their anxieties, calm their turmoil and inspire them to live a meaningful and purposeful life. This is a very big support to the harmony of society and the peace of our nation. Much more than that, if one’s virtuous root gradually gets matured, one can practice the supreme Vajrayana which takes only six months to become Buddha. For most people dwelling in samsara for countless eons and with shallow wisdom and poor merits, this is absolutely inconceivable, because primary school alone takes six years. However, the wisdoms attained from dharma through listening, contemplating and meditating really makes it possible.

The three wisdoms of dharma cannot rise from non-Buddhist or worldly knowledge, which at best leads people to pray to a nonexistent and humanized deity. They can’t imagine that the nature of mind of all sentient beings exactly possess the luminosity of tathagatagarbha, which perfectly has all kinds of merits. Therefore we should dedicate efforts to listening, contemplating and meditating, in such a way to cultivate the great wisdom, for our mind to be teeming with the merits of dharma.

The wisdoms of listening, contemplating and meditating can generate numerous merits. For ordinary beings like us, the merits apparently generated at the initial stage are: recognizing afflictions, suppressing afflictions and then finally eradicating afflictions.

2. Recognizing Afflictions with the Wisdom of Listening

The wisdom of listening enables us to recognize affliction. As a common characteristic, sentient beings are being surrounded by afflicting emotions all the time, but as being deluded, we seldom recognize them and, on the contrary feel good about ourselves. In fact, most of our mundane people have completely false perceptions. When confronted we always consider and defend ourselves first; an obsession of someone is called great love; being wishful and hurting others is “self-expression”; the effort of chasing fame and wealth is praised as the best exertion of life; attachment has a positive tone. All of these are due to a lack of wisdom, and are the manifestation of our ignorance. Fixing the mind and effort on such delusions, we spend the whole life busy about nothing. All is vain and adds much more bad karma. Through listening to the teaching of dharma, we can clearly see what things are valuable and thus stick to them for benefitting others and ourselves. Also we can tell what things are harmful and thusly cut them off. Those that are harmful to oneself and others are afflictions. So whenever they appear, we can detect them and recognize where they come from, even though we may not be able to remove them right away. This is how the wisdom of listening works.

Some people claim, “My attachment is too strong and too hard to give up.” This is a typical case in which the wisdom didn’t arise from listening. This kind of person vaguely acknowledges a word “attachment”, but has no idea what it really looks like and doesn’t link it to himself. The moment he’s talking, he’s in attachments. He treats love, hatred and merits as real, and can’t realize that they are just the attachment he’s talking about, not to mention how to overcome them. In contrast, if one does have the wisdom of listening, he or she will feel ashamed rather than comfortable, not even keep repeating the complaint as a show-off.

3. Suppressing Afflictions with the Wisdom of Contemplating

Once we attain the wisdom of contemplating, we can stop affliction from growing. The wisdom of contemplating means we take in the wisdom of listening as our deep belief. As people usually say, the thoughts are reformed and transcended. In this case we still have the habitual inertia from old views, and afflictions may still come up continuously. Nevertheless, we can recognize them immediately by the wisdom of listening, and further suppress them with the wisdom of contemplating, in the way to concentrate our mind on dharma instead of being distracted.

For example, I’m irritated when seeing someone. When it happens and with the wisdom of contemplating, I can analyze the situation and easily understand that this uncomfortable feeling is only due to my expectation of others. As explained in dharma, I’m annoyed because someone’s behavior is not following my standards, so my ego gets hurt. With the realization of these facts, this person in deed helps me reveal my subtle attachments. A case like this makes me realize that I’m capable of anger and disappointment again in similar situation, so how am I going to get out of the jail of samsara? What’s more, disliking someone means my compassion is too shallow to let me recall that the person had been my mother in previous life and cared for me. Badly treating a mother from previous life is the same as badly treating my mother in this life, both unethical. Hence with the wisdom of contemplating, we can manipulate thoughts in the way taught by dharma, so that the on-going negative emotions and attachments can be suppressed. Furthermore, we may be grateful to the person who provides us an opportunity to discover our shortcomings.

4. Eradicating Afflictions with the Wisdom of Meditating

We can completely root out affliction with the wisdom of meditating. It works like the gem sword of Manjusri, cutting off ignorance thus eliminating the growth of any afflictions.

Suppose we’re meditating on compassion. When the meditation gets matured, compassion will become our accustomed thinking, and every thought in our mind will become associated with compassion. So we’ll automatically put first the benefits of all sentient beings. At this stage although affliction’s seeds aren’t cleared completely, and their karmic energy may still have some effects, they won’t control us anymore. Or we’re meditating on prajna, the emptiness. When getting the direct insight that all the phenomena do not substantially exist and are just dreams and illusions, we’ll not be able to attach anything even if we try to, because there’s no such thing to be attached. By rooting out attachment, afflictions will find no space and be eliminated too.

Take as another example the emptiness of selflessness. When the habitual meditation ripens, the wisdom makes us perceive right away no self but five aggregates, which are many-bodies, ever changing every moment and interacting with each other as causes and conditions. So in this illusory world, we can find no permanence, no unity and no free “I”, “you”, or “he” to grasp. Then our mind becomes very tranquil, without worry or disturbance. Affliction is totally extinct because there’s no cause for it.

Or if we’re meditating that all phenomena are illusions in this mundane world. Every day we diligently meditate that all phenomena are the play of causality, and there’s no coming or going, no substantial existence, and everything is a phantom in a mirror. Once we accumulate enough power of the practice, we can directly experience this lucid and blissful state, in which affliction permanently disappears.

5. The Wisdoms of Listening, Contemplating and Meditating are the Test of Learning Results

So from now on, we should use the three rules to check our progress during dharma learning. For example, these days we are studying The Exegesis of Prajna Chapter: the Wish-Fulfilling Gem of Purifying Water (Ketaka Gem). First you need to recite the stanzas before class, make necessary preparations to get an overview and mark the parts you don’t understand. This is the necessary pre-work that you can’t ignore. Then while listening, you should pay attention to the explanations of the stanzas, and also try to connect the dharma terms with real situation, and try to figure out how they correspond to reality, such as the nature of self, emptiness, manifestation and so on. Right after class it’s necessary to review. Following such procedures we will be able to grow the wisdom of listening and recognize how and where we attach ourselves to self, where it should be emptiness, and so on. Secondly, we need to meticulously analyze the dharma meaning, starting with each detail and then going up to the big picture. Analyzing the detail means to understand every dharma phrase and paragraph. Grasping the big picture means to comprehend why these phrases and paragraphs appear in the context of the whole book. Meanwhile, guided by the teaching, we should observe in our reality why the nature of self is empty, why appearance is illusory, and why “I” doesn’t exist even in the relative level of truth. In this way we will be able to grow the wisdom of contemplating. Finally, we should continue analytical and abiding meditation guided by the wisdom of contemplating, so that such wisdom will gradually merge into our mind and transform our mind into the all-knowing discriminating wisdom, which can manifest the dharma in its entirety without flaw.

If we don’t get such experience and feel frustrated during learning, we need to go back and check our learning approach. Most certainly we have not followed the right way described above.

In the beginning stage of dharma learning, some may feel a strong faith and afflictions seem not so apparent. However after a while, he experiences increased afflictions meanwhile the faith starts wearing off. Does that mean he has regressed? The answer is no, because usually at the beginning the person can’t really tell the afflictions. With more listening and contemplating, he develops greater ability to look into his mind, and find many more afflictions that are always there. These afflictions have been formed by the energy of habituated clinging since beginningless time due to delusion. So it’s actually a progress of being able to recognize them. It’s like approaching the ocean. From afar the water seems tranquil and still, but when up close, you see countless waves.

There’s one more thing to be careful about. Usually if we don’t pay attention, the wisdom of listening can be easily mistaken as the wisdom of contemplating. In this case one likes to repeat complex or obscure dharma phrases – “self-nature is luminosity”, “affliction is the Buddha nature” and so on – blindly thinking one has reached those states. This is due to insufficient contemplating, not carefully observing the mind and not associating dharma with experience. Such behavior is absolutely not the wisdom of contemplating, not to say the wisdom of meditating. This is a common pitfall to watch out for.

In summary, the wisdoms gained through listening, contemplating and meditating are immensely powerful, and there’s nothing in the world can compare with them. The wisdom of meditating is relatively hard to achieve, as we need to work on old habits. But the wisdoms of listening and contemplating aren’t difficult as long as we exactly follow the right way to study dharma. Also the two wisdoms help us recognize and overcome afflictions. On the contrary, not cultivating these three kinds of wisdom will result in huge obstacles for any Buddhist practitioners.

V. The Aggravating Results without Listening, Contemplating and Meditating

1. What Happens without the Wisdom of Meditating?

After diligent listening and contemplating and attaining the wisdoms, some may stop and not continue onto meditating. This is such a big waste of the wish-fulfilling gem. It’s like in a famine, a starving person desperately found some rice, cooked and prepared it, then walked away without eating.

This is due to the old habitual tendencies acting as obstructions, and karmic obscurations starting to manifest. The wisdom of meditating arises from deep consciousness with innate continuity. Compared with it, the wisdom of contemplating is superficial and intermittent. In other words, it appears only when you intently contemplate, and disappears when the attention stops. It is in this high stage that we need to meditate to keep the wisdom activated at all times. After repeated practice through meditation, we reinforce the wisdom into new habits, which can shatter the old habitual attachments.

If the wisdom of meditating is not formed, we can never be blessed by the realization of dharma. Neither can we devote ourselves to dharma activities for the continuity of the Buddha wisdom, nor help and liberate sentient beings effectively. In conclusion, we must continue meditation after attaining the wisdom of contemplating. Do not stop until reaching the wisdom of meditating, and always go further, as one more step in the long journey.

2. What Happens without the Wisdoms of both Contemplating and Meditating?

If we only have the wisdom of listening, not followed by contemplation, we can’t cultivate the wisdom of contemplating. And of course the wisdom of meditation won’t happen like no springs coming out of dried water source.

The wisdom of listening enables us to recognize affliction, however without reflecting on their faults and distress, on the antidote methods as well as on the blissful states of resolving it, we may still indulge ourselves in afflictive emotions.

Some feel affliction is too hard to control after a little listening and contemplating. They fancy obscure shortcuts for easier results, and daydream of retreating in a remote cave to practice. But the wisdom of contemplating alone can effectively suppress affliction. Through deeply contemplating the true face of affliction, its cause as well as its fault and distress, new perspective and understanding will get rooted in one’s mind. As a result, whenever affliction rears its head, disgust will be the reaction followed by focusing on how to overcome it. So you see, no matter what afflictions arise, desire, anger, jealousy or pride, all of them can be suppressed effectively by the wisdom of contemplating, even though it may not prevent them from arising.

On the other hand, without the wisdom of contemplating we have no means to defend ourselves from affliction. We can only watch it damaging the practice, or worse, get caught up and fuel its destructive flames with our wrong perception. If that happens, there is no need for a Mo or fortuneteller to tell you what Mara is hitting you, because it is yourself who nurtures the Mara of affliction, surrenders to him and becomes his follower.

To avoid these problems, we shall stick to the continuous listening and contemplating, so that both wisdoms will be deeply rooted in our mind and become reliable.

3. What Happens with None of the Three Wisdoms?

Listening, contemplating and meditating are the main approaches of the transmission of dharma teaching. Missing them will directly cause the recession of Buddhism, and the essence of dharma will be lost and thus it becomes nominal and not different from worldly knowledge.

The main distinction between dharma and other religions or philosophies is that, dharma reveals the essence of all worldly phenomena which is suffering; it points out the root cause of unhappiness to be karma and afflictions, which is the arising of suffering; it offers the solution of eliminating them, and describes the states and path to the cessation of suffering. Without these essential teachings, dharma loses its unique features and can’t be distinguished from other philosophies.

In that case, the practitioners have no aims or doctrine of being Buddhists. They may not first work on and improve their own mind with dharma teaching, but rather pursue other activities that resemble the taste of dharma. They are blind, and even poorer than the physically blind. If the virtuous roots are mature, the blind may still have a chance of listening, contemplating and meditating on dharma. But those who give up listening, contemplating and meditating, are doomed to grow wrong views and remain defiled by desire, anger and ignorance in this illusory world. Their path to liberation is once again terminated in this life, which would be an awful pity and loss.

What’s more, if one didn’t study sutra thoroughly, he would likely lose the faith of Three Jewels. If just engaging in worldly charitable activities – encouraged too by other religions aiming for noble rebirth of human and gods – then we can hardly experience any difference with non-Buddhism, neither experience the unique enlightenment in Buddhism. In the long run, it could happen that such Buddhists just prefer material enjoyment and eventually give up the refuge and turn to non-Buddhists.

Before achieving enlightenment as supramundane sages, all ordinary people’s minds have the seed of pervasive discrimination of self. Some non-Buddhism religions may also declare that phenomena are all like dreams and illusions, however they believe in the true existence of God, self-nature, etc. Their liberation relies on a concrete god taking them to heaven. They don’t think awakening is to abandon self-attachment and to eradicate afflictions by their own efforts of listening, contemplating and meditating. So without these efforts, and unable to realize the unparalleled value of Three Jewels and the distinctive merits of Amitabha, they may very likely stay in Buddhism while holding on to views of non-Buddhism, and praying to Three Jewels and Amitabha with non-Buddhism approaches. In such case there might be some blessing, but very little since it’s not the right way to pray and not aligned with Three Jewels and Amitabha.

Hence to avoid non-Buddhism views and its tendency during dharma practice, we must rely on dharma as the only rule, instead of our own conceptualized mind. We shall study dharma with feet on the ground, and try to understand the real meanings of concepts such as samsara, nirvana, sentient beings, Buddha, affliction, wisdom, etc. We should never judge the teachings with our narrow thoughts and habits, and make up plausible understanding. In such a way it can be guaranteed that our practice is following the right dharma.

To sum it up, we’d lose any blessing from the dharma jewels if we gave up listening, contemplating and meditating. The world would fall back to darkness as if the sun sank. Losing dharma would be the hugest loss for all sentient beings. The Buddha had been practicing for three countless eons before achieving full enlightenment, and led countless beings to enlightenment with his precious teaching, the dharma. Since then from generation to generation dharma was inherited by every patriarch, till today in our hands. If we don’t receive and pass it on, it would be like a big family losing successor, the precious lineage would be broken, and the awakening of sentient beings would become impossible. This is the biggest offense to all Buddha and Bodhisattvas, and the biggest unfiliality to all mother-like sentient beings. This is why today’s Buddhists should take the responsibility and strive to prevent it from happening.