VI. The Greatest Philanthropy is Listening, Contemplating and Meditating on Dharma
Today in cities and rural areas, many people live in poverty and need all kinds of help. Buddhists have done various work with love and kindness to resolve their difficulties, which is a nice way to practice compassion. However given that dharma is waning gradually and misinterpreted more often, it is even more essential and urgent than worldly love and kindness to spread and promote dharma and to listen, contemplate and meditate on it.
1. The Misunderstanding of Three Jewels
Despite the fact that eminent monks are diligently promoting it, dharma isn’t well understood by the mass majority. Misinterpretation or distortion isn’t rare. When mentioning Buddha and Bodhisattvas, some people picture a sculpture in a temple that’s just for burning incense and worship on bended knees. Speaking about dharma, they take it as superstitious religion. As for sangha, people associate it with kongfu gangs as shown on popular TV dramas. Such misconceptions lead them away from Buddhism and miss their chance for the blessing from Three Jewels. Worse, they may even profane Three Jewels and thus accumulate evil karma.
2. The Original Three Jewels
So what are the original Three Jewels?
The Sutra of the Recollection of the Noble Three Jewels says, “Buddha is the teacher of all sentient beings. He is the father of bodhisattvas. He is the king of noble ones. He is the guide of those who journey to the city of nirvana.” The Buddha is a lively sentient being who ceaselessly helps and relieves those who need help and want to be free from suffering. The Buddha helps not only the poor, but also the rich. He liberates not only average sentient beings, but also achieved ones for further advance. Therefore, the unsurpassable guide, the Buddha, is the greatest philanthropist in the world, guiding sentient beings to the ultimate liberation and the utter wealth of wisdom.
The dharma jewel, with its characteristic of “good at the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end”, is as precious as gold. No matter whether one is a Buddhism or Non-Buddhism practitioner, following dharma faithfully will allow him/her to gain worldly and supramundane benefits.
The sangha jewel is the people as said in the sutra, “They are worthy of veneration with joined palms. They are worthy of receiving prostration.” We can hear and receive dharma directly from the sangha. They are our best aids in listening, contemplating and meditating on dharma.
For detailed meanings of the quotations above and to clearly understand the superior merits of Three Jewels, please refer to Unending Auspiciousness: The Sutra of the Recollection of the Noble Three Jewels, commented by the omniscient Mipham Rinpoche.
3. The Core of Three Jewels
Among the noble Three Jewels, which is the core and the essence? It’s not the Buddha jewel, because the Buddha had said he cannot directly eradicate karma and ignorance of sentient beings. Nor is the sangha jewel, because the sangha has not attained awakening entirely. So the most important one is the dharma jewel.
Like water irrigating and giving life to everything on the Earth, dharma can nurture the heart of all sentient beings. Human and hell beings, Buddhism and non-Buddhism, people accumulating merits with good deeds and people who have committed evil karma, all of them can get benefits from dharma. Why are the merits so great? Because what the Buddha revealed – the law of causality, renunciation, Bodhicitta, and non-dualism – were not invented by him. They are the inherent fundamentals of this world, the relative and ultimate truth of the universe. Sentient beings are ruled by but oblivious to these laws. On the other hand, they take ephemeral illusions for real and so suffer without an end. Through dharma practice the Buddha achieved full realization and saw the truth, and transferred the knowledge to sentient beings. Following the Buddha’s teaching makes possible the same realization and the unsurpassable happiness for all sentient beings. So these teachings are invaluable to all sentient beings. Like a wish-fulfilling gem, all the happiness arises from them. That’s why the Buddha’s teaching is called the dharma jewel.
Therefore dharma does not just belong to the Buddha, nor any Buddhist. It’s for every sentient being. Anyone who wants temporary or everlasting happiness should learn and practice dharma. In fact this is the only thing that one ought to follow. The Buddha reached nirvana since he fully realized dharma, and sangha partially realize so they are still learning and practicing dharma. Now and future, whoever practices dharma is guaranteed to attain some level of realization, and will travel the same path as the Buddha and sangha to bless themselves and all other sentient beings.
With his full enlightenment, the Buddha became the most powerful in liberating sentient beings. How did he do that? Well, the Buddha can’t directly remove ignorance in sentient beings’ minds. Sentient beings can only tame their own minds through listening, contemplating and meditating on dharma, to tune their thoughts and acts to be consistent with dharma teaching. Then their ignorance can decrease gradually while wisdom arises. Finally one day they will liberate themselves like waking up from deep dreams. Therefore, although the Buddha had emitted radiant light and shaken the world, or shown other supernatural powers, he liberated sentient beings mainly through dharma teaching such as the four noble truths. The teaching enables sentient beings to reflect on their own minds. So the most supernatural power that the Buddha had shown is his teaching, the dharma jewel. We Buddhists must hold this in mind firmly!
It also helps to look at how dharma came about, for us to appreciate its preciousness. Like the Sutra Opening Gatha says, the dharma, infinitely profound and subtle, is rarely encountered even in a million eons. Dharma exists in our hand now, is because our Fundamental Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, took five hundred great vows in his casual stage, went through immense hardships and finally became the Buddha, and then passed down his precious teaching to today. Dharma is the biggest treasure that the Buddha left for all sentient beings. It’s the most astounding marvel and most expedient means for practice, and also the unparalleled wish-fulfilling gem. In worldly life, parents put huge efforts in preparing the best living condition for their children, such as a luxury house and a fat bank account. Similarly, dharma is the house and the money that the Buddha, our compassionate father, left for us. Only with dharma can we attain the superior Buddha-realm.
Thus we know, in this world the dharma jewel is the most precious and beneficial, which we should never overlook. Then how can we bring out the huge potential of dharma? How can we demonstrate the precious value of dharma?
4. How to Demonstrate the Value of Dharma?
Some may say, “I’m paying high attention to dharma, because I chant sutras every day, and also transcribe sutras.” Others have the same thought, as they keep many sutras at home in the meditation hall, and worship and offer incenses every day. These are certainly good practices and are accumulating huge merits for the future. But be aware, such deeds can only give us merits, but not the blessing of wisdom directly from dharma.
Transcribing, reciting and offering are what the Buddha required as parts of ten devotions to dharma, which are transcribing, offering, sutra giving, listening, reading, upholding, lecturing, reciting, contemplating and meditating. Listening, contemplating and meditating are just summarization of them. So only practicing some of them won’t give us the deeper blessing from dharma.
Through listening, contemplating and meditating, we will experience the superior blessing so that dharma becomes planted in ourselves. Meanwhile, after listening to the dharma teaching, we can introduce what we heard to others. Although it may be crude like parrot talk, we do provide them an opportunity to hear about dharma, thus they may develop the ability to recognize affliction. If we gain something during contemplating, we’ll be able to explain it to others in our own words, so they may easily understand and cultivate an ability of suppressing affliction. If we realize something during meditating, we can even adopt a variety of ways to teach it, so that different audiences may approach and understand dharma more easily. All in all, listening, contemplating and meditating are the most powerful and effective ways to spread dharma.
In this age, suppose our Fundamental Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, or another noble master of high qualifications, came to us, guess what kind of teaching he would give us? I think first he would say, for the sake of benefiting yourself and others, you must overcome your own afflictions. As we know, the most effective tool for that would be attaining the wisdoms through listening, contemplating and meditating. Or suppose a Siddhas has the chance to bless us directly, what he would do? He will guide us to listen, contemplate and meditate on dharma, because these let us attain absolute freedom, which is the most vast and ultimate happiness.
Especially for those who have enough merits to become monks or nuns, the Buddha required that they should do either listening, contemplating and meditating, or teaching, discerning and writing, all of which are focused on learning, practicing, and spreading dharma. The renunciant practitioners have left home, shaved their heads and put on monk robes, indicating they have noble aspirations. They pursue the highest meaning of all, which is liberating themselves and all other sentient beings. The Buddha never said monks and nuns could take jobs like ordinary people, working in a company, raising children, or running a business. They shouldn’t do any of those. As the Buddha and all the great Arhats showed us in their time, wearing three garments and begging with one bowl, we should spend all our time on dharma through listening, contemplating and meditating.
Can renunciant practitioners make offerings and givings? Among the three kinds of givings, i.e., material wealth, dharma and fearlessness, they should concentrate on dharma offering and dharma giving, which is listening, contemplating, meditating, and teaching. Dharma giving generates much deeper and vaster merits than merely material wealth or fearlessness giving.
Moreover, the offerings that laymen making to renunciant practitioners are much more than the stuff being offered, since laymen see renunciant practitioners as a powerful source of merit to grow their own merits. In other words, renunciant practitioners must return a lot of merits to laymen who make offering. Through diligent listening, contemplating and meditating, renunciant practitioners can become experts of dharma disciplines and correspondingly the merits of both meditation and wisdom (Shamatha and Vipashyana) will arise. Such practice can generate enough merits for giving back dedication to the donors. On the contrary, if abandoning listening, contemplating and meditating, a monk wouldn’t know what disciplines to be engaged with, and how to get into the gates of meditation and wisdom. He won’t be able to generate any new merit, and has to pay back the donors with his previous merits.
Some laymen may think listening, contemplating and meditating take too much time and effort. How can they dedicate to dharma when they are already so occupied with career and family? So they prefer doing something they can easily handle. This sounds reasonable, because they indeed don’t have as much time as renunciant practitioners. On the other hand, as the saying goes, time is like water in sponge – you can always squeeze out more. Laymen, the same as the renunciant practitioners, also need to seek liberation, to understand the meaning of the ignorance and to conquer karma. Therefore, they need the same amount of effort in listening, contemplating and meditating. Plus not giving up worldly attachment usually indicates that a layman may have severe karma. So in terms of the liberation path, laymen have chosen a bumpier road. To take his future seriously, a layman should see this situation crystal clear and dedicate more to listening, contemplating and meditating. Besides, if he achieves something through learning and practicing, a layman may also teach dharma to others using holiday or vacation time, in the way to accumulate merits for liberation as deep and vast as renunciant practitioners.
So as discussed, philanthropy is necessary such as helping people lacking medical care or people in dire poverty, but a Buddhist should direct his main efforts to diligently listening, contemplating and meditating. In this dark age, it’s more urgent to uphold the dharma lineage for the continuity of the Buddha wisdom, and more critical to call for every Buddhist’s attention. Especially in mainland China, such a large population and such a vast land, few are focusing on listening, contemplating and meditating. This is all because nobody is teaching dharma, and most people aren’t taking advantage of the precious human body, which is a terrible waste. If we can spread dharma through teaching, there will be more Buddhists. More people may be influenced into philanthropic acts like poverty and disaster relief or releasing captured animals, in turn it may be easier to prosper philanthropy.
5. The Great Aspiration of the Noble Guru H. H. Wish-Fulfilling Gem
The most important thing that our noble guru H. H. Wish-Fulfilling Gem had spent his whole life working towards, is to build the Buddhist sangha and spread dharma. H. H. the guru emphasized that all dharma from the Buddha teaching is an excellent cure for afflictions, and should be spread out equally. He encouraged his disciples to study widely all kinds of marvelous dharma teaching under the guidance of practices and vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, as well as with the aspiration of being reborn in West Utmost Joyful Land after this life. He emphasized that sticking to only one dharma teaching would make the other teachings extinct, and then the existence of the whole dharma could lose its stable foundation. The only teaching would also get weakened, leading to the wane of the whole dharma. These days many eminent monks and great virtues in Larung Gar devote themselves to spreading dharma and benefiting all sentient beings. This is exactly the manifestation of their listening, contemplating and meditating guided by H. H. Wish-Fulfilling Gem. Therefore, listening, contemplating and meditating are the expedient way and the key to help sentient beings.
Moreover, with the blessing of the power from both his former vows and the dharma-nature of enlightenment, H. H. Wish-Fulfilling Gem succeeded and further propagated the dharma activities of listening, contemplating and meditating, and established a rock solid foundation for us. As written in his biography, one day in the spring of 1986, H. H. the guru was bestowing the empowerment of Manjusri’s Magical Manifestation Matrix upon more than 6000 monks and nuns. When chanting the Sadhana of welcoming the most honored devas, he suddenly stood up from the dharma throne. Later he told the assembly, “Just now Manjusri and Venerable Vimalamitra from Mount Wutai came here, asking us to spread dharma to the areas of Han Chinese. So from now on, I will get connection with Han Chinese and transform them with dharma teaching. In the future, our Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy will have a lot of Han disciples. They come here to learn and practice dharma, and will further spread both exoteric and esoteric dharma to all over the world.”
Thus H. H. the guru established the very solid foundation of listening, contemplating and meditating for us today.
VII. Who Can Directly Achieve Enlightenment Without Extensive Listening, Contemplating and Meditating?
Extremely rare sentient beings, due to deep virtuous roots, can achieve enlightenment directly without listening, contemplating and meditating in this life. Such beings can be divided into three groups:
1. Sentient Beings Who Have Profound Connection with Profound and Definitive Vajrayana Pith Instructions
These kinds of sentient being have deep virtuous roots in their previous lives, thus in this life even without learning any prajna dharma, they can still achieve enlightenment through the Vajrayana liberations of seeing, hearing and tying.
For example, once in Tibet there was a very devoted old woman. One day she saw the Tangka of Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities in a ceremony of releasing the dying. Then after she died, she saw the deities during her bardo, immediately recognized them, and thus accomplished Buddhahood. Later her son went to see H. H. Karmapa. Karmapa told him this exceptional cause that awakened his mother to become Buddha.
One more example as described in his biography, H. H. the guru Wish-Fulfilling Gem kept reciting sutra during the cultural revolutionary chaos, and one goat was following him all the time. Therefore the goat had received a lot of dharma transmission, including the most profound Vajrayana pith instructions such as Four Mind Dew and Seven Treasuries. Upon death, with the blessing of these tantras as well as H. H. the guru, the goat was first reborn in Shambala pure land, and then in the East Joyful Land. In 1989, he came to H. H. the guru’s perceptive state and paid homage to him.
2. Sentient Beings Who Have Profound Connection with Mahasiddhas
These kinds of sentient being also had deep virtuous roots in their previous lives, and had relationships with certain mahasiddha as root master and root disciple. They needn’t listen, contemplate or meditate on dharma such as prajna, and can be directly awakened by certain acts of their mahasiddha guru. As written in the Words of My Perfect Teacher, the great translator Vairotsana came to Gyalmo Tsawarong in Tibet during the time of Trisong Deutsen, and he met Mipham Gonpa who was over 80 years old. He tied his body upright with a meditation band, laid a meditation staff by his waist, and blessed him by Guru Yoga. In that same night, Mipham Gonpa achieved the luminosity of great perfection as described in Vajrayana, and during his dying, his body dissolved into infinitesimal particles and attained Buddhahood. Such kind of koans is very popular in the history of Zen, Dzogchen and Mahamudra lineage.
We should note that such profound connections are all based on liberation, not just worldly shallow relationship.
3. Sentient Beings Who Have Deep Connection with the Dharma Gate of Pure Land as the Superior Easy Way Relying on Other Power
There’s one more kind of sentient being who practices the dharma gate of pure land. They have deep and pure faith to pure land, one-pointedly focus on it, and meanwhile continue to reinforce their faith, aspirations and practice of being reborn in pure land. As they die, they will be reborn there directly, like taking an airplane. With the great blessing of Amitabha, the refuge and protector in the West Utmost Joyful Land, they will be quickly awakened and become Buddha.
For example, the old master Dixian once had a disciple, who used to make a living by mending pot and pans, and so was called “pot mending shifu”. In his forties, he came to the old master and became a monk. Since he looked very clumsy, and also illiterate, the old master just let him one-pointedly recite Amitabha. He very honestly followed the teaching. More than three years later, he predicted his leaving time and passed away while standing. The old master saw this and highly praised his achievements as exceeding those of normal dharma masters and abbots.
The old master Xuyun also had a disciple, called Juxing, who was deaf and illiterate. He was working in the garden every day, and only reciting Guanyin Bodhisattva. One day he collected some straw, sat down in full lotus position towards the west, wearing the robe and handbell on his left hand and wooden fish on his right hand. With the mindfulness of Amitabha, he burned the straw and passed away. When people found him, he was still in the full lotus position on the straw ashes, and the robe hadn’t burned at all, except the wooden fish and the handle of the handbell which were left as ashes. The Captain of Yunnan Province of that time, Jiyao Tang, brought his whole family to see him. Right after he went nearby and took away the handbell, the whole body of Monk Juxing collapsed into ashes. Jiyao Tang was deeply moved, and held the ceremony of mourning over his death for three days on behalf of the government. Thus thousands of people aroused strong faith in dharma. The old master Xuyun dedicated an essay to Monk Juxing, The Practice and Nirvana of Zen Monk Juxing, which is collected in his biography. All of us should read and study it.
Back to us, we may perceptively observe our conceptualized mind at each moment, or inferentially get to know how deep our virtuous roots were in the previous lives, thus making a reasonable guess whether we are among these three kinds of sentient beings. Then without any doubt, we should be able to determine if we need to follow the sequential cultivation of listening, contemplating and meditating.
VIII. Practice According to Faith and Practice According to Dharma Teaching
Shantarakshita, as the great Pandita in India Nalanda Monastic University, said in his Self-Explanation of Adornment of the Middle Way, there are mainly two kinds of dharma practitioners, classified by their practice according to faith and according to dharma teaching. For those who practice according to dharma teaching, the first step is to build the prajna view. As the view is getting matured, great compassion will arise as they see this world and realize that all sentient beings in samsara take dream-like illusory phenomena as true existence and end up with countless suffering. Driven by that, they strictly engage themselves with the Buddha’s disciplines, and also diligently benefit others, so Bodhicitta gradually grows up. On the other hand, those who practice according to faith, first arouse great Bodhicitta and accept the Buddha’s disciplines with the guide of noble Mahayana teacher and the related dharma teaching, and then gradually develop the prajna view.
So there are two paths of listening, contemplating and meditating. One enters from prajna wisdom, and the other from Bodhicitta. Most dharma practicing followers after the Buddha time realized the dharma truth through these two paths, except those who had deep virtuous root and needn’t listening, contemplating and meditating extensively, as mentioned above.
Understanding prajna is the basis of the realization of the dharma taught by the great vehicle Mahayana; rousing Bodhicitta is the sign of entering Mahayana path; and rousing renunciation mind is the sign of entering the small vehicle Hinayana. All of these three are very important to Buddhists.
If practicing according to faith, one should get well to know the characteristics of Mahayana and Hinayana motivation, and diligently tune his or her own motivation according to them. If practicing according to dharma teaching, the most important thing for young Buddhists nowadays is to build the prajna view, since it promotes and reinforces renunciation mind and Bodhicitta. Prajna is also the foundation stone of the superior dharma gate such as Zen and Vajrayana. We’ll study more about the two paths of practice from four aspects as below.
1. The Motivation of Mahayana and Hinayana
(1) The Common Renunciation Mind of Mahayana and Hinayana
The renunciation mind of Hinayana comes from one’s own samsara and nirvana. In other words, Hinayana practitioners only focus on their own problems, such as self-attachment, afflictions, karma, retribution, and their purpose of practice is to liberate themselves from three realms. This kind of renunciation, except self-liberation, is required for all Mahayana practitioners, so is called the common renunciation mind of Mahayana and Hinayana.
The renunciation of Hinayana is a mind of despising three realms and seeking nirvana, as also called “the mind of seeking liberation”. Being an aspiration or a determination, it naturally arises after fully understanding the four noble truths. It consists of two parts. One is despising of samsara, cultivated through deeply contemplating the truths of suffering and arising of suffering according to dharma teaching. The other is a joyful wish and desire of liberation, arising through fully understanding the truths of cessation and its path.
To contemplate the truth of suffering properly, we need to understand and reflect on the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change and all-pervasive suffering. We first take a look at ordinary people’s renunciation. They usually don’t think about renunciation until a lot of troubles appear in their life, such as some difficulties occurring in their careers. This kind of renunciation doesn’t mean they get a feeling of despising samsara, let alone the wish of liberation. It is at most a negative escape. They just want to escape from the temporary suffering of suffering in the human realm, but have no idea about the suffering of change and all-pervasive suffering. Once the situation gets better, as the suffering of suffering disappears and the suffering of change takes place, the so-called renunciation immediately disappears, as ordinary people are so much pleased with mundane life, and perceive perfect life and successful career as true happiness.
Sentient beings in hell despise the suffering of suffering most, because they experience suffering without any intermittent, and are tortured with desperate shout all the time. Every second they want to get out of horrendous hell, and won’t hesitate at all if they can leave. They’d like to pay anything to break free from it. However it’s not renunciant mind, since they are just loathing the hell. Once getting out, they forget all the sufferings and go back to pursue the enjoyment of five desires, which is actually the suffering of change.
The suffering of change means changing into suffering, and is presumed as joy or happiness in mundane worlds. In other words, all emotional enjoyments are the suffering of change. Ordinary people prefer happiness and hate suffering, but since very beginning they fail to figure out what is happiness. They seek enjoyment in desire realm and delight of dhyana in form realm. Actually all of these are sufferings if examined by the wisdom eye of dharma. Why? Because much stronger and sustainable suffering of suffering hides behind these so-called happiness. After enjoying with such happiness, ordinary people will shortly face intolerable suffering of suffering. That’s why the Buddha with great wisdom named it the suffering of change in such a proper way.
Therefore the suffering of change is like a glass of poisonous wine, so tasty that the addicts can’t stop drinking, resulting in endless sufferings. On the contrary, the wisemen won’t be deceived since they are already aware of the poison.
People always think the desire of this world is too hard to give up, such as cars, house, love, etc. Actually the heaven dwellers in desire realm think human enjoyment is so inferior. Comparing with their superior living condition and loves between male and female, human life seems not different with pigs. Similarly, the dwellers in form realm think enjoyment in desire realm is inferior too. In the first dhyana heaven of form realm, the dwellers attain inner happiness that eliminate all attachments in desire realm. This is called “Joy Apart from Production”. As the inner happiness of meditation gets deeper and deeper, eventually such happiness itself is recognized as a burden. At that time the dwellers enter into the pure secondary mindset of thinking, which is the meditation of formless realm.
However happiness in both desire and form realms keeps changing. Sooner or later it will get consumed, and end up with the suffering of suffering. So merely as suffering of change, they are not worthy of seeking.
For some non-Buddhists, their renunciations to the suffering of change are very strong. In order to eliminate their so-called karma, they would rather abandon the pursuit of any pleasure in this current life, and stay with special ascetic practices, such as standing with a single leg in whole life, or in worse case burning themselves out.
Therefore, whenever we can’t give up our worldly pursuit, we Buddhists should think about the heaven dwellers in desire and form realms. They might show pity to us! Or we should think about non-Buddhism practitioners. In order to achieve the liberation as they believed, they can abandon everything and concentrate on ascetic practice. How shall we stick ourselves to the suffering of change?
On the other hand, ascetic non-Buddhism practitioners completely abandon the suffering of change, but beyond that, they don’t know there’s still all-pervasive suffering. This is only explained in dharma teaching.
All-pervasive suffering means the suffering of five defiled aggregates like blazing fire. It can be understood from two aspects, i.e., the role as the cause to future suffering and as the fruit matured from previous afflictions. From the aspect of being the fruit, the near cause of five aggregates is emotional affliction and karma, and their sources are already impure. From the aspect of being the cause, once five aggregates are formed, afflictions keep following them like shadows, and bring up all kinds of new sufferings.
So to renounce samsara, one has to one hundred percent despise five defiled aggregates that are inherently all-pervasive suffering.
Through contemplating three kinds of suffering according to dharma teaching, the wisdom of despising samsara will arise naturally. Suppose one falls into a pit of shit, it’s so dirty that one will immediately look for the way out. However his will is not as strong as the former, who attain the wisdom of contemplating on three kinds of suffering. Then how can we describe his renunciation mind? It’s like falling into a pit of fire, intolerant pain and the near-to-death situation will force him jump out of the pit without any thought.
However despising samsara won’t enable us to break free from suffering. We have to find the root of suffering and cut it off.
Suffering comes from karma, and karma from afflictions, and afflictions from self-attachment and ignorance. So the root of suffering in samsara is karma and afflictions generated by self-attachment and ignorance. This is explained in the noble truth of arising of suffering.
Therefore, to arouse renunciation mind, a practitioner should not only despise samsara, but also despise his own karma and afflictions as well as self-attachment. It requests one to renounce any element that might enhance self-attachment, which is a higher-level requirement and not easy for beginners.
One would escape the world negatively if just despising samsara and without aspiration. In the teaching of cessation of suffering, our Fundamental Teacher, the Buddha, with his great wisdom, explained the state of liberation, after karma and afflictions are completely eliminated. This is called nirvana, as a great encouragement to dharma practitioners. The Buddha also explained the methods to achieve nirvana in details, which is the noble truth of the path to the cessation of suffering.
If practitioners have strong renunciation to samsara, liberation will be the greatest aspiration and driving force for them, as taught in the truth of cessation of suffering. Similarly, the methods explained in the truth of path are their solely dependence and consolation.
Therefore, only if we listen and contemplate the four noble truths and generate two kinds of wisdom, can we really arouse the qualified renunciation mind. This renunciation is not a negative escape. It’s positive and promising, and shining into all aspirations.
As today’s practitioners, we should be aware, the most important thing is to keep content and have less desire at the initial stage of renunciation practice. Do not ask for too much, and gradually reduce any of those requirements in life. Eventually we can clear up the eagerness for fame and profit and crush the hope of eight worldly dharmas.
Without a true renunciation mind, however, all practice merits will lead to the noble birth of gods and human beings, instead of liberation from birth and death. On the contrary, once true renunciation grows up, even without any practice and precepts, the merits of liberation are growing. Keeping the true renunciation in mind, no matter the activities have huge or small merits, either feeding a dog or a cat, or holding any one of the five precepts for one day and night, all of these will generates superior merits to liberate from birth and death.
Further we should understand that, renunciation mind is just the key to Hinayana. Like a brick used to knock a door, it is the initial practice stage of Hinayana, but not the whole. With qualified renunciation, the major practice should focus on the wisdom of emptiness. The purpose of renunciation is to help us despise samsara and aspire liberation, while it is self-attachment that creates samsara and prevents us from liberating. In order to eliminate self-attachment, we have to attain the wisdom of emptiness and achieve the awareness of selflessness. As Bodhisattva Dharmakirti said clearly in his Commentary on Valid Cognition, the gateway of liberating is renunciation mind, and the essential practice is, the wisdom of emptiness.
(2) The Uncommon Renunciation Mind of Mahayana
With contentment and less desire, the renunciation mind of Mahayana is much more profound and vast. It can be explained as follows:
- Mahayana renounces not only samsara, but also self-liberation in Hinayana. Achieving self-liberation can’t benefit all sentient beings. This is the most selfish and unfavorable behavior for practitioners with the virtuous root of Mahayana.
- Mahayana does not seek the nirvana of Hinayana, and aims for non-dualism wisdom that subjects and objects are completely eliminated. Just like ordinary people’s birth and death, the nirvana of Hinayana is also an extreme confined by relativities and dependences. Both of them are not the ultimate truth.
- Mahayana have the supreme view that the nature of conceptualized mind are just emptiness, or primordial wisdom, therefore all conceptual elaboration and adventitious obscurations need to be renounced.
Compared to ordinary people, the renunciation mind of Arhats in Hinayana is very great. However compared with Mahayana renunciation, it is too trivial, just like the thoughts of three or four-year old kids. For Mahayana Bodhisattvas, listening, contemplating and meditating for oneself are selfish. They would never become Buddha for the sake of their own benefits. As the omniscient Mipham Rinpoche said, for Mahayana practitioners, the stronger the compassion, the deeper the sympathy that Bodhisattvas feel to sentient beings. They also sympathize Arhats because they miss such a vast motivation of benefiting others.
Keep in mind, the purpose of renunciation in both Mahayana and Hinayana is to tame afflictions as an antidote to ego. Due to different views, they have different methods. Mahayana renunciation mind is profound and difficult to understand. However once it becomes practical for us, it works more effectively and neatly. As we’ve already received Mahayana teaching, we shouldn’t waste such excellent opportunity and noble teaching. We should dedicate every effort to cultivate Mahayana motivation from the very beginning. Higher starting point always brings us more achievements, and allows us to benefit sentient beings quickly and effectively.
(3) Mahayana Bodhicitta
Keeping renunciation in mind, Mahayana practitioners should further expand their hearts and arouse relative Bodhicitta of Mahayana. This is a sign of entering into the Mahayana path of accumulation, thus the practice of three countless eons towards Buddhahood formally starts.
As an aspiration and determination, Relative Mahayana Bodhicitta is composed of two parts. The first part is, driven by great compassion, there is an unflinching determination to help sentient beings to break free from the samsara of birth and death. The second part is, realizing that only great Bodhicitta enables one to bring ultimate benefits to others, there is a strong aspiration of becoming Buddha. Therefore, Mahayana Bodhicitta gives great motivation to care for sentient beings without any self-interest. As said in Ornament of Clear Realization, “Generating Bodhicitta is to seek for complete perfect enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings.” The Way to Bodhisattvas also says, “The childish work for their own benefit, and the Buddha work for the benefit of others.” Similarly one of the great vows of Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva is, “May I not become Buddha until the hell is empty.” All of these are the incarnation of Mahayana spirits.
Relative Bodhicitta has two categories, aspiring and entering Bodhicitta. Aspiring Bodhicitta is to care for all sentient beings with great compassion, and to seek great enlightenment with wisdom. It does not desire the ultimate happiness of Buddha, but aims for the merits of Buddha’s body, speech and mind as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. Aspiring Bodhicitta wishes for the ability of turning the dharma wheel and releasing sentient beings spontaneously and extensively. Based on this, entering Bodhicitta is to carry on countless and limitless practices of six perfections, and meanwhile to take the three wheels of actions – beginning, middle and ending – as dreams and illusions without any attachment to intrinsic existence.
As we know, mother love is very deep, and ordinary people seldom have such deep love as a mother does. So it can be employed as the guidance to develop four immeasurable minds or the seven-point cause and effect, both of which are the preliminary practice to arouse Bodhicitta. However mother love is also imperfect, because it is rooted in attachments. A mother only loves her own kids and can hardly transfer the same love to other kids. Such love is far more different with great compassion, as the latter is to generate mother-like love to all sentient beings. Furthermore, relative Bodhicitta is the determination of seeking Buddha fruit and liberating all sentient beings. It is much deeper and vaster. Therefore, Mahayana practitioners have to completely change their old thoughts into no self, which cannot be accomplished through just thinking, chanting Sadhanas, or engaging in philanthropic activities.
Hence we should understand the process of Bodhicitta practice. It is founded by renunciation mind and is supported by the great compassion. Since beginningless time, all sentient beings are immersed in the sea of birth and death, bound by the afflictions of self-attachment and driven by good and bad karma, thus irritated by the suffering of suffering, suffering of change and all-pervasive suffering. In order to salvage them out of the samsara sea, one would rather sacrifice all personal happiness and eagerly seek the great enlightenment for the ability of releasing them. If a practitioner has such determination deep in his heart, relative Bodhicitta must arise in his mind, as a sign of entering into the Mahayana path of accumulation.
(4) Tasting and Behaving
As we can see, due to different motivations, Hinayana renunciation mind aims to overcome self-attachment and eliminate one’s own suffering, while Mahayana Bodhicitta focuses on every sentient being’s self-attachment and suffering. Nevertheless, both of them are conceptualized mind based on the manifestation of samsara, nirvana, Buddha-fruit, sentient beings and so on. Neither of them is directly the ultimate truth of emptiness.
Renunciation mind is the starting point of the liberation path. At the Buddha time, even those shravakas with overweening pride had indubitable renunciation mind and sincerely wished to liberate, which was the essential goal of their practice. Without renunciation mind, all behaviors would be self-centered, and rooted in strong attachment to an existent self. It would be impossible to achieve liberation or to arouse Bodhicitta. Austerities seem incredible, but without a true renunciation mind, these activities will not necessarily result in liberation. Some heterodoxy obviously has strong renunciation and hardships. Hence we should focus on our mind and generate internal change, thus grow the corresponding merits.
No matter what they do, Mahayana Bodhisattvas clearly have a purpose of benefiting sentient beings. As walking, they wish sentient beings to walk smoothly and eventually follow the sublime Buddha path to become Buddha. As for seeing doctors, they do not ask for less suffering and living longer, but wish to maintain a healthy body to help others.
Back to ourselves, do we really view our ego as the biggest enemy that brings troubles to us? If so, then renunciation mind is truly growing up. Furthermore, if we realize that all sentient beings used to be our mothers, thus put them first and satisfy their requirements instead of our own for every consideration, meanwhile believe that the ability of Buddha is a requirement to benefit sentient beings extensively and intensively, then our true Bodhicitta will begin to sprout.
Keeping serving people by talking is not really serving them. Similarly, renunciation mind and Bodhicitta cannot really arise purely by repeating words. Neither can they arise spontaneously due to something else. It requires a thorough change in our mind. We know that changing the mind is the most difficult. First of all, we need alter our views and aspirations to be consistent with dharma teaching. Then day to day we must memorize the right views and use them as our behavioral guide. Suppose we are practicing Bodhicitta, but during dharma discussion, we only want to express our own ideas and can’t accept other thoughts. After a few words, we start to argue with each other with red faces. Rather, we should look back inside, holding such a strong ego and having no space for our dharma friends, how can it be possible to arouse Bodhicitta for all sentient beings? If one claims to have renunciation mind and Bodhicitta, and engages oneself with social activities to help others, but deep in the heart the motivation is driven by strong self-attachment, then this is a case of self-cheating, and all behaviors are just serving as a nice package for ego. Such behavior is similar to the pursuit of fame and profit as in ordinary people, except that the latter unashamedly run after them, while the so-called Buddhist sneaks them with a wrapper of shaming. Such kind of philanthropic behavior will gradually blur its original taste, fall into decay with all kinds of afflictions generated by ego, and finally lose the meaning of benefiting others.
2. Prajna Can Promote Renunciation Mind and Bodhicitta
Based on the discussion above, some may have doubts, because although renunciation mind and Bodhicitta are important and excellent, they have strict requirements and seems hopeless to achieve them within this life. Do listening, contemplating and practicing according to faith have any expedient way?
There are some helpful methods, but first let’s see why they are difficult for us.
(1) Why Ordinary People Find it Difficult to Arouse Renunciation Mind and Bodhicitta?
As taught in the definitive teaching of Mahayana, all sentient beings are originally as pure as Buddha, free from any defilement and full of limitless wisdom. However, it is ignorance that causes two attachments of self and phenomena, and further forms two obscurations of affliction and cognition, which will be followed by all kinds of sufferings. Like a giant with magnificent energy, attachment of phenomena suddenly results in numerous things being loaded on his shoulders, which seem real to him but are actually empty. As a result he can only hold 400 kilograms. Again with one more attachment of self, a very heavy burden of seemingly true existence of self and others is loaded. This tangles with him and causes more afflictions. So he can only hold 40 kilograms. In fact, all ordinary sentient beings are crushed by their own attachments of self and phenomena.
So the reason that most of us feel difficult to arouse Bodhicitta and renunciation mind, is that our thinking is full of strong attachments of self and phenomena. We regard all illusory appearance as real existence and divide five aggregates into you, I and he. We hope “I” attain all kinds of perfect rewards, while others are not as good as “I”. If we find a way to eliminate all of these attachments to circumstances, the heavy loads can be taken off from our shoulders. Thus our hearts become recharged with magnificent energy. As the giant wins back his original energy, the relative motivations of renunciation mind and Bodhicitta arise much more easily. The method of eliminating attachments to circumstances is prajna, the wisdom of emptiness, as the Buddha already taught us with his great compassion and profound love.
(2) The Prajna Wisdoms of Listening and Contemplating Help Us Remove the Heavy Loads
With prajna wisdom cultivated through listening and contemplating, we take great delight in developing renunciation, compassion and Bodhicitta. Our hearts are fulfilled with huge energy, and all of them can arise easily. Without self-attachment, we won’t be scared by any difficulty. Instead, we will diligently benefit others from life to life without ever getting bored.
Some think “I’m hurt deeply”. Actually it is the mind being hurt, and so-called “I” never comes into appearance. Similarly for happiness, saying “I’m very happy”, it is actually the mind feeling happy, and has nothing to do with “I”. Prajna is an excellent teaching to show us the truth of emptiness and relieve our distress.
Some may ask, with the realization of prajna emptiness, for sure one wouldn’t have any burden of attachment, but how is it possible to realize emptiness so easily?
(3) The Mahayana View of Prajna in the Mind of Ordinary People Is Powerful Too
Actually, it is not only after realization that the power of prajna will take into effect. Through listening, contemplating and meditating, the prajna view developed by ordinary people’s conceptualized mind is already powerful enough. As we mentioned above, the wisdoms of listening and contemplating can recognize and suppress afflictions. Here the two wisdoms are more potent as they arise from the powerful teaching of prajna.
The prajna wisdom cultivated through listening and contemplating can work hand in hand with the relative motivation for enlightenment. They promote and reinforce each other.
As their capacity and interests grow, sentient beings can accept deeper dharma teachings. Their observations gradually turn from the external to the internal, their views draw closer to the utter truth and the nature of mind, and they get more blessings from dharma.
For example, Hinayana already declares aggregates are emptiness, but external indivisible particles are still real and so are internal indivisible moments of consciousness. Chittamatra discards all external things and determines that all phenomena are just consciousness. Chittamatra realizes that all forms pervasively imputed are empty, and that the thoroughly established nature of reality is always there. Having established consciousness as the foundation of everything, Rangtong in Madhyamaka further discovers consciousness is pure wisdom, has no distinction with the great emptiness, and is free from any conceptual elaborations. Shentong further declares the nature of all phenomena to be primordial purity of tathagatagarbha, and their appearance is never apart from primordial wisdom.
As we can see, Mahayana doesn’t focus on deluded manifestation, neither the states of conceptualized mind nor worldly motivation. It deals with the ultimate nature of ground, which is pure and unconditioned. For this primordial nature of mind, part-realization is the prajna path, and fully realization is the prajna fruit.
No matter celestial beings, hell beings, sages or Mara King, all sentient beings have Buddha nature. They are actually Buddha and appear within the pure ground of tathagatagarbha. Trapping samsara and defiling afflictions are all adventitious coming up by chance. Were suffering and the cause of suffering not adventitious, were all sentient beings originally not Buddha, then not to say three countless eons, even after thousands of three countless eons, they wouldn’t become Buddha. So the ultimate refuge is to realize the primordial nature of mind. Keeping it in mind will bring us huge courage and power to help sentient beings, and will naturally lead us to the great vows of Bodhisattvas, such that the void space is ended, the worlds of beings are ended and that my vows are endless.
In our degenerating time, people especially the young are so entangled in desires of attachment and karmic afflictions. With such deeply negative karma, it isn’t easy for one to practice Bodhisattvas. Without prajna views, mundane renunciation and relative Bodhicitta can hardly sprout from a clinging mind and sometimes it is even difficult to give up fame and wealth. One can pretend to be Bodhisattva, simply by repeating the words of renunciation mind, Bodhicitta, and pursuing random things here and there, seemingly on the way of Bodhisattvas, but actually, this is just a delusion and not on the correct track.
Even worse, without the wisdom of prajna, ordinary people easily incur more afflictions when dealing with more work. As their afflictions get stronger and their motivation weakens, they may not be able to keep it up. At the beginning, they are eager for Mahayana’s Bodhicitta. After some setbacks, they may settle for the idea of self-liberation and effectively turn to Hinayana. Yet holding on to things as being real and concrete will prevent renunciation arising and make it difficult to achieve self-liberation, too. They may further make the compromise to just live the discipline of causality. Even that can be difficult, so in the end they may follow the worldly belief and again get lost and wasted in samsara.
3. Prajna is the Mind Essence of Dharma and the Key to Enlightenment
The Prajna view is the foundation if one practices according to dharma teaching, also it can overcome difficulties if practicing according to faith. Therefore listening, contemplating and meditating on prajna are essential. More importantly, in the final stage of listening, contemplating and meditating, one must rely on prajna to clear the final obstacles and achieve enlightenment. Any other relative aspirations, such as renunciation and Bodhicitta, are based on duality, the way that our conceptualize mind discerns mundane phenomena. They are not directly based upon the original emptiness in ultimate level, in fact they are a subtle obscuration of cognition. They can only suppress and transform karma, but not eradicate the seeds of two obscurations and habitual tendencies. As Shantideva said in Prajna Chapter of The Way to Bodhisattvas, “All of these practices were taught by the Buddha for the sake of wisdom, therefore those who wish to pacify suffering should generate prajna wisdom.” He also said, “The remedy for the darkness of afflictive and cognitive obscurations is meditation of emptiness, therefore why do those who wish to quickly attain omniscience not meditate on emptiness?” Similarly, Lord Tsongkhapa said in The Three Principles of the Path, “Even if renunciation of worldliness and Bodhicitta have been cultivated, but the wisdom that realizes the nature of phenomena is lacking, one is unable to cut the root of cyclic existence. Therefore, exert yourself in the means of realizing dependent origination.” Many Bodhisattvas such as Nagarjuna and Dharmakirti made similar statements. The Buddha also differed his teaching of prajna from other teachings. He showed high respect to prajna by preparing and decorating the dharma throne himself. By now we shall realize the importance of listening, contemplating and meditating on prajna.
All three vehicles must rely on prajna to achieve enlightenment. In Hinayana, it is the prajna power of no self that enables Arhats to break free from samsara and to attain happiness of nirvana. In Mahayana, prajna is exactly ultimate Bodhicitta. Only with prajna can a practitioner enter the supermundane path of seeing. In the path of seeing, only with prajna can the deeds based on relative Bodhicitta transcend to supermundane prajna paramita. When further attaining Buddha fruit, the merits in all subtle conceptualized thoughts are transformed into the ultimate wisdom of non-conceptualization. Within such luminous states of Dharmakaya’s primordial wisdom, there’re no renunciation mind or relative Bodhicitta. In other words, the merits generated by relative Bodhicitta help Mahayana practitioners to enter the path of seeing and all merits accumulated through ultimate Bodhicitta lead them to the stage of Buddha. When accomplishing Buddhahood, all of these merits will purify the final subtle obscurations and exhibit the true essence of prajna.
In addition, the unshared pith instructions in Nyingma practice embody three kinds of wholesomeness. They are wholesomeness of motivation before practice, wholesomeness of non-duality during practice, and wholesomeness of dedication after practice. The motivation for practice is Bodhicitta, but during practice one should rest in the state of no clinging, i.e., the emptiness of three wheels guided by prajna. If only stressing relative Bodhicitta, then one isn’t practicing the second wholesomeness, hence cannot gain the corresponding merits.
Therefore, the wisdom of prajna is the key to accomplish Buddhahood. Relative Bodhicitta is the initial motivation for those who practice according to faith. Those who practice according to dharma teaching would naturally accumulate the merits of compassion and relative Bodhicitta once they cultivated the supreme prajna view.
4. Prajna Is the Foundation Stone of Zen and Vajrayana and other Supreme Dharma Teachings
Among six paramitas, the practice of Zen meditation relies on the sixth prajna paramita. Some misunderstand Zen as the fifth dhyana paramita. Actually the true meaning of Zen is the perfection of prajna wisdom.
In Prajna Chapter of The Platform Sutra of The Sixth Patriarch, the great master Huineng explained the meaning of prajna. He said, “Noble friends, people speak of prajna all day, yet they do not recognize the prajna inherent in their nature. Just as talking about food cannot appease your hunger, talking about emptiness for countless eons will not reveal your true nature; ultimately it is of no benefit.” He also said, “Noble friends, the Maha-prajna-paramita is the most noble, most exalted, and foremost. It neither stays nor comes nor goes. Buddhas of the past, present, and future all emerge from it.” “Noble friends, in my teaching, this prajna gives rise to 84,000 kinds of wisdom.”
Similarly, the practice of Vajrayana up to the most glorious luminosity of great perfection relies on prajna. For example, development stage requires the samadhi of unfabricated suchness and divine pride as the basis of visualization. At completion stage, the practitioners visualize prana, nadis and bindu with the wisdom of signless prajna. The practice of tregchod (cutting through resistance), i.e., recognizing the inherent emptiness in the luminosity of great perfection, and the practice of natural light of prajna within the four lights of thodgal (sudden transcendence), cannot provide success without prajna wisdom of emptiness.
As we know, Vajrayana needs to be kept secret from unqualified practitioners. Not like exotoric dharma such as relative Bodhicitta, Vajrayana is rooted in prajna. In Nyingma lineage, Mahayoga (great yoga) explains the great equality and the great purity, Anuyoga (further yoga) declares that worlds of all sentient and insentient are the pure land of Samantabhadra and himself, and Atiyoga (perfect yoga) teaches tregchod and thodgal which can accomplish Buddhahood in short six months. All of these are profound pith instructions based on the definitive dharma teaching.
The primary lord Samantabhadra didn’t cultivate renunciation mind and relative Bodhicitta, but relied on the luminous wisdom of great perfection and became Buddha within one moment. Having realized the luminosity of great perfection, all relative merits of renunciation and Bodhicitta are naturally accumulated.
When meditating the luminosity of great perfection, a practitioner can encounter non-discriminating awareness and deep rapture. If a practitioner doesn’t rest within prajna wisdom, he or she may cling to those feeling and thus obstruct further practice. And worse, the practitioner could even digress in a wrong direction.
H. H. the guru Wish-Fulfilling Gem had explained this in The Pith Instruction of Tregchod According to Padmasambhava – Jewel Sword of Cutting Off Ignorance Net. If a practitioner assumes luminosity as true existence of body, face and arms, takes the form of luminosity as characteristic phenomena, and grasps wisdom as attachable, permanent and stable in nature, he has entered the wrong path, misled by the appearance of awareness.
The wrong path is indicated as follows: one believes three kayas and five wisdoms truly exist and are inherently together with “I”. Thus the clinging mind of self-superiority arises and his pride inflates day to day. He doesn’t understand the profound meaning of nonarising, but takes his wrong views as right. He believes the realizations of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are just similar with his states, and has lost his faith in them. He holds on to phenomena so strongly that he completely turns to the eight worldly dharmas.
The results would be: obstinately grasping external phenomena as real prevents one to be liberated from form realm; grasping the luminosity of intrinsic awareness prevents one to be liberated from desire realm; grasping the persistent stable and truly existent mind as the forever basis of three kayas, one falls into Heretic Shambhu, and is no longer a Buddhist.
Then how to avoid the wrong path? One should develop the certainty of non-duality of luminosity and emptiness, since the nature of emptiness has a part of luminosity. I cannot stress this enough.
Lack of the characteristics of the noble path such as faith and compassion, even if one can freely go across mountains, fly in the sky like birds, swim in the water like fish, change big to small and small to big, or cure patients by just taking a look, and take out Buddha statue or other terma from mountains or empty space, or subdue normal ghosts to be his followers, these are all nothing but showing that Mara is appearing. So one shouldn’t assume these as being progress on the noble path. In fact, one should subdue Mara with great compassion, perceive and follow the noble path of liberation with the eye of prajna wisdom. These are detailed teachings from H. H. the guru.
Therefore, prajna is the foundation stone of Zen and Vajrayana and other supreme dharma teachings.
We’ve discussed the importance of listening, contemplating and meditating and their correct methods in dharma learning. We emphasized the study of prajna according to dharma teaching. Nowadays, the percentage of Buddhists in the whole population is a tiny fraction. Within Buddhism too, the number of talented followers who can spread dharma is waning. Therefore, we followers of the Buddha should diligently devote ourselves to maintaining the continuity of the Buddha wisdom. In particularly, younger Buddhists have more responsibility for promoting dharma, and should utilize all kinds of convenient facilities to listen, contemplate and meditate on dharma properly. Bodhisattva Vasubandhu once said in his Abhidharma Kosa Shastra, “The Buddha’s noble dharma has two types, characterized by doctrine and realization. If there are both dharma teachers and practitioners, the Buddha teaching will remain in the world.” Therefore, Buddhists should have the aspiration of teaching dharma like the great master Tsongkhapa and practicing dharma like Venerable Milarepa, so that dharma can prosper forever. We wish all of us will be able to make great progress in the way of listening, contemplating and meditating!