The Basic Purpose of Following The Buddha
the Venerable Yin Shun
People often talk about following the Buddha. But why should one follow the Buddha? What is the basic purpose of such a practice? This is something one should make very clear. It might be declared that to follow the Buddha is not without significance, not without purpose, but it aims at the attainment of noble perfection. And it is only when one has thoroughly understood the basic purpose of following the Buddha’s path, and feels an urge to follow it, will he be equipped with a firm conviction, be able to tread the true path of the Buddha, and not stop by the entrance to Buddhahood or wander into misleading byways.
What is the purpose of existence?
What is the purpose of human existence in this world? What is its meaning? To find an answer to this question, one has to begin by observing oneself. For only in so doing will he be able to grasp the purpose of following the Buddha, because Buddhism aims at resolving the problem of human existence. But this aim might be considered as common to all higher religions. Yet only Buddhism can give a perfect answer to the purpose of life and its meaning.
1. Veiled in mystery, birth-and-death is hard to see.
From the moment a person is born to the day of his old age to death, in the several decades of his existence, he leads a life of ignorance. >From where is he born? Whither does death take him? Nobody can answer this question. Hence, we can only say that befuddled he comes into being and befuddled he departs; and in stupefied confusion he passed his life. Even marriage seems more often that not a union of accident. One’s life career, too, seems often a matter of muddling chance: seldom is it the result of the execution of a plan carefully designed from the very beginning. A certain Western philosopher once drew a very good simile for this existence veiled in mystery. He said, "There are somewhere two steep mountains with a deep and wide gorge between them. The gorge is spanned by a long, narrow bridge, and on this bridge Man moves forward. Ahead of them, they see a mountain shrouded in dense fog, presenting only a picture of lank confusion. Looking backwards, the scene is no less misty. Down below is an unfathomable abyss. Some people walk only a few paces before they fall into the abyss. Other have gone even as far as halfway, but to their misfortune, they too, slip and fall. Even those who have drawn near to the mountain on the opposite side are still not secure against falling into the bottomless canyon below. Where do they fall to, no one knows." This is a truly excellent depiction of the precarious human existence. This problem of existence, of course, need not be looked into if one does not so desire, even as a ship sailing towards a distant destination may sail at random in the borderless expanse of the ocean. But such reckless sailing is extremely dangerous. Buddhism explains where life comes from, where death leads to, and what one is supposed to do now in order to land safely on the Other Shore of Light.
2. Busying all life long, what does one attain?
For decades a person spends his life busying about various things. He is busy from his very childhood until he ages and dies. But what is the result of all this commotion? This is a very meaningful question worthy of much reflection. Yet it is impossible not to be busy. Some people even busy about doing nothing. When asked what they are busying about, they cannot answer; they simply find it impossible not to continue being busy. The young people probably do not think this way, they feel their future is full of hope and brightness, but once they pass their middle year, they will begin to feel the futility of all this bustling about. Now I am not asking any one not to be busy, but we must examine what all this busyness bring us. As the saying goes, "Life is like honey-gathering bee. After collecting all the honey form myriad flowers, she ages and her labor leaves her with nothing." To be sure, some persons did acquire grand official title, wealth and high social position, but they are soon all gone. Everything seems to be a farce, an empty joy; nothing seems to have been really accomplished. Older people generally have more intimate knowledge of such experiences. One common situation is that of the children they raise. In their childhood, they always stick to their parents. But once grown up, everyone of them will leave to live an independent life of his own. This fact often causes one to become downhearted, pessimistic. But this is not the Buddhist view of life.
3. What is the benefit of doing good?
All religions, not only Buddhism, but Confucianism, Christianity and Mohammedanism as well, advise people to refrain from evil and to do good deeds; that they "should not fall behind others in their performance of kind acts." But what is the benefit of doing good? What is the value of morality? It is often said, "Goods deeds bring about good reward; evil deeds, harsh retribution." This is the Law of Cause and Effect. In China, kind acts are expected to bring rewards largely to one’s family. It is believed that good deeds will bring good children and fecund posterity. Thus the saying: "House of accumulated good deeds shall be blessed with abundance." But not so the facts! Many a kind and good family produce children of great wickedness, and many a wicked parent gives birth to children both filial and loyal. Our ancient emperor Yao was a kind and magnanimous person, but his on Tan Chu was notorious for his arrogance. Again, Ku Sou the Blind, father of emperor Shun, was stupid and evil, but his son was renowned for his filial piety. These are just a couple of examples. Individually speaking, the wicked often finds it easier to secure social reputation and power, while the good are more often than not down-trodden and have to lick their wounds in solitude. Was not Confucius a man of high moral and great erudition? Yet, when he was making the round of the warring states he was nearly starved to death at Chen Tsai. Neither did his political ideals meet with appreciation. On the other hand, the notorious brigand Chih had practically everything his way at the time. Seen from these facts, how can it be said that there is a law governing reward and retribution of good and evil acts? What is the reason for one to perform good deeds? These questions can only be answered by Buddhism whose Law of Causality extends to all three time phases - past, present and future, - instead of concerning itself only with the present life. Hence, I say, "All religions advise people to good deeds, in this their motives are the same. But Buddhism draws therefrom an entirely different conclusion." For in following the Buddha, one simply persists in the performance of good deeds. It may be that his present circumstances are unfavorable and frustrating, but once his good karma (deeds) ripen, they will naturally bear good fruit. If one can perceive the world in this light, then and only then may he be considered as having grasped the spirit of Buddhism.
4. No peace for this run-away mind.
This restless mind is indeed a source of great suffering. Our mind is all the time craving for satisfaction from external objects: beautiful sights, musical sounds, rich commodities, heavy profits, fame, power, etc., etc. Why should it be so? Because it seeks contentment. A person without food and clothing feels it necessary to obtain money in order to solve the problem of livelihood. But once he had enough food and clothing, he is still discontented, but seeks for food and clothings of better quality. He will want new style sedans to travel in, a magnificent mansion to live in. When he has all this, he will remain dissatisfied. The human mind is just like that: forever seeking, never contented. It runs like a galloping horse: no sooner than its rear feet touch the ground, its fore feet are already in the air. Never will its four feet land at the same time. A discontented mind always feels that the other person has all the advantages. Actually, it is not so. A scholar is discontented because he seeks more knowledge. Even a king who possesses unlimited authority is not satisfied and has inexpressible sufferings of his own. When a person finds no contentment, he will never have peace and happiness. We say, "One has to be contented in order to have peace and happiness." Yet the fact remains that human mind can know of no content. So how can there be peace and happiness? Religions in general try to give people comfort and make them contented. To give comfort may be considered a common denominator of most religions. Some Western religions preach salvation through faith. Salvation will naturally bring contentment and peace of mind, but here adults are being treated like children. "Listen, my child! Do not cry! I will give you a toy." But the problem remains unsolved, because a discontented mind cannot be satisfied by external gifts. Only Buddhism teaches that one should first understand what birth-and-death is all about, what the commotion in life will bring, what benefits there are in doing good deeds, and how inner contentment, peace of mind and happiness may be secured. We must investigate life from these points of view before we can grasp the core of Buddha Dharma and thereby acquire for ourselves true peace and happiness.
I in the universe
1. Am I created by a God?
In this nebulous existence, another question arises. What position do I hold in this endless expanse of time and space? The universe is so large, with the heaven above, the earth below, and surrounded by myriad phenomena, we live and die, do good and/or evil deeds, all in this universe. But existing in this universe, what after all, is our status? What kind of an attitude should we assume? If one is the head of family, he shall bear responsibilities as such. An apprentice must adopt an attitude consistent with his position of an apprentice. According to the Western religious concept, Man is a creature in the universe. Everything, every entity in the universe, every bird, every beast, every blade of grass, every shrub and jungle, of every breed, genus and species, is created by God, and is subject to his rule and control. Since Man belong to the God, he is his slave. So he calls the God his lord, and himself, his servant. Therefore, I say, the Western religious view of life is one of master-servant relation. Man is the servant of God. All he can do is to obey God’s will, and disobedience is a sin. When a master orders the servant to scrub the floor before cooking the meal, if the servant should first cook the meal and scrub the floor later, although he did his job well, he would still be in the wrong because he had disobeyed his master’s order. In this universe, then, exists only one simple relation, that between the creating God and his creatures, including Man. Man, although a slave, is a high class slave, and he is empowered to rule and control the other creatures by authority of the god. Thus, as a man, his position in front of the God is an extremely pitiable one. Yet to the other creatures, he is full of authority and pompous presumption. Western religious culture becomes entirely devoid of meaning if the God is left out of it. Such a religious concept might have seemed logical at a time of dawning civilization. but today, perhaps a re-evaluation of this concept should be in order.
2. Am I a product of Heaven and Earth?
The Chinese view of Man’s position in the universe seems far less primitive than that of the Western religion. We claim that Man is born of Heaven and Earth, or that he is a product of the union of yin (the negative principle) and yang (the positive principle). Heaven here stands for the metaphysical or spiritual constituents of Man, while Earth represents the physical or corporeal elements. Heaven and Earth give birth to all things but Man is the only one endowed with the essence of the natural principles and is called the most intelligent of all beings. He is so great that he is sometimes equated with Heaven and Earth and all three are then called the "Three Potentials". Thus, Man, between Heaven and Earth, is the most noble. This concept is quite different from the Western concept of master-servant relation. But can every human being be equated with Heaven and Earth? No! Only the saints and sages are capable of assisting Heaven and Earth in the evolution and development of the world. Again, it is said "Heaven and Earth evolves without a mind. The saints and sages, however, suffer with the myriad beings." All this serves to indicates the greatness of the saints and sages. Thus, the evolution of the myriad constituents of the phenomenal world by Heaven and Earth is a mindless act, an action without a will, and is therefore a natural phenomenon. It is different from the creation of the world by God which is an act of will. "Let there be life!" and life there is. Now the universe, if looked on at its good side, is very lovely. Every blooming flower, every singing bird, every single plant and every blade of grass is full of beauty. But looked upon at its evil side, one will see big worms eating little worm, big fish eating little fish, you harm me, I kill you; it is filled with scenes of mutual destruction in the biological world, must also eventually be attributed to God. Then God would seem cruel indeed. Therefore, to speculate that everything is created by God does not seem to be such a sound theory. The Confucians proclaim that Heaven and Earth and everything in it are mindless. There are mutual destruction and conflict, there are also mutual assistance and complement. But the saints and sages are not unmoved by this situation and they suffer with the myriad beings. Heaven and Earth make up the world of nature. The saints and sages represent the humanistic and moral forces. When a saint sees the mankind engaged in mutual destruction, he would advocate kindness, love and peace. When he sees the mass steeped in ignorance, he would teach and educate them. When there is no morality among men, he would advocate moral disciplines. Everything that is bad in this world, the saints and sages would try their utmost to improve it and lead it to eventual perfection. In this way do all saints and sages assist the Heaven and Earth in their evolution and development. This concept of existence seems more logical then the Western religion. Owing to the concept that Man is born of Heaven and Earth, yin and yang, so the Chinese religio-cultural system is one of the father-son relation. In a family, the father is the head. Politically, the king considers his people as his children, and a local magistrate is called "Parent-Officer" by his subjects. In a father-son cultural system, sentiments carry more weight than reason, it is unlike a master-servant system where law predominates, harsh and relentless.
3. Did I make the world?
Buddhism considers everything in this universe as made by the individuals. The Law of Causality stipulates that whatever deed an individual performs, the result of that deed goes to him alone; whatever deed a group of persons perform, the result is shared by that group. Such a doctrine is diametrically opposite to the theistic teaching. Therefore, whoever follows the path of the Buddha, shall understand two things:
A. All the chaos and sufferings in this world are the result of evil deeds performed by Man in the past. In order to make this world a pure and stately place to live in, the only hope lies in every person’s refraining from evil and doing all that is good. Individually speaking, if I should suffer form lack of knowledge, or poor family circumstances, or chronic illness, all these are caused by my past or present evil karma. That is why I say, if we wish to have world peace, or security and happiness for the individual, each of us must strive very hard to be good. If Man is created by God, he will have no power of his own, and everything has to be left to the will of God. Buddhism says that all these are reverberations of one’s own karmic forces, so one is capable of changing oneself, even of changing the world.
B. After you are convinced of the Buddhist doctrine of karmic origination, that whether the world is foul or pure, whether one’s career is a success or failure, they are all caused by bygone karmic forces, you will not then blame it on the Heaven or the other fellow. Karmic forces are not unchangeable. If one starts toward the direction of the good from this every moment, his future will be full of brightness. This is the basic way of life taught by Buddhism. Why should we do good deeds? Because we want each individual to have security and happiness; because we want the world to have peace. To assist Heaven and Earth in this manner in their work of evolution and development is a task that can be performed by everybody. This is why Buddhism advocates equality for everyone, because everyone is capable of attaining Buddhahood. If we can understand this, we can clearly understand what important position human beings occupy in the universe.
The Buddhist doctrine that the world is made by me, by every sentient being, is a view of life based on freedom and self-mastery. The man-to-man relation is neither one of master-and-slave, nor that of father-and-son. He who awakens first and advances the farthest on the way is the teacher. He who is late in awakening is the pupil. The one who is enlightened first has an obligation to lead the slower wakers. It is a duty instead of a privilege. The slow waker and the unawakened will consider it their duty too to respect and obey their teacher’s guidance and instructions. As teacher-friend, he lays equal emphasis on sentiments and reason. While as a comrade, he is on entirely equal footing with his pupil. Thus a socio-cultural structure built on the Buddha Dharma must necessarily be one of teacher-friend relation and is most consistent with the spirit of freedom and democracy. When Buddhism claims that "I" can make the world, its import is different from the creation of the world by God. When God creates the human beings and myriad other creatures, he creates them from nothing, which is against the Causal Law of Creation. In Buddhism, the world is made by karmic forces produced by the mental activities of the beings. If the beings perform good deeds, then they are capable of realizing a pure and idealistic world. Recently, someone said that Buddha, too, can create world. The Amitabha Buddha has indeed created a Western Paradise. Actually, to draw a parallel between this creation and the creation by a non-existent God, is most ridiculous. If one intends, by this means, to show the power of Buddha, he simply knows nothing about Buddha Dharma. To fashion a world in accordance with the Law of causality is no unusual feat. Even an ordinary person can do this. except the world he fashions is only fit for deities, human beings, lower animal, hungry spirits (pretas), and denizens of Hades. This is because an ordinary person is full of defilements and evil karma, so the world he makes is a foul and unclean one. Buddha is replete with boundless, purified merits, endowed with perfect wisdom and every blessing, therefore, the world he creates is pure, clean, stately and magnificent. This is the Buddhist Law of Causality. when a Buddha’s follow has understood this point, he should, in his everyday life, be mindful of his mental activities so that every thought that arises from his mind should be a good one. He should do so himself as well as persuade others to do the same. Only then will there be hope of the realization of a Pure World (many such worlds are already in existence in the universe).
To follow the Buddha is an advancement in life.
In order to understand the basic purpose of following the Buddha, one must first recognize the value of human existence, that Man occupies a subjective position in the universe, before he can determine the proper direction of his progress. It will be recognized that both commotion and quiet, suffering and bliss, are caused by Man’s own making, that there is no external authority who sits in judgment on him and it is because he possesses such a subjective power that an upward effort toward the good is made possible.
To make an upward effort in the direction of the good until step by step we reach the summum bonum, is the purpose of following the Buddha. It is human nature for one to look up to the good, unless he meets with constant failure, causing him to lose all heart, give himself up to a rotten life, and thereby becoming a cancer of society. But such persons are not many and every one of them has a chance to change his fate for the better. Ordinarily, people consider a happy family with many children, good health, wealth and position, as the good things in life. Of course, these ARE good things. But according to Buddhism, these are good fruits, not the good seeds. If one desires to maintain such a good crop, he must not be contented with these things because all these will pass. He must continue to sow good seeds so that good crops may continually be harvested. A good life may be likened to a beautiful flower. If one sees a beautiful flower, instead of trying to cultivate it, he plucks it from its stem and keep it for himself, or he may cultivate it for a while then give up the work. Although he has possession of the flower, hew will soon lose it. Some persons are able to secure wealth and position through proper means, but would often misuse them in doing thing that harm others in order to profits himself. Such erroneous behaviors are caused by the lack of a lofty spirit, a spirit to strife upwards toward a right objective - the summum bonum.
Some say, "I do not want to follow the Buddha. All I need to do is to be a good man." This is not a right attitude. As the ancient say goes: "If one follows the best examples, he may end up as a moderately good man. If one follows the moderately good examples, he may end up below par." It is right to start following the Buddha by becoming a good man. But if one is contented in only trying to be a good man, then he may end up as not being such a good man after all. Therefore, to follow the Buddha is not just to be a good man, but one must set up a noble objective, which he will strive to accomplish, and accomplish he must, even if it should take him many a life time besides the present one.
Any high culture in the world has for its objective a noble ideal towards which the people are taught to strive. Thus, in Christianity, people are taught to obey the will of God, to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Although Christians believe that they can never attain such a position as occupied by God and Christ, yet they must adopt the teachings of universal love and self-sacrifice as exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth. They say the human body is made of dust, but the soul is endowed by God. Because Man sinned, he had fallen, and the originally pure and lean soul has been terribly sullied. Therefore, they teach people first to purify their dirty souls, before they can expect to be admitted into their ideal objective - the Heaven.
Chinese Confucians also say: "the literati should strive to be virtuous; the virtuous, saintly; the saintly, celestial." The literati is the class of people well versed in various branches of higher knowledge and each possesses a logical mind. Even such people should "attempt to rank themselves among the virtuous ones they see." As a further step, the virtuous should attempt to rank themselves with the saintly ones. But even the saints are not all-knowing, so they too should attempt to be "heavenly". Thus, the orthodox Confucian spirit is a constant striving towards virtue and saintliness.
The Taoists, too, have a set of ideals of themselves, which is : "Heaven models itself on Tao (Way); Tao models itself on nature." By "Tao models itself on nature" is meant that one should follow the natural law of the universe, that there should be no artificiality, no wayward action on the part of Man. This is the higher objective of the Taoists. In life, if a person does not follow the law of nature in his behaviors, whether it be personal or social, he will become perverted, confused, and his activities will be followed by adversities and suffering. We can see from the above, therefore, that the Confucians aim to pattern themselves against the noble character of the virtuous and saintly, and form there, would further attempt to gain for themselves a celestial quality. The Taoists, on the other hand, are admirers of the way (Tao) of Nature. In a word, they both possess an ideal toward which they lead their disciples upward.
The general populace would consider good behavior as sufficient, and require no summum bonum as an objective for their striving. Such a makeshift attitude is very undesirable. If a person will not brace himself to make an upward strife, if a nation or a race people all adopt such an attitude, there will be grave danger of degradation. All noble religious of the world display brilliant prospects as something for their followers to yearn after, so that before reaching this idealistic state, they will incessantly improve themselves the true benefits of a religious life.
What do we look up to in the following the Buddha? We must first know that there are five "vehicles" in Buddhism, namely, that for human beings, celestial beings (devas), the hearers (sravakas), the self-awakened (pratyeka-buddhas), and Bodhisattvas/Buddhas. The "vehicles" for human and celestial beings are the fundamentals of Buddha-Dharma, but it is not the core of Buddhism, because to be a good man is our duty, and even if we should be reborn in the human or celestial worlds because of our good deeds, it is nothing surprising. Although heavenly existence is much more pleasant than human existence it is still within the three realms, and as soon as heavenly blessings are exhausted, the beings there will again fall and remain caught in the round of birth-and-death (samsara). The central tenet of Buddhism is twofold: to follow the examples of the sravakas and pratyeka-Buddhas in their retirement from the world; and to follow the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas in their egoistic and altruistic acts, unhindered by the phenomena of the world. Yet to learn the ways of the sravakas and pratyeka-buddhas are but expedients, the ultimate aim is always the attainment of Buddhahood, which will be realized by performing the acts of a Bodhisattva. However, in performing the acts of a Bodhisattva while proceeding toward Buddhahood, one must not disregard the merits of human, devas, sravakas and pratyeka-Buddhas. It is a gradual way upward, and though it will take him a tremendously long time and require the accumulation of boundless merits, yet with his noble objective ahead of him, helping him upward toward the summum bonum, urging him along, keeping his aspiration up and giving him much joy on the way, he will at least not feel discouraged and allow himself to become degraded.
To follow the Buddha, one must first take refuge in the Triple Gem - the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Triple Gem, being the highest ideal of a Buddha’s follower, he should practice Buddhism according to them. the Dharma in the Triple Gem is the Absolute Truth in the universe as well as the human world. A Buddha is one who has attained a perfect knowledge of this Truth, a Fully Enlightened One. The Sangha comprises the saints and sags of the three "vehicles". Although they are not thoroughly enlightened, they are already deeply steeped in the Dharma and have had varying degrees of intimate knowledge of the Truth. Therefore, both the Buddha and the Sangha are the embodiments of the Dharma, and are models of the highest ideal of Buddha’s followers. Buddhism, unlike Christianity and Confucianism, who employ as their respective objects of veneration a personified God and a human saint unlike Taoism ho complies only with the Eternal Law of Nature, take refuge in the Triple Gem, which unifies the Man and the Law, and builds its faith thereon. But why do we venerate, praise and admire, pay homage and make offerings to the Triple Gem? This is not just an expression of devotion, respect, and faith; neither is the accumulation of merits its only objective as one generally would construe. Rather, it indicates a longing for the perfect wisdom and noble virtue of the Buddha and the Sangha, for the absolute refuge in the Ultimate Truth; a longing what we too may be enlightened to this perfect Truth. I often said, "The Chinese teachings of Confucius and Mencius have their outstanding merits in that they guide the people in their personal and social behaviors, help them to make great contributions to the nation or to attain to high virtue, but they do not paint for them a bright prospect, and provide no motive for them a bright prospect, and provide no motive for them to forge ahead towards a brilliant future. But religions in general possess an inductive force, a force that will urge one on toward the good and lofty, no matter how old or stolid one is. Hence, he who can read sutras, study Buddhist scriptures and its teachings, pay homage to Buddha-rupas, or meditate on the Buddha, is not necessarily a devotee or true follower of the Buddha. A true follower of the Buddha must place his major emphasis on the Triple Gem as a noble objective towards which he will strive incessantly. This effort, in addition to the power of the compassionate vow of the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, causes his mind and body to merge with the Triple Gem, so that day by day his blessing and wisdom will grow, and he will draw nearer and nearer to that objective.
The essential practice and understanding in the following the Buddha
In Buddhism, one must go through the process of "practice" and "understanding" before one can have faith and experience enlightenment. The terms "practice" and "understanding" are self-explanatory. But there are an infinite number of things that one should practice and understand in Buddhism. Here, I will expound only the two most essential points. About "understanding", we must know two things: 1) continuity of origination and cessation, and 2) mutual accretion of all entities.
"Continuity of origination and cessation" means that our lives are constantly and continuously changing from moment to moment, and that there is no permanence. It is also expressed as "All activities are impermanence." When a person grows from an infant to an old man, he undergoes constant change from moment to moment. Although the change is incessant, and that after each change the resultant being is different from that before the change, yet it is forever continuous, and maintains a seemingly identical individuality. Extending this observation to the end of one’s life, it is seen that death is not total extinction, a new life is bound to follow, even as one goes to sleep at night, but will get up again the next morning. Once this line of reasoning is clearly understood, then and only then can one be sure of the indestructibility of the fruit of karma. In the present existence, for instance, a man’s career, whether it be a success or failure, depends much on the proper education and training he had or missed in school and at home. If a young person will not make an effort to learn a certain skill, and will not work with diligence, he will surely be confronted with many problems of earning a living in his old age. By extending this simple principle, it can be shown that if a person will not be a good man in his present life and will not accumulate merits, the fruit of karma he will reap next life will be terrible to think about. In other words, if a person wishes to lead a better future life than his present one, to be smarter, blessed with more good fortunes, then he must live properly in his present life. This doctrine of impermanent but continuous origination and cessation of life serves to urge us on towards an objective that is good and lofty.
Now we come to mutual accretion. By accretion is meant here strengthening or growth through mutual dependence. No person can live alone in a society; there must be mutual dependence and support among the individuals. For examples, young children depend heavily on their parents for up-raising, education and guidance. When the parents grow old, they in turn, will need the attention and care of their children. By the same token, agriculture, industry, commerce, politics, and every branch of activity in the society, not a single one of them does not depend on the others for its growth. According to Buddhism, this law of mutual dependence is applicable to the entire universe and all living beings therein. Hence, it is perceivable that every living being in the universe is intimately related to us and that at one time or another in the infinite past, he could have been so close to us as to be our parent, our spouse, our brother or sister, or even our child. But owing to the changes wrought by the karmic forces, everyone has assumed an entirely different appearance and is no longer mutually recognizable.
Once one has gained this understanding of mutual accretion, it will spring up in him a desire to help and love others, which will lead to a harmonious and happy existence between himself and his fellow beings. Otherwise, you harm me, I hurt you, everyone cheats, kills and mutilates everyone else, it will be forever impossible to look for individual bliss and universal peace in such a world. So the world is moved by us. If we wish to turn a foul land into a pure land, it all depends on whether or not we can start living a harmonious and happy life with our fellow denizens of this world.
As regards the methods of practices, although there are many, all consider as first and foremost the "purification of one’s mind" and "performance of altruistic acts." To follow the Buddha is to hold as our ideal objective the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas. Our chief aim is the accretion of blessings, virtue and wisdom. But all these cannot be acquired without putting into practice what the Buddha taught. The major tenet of practical what the Buddha taught. The major tenet of practical Buddhism is the purification of our own minds. This is because from the beginningless time, our minds have been confused and dulled by much greed, wrath, wrong views, arrogance and doubt. With these obstacles in our mind, none of the things we do is right, agrees with nature, and will yield benefit for both ourselves and others. So, to follow the Buddha, one must first purify one’s mind. The purification of one’s mind does not require the abandonment of all worldly affairs. We should not do nothing and think nothing. Whatever needs doing will continue to be done, whatever needs thinking about, one should continue to think (vipasyana), but one must arouse only the kind thought, and all one’s actions must be more logical, more conforming to the law of nature, and more beneficial to both oneself and others. Such practices may be likened to removing the weeds in a garden, not only must they be totally up-rooted and caused not to grow again, but useful flowers and trees must be planted in their place, in order to provide a beautiful scene pleasant to the eye. Hence, it is declared in Buddhism that the practice of concentration (dhyana) alone is not sufficient to solve the problems of birth-and-death. Concentration and wisdom (prajna) must be cultivated at the same time. In order to attain the fruit of the Path, cankers and defilements must be eradicated. In Buddhism, it is stated, "All sentient beings are pure, if one’s mind is pure," "The land is pure if one’s mind is pure." All this reveals to the practitioners that, to follow the Buddha, one must start by purifying oneself, and then extend this purification to the land and other sentient beings. Whether it be the Mahayana or Hinayana school of Buddhism, the major emphasis is always laid on mind-purification as the essence of the teaching.
Now, about the altruistic acts. according to the principle of mutual accretion, a person cannot exist away from the mass. In order to find happiness and security for oneself, he must first seek security and happiness for the mass. In a family, you are one of its member. In a society, again you are one of its member. Only when the family is happy and blissful, can you find happiness and bliss for yourself. If everyone in the society is peaceful and happy, then you will have real peace and security. This is be likened to the observation of sanitary practices. If you care only for the cleanliness within your own home, and pay no attention to the sanitation of the surrounding environment, such sanitation is not thorough. Thus, a Hinayanist who stresses the purification of his own mind, solves only his own problem of birth-and-death. Such egoistic practices are only expedients in the eyes of a Mahayanist, and are not the ultimate measure. The Bodhisattvas emphasize altruistic acts. Altruism is always the first and foremost intention of their every word, every act, delivered at any place, any time. Purification of the mind is common to the two "vehicles" (sravakas and pratyeka-Buddhas), but the acts of altruism is the exclusive feature of Mahayana Buddhism, and is a practice more in conformity with the spirit of Buddha’s teachings.
Lecture recorded in Chinese by Ven. Yin Hai.
Rendered into English by Fayen S. K. Koo.