Once we have set an objective for cultivating the mind, we must ask ourselves, “How do we cultivate our mind? How do we purify it?” The answer depends on the ability of your mind to comprehend – that is called “enlightenment”. To get enlightened is to understand. We always talk about the desire to get enlightened. However, with the principles already laid out clearly – the law of cause and effect, cyclical rebirths, karmic conditions and destiny, what else are we meant to awaken to?
In reality, everything that we encounter in our daily lives, such as the moon, a flower, the grass or a tree, all provides us with opportunities to get enlightened and deepen our understanding of life. Enlightenment is a cyclical process whereby we practise the teachings of the Buddha-dharma and apply it into our everyday lives, and from the experiences of doing so, we gain better comprehension of the Buddha-dharma. Then we reapply what we have learnt back into our everyday lives and the process repeats itself.
This is similar to preparing for a test, where we constantly and repetitively apply the guiding principles in doing our exercises. From these exercises, we keep learning to master the basic concepts until we reach a level of proficiency where we can put the theory into practice freely. Over the course of cultivation, each time we apply the Buddha-dharma in the correct manner, the level of our spirituality will be elevated accordingly. Nonetheless, even if we did well for nine consecutive attempts but erred on the tenth, all the previous efforts that we had achieved would have come to naught. That’s why cultivation of the mind is like treading on thin ice.
Many fellow practitioners have studied the Buddhist teachings expounded by the Master very thoroughly, gaining an in-depth grasp of his teachings and cultivating diligently. This is an encouraging sign as it indicates that they appreciate the unique excellence of this Buddhist practice.
However, judging from the various questions posted online and how practitioners handle interpersonal relationships, it is evident that many are still at the stage of struggling to repay their karmic debts. They have yet to understand that the Buddha-dharma is closely intertwined with our daily lives and learning Buddhism begins with learning about the basic principles of being a moral person.
Although some may seem to have tamed their temper through their effort in reciting Buddhist scriptures, they have neither done any self-reflection, nor have they proactively tried to identify and correct their shortcomings. In other words, they have yet to take the initiative to apply Buddhist teachings in their daily lives and practise what they have learnt personally.
For example, when it comes to cultivating the Buddhist teachings of “Morality (Precepts), Concentration and Wisdom”, many people still do not understand why they need to observe the precepts and what precepts are to be observed. Why it is that observing the precepts will give rise to concentration? What does it mean by concentration? We need to get to the bottom of these questions.
Similarly, we need to fully comprehend the many conclusions derived from the past experiences of our predecessors. We need to find out the basic principles behind these conclusions. Only then will we be able to understand why our predecessors reached these conclusions.
For example, why is it that we are able to practise “diligent cultivation” when we practise “forbearance in the face of humiliation”? On which theory is it based? Why is the concept of “non-self” given so much emphasis and what is its purpose? Not only should you gain an understanding of the theories, but you also need to put them into practice. You cannot just apply the theories mechanically, but you need to fully understand them so that you can draw inferences from other cases. This is similar to our study of mathematics and apply those mathematical theorems.
Hence, enlightenment is not something distant nor abstract. In fact, in our daily practice of Buddhism, we are gradually being awakened without our knowledge. We get to learn how to perform recitations of Buddhist scriptures and how performing recitations can change our lives for the better. The next step for a Buddhist practitioner is to systematically and consciously practise Buddhism to attain enlightenment.
One should be more inquisitive and ask more questions in order to understand more guiding principles. A Buddhist practitioners have a good understanding of these guiding principles so they do not dare to do bad deeds, just like people who know the laws do not dare to break the laws and commit offences.
What does it mean by cultivation?
Cultivation is about changing our own behaviour. The objective is to attain the highest level of realisation, that is to become thoroughly enlightened.
There are three aspects of cultivation: discipline of one’s own actions, regulation of one’s own speech and elevating one’s morality. In fact, once we understand that negative karma is a major force that binds us in the web of the mundane world, and that karmic obstacles stems from our “conduct, speech and thoughts”, then it is easy to understand that the objective of these three aspects of cultivation is to prevent us from creating new negative karma.
Discipline of one’s own actions refrains us from creating karma of misconduct while regulation of speech is to refrain us from creating karma of unwholesome speech. The elevation of consciousness and morality is to guard us against conceiving of any bad intentions, thereby reducing the chances of creating karma of unwholesome thoughts.
Our understanding of this principle serves as a benchmark for us to correct our unwholesome behaviour. It reduces our karmic obstacles and then we cease to weave another new web of karmic relationships. Nevertheless, applying this principle and the extent to which it can be applied in our lives will depend on each individual’s level of understanding.
For example, your superior at your department had increased your workload so much so that you are totally occupied and work overtime frequently, while others who received the same salary as you had less work to do. Under such circumstances, you may be able to endure it and refrain from doing anything improper on the surface, but are you truly not angry deep down? Why is it so important not to get angry? If you don’t show that you are angry, will you be called a coward? And what is the right way of thinking?
It is all up to us to discover and comprehend. With each question answered, our spiritual state will go one step higher. Different levels of comprehension will give rise to different levels of spirituality. Failure to do so will make you compare your workload with that of others, and you will gradually harbour indignation at the thought of being treated unfairly.
This is the time you have developed negative karma unknowingly, thinking that you are the one who have been victimised. This is how one gradually loses motivation in their spiritual practice. As a matter of fact, any effort will be paid off eventually. It is said that the master can only lead you through the door but it is up to you if you want to succeed in your spiritual practice. It is precisely because every individual is different, so the problems that they face are also different. Therefore, it is not possible for the Master to lay out for you all the answers that require your comprehension.
Fortunately, the approaches may be varied but the fundamental principle remains unchanged. There remain some guiding principles to abide by. The guiding principles are applying the law of cause and effect and karmic affinity to understand the life, adopting the Buddhist practice that the Master expounds to solve problems in your daily life, and treating doing meritorious deeds and refraining from generating negative karma as a guideline to discipline ourselves.
In the discussion of the three aspects of cultivation, there is no mentioning of accumulation of merits and virtues. But why are merits and virtues considered the consequence of our cultivation? It’s because the direct results of the three aspects of cultivation are performing benevolent deeds, holding on to benevolent thoughts and speaking kind words—they are all merits and virtues.
What does it mean by cultivating our mind?
Cultivation of the mind is a topic that we would have to face inevitably at one point or another once we arrive at a certain level on our journey of spiritual cultivation. For beginners or those who have yet to experience any spiritual response from their practice, they may start by focusing on eliminating karmic obstacles and performing meritorious deeds.
It is because when heavy karmic obstacles and karmic debts are still weighing down on your body, and there remains uncleansed defilements on your mind, cultivating the mind at this juncture is out of the question. Once our karmic obstacles are reduced to a certain level, the time will naturally come for us to cultivate the mind gradually. This is the feature of the Buddhist practice that the Master imparts to you, which focuses on attaining enlightenment in the present life, as opposed to other practices that focus on attaining enlightenment in the next life.
Evil stems from the heart. In fact, our inner demons and our karmic obstacles are inextricably linked. Now that we have the opportunity to repay our karmic debts before cultivating our minds, we are thus all geared up for spiritual practice with ease. Hence, when it comes to cultivating the mind, Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door is more effective at clearing the hindrances in our mind, giving us the upper-hand in subduing our inner demons, elevating our level of spirituality and achieving desired results.
From these three aspects of cultivation, it can be seen that changing our behaviour and cultivating our minds are closely related. To correct ourselves, we must first find out what kind of deviated behaviour that we have committed. This process of “awakening” is the process of cultivating the mind.
By constantly reflecting on our conduct and our mind, we will be able to make improvement progressively. There is no definite rule on how to cultivate the mind, neither is it possible to provide a standard procedure. The reason is that the karmic force that affect each individual varies, the obstacles they face and the paths of cultivation they so choose can be strikingly different.
Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “Innumerable dharmas return to one”. No matter how drastically different our paths of cultivation are, there is only one final aim—to attain the state of mind of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva. The Buddha’s mind is the mind of all sentient beings; the Bodhisattva’s mind is one that possess compassion.
Hence, we have to reflect on our minds, comparing them to those of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva. Only then will we be able to find out where we should correct within our mind, and from which we can change our behaviour.
Buddha’s mind is about selflessly thinking of the suffering of sentient beings, while the Bodhisattva’s mind refers to the Four Limitless Qualities of loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. These are very high levels of spirituality. Hence, they serve as the benchmark and the ultimate goal in our journey of cultivation and self-correction.
The starting point of cultivation of the mind lies in correcting our mind, reaching a level where the mind is pure and settled. This means that we must be practical by identifying our flaws, eliminating the Three Poisons of greed, hatred and delusion, and eradicating attachment to the self and also attachment to others. Once our mind is settled and wholeheartedly dedicated to cultivation, we may then achieve spiritual purity and gradually understand our mind and see our true nature. We will then be able to see our innate Buddha-nature, including our conscience and kindness, which will in turn thrive to develop into compassion.
What is purity of mind?
Correcting our mind is the starting point of cultivation of the mind. However, the perception of what is right differs from individual to individual. Even two opposing parties may insist that they are right. This is the first question that we face; What is right? How do we determine what is right?
A selfish person may say, “Aren’t all people like this?” A husband who frequently quarrels with his wife may insist that she does not care about him; while a son who has not been in touch with his 80-year-old mother for a decade may defend himself and retort that she was ruthless towards his wife back then.
Under such circumstances, for people who have never once thought that they are wrong for a decade, would they reflect upon themselves? What would prompt them to reflect upon themselves? Most of the time, it comes from the outside.
For example, an insightful speech delivered by the Master during his dharma talk; a sudden realisation dawned upon them while travelling on a car; the sight of a child supporting his elderly mother by the hand while walking; or even an anecdote in the neighbourhood related by a colleague, etc. All these could be the sudden catalyst for repentance. However, for such a prompter to happen, it is required to have accumulation of merits and virtues.
As the Chinese expression goes, “Lay a solid foundation and reveal your strength in a modest manner when the right time comes”. Regardless of how you acquire merits and virtues- by performing recitation or by doing good deeds – you may only gain the possibility of having an instant awakening after you have acquired merits to a certain level. Only at this stage will your negative karmic obstacles be eliminated, thus removing the defilements that obscure your inherent nature. Only then will you be able to see your inherent nature of being unselfish, loving and tolerant, and showing filial piety.
At the same time, it is important to recognise that the source of such defilements – greed, hatred and delusion. Life is often less than smooth-sailing and such imperfection of life may be largely attributed to greed, hatred and delusion. This is why they are termed as the Three Poisons.
For example, just after you have managed to subdue your selfishness for a while, you may be back to your old self again and think “who else should be more qualified than me” when there is an evaluation for rewards or promotion in your department. Or just as you have managed to resolve the decade-long noncommunication between you and your mother, and fetched her home to stay with you, some remarks made by her may send you into a rage gain. Under the influence of these three poisons, your burgeoning inherently kind nature is nowhere to be found once again.
Hence, if the Three Poisons have not been eradicated, cultivation of the mind would be less effective despite hard work, or without making any progress at all. Even experienced and famous practitioners are likely to fail to eliminate the Three Poisons completely. And this can only be resolved by one’s own efforts.
External intervention such as advice and help from others cannot play a decisive role here. This is true even if it is the Master that gives you personal advice, telling you not to be greedy or delusional, it would be futile if you fail to see the true nature of things by yourselves.
There are so many infatuated couples who continue pining miserably for each other, unable to accept the fact that the karmic affinity between them has come to an end. There are so many who are enjoying high social status and great wealth, yet they put all their stakes at risk in pursuit of more material gains to satisfy their insatiable greed. These are examples of people who are unable to see the true nature of things and fail to realise that life is brief and impermanent.
They may understand the concept of karmic conditions and the law of karma, but it is another matter for them when it comes to putting it to practice. It is no longer a matter of the arising and ceasing of affinities but rather the result of cause and effect from past lives that change with the passage of time. Once the affinity has ended, the karmic fetters would also vanish accordingly. Like falling leaves and petals, everything in the world is fleeting and only an illusion.
The wealth and honour enjoyed in this life are interrelated with the good deeds performed in your past life. If you wish to continue reaping these benefits in subsequent lifetimes, you should step up and perform more meritorious deeds. The Three Poisons are ubiquitous in the process of our cultivation of the mind; they are also the biggest challenges constantly faced by all practitioners.
The antidote to the Three Poisons is none other than the “Morality (Precepts), Concentration and Wisdom.” It all starts with practising self-discipline. With self-discipline, your mind can be settled and you will be able to advance along the path of cultivation. There will come a day when you can become awakened and see the true nature of things – this is the time when you gain wisdom and the poisons will no longer be an issue to you.
Nevertheless, in the subsequence phases, the Three Poisons may just manifest themselves in the form of other temptations. Just when you are able to let go of wealth, you are faced with the temptation of status. Once you have seen the illusory nature of status, you may be enticed with lust. Once you have realised that the body is nothing but a mortal flesh, there comes the temptation of fame, and the list goes on.
In addition to the temptations, each individual in this world has to grapple with their own set of troubles in life – from the household to the nation and to the world at large, all of which brings us a lot of worries. A worried mind would remain restless and drifting. Entangled by all kinds of things, how are you going to cultivate your mind?
As long as we live in this world, it is inevitable that we have to interact with other people. Although self-discipline may help refrain us from forming negative karmic affinities with others, we cannot expect people around us to do the same. If others form negative karmic affinities with us, that is when we are being unfairly treated, misunderstood or even hurled with insults. Under such circumstances, the practice of “forbearance and diligence” is the proper approach to maintaining the purity of our state of mind.
Exercising forbearance when being insulted is not an expression of cowardice but the only golden practice that saves us from establishing negative karmic affinities. The moment we take offence or bear a grudge when someone takes a shot at us, a thread of karmic relationship would stick to us. This the moment when negative karma is formed.
Only by practising forbearance can we reject this “negative energy”, thereby preventing negative karmic affinities from taking root. Forbearance is merely an external appearance. What we truly want to attain is a state of mind that is unperturbed by external influences, one that regards insults as nothing. This is what “let mind not be swayed by the changing external circumstances” is about when it comes to the cultivation of the mind.
In addition, another thing that we have to remove from our minds is attachment, be it attachment to the self or attachment towards others, as they are a form of prejudice which stems from our incomprehensive understanding of things.
Since our life experiences and perception of life differ, we develop prejudice which we think is right. Understandably, it is this attachment that causes us to be biased in our understanding of what we have experienced. However, the problem is that we fail to realise that our views are biased, so we continue to be deceived by such illusion that we believed to be truth.
The fundamental solution lies in removing the notion of ‘self’. We should not see Buddhism from “our own understanding and our point of view”. In other words, we should learn to look at problems analytically and comprehensively, combining it with our practical experiences in life to understand Buddhism. Our mind needs to be cleansed every now and then, our negative karma needs to be eliminated to prevent worries and temptations from afflicting us. With that, a pure mind can be attained.
The objective of purifying the mind is to reveal our inherent nature. When the purity within us reaches a certain level, our inherent nature will become prominent and will not be easily tainted or blinded by defilements. At this juncture, we need to take great care of the mind, nurture it and let it thrive to make sure that it will not get lost again. This is considered the starting point of learning Buddhism.
Does it mean that the only way to achieve purity of the mind is to renounce the world? Paradoxically, this mundane world is the best place for cultivating the mind. If the mind is not pure, even if you retreated into a mountain, you would still be unable to let go of attachment.
To achieve purity of the mind, it doesn’t mean that one has to let go of everything and one’s karmic affinities. Nor does it mean that you should no longer socialize with others because you want to avoid forming karmic affinities. “Purity” in this context is about being clean, pure and not tainted by defiled predispositions and negative affinities. It is a state achieved through cultivation, and not merely through the act of evading.
What is it about a settled mind?
All of us encounter different conditions that lead us on to the path of Buddhism. Some people, whose acceptance comes more easily than others, resolutely persist in learning Buddhism ever since attending their first dharma talk by the Master. There are also people who find the situations mentioned in the radio programmes to be similar to what they have experienced in life and then adopt the method taught by the Master.
Having put it into practice and seen the desired result, they are convinced and then become steadfast in their faith. Regardless of what the conditions are, once the faith is established, their minds are calm and settled. However, such a settled state of mind is only temporary. Once they recover from an illness or when their child who used to suffer from a speech disorder has finally begun to speak one day, they come to realise how great Buddhism is.
However, they begin to give excuses that they are too busy to recite Buddhist scriptures. Some people start off with enormous enthusiasm but only to find it lose steam over time. There are also others who only follow what is taught without making any effort to study or seek understanding. These cases cannot be regarded as attaining a settled state of mind.
When they encounter other problems in life again, such as losing their jobs, or facing a love relationship problem, they will still be going around in circles without a single clue on how to deal with the situation at hand. They may even start questioning, “I have done what was suggested by Master Lu for a month now, how come I am still unable to get a job?” or “Why haven’t I met the love of my life after following what was taught by Master Lu for half a year?” –Doubt begins to set in.
When there is karmic obstacle, there will be worries and the ‘self’ will then be dragged along by these worries. The settled state of the mind will then be lost. Hence, practising Mahayana Buddhism (the method of helping sentient being become spiritually awakened) has to be based upon Theravada Buddhism. Therefore, we have to focus on improving ourselves and our family first. Only when our minds are free of obstructions, do we have no fear. Then we can talk about how to cultivate our minds and help others to become spiritually awakened.
A settled state of the mind can be defined in two ways:
Firstly, to be steadfast in faith; secondly, to be unwavering in achieving one’s goal.
Its foundation is built upon rationality: This includes understanding the difference between worldly dharma and transcendental dharma, the law of cause and effect, reasons behind the ups and downs of one’s destiny, as well as the relationships among positive and negative affinities, the power of karma and the web of the mundane world.
With such understanding will we be able to settle our minds. At the same time, we must also understand that the compassion of the Bodhisattva and the greatness of the Bodhisattva are truly genuine. While the Bodhisattva will rescue those in suffering when hearing their cries, we must perform daily recitation and do our bit first. In doing so, we will be firmly convinced that the difficulties we face today are not without reasons and that the difficulties are merely temporary.
Consequently, we can achieve a state of mind that remains unmoved by the changing external circumstances, a state that the external circumstances change but the mind remains unswayed, a single-mindedness state. This is of course a relatively high level of spirituality that may be difficult for everyone to achieve. But at least we know what the right direction is, and we can strive towards this goal. As for the final result, we still have to sit the exam first and wait for it to be released.
A restless mind is drifting, whereas a pure mind is settled. With a settled mind, the Way will emerge. Generally speaking, Buddha-dharma is in our daily lives and our daily lives also reflect Buddha-dharma. Apply the Buddha-dharma in your daily lives and investigate and contemplate the Buddha-dharma from your life experiences. Remain steadfast, then eventually everything will change for the better.