My fellow Buddhist friends, today, I would like to continue with Buddhism in Plain Terms. Buddhism in Plain Terms helps us become enlightened and see our true nature, and enables us to understand the profound teachings of the Buddha, and apply them in our daily lives.
Today, I would like to touch on how we can apply the Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives, so that we can be free of inner vexations. Some verses in the Buddha’s teachings are steeped in philosophy. The Buddha often advocated the practice of Dharma as part of real life. Your state of mind determines your speech and behaviour meaning that the thoughts on your mind will decide your words and conduct.
The words that you utter must have been conceived in your mind and things that you do must have been premeditated. Only when you have conceived of the idea will you manifest it through your words and behaviour. Thus, the kind of life that you wish to have in the future depends on the arising of your thoughts. If your thoughts are wholesome your life will take a turn for the better and out of danger. If your thoughts are full of hatred, ignorance jealousy or worries, then your mentality in future will direct your speech and actions making you more foolish and worrisome, so, it is pitiful that many people live a life full of worries. It’s all because they conceive of unwholesome thoughts that generates abusive language and causes obstacles to whatever they do in future.
We must live our lives detached from the notion of self. In other words, you must live your life detached from your ego. Don’t always harp on about “I” – “This is mine and that is mine, I’m in agony and I’m troubled, why should I be suffering and so on”. If you can be detached from the notion of self, you will naturally not contend with others. What is there to compare with if there is no “self”? You won’t mind what people may say about you when you are no longer attached to the form of self.
There are people who are too sensitive, “Why? Why must they say this in front of me? Aren’t they talking about me intentionally?” If you are attached to “self”, you would care what people say about you. In fact, they were not talking about you, but you took it personally, ”If you aren’t talking about me, who else?” This shows you are unable to detach yourself from the form of “self”. If you can detach yourself from “self”, you will slowly become optimistic and open-minded. You life will then become simpler. Let me ask you, is a young child innocent and pure? They do not have the notion of self, everything doesn’t matter to them, so they are always at ease.
Just think about it – to each and everyone of us, every night may be a test in our life. Each night could spell death for us. Each dawn ushers in a new lease on life, hence, in those days when people woke up in the morning, the first thing they would say was “Thank you Bodhisattva, I’m still alive. Thank you Bodhisattva for your compassion.” Do not be emotionally affected by the joys and sorrows in life which bring about inner conflicts.
Thus, we must truly understand that the best reward in life is to be able to let go of afflictions and be free of suffering. Don’t let yourself be bound by desires. There are many people who wish to have this or that, so they are caught up in desires. There are some others when I tell them to refrain from having strong desires, they retort that those are their aspirations, not desires.
In fact, we should not confuse aspirations with desires. There is no end to desires, it is the craving for material possession; Aspirations are more of a spiritual aspect, it is a state of being content spiritually.Thus, the more possessions you have in the human world the more you will be bound by your material possessions, such as wealth, fame and gain. No matter how much you have, they will be gone one day. You can’t achieve fame nor wealth, everything will be gone. However tight you grasp fame and material gains, in the end you will be empty-handed.
Thus, we must learn to make a choice. Fill up the spiritual emptiness, choose to fill the spiritual void of life. We mustn’t miss any opportunity to change spiritually. How can we change spiritually? Change “I” to “everybody”, change the “smaller self” to the “larger self”. For example, instead of saying I am at a disadvantage, you should say “we” are at a disadvantage. I am at an advantage instead, you should say “we” are at an advantage. Slowly, you will get rid of the form of self, you wouldn’t feel empty spiritually, and you no longer live for yourself. People who live for themselves will be particular about petty gains everyday, that is why we say not to keep a record of petty accounts. How many petty accounts can we have throughout our life? What a hassle to keep a record of this and that. We must learn to let go, and resist temptations. Those who can resist temptations will be rewarded with new opportunities. If you give in to temptations，you will find yourself burdened with a heavy load which drags at your feet. It’s all because you refuse to let go of it – you carry it on your back. As time goes by, you will have difficulty walking.
Here is our motto in life: “When times are good, the mind is not blank; When times are bad, our mind is unperturbed; Have no fears in performing important tasks; Do not take unimportant tasks lightly”. Let me explain these lines: When times are good and there is no trouble, we must still perform chanting and always have sentient beings at heart. Then you won’t feel demoralised, dispirited and meaningless. If there is trouble, our mind should remain unperturbed. No matter what trouble you face, your mind must not be disturbed. Tackle the problems one by one, solve them one by one. Have no fears in dealing with a major task. When we tackle a major task, we must not have fears or be afraid because we have to do it, be it big or small. We are able to do a major task well, but we must not take a minor task lightly. We need to do it well, too. This is what I mean not to take minor tasks lightly.
For people who can think everything through, they view partings or reunions, joys and sorrows in life as the creation of our mind. Your sadness is created by your mind. Your bitterness is created by your mind. Your happiness is also created by your mind, so is the agitating sensation that you feel, joys and sorrows are all created by your mind. So you must have a good mentality. There is no trouble too difficult to overcome. You have come a long way in life. In this world of mortals, it is fine as long as your actions are based on kindness.
There is something to be done, something not to be done. You have done something, but it seems as though you have not done it; You have done it, so be it. You have not done it, so be it. You’ve done it but it seems as though you haven’t done it, you haven’t done it but it seems as though you have done it. When there is no affliction on your mind, your mind will be calm and tranquil, like a lotus in full bloom, natural and composed, it neither blooms for anyone nor withers for anyone. Thus, Buddhist practitioners who don’t take things to heart will let nature take its course. What should belong to you will be yours, what shouldn’t belong to you will not be yours, what you should possess is yours, what you shouldn’t possess will bring calamities to you.
There is not only a single path in life. Many people are in despair because they have come to the dead end of a road and they think they have no other road to take, so they choose to end their lives. Buddhist practitioners must distance themselves from grief and pain. Grief and pain are a form of test to us, sometimes they will be over in no time, sometimes they will last for some time, but everything will be over eventually.
There are many paths in the practice of Buddhism, and more often than not smooth roads are more crowded, but everyone flocks together. Think about it, no matter what problem you are facing, make a good choice of the road you want to take, but take your own road. As long as you are brave and make an effort, meaning that you must have the courage and persevere with strength, as well as wisdom in your thinking and you are determined and never waver, you will definitely be successful.
Many people don’t have the right conditions for life, so they miss many opportunities. This is common in life. When there is no affinity, so be it. There is nothing you can do when you have missed the boat. It’s no use feeling regretful and miserable. When we have gone a long way and look back at the people and things in the past, many things have long been lost in your memory. Therefore, a true life refers to the times when you are still innocent and unaware of the reality in life – this is a beautiful time.
But once you have come of age and gotten involved in interpersonal conflicts, your life is full of vexations and sadness, because you no longer experience that kind of purity, only the treachery and trickery of the human world. So I hope you will all aspire to change your destiny, not by chances but by your state of mind. For people who have a good state of mind, everything will change for the better. For people with an unhealthy state of mind, no matter what they do, even if it is something good, they will not have peace of mind. Thus, everyone must understand these concepts.
We used to say that a person should be independent at the age of 30, meaning they should be able to stand on their own feet and be established. Established in what aspects? What should Buddhist practitioners establish then? In the past, one should be established in life, in career and get married. But we should make a resolution to free ourselves of suffering and gain happiness by practising Buddhism.
People say we should not be perplexed at age 40. Do you know what is meant by not being perplexed? You are no longer confused, you have a better understanding. What do you understand then? People in general get to understand society better, understand themselves better, understand that interpersonal relationships are so complicated. Whereas we Buddhist practitioners should not be deluded by worldly desires, walk out of your afflictions bravely with no greed, no anger, no hatred.
People used to say we should know our destiny at age 50. Do you know what destiny means? In modern terms, we have a better understanding of the working of destiny, that is to get married and have children, to get a job and earn money, in order to gain a foothold in life. “Gosh, I have done this thing wrong”, “Gosh, I have done that thing wrong”, what do you know about destiny? You should know at the age of 50, that you should waste no time in practising spiritual cultivation and helping others, because there is not much time left for you to help others, and to change your state of mind. There is not much time left to repent, and to recite the 88-Buddhas Great Repentance Text. This is what I meant by understanding destiny at 50.
In those days, people used to say at the age of 60, they have seen through life and realised they are unable to bring wealth and fame along with them. Life is brief, “I have thought things through”, “I’m 60 and too old to work”, “I am not going to be stressed about money or be tormented”. What do you understand now? You are 60, you should know that you may need to change the destination of your journey, hurry to find a better destination for yourself. That is the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss or perhaps return to the fold of Guan Yin Bodhisattva, our heavenly mother. What should you do then? Recite Buddhist scriptures, perform life liberations and make vows, perform more meritorious deeds and help others, do good and refrain from doing evil. If you still do evil today, how can you be a good person? Let go of yourselves.
In the past, there is an old saying that “rarely could people live up to 70”. This is because ancient people didn’t have a long lifespan as we do now. People living in hot climate usually have a shorter lifespan. So, we should live as we wish at 70. What should we do? Let nature take its course and adapt to the circumstances. In fact, Buddhist practitioners at 70 should know that it is time to engage in spiritual practice, recite scriptures earnestly and make an effort to understand the Dharma. But many of us are still in pursuit of external things. At 70, if you are still after wealth and fame, then you will become more lonely in this human world because the roads that you have taken along life’s journey may lead to a ferry terminal with no boats. Some may lead to deserts with no camels. Our life is headed to any destination that brings you with no direction. You’ll lose your direction ahead.
Why are people suffering? Because the mental distance between people is widening; because they can’t think alike, neither can they have the shared moments together; they do not know how to cherish the affinities between each other. As a result, they are unable to live a fulfilling life. Therefore, the Buddha said life is suffering; As we grow older, we can’t eat anything. This is suffering; We are too old to walk, so we can’t go to places. This is suffering; The worst suffering is when we are sick, and death causes more suffering. Also, separation from those we love, to be separated from the people you love. This is suffering. Being together with those we hate, this is an unpleasant feeling.
If you meet people you don’t wish to see every day, you feel disgusted. Moreover, suffering arises when your wish is unfulfilled. You yearn for something every day, it causes you suffering when your wish is unfulfilled. Being unable to let go causes suffering too. When you take something to heart, and are unable to let go. This is suffering.
So the Buddha said “We create our destiny and our thoughts determine our appearance, you create your own destiny”. You create your own appearance as you constantly conceive of thoughts. Your appearance changes accordingly. If you conceive of kind thoughts, you will have a kind appearance. If you conceive of evil thoughts, you will appear evil. When many people say that you are a bad guy, then you will have an evil appearance.
So Buddhist practitioners need to understand that all things on Earth remain unperturbed, only when the heart remains unchanged will things remain unchanged. When you are kind to others, others will be kind to you. Sitting is Zen, walking is Zen, to see a world in a flower and the Buddha in a leaf. What does it mean? You will gain wisdom by sitting there, you will also gain wisdom by standing and going about your task, you will gain meditative concentration in whatever you do. As there is such a world in your heart, there is such a practice place, no matter what you do, in everything you do, you will do it as if you are a Buddha performing the task. This is what “to see the Buddha in a leaf” means.
There is a poet who says that “Flowers will turn fresh when spring arrives, leaves will fall when autumn comes”. What does it mean? When spring comes, flowers will naturally turn fresh, it’s so beautiful. When autumn comes, leaves will fall, leaves will fall and flowers will wither. “Our heart will be at ease when we have immense wisdom”, trees and leaves will all change in spring or in autumn, whereas our immense wisdom, our heart and wisdom, will remain at ease eternally – they will remain the same forever and never change. “Your body will be natural if you speak less and remain calm” – this means we must be a person of few words and remain calm and composed in our actions, then our body and life will become natural. Do not be tempted by anything you see meaning that when you see something, don’t be hasty in acting on it, then people will find that you are a person who can’t sit and stand still, you are unable to remain still and quiet.
Day after day in our life we have let go of a lot, including those things that we are reluctant to let go. I explain Buddhism in plain language, you have been trying to get what you want by hook or by crook, you have been crafty but in the end you have lost it. All your life you fail to get what you want, you have been trying so hard to get what you want, but in the end you have lost them. You have been petty-minded all your life, in the end you get nothing, you only end up with more resentment. You are greedy for everything and you want everything, you can’t get rid of your greed. How much negative karma have you created? You have grabbed what belongs to others, you have hidden what you like, gradually, you feel that you have enjoyed a lot in life, but how much can you take along at the end of life?
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