Today is an especially joyous day, because every year on the 8th day of the 2nd Lunar Month, is our Great Shakyamuni Buddha’s Renunciation Day. Followed by the 15th day of the 2nd Lunar Month, Shakyamuni Buddha’s Nirvana Day. On this extremely meaningful day, I would like to speak to you on Buddhism in Plain Terms. Before I talk, let me give you a brief introduction on our Great Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha is also known as “The Lone Compassionate One”. He was, in fact, a Sage of the Shakya Clan, called “The Lone Compassionate One”. According to Buddhist scriptures, when the Buddha was 19 years old, he realised the sufferings arising from birth, old age, sickness and death. He abdicated the throne and renounced the world in search of Truth to free humanity of suffering. Later, attained “unsurpassed, complete, and perfect enlightenment”. Our Great Venerable Buddha entered Nirvana after 49th year of teaching. In other words, the Buddha, at the age of 80 attained Nirvana in 543 BCE.
Shakyamuni Buddha was born in ancient India more than 2500 years ago. Legend has it that before the Buddha was born, he was a very high-level Bodhisattva, known as Ekajati-Pratibuddha. Ekajati-Pratibuddha was the previous life of our Great Buddha. Where did he reside? He resided in the inner chamber of Tushita Heaven. At the maturity of all conditions, he was born in the land of Kapilavastu. His father was the King, Suddhodana. His mother, Queen Maha Maya, passed away seven days after he was born. His aunt, Mahapajapati Gotami, raised him into adulthood. The Prince was gifted with wisdom and intellect. At early childhood he mastered the Five Sciences and the Four Vedas. Furthermore, he has exceptional appearance, complete with 32 marks of excellence and 80 noble qualities, which no one could compare. I have previously talked to you about the 32 marks of excellence and 80 noble qualities of the Buddha. However, you may not understand the Five Sciences and the Four Vedas, I will come back to that later.
At the age of 17, the Buddha married his cousin, Princess Yasodhara, his son Rahula was born, before his renunciation. Although, the Prince’s aristocratic life was luxurious and comfortable, he observed the inequality between the rich and the poor, coupled with the strife among sentient beings. All these made him realise that life is subjected to suffering of life and death, and the impermanence of life. He decided to leave his family to seek the relief to all suffering. He wanted to find liberation.
Finally, at the age of 19, on the 8th day of 2nd Lunar month. He left the Palace gate at night to lead an ascetic life. Some historical sources said he was aged 29. Subsequently, Buddhists practitioners mark the 8th day of 2nd Lunar month as the Renunciation Day of Shakyamuni Buddha. Temples and monasteries around the world, would hold Dharma events to commemorate this day. Buddhists would perform meritorious deeds. Taking advantage of this auspicious day, to pray for sentient beings to be free from suffering and attain happiness; and the glory Buddha’s days to continue to thrive. The glory of Buddha’s days continues to thrive, means that more luster will be added to auspicious days of the Buddha. That’s why during Buddha’s auspicious days, if you can do more recitations of the Buddhist scriptures, your Buddha nature will shine further. When true Dharma prevails, a country prospers, and people live in peace.
The Buddha devoted all his life to enlightening countless sentient beings. But he was still subjected to persecution by other religious sects and faced all kinds of obstacles. According to the record in Buddhist text “Foshuo Xingqi Xing Jing”, the Buddha was once defamed by Sundari, was also slandered by Cinca Manavika. I may have told this story before, if not I’ll tell you next time. I’ll now briefly tell the story. It was about a woman, who tied a pot on her belly with a rope. Then went to the Buddha and framed him, claiming that she was pregnant with the Buddha’s child. Unfortunately, she didn’t secure the pot properly, on the spot, the pot fell on the ground and her plot was revealed. There was also Semibha who slandered the Buddha. Buddha’s foot was stabbed by a sharp wooden thorn, was once throw at with stones, causing him to bleed. Buddha also ate horse feed and subjected himself to mortification. He suffered from headache, back pain and joint pain. These were the ten misfortunes Buddha had to experienced. In fact, the Buddha’s true body is his Dharma body, a Dharma body is not subject to birth and death. The Buddha endured these calamities for the sake of sentient beings. His aim was to make people realise no one could escape from karma. He wanted sentient beings to fear karmic retribution, to be afraid, and not to be attached to their physical body. To do good and cease doing evil to obtain the eternal Dharma body. That’s why every action of the Buddha, was aimed at saving every one of us.
During the 49th year of Buddha’s propagation of the Dharma, to the age of 80, he still tirelessly travelling around with his disciples to spread the Dharma. Until the moment reaches Nirvana, Buddha still had the wellbeing of sentient beings at heart. Just before Buddha enters Nirvana, he accepted a 100-year-old wandering ascetic, named Subhadra as his last disciple. In the past it’s refers to “closed door disciples”. When Buddha entered Nirvana, his disciples were grieving. Buddha said to his disciples that, their wish to have him dwell forever in this world, is a violation of the law of nature. Buddha is the manifestation of Truth of the Universe; therefore, he cannot violate the nature of Dharma.
Once during a sermon, the Buddha told his disciples “If you cannot follow my teachings, what’s the point even if I were to live for millions of years? If you can follow my teachings, it would be as though, I was alive eternally. You must be steadfast in your belief in the Dharma. Act according to the Dharma and don’t convert to others. You must learn my teachings diligently. Free yourselves of worries and be unperturbed, and only that will constitute a real disciple of mine”. The Buddha exhorted his disciples not to be sad, as all things on earth are subject to formation and dissolution. Where there is life, there is death. Where there is reunion, there is parting. This is the Truth from the law of impermanence.
The Buddha devoted all his life to bringing us the Dharma, enabling us to benefit from the Dharma till even today. Earlier I mentioned, when Buddha was born, he had already mastered the Five Sciences. Let me briefly touch on this, because it’ll be too lengthy if I explain it in detail.
Mastery of Five Sciences (Pancavidya).
Firstly, it’s “mastery in language”. Nowadays we can see many statements which say, “I state”, in fact, by making a statement, it means, I’m using my own voice to make things clear. To explain many things, that is thoroughly understood. This is mastery in language, it refers to the use of a language, as well as the voice to prove something is fully understood.
Secondly, it’s “mastery in logic”, it’s about understanding the Causes. What are the Causes? In Buddhism, everything that arises has a Cause. All event happens because the seed of the Causes had been planted. The causality is created, they can be referred to the earth, water, fire and wind. The Causes of all Dharmas. What is “mastery”? It means you have a total understanding of this world. The root of everything is in the Cause. When you master the cause, you understand the result. This is what I mean by “mastery in logic”.
Thirdly, it’s “mastery in medical science”, it’s about having a good understanding of medical methods. What exactly is mastery in medical science? It means the method to heal humankind spiritually. For example, we humans fall sick, right? We have suffer from all kinds of illnesses, epilepsy, poison from creatures, imbalance of the Four Elements, curse of spirits and diseases caused by heat and cold. You need to understand how to treat them. Therefore, the methods to treat all these various illnesses, refers to methods of treatment. Hence, the mastery in medical science.
The fourth is “mastery in manual arts”, it refers to a certain handicraft work in ancient times. Talented manual arts, very skillful. That’s why there are many people who specialise in the fields of agriculture and industries commerce. Everything has its ingenuity. The Buddha, he knew of all these crafts and arts since young.
The fifth is “inner wisdom”, in your inner self, that you have the knowledge. That is our inner understanding of the Dharma. It’s a kind of teaching and education. Let’s say if you want to observe Precepts. You need to use meditative concentration to dispel your mental confusion. You need to use wisdom to overcome your ignorance. If your mind is polluted with bad thoughts, you must have an internal method to cope with it. In any Buddhist practice, we must not slacken in our practise. Only then our inner self would understand. These are the Five Sciences that the Buddha had mastered since young.
I think you might from time to time have mastered at least one or two of the Five Sciences. You know to repent for your own misdeeds, this is a kind of understanding, to resolve the issue, right? You realise when you make a mistake, “Oh I’ve said something wrong”. You know it, right? You must use our inner wisdom. One should acknowledge after they have made a mistake. If you are stubborn and keep looking for excuses, you are compounding your misdeeds. In fact, mastery of the Five Sciences, is a branch of the Threefold Training in Buddhism. It belongs to the “training of wisdom”. Let me ask you, what is the “Threefold Training” in Buddhism? It comprises of discipline, concentration and wisdom. That’s why wisdom is very important. Wisdom can be acquired through hearing. When you listen to the Dharma, you will acquire the wisdom. It is through listening to the Dharma. There are two other types of wisdom.
First type, we just talked about, the wisdom acquired through hearing. After you listen to the Dharma, you utilise it, it develops into a type of wisdom. Another type of wisdom can be acquired through thinking. Wisdom acquired through hearing; when you hear about something, you know which method to apply to resolve it. Whereas, the wisdom acquired through thinking, you have deliberated over an issue. Having an in-depth contemplation, after obtaining a full understanding, thereby acquire the wisdom. This is the wisdom attained through contemplation. Hence, it’s called the wisdom acquired through thinking. The first one is called the wisdom acquired through hearing. The third one is the wisdom acquired through cultivation. How can one become wise? It depends on self-cultivation. Once you have cultivated your mind well, it becomes a type of wisdom. When you practise meditation, meditative concentration will give rise to wisdom. Eventually you attain the enlightenment wisdom. So, you all know the three types of wisdom.
A truly wise person will not be afraid of worries, because worries, allow raise to their wisdom. They will then be able to resolve a lot of issues. Whereas for those without wisdom, they live in pain every day. So, if you want to stem out defilement and illnesses in your mind, you must have wisdom. That’s why the Bodhisattva makes us aware, that we need to have lots of wisdom in this world, to resolve our problems.
I had also mentioned; the Buddha understood the Four Vedas. I will briefly explain; the Vedas are the fundamental sacred scriptures of Brahmanism in ancient India. Not long after the Buddha was born, he was already imbued with wisdom. He was very well versed in the Four Vedas. The Four Vedas are about the natural environment. The sun, moon, wind and directions. The understanding towards the divinity, and the nature of morality.
Next, I would like to talk about Buddha, after he attained Buddhahood, after his Enlightenment. He thought, now I had understood the Truth of life. I should save the sentient beings, this is the cause of the right condition for the great event. The Buddha thought to himself, he wanted to save all sentient beings, but the Truth which he has realised, is very different from the views of the people in the world. Their views are rooted in illusion, they are different and contrary to the Truth. People are indulged in seeking pleasures. You see…in this human realm, people are obsessed with sensual pleasures. When people are enjoying sensual pleasures, the Buddha said, “I fully understood this is the root cause of suffering”. But common people are indulged in satisfying their sensual desires, their desires for sensual pleasures. “I want this! I want that!”. Seeking contentment in everything. The Buddha said, “I know all these are not the reality. They are not real, because none of the things you gained will be permanent”. The Buddha said, “what I have realised is the true nature and reality”. The Buddha understood is the Truth of the world, it’s the Universal Truth. But people just can’t bring themselves to believe it. They don’t believe it. The Buddha also said, “this world is actually empty”. They would say, “is my house fake? It is not empty, it is real”. They just couldn’t understand this Truth.
The Buddha said, “People change, impermanence will come over time”. But they would say, “No, everything looks fine”. Hence, The Buddha said, “The Truth that I have realised is contrary to people’s selfish desires”. It’s different from what people have in their minds. That’s why monks can let go of all their personal desires and paves the way for their enlightenment. Whereas, it isn’t easy for us people to let go of, our fame and fortune. Every day, we crave for many things. Thus, the Buddha said, “The Truth that I have realised, differs to common people’s delusion and selfish desires. It’s not the same. All sentient beings are lost, in the abyss of greed and hatred”. What the Buddha was trying to tell us is that, we are obsessed with our sensual pleasures every day. We indulged in sensual pleasures. It is a waste of time, because all these are not real. It will soon disappear.
The Buddha thought to himself, how can they understand. How to make them understand, this profound and subtle truth to the path of liberation. Many scriptures stop short of finishing once they reach this part. But in fact, there is one more sentence from the Buddha, “I might as well enter Nirvana”. As he is not able to save this world. The people are really pitiful, they’re all different. You think like this, he thinks like that. He thinks like this, you think like that. One person’s happiness might be another person’s suffering. The Buddha knows, the happiness as most people thought is suffering brought about by impermanence. That’s why the Buddha said, “I might as well enter Nirvana”. Buddha was not trying to evade. He was saying, “I am able to comprehend the doctrine, so I should just attain Nirvana”.
At this time, Lord Brahma appeared in the sky. He is a god of a very high level, he paid respect and pleaded to the Buddha. That’s why these days we say, “respectfully salute”, means to “pay respect”. In the past, when gods and deities of high level, pay respect to the Buddha, it’s called “to salute respectfully”. So, Lord Brahma paid respect to the Buddha and pleaded to Him, “Buddha, without the light of your Truth, the world will be shrouded in darkness eternally. Without the Buddha’s teachings and blessings, the sentient beings will not be able to free themselves. In consideration of your great vow to save this world, may the Buddha teach the Dharma, so that sentient beings who are lost will turn back and embark on the shore of liberation”. As soon as the Buddha heard this, he gladly accepted Lord Brahma’s invitation to expound the Dharma and rescinded the thought of attaining Nirvana. He devoted his lifetime, to save our pre-destined sentient beings.
From this, we came to know, what we have heard before “The Buddha was born due to a predestined great cause”. The birth of the Buddha is to come to the world for this great purpose. Which is, for all sentient beings. He revealed and showed the Buddha’s insight, enabling them to realise and enter it. He helps us, the sentient beings: to dispel the bewilderment in our mind; to show us our innate Buddha nature; to awaken our innate Buddha nature and thereafter enter the Buddha’s knowledge and views. Aimed at helping sentient beings to eradicate ignorance and afflictions, so that we can possess the virtues. This means to help everyone to possess, the morality inherent in their Buddha nature.
Nowadays, people do not have many moral qualities. Therefore, there are many who commit crimes, it’s all attributed to the decadence of moral values. Thus, to be liberated from suffering and gain happiness, has always been the teaching of the Buddha to sentient beings. The Buddha taught the Dharma in accordance with conditions, without any distinction between the rich, poor, high or low in social status. He travelled everywhere to spread his blessings and teachings. His compassion followed every step of his way, bringing comfort and solace to the suffering humanity. Throughout his lifetime, apart from teaching the Avatamsaka Sutra. He also taught the Agama Sutra and the Vaipulya Sutra. The Buddha taught the Avatamsaka Sutra for 21 days, the Agama Sutra for 12 years, the Vaipulya Sutra for 8 years and the Prajnaparamita Sutra for 22 years. The Lotus Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra for a total of 8 years. Sermons on these scriptures were delivered during Dharma Assemblies. The Buddha also gave countless personal teachings and advice to sentient beings and his disciples.
I believe all of you know, that he taught the dull-witted Culapanthaka to mutter the words “taking on impurity”, you must have heard of this story before. Right? He also gave a discourse to the night soil carrier Sunita. In Buddhism all are equals, so people of the four castes can be saved. The Buddha allowed Sunita to join the order of Sangha. He gave a discourse to Sona who practised cultivation with diligence. Spiritual cultivation is analogous to strumming a stringed musical instrument, exhorting him to practise cultivation with ease of mind. He taught the horse trainer Kesi and the notorious murderer Angulimala, leading him to mend his ways. The Buddha taught Hariti about loving kindness for children. He also gave Varsakara, King Ajatashatru’s Minister, a discourse on seven methods of non-regression and many more. He gave Elder Sudatta’s daughter-in-law a talk on husband-wife relationship.
The Buddha’s teaching is akin to a ship floating on the sea of suffering. Leading sentient beings from the shore of life and death to the other shore of Nirvana. In light of the Buddha’s compassion, on this commemorative day of the Buddha. Let us all cherish the Great Buddha, let us all practise the Dharma and spiritual cultivation diligently, following the Buddha’s path in liberating sentient beings. Continue to strive in moral and spiritual cultivation for the cause of saving sentient beings. We should all contribute, so we won’t fail the expectations of our great Buddha. Thank you everyone.< Master Lu: Buddhism in Plain Terms < 白话佛法共修分享