Buddhism instructs us how to live happy and fulfilling lives. It was
transmitted to China in 67 AD and since then, has spread and flourished
throughout the country. However, anything that has been passed down for
a long period can be expected to experience some distortion and
Buddhism is no exception.
Originally, Buddhism was Buddha Shakyamuni's teaching of perfection of enlightenment for all sentient beings in the nine realms. Unfortunately, over the last two to three hundred years, some began to regard it as a religion. Then, in the past twenty to thirty years it began to be viewed as a philosophy. However, the most disastrous of all is its distortion by some into a cult. These have seriously misled people away from the original teachings. If we commit ourselves to the practice, we need to clearly understand exactly what the Buddha taught us.
A few years ago in San Francisco, I gave a talk titled "To Understand Buddhism." Unfortunately, due to the one and a half-hour time constraint, I was unable to elaborate as much as I had wanted to. Then, several months later, Mr. David Zheng invited me to Miami. He both hosted and provided the English translation for my seven-day lecture series on Buddhism titled "To Understand Buddhism". The talks were video taped at that time and later published. To understand the Buddha's teachings is our first and most basic lesson. Practicing Buddhism and not knowing what the goals are can reduce our practice to blind superstition.
First, the Buddha is our teacher and not a god. Bodhisattvas are our senior classmates with whom we share equal status. Buddhism is an education. What does it teach? The Buddha's forty-nine years of teaching are recorded as sutras. These have been combined with sutra commentaries by great masters throughout history into a dense collection called The Buddhist Canon, of which there are over thirty versions in existence. These teachings explain the truth about life and the universe. Life refers to us and the universe refers to our living environment and beyond. What is more relevant than to understand the relationship between the universe and us?
Several years ago, I was lecturing to professors at the Universities of Beijing, Nanjing and Liouling. Upon learning that Buddhism is an education, my audience was astonished. Then, two years ago I learned that there were one hundred seventy professors across China studying the teachings. This is a good sign. We ought to first change our perceptions and understand the nature of this unsurpassed education, to fully benefit from it.
The Buddha told us that an enlightened person is one who completely understands about life and the universe. A Buddha is a being who is perfectly enlightened while a Bodhisattva, according to Master Xuan Tsuang, is an "awakened, sentient being." The element that differentiates us from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is the state of consciousness or enlightenment. Enlightened beings are free and independent in any environment while we are not. The Chinese have a saying "When one is constricted by society, one is unable to act according to one's will." For instance, almost everyone wishes to make a fortune in this lifetime, but look around, how many people's dreams have actually come true? Buddhist sutras have provided us with methods to achieve whatever we wish; to stay healthy, young and happy as well as to end the cycle of birth and death. Praying to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or spirits simply does not do it.
The sutras have taught us the way to take control of our destiny. If we follow the teachings, we can have what we wish for. However, if we fail to achieve our goal, it is because we either have applied the wrong method or have misinterpreted the meanings within the sutras. Buddhism is a teaching of wisdom as only wisdom can resolve our problems and fulfill our wishes.
How do we gain wisdom? Many people who grew up in our modern society would agree that wisdom is gained from information or knowledge. The Buddha told us the opposite! He taught us that wisdom is already within our self-nature; it does not come from the outside. Upon reaching enlightenment, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Master Hui-Neng reported to his teacher that wisdom is something we all possess and that it is innate. Our good fortune, capability and wisdom are complete; none of them can be obtained externally. The Buddha teaches us to look for them within our mind, our pure mind. Therefore, Buddhism is a study of the inner self.
Earlier this year, a group of professors, most of them from the University of Taiwan and the Central Educational Research Center, requested me to talk on the Diamond Sutra. Although I had not lectured on this sutra for almost twenty years, I gladly accepted the invitation as an opportunity to leave future Buddhists a lecture series to aid them in their studies.
The Diamond Sutra is truly an important part of Mahayana practice as well as the core of Zen practice. It concentrates on the understanding of wisdom. Due to the advocation of Zen's Fifth and Sixth Patriarchs, this sutra became widely known in China. Over five thousand eight hundred words in length, it is too profound for most people to completely understand. There have been several hundred explanations or commentaries written on this sutra alone throughout Chinese history. Earlier in this century, Mr. Wei-Nong Jiang, who spent forty years studying this sutra, wrote what has become a well-read commentary. He combined the essence of both the ancient and current commentaries to make it easier for people to understand the sutra and thus, the true meanings of life and the universe.
The Diamond Sutra, like other sutras, contains the principles and methods to achieve enlightenment. If we can master the principle and cultivate with confidence, we will become enlightened regardless of the method we choose. However, if we are not achieving improvement in our daily practice, then we must have overlooked the principles and methods of the sutra.
For many years, I have been lecturing on the Pure Land method. Someone asked me, "Teacher, you have been speaking of the Pure Land teachings for so long, why are you now lecturing on the Diamond Sutra?" When you think about it, the Diamond Sutra, the Amitabha Sutra and the Infinite Life Sutra are all the same in that they encourage us to recite the Buddha's name, without any attachment, in order to be born into the Western Pure Land. If we did not already have a high degree of wisdom, good roots, merits and good conditions, we would not have chosen the Pure Land School as our practice.
When I was young, I made the mistake of thinking that this school was not a high level practice. Fortunately, I met good teachers who tried to convince me of its importance. Still I was unable to completely accept it. The confidence I now possess comes from having lectured on the Avatamsaka (Flower Adornment) Sutra for seventeen years. It tells of how Manjusri Bodhisattva, Samantabhadra (Universal Worthy) Bodhisattva, Maitreya Bodhisattva, the forty-one levels of enlightened Bodhisattvas, Sudhana and the fifty-three spiritual guides all turned to the Pure Land School in the end. As I became convinced of its importance, I started to study the Pure Land sutras. I realized that practicing the Pure Land method was actually the highest level of Buddha Shakyamuni's teachings and of all the Buddhas in the ten directions as they strove to help all sentient beings achieve enlightenment.
I have lectured on the Diamond Sutra, the Infinite Life and the Visualization sutras. They all are concerned with the right and proper way of living. The Diamond Sutra speaks of the principle while the Infinite Life Sutra and the Visualization Sutra speak of the specifics in practice and attainment. Mr. Wei-Nong Jiang emphasized that one who cultivates prajna, innate wisdom, should chant the name of Buddha Amitabha in order to be born into the Pure Land. Practitioners need to completely understand the Buddha's teachings because they lead us to perfect, free-spirited and prosperous living. If we misinterpret the teachings, then we will not benefit from them. While Buddhism emphasizes the principles, it puts more stress on our practice. If our practice fails to follow these principles then we have missed the point.
Take the Diamond Sutra for example. As it begins, the Buddha takes us into his daily life. This is unlike other Mahayana sutras in which he would release radiant light at the beginning of his talk. However, this talk is all about everyday life! Every action the Buddha has taken has revealed his virtues and merits due to his commitment of practicing Buddhahood through infinite lifetimes.
The Avatamsaka (Flower Adornment) Sutra tells us that "One is all and all is one." One refers to a matter or subject. For example, dressing is one activity, eating is another. From the moment we decide to begin our practice till the time we achieve Enlightenment, our merits are accumulated and revealed through our efforts and commitment. Daily activities are the way of practice; however, most of us cannot see this. Why not? Because of our lack of wisdom. Subhuti, one of the Buddha's main students, explained it for us. We all get up every morning, dress and eat. What do we have to show for this? Infinite lifetimes of committing misdeeds and the resultant sufferings due to incorrect understanding of the purpose of life and our environment.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas show us the art and the correct way of living. If we understand the Diamond Sutra, we will understand everything around us and in the universe. Beings who do understand are called Buddhas and Bodhisattvas: those who do not are called ordinary people. We all possess the abilities of Buddhas, but we are temporarily lost and have forgotten what we possess. This is why we must practice to learn how to live our lives. Practicing Buddhism means correcting our erroneous thoughts and actions in our daily lives. Those of us who understand focus on the root of the problem, which means we focus on correcting our thoughts while others focus on their actions. By only correcting our actions, we may gain some improvement; however, this is similar to only taking care of the branches and leaves of a tree while neglecting its roots. The most effective way, as pointed out in the Diamond Sutra, is to correct our thoughts by attacking the roots of all that is wrong or erroneous.
What are the guidelines for practicing Buddhism? Buddha Shakyamuni told us they are The Three Learnings, which are precepts (rules), deep concentration and wisdom. Precepts refer to following all of the Buddha's teachings, not just the basic five or ten precepts. They also include following customs, rules and laws wherever we are. Law-abiding people have a clear conscience, so their minds are peaceful and they can more easily concentrate, whereas, people who often break the law are generally unable to concentrate. Therefore, following rules and obeying laws enables us to achieve the concentration that allows us to uncover the wisdom that we already possess.
The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng is praiseworthy for its high level of wisdom. We can understand why the Sixth Patriarch told his master that he often generated wisdom. We, on the other hand, often generate affliction. He achieved this high level because his mind was pure. Our minds are filled with afflictions, attachments, discriminating and wandering thoughts: all causes of reincarnation. To alter this course requires us to cleanse our minds of these pollutants. To accomplish this, Buddha Shakyamuni gave us the fore-mentioned three guidelines which are also contained in the Infinite Life Sutra, the full title of which is The Buddha Speaks of the Infinite Life Sutra of Adornment, Purity, Equality and Enlightenment of the Mahayana School. Purity refers to precepts; equality refers to meditation; enlightenment refers to wisdom. These are also expressed as the Triple Jewels, representing respectively the Sangha, the Dharma and the Buddha. Please do not mistake the physical images of the Triple Jewels for their true essence. The Diamond Sutra clearly tells us "One who sees images of oneself, other human beings, all beings and life is not a Bodhisattva." In other words, looking beyond physical aspects is the correct way to understand these guidelines.
The Buddha represents enlightenment. The Dharma, symbolized by sutras, represents the Buddha's wisdom, virtue and proper understanding of life and the universe. The Sangha represents purity of the six senses, having no pollution. The Three Jewels are being enlightened and not deluded, proper and not deviated, pure and not polluted. When we take refuge in the Triple Jewels, we request guidance from a Monk or Nun regarding purity, equality and enlightenment. It is important to understand this at the beginning of our practice. We need to use an awakened mind to perform in our daily lives. The Dharma comes from the self-nature within. The goal of the learning process is to find our true self and to let go of our incorrect state of mind.
This incorrect state of mind is embroiled in a non-stop rush of thoughts. When we let go of all our wandering and discriminating thoughts, our true self will surface and so then will true wisdom. Only through the process of concentration and purification can wisdom flourish. To accomplish this, the Pure Land School uses the Buddha Name Chanting Method, while Zen uses a different method. Every practice has its own method to accomplish the same goal of enlightenment. All ways of practice are equal.
Buddha Shakyamuni taught us innumerable ways of practice. It is up to us to choose the one that is compatible with the depth of our root nature, level of achievement and manner of living. Regardless of the practice we choose, the three basic guidelines are enlightenment, right and proper thoughts, and purity.
We have to be extremely careful living in our time. The Surangama Sutra tells us that we are now living in the Dharma-ending age when pollution of both the mind and the environment are at their worst. There are countless numbers of deviated thinking teachers in this time who are creating great chaos. It is crucial that we use the standards taught by the Buddha to distinguish between proper and deviated.
The Pure Land sutras teach us how to start our practice with the Three Conditions. These three have been the foundation of Buddhahood throughout eternity. All Buddhas say that Buddhahood is achieved through any one of an infinite number of methods. However, every method requires the Three Conditions as a foundation. This is similar to building a house. No matter how many houses we are building, each requires a good foundation. The First Condition includes:
(A) Showing respect and care for ones parents,
(B) Listening carefully to and respecting teachers and elders,
(C) Showing compassion by not killing and
(D) Following the Ten Good Conducts.
If we act accordingly, then we will benefit from this First Condition.
The practice of Filial Piety is showing respect and caring for one's parents. The foundation of Chinese civilization has been built on filial piety, as was Buddhism in India. The Chinese character "Shiao" means filial piety. The top part means old age while the bottom part means son. When the two are put together, it gives us the meaning of one entity. It is vastly expansive and never-ending. It speaks of the generations before ours and of those to follow.
I have met many westerners who asked me about the Chinese tradition of paying respect to ancestors they did not even know about. They did not understand that all of life is just one entity with no beginning and no end. Only Buddhism can carry filial piety to perfection.
Being filial does not simply mean taking care of parents financially, it goes beyond that to helping them cultivate their minds to a higher level of living and wisdom. Buddha Shakyamuni, our "Original Teacher", taught this to us. If our actions such as not doing well at school, not following rules and listening to teachers, not getting along with friends, relatives or co-workers; generally not living up to our parent's expectations and thus worrying them, then we have done poorly at filial piety. In other words, making our parents happy is part of filial piety. But most importantly, not until we reach the state of Buddhahood, will we perfectly fulfill filial respect for our parents and ancestors.
The second part of the First Condition is following and respecting teachers and elders. In his forty-nine years of teaching, Buddha Shakyamuni showed us how to correctly live our lives. Following his teachings shows our respect for him.
The third part of the First Condition is cultivating compassion and not killing. There is a big difference between love and compassion. Love comes from feelings; compassion comes from wisdom. Love is unstable and unreliable. We may love someone today but not tomorrow. When someone tells us that he or she loves or hates us, we would do well not to take it too seriously. However, compassion is for forever because it is based on the wisdom that is part of the true mind, our original self. It is not based on emotion. We can start by showing compassion and kindness for our family and keep expanding until we include every sentient being in the ten directions. Developing this level of compassion is another part of the cultivation that will lead us to enlightenment.
The fourth part of the first Condition includes following the Ten Good Conducts. These are no killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, abusive language, bearing tales, seductive words, greed, anger or ignorance. The first three are disciplines of the body, the next four are disciplines of the mouth and the last three are disciplines of the mind.
One who follows the Ten Good Conducts in their daily life acquires a solid foundation for self-cultivation. To be truthful, understanding the principles is easy; however, putting them into practice requires a high level of wisdom. There is some flexibility in practicing the Ten Good Conducts, which is why the guidance of a good teacher and the encouragement of our fellow classmates or practitioners are essential in helping us to attain enlightenment in this lifetime. This is why the respect and sincerity towards our teachers and elders are part of the foundation and a prerequisite for our cultivation.
Having achieved the First Condition in this area will have a positive effect on one's prosperity and well being in both the human and the heavenly worlds. The sutras call those who accomplish this, "good men and good women" because they are ready to accept the teachings and follow the precepts to attain purity of mind.
The Second Condition is:
(A) Abiding by taking refuge in the Three Jewels of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,
(B) Following the precepts, laws and customs and
(C) Behaving in a dignified and proper manner.
I have discussed these earlier in this talk.
The Third Condition is:
(A) Generating the Bodhi mind,
(B) Deeply believing in the Law of Cause and Effect
(C) Reciting and upholding Mahayana sutras and
(D) Encouraging others to advance on the path to enlightenment.
In generating the Bodhi mind, one commits oneself to achieving ultimate enlightenment. Enlightenment refers to a perfect and complete understanding of life and the universe. If we cannot reach it then we can at least obtain a clear understanding of it.
The second part of the Third Condition is deeply believing in the Law of Cause and Effect. Nothing is beyond this law. All other laws in the universe revolve around it. However, one can control one's own cause and effect. How can this be done? There is nothing we can do about past causes once the thought or action has been done, but we can control the "condition." For a cause to generate an effect, a condition has to exist. By controlling the circumstance or condition, one prevents the cause from coming into effect. For example, if we place a seed on a rock, it will not grow. However, if we plant it in fertile soil where the sun shines and water it carefully, then it can grow. Once we learn how to control the condition, then everything we wish for can be obtained. Knowing this and acting accordingly, we will be liberated from aging, sickness and the cycle of birth and death.
All dharmas are generated by the mind. For example, why does a person become old? When a person reaches a certain age, he or she starts thinking "old." I have spoken with a number of Buddhist doctors about why people become old. They agreed with me that when people are working, they do not think about old age. However, after they have been retired a few years they look as if they were twenty years older! Why? Retired people who are no longer working start thinking every day about becoming old. After a while, they start to age more rapidly and then to become sick. Once they get sick, they start thinking about going to the hospital. All this came about from wandering thoughts.
However, this is not the case for people who successfully practice the Buddha Name Chanting Method. My late teacher, Mr. Bing-Nan Lee, lived to be ninety-seven years old but looked more like seventy. He cooked for himself and washed his own clothes. Not until his last two years did he accept any care. He was healthy, had a strong voice and was giving lectures up until two weeks before he passed away. Why? He did not think about sickness or old age. We will not get sick if we do not think about getting sick, we will not age if we do not think about old age and we will not die if we do not think about death.
Buddhism provides the principles, methods and practices to accomplish this. The art of living can be mastered once we fully understand and practice Buddhism. It teaches us to maintain a healthy mind. A healthy mind creates a healthy body. All sickness comes from pollution and the worst pollution is that of the mind. The Buddha called this pollution the Three Poisons of Greed, Anger and Ignorance. Between the pollution of the environment and that of our mind how can we not get sick? However, even with the worst pollution around us, a person who is free of the three poisons will not become sick.
All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas set examples so beings can see that we may live happy, prosperous and perfect lives. Seeing this, people will want to follow our example. We are supposed to be role models for society. However, if people see Buddhists living a miserable life, no one will want to learn from us!
The more we understand the Buddha's teachings, the more joy we will receive from them. To comprehend the profound meaning within, one needs to practice earnestly. Understanding and cultivation are equally important in complementing each other to attain even deeper understanding and cultivation. Achieving this, one will experience true inner joy and peace. If we are not experiencing some of this joy and are instead filled with worries then we need to take a good look at ourselves, to see whether or not we are practicing in accordance with the teachings. If not, find out where the problem lies and correct it. Doing this properly, we will be on the right path of Buddhism.
Regardless of the situations we encounter, adverse or favorable, keep focused and concentrate on achieving enlightenment. The fifty-three visits that Sudhana had in the Flower Adornment Sutra represented people from all walks of life portrayed by fifty-three enlightened Bodhisattvas. This shows us that people of any profession can become a Buddha or Bodhisattva. We do not have to change our job or the environment, in which we live but can practice wherever we are. The benefits begin the minute we start to correct our thoughts and actions.
We would do well to live our lives with a clear mind and to be proper in thought and action, not being tempted by erroneous influences. If we are able to do this, then no matter which method we choose we will be true followers of the Buddha. As our daily thinking becomes clearer, our mind will become purer, enabling us to live happier, peaceful and fulfilling lives.
When I heard of a suggestion made by the late Mr. Lian-Jui Xia to use the name Pure Land Buddhist Learning Center instead of the traditional name of temple, I thought it was appropriate for today's society. Buddhism has always been forward thinking not backward. It has adapted to existing cultures and localities.
When Buddhism first came to China, it took on aspects of the Chinese culture. The temples had a Chinese appearance, the monks and nuns clothing was in the Chinese style. If the temples had followed Indian design, the Chinese would not have wanted to enter such a foreign looking place. The teachings were interpreted in a way that enabled the Chinese people to merge them into their daily lives, thus they were readily accepted. The Diamond Sutra tells us that nothing is permanent, while the Surangama Sutra explains that everything should accord with the minds of sentient beings. All this is to remind us to accord with local conditions.
At a talk one time in Miami, there were quite a few Buddhists who were westerners. I told them that Buddhism had not yet officially come to America. They asked why I had said that when Buddhism was very popular in America. I asked them," Have you ever seen Buddhist statues with features that resemble a westerner?" They briefly thought about it and realized that what I had said was true. When Buddhism spread to China, pictures and statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas adopted Chinese features. In Japan, they have Japanese features. The same applies to Thailand, Tibet and so on. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do not have only one fixed appearance, rather they appear in the form that is most acceptable and comfortable for the local people.
Furthermore, Buddhism adapts to take on the aspects of the local culture. In America, a typical Buddhist temple needs to look like the White House and not like a traditional Chinese temple. When Americans see a Chinese temple, they would think of it as foreign and might not feel comfortable going in. However, if the buildings look like the White House, they would go in uninvited! Do you not think that they would be happy to see Buddhas and Bodhisattvas with western features? They certainly would.
We need to remember that Buddhism is an education. As it spreads through America, it will take on a more western appearance just as it did when Indian teachers brought it to China, where it took on a Chinese appearance. As Buddhism adapts to new cultures, it will remain current with the times, thus appealing to more people. Those, who accept it, will be able to apply the teachings in solving their personal as well as social problems. As Buddhism is accepted, it will bring peace and prosperity to those people as well as to the whole world. Understanding this will help us to begin our cultivation.
After the Pure Land Learning Center was officially established, Five Guidelines were set up for practice:
1) The Three Conditions,
2) The Six Principles of Harmony,
3) The Three Learnings,
4) The Six Paramitas or Principles and
5) The Ten Great Vows of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva.
These Five Guidelines can bring us happiness and prosperity if we make them a part of our daily lives.
The Six Paramitas or Principles, one of these Five Guidelines, represent the six goals that Bodhisattvas practice. They are giving, precepts, patience, diligence, deep concentration and wisdom. A homemaker, who daily performs the same chores and constantly complains about them, will find that with this attitude, he or she has created a certain destiny within the cycle of birth and death. On the other hand, if one is awakened and devotes himself or herself to accomplishing the Six Principles, the results will be quite different.
For example, the Principle of Giving is achieved when one takes care of the family with wisdom and tireless labor. The Principle of Precepts is achieved when one sets priorities and puts things into order; the Principle of Patience when one increases patience while working; the Principle of Diligence when one tries to improve daily; the Principle of Concentration when one is no longer affected by external factors and the Principle of Wisdom when one is clear-minded. A pure mind has no attachments therefore it never gets tired. On the other hand, a polluted mind becomes easily tired without having doing much. The difference lies in the way we think, when this changes, so will the results. Wherever one is, at work or with friends, one can strive to achieve the Six Principles. Cultivation is not being separated from family or society, but is perfected within one's daily life. One, who truly knows how to cultivate, accumulates infinite good fortune and merits.
In conclusion, the most important principles of the Buddha's teachings are having purity of mind, thoroughly seeing through to true reality, letting go of all worries and attachments and serving all sentient beings with a joyful heart. May you all learn and practice the "Art of Living" so that your lives will be happy and fulfilling.
Questions and Answers
Question. How do we purify our minds so we can remain forever young?
Answer. This is a good question. The sutras tell us that anything that has a physical image is unreal. We can apply or use these physical images, but we cannot foster attachments for them. Attachments create impurity in our mind, deterring us from achieving enlightenment. This applies to all forms of practice in Buddhism. Even the Pure Land School, which many agree is the easiest to practice, requires that although one who wishes to be born into the Pure Land can take their remaining karma with them, they cannot have any existing worries or attachments. Therefore, a person with worries or attachments cannot transcend the cycle of birth and death. Life becomes harder as we pass through the cycles of rebirth.
Earlier in this talk, I spoke of filial piety. Up until 1995, the only attachment I had left was for my ninety-one year old mother, who lived in China. When I met with her about ten years earlier in Hong Kong, I persuaded her to practice the Buddha Name Chanting Method. When I spoke with her on the telephone several years ago, she still had strong attachments for her sons and grandchildren. Not until a year ago did she finally let go of all attachments. She told me that she had seen Buddha Amitabha twice and Guan Yin Bodhisattva once. In addition, she had prior knowledge of when she would be leaving this world. On May 29, 1995, she passed on and was born into the Western Pure Land. At her funeral, people were aware of a radiant glow and a pleasing yet unfamiliar fragrance. Her complexion appeared similar to that of a live person. After eight days, her body was still soft. Upon her cremation, more than three hundred sharira, or relics, were found. All this is evidence that she had been successfully born into the Pure Land.
In conclusion, once we are rid of worries and attachments we can go to the Western Pure Land whenever we wish. By maintaining a pure, non-discriminating, compassionate and kind heart, one holds the key to remaining youthful.
Question. Why do some Buddhists exclude the five pungent vegetables from their diet?
Answer. Some Buddhists who follow a strict diet do not eat the five pungent vegetables; onions, garlic, chives, green onions and leeks. The Buddha said that these adversely affect those who are in the early stages of cultivation. If eaten cooked, they produce hormones. Eaten raw, they may affect the liver, leading one to become irritable and less able to concentrate. Please understand that this only happens if you eat them in large quantities. There is no problem if a moderate amount is used for cooking.
The same applies for alcohol and intoxicants. Intoxication can be a factor in causing erroneous behavior. The Buddha warned people against alcohol or intoxicants to guide them in the avoidance of committing misdeeds due to intoxication. Therefore, the precepts that the Buddha set forth really depend upon the environment and the situation that we are in.
Our society is different from that of Buddha Shakyamuni's. If he were to re-appear in this world, I am sure the Buddha would encourage the use of garlic, simply because it can be used to cure some diseases, especially lung disease.
Many years ago, I was teaching at the Eastern Buddhist College. During that period, we found out that a few of the students had lung diseases. Dr. Tang, who was one of the professors, suggested that they use garlic for treatment. He told us of an event that had happened in China some time ago. A patient was told by his doctor that due to his end stage of TB, he only had three months to live. The patient's family was also told to let him have anything he asked for, with one condition; that he lived apart from his family. His family, therefore, built a room for him to live in a vegetable garden and delivered meals to him every day.
In that garden, grew a large amount of garlic. Due to his isolation and boredom, he tried the garlic raw and discovered that he enjoyed the taste of it. Soon the garlic became more of a snack for him. Three months later, he was still alive, and months after that, he was becoming healthier and healthier. His family found it strange and thinking there had been a misdiagnosis took him back to the hospital.
The doctor was astonished at what he saw and immediately gathered a group of specialists to investigate his patient's case. Finally, they found out it was the garlic that cured the disease! From then on, many medicines for lung disease have been made with garlic. Regretfully, when Dr. Tang suggested that those students use garlic for treatment, his suggestion was not accepted. The students did not want to violate the precepts even though their illness was contagious. Therefore, precepts have to be flexible and to consider environmental conditions. Nowadays, almost everything we eat, such as, meat, fish and even vegetables, contains either chemicals or preservatives, which are harmful to us. In addition, we are seeing more and more people with diseases that have not previously existed.
Even the taste of meat is different now. Years ago, chicks and piglets were raised in the open, so they were happier and that affected the taste of the meat. Now animals are raised in a narrow space with no place to move. Do you think they are happy? I heard that in Taiwan, the piglets are injected with chemicals so they grow more quickly. Their life span is only six months and the chickens only live for six weeks! Even vegetables and grains are no exceptions to being contaminated. How could we not get sick?
Therefore, garlic is good for us, although it is harmful to our eyes when taken in large quantities.
Question. The Buddha taught us not to kill, but what should we do about insects such as mosquitoes and flies?
Answer. The Buddha not only taught us to protect all animals, but also plants. Even plants have lives and grow with dignity. Therefore, unless there is absolutely no space for us to walk around them, we should not step on them because that behavior is an insult and disrespectful to the plants.
Normally, when a tree is as tall as human, there is a tree spirit. In ancient times, monks often lived in mountain huts. Three days before they cut a tree to build the hut, they would respectfully tell of their intention and ask the tree spirit to move to a safe place. This method can be applied to insects. In order to keep our houses and environment clean and our family healthy, we can stand in front of a statue of the Buddha or Bodhisattva three days before our actions and ask the insects to move. Some people who have done so with sincere and kind hearts have received good results.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Buddhism instructs us how to live happy and fulfilling lives. It was
transmitted to China in 67 AD and since then, has spread and flourished
throughout the country. However, anything that has been passed down for
a long period can be expected to experience some distortion and
Buddhism is no exception.