Written for the 50th anniversary of the BAUS
Author Ven. Chao Ding
Translated by Soula Lo
Time goes fast, it seems that not so long ago elder Ven. Rén Jun had just hosted the 40th anniversary celebration while he had again served as president of the BAUS, and the Buddhist Fourfold Assembly was gathering together, attending the anniversary celebration, which was an exceptionally grand occasion. Within a blink of an eye, 10 years have passed and it is the 50th anniversary now. The reputation of the BAUS is shining with golden lights, which symbolizes the Dharma wheels spin from east to west, and the Buddha’s light is illuminating throughout the ten directions!
I recall 50 years ago, the founder Ven. Lok To, who was also the president of the BAUS, and the vice president, Dr. Cia Theng Shen, along with other virtuous brothers and sisters, called up a group of living Bodhisattvas who shared the same ideals, and founded the Buddhist Association of the United States. They had regular assemblies, public Dharma practices, and they drew upon collective wisdom and absorbed many useful ideas through many deep discussion conferences, to try and find a way to spread the Bodhi seeds in this new land, and propagate the Buddha’s ultimate enlightened voice in the mundane world. This, in hope that the Buddha’s light will shine brighter, and the Dharma’s wheel will spin forever, so all sentient beings can savor the Dharma’s taste. And now, after 50 long years have gone by, the former presidents such as elder Ven. Lok To, elder Ven. Min Zhi, elder Ven. Rén Jun, and more, some have ascended to the Western Pure Land, some have ascended to Tusita Heaven Adytum, and some have vowed to come back as living Bodhisattvas. The last president, Ven. Ji Xing, who accepted the position after Ven. Jin Ren, took charge of the affairs of the Buddhist Association, and led the board members to carry on the past and open a way for future, dedicated himself in assisting Buddhism to be localized and modernized. After he fulfilled his term, achieved success and retired; it is now the American Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s term to be the president of the BAUS. With his achievement in Buddhist academics, and his complete blessings and causations, he can be as strong as a dragon or an elephant in Buddhism; a great virtuous monk who commands public respect and support. This new president has a symbolizing meaning to the future of the BAUS. Today, we have the BAUS’s president Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi hosting the 50th anniversary celebration; leading the Fourfold Assembly toward the great Bodhi Avenue. He must have competence and be happy with this job, all Buddhas will be pleased, and the dragons and heavenly devas will send their blessings. Let us pray for this with all our heart!
Today is the BAUS’s 50th anniversary celebration, with all the good people gathering here to attend this Dharma propagation conference. Me, an old monk who has been a member for 40 years, would like to take “Pure mind and solemn realm” as a topic, discussing in detail from the Liberation-path to the ultimate Bodhi Avenue in Buddhism, as a gift to the BAUS’s 50th birthday.
2. How to Solemnize the Buddha’s Pure Land
For Buddhism propagation, Dharma talks, or to engage in all types of activities such as education, culture, and charitable work, the basic principle is: each endeavor must match with truth and timing, to benefit oneself and others. Today, let’s discuss how to adapt with American society, how to guide people to understand Buddhism, believe in Dharma, and live the Buddhist righteous enlightened life. To be honest, this topic had been produced 50 years ago, when the president and board members first founded this association, and had seriously discussed this topic and thoroughly did some research. Year after year, we continually study it, continually discover problems, and continually solve problems. We could say everybody is dedicated to the Three Jewels; everything we do is to help all sentient beings to seek a way to liberate them from suffering and to gain happiness: from mundane pleasure to the liberation beyond the mundane world, and to the ultimate bliss of Bodhi.
The Verses of Undefiled Acts was written by Master Yin Shun, which has been included in the Collection of Wondrous Clouds, in the volume of Flourishing Rain and Fragrant Clouds(華雨香雲). The literature in The Verses of Undefiled Acts are very concise: 5 words in each line, 4 lines make up one verse, totaling only 16 lines, 4 verses, and 80 words. But if we deliberately think about the connotation and the deep meanings herein, it actually has covered all the moral conducts in Buddhism, from the common moral conducts in the human world and heavens, to deepen the disciplines in Śrāvaka, the first or initial stage in the Hīnayāna, and then to the great virtues of Bodhisattvas. For example, the three moral rules shared by the five vehicles in the human world and heavens are: almsgiving, keeping precepts, and practicing samādhi (deep meditation). The 3 vehicles in the path of Śrāvaka share these same moral rules: the three studies and the eight right ways. And the Mahayana has distinct moral rules for the Bodhisattva-path: the six things that ferry one beyond the sea of mortality to nirvāṇa are all based on the principle of the three hearts.
The last verse in the end of The Verses of Undefiled Acts: “Solemnizing the Buddha’s Pure Land”, has been commonly used as the Verse of Transference, “Dedicating all these merits…When concluding this body of retribution…All would ascend to the Realm of Ultimate Bliss.” Which means: the practitioners of the Pure Land sect should transfer all their merits, such as chanting Buddha’s name, reciting sutras, remorse, listening to the Dharma talks…etc. The merits from all these good conducts should transfer to the Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land, and then they will ascend to the Western Pure Land after they die. But at the end of The Verses of Undefiled Acts, it says “When the boundless defilements have been purified, all the undefiled acts will be gathered. Solemnize the Buddha’s Realm of Ultimate Bliss with these undefiled acts.” The Sutra of Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life (觀無量壽經) was originally included as one of the three famous main Sutras for Pure Land sect. It clearly said, “Those who desire to be born in that land must perform the three meritorious acts: first, they should attend dutifully to their parents, honor the work of teachers and elders, with a compassionate mind refrain from killing, and cultivate the ten virtuous acts; second, they should receive and uphold the Three Refuges, keep the various precepts, and refrain from breaking the rules of conduct; third, they should awaken the mind that aspires for Enlightenment, believe deeply in the principle of cause and effect, read and recite the Mahayana teachings, and encourage those who practice the way.” These three acts are called the undefiled acts. These three kinds of virtuous deeds are none other than the true cause for the Enlightenment of all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future.”1 The scripture clearly tells us what undefiled acts are. They covered the various levels of virtuous acts in Buddhism. The first one is the good deeds shared by people in the mundane world; the second virtuous act is the good deeds within the three vehicles’ moral rules; the third one is the Bodhisattvas’ rules of conduct in the Mahayana, which is distinguished from the common moral rules. But the great virtuous men in the Chinese Buddhist Pure Land sect advocate chanting the Buddha’s name, or chanting the name of Amitabha with a concentrated, single mind, which would complete ten thousand good deeds; as the saying said, “Chanting the name of Amitabha is enough to be a Buddha.” If someone retorts, the Sutra of the Buddha’s teaching on Amitabha clearly said, “One cannot have few good roots, blessings, virtues, and causal connections to attain birth in that land.” They would reply, “Chanting Amitabha Buddha’s name completes the blessings and causations to be reborn in the Pure Land. By discarding the right causation of the Three Blessings and taking the secondary causation of chanting Amitabha Buddha’s name, how can this match with the idea of “all the good conducts will return to Buddhahood” in the Mahayana’s Pure Land sect?
According to my interpretation of Master Yin Shun’s The Verses of Undefiled Acts, it has two meanings in responding to the circumstances and shows the truth. From the point of responding to the circumstances, the common practitioners of Pure Land sect seemed to stray away from the path, and emphasize the methods of one Sutra, one mantra, and one Buddha, believing that “in all Buddhas throughout ten directions in the past, present, and future, only Amitabha Buddha is the best.” This forms an arbitrary and exclusive disposition. Some people even compare the Amitabha Buddha with theistic traditional religions, and claim that this world is full of sufferings, sins, and darkness; that God created everything in this world is no big deal. Our Buddha is grand and superior, the realm he created, and all beings there would have joy only, no sufferings at all. Yet they do not know that the major differences between Buddhism and theistic religions are the Dependent Origination and Creationism. The divergence in these two ideologies is rational causation theory vs. non-causation theory. How can a Buddhist compare the Pure Land adorned by Bodhisattvas’ virtuous acts with those vacant and absurd gods, in order to show how incredible the Buddha’s power is? The Verses of Undefiled Acts is in accordance with the Pure Land Sutras, which extends to the Sutras and thesis of the big and small vehicles, explaining the various virtues of undefiled acts. To counter with modern people’s deviation and defects, shows how the Pure Land sect practitioners can cultivate the undefiled acts in order to “solemnize the Buddha’s Realm of Ultimate Bliss.” The first one of the concise four verses is, “All beings are pure when their minds are purified; all realms are pure when their minds are purified; the infinite meanings of Buddhism are based on purification.” This is a summary; the word of pure has covered Buddhism in whole. As a result of the minds’ purification, and cultivating stillness and wisdom, all beings can achieve the status of liberation of parting from confusion and witness the ultimate truth. “All beings are pure” is an ideal of harmony and peace, which means all sentient beings may live in harmony as the Great Harmonious Society, in the mortal pure land. There is no trouble of greed, anger, and ignorance; it is a happy life full of compassion and wisdom. To go even further: transform the harmonious, happy existence between oneself and others, extend it to the material world’s purification, and have it become a graceful, solemn world. Therefore, this line “all realms are pure when their minds are purified” has covered the pure minds of the Liberation-path in Śrāvaka and the solemn realm of the Budhisattva-path in the Mahayana.
The following two verses, “To purify body and mouth with precepts, to purify desires with samādhi, to purify intellection with wisdom, therefore the Three Studies purify them in turn. The purified greed is the water of samādhi, the purified anger is the wind of great compassion vows, and the purified ignorance is the fire of wisdom, as the spiritual nature is inherently pure.” These verses specifically show the essential meaning of the moral rules shared by the three vehicles, and the differential rules for the big vehicle of the Mahayana. The Three Studies of precepts, samādhi, and wisdom are the primary virtues of the Liberation-path. The Tisso Sikkhā (三增上學) can purify body, mouth, and intellection, when these three parts are completely purified, one will be completely bathed in samādhi and wisdom, witness the ultimate truth in person, and achieve the nirvana. The virtues of the Liberation-path are based upon the Three Studies, and the Bodhisattva-path is also based upon deepening and expanding the Three Studies. The three hearts of Bodhisattva: great vows, great compassion, and deep wisdom, are the methods to purify greed, anger, and ignorance. The passive ways of non-greed, non-anger, and non-ignorance move onto the more active way of pure samādhi, great compassion and deep wisdom. The last verse is a conclusion, “When the boundless defilements have been purified, all the undefiled acts will be gathered, then solemnize the Buddha’s Realm of Ultimate Bliss with these undefiled acts.” The foundation of these three parts of purification should stay away from greed, anger, and ignorance; to purify the boundless defilements, and complete all the undefiled acts. The summary is to transform the common virtues in the earthly world to the deep moral acts that lie beyond worldly affairs, and then back to the greatest virtues in the mundane world again.
3. The undefiled acts in Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra2
The Mahayana Sutras advocate the Bodhisattvas’ deep wisdom and extensive acts in saving all beings. There is a typical figure worth our admiration and respect; he is Vimalakirti, a character described in Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. He was a great Bodhisattva from the Eastern Abhirati Buddha-land, who came to this earthly world to assist Sakyamuni Buddha to advocate Buddhism. In this Sutra, it describes that Vimalakirti lived in the great city of Vaisali, a certain Licchavi, and he “having served the ancient Buddhas, he had generated the roots of virtue by honoring them and making offerings to them. He had attained tolerance as well as eloquence. He played with the great super knowledge. He had attained the power of incantations and of fearlessness. He had conquered all demons and opponents. He had penetrated the profound way of the Dharma. He was liberated through the transcendence of wisdom. Having integrated his realization with skill in liberative technique, he was expert in knowing the thoughts and actions of living beings. Knowing the strength or weakness of their faculties, and being gifted with unrivaled eloquence, he taught the Dharma appropriately to each. Having applied himself energetically to the Mahayana, he understood it and accomplished his tasks with great finesse.” He was diligent in the six pāramitās, “His wealth was inexhaustible for the purpose of sustaining the poor and the helpless. He observed a pure morality in order to protect the immoral. He maintained tolerance and self-control in order to reconcile beings who were angry, cruel, violent, and brutal. He blazed with energy in order to inspire people who were lazy. He maintained concentration, mindfulness, and meditation in order to sustain the mentally troubled. He attained decisive wisdom in order to sustain the foolish.” The Sutra also described his special image and his flexibility in teaching the Dharma appropriately to each, “He wore the white clothes of the layman, yet lived impeccably like a religious devotee. He lived at home, but remained aloof from the realm of desire, the realm of pure matter, and the immaterial realm. He had a son, a wife, and female attendants, yet always maintained continence. He appeared to be surrounded by servants, yet lived in solitude. He appeared to be adorned with ornaments, yet always was endowed with the auspicious signs and marks. He seemed to eat and drink, yet always took nourishment from the taste of meditation.” This describes his personal merits in practice, concrete examples of compassionate and altruistic virtues: “He made his appearance at the fields of sports and in the casinos, but his aim was always to mature those people who were attached to games and gambling. He visited the fashionable heterodox teachers, yet always kept unswerving loyalty to the Buddha. He understood the mundane and transcendental sciences and esoteric practices, yet always took pleasure in the delights of the Dharma. He mixed in all crowds, yet was respected as foremost of all. In order to be in harmony with people, he associated with elders, with those of middle age, and with the young, yet always spoke in harmony with the Dharma. He engaged in all sorts of businesses, yet had no interest in profit or possessions. To train living beings, he would appear at crossroads and on street corners, and to protect them he participated in government. To turn people away from the Hīnayāna and to engage them in the Mahayana, he appeared among listeners and teachers of the Dharma. To develop children, he visited all the schools. To demonstrate the evils of desire, he even entered the brothels. To establish drunkards in correct mindfulness, he entered all the cabarets.” Beyond that, he appeared in all kinds of status, to teach and benefit all beings as Kuan-Yin Bodhisattva does. The Sutra said, “He was honored as the landlord among landlords because he renounced the aggressiveness of ownership. He was honored as the warrior among warriors because he cultivated endurance, determination, and fortitude.” …and even more, “He was honored as the Lokapala among Lokapalas because he fostered the development of all living beings.” With these ten examples, the Sutra showed the fact that as a Bodhisattva, no matter in what kind of status, they were always in a leaders’ position, in order to teach them the right Dharma, to assist them enhancing their merits andwisdom.
The Bodhisattvas’ mission, as the Sutra exemplified, is to solemnize Buddha-fields, to mature all living beings, as the Buddhist idiom says, “To advocate Buddhism is our housework; to benefit all beings is our career.” When Master Taixu visited India and worshiped at the sacred sites, he was inspired by the scenes and wrote this poem, “Though the enlightenment trees have flourished and withered for several cycles, if the lonely Spiritual Mountain is able to be revived, we shall not feel sad because it is now past its prime, for the responsibility to advocate Buddhism is supposed to rest upon the monks.” Speaking from the point of maintaining The Three Jewels, if there is a healthy group of samgha in the world, this means the genuine Dharma will last for a long time, and Buddhas’ spiritual body will always exist and never die. In the tradition of Buddhism, the samgha means the Hīnayāna monks: the practitioners who shaved their heads, renounced their secular life, and followed the Buddha’s teachings. Yet as everything is impermanent, time and space have changed, especially in the environment of the United States, the Hīnayāna monks are getting rarer. In order to adapt to this new age, to enhance Buddhism other than the Hīnayāna monks, the Bodhisattva monks also need to take up the mission of propagating Buddhism and to benefit all beings. The establishment of the BAUS was based upon the Bhikku-saṃgha, and then extended to Bodhisattva-samgha, which also means the harmonious group formed by the Fourfold Assembly. For the past 50 years, the samgha and lay people have together, cooperated and strived for the development of Buddhism in the United States.
For the convenience of advocating Buddhism, we have adjusted our methods according to the changes of time and environment. The three systems of Buddhism: Hīnayāna, Tibetan, and Chinese, represent the three periods of Buddhist ideology. Each has its own regional color, which was established in order to adapt the characters of all beings at that particular time and region. The BAUS was based on Chinese traditional Buddhism to begin with, now it has gradually absorbed the essence of the early or original Buddhism, and it integrated the Buddhist nature; to propagate both the big and small vehicles. We shall focus on this local soil as our mainstream in the future, merge with international ideology, and become an innovated Buddhism which is distinct from the traditional Buddhism.
However, according to the theory that matches truth in Buddhism, Buddhism is, “not created by Buddha, or by others.” Truth has its own nature of origin, stability, and universality. Buddha’s basic methods of saving all beings match with the Law of Dependent Origination. It is the same in ancient time and modern time. It would not be different because of time or space; it will not lose efficacy because time and environment have changed. As the Mahayana Pure Land Causal Acts that are mentioned in Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, these words are still very fresh even as read by modern readers. It matches all Buddhas’ universal truth. It also matches all beings’ nature in the present time. Therefore, I have brought this up, for the reference of all Buddhist brothers and sisters who are involved in advocating Dharma.
In the first chapter, Purification of the Buddha-Field, the first long paragraph is the preface as the general sutras. Other than briefly mentioned as the audience in the gathering, “Of bhikhus there were eight thousand, all saints …Of Bodhisattvas there were thirty-two thousand: great spiritual heroes who were universally acclaimed…” It also specially introduced them as “the best captains for the voyage of discovery of the treasures of the Dharma.” They were endowed with wisdom that is able to understand the thoughts of living beings, as well as their comings and goings. They had been consecrated with the anointment of the peerless gnosis of the Buddha. With their high resolve, they approached the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, and the eighteen special qualities of the Buddha. The gathering also included many powerful gods: Brahmas, Sakras, Lokapalas, devas, nagas, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, and mahoragas. And the Fourfold Assembly consists of bhikhus, bhikhunis, laymen, and laywomen. The Licchavi Bodhisattva Ratnakara approached the Lord Buddha, having celebrated the Buddha with the verses, and then addressed him, “Lord, these five hundred young Licchavis are truly on their way to unexcelled, perfect enlightenment, and they have asked what is the Bodhisattvas’ purification of the Buddha-field. Please, Lord, explain to them the Bodhisattvas’ purification of the Buddha-field!” Bodhisattva-path aims to achieve Buddha’s ultimate virtues; saving living beings is a must-have process. This is to help the development of living beings, provide an ideal practice environment, and lead them to free themselves from physical, mental, social and environmental obstacles, successfully break away from the defilements of no-beginning, and attain the perfect nirvāṇa. Thus, to solemnize the Buddha-field is an essential lesson in Bodhisattva-path. To the Śrāvaka monks, their urgent lesson is to liberate themselves, as for solemnizing the Buddha-field and the development of living beings, these are not their main concern, and not their responsibility either, since these matters are not inevitably related to liberate them from the chain of transmigration.
The Buddha directly declares to The Licchavi Bodhisattva Ratnakara, “A Buddha-field of Bodhisattvas is a field of living beings.” In the concept of difference between the ego and others, the mundane world of all beings, it is reflected by the living beings’ vexation and defiled acts; therefore, it is called filthy land. The lands of all Buddhas and saints are reflected by their pure virtues, compassion, and wisdom; therefore, it is called pure land. All the Buddhas are enlightened and perfectly realized the true nature of everything, and everything’s true nature is emptiness. They have detached from speech and thoughts. The lands they are living are empty and formless. The reflection of everything, pure or filthy, all depends on the living beings. The reason Bodhisattvas cultivate pure lands is to benefit living beings. Because of the living beings, so Bodhisattvas need to solemnize pure lands. Why is a Buddha-field of Bodhisattvas a field of living beings? To mature the development of all beings, Bodhisattvas need to observe these four circumstances:
(1) “A Bodhisattva embraces a Buddha-field to the same extent that he causes the development of living beings”: What kind of lands can cause living beings to cultivate good virtues?
(2) “He embraces a Buddha-field to the same extent that living beings become disciplined”: What kind of land can discipline living beings? So they can cease their vexation.
(3) “He embraces a Buddha-field to the same extent that, through entrance into a Buddha-field, living beings are introduced to the Buddha-gnosis”: What kind of environment can assist living beings to attain the Buddha-gnosis?
(4) “He embraces a Buddha-field to the same extent that, through entrance into that Buddha-field, living beings increase their holy spiritual faculties”: What kind of lands do they need to apply to increase living beings’ spiritual faculties and the Mahayana good roots?
Bodhisattvas’ aim of solemnizing a Buddha-field is to mature living beings’ spiritual faculties. Different beings have different nature and characters. How to increase their good virtues, cease their evil thoughts and acts, lead them to attain Buddhas’ wisdom, and plant their Mahayana good roots? To accommodate all beings’ likes, Bodhisattvas create various pure lands, tame them, and let each of them get the benefits of breeding good virtues and ceasing evils. There are some examples in this sutra that should one wish to build a palace, it must be built in an empty land, and using various building materials, then it can be a palace. By the same token, for developing the living beings, Bodhisattvas solemnize that Buddha-field; therefore, the living beings are the reason the Bodhisattvas create pure lands. Master Sengzhao explained, “Establishing the pure land must be because of living beings, building a palace must be because of the land. No land, no living beings, there will be no palace, no Buddha-field. The two vehicles are pure and empty, if not because of the living beings; there won’t be any pure lands.”
Next it talks about Bodhisattvas’ practice to lead and discipline living beings to attain pure land and virtuous faculties: the genuine heart, the profound heart, and the heart of participating in the Mahayana are Bodhisattvas’ Buddha-field. When they attained Enlightenment, the living beings who are free of hypocrisy and deceit, who live by all virtuous principles, who are actually participating in the Mahayana, will be born in their Buddha-fields. The Causation is inevitable as good deeds attract good results. Bodhisattva-path is in accordance with the Threefold Devotional Heart and the six Pāramitās (also practice the virtues of Śrāvaka, general human rules and heavenly good deeds.) The Threefold Devotional Heart described in many wisdom sutras is: Bodhi vows, compassion, and wisdom. The Threefold Devotional Heart in this sutra is the genuine heart, the profound heart, and the heart of participating in the Mahayana. Master Sengzhao said, “If one wishes to advocate the big Way, one must first make straight his heart; if one’s heart is genuine, then he can practice the profound heart; if one practices the profound heart, then he can travel boundlessly. This is the sequence of the Threefold Devotional Heart.” The heart that is free of hypocrisy and deceit is the foundation of all deeds. The straight, honest (and not crooked heart) is the pure heart of a true believer. When solid faith is established, one naturally can do all good deeds. As a sutra mentioned, “A true faith would cause genuine desire; a true desire would cause diligence.” The summary is: genuine heart→cause acts→profound heart→tamed thoughts→act accordingly→transfer good merits→obtain various methods→developing living beings→purified Buddha-field→purified speech→purified wisdom→purified heart→all virtues purified. As mentioned in this sutra, “The purity of his Buddha-field reflects the purity of living beings; the purity of the living beings reflects the purity of his gnosis; the purity of his gnosis reflects the purity of his doctrine; the purity of his doctrine reflects the purity of his transcendental practice; and the purity of his transcendental practice reflects the purity of his own mind.”
Buddhism is based on the Law of Dependent Origination, and the realization of pure land is the result of Bodhisattvas transforming all beings, to lead a great group of practitioners who share the same vows, let them become each other’s Bodhi companions, and harmoniously practice merits and wisdom. Master Yin Shun commented about the modern Pure-land sect practitioners, “If one does not know how to solemnize pure land, does not know where the pure land comes from, but only seeks to be reborn in the pure land; then one is treating the pure land as the heaven in theistic tradition. Only understanding where the pure land comes from, to practice and vow to solemnize the pure land; this is the right path of Buddhism.”
4. The human vehicle, the two vehicles, and the one vehicle
When Śākyamuni became a Buddha, he started to give Dharma talks and ferry all beings to the other shore. He ceased their evil thoughts and encouraged their good virtues, transformed their delusions into realization, turned their defilements into enlightenment, and fulfilled the purpose of detaching their suffering and to obtain happiness. Though living beings have tens of thousands of various natures and characters, the Buddha had given the Dharma in accordance with their nature; to suit the medicines for illness and provide all kinds of gateways to the Dharma. This is the way in the secular world, the way of supra-mundane, the way of blessedness and virtue, the way of wisdom, the way to rebirth in human or heavenly world, the way of Śrāvaka’s liberation, the Bodhi way of the Mahayana. The modern monks, Master Taixu and Master Yin Shun, who have mastered the comprehensive Dharma, from shallow to deep, have divided Buddhism into three categories: The rules shared by five vehicles, the rules shared by three vehicles, and the distinguished rule for the Mahayana. The five vehicles are: human, deva, Śrāvaka, Pratyekabuddha, and Bodhisattva. Among these five vehicles, the main principle is based on humans. In the three vehicles, which excluded human and deva, the key element is a focus on Śrāvaka. And the distinguished rules for the Mahayana, which is emphasized on the greatness of Bodhisattva, on top of the footstones of human, deva, Śrāvaka and Pratyekabuddha, goes up further, as it is the supreme Dharma gateway that is beyond human, deva, and the two vehicles.
From the course of the Buddha’s 45 years of Dharma teaching, we see that when Shakyamuni Buddha rose from his Bodhi seat, he first met two merchants and he taught them the principle of ascending to the heavens. The two merchants then took refuge in the Buddha, and followed The Five Precepts and The Ten Forms of Good Actions for laymen, which are called the rules shared by the five vehicles. Later he arrived at Mrgadāva, which was the first time he spun the Dharma wheel, and taught the very first five Bhikhus. He preached the Four Noble Truths, let them understand the Doctrine of Suffering, Accumulation, Extinction, and the Doctrine of Path (the Four Noble Truths include the content of the Twelve Laws of Dependent Origination, how they transmigrate and how they extinguish), which is called the rules shared by the three vehicles. As for the distinguished rules belonging to the big vehicle, its main content are the Six Pāramitās and the Four All-embracing (Bodhisattva) virtues: follow the vow of Bodhi, great compassion, the Prajñā wisdom, practice all good deeds, benefit oneself and others, enlighten oneself and others, lead all beings to reach the other shore, and attain Bodhi with them together.
According to Master Taixu’s Mahayana theory, the five vehicles and the three vehicles are actually just some skills for convenience; only the one vehicle is the ultimate way. His judgment on the three periods of Buddhism in India is: the first 500 years, “the small vehicle was popular, the big vehicle was latent.” The small vehicle or Śrāvaka was for the mainstream; their aim was to lean to liberation (Master Yin Shun call it “the liberation-path base on Śrāvaka”). When the Buddha was teaching the Lotus Sutra, he announced this in the assembly, “There is only One Buddha Vehicle, not two, nor three.” So all small vehicles should lead to the big vehicle/Mahayana, which means the Śrāvaka-path is only a convenient door that will eventually lead to the Bodhisattva-path. The second 500 years was judged the period of “big vehicle was the mainstream and small vehicle followed.” Here, the ideology of Śrāvakayāna became the branch and the big vehicle/Mahayana became the mainstream of the age. This period of Buddhism includes these three systems: True Nature, Emptiness, and Consciousness. The last 500 years is called the period of “Vajrayāna was mainstream, the Mahayana followed.” The Śrāvakayāna and the Mahayana school stepped down to be the branches. Only the Vajrayāna was the mainstream, such as practice Vajrayāna for the heavenly body, or practice Pure Land sect to ascend to some pure lands. Thus, they use Vajrayāna as a convenient door that leads to the Mahayana. In the present time, we should not advocate the self liberation-path of Śrāvakayāna. The age of Vajrayāna and heavenly style of pure land sect has passed, the most suitable and convenient way for the modern world is the Engaged Buddhism or the Humanistic Buddhism.
As is known to all, the purpose of Buddhism is to focus on detaching from sufferings and attain happiness. As I mentioned above, the human-heaven rules shared by the five vehicles, if one is to practice accordingly, one will be free from the Three Evil Paths (hell, hungry ghost, and animal), and attain the bliss of human or heavenly world. The liberation-path and the rules shared by the three vehicles can free one from the suffering of life and death, and attain the bliss of nirvana. The distinguished rules for Bodhisattva-path not only can let one free from the Three Evil Paths, the suffering of life and death, be liberated from the circle of various forms of reincarnation in the Six States of Existence, the life and death of transformed bodies by the two vehicles, and attain the state of liberation that is free from two kinds of death, but also can achieve the ultimate bliss of compassion and wisdom, which means they will lead all sentient beings to attain Buddhahood.
Buddhism is suitable for all kinds of sentient beings. The vehicles of human and deva are for seculars, the Śrāvakayāna vehicle is for the supra-mundane, and the Bodhisattva vehicle includes both the supra-mundane and secular way. Whether mundane or supra-mundane, Buddhism is comprehensive; it covers all the good Dharma. But from the characteristic of Buddhism and the profound meaning of the humanistic religion and culture, the supra-mundane, liberation-path that can liberate them from the suffering sea, is the ultimate purpose of Buddhism. In other words, the original idea of the Buddha who was born in this world was to lead all beings to realize the Buddha’s wisdom, to attain the nirvana without residue, and to achieve the perfect enlightenment.
To inspect the human vehicle, the two vehicles, and the one vehicle, the difference between these three are: the genuine Dharma of human vehicle, which intended to create harmony between oneself and others in the human world; the detaching path of the two vehicles to focus on purifying one’s mind; the one vehicle is the special characteristic of Bodhisattva acts, which includes both the harmony between oneself and others, and the purification of one’s mind. Because of the rules of the human vehicle, such as the five precepts, the purpose is for people to live in harmony, starting from each individual and extending to other humans, and even further to all sentient beings. Respect all life: passively to not kill, and actively to protect life. Not killing is the first of the five precepts. Moreover, in order to live in this world, we need materials like clothing, food, and shelter. If these materials are invaded, this means it will directly or indirectly threaten one’s survival, so one should not steal. And the survival and continuing existence of the human race needs married men and women to coexist harmoniously. In order to protect the married couple’s harmony, therefore, evil acts outside of legal marriage are forbidden, so one should not commit adultery. And there should be no false speaking, because human society depends on languages to convey their emotions and to exchange opinions. In order to protect each other’s harmonious coexistence, one should not commit false speaking (including evil speech, double tongue, and sexual talk). As for the no alcohol or no intoxicating substance precept, because one would lose one’s senses when drunk, alcohol or intoxicating substances will also damage health and cause worry and troubles; even make one commit the crimes of killing, stealing, adultery, or false speech. Therefore, in order to take precautions, the Buddha had to establish this precept. Other virtues exist like almsgiving and samādhi in purifying one’s mind――the Four Unlimited Mind. If one practices these virtues, it means one will stay in human or deva paths, enjoy the bliss and happiness, and will not descend to the Three Evil Paths. But, the Buddha established the five precepts and other good acts rules to accommodate the human world, based upon the family and the relationship of men and women, and the social rules of private property, in order for people to discipline themselves, to keep the incomplete, non-ideal order. From the viewpoint of being free from the mundane world, these are incomplete virtues, which cannot solve the fundamental problem of life and death.
The next is the liberation-path of Śrāvaka. In the Buddha’s time, the common practices of being weary of the world and religious austerity were very popular. In order to accommodate these people’s nature, the holy sutra Āgamas show them: entering the Way through the insight of impermanent; because of impermanent, therefore we suffer; because of the suffering, therefore no ego and no personal belongings; therefrom attain the nirvana’s stillness. In fact, there is no difference between secular and renunciation in the liberation-path, but the monks and nuns live in monasteries for it is easier to correspond with the liberation-path. The ancient holy man explained, “Family is cangue; seculars have their possessions and relationships, unlike the monks and nuns who renounced their properties, possessions, and family ties, and fully dedicate to the Three Jewels as religious people, completely into the practice of the liberation-path.” However, compared to the Bodhisattva-path, Śrāvakayāna lean to purify their own minds, disregard the pure lands’ solemnity, for they cannot live in both the secular and supra-mundane ways, and cannot live in both the conditional causation and Emptiness. This means they cannot take the position to purify their minds, and to develop all beings, and solemnize pure lands. They can only liberate themselves by following Dharma; they cannot follow the Dharma and follow the law of the secular world to complete their true self. When the ideology of the Mahayana arose, extended to the spirit of compassion and entered the secular world to benefit all beings, then we saw the Buddha’s original ideas, who corrected the deviation of Śrāvakayāna, then inclined to social harmony in benefiting others. Bodhisattvas live in the secular world, but they are not attached to the secular world as the human and devas, as it is called, “do the secular business with the supra-mundane spirit.” As Bodhisattva practitioners, we must deny the old society with the idea of personal possessions, and step into the new society of public harmony. In the meantime, the great compassion of Bodhisattva is to stand on the foundation of purifying one’s mind in Śrāvakayāna, and execute the perfect harmony of benefiting others, and live in the action of freedom from desire and clinging. This is to promote and achieve the more ideal harmonious world, materialize the pure lands’ solemnity. In short, the characteristic of the Bodhisattva-path is based upon the spirit of the secular, to achieve the unison of secular and supra-mundane. Living the life of no ego shows pure mind and living in peace among people; solemnizing and purify the land one lives, and holding no obstacles between he and others.
The ancient holy men take this, “To advocate Buddhism is our housework; to benefit all beings is our career” as the mission of Buddha’s followers and samgha. Generally speaking, all genuine Buddhists should bear this mission to advocate Dharma and benefit all beings. Master Yin Shun said, “Purify one’s mind is the foremost, benefit others is supreme.” Purify one’s mind includes the purification of body, speech, and thoughts; the three conditions of body, four conditions of mouth, these seven evil acts are the behaviors that will show in the appearance. Through vigorous effort and learning to cultivate the right view, the right opinion, and to lead to the right action, then can one achieve the right speech, right career, and right livelihood. According to the Ten Meritorious Deeds, this means no greed, no anger, and no ignorance. Speaking to the ultimate, one should transform ignorance to wisdom, transform no-anger to compassion, and transform no-greed to pure mediation. If a Buddhist practitioner’s behavior achieves the purification of body and mind, this means his actions match with the liberation-path. The grandeur of Bodhisattva-path is called big vehicle/Mahayana, mainly because of the great compassion; out of the compassion, the Bodhisattvas do all the business that can benefit living beings. Bodhisattva benefits himself and others, and benefitting others is more important than to benefit oneself. Though we said to benefit others is to benefit oneself; if Bodhisattvas have no ego, why talk about benefitting themselves? Master Yin Shun has a simple way to explain it, and the connotation is actually covered by both liberation-path and the Mahayana Bodhisattva-path.
Start from The Verses of Undefiled Acts, summarize the keys to Buddhists’ virtue, the three undefiled acts, practice the Three Studies, and transform greed, anger and ignorance to pure meditation, compassion, and wisdom. Buddhists’ Utopia should be realized from diligently practicing these undefiled acts. Moreover, according to the Purification of the Buddha-Field in Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, this announced the way to solemnize Buddha-Field: to practice the six pāramitās and the four all-embracing virtues, and all virtues of secular and supra-mundane with the genuine heart, profound heart and Bodhi heart. At last, speak from the levels of Dharma: the human vehicle, the two vehicles, and the one vehicle, attached from secular life, further to the liberation of supra-mundane, finally transform supra-mundane to the great Bodhi path in the secular world. The human vehicle can only limitedly restrain oneself by not invading others, in order to achieve the harmony between oneself and others. The Śrāvakayāna practicioners have seen through the essence of secular life, understood impermanent and no ego, freed themselves from possessions and relationships, and in the new society-samgha group, have a life liberated from ego. Whether attached or weary of the secular world, the inclinations of the human vehicle and the two vehicles are insufficient. Only the one vehicle Bodhisattva-path can live in a secular life but not cling to it. To purify the human vehicle and combine the two vehicles, discard the shortcomings and take the advantages, to achieve the unison of both mundane and supra-mundane, secular and samgha; this is the Mahayana’s Bodhisattva-path, which is based on faith, compassion, and wisdom. This is in accordance with reason and opportunity; it is not against tradition and it also meets the idea of the humanistic Buddhism in the modern and future world.
1 This paragraph of The Sutra of Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life (觀無量壽經) is quoted from the English version translated by Mr. Charles Patton, also known as Ven. Shih Fa-Men.
2 The holy teaching of Vimalakirti (維摩詰經). The quotations of the sutra are from the English version that translated by Robert A. F. Thurman.