What is learning Buddhism and what is the study of Buddhism?

Learning Buddhism and the study of Buddhism

Learning Buddhism and the study of Buddhism are two different things.
voice-learn1.jpg (7281 bytes) There are many educated and knowledgeable people who treat Buddhist scriptures or sutras as subjects for research. This is call the study of Buddhism, and was especially popular after Buddhism spread from China to Japan. The Japanese people felt that they were scientifically advanced and incorporated science in their research and analysis on Buddhism. Thus, they produced many research works on Buddhist studies. However, by merely treating Buddhist principles as subjects for research, and in the absence of cultivation and self-realisation, it is not possible to attain enlightenment.

Shortly after I was ordained as Buddhist monk, I too liked to read books on Buddhism. I amassed a great number of books and papers in preparation to write my own books. However, I was admonished by my Master, the Venerable Dong Chu. He commented, "Shen-Kai, you seem to be researching on Buddhism." I replied, "That’s right, Master. I wish to write books on Buddhism!" Master continued, "Do you know of any Buddha who attained the Supreme Enlightenment through research? Which patriarch became what they are through research? Come, put them aside." I wasn’t quite sure what Master meant by his words and I asked, "What shall I do with these books then?" Master replied, "Wait till the day you establish your own mission, put them in the library and let others read them." I continued to query, "What shall I do now?" Master replied, "You should learn from the Buddha." I asked, "How do I learn from the Buddha?" This was his reply, "Whatever the Buddha does, that is what you learn." I began to understand that I should learn and practise what the Buddha taught.

Over the years I have written many books and I wrote them in the same manner as I speak. I write whatever comes to the mind. This is the difference between learning Buddhism and the study of Buddhism. But, I hope those who research on Buddhism would not forget to learn and practise Buddhism as well. Similarly, we who learn and practise Buddhism should also not forget to study Buddhism. If we excel in both areas, then we become good practitioners of Buddhism.

I am serious about learning Buddhism and yet I am bogged down by too many things, how can I make a start?

Learning Buddhism does not take away your time

We need to know that learning Buddhism does not cost us time, neither does it cost us money. In fact, learning Buddhism is a very simple matter. Because all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas possess great compassion, learning Buddhism means learning and practising the great compassion of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. For example, if one feels nothing about using harsh words on others, then one is not compassionate. The same is true if one likes to pick fights with others or do things that are bad or immoral.

If one has already taken refuge in Buddhism, then as a Buddhist, one ought to cultivate compassion, emulate the practices of all Bodhisattvas and refrain from doing all that are bad. That is, we eradicate undesirable habits such as using harsh words, gossiping and being untruthful. In using words of consolation, encouragement and praise, we cultivate merits in our speech. In learning Buddhism, we need to be humble and courteous in all our dealings with others, and constantly display a positive attitude towards them. When we are with Buddha, there is no need to take time to learn Buddhism.

If you should be involved in fights and land in litigation, then that is truly time consuming, in addition to being costly. If only we can change our mindset and manifest the great compassion of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas, then any adverse situation can be diffused. There will be no anger and there will be no hatred. Thus, learning and practising Buddhism does not take time, neither does it take money. At the same time, if we practise giving and perform virtuous deeds, we will reap great blessings and wealth. When we give others a smile, it is also a form of giving. This is indeed a very simple thing to do, which does not cost time and money! And, when others reciprocate, it is such a comfortable thing!

Thus, for those wanting to learn and practise Buddhism, please do not feel that you don’t have time. In fact, you have lots of time. If you put your heart into practising the examples that I mentioned, you may even do better than what I have said. I hope we will all embrace Buddhism sooner and not feel that you don't have time.

In this pragmatic society, many people are not able to observe the precepts because of their livelihood, for example, having to consume alcoholic drinks when entertaining business associates. How does Jen Chen Buddhism view this?

To learn Buddhism one needs to eradicate self serving and evil habits

Learning Buddhism is not difficult at all. In fact, it is very easy. First of all, we must know how to eradicate our self serving and evil habits. We can naturally do that when we understand how important it is to our life to eradicate such habits. If we do not understand this, then no matter how learned in Buddhism we are, it does not serve any real purpose. Take for example the question of consuming alcoholic drinks. You could take a fruit juice or tea in its place. It is not necessary that you must take alcohol. If persuaded by your friends, you could say : "I am very sorry, I have been advised by the doctor to lay off alcohol for a year. I will be in trouble should my wife finds out that I have been drinking." Your good friends will understand and therefore let you off. Handling questions like this is a matter of having wisdom.

The most difficult thing for anybody to do, is to eradicate one’s self serving and evil habits. This is because habits are carried into the present life from the aeons of previous lives. They are deeply rooted and therefore are difficult to eradicate. Once these have been eradicated, then the Mara-hindrances are eliminated. The inability to eradicate them results in one spending his entire lifetime with the Mara without ever knowing it.
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Let me tell you a story. There was a very promising lay-Buddhist who came to take refuge in the Three Treasures and before leaving asked, "Master, is there anything about me that I need to correct?" I replied, "Very well, there is nothing you need to correct other than to eradicate your self serving and evil habits." He was puzzled. He wondered if it was because he had evil habits that were deeply rooted. He began to examine himself, "I am a moderate person. My bosses and my colleagues treat me well. What self serving and evil habits does Master want me to eradicate?"

While on his way home, he continued to think over this as he smoked. Four cigarettes later, he was still pondering. Then, as he was lighting his fifth, it suddenly occurred to him, "Oh! I smoke. This is the self serving and evil habit that Master wants me to eradicate!" At this moment he spontaneously extinguished the cigarette and quit the habit.

Thus, when learning Buddhism one should not just talk about the theories. One must really put the teachings into practice. One should not commit even the smallest bad deed, neither should one neglect even the smallest virtuous deed. Only then is one a Buddhist.

May I ask what right views one must possess to learn Buddhism, and how one can attain the right knowledge and right views?

Learning Buddhism needs right knowledge and views

"Buddha" means "perfect awareness". Learning Buddhism is to eradicate self serving and evil habits, unfold one’s wisdom, seek liberation, practise the Bodhisattva Path and eventually attain the Supreme Buddhahood. Thus, we need to have the correct concept. If one practises according to what is said, and advances steadily, this is having the right knowledge and right views. If one worships blindly and does not understand what is Buddhism, what the Dharma is, and even believes in heterodox doctrines, this is being superstitious and not what Buddhists pursue.

What is "awareness"? It means having "a purified mind". Even if a speck of dust flies by, the mind is so pure that we know about it. This is awareness. Buddha is one with great awareness. For example, when a flower blossoms in another world, or indeed in any of the *Buddha-world, Buddha can see it extremely clearly, as if it is happening right in the middle of his palm. In fact learning Buddhism is very simple, so simple that people find it hard to believe and even harder to practise.

*Buddha-world: Mt Sumeru and its seven surrounding continents, eight seas and ring of iron mountains form one small world; 1,000 of these form a small chiliocosm; 1,000 of these small chiliocosms form a medium chiliocosm; 1,000 of these form a great chiliocosm, which thus consists of 1,000,000,000 small worlds.

How should we apply Buddhism in our daily lives in order to attain bliss and happiness?

Awaking to wisdom

The answer to this question is exactly the objective of promoting Jen Chen Buddhism. The word "Buddha" means enlightenment. Jen Chen Buddhism seeks to enable everyone of us to be enlightened. This is the objective of Buddhism. Many people in this world go about hastily and hazily in life, without knowing the reason for living. When we are able to understand the principle of enlightenment, and emerge from the shadow of ignorance, our lives will be in accord with the Dharma.

This is indeed a broad subject. Take a common domestic issue as an example: What happens when the husband comes home in a bad mood, and for no apparent reason begins to nag at his wife? At this moment the wife must be understanding and try to view the matter from a positive perspective. You need to understand the reason for his foul mood. It could be because he was told off by his superior at work, or he had had a bad encounter. We need to fully understand the situation. Jumping into conclusion and reacting with anger and hatred do not help. It could even be that he is not feeling well. One can diffuse the situation easily; offer him to a cup of tea, extend your consolation, let him have a good rest. Soon all is well again.

When we are learning and practising Buddhism, we cannot afford to have a foolish or ignorant conduct. We need to seek wisdom to be enlightened. How do we develop our wisdom? Take another example, you are in a room and the lights suddenly went out. You are left in pitch darkness, you cannot see a thing. You stretch your hand to feel your way. When you touch someone, you may jump with fright, not knowing who or what you have touched. If at this moment someone switches on the lights, instantaneously you can see clearly and you realized that it is your friend whom you have touched, you are no longer ignorant. That is analogous to wisdom. When a person has wisdom and uses wisdom as taught by the Buddha to deal with any situation whether at home or at work, life will be a fulfilling, blissful and happy.

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Copyright 2001. Jen Chen Buddhism Centre