Shen-Kai travelled far and wide to promote the teachings of the Humanity
Vehicle Buddhism. Often questions were posed to him covering Buddhism and
a wide variety of subjects relating to life. This issue features 10 such
questions and answers that focus on the whole purpose of learning and practising
How can I begin to practise Buddhism?
by cultivating the mind.
should begin by cultivating the mind to purify it. The Humanity Vehicle
Buddhism has a song called 'Sweeping'. It encourages people to cleanse
the mind, as in sweeping the ground, until it is completely clean. A pure
mind produces pure conduct. In learning Buddhism and cultivating pure
deeds, we must recognise the need to cultivate the mind. Naturally, all
our surrounding is pure when the mind is pure. When you have cultivated
your mind well, you are in unison with the Buddha. Otherwise, one is prone
to fall into the evil path, or even to suffer in hell. Therefore, learning
Buddhism begins with cultivating the mind.
How do I practise cultivation?
your actions, speech and thoughts in the course of all your activities.
Many years ago I practised cultivation as a wandering monk. I took four
years to cover Taiwan on foot.
when I was in Hua-Lien, I was asked why as a monk I wandered about like
this instead of living in the monastery to practise sitting meditation,
prostrating to the Buddha and to recite the sutras. I replied that I am
cultivating my deeds and not cultivating sitting down. He did not understand
me. I clarified by explaining that the true meaning of cultivation is
to purify our deeds, speech and thoughts while we are engaged in the course
of our activities. He still did not seem to understand. I further explained,
"Wherever I go, I do not utter nonsense, I do not engage in gossip,
I do not tell lies, I do not double-talk, I do not use evil speech, and
I do not engage in tale-bearing. Instead, I recite the names of the Buddhas,
and I praise, soothe, console and encourage others when I talk to them.
Am I not cultivating by purifying my speech? Wherever I go, I do not commit
any evil, steal, rob nor kill. Instead, I help people, save them and encourage
them to learn what the Buddha taught. Am I not cultivating by purifying
my deeds? My mind is not pre-occupied with illusory thoughts, and greed
and evil do not arise in my mind. With each step that I take, I recite
the name of the Buddha, and I constantly maintain a mind that is bright
and pure. Am I not cultivating by purifying my mind? Although I am walking
about everyday, I am constantly cultivating the purity of my mind and
deeds. If a person practises sitting meditation everyday, and yet his
self-serving habits and temperaments are not eliminated, and he is always
gossiping, can you consider him to be cultivating?"
The doctrines of the Buddha regarded as the doors to enlightenment;
methods of cultivation.
Is it compulsory for a Buddhist to practise sitting meditation?
meditation is one of the 84,000 Dharma-doors.
are many practitioners of Buddhism, but not all of them practise sitting
meditation. That does not mean that those who do not practise sitting
meditation are not Buddhists. Sitting meditation is one of the 84,000
Dharma-doors . If one is not able to practise this, one can still cultivate
by prostrating to the Buddha, recite the names of the Buddhas or indeed
any of the 84,000 methods. We are Buddhists as long as we conduct ourselves
according to the teachings of the Buddha.
4. Some Buddhists limit their practice to reciting the sutras and mantras.
They do not understand the contents neither do they practise meditation
nor do they cultivate their deeds. Can one become Buddha this way?
needs to cultivate both the mind and deeds to become Buddha.
only way that one can become Buddha is through cultivating both the mind
and deeds. Reciting the sutras and mantras is one of the many methods
of cultivation. For people who recite the sutras but do not understand
the contents, as long as they sincerely persist in their recitation, then
the conditions will one day mature for them to encounter a Buddhist teacher
who can explain these to them. Then they will be able to make further
progress in their cultivation.
conditions leading to the method of cultivation vary for different people.
It is hoped that practitioners of the various methods of cultivation,
for example, reciting the sutras, meditation, contemplation, promoting
the Dharma, do not discriminate against one another.
I am rich. I am kind to people and they are kind to me. I live a happy
life. Why do I need to learn Buddhism?
good life needs Buddhism too.
you have a good life now, it does not mean that you cannot become ill
and die someday. The purpose of learning Buddism and cultivating the mind
and deeds is to seek liberation from birth and death, unfold your wisdom,
and to practise the Bodhisattva Path. Therefore, we have to learn from
the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. Although you live a good life now, you
are still in the human realm. If you wish to be better than what you are
now and seek to live in the realm of heavens, you need to perform the
Ten Virtuous Deeds and avoid doing any evils. There, you can enjoy the
heavenly happiness resulting from your Ten Virtuous Deeds. But that happiness
is only temporary because when the heavenly blessings are exhausted, you
will be born in a lower realm again. Therefore, the realm of heavens is
not the ultimate. Because all human beings will encounter suffering someday,
we all need to cultivate our mind and deeds, seek liberation and practise
the Bodhisattva Path until we are enlightened and become Buddha. Only
then, have we attained the ultimate.
Bodhi: From budh; knowledge, understanding; perfect
wisdom; the illuminated or enlightened mind.
Bodhi-mind: The mind for or of Bodhi; the awakened or
enlightened mind; the mind that perceives the real behind
the seeming, believes in moral consequences, and that
all have the Buddha-nature, and aims at Buddhahood.
Why do I still suffer from worries and distresses although I have already
embraced Buddhism? How can I be free from these afflictions?
what the Buddha taught to be free of afflictions.
people continue to have many worries and distress after they embrace Buddhism
because they merely believe that Buddha exists but they have yet to learn
and practise what the Buddha taught! If we wish to be free from such sufferings,
we should waste no time to emulate the Buddha and follow His cultivation
and practices. In this way, the sufferings will gradually begin to lessen.
The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were, in the past, ordinary beings who had
cultivated and therefore had transformed sufferings into Bodhi . It
is important that we aspire to seek after the Bodhi-mind . With this
aspiration we need to work towards realising the Bodhi. It is only then
that all our deeds are on the Bodhisattva path. If one has yet to realise
the Bodhi then when he performs a good deed, it is only considered that
he is cultivating the virtuous path.
order to transform sufferings into Bodhi, people need to learn and practise
what the Buddha taught.
How do we lessen the retributions of negative karma?
learning and practising the Buddha's teachings.
there are countless kinds of karma, they can be categorised into three
groups; namely, those created by the body, speech and the mind. The negative
karma created by the body are killing, stealing and sexual misconduct.
Those created by speech are lying, double-talk, coarse language and filthy
language and those created by the mind are greed, hatred and ignorance.
Collectively these are called the ten evil deeds, and they are the source
of retributions and obstructions in life. Once we understand the Buddha's
teachings and realise the importance of cultivation, we won't want to
commit these ten evil deeds. Instead, we should perform the Ten Virtuous
Deeds: abstention from (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) sexual misconduct,
(4) false speech, (5) double-talk, (6) coarse and evil language, (7) filthy
language, (8) greed, (9) hatred, and (10) ignorance. When we maintain
purity in our deeds, speech and thoughts, then the effects of the negative
karma that follow us to this life will gradually lessen or become eliminated.
How can I inspire my interest when reading on Buddhism?
a pure mind.
is because you treat Buddhism as a subject of study, or you are trying
too hard to remember what you are reading, that your interest becomes
suppressed. You may wish to take a different approach. It is not necessary
that you read page by page according to the contents of the book. You
could selectively read those sections that are more interesting to you,
or those sections that address your doubts first. Whatever the circumstances,
as long as you maintain a pure mind, you will be able to raise your interest.
What is 'emptiness'?
There is no room without 'emptiness'.
there is no emptiness in this hall, then it cannot accommodate so many
people. If there is no emptiness in the space, then it cannot accommodate
the innumerable planets and stars. In the same way, a person cannot accept
the many good advice if there is no 'emptiness' in his mind. If as students
of Buddhism we are still deeply attached to what we have learned, then
although we hear of even better teachings of Buddhism, we will still not
be able to receive and accept them. This is because there is no 'emptiness'
in the mind.
Is it true that the Heart Sutra reduces anger and resentment?
are carefree when the Five Aggregates are empty.
have to cultivate 'emptiness' so as to eliminate anger and resentment.
The essence of the Heart Sutra is about emptiness. When people abandon
or empty the ill temper arising from anger and resentment, then they are
carefree and untroubled. If this is not emptied, then it is not good for
us. Essentially the Heart Sutra tells us to empty our heart, i.e. to empty
our mind. A mind that is 'empty' naturally does not harbour feelings of
happiness, anger, sorrow and resentment. Thus, the 'Five Aggregates are
empty' as mentioned in the Heart Sutra, means that the five components
of an intelligent being: form, feeling, thinking, mind-acting and distinguishing,
are all empty. There is no question about not being able to empty anger