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Volume 7 no 4

Bliss Compass
Enlightenment is Brightness
When Buddhism speaks of enlightenment, it is the mind that is enlightened. When the mind is enlightened, it is made clear. It has wisdom. It can “see”, in the same way that we can see when the lights, in an otherwise dark room, are turned on. Darkness is ignorance. Brightness is enlightenment. For the simple reason so that we may “see” and keep away from those actions, words and thoughts that diminish our blessings, happiness and bliss, people need this vision.

Let the Bliss Compass guide you to this vision and illustrate how our wisdom may be utilized for a happy and blissful family.

1. Is it necessary for children who have taken refuge in the Three Treasures to observe the Bright Vegetarian diet?

In the Buddhist context, there are many kinds of Bright Vegetarian diet. The one that Jen Chen Buddhism advocates is commonly called the “vegetarian breakfast”. As the name implies, it is a vegetarian meal. Each day begins with the brightness of the sunrise, whereas the taking of lives is an act of darkness. It has no brightness. Therefore, when we observe the Bright Vegetarian breakfast, it is to symbolise our hope for a day of brightness.

Children are content as long as they are not hungry and they do not understand the significance of a vegetarian diet. Therefore, there is no need to explain to them about attaining brightness by observing such a Bright Vegetarian breakfast. If children have a hearty appetite and have enough to eat, then they are healthy and bright. If their diet is restricted by what they can and cannot eat, and if that affects their health, then it is troublesome. When that happens, there is truly no brightness. A healthy body does not cause pains and sufferings, and naturally there is brightness without these vexations. Therefore, we should not force upon small children to practice vegetarianism.

2. How should lay Buddhists observe the Bright Vegetarian diet?

Lay Buddhists who commit themselves to observe the Bright Vegetarianism, need not abstain from eggs and milk which have high nutritional values. However, some people felt that vegetarians should abstain from eggs because eggs are non-vegetarian. Of course, we should abstain from eggs that already have life forms in them so that they may hatch accordingly, into chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons, or other bird species, etc. However, scientific advancements have made it possible for chickens to lay eggs that do not have life forms and therefore will not hatch into chicks. These kinds of eggs are much cheaper than those that have been fertilised. Moreover, fertilised eggs are not sold in the markets and the eggs that are commonly found in the markets are fit for consumption. Thus, it is all right for lay Buddhists to consume this type of eggs.

Other people felt that milk is non-vegetarian. Such a view is incorrect. It is perfectly all right for vegetarians to consume milk from cows, goats, horses, and even camels, because they do not involve the killing of lives. The most important aspect of vegetarianism is that it does not inflict harm to the living and does not involve the killing of lives. When Buddha cultivated under the Bodhi tree for six years, his daily meal consisted of “a grain of sesame and a grain of wheat”, and his body was very weak. Then, came a female shepherd who offered him some goats’ milk. Thereafter, he regained his strength and not long after that he attained the supreme enlightenment and became Buddha while meditating under that Bodhi tree. Thus, milk and eggs are permissible for vegetarians, as they do not involve the killing of lives.

3. How do we guide teenagers to learn and practise Buddhism?

I feel that this is a simple matter. Firstly, the parents should take refuge in the Three Treasures, and learn and practise what the Buddha taught, and serve as role models for their teenage children. If there are exceptional cases, or if the teenage children have already picked up undesirable habits, then we have to use wisdom to handle them. If the parents themselves were not committed in their own cultivation, it would be difficult to manage their teenage children and influence them to learn and practise Buddhism.

After embracing Buddhism, parents have to fully understand the Buddha-dharma, and put what they learned into practice until they develop and unfold their wisdom. With wisdom, they need to exercise utmost patience in observing their own children, and any undesirable habits or other unwholesome behaviours should be traced to the roots and dealt with accordingly with appropriate methods. Unwholesome views and perceptions, incorrect moral values, ill conduct and misbehaviour require the parents patience and untiring efforts to guide their children to the correct path.

Most importantly, whether parents wish for their children to learn and practise Buddhism, to take refuge in the Three Treasures, to be upright in their conduct and endeavours, or to have wisdom … etc, they themselves have to do these first and set good examples. When children are guided in this manner, they will grow up to be on the right path. They will understand the difference between right and wrong and understand the principle of being upright in their character and their endeavours. Then, they would have a bright future. On the other hand, it is very important that parents do not misguide their children to have superstitious beliefs about Buddhism.

4. My husband is having an extra-marital affair and I want to divorce him. However, I cannot bear to leave our children. Yet, it is dreadful for me to live with him, what shall I do?

You should talk it over with your husband. If, indeed, he no longer regards you as his wife, it is very painful to live life like this. If divorce seems to be the best option, that is permissible. You may leave the children in his care and come the time when you have found a new suitable partner, you may re-marry. This is also permissible. In fact, it is not that a practitioner of Buddhism cannot annul his or her marriage because under certain circumstances, it is very painful to continue living together.

We need to understand the Buddhism principle of bliss, and that is to “distance from suffering and attain happiness”. However, when we seek to distance from suffering and attain happiness, we have to exercise wisdom.

You may want to tell your husband that it is permissible for Buddhist to divorce his or her spouse and see if that is what he really wants to do. If he agrees, and since he no longer have you in his mind, then a divorce is also a solution. However, if he disagrees and is concern about the welfare of the children, then you should advise him to discontinue his relationship with the other party and cherish his family. I believe he can do that if you talk to him nicely.

5. Why do people need to cultivate wisdom?

Because wisdom keeps us away from unlawful or immoral activities and safeguard our blessings.

When we have wisdom, we will not commit unlawful or immoral activities. Then, naturally there is peace and bliss. Therefore, not only should we seek to unfold wisdom for ourselves, but also for the family, our future generations, the society and the entire human race. When wisdom prevails, blessings will prevail for humanity.

When people do not have blessings, it is because they do not have wisdom. They are always doing the wrong things. They do what they should not have done, and are loose-tongue about what they should not have said. As a result, their blessings diminish. Therefore, Buddhism advises us that we need to observe the precepts. It is only through observing the precepts that sentient beings can safeguard the blessings that they already have today as well as the blessings of the future.

If we have brightness, then we know what we should do and what we should not do. For example, if it benefits others and the world, then however small the task, we should do it. If it depletes our blessings, then however insignificant it is, we should not do it. We need to constantly maintain a pure mind, maintain our brightness and we should not allow unwholesome or evil thoughts to arise. In this way, we can maintain our blessings.

6. Why do ordinary people need to cultivate?

Cultivation is a matter for the entire human race.

Some people say, “Cultivation is a matter for monks and nuns; what has it got to do with us lay people?”

Monks and nuns have to cultivate, there is nothing wrong with the statement. But cultivation is not exclusive to monks and nuns only. If a person renounces the worldly life and become a monk (or nun), and the fruits of his cultivation are manifested in his daily actions, then he does no wrong. On the other hand, lay people, Buddhists and non-Buddhist alike, are constantly engaged in the hustles and bustles of the society. It would be difficult for them not to pick up undesirable conducts. Since there are undesirable conducts, then they have to be eradicated. The way to eradicate these undesirable conducts is cultivation. Therefore, when we speak of cultivation, it should be done in the midst of our daily actions and activities. It is a matter for everybody. If, in a household there is one person who is cultivating, then he would not quarrel with the others in the household. If the others do not cultivate, then conflicts would arise. Therefore, it is not to say that only the common people need to cultivate and the governmental officials need not cultivate. The truth is that the governmental officials should cultivate all the more. Cultivation is a matter for the entire human race.

7. But lay people are so busy; how are they going to find time to cultivate?

Cultivation does not take time.

We should not say, “How are we going to find the time to cultivate? Of course, monks and nuns live in the monasteries; surely they have a lot of time to cultivate. Lay people in the society are too busy and they don’t have time for cultivation.”

It is not like this. In fact, cultivation is a very simple matter. Cultivation should be done in the midst of our daily actions and activities. For example, we use our mouth to talk. To a person who is cultivating, it means not to utter harsh and evil words, but to use kind and soothing words. A person who does not cultivate would go around gossiping or carrying-tales about others. That person is not cultivating the morality of his speech. Thus, when people correct themselves and refrain from negative speech, and instead use positive words to benefit others, then they are cultivating their speech. All of us have a mind and it operates day and night. When we think of only the virtuous and refrain from the evils, then we are cultivating our mind. Our body is in action throughout the day. If we channel all our actions into good deeds and refrain from committing evil deeds, then, this is cultivating our body.

8. What is the objective of cultivation?

To get rid of the “rubbish” in our mind.

Actually, the most important thing about cultivation is to get rid of the “rubbish” in our mind. No matter how diligent a practitioner of Buddhism is, if he does not understand about getting rid of the rubbish in his mind, he will not cultivate well. Everybody knows that we need to clean up the house when it is dirty or messy, but we do not realize that we need to clean up our mind too. We can imagine that if the house has not been tidied up for a couple of days, it will be dirty. Similarly, when we do not clean our mind for a day, two days, or three days, then it will be layered with dirt too. Actually, cultivation is like cleaning a mirror. The mirror was originally bright and shinny, and we can see our image clearly when we stand before it. But, if we leave the mirror aside for a couple of days, months or even years, then it looses it lustre and it does not reflect anymore. Thus, through this example it is very easy for us to understand the way to cultivate.

9. Should Buddhists work for reputation and benefits?

As Buddhists, we ought to work for reputation (name) and benefits, but we should not be greedy about them. In this world people need money to live and because of survival they need to make a living; that is working for benefits. But, this is the way of sentient beings. The Bodhisattva way is different. It is not only to benefit themselves but also to benefit others at the same time - benefiting self and others.

Why do people need to work for a name or reputation? I am a human being. “Human being” is a name. Children call their mother “mom”; “mom” is a name. When a child is born, the parents have to decide how to name him. However, we have to understand that being a mother is a “name” and when she proves herself to be a good mother, she has a good reputation or a good name. A person who does not know how to work for reputation and benefits is foolish. To work for a good reputation and benefits are one’s personal duty. But the greed for reputation and benefit is grasping and excessive, and can lead to people taking drastic actions which are destructive to themselves and to others.

It is not feasible and not possible for Buddhists not to work for reputation and benefits. Nobody would ever do that either. For example, people work for money, acquiring knowledge, learning a skill; these are all self benefiting means of making a living for survival. Therefore, people in this world need to work for reputation and benefits or gains as a matter of necessity. But these gains must be based on moral standards.

For example, a person has benefited himself when he has learned how to swim. But if he sees a person drowning and he did not attempt to rescue him, then he is not using what he has benefited to benefit others. Therefore, when we have benefited ourselves and we used that benefit to benefit others, then we fulfill the moral standards as human beings. Jen Chen Buddhism defines ethics and morality as “to benefit self and benefit others”. Ethical and moral conduct is when we know how to benefit ourselves and also to benefit others.

Thus, as a Buddhist one should always have a good reputation, that is, a good name. Furthermore, a virtuous benefit mutually benefits both us and others. This is the Buddhist concept of reputation and benefits or gains.

10. Buddhism advocates that there are infinite sentient beings and to guide them to the path of Enlightenment. How do we guide people who are stubborn?

We have to convince and transform ourselves first.

We should advise people who are stubborn to convince themselves.

When we speak of “sentient beings”, many people do not fully understand what sentient beings are. Some people spent a whole lifetime learning Buddhism, and to them sentient beings are other people besides themselves. They are oblivious to the fact that they have an inner sentient being in them and therefore they are also sentient beings themselves.

Where do sentient beings reside? They reside in our mind – your mind and my mind. When we speak of guiding sentient beings to the path of Enlightenment, first and foremost, we have to guide ourselves to the path. We have to convince and transform our own inner sentient being first. If we cannot even convince ourselves, then how can we convince the other sentient beings to do so?

From day to night, at every moment, the human mind is engaged in ceaseless thoughts which are infinite. These distracting and illusory thoughts are our inner sentient being. Thus, the sentient beings in this world and in this universe are infinite because in every person’s mind the inner sentient being is infinite. Buddhism therefore advocates guiding these infinite minds, these infinite sentient beings to the path of Enlightenment.

Sentient being is synonymous with darkness; brightness is synonymous with wisdom. When we constantly eliminate our own inner sentient being, and maintain a state where the inner sentient being does not exist, then we attain brightness. From this, everybody can understand the way to guide sentient beings to the path of Enlightenment. When you don’t have even a single distracting thought in your mind, then it means that you have overcome your sentient being. When you maintain in this state forever, it proves that you have eliminated your inner sentient being. If every person knows about guiding his own inner sentient being, then there will be many Bodhisattvas in this world. In future, there will be numerous Bodhisattvas coming to this world to guide the other sentient beings.

What is Bodhisattva? When one has already eliminated his own inner sentient being and can see that his mind is purified, then this is called the Bodhisattva. When we have not reined in the sentient being in our mind and we are fuzzy, then we cannot think of guiding the other sentient beings. That is impossible. That is, “a sentient being guiding another sentient being”. To be a Bodhisattva is a quicker way to guide sentient beings to the path of Enlightenment. If the mind is free of distracting and illusory thoughts and is completely purified, then you will know how to guide all sentient beings.

This is an expedient way to become a Bodhisattva. Let us not engage in distracting and illusory thoughts anymore. Let us guide our own inner sentient beings first, and then the other sentient beings.


Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre