Life can be a challenge indeed, especially in today's world. We ceaselessly juggle between work and family. Students have academic concerns; adults have bread and butter issues. Spouses have to contend with each other. Parents have children to worry about. Thus, to survive we have to endure all kinds of sufferings. We can trace all of these sufferings to the mind - the more we think, the more we become attached to these thoughts. The way forward is to put aside our emotions and fulfil our rightful duties and responsibilities, and get on with what we have to do. Because, when we are not attached to these emotions, our homes will transform into a Pure Land of Utmost Bliss. Venerable Master Shen Kai explains ...
A place to settle down and get on with life
Amidst the reality of suffering, emptiness and impermanence, how can we find an ideal world to settle down and get on with our life?
This world of ours is called the 'Sea of Suffering', and also called Saha world. Saha means 'enduring suffering'. If only you can endure suffering, then wherever you are you will be able to live happily. But if you cannot endure suffering, you will find it very difficult to continue living. But as a lay Buddhist how can you find a place to settle down and get on with your life? I think it is not necessary that one must renounce the worldly life and stay in a monastery. Where does our boundless 'Sea of Suffering' come from? It is created from emotions, loves and desires. Without attachments to emotions, loves and desires, the home will be transformed into the Western Pure Land of Utmost Bliss and will become the best place for you to settle down. If you cannot achieve this, then even if you were to renounce the worldly life, you would still be unable to attain liberation. Also, there are many people who renounce in their old age. When asked for the reason for their renunciation, they reply, "I renounced for the Buddha's blessings of peace, wealth, and for my descendants to do well in school." In this case, despite living in a monastery, they would nevertheless be unable to liberate themselves. With such strong grasping, when they die, they may even end up as ghosts.
Cultivating as lay Buddhists
Can a lay Buddhist be liberated through cultivation?
Yes, absolutely. However, you must be able to fulfil the following four criteria:
1. to let go, however difficult to do so
2. to practise, however difficult it is
3. to emulate, however difficult to do so
4. to endure, however difficult to endure
Putting aside emotions and fulfilling rightful duties
How can we free ourselves from the hindrances arising from emotions?
There is only this: put aside your emotions and fulfil your rightful duties and responsibilities. Human beings are sentient beings with feelings. If human beings have no feelings, then we would be no different from plants. Although we have feelings, we must also have pure awareness. If we only have feelings but are not awakened, then we are ordinary unenlightened beings. If we have feelings and are awakened, then we are Bodhisattvas. A Bodhisattva is also known as an 'awakened sentient being'. As Bodhisattvas, we spread Buddhism to benefit others. We carry out a lot of work to benefit sentient beings so that they too may become awakened and also practise the Bodhisattva Way. This is called 'awakening sentient beings'.
- Endure suffering and terminate causality
Why do some people face endless difficulties and endless illnesses?
Why are some people always sick? And why are some people healthy and long-lived? There is a Buddhist saying: "Good causalities are bad causalities; bad causalities are good causalities". Because of the bad causality of your illness, you have come to learn Buddhism. Then, the bad causality has turned into a good causality of learning Buddhism. On the other hand, some people have very healthy bodies. Their families are well and they live in good environments. So, they do not see why they need to learn Buddhism. Hence this good causality is also a bad causality. Therefore it is best to remain steady and at ease, regardless of our encounters. Even in sickness, we must know that the suffering in our sickness is the result of our negative karma created in the bad causalities of our previous lives. We should remain calm and at ease while accepting and enduring suffering. If you are able to do this, you will not suffer even while going through hardship. If one's mind were to remain steady and at ease while accepting and enjoying happiness, then even in happy situations, one's mind will not stir with exhilaration. Practitioners of Buddhism have many ways of practice. Your kind of situation is an excellent door through which to enter into Buddhist practice. .
- Practise Buddhism to heal the mind
Buddha taught eighty-four thousand Dharma doors (methods of practice). How shall I choose between wholeheartedly practising one method, and widely learning many methods?
There are no boundaries to the Buddhadharma. Buddhadharma is vast and boundless. 'Eighty-four thousand Dharma doors' is just an expedient expression. In actual fact, there are more than eighty-four thousand Dharma doors to the Buddhadharma. In our world, however many sentient beings there are, the Buddhadharma will have however many Dharma doors. Thus, Buddhadharma is medicine, while sentient beings' minds are the illness. When we sentient beings are sick, we need to take medicine. The illnesses of our minds require the application of Buddha's medicine for the mind. Therefore, all the Dharma taught by Buddha are prescribed for curing all the minds. If not for all these minds, what need would there be for all the Dharma? Since learning and practising Buddhism is a treatment for our minds, we should then understand that 'when the mind arises, ten thousand phenomena arise; when the mind ceases, ten thousand phenomena cease'. Now, if we learn and practise Buddhism, if we purify our minds, it would be very good, wouldn't it? If you want to practise till profound depths through one method, you can. There are many Dharma doors through which you may enter and practise in-depth. Of these, the best one is the method of cultivating the mind; to always clean and purify the mind. This method of purifying the mind is the best and the simplest. Any method that you practise will never be separated from the method of purifying the mind. Knowing the method of purifying your mind, the illnesses of your mind will naturally disappear. Therefore if we want to practise deeply by a method, we must not forget to purify our mind. Always sweep our mind clean and we will cultivate well.
- Exercise self-awareness to eradicate ignorance and self-serving habits
How can we eradicate our self-serving habits and temperaments?
Oh, that's simple. To break those bad habits, emulate the Buddha's way of cultivation, i.e. 'constantly see that when ignorance do not arise; naturally there is peace in our world'. When peace is lacking, the reason is that there are too many self-serving habits and temperaments. Just constantly observe your mind and you will be able to eliminate your ignorance quickly. If we were to practise muddle-headedly, despite having been to Buddhist centres across the world, we would still be unable to apply and benefit from the teachings. If we only enjoy listening to nice words and praises from others, then we are only gratifying our hearing-faculty's desire and greed.
- Purify the mind and exercise self-awareness so that self-serving habits and temperaments do not arise
How can a bad tempered person improve his temper?
A lot of people are bad tempered, but they do not think so. So it is difficult for them to improve. Now, since you are already aware of your bad temper, it will be easier to change. You can try calming your mind down and frequently observe those who have bad tempers, then eventually you will improve.
- Distress is Bodhi
What is meant by 'Distress is Bodhi'?
Worries and distress are originally non-existent. Originally, it is Bodhi! The moment your distress arises, Bodhi is gone. Thus, as soon as your distress disappears, isn't that Bodhi? What is Bodhi like? If you can achieve maintaining the state of non-arising within, then there will be no distress and Bodhi will appear.
- Neither punish nor not punish
In educating children, should we use the method of punishment or encouragement?
Although the situation is about educating children, it is nonetheless not separated from Buddhadharma. There is a saying in the sutra: "The method is not a fixed method. Fixed methods are not methods." If you think that under all circumstances, the way to teach children is by caning and scolding them for their mistakes, then that would be a 'fixed method'. That would be wrong. However if you only praise and dote on children, that would be wrong as well. We must consider the child's inclination and capacity of understanding to decide what is the appropriate method we should adopt. We must exercise wisdom to manage the situation. This is the correct approach. For example, if today the child is unhappy and prone to tears, he must have his reasons. To find out the reason, you must apply the right antidote; to take the appropriate approach to tackle the situation. But it would be wrong for us to scold, cane or praise whenever we feel like it.
Therefore, most importantly, we need to understand this statement: 'Put aside our emotions and fulfil our rightful duties and responsibilities'. Even though this is our own child, the way that we educate him is our rightful duty and responsibility. But those who are ignorant of 'putting aside their emotions to fulfil their rightful duties and responsibilities' would always treat their own children extremely tenderly and dote heavily on them. On the other hand, when it comes to other people's children, they may dislike or find fault with them. This too, is not right. Thus, we need to put aside our selfish feelings as parents, and apply the right method and principle to guide and to discipline a child.
Hence, in response to this question, the answer would be, "neither punishment nor non-punishment, neither caning nor non-caning, neither scolding nor non-scolding." Today you may scold him, but perhaps tomorrow you may very well praise him. Therefore, just use Buddhadharma to deal with the situation and you will not go wrong. These things that I have taught you are all important Buddhadharma. Apply this kind of Buddhadharma and you will be successful in educating children.
- Learning and practising Buddhism requires correct concept
In what ways can we encourage teenagers to embrace Buddhism?
Whatever we do, we must not mislead them into superstitious praying and worshipping because that will only bring endless trouble. Guide them properly. If there is time, go to the Buddhist Centre to pay your respects to Buddha, let them listen to some teachings, then they will understand. Teenagers are at a stage in their lives where their bodies and mentalities are changing. If given proper guidance, they will become good young adults. However, if we were to misguide them, then their future will be ruined. At this age, it would be best not to encourage any improper thinking. If as parents you are unclear and do not understand Buddhism, and if you were to encourage your children to learn from your muddled way of thinking, then that would be very dangerous. If they can hear a few sentences spoken by an enlightened master, Dharma teacher or someone who understands the Truth, they will improve. Having young people learn Buddhism can be easy or very difficult. Most importantly, the parents' concept in learning and practising Buddhism must be right. With the right concept, it would not be difficult. But with the wrong concept, it would be very laborious indeed.
- Cultivation liberates motional attachments, love and desires
There is no affection between my husband, my children and I. How should I face up to this?
You feel no affection with your husband and children. In that case, how did you get married? How did you give birth to your children? Actually, after you have understood Buddhism, it does not matter even if there were no affectionate feelings. Learn and practise Buddhism diligently. Some people want to be liberated, but their feelings are too intense and too thick. They cannot liberate themselves. A situation like yours is a most conducive one for seeking liberation! If you do not have feelings towards your husband, that is fine. Perhaps you are here to repay a debt. In repaying your debt to your husband, what does it matter if there are feelings or not? If you need to repay your debt, then repay it. It will be good to just carry out your duties of a wife well. Maybe your children are also here to collect their debts. Just fulfil your duties as their mother.
- Mutual respect between husband and wife
If I am compassionate towards my husband and always give in to him, he takes advantage of it and demands even more. What should I do?
Do not use the word 'compassionate' to express the way that you treat your husband, because the matrimony of a couple is a matrimony of emotions, affections and desires. If you can manage to put aside your own feelings and fulfil your rightful duty and obligation, then perhaps if you wanted to save him, you would be able to. The way that men think is different from that of women. In Chinese culture, a man tends to feel that he is of a higher status than women. There is now a name for it: 'male chauvinism'. It may be that his own standard is far off from his wife's. However, to demonstrate that he is 'the man', he becomes unreasonable. Making a stand from the position of male chauvinism, he takes wrong for right, and falsehood for truth. He knows that he is wrong, but because he cannot help feeling that he may lose face in front of his wife, he will have lots to say even if his reasoning is flawed. Since this is the case, I feel that it is quite inappropriate to use the word 'compassionate' to describe yourself. If you use the word 'respect' instead, that may be better. He may change his attitude. Because you always respect him, he will feel embarrassed, thinking, "My wife respects me so much. I should change."
Your use of the word 'compassionate' may unintentionally cause you to appear very arrogant, so he will certainly not accept your 'compassion'. Actually, compassion has nothing to do with being arrogant, but he does not understand that. He may mistakenly think, "Hey! How can my wife's standard be higher than mine?" So, when you are 'compassionate' towards him, he'll ignore and not appreciate your ways.