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Venerable Master Hua's Talks on the Dharma in 1993 in Taiwan

化老和尚開示 Lectures by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua





We should watch ourselves in every action and never let our attention wander outside away from home, whether we are moving or still, sleeping or awake.


All Good and Wise Advisors: We who are Buddhists should abide by the rules and follow the regulations. In the beginning Buddhism had no precepts or regulations to speak of. Because most people tend to be undisciplined, Shakyamuni Buddha had no choice but to establish the precepts and regulations. The precepts prevent evil. Each one of us should always "do no evil and practice all good." Don't break the rules. We should abide by the Dharma, the laws of the Buddha, as well as observe the laws of the nation.


We should watch ourselves in our every action and never let our attention wander outside "away from home, whether we are moving or still, sleeping or awake." To "watch ourselves" means to turn our attention inwards to reflect on what we have done during the day. Ask yourself: Have I done anything against the law or against reason? Have I been dishonest to others, or tried to cheat others by saying untruthful things? Each day we should examine ourselves. Only then will we deserve to be a disciple of the Buddha.


We have to follow the rules at all costs and not make any mistakes. Don't just wash other people's dirty laundry. We must first wash our own clothes and make sure they are clean. We shouldn't talk about the faults of others day in and day out and help others reduce their offenses, while we ourselves create karma with our mouth, body, and mind. If that's how we act, then we are not fit to be Buddhists.


We left-home people have our left-home duties, and laypeople have their lay duties. When left-home people eat, we should make the Three Reflections. The first reflection is to vow to cut off all evil. We shouldn't conceal our transgressions so others don't know about them. The second reflection is to cultivate good. When we do the slightest good deed, we should not go around boasting about it. That is not the way a Buddhist disciple should behave. The third reflection is to vow to save all living beings, so that we reach the other shore together.


Every day when we take our meal, we should first make these three reflections, so that in thought after thought, we do not forget our vows to stop all evil, practice all good, and take all living beings across to the other shore. We should sincerely make these vows and not just recite them the way we recite Sutras. We must actually put them into practice.




After the Three Reflections, we should make the Five Contemplations:

1. Consider the amount of work involved to bring the food to where it is eaten.

The first is "Consider the amount of work." You should think about how much merit and virtue it takes to produce a single grain of rice. Therefore the ancients said, "A single grain of the donor's rice is as heavy as Mount Sumeru. If you eat it and fail to attain the Way, you will have to repay it with fur and horns." Since it takes a long period of cultivation before the Way is attained, I changed one word, so that the verse reads, "A single grain of the donor's rice is as heavy as Mount Sumeru. If you eat it and fail to cultivate the Way..." Let's not talk about attaining the Way. It's enough if you cultivate the Way. But if you don't cultivate, "you will have to repay it with fur and horns."



The ancients also said,

The farmer hoes at midday,
     And his sweat drips into the fields.
Who realizes the toil involved in producing
     Each grain of rice on his plate?


"The farmer hoes at midday, and his sweat drips into the fields." When the sun is in the center of the sky, the farmer is hoeing the soil, and his sweat falls into the fields. "Who realizes the toil involved in producing each grain of rice on his plate?" When we think of the farmer's sweat and toil to grow even one grain of rice, if we fail to be grateful for all his work, then we have no conscience. We must appreciate the farmer's work which makes it possible for us to have food to eat. Do you know that every grain of rice in your plate came only after a lot of hard work? This is the first contemplation, which is to "Consider the amount of work involved to bring the food to where it is eaten."



2. Consider whether I have enough virtuous conduct to accept the offering.

Second, we should ask ourselves, "Do I have any virtuous conduct? Is my virtuous conduct complete or incomplete?" This is to "Consider whether I have enough virtuous conduct to accept the offering. It means to evaluate our own virtuous conduct, and to reflect on whether we have any merit and virtue. Is our virtuous conduct sufficient or deficient? Do we deserve to receive the offerings of others?



3. Guard the mind from transgressions, of which greed is the principle cause.

Third, we must prevent ourselves from being greedy when we eat. Ah! If something tastes good, we eat more of it, and if it doesn't taste good, we eat less of it. We are not at all impartial about it. We should be impartial and not be greedy for good-tasting food. I am a left-home person who has not been greedy for good food even since when I was still a layperson. I eat only the things that other people don't want to eat, and I try to avoid eating the food that others like to eat. This is really foolish. Most people think it's a good thing to eat good food which is nutritious for the body. When they eat plain food, they think it has no nutrition. That's not the way I am. You may say I'm just trying to act special, but that's not the case. It's just that I don't want to be choosy about what I eat. Avoiding greed--that's my principle in taking food.


In the past when I used to eat three meals a day, I would eat five bowls of food at each meal. After I saw people with no food to eat, no clothes to wear, and no house to live in, I decided to reduce my own consumption of food, clothing, and shelter. I started eating three bowls of food at each meal and taking only one meal a day. Now I don't even eat three bowlfuls. At the most I eat two bowls, or sometimes just one bowl. I don't know why, but my stomach cannot hold that much, and if I eat too much, I feel very uncomfortable and my random thoughts start flying about wildly.


By eating one meal of three bowls each day, I saved twelve bowls of food. What did I do with these twelve bowls of food? Well, I certainly didn't store them at home so that I could eat them slowly. I prayed for the people who had no food to eat, and hoped that by eating twelve bowls less myself, they would be able to eat their fill. This is my tiny wish. That's how foolish I am.



4. Properly taken, the food is like medicine to keep the body from wasting away.

The fourth contemplation says that food is a medicine that can cure people of the disease of hunger. Now, since its purpose is to cure illness, why should we discriminate whether or not it tastes good? It is all the same. When it's time to take the medicine, we should take a bit. When it's not time, then we don't need to take it. Therefore, I am always very frugal. Properly taken, the food is like medicine to keep the body from wasting away. If I didn't take this medicine, my body would shrivel and I wouldn't be able to live, so I force myself to eat a bit.



5. This food is accepted only in order to accomplish the Way.

The fifth one is to reflect that we eat only for the sake of cultivating and attaining the Way. We eat and drink a bit so our bodies will not waste away. Left-home people should always remember these Three Reflections and Five Contemplations. Laypeople should also examine themselves when they are eating. You should not be so extravagant and always greedy for good things to eat.


At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the food has very little oil and salt, and the lifestyle is very simple. Some people cannot get used to the lifestyle when they first arrive at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. I heard that the newspaper said that people who went there from Taiwan all came back in a hurry, saying, "We cannot take it! The food we ate was too bland; it had no nutrition!" I wouldn't agree with that, but that's what people say. Although it's true that the residents of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are a bit thinner, I wouldn't say that the food has no nutrition.


Earlier, my disciple, who bowed Three Steps One Bow for two years and nine months, said that Buddhism isn't that way. He doesn't really understand Buddhism yet. In Buddhism nowadays, the blind are leading the blind. The blind are leading the foolish, who do not know what the proper path is. That's why I say that Buddhism is this way. However, I want to reform the trends of Buddhism. I don't want to be put on a pedestal and idolized. When I feel something is wrong, I don't keep silent. When people see me walking by, they start worshipping blindly, bowing and making prostrations as if they were totally unaware of what is going on around them. When you are reciting the Buddha's name or a Sutra, you should do it with the utmost reverence. You should not be looking around at random; that shows a total lack of respect for the ongoing ceremony.


Therefore, when you see me, I don't want you to go wild making bows and prostrations and greeting me. I also promote this at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. No matter where I happen to walk, if you are there reciting the Buddha's name, don't greet me. If you are doing a ceremony, don't greet me. I want you to concentrate single-mindedly on whatever Buddhist ritual you are doing. If you bow and make obeisance to me, then your mind is already scattered, and you cannot be single-minded and concentrate on your worship.


Let me give you another piece of sincere advice. When you are in the middle of a ceremony, not only should you not bow or greet me, you should not bow even if you see the Buddha come and emit light or scatter flowers. Why not? Because you are doing a ceremony, and you should do it with utmost sincerity. Don't let your mind wander off. It shouldn't be that whenever someone walks by you, you know who it is. If you are fully aware of every person who passes by you, that shows your lack of sincerity and dedication in performing the ceremony. That's why I disapprove of bowing to others during a ceremony.


I don't agree with today's Buddhism, in which there are a lot of superstitious practices aimed at deluding people and preventing them from recognizing the truth. I'm a person who speaks the truth, and so I'm somewhat different from most Buddhists. It's not that I want to show that I'm special. It's just that I don't want to harm people's vision and cause them to believe in superstition. Buddhism should not have superstitious practices.


In the present age, there are many things that I don't understand. The things that other people do are different from what I do. If I know a little bit, I will tell everyone about that bit. If I don't know, then I have nothing to say. For example, in every word and deed, Buddhists should be a good model for others. No matter what situation they encounter, they should not panic and act recklessly. I hope all Buddhists are orderly and do things step by step. They shouldn't become flustered every time they encounter something strange.


From the start, I have been afraid of Taiwan's Buddhism. What am I afraid of? I fear Taiwanese Buddhists, who have a crazy kind of faith but no rationality. They do not study the true principles. That's why every time I come to Taiwan, I have to have a team of Vajra Dharma-protectors who surround me and link hands to shield me. I feel this method is very unwise. As Buddhists, no matter what the situation, we should abide by the precepts, and have samadhi and wisdom. We shouldn't be caught unprepared in any situation, so that we have to scramble and cause disorder. No matter what happens, you should not mutually squeeze and crowd each other, so that there is no breathing space, and so people may even be pushed over and accidents may occur.


In everything we do, we should abide by the rules and not be so competitive. For example, when you make offerings, you should stay in line. Don't force your way through, leaving no room for others to come to the front. If you rush up to the front to be the first to make offerings, this is both discourteous to others and disrespectful to the Buddhas. Ah! Because I see the majority of Taiwan's Buddhists are so disorderly, I am afraid to come to Taiwan. That's how it is.


Now, since all of you came today, I will you tell you a little bit. At the very least, in all we do, we should be orderly. We should act like the army, with discipline and organization. We should be like students who have rules they must abide by. These are the minimum requirements that we Buddhists should fulfill. Since the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is such a small place, people who go there from different places keep fighting to bow to me, make prostrations to me, and make offerings to me. This really makes me very disappointed about these Buddhists.


Therefore, all of you should take care of yourselves and also protect Buddhism. Don't let non-Buddhists look down on us and say, "Look at them, they are just like a swarming nest of bees when they make offerings; they have no rules at all." In making offerings, you should come in order and not fight to be first. I know that most left-home people like it when you bow and make prostrations to them, so much so that they forget everything else. I think this is not in accord with the Dharma. Therefore, no matter where I go, I always say the things that people don't like to hear. My words are so impersonal that others call me stern and cold, and say that I have so many rules. Actually if you really look into it, I have no rules at all.


When your eyes don't see, your mouth won't drool. When your ears don't hear, your mind won't be vexed. If you have food to eat and you make me watch you eat, that's not very considerate. However, Buddhists should be able to endure cold, thirst, and hunger; in everything we do, we should be in accord with the Buddhadharma. We shouldn't crave good things to eat, fancy clothes to wear, or a nice place to live. We shouldn't crave comfort. If we endure suffering, we will put an end to suffering. If we enjoy blessings, we will exhaust our blessings.


The newspapers say that I am aggressive and charismatic. All of you should avoid being taken in by my superstitious image. Don't listen to those people who say that I have spiritual powers! I'll be frank with you--I don't even have ghostly powers! Don't listen to those rumors. You should have the ability to truly recognize the Dharma. I don't know how to cure people who are sick. I don't have any ability at all. "My mind is truly laughable. It is dull and ignorant. People ask what it can do: It has no ability whatsoever." I don't know how to do anything. I'm stupid to the extreme. I don't understand anything. I'm not being polite; it's true. You shouldn't think I'm being polite. I've never been capable of polite courtesies. I am really the most stupid and dull-witted person. Why is that? The things that I do are what no one else is willing to do. The things I say are what no one else dares to say. Why don't they dare to say them? They're afraid of hurting people's feelings and offending people. I'm just a stubborn living being who likes to say stubborn words. I'll tell you honestly, even though the temperature fell to three or four degrees below freezing during the winters in Manchuria, I stubbornly showed my superiority by wearing the same three layers of clothing and eating only one meal a day in the winter as well as the summer. If I weren't such an obstinate person, how could I have taken such a loss? How could I have been willing to endure the hunger and cold? I have just explained the principle for you. Whether you believe it or not, that's what I say. I hope all of you will take losses more often and not seek so many bargains. Don't be a snake oil salesman.
[The Master of Ceremonies asks the preceptees to rise.]


Don't speak so fast when you give instructions. If you talk so fast, they won't have time to stand up, and they'll trip over each other. [M.C.: "Yes."] You should say, "Please----stand-----up." [M.C.: "Okay."] They are all quite elderly, so they shouldn't be given such rapid instructions.


The Venerable Master Hua's instructions to the preceptees
on January 15, 1993,
at the Taipei County Stadium in Banqiao, Taiwan


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