Whether you are a monk or nun or a lay person, you must be very careful when you speak the Dharma or lecture on the Sutras. Before you start your talk, sit quietly for five minutes. After your mind is calmed down, open the Sutra, put your palms together and reverently read the Sutra text, and then explain it in detail. If you don’t quite understand the principles of the Sutra, you won’t be able to give a coherent explanation. Therefore before speaking Dharma or giving Sutra lectures, you must be clear about all the terms, and understand the principles and meanings of the Sutra text. Otherwise it’s very easy to make mistakes. It is said,
“If you are off by a hair in the beginning, you’ll miss it by a thousand miles in the end.” You’ll end up confusing your listeners.
Students of Buddhism should not try to hurry. That would be like
“swallowing a date without chewing, eating it without knowing its taste.” We should take our time in savoring the flavor of the food we eat. If we are greedy and bite off more than we can chew, it will be harmful to us. When you are lecturing, pay attention to the meaning and principle of the Sutra. If you make a small mistake, your lecture will not match the meaning of the entire Sutra. In that case, you’ll create offenses instead of acquiring any merit. It is said,
Explaining the meaning too literally
Grieves the Buddhas of the three periods of time;
Yet deviating from the Sutra by a single word
Makes it the same as demonic discourse.
What a serious consequence! One must be very cautious!
As for people who listen to the Sutra lectures, you should concentrate your attention and energy and listen, regardless of whether the Dharma Master or layperson speaks well or not. You should look into why they speak well or poorly. Then you can learn from their good points and use their weak points as examples to correct your own shortcomings. This way you’ll be able to develop your Dharma-selecting vision.
Dharma-selecting vision comes from cultivating precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. When precepts, samadhi and wisdom are perfectly fused with no obstruction, then you’ll be able to understand all the Sutras and Shastras effortlessly, without the slightest hindrance. At that point, you will be eloquent in speaking Dharma and lecturing on the Sutras. When the ancients lectured on the Sutras, flowers would rain from the sky and golden lotuses would come forth from the earth. Even if you don’t quite reach this state, with Dharma-selecting vision you will have unobstructed, joyful eloquence.
A talk given on August 21, 1983,
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas