In the past, when Shakyamuni Buddha was cultivating blessings and wisdom, he passed through three great asamkhyeya (a limitless number of) eons before he accomplished Proper Enlightenment. As the saying goes, "Don't assume a good deed is too small to do and fail to do it; don't assume a bad deed is too small to matter and do it." When Shakyamuni Buddha was practicing the Bodhisattva Path, he didn't overlook a good deed even as small as a strand of hair, nor did he do an evil deed as tiny as a mote of dust. Therefore his merit and virtue and his blessings and wisdom were made perfect, and he became known as the Doubly Perfect Honored One.
Please pay attention to this, all of you! Although a good deed may be small, you should still make a point of cultivating that deed, because "Grains of sand accumulated over time can grow into a pagoda." Over time you will have created a great deal of goodness. If one does evil deeds, even trivial ones, they can also accumulate from few to many and can become great evil. In such a case, one will never succeed in cultivating the Way. Cultivation is nothing more than "doing no evil and respectfully performing all good deeds." If you can avoid doing any evil deed, then your blessings will increase daily. If you can do all good deeds, then your wisdom will increase daily. Even though it increases, you still must continue to cultivate without cease; only then can you meet success.
Here in the Chan Meditation Hall, as we walk and sit, sit and walk, using our method of cultivation, we are doing precisely that: cultivating both blessings and wisdom. How are we cultivating blessings? We do so by refraining from all manner of evil deeds. How are we cultivating wisdom? We do so by offering up all manner of good deeds. In these ways our blessing-reward is made perfect, and our wisdom is also made perfect. Once this is done, very quickly we accomplish Buddhahood, without having to pass through three great asamkhyeya eons until the work reaches completion.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was a cultivator in ages past, he often went down dead-end roads without realizing it. He was very patient, however, and never gave up. He maintained his vigorous advance, continuing to diligently cultivate precepts, concentration, and wisdom and put to rest, greed, hatred, and stupidity. Finally, he arrived at Buddhahood.
As we now cultivate the Buddhadharma, we are luckier than Shakyamuni Buddha was, because we have the example of the Proper Path that he set for us. We need only walk the Way as he did, and we can quickly realize our goal: The Pure Land on the Other Shore.
In one of his past lives, Shakyamuni Buddha was "Never Slighting Bodhisattva," who cultivated the ascetic practice of patient endurance. Whenever he met someone, he would always bow to him and say, "I don't dare slight you, for you will one day become a Buddha." Some people detested this behavior, so on occasion he had to endure curses and beatings while he bowed.
One time, as he practiced the Bodhisattva Path, he bowed to a person who promptly kicked out two of his teeth. He still was not disheartened, however, but continued to persevere in his ascetic practice of bowing. After this experience, he grew a bit more prudent and moved off to a discreet distance before making his bow and shouting out, "I don't dare slight you, for you will one day become a Buddha!" His bow done and his speech made, he would then quickly depart, and those who wanted to beat him up wouldn't be able to catch him.
Never Slighting Bodhisattva used the spirit of "having no sense of self" to cultivate blessings and wisdom. Who told him to cultivate in that way? Nobody told him to, he simply enjoyed cultivating this practice. Although it brought him curses and beatings, he never felt anger or hatred in return. Thus he illustrates the method used to cultivate the Dharma-door of the Perfection (Paramita) of Patience under Insult.
Patience is the most important Dharma-door for cultivators. When you encounter a situation that doesn't go your way, you must bear up under it and yield to it. Don't fight with anyone. If you can cultivate, but you can't be patient and you freely let your temper go at any time, you'll burn to ashes all the merit and virtue that you cultivated through such painstaking, bitter effort.
We should ask ourselves honestly, "Do I have the patience required to bow to others, then get a beating in return, and still not feel hatred?" If you can do this, you count as a true disciple of the Buddha. If you can't, then by all means, collect your body and mind, and make vigorous progress in your cultivation. Otherwise, you have simply wasted all your precious time without gaining anything from your work.
For cultivators, it's important to be able to endure cold and heat, wind and rain, hunger and thirst, and insults and beatings. Imitate the spirit of Never Slighting Bodhisattva: "No matter who treats me badly, I will not feel anger or hatred towards them. I will treat all people sincerely and influence them naturally with that sincerity. In this way their hostility will be transformed into friendliness, their swords changed to plowshares."
Cultivators are working to get rid of all traces of self. When one is free of all traces of self, then one can endure any state whatsoever; and when situations arise, one's mind will not be disturbed. We want to regard ourselves as not different from empty space. We cultivate alike through both favorable and adverse situations. In other words, favorable situations do not make us happy, and adverse situations do not make us sad. We want to clearly recognize the arising of both favorable and adverse states. If we can remain "Thus, thus, unmoving," then situations will not disturb us. If we can "understand and be constantly clear," then we will be able to turn around the situations that arise.
When Shakyamuni Buddha cultivated in ages past, he specialized in the Dharma-door of patience, so he became known as the Patient Immortal. One day, without provocation, he was dismembered by King Kali. Even so, he felt no hatred towards the king. Instead, he pitied the king for his ignorance. He said, "In the future when I become a Buddha, I will take you across first." Upon hearing those words, King Kali felt deep remorse and requested to take refuge with the Patient Immortal. In a later reincarnation, he was the Venerable Ajnata-kaundinya, one of the first five Bhikshus who realized the fruition of Arhatship upon hearing the Buddha expound the three turnings of the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths.
Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, cultivated the skill of patience to the ultimate point, so that there was absolutely no way to stir him to anger. As the Buddha's disciples, we should learn the skill of patience from our teacher. In short, patience is the most important of all methods of cultivation, and cannot be ignored or overlooked.
The ancients said, "Be patient for a moment, and the storm will subside. Retreat a step backward, and the sea and sky will open up in all their vastness." That is why we say that "patience is a jewel beyond price." I don't care who tears down the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I still won't be attached, get angry, or feel hatred. If everyone could think the same way as I do, then the world would know peace.
Patience is something cultivators cannot be without. Only with the power of patience can we cultivate. Without patience, all talk of cultivation is in vain. The principle I discussed today is quite ordinary-sounding and very flavorless. However, it is true Dharma, proper Dharma, wonderful Dharma, the rarest of Dharma. Although it is quite ordinary, the Way comes forth from the most ordinary places. The Way is something that people walk on with their feet. This unconditioned Dharma is difficult to encounter even once in a million eons, so don't overlook what's right before your eyes. If you mistake it for the sound of the wind blowing by your ears and pay it no heed, then you'll regret it later, but to no avail. If you can use the message that I have given to you today, then no matter what state appears, you won't get afflicted or upset. If you can use wisdom to judge the situation, then no matter what kind of problem comes your way, you'll sever it with a single stroke of the sword, like a knife cutting through butter. You won't ever feel troubled. Finally, I hope all of you will truly work hard, investigate Chan, and find out, "Who is reciting the Buddha's name?" If you haven't found out yet, don't rest until you do!
A talk given during a Chan session in December, 1980