translated by Bhikshuni Heng Ch'ih
reviewed by Bhikshuni Heng Yin
edited by Shramanerika Heng Chen

      This is the annual anniversary of the Buddha's appearance in the world. An anniversary is the date customarily assigned to mark the accomplishment of something. Every person comes to bathe the Buddha on the anniversary of the Buddha's birth, and this bathing of the Buddha commemorates something that actually happened when the Buddha was born. It doesn't matter whether the Buddha was born several thousand years ago or was born this morning, we still wish to remember the circumstances, which surrounded the Buddha's appearance in the world. And so, following this custom, we hold this celebration on the day assigned to commemorate the event.

      There is a Chinese expression "figuring it out at the rear of the horse," which means "being wise after the fact." If, after some event has taken place you figure out how to handle it, that's "being wise after the fact." Say, for instance, you may have never been robbed and then suddenly one day a thief comes and steals some things from you. Before the theft the members of the household would never have thought of locking their doors when they went to sleep. After the thief stole their things they knew enough to lock the doors. That's called "being wise after the fact." (or "closing the barn after the horse has been stolen"). Why bring this up? Because before the Buddha was born no one had ever thought of having a celebration to bathe the Buddha. But after the Buddha entered the world people knew that when the Buddha was born nine dragons came and sprayed down water to bathe the newborn Buddha. So, we will also bathe the Buddha. This too is said to be a custom, a practice of "being wise after the fact."

      Have we already been robbed and are now closing the door? Yes. Before now our eyes have been enticed by defiling objects of form; our ears have been carried away by sounds; our noses have been allured by defiling objects of smell; our tongues have been lured off by tastes; our bodies have been drawn away by touch; our minds have been led away by dharmas. The six organs of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind葉hese six organs have been sullied by the defiling objects of forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles, and dharmas. It is just as though you had lost the riches of your household. At that time you didn't know to return the light and illumine within葉o close the door. Now we are studying the Buddhadharma and know about the celebration of bathing the Buddha; this is closing the door so we will not be enticed by the six defiling objects. Now we are bathing the Buddha. Does the Buddha need to have us bathe him? Basically, the Buddha does not. But in order to commemorate the birth of the Buddha we living beings make the resolve for Bodhi during the ceremony of bathing the Buddha. We realize, "Oh, the Buddha is a person and I am also a person. Why haven't I become a Buddha? Because I have not made the resolve for Bodhi. From this day forward I will make a great resolve for Bodhi, and as I bathe the Buddha I will wash inside and clean up my mind and wash outside and clean up my body. When bathing the Buddha we must bathe the Buddha, which is our own self-nature. It is not that we simply bathe the small image of the young Buddha and that is all there is to bathing Him. Certainly not. We want to wash clean the Buddha of our own self-nature, the Dharma of our own self-nature, the Sangha of our own self- nature. The Buddha basically does not need for us to bathe him. The Buddha is not defiled and is not pure. Since he is neither defiled not pure, why do we go through the motions of bathing the Buddha?

      Everyone should pay close attention to this. When we bathe the Buddha we want to purify our bodies and minds, to cause them to be clean and free from defilement. When we bathe the Buddha who is outside we also bathe the Buddha who is inside. The internal and external are simultaneously cleansed.  But it is not sufficient for the internal and external to merely be cleansed they must further be not defiled and not pure for it to count. So as you bathe the Buddha don't just get caught up in bathing the Buddha, but bathe yourself as well. If we just bathe the Buddha, that is of absolutely no use whatsoever. You should wash yourself. When you are clean that will make the Buddha happy. But if you yourself are not clean and you say, "Oh, Buddha, I'm bathing you, Buddha," the Buddha will say, "What a nuisance you are! Hurry up and get away from here;" Why let this happen? You should reflect the light back to illumine within and wash yourself. When your own body and mind are pure the Buddha will say, "Ah, Amitabha Buddha: You are thus and I am thus.  You are like that and I am also like that. You are not defiled and not pure, and I am not defiled and not pure." Then it will count. If you just superficially wash the Buddha who is outside you can wash Him for 80,000 great aeons without there being any merit in it. If you reflect the light to illumine within--wash your self-nature until it is not defiled and not pure葉hat is truly bathing the Buddha.

      Someone says, "Dharma Master, I listen to the principles you explain, and they are not logical, because I have always been very clean葉he exterior of my body is very clean." You see it as clean, but when examined with the Buddha eye you are very dirty溶ot clean. Not only in examining you with the Buddha eye, but just using my eyes to investigate I see that you are not clean. Why not? Ask yourself: "Am I greedy? Do I want to get rich? Do I want to get into office? Do I want to have a good reputation?" If you don't have any of these problems, then you are clean. If you do have, then you are not clean. Then ask yourself: "Do I get angry? Do I have ignorance? Do I get irritated?" If someone suddenly slapped you on both cheeks, would you be able to put up with it happily? "Certainly not," you say.

      Certainly not? Then you are not clean. If someone is impolite to you, does your ignorance flare up and do you do all kinds of stupid things scheming to get even? Are you vindictive? If not, then you are clean. If you are, if someone treats you badly and you can't bear up under it, then you are still not clean. You still have to cultivate.

      Why is it said that the Buddha is not defiled and not pure? The Buddha descended from the Tushita Heaven. No matter which Bodhisattva becomes a Buddha, he first descends from the inner court of the Tushita Heaven where he has been waiting to become the future Buddha. He waits until the day when he should descend into the world and then he is born. This is one of the light signs of the Buddha coming into the world. The first sign is the descent from the Tushita Heaven. The second sign is entering the womb. The Bodhisattva who descends from the Tushita Heaven enters his mother's womb.  While the Bodhisattva is in his mother's womb he continues all along to speak Dharma for the ghosts and spirits, just as though he were dwelling in a palace. He is not like common people, who are oblivious of everything while they are in their mothers' wombs. The Bodhisattva who is to be the future Buddha enters the womb, dwells in the womb, and leaves the womb葉hese are three signs. For him entering the womb is as enjoyable as taking a vacation. Dwelling in the womb is also pleasant for him, and leaving the womb is even more delightful. Then he leaves the home life, and after that he accomplishes the Way. After accomplishing the Way, he turns the Dharma Wheel. After turning the Dharma Wheel, he enters Nirvana. A Buddha passes through these eight signs of accomplishing the Way.

      Today I am very pleased that so many professors have come to participate in this celebration of bathing the Buddha. I hope that we all will cultivate the Way together, and that each of you will reach the place where you want to go. I hope that you succeed in what you want to succeed in: if you want to become Buddhas, that you become Buddhas; if you want to be born in the heavens, that you will be born in the heavens. I firmly believe that there isn't anyone who wants to go to the hells. So I hope that everyone who likes to eat good things will have good things to eat everyday, and that everyone who likes to wear nice clothes will wear nice clothes everyday. But these are not ultimate things. I hope that all of you will encounter the Buddhadharma and cultivate, and soon accomplish the Buddha Way.

Dharma Master Sheng Yen who holds a Litt. D. from Rossho University, Japan, poses with the great assembly of Gold Mountain during his recent visit to pay his respects to the Venerable Abbot. Bhikshu Sheng Yen, who spent six years in seclusion on Kao Hsiung Mountain, Taiwan, exclusively cultivating the Way, gave a series of instructional talks during his stay at Gold Mountain. He is now residing at Great Enlightenment Temple, Headquarters of the Buddhist Association of America, Bronx, New York.