Part Two Chapter on Proper Dharma
What is Proper Dharma? The Buddhadharma divides into three periods which are the Proper Dharma Age, the Dharma Image Age, and the Dharma Ending Age. The period of time that the Venerable Shakyamuni's Dharma abides varies according to the different Sutras, but most of the virtuous ones of old set the Proper Dharma period at 500 years, the Dharma Image period at 1000 years, and the Dharma Ending period at 10,000 years. During the Proper Dharma period ("proper" meaning "certifying"), although the Buddha entered Nirvana, the Dharma and deportment had not yet changed. There was teaching, practice, and certification to sagehood. That's the meaning of the Proper Dharma Age, which is also called the period "strong in Chan Samadhi." During the Dharma Image Age ("image" meaning "the appearance of things"), there was also teaching and practice, but by that time there was very little certification to the levels of sagehood. It is also called the period "strong in building temples and monasteries." During the Dharma Ending Age ("ending" meaning "insignificant"), the Dharma is regarded as unimportant and there is only teaching. There's no practice, how much the less any certification to the levels of sagehood. It is also called the period "strong in fighting." This is the usual explanation of "proper, image, and ending." But the Venerable Master's definition of the Proper Dharma is this:
You should cultivate honestly. Don't be fond of phony name and false profit. Don't be greedy for offerings. Just that is the Proper Dharma abiding in the world. If every left-home person can hold the precept against possessing or touching money; if they can sit in Chan meditation, take only one meal a day at noon; wear their precept sashes all the time, and strictly uphold the precepts, then that is the Proper Dharma abiding in the world.
In fact the Master puts it even more simply:
If you don't fight, aren't greedy, don't seek, aren't selfish; don't pursue self-benefit; and don't lie, then that is the Proper Dharma abiding in the world.
Well, what is the Dharma Ending Age? According to scroll 5 of the Commentary on the Dharma Flower : "[The Dharma] becoming insignificant and unimportant is what is meant by the Dharma Ending Age." In scroll 6 of the "Profuse Meanings Section" of the Collection of Great Vehicle Dharmas it is stated: "Having only the teaching and nothing else is called Dharma Ending." However a much more detailed description of the demise of the Dharma appears in The Large Compilation from Great Vaipulya Sutra in the Ywe Zang Section and in The Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma Sutra. A later reference to the Dharma Ending Age appeared in the Northern Chi dynasty (550-577 A.D.) in the vows of Chan Master Sse of Nan Ywe. Chan Master Hui Sse (Wise Consideration) himself recorded that he was born in the 82nd year of the Dharma Ending Age and, having written out the entire Prajna Sutra and other texts, vowed to transmit the Dharma until Maitreya Bodhisattva came into the world. During the Sui dynasty (589-618 A.D.) Chan Master Xin Xing advocated "three-step teaching" with the One Vehicle being the first step, the Three Vehicles being the second step, and the Universal Dharma (the entirety of the Buddha's teachings) as the third step. During the Tang dynasty (618-905 A.D.) Great Master's Dao Cho (Generous in the Way) and Shan Dao (Wholesome Guide) said that the time they lived in was already the Dharma Ending Age and advocated "meshing the teaching with the times," exhorting people to cultivate the Dharma door of being mindful of the Buddha. In general, the Dharma Ending Age is bound to come, but in scroll 49 of the Ten Recitations Vinaya the Buddha brings up five things that can prevent the Proper Dharma from becoming extinct. Those five are:
"l. Respect the Proper Teachings : This means that Bhikshus rely on only the proper teachings in their cultivation and stay far away from the one-sided explanations of the Small Vehicle and the deviant explanations of externalists. In that way they can prevent the Proper Dharma from becoming extinct.
"2. Put a Stop to Anger and Evil: This means that Bhikshus always practice patience; do not get angry; and become well-know for their virtue which causes people to return to and look up to them. In that way they can prevent the Proper Dharma from becoming extinct.
"3. Respectfully Serve Elders: This means that Bhikshus venerate and compliantly serve great virtuous ones who are elder and diligently seek the essentials of Dharma from them. In that way they can prevent the Proper Dharma from becoming extinct.
"4. Cherish the Proper Dharma: This means that Bhikshus cherish a deep regard for the wonderful Dharma they hear from their elders and they delight in offering up their conduct according to it. In that way they can prevent the Proper Dharma from becoming extinct.
"5. Explain Well to Those Who are Just Beginning to Study: This means that Bhikshus expediently speak the Great Vehicle Dharma in order to enable those who have just begun to study to have standards on which to base themselves as they progress in their practice of the Way. In that way they can prevent the Proper Dharma from becoming extinct."
In the Dharma Ending Age living beings are continually unable to distinguish the proper from the deviant, to the extent that a lot of people get involved in the wrong kind of practices under the name of Buddhism. That is all because they lack the "Dharma Selecting Eye." Although during the Dharma Ending Age there are a lot of cases of "mistaking fish eyes for pearls" even within Buddhism, still, the Master's vow-power is decisive:
I am definitely going to revive the Proper Dharma. I will only allow Buddhism to have Proper Dharma and will not let there be any demise of the Dharma. Wherever I go, that place will have blessings and wisdom and there will be a diminishing of disasters and difficulties. That is my vow. Because of that, ignoring the limits of my capabilities, I go everywhere speaking the Proper Dharma and practicing the Proper Dharma.
To be continue