過去中國的佛教，常常給人誤以為是專門超渡死人的宗教，這令一些知識份子排斥輕視佛教，上人在圓寂前二年大聲疾呼說 ：「中國的佛教，打水陸、放燄口、做佛事、超渡人……這是中國佛教的一種『形狀』、『樣子』。他們就沒想一想，這樣子下去，養成了一班無業的遊民，在佛教裡混飯吃，這有多可惜！只知道賺錢、做超渡！ 其實超渡，你必須要有根基，有德行。不要說念經、念咒語，你有德行的話，就說一句話『你往生去了』，他就會往生極樂世界去的。你既無道德，又沒有一個行持，這你憑什麼去超渡人？可以說是負這個施主的債務，並且也把佛教的根本制度都弄得不存在了。」
The Master is certainly not opposed to building temples. It's just that nowadays everyone is too comfortable and so they forget that they should be using the "meanings in the Dharma and the principles of education" to rescue living beings. All they understand is using "big temples" to save beings and come up with ways to get famous and rich. The Master's view on building temples is this:
“Creating temples is not as good as creating human beings; creating human beings is not as good as creating Buddhas.” I want to mold teachers; I want to mold living Buddhas; to mold living Bodhisattvas; to mold living Patriarchs. I want to mold living beings in this world so that they turn into living Buddhas, living Bodhisattvas and living Patriarchs.
“What I'm demolishing are not large monasteries. It's the small-town temples, the little-city temples, and the family-line temples. When those who live in the small temples move to the large monasteries and cultivate together with everyone else, then the lifestyle of the large monasteries can be preserved. Why is life in a small temple so good? It's because of the total lack of restraints and hindrances. There's no need to“Contemplate At Ease.” Rather, one can eat at ease, relax at ease, sleep at ease, travel at ease-it's really easy to forget all about cultivation. All day long is spent in climbing on conditions. Habits like that are the fatal wounds that will completely destroy Buddhism.”
I hope Buddhism will take these words to heart and not continue to "plug up its ears while stealing a bell"-cheating all of humankind. At present the signs of turmoil in Buddhism are alarmingly serious. But no one dares to stand up and shout. Everyone just stands by and watches while Buddhist followers race toward their demise. Three steps and a hermitage; five steps and a big temple-they run around having Dharma Assemblies, crossing over souls, anointing crowns, transmitting dharmas, and setting up temples. They never stop to realize that they should be propagating the teachings and explaining their meanings-instructing and guiding living beings in how to end birth and death.
The fundamental intent of the Buddha's teaching is education--to cause everyone to develop wisdom and the Dharma-selecting eye, so that they recognize cause and effect, cut off evil, and do good. The intent is not to focus on building monasteries and setting up temples. One wonders how much blood, sweat, and tears are hidden behind this stern instruction by the Master.
As it's said, such a one "only wants the light of the torch he's holding to shine as far as possible; he's never concerned about getting burned." "Despite the odds, I will stick to my intentions." This is the best description of the Master.
Section Two Souls and Ceremonies for Saving Them
Given current affluence in certain Buddhist countries, everyone is into "money" and this has led to the business of saving souls--such things as "making offerings to unborn souls." The Master's comments regarding this issue are:
“You can't call that ‘making offerings’ because they are not the Triple Jewel (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha). If you call that ‘making offerings’ then you have fallen into deviant views. It should be called ‘saving.’ But their enmity is extremely deep and so they are difficult to save, because the debt is one of having had their lives snatched away and so it has to be paid back with having one's own life snatched away in return. But if one encounters a true cultivator who is not ‘greedy for wealth’ then there's a ‘chance’ to save them.
“The question of abortion is an extremely serious one. One of the biggest reasons there are so many doubts and difficulties and so many different kinds of diseases is because of abortions. Stop and think about it: Before the life-form even had a chance to come out into the world it became a resentful ghost. Tell me, with so many small ghosts around, who are bent on taking life because their own was taken, how can we ever expect humankind to be at peace? These small ghosts must find someone who practices the Way and is not ‘greedy for wealth’ before they can be saved.”
In this passage the Master brings up how "their enmity is so extremely deep," that they are difficult to save, and that the cultivator must "not be greedy for wealth" before there's a "chance" to save them. So please don't be superstitious, everyone, and think that using "money" to create lots of merit and virtue will "take care of everything" and get involved in "saving souls." If you do, then that is a case of failing to understand the essentials of cause and effect. Besides which, the Buddhist Sutras repeatedly say that one should not kill or have abortions. For instance, in The Buddha Speaks the Dharani Sutra of Long Life and the Protection of Pure Youths there is a passage: "There are five things in the world that are difficult to erase, even through repentance and reform. What are the five?
1) Killing one's father; 2) killing one's mother; 3) killing an unborn child; 4) shedding the Buddhas' blood; and 5) breaking up the harmony of the Sangha. If one creates this evil karma, the offenses are hard to eradicate." In The Buddha Talks About Different Karmic Retributions Sutra there's a passage that says: "There are ten kinds of karma that will cause beings to receive the retribution of a short lifespan. 1) Personally committing acts of killing; 2) exhorting others to commit acts of killing...7) destroying an unborn child [that means personally having abortions]; 8) telling others to destroy an unborn child [that means advising someone else to have an abortion]...These ten deeds bring the retribution of a short lifespan." Also in The Buddha Explains the Five Upasaka Precepts Marks he said: "If one deliberately has an abortion and the foetus dies, one commits 'an offense that cannot be repented of.'"
True, the Master also did ceremonies to cross over souls, but the Master said quite humbly:
“Throughout my entire life I have never been willing to participate in‘professionally reciting Sutras and doing repentances,’‘Flaming Mouth Ceremonies,’and‘Water and Land Ceremonies’ because I simply don't have the virtuous conduct required. My Way is insufficient to move people; my virtue is not enough to teach people. I haven't even successfully saved myself yet, how can I go about saving dead souls? I haven't got that much gall!”
But now, not only are there "centers for saving souls" everywhere you go, there's also a fixed "price." Even the laity have taken up this "business." Those who make a living as professional "savers of souls" are really the freeloaders of a mishmash of Buddhism and externalism.
The Master said:“Now in the Dharma Ending Age, the laity casually accept people's offerings ["laity" is literally "those in white (secular) clothes."] Left-home people casually charge money for reciting Sutras for people and performing ceremonies to save souls-while wearing the Buddha's robes and eating the Buddha's food. Laypeople casually agree to save souls-well, who's going to save them? Not to mention laypeople, left-home people who charge money for professionally reciting Sutras and doing repentances, or for crossing over dead souls, also have a big problem.”
It's obvious that, in the Dharma Ending Age, for laity to be crossing over dead souls is something that's absolutely not in accord with Dharma. That's because the amount of merit and virtue derived from cultivating as a layperson is definitely limited. It cannot compare with the strength of pure cultivators who are left home. It is appropriate for the laity to protect and support the Triple Jewel and to make offerings to the Triple Jewel. It is not appropriate for them to be leading ceremonies to cross over dead souls. They haven't even crossed themselves beyond birth and death, how can they save others?
When it comes to really being able to save others, the only way it will work is to start with oneself and then to rely on the aid of the Triple Jewel and the virtue of one's teacher. The Master said:
“Don't get angry, don't fight, don't be greedy, don't seek, don't be selfish, don't pursue self-benefit and don't lie. Be a good person. Don't do anything evil and do all kinds of good deeds. In that way your parents and ancestors will naturally be saved.”
From this we can see that if we work hard at cultivation, don't get angry, and are good people, then quite naturally we will acquire infinite merit and virtue. And from that merit and virtue, the dead souls will, of course, attain benefit and be liberated. In the "Chapter on Doubts and Questions" of the Sixth Patriarch's Sutra there's a passage that says:
"Continuity of thought is merit and the mind practicing equality and directness is virtue. Self-cultivation of one's nature is merit, and self-cultivation of the body is virtue. Good Knowing Advisors! Merit and virtue should be seen within one's own nature, not sought through giving and making offerings." Nor is it the case that you must spend some money or recite some Sutras in order to get benefit. It's said, "I vow to save the living beings of my own nature." Saving oneself is simultaneously saving others; saving others is simultaneously saving oneself. There's no distinction of before and after. In the "Chapter on Doubt and Questions" of the Sixth Patriarch's Sutra there's another passage that says: "The living beings in our minds are deviant, confused thoughts, insane thoughts, and treacherous thoughts. All such thoughts are living beings and they must all be crossed over within our own nature. That is the real meaning of saving."
Once someone asked how many times one would have to say the Rebirth Mantra in order to be effective in crossing over the tens of thousands of lives one had taken in the past. The Master's answer was:
“If you cut off lust, then a tremendous response can be achieved by reciting it once. If you haven't cut off lust, then reciting it tens of thousands of times won't be effective.”
"Cutting off lust" means nothing other than cutting off our afflictions, getting rid of our ignorance, casting out our sexual desire and emotional love, and putting a stop to our bad temper. If we can cut off our sexual desire and the greed in our minds, then we will be using a pure mind to recite mantras and sutras and of course there will be an efficacious response.
In the past, Buddhism in China always gave people the mistaken impression that it was a religion that specialized in crossing over dead souls and so the intelligentsia looked down on and tried to get rid of Buddhism. Two years prior to the Master's Nirvana, he cried out in despair:
“Chinese Buddhism's Water Lands, Flaming Mouths, and other ceremonies and their saving of souls have become the "status quo" in Chinese Buddhism. They never stop to think that if they keep it up, they are going to be doing nothing but handing out free meals to unemployed vagrants under the guise of Buddhism. What a terrible shame! All they know how to do is make money saving souls.“Actually, in order to save souls, you must have a foundation in virtuous conduct. Then, not to speak of reciting mantras or reciting sutras, the single sentence "you can go to rebirth" is sufficient for a soul to be able to gain rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. For those of you who lack any virtue in the Way, who don't have any cultivation, I ask you, what's your basis for being able to save souls? What you are actually doing is running up a debt with the donor. Besides that, you are destroying the basic system of Buddhism.”
Right! It's a real shame that they don't open up the Tripitaka [Buddhist Canon] with its Twelve Divisions-a precious treasury of infinite wisdom-and learn to teach from it instead of applying all their effort to superfluous things.
There's also the problem found in Buddhism of "burning paper money." Actually the custom of burning paper money began in the Han dynasty according to Wong Yu, a Tang dynasty scholar who says: "From the Han on, money was sacrificed at funerals. Later generations used paper money in ceremonies for ghosts." The meaning is that the corrupt practice of burning money at funerals became a custom. That's because in China, from of old to now, everyone thinks that "people die and become ghosts" and that probably in the path of ghosts they will need some cash. But nowadays it's turned into the burning of paper money being an essential item used in the saving of souls.
The Master point out:
“Once the money is burned it becomes ashes. Once it's ashes, how do I know whether it still has any value? If you say that burning it has value, well, Westerns don't burn paper money, but you'd be hard-put to say they all become poverty-stricken ghosts who are beggars! It's said ‘There aren't any poor ghosts in the West, nor any rich spirits in the East.’"
“Ghosts consume the ‘nature’ of things; they don't need real money or actual edible items. If you have some money, you can use it to do some merit and virtue and transfer the merit to the departed ghost. But people who spend it on burning paper cars, paper airplanes, paper mansions and the like are terribly confused. It's likely that using fire to burn the money has some connection with the religion that worships fire (Brahman), which claims that the fire spirits can somehow take the burned things and give them to the ghosts and spirits. In the Indian religion, kuverna (a fire spirit) is credited with this ability. In general, it would be best to cut out these customs in Buddhism lest it becomes a "booming business."
To be continued