How to Get Rid of Fear and Karmic Obstacles
Question: We often discuss Arhats and Bodhisattvas. Could the Master please explain the differences and similarities between the two? What are the differences between Bodhisattvahood and Arhatship?
Venerable Master: "Arhat" and "Bodhisattva" are names. They refer to people with different levels of wisdom. Bodhisattvas want to benefit others, while Arhats only cultivate to benefit themselves. These two are both stages on the path of cultivation. As an ordinary person, you don't know what the state of an Arhat is like. You may speculate all you want, but you're only wasting your time. No matter how you try to imagine what Arhats and Bodhisattvas are like, you cannot fathom their states. You're like someone who hasn't been to school yet, but who thinks he knows what it will be like to study and what books he will study in high school and college. If you merely think about it without really studying hard, you can fantasize forever, but you still won't be able to graduate. You don't have to think about what you're going to study in high school or college. All you have to do is attend classes every day and study hard. When you get to those levels of study and read those books, you'll very naturally know what it's all about. All your speculations are just a waste of energy. Having eaten your fill and having nothing better to do, you just look for some useless activity to occupy yourself. That's the way I see it.
And so as ordinary people who have left the home-life, we first want to be good Bhikshus. Being a Bhikshu is like being an elementary school student. After we have finished studying the elementary school curriculum, of course we can enter high school. In high school we need not think about what we're going to do after we have earned a Ph.D. Although we should have a plan, we have to realize that when the time comes, things may not happen the way we plan. So it's better to concentrate on doing a good job of being a Bhikshu than to investigate the states of Arhats and Bodhisattvas.
Question: My parents don't approve of my leaving the home-life. They don't think leaving home is a good thing. I really wish to use Buddhism to influence my parents, but if I leave home they will probably become even more opposed. Will the Master please tell me how I can help them to gradually accept Buddhism and meditation?
Venerable Master: Yes. It's very easy to cause your parents to not oppose your leaving the home-life. In Malaysia there was a left-home person who, when he saw left-home people from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas wearing their precept sashes, also wanted to wear his sash. But his teacher wouldn't allow him to wear the sash under any circumstances. His teacher maintained that left-home people didn't need to wear the sash. When he asked me what he should do, I said, "Tell your teacher that if you wear the sash, you'll be reminded that you are a monk and you won't have thoughts of lust; if you don't wear it, you keep thinking about women. Tell your teacher that, and see if he'll let you wear the sash." When he went back and told this to his teacher, his teacher didn't stop him from wearing the sash anymore. As for your question, you can tell your parents, "If I don't leave home, then I'll want to eat, drink, visit prostitutes, gamble, take drugs, and even commit murder and arson and all kinds of crime. But if I leave home, then I have to give up killing and liberate life, so naturally I won't dare to do those bad things." Tell your parents that and then ask them if they think leaving home is a good idea or not.
Question: Reciting the Buddha's name is not a common practice in Theravada Buddhism. What method of practice would the Master recommend to help one develop faith?
Venerable Master: Faith can be compared to the five flavors. All the different Dharma-doors (methods of practice) that the Buddha taught are like different flavors. There are sour, sweet, bitter, hot, and salty flavors. You can't say that sour is the best flavor, nor can you say that sweet is number one. You can't say that bitter, hot, or salty flavors are number one either, because each person likes different things. Those who like to eat sour things say sourness is good for them. Those who prefer sweet things feel that sweetness is good for them. People who like to eat bitter-tasting things think bitterness is good for them. And those who like hot, spicy food cannot eat food that doesn't have any spices in it. No matter what Dharma-door we believe in, if we apply it correctly, there will naturally be a response. If we don't use it appropriately, there will be no response. The choice of a method of practice depends on each person's disposition. Every individual has his or her causes and conditions. No matter which Dharma-door it is, if you can concentrate on it, you will obtain a response. For example, if you cultivate the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha's name, it doesn't take a lot of work or money, and it doesn't hinder your other activities, because you can do it whether you are moving or still, in the daytime or at night. This is a practice that many people are able to do with ease, so it is suitable for people in general. But if you don't concentrate, you might not have a response. There's a saying that goes,
If your mouth recites "Amitabha," but your mind is distracted,
Then even if you recite till your throat is sore, it's no use.
For that reason, no matter what method you use, it's necessary to have faith. "Faith is the source of the Way and the mother of merit and virtue. It nurtures all roots of goodness." Why is our faith not strong and firm? Because we have not sent our roots down deeply, so we cannot deeply enter the Buddha's teachings. What should we do about this? We should create merit, foster virtue, and establish good speech. To create merit means to help other people. To foster virtue is to quietly benefit others without letting them know. And to establish good speech means:
With compassionate and skillful speech,
With or without money, do more virtuous deeds.
If we can speak true words and not tell lies, if we can speak the truth that we have realized after "going through the fire," no one will be able to refute that truth. The truth is unchanging, yet it accords with conditions. It accords with conditions, but never changes. That's the difference between truth and falsehood. If you recognize the truth and investigate it day after day, you'll naturally have faith.
to be continued