There is one kind of person, however, who can cultivate. Who? People who aspire to seek Bodhi in order to resolve the great problem of birth and death. In general there are many reasons for leaving home, so one cannot say, "Oh, how can that person leave the home-life? He has such a big temper and so many afflictions." People who leave the home-life do so for many different reasons.
We should not think that it is easy to leave the home-life. It isn't. There is a saying, "Don't say that leaving the home-life is an easy thing to do. It comes about because one has planted the seeds of Bodhi in life after life." Don't think leaving home is easy and be casual about it.
When people go to Baohua Mountain to be ordained, some of them reach a certain cave and cannot go any further. A demonic obstacle may arise, and they can even die on the spot. Others have no trouble taking the Shramanera (novice) precepts, but when they get ready to take the Bhikshu precepts, they become insane and cannot be ordained. There are many people with this problem, which stems from having insufficient virtue.
When you leave home, the Buddhadharma stipulates that you must receive your parents' permission. It's not like in America where you are free to do whatever you want once you turn eighteen. Formerly, in the Buddhism of India and China, in order to comply with the customs of the country, it was necessary to inform your parents: "I'm going to leave the home-life." This is called taking leave of them. To leave home is to respectfully offer up your body, mind, and life to the Triple Jewel and to no longer engage in worldly affairs. This is what is meant by "taking leave of one's family and going forth from the householder's life." You enter a place of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and you leave the home-life.
In going forth from the householder's life, you leave the ordinary household that has been your worldly home. Every household has its own troubles; there is constant quarreling among relatives and no real happiness. Thus you want to leave the mundane home, which is also called the burning house. It is said, "The Three Realms are like a burning house; there is no peace to be found in them." Therefore, you are also leaving the home of the Three Realms--the Desire Realm, the Form Realm, and the Formless Realm. You also leave the home of afflictions. Laypeople all have afflictions and no true happiness; that's why they wish to leave home. Once you leave home, it is essential that you cut off afflictions and resolve your mind on Bodhi. That is what is meant by leaving home.
Those of you who have left the home-life have probably planted good roots within eighty thousand great eons. That's why I let you leave home. Don't think this is something you can be casual about. It is said, "Don't say that leaving the home-life is easy to do. It comes about all because one has planted the seeds of Bodhi in life after life." We should tell people who have not planted good roots to plant them now. For instance, we should teach people who have never recited the Buddha's name to recite the Buddha's name, and those who have never recited mantras to recite them. These are all ways for people to plant good roots, which is like sowing seeds.
After the seeds are sown, they will sprout and grow and then ripen. This is like planting grain. The seeds are sown in the spring, and the grain is harvested in the fall when it is ripe. Then we can cook the grain and eat it. If we don't harvest the grain when it is ripe, it will be of no use. We have to harvest it, and in cultivation this is called being liberated. That is to say, people who have not planted good roots should be taught to plant them. People who have already planted good roots should be taught to leave the home-life and become monks. Becoming monks corresponds to the ripening of their good roots. After becoming monks, they still need to realize sagehood. With the realization of sagehood, they are liberated.
"One can die, but cannot cultivate." If you tell someone to leave the home-life and cultivate the Way, he may say, "Oh, I can't. I have to take care of my father and be filial to my mother." Someone else may say, "I have young children. It would be nice to cultivate the Way, but I have to wait for my two kids to grow up. I cannot cultivate now." Less than five minutes after he says that, he may get sick and receive a call from the ghost of impermanence, who says, "Mr. Chang, come with me to see King Yama." He has to follow obediently even if he does not want to go. He cannot object, so he says, "Okay, okay, I'll go, I'll go." And so he goes. When you tell him to cultivate, he says he does not have time. But when it's time to die, he has to make time.
"One can endure the bitterness of life, but cannot cultivate." When you see someone in suffering, you will find that he has no problem with it. He will say, "This is my fate. I was born to suffer. To suffer is my duty. If I don't have anything to eat today, perhaps I will have some tomorrow. I can wait. It's okay to endure a little suffering. That's the way life is. Not just myself, everyone else suffers too."
He is very sensible, logical, and philosophical about it. However, if you ask him to cultivate, he finds it impossible. He will say, "Cultivate? No way. It's too bitter. I can't take it. I really can't cultivate." Would you say this is strange or not? This is to be able to endure the bitterness of life, but to be unable to cultivate.
The power of vows is like our eyes. We need to use our eyes when we walk. Therefore, we must use our eyes--our vows--to help us cultivate. Why do we all make vows every year on the anniversary of Shakyamuni Buddha's realization of Buddhahood? It is because making vows will enable us to cultivate. You may make such a vow: "I vow to leave the home-life in life after life. And what will I do after leaving the home-life? I will propagate the Buddhadharma. I vow to leave the home-life and propagate the Buddhadharma, spreading it to every country and every mote of dust. I shall cause the limitless living beings within every dust mote to understand the Buddhadharma." We should make vows because all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the past made great vows and then cultivated in accordance with their vows. Their practice was based on the power of their vows.
Someone else may make this vow: "I vow to propagate the Buddhadharma, speak the Dharma and lecture on the Sutras in life after life." This is also a vow. However, you should first make the vow to leave the home-life. If you don't want to leave the home-life, you may also propagate the Buddhadharma as a lay person, but it will not be as good. Don't ever think that leaving the home-life is an easy thing to do. Don't think it is easy just because you have easily left the home-life and taken Shramanera precepts. Do you have any idea how much trouble, frustration, and difficulty you went through in past lives? It is all because one has planted the seeds of Bodhi before in life after life. In the past, you made the resolve for Bodhi and planted the seeds of Bodhi in life after life so that now you are able to leave the home-life in a Western country.
To be continued