This reminds me of the first group of three Bhikshus and two Bhikshunis who went to Taiwan to receive the precepts. Later on, a group of four Bhikshus went to Taiwan for ordination. Afterward, there were Bhikshus and Bhikshunis who were ordained right here at Gold Mountain Monastery. All of them have made vows. However, none of the Shramaneras and Shramanerikas who have recently left home have made vows. I don't know whether you wish to become ghosts or animals, fall into the hells or what. You have not told me that you have made a vow to fall into the hells, or to become a cat or dog. The reason I say this is because many Americans are quite strange. Sometimes they will make a vow to become a bird. Or they might vow to become a mouse that steals food. Now, whether you want to make a vow to become a cat or a dog or a mouse, you should let me know first.
"We don't want to make such vows," you might say. "We want to vow to become Patriarchs, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas." That's very good, but you must first proclaim those vows. The Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas at Gold Mountain Monastery should all make vows. After making vows, you should practice in accord with those vows. Therefore, in a few days you should make vows—do not delay. Each of you should submit your vows in writing. If you don't know how to write, ask someone to write them for you. This is the golden rule at Gold Mountain Monastery. If you don't make any vows, then you should quickly return to lay life. You're prohibited from staying here. Why? The absence of vows is similar to not having a boat when you want to cross the river. Without a boat, you will certainly drown. Since I don't wish to see my disciples drown, I'm telling you make your vows now. It doesn't matter how great or small your vows are. If your vow is as small as a particle of dust, you still have a dust-particle-sized boat and you won't fall into the sea of suffering, especially the sea of immeasurable suffering as discussed in the Sutra. If you make vows, you can "extinguish the immeasurable suffering of the confused multitudes." Your vows should be made in stone, not in a pile of ashes or sand. They shouldn't be soft and weak, with no foundation. Your vows should be based on solid ground and reach up to the sky, as firm and hard as rock. Only then do they count. "If you want me to die, fine; but if you want me to give up studying the Buddhadharma, I won't." Your vows should be that strong. "If you want me to die, fine; but if you want me to eat meat, I won't. I'll die before I eat a bite of meat."
Suppose someone tests you to see how sincerely you want to convert him. He says, "I want to be converted by you, but I don't know how sincere you are. How can you prove your sincerity? Well, you're a vegetarian, so if you eat a piece of meat, then I'll believe in Buddhism. That way I'll know that you're sincere." In that case, you can eat a piece of meat. Since your intent was to convert someone and draw him in, you won't be considered to have broken your vegetarian diet. By eating meat, you will have to suffer a little in the future, but you will have influenced someone to bring forth the Bodhi resolve—that's the right thing to do. I'd better stop talking. If I say any more, I will speak even more incorrectly.
Every year, on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, the day of the Buddha's Enlightenment, we should all make vows. We should bring forth the Bodhi resolve to catch up to Shakyamuni Buddha and quickly realize Buddhahood ourselves. Before we catch up, we cannot stop. We must keep on chasing after him until we reach the fruition of Buddhahood. We can't yield to our teacher. Our Original Teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, has already become a Buddha. What are we waiting for, lingering in the back? We ought to get ahead of our teacher. At the very least, we should catch up to him. I'd better quit this crazy talk.
The Great Hero's skillful expedients are hard to fathom.
Nothing that he does is ever in vain.
He is determined to rid living beings of all suffering.
The Spirit Chandana Forest has awakened to this.
The Great Hero's skillful expedients are hard to fathom. The Buddha is a great hero, a great man, and a great teacher. He is worthy of all these titles. We living beings call ourselves heroes, great men, and teachers, but we fall short in our qualifications. The Buddha alone is deserving of these characterizations. What is meant by Great Hero? It does not refer to one who draws his sword and is ready to fight. Great heroes are not those who are aggressive and belligerent, who get others to obey orders by force. Great heroes are those who can cultivate practices that others cannot cultivate, endure adversities that others cannot endure, undergo suffering that others cannot undergo. Shakyamuni Buddha is an example of one who cultivated practices that others cannot cultivate. He cultivated blessings and wisdom for three asamkhyeyas of eons and created the causes for the special marks and characteristics for a hundred kalpas.
During that incredibly long period of time, he was consistently vigorous and never lax. Thus, he cultivated what others could not. The Buddha also endured adversities that others would find unbearable. For instance, having his limbs severed by King Kali—most people would not have been able to endure that, but the Buddha did. Not only did he bear it, he vowed, "When I become a Buddha, you will be the first one I take across to Buddhahood. Why? Because you are a genuine good advisor of mine. You are a true helper and protector. Out of concern for me, you have helped me succeed and develop my resolve for Bodhi and reach the fruition of the Way. Therefore, I am determined to save you first." Take a look. King Kali sliced off his flesh and his four limbs, yet he still vowed to save the King. Isn't that a prime example of enduring adversities that others cannot endure?
He also underwent suffering that others cannot undergo. We of the present time are quite shameless. We eat one meal a day and think we have some skill in cultivation. We think, "In the heavens and on earth, I alone am honored." Observe how Shakyamuni Buddha had endured the cold of the Snow Mountains. How do we know it was cold? By the name, Snow Mountains. There was so much snow on those mountains that it didn't melt even during summertime. Even though it was intensely cold, the Buddha ate only one sesame seed and one grain of wheat each day. We, in comparison, drink milk and eat oatmeal, butter, bread, delicious white rice, ginger shoots. If we want seasonings such as chili, pepper, soy sauce, or salt, they are all available. When the Buddha was in the Snow Mountains, I doubt he had any of these seasonings. Why? Because the Buddha wasn't useless like us. He wasn't constantly wondering, "What are we going to have for lunch today? Will there be tofu? How about mushrooms?" and other false thoughts as these. As we attend the Buddha recitation session, our thoughts take us right into the kitchen. Our minds wander into the kitchen to take a look at what's for lunch. It's not a Buddha recitation session we're holding, it's a food session!
Yesterday I asked Guo Yu over the phone, "What's up? Is the ghost still following you?" He said, "The ghost outside is gone, but there's a ghost in my belly, a hungry ghost that's quite unruly." That's the food session for you. We ought to reflect on the kind of suffering our teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, went through— suffering that most people cannot take. He was truly a great hero, an outstanding human being and a great teacher of gods and humans. He is truly worthy of being our teacher. With such a great hero for a teacher, we should certainly be disciples who are great heroes, not disciples who are as ignorant as airheads. We should put forth some effort for the sake of Shakyamuni Buddha, thinking, "Our teacher went through such bitter hardship during his time; why shouldn't I be able to endure that kind of suffering? Why am I so willing to be a wine-bag, a rice-sack, and a clothes-hanger?" That's what we ought to ask ourselves. That way, as disciples of a great hero, we won't have anything to feel ashamed about.
"The Great Hero's skillful expedients are hard to fathom." Skillful, expedient methods are used to teach and transform living beings in a way that the teaching is adapted to the needs of the situation and the Dharma is taught on an individual basis, just as medicine is prescribed according to the patient's illness. "Hard to fathom" indicates that the expedient methods employed by the Buddha are intrinsically different from the methods used by living beings. When we try to use expedient methods, people aren't very receptive. When the Buddha uses those same expedient methods, living beings are receptive to his teaching. What's the principle here? It's not simply a matter of dharma, it's also a matter of affinity. Since the Buddha has established affinities with living beings, they are receptive to his teaching. We, however, have not created such affinities, so living beings take no delight in listening to our exhortations. Therefore, we need to create affinities with living beings. What is more, the Buddha cultivated blessings and wisdom for three asamkhyeyas of eons, and created the causes for the special marks and characteristics for a hundred kalpas. With his merit and virtue perfected, he is able to influence others through his virtue instead of forcing them to submit. When people are oppressed by power, they may submit, but unwillingly. However, when people are influenced by virtue, they truly submit with their hearts. Confucianism also teaches this, saying:
When people are made to submit by force,
They do so not because they wish to,
But because their strength is insufficient.
When people are made to submit by virtue,
They do so willingly and with heartfelt sincerity.
Therefore, we ought to cultivate blessings and wisdom. By doing our best to benefit others, we cultivate blessings. We benefit ourselves when we cultivate wisdom. To be of benefit to others, we have to help them out. To be of benefit to ourselves, we should help ourselves. To help ourselves takes Prajna. Helping others requires that we have the four infinite mental qualities of kindness, compassion, joy, and giving.
"Hard to fathom": Ultimately, what kind of expedient method should we use? Which one is most suitable for the occasion? Only the Buddha knows. We living beings often think a certain method is right, but it turns out to be wrong. We think another method is wrong, but it is actually right. Therefore the line says that the Buddha's expedient means are hard to fathom, difficult to understand.
To be continued