Young Shramanera Guo Rong:
Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, laypeople, and fellow cultivators, Amitabha! One time in class when we studied the Pure Conduct Chapter of the
Flower Adornment (Avatamsaka) Sutra, our teacher explained how the chapter is divided and also explained the text. Although I listened, there were many parts that I didn't understand. One sentence in particular puzzled me: "Disciple of the Buddha, if a Bodhisattva applies his mind skillfully, he will attain all supreme merit and virtue." Manjushri Bodhisattva answers
Foremost Wisdom Bodhisattva, saying, "Disciples of the Buddha, how can one apply one's mind in order to attain all supreme merit and virtue?" Then come the verses, beginning with, "A Bodhisattva of the lay life..." At that time, I kept wondering what it meant to "apply one's mind."
Foremost Wisdom Bodhisattva had asked so many questions, and Manjushri Bodhisattva replied that by applying the mind, one can attain tremendous merit and virtue and benefit. However, he did not explain how to apply the mind. For a long time I had no idea what that meant. Recently, when I read that passage in the Sutra, it occurred to me that we ought to make vows to transfer merit to living beings in every situation we encounter. To "apply the mind" means that in every circumstance, we must make a vow to transfer merit to living beings. We apply the mind of making vows on behalf of all beings. That's the answer I came up with for myself. In the Avatamsaka Prologue, National Master Qing Liang says of "applying the mind," "One makes vows in every situation, thereby entering a realm of esoteric wonder."
Once I grasped that principle, I realized what a practical and useful handbook the "Pure Conduct Chapter" is for our daily practice. When I read the endless principles of the Avatamsaka Sutra, sometimes I don't know where to begin to practice. What is more, I cannot even conceive of practicing some of the principles, such as giving away of one's flesh, hands, and feet as a Bodhisattva does. Such doctrines are beyond my present ability and imagination. I can only regard them as inconceivable states. I used to wonder where I ought to begin to cultivate the Avatamsaka Sutra, which is so immense. Having read this passage, I think that the "Pure Conduct Chapter" is an excellent Dharma and I might as well begin here!
The Venerable Master said, "If you understand what you see, you can transcend the world. If you are confused by what you see, you will fall." If we can make a vow for everything we see, doing this in every thought, then we won't have so many afflictions. With fewer afflictions, we will be able to cultivate our minds. For example, when people scold us or do something to irritate us, to scold them back would instantly make us afflicted. Wouldn't it be better if we made a vow for all beings? Then we'd save ourselves a lot of vexation. Whether we see favorable, unfavorable, or neutral situations, we can make a vow for all beings. Then we won't have so many discursive thoughts and afflictions. That's all I want to say today.
Young Shramanera Guo Zhi:
Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, Dharma friends, Amitabha! When we were reciting the "Ten Practices Chapter" of the Avatamsaka Sutra yesterday, I was inspired by a couple of verses, which I'd like to talk about now. I read those verses for the first time yesterday, and this is the first time I've come up to the stage to speak, so please forgive me if I make mistakes. Let me first recite two verses:
Throughout numberless eons
One might offer wealth and jewels to the Buddha,
But if one does not know the Buddha's true form,
One has not practiced true giving.
Measureless forms and marks
Adorn the Buddhas' bodies.
Yet it's not by means of forms or marks
That one can see the Buddhas.
~ Chapter Twenty-four: Praises in the Tushita Heaven Palace ~
These verses say that if you offer wealth to the Buddhas
and the Triple Jewel every day for countless eons, but you
don't understand the Buddha's true appearance, then you have
not practiced true giving. When we adorn the Buddha's body,
we should not concentrate only on his external appearance,
for then we will not be able to see the Buddha. In other
words, to practice in hopes of adorning ourselves with the
thirty-two hallmarks and eighty characteristics and being attached to those marks, is not true practice.
When I read these two verses, I had some questions. They seem to be talking about giving, but their meaning can be expanded. What is our motivation when we practice intensively, perform charity, or work to support the monastery? Why do we want to sweep and mop the floor? This is a basic and important question. As the verses say, if we make offerings of wealth and jewels without knowing the Buddha's true appearance, then we have not truly made offerings.
What is the Buddha's true appearance or mark? The Buddha takes "marklessness as his mark and the true mark (i.e. reality) as his mark." That is, he has no form. And so when we practice giving or volunteer in the monastery, we should not have any idea that we are doing those things. In other words, we should not be attached to forms. Forms represent many things. We should not be attached to fame or merit, nor should we seek a reward. That is the Buddha's true form. The Buddha's true form is merit without outflows. If we are attached to the work we do, our work will be blemished. There will still be merit, but it will have outflows. Merit and virtue with outflows is as Great Master Yongjia's "Song of Enlightenment" says:
To dwell in characteristics while giving
Is to create the blessings of the heavens;
It is like looking up and loosing an arrow into the sky.
When its force is exhausted,
An arrow falls back down;
Which is to say, future lives will not be as one wishes.
How can we work in accord with the Buddha's true form? How can we not be attached to our work? The "Pure Conduct Chapter" spells it out clearly. Whenever we go somewhere or see something, we should vow, "I vow that living beings..." When we read all these vows, we are training our minds to constantly wish that living beings will be such and so.
In the "Ten Transferences Chapter" that we read today, we saw that whenever the Bodhisattva of the Ten Transferences does a little merit, such as when he gives away his kingdom, his hands and feet, and so on, he makes numerous vows transferring his merit to living beings. He isn't the least bit selfish. He doesn't think of how that merit will benefit himself. Instead, he hopes that the merit he has done will benefit all beings. Now, whenever we do something, we ought to examine our own motivation for doing it. Are we hoping to gain some short-term advantages so we will be better off? We must take a look at our thoughts. Amitabha!