One must reform within one's heart daily. How? One reforms and changes one's faults and begins anew. How? Zengzi had these admonitions for us: "I make three reflections daily: Have I failed to fulfill my obligations to others? Have I been unfaithful to any friends? Have I reviewed what I've learned?" Fulfilling obligations, being sincere and faithful, and studying diligently are the themes of reflection for Zengzi. The greatest inspiration comes from mastering this practice by doing it "daily." A saying goes, "If I can renew myself one day, I can renew myself every day." Any day that I have no fault to correct is a day that I have failed to make progress. Shakespeare said, "Tragedies moralize." I feel that "repentance and reform are humbling." When we truly recognize our faults, we see our ugliness and feel great remorse. True humility will naturally show. The Sutra of the Buddha's Final Teaching says it well, "Only when someone is capable of remorse is he able to cultivate all good dharmas." People who have no sense of shame resemble a teacup filled to the brim: the most precious water of Dharma cannot go in. People with a sense of shame are likened to an empty cup that is capable of retaining every drop of the water of Dharma.
The Sixth Patriarch, the Great Master Huineng, explained repentance and reform in this way, "Repentance is to repent of past errors, to repent so completely of all bad actions done in the past out of stupidity, confusion, arrogance, deceit, jealousy, and other such offenses, that they never arise again. Reform is to refrain from such transgressions in the future. Awakening and cutting off such offenses completely and never committing them again is called repentance and reform." Accordingly, the true meaning of repentance and reform lies with reforming sincerely and changing past evils and old habits, just as the vajra blade cuts through gold and jade. One must act according to what Dhyana Master Laiguo has said, "Never again incur a transgression." You must remember that if you knowingly commit transgressions, your offense triples. You ought to be terrified by the karmic retribution of being in the hells. "The Repentance of the Compassionate Samadhi Water" lists the essential stages of repentance: "First comes a sense of shame. Second is fear. Third is disgust and relinquishment. Fourth is the resolve for Bodhi. Fifth is equal regard for enemies and relatives. Sixth is mindfulness of repaying the Buddha's kindness. Seventh is contemplation of offenses as being empty."
The offenses that we have accrued for endless eons resemble Mount Sumeru. Just as the Avatamsaka Sutra says, it is fortunate that offense karma has no form; otherwise, living beings' offense karma would have caused space to burst apart.
How do we repent and reform out of fear? By understanding cause and effect, knowing that "Just as the cause is, so will be the effect." The law of cause and effect resembles the universal laws of physics. For instance, a ball will bounce back when you throw it against the wall. No one can plead with cause and effect. No one, from high-ranking officials and aristocrats to butchers and soldiers, is exempt from cause and effect. Everyone is equal. If we plant the causes of a Bodhisattva, we reap the fruits of a Bodhisattva. If we plant the causes for the hells, then we endure the retribution of being in the hells. How can we understand the karmic retributions of being in the hells? Read the Earth Store Sutra, and read the Shurangama Sutra's Ten Habits and Six Dependent Retributions. Absolute faith in cause and effect is the foundation for cultivation, just as the groundwork is to a building. Once the foundation is solid, we realize the adorned Buddhaland according to the blueprints on the Bodhisattva path. Once we understand cause and effect, that will benefit us by keeping the mind from transgression, stopping evil and preventing wrong doing. As far as benefiting others is concerned, we understand the root and source of living beings' suffering and the cause of the destruction of the world, and we understand the principle of returning to the origin.
From the principle of cause and effect, we understand cause and effect in transmigration and retribution. We see that living beings are steeped in mutual resentment and revenge. Once sentient beings are frightened by this, they will believe, understand, become disgusted and leave it behind. Leave what behind? They will be disgusted with and leave behind the whirlpool of transmigration in the hopes of liberation—not only their individual liberation, but liberation for their friends and relatives. Whatever applies to ourselves applies to others, enemies and relatives alike; therefore we help all beings throughout the ten directions and three periods of time to attain liberation.
When one is just starting out on the path of cultivation, a mass of thorny brambles and mountains of garbage stand before you. These are karmic offenses and evil obstructions that block our progress. Therefore we must first be street cleaners who hack away the brambles, remove the garbage, and clear out a smooth path. The first thing to do, then, is to bring forth the Bodhi resolve to cultivate. We must eliminate karmic obstructions by using the vajra sword of wisdom to eliminate the mountain of karmic obstructions that has been increasing for eons. We must repent with the strength of a great hero. Since, as endless eons have gone by our past oversights have become habits, it takes great energy to eliminate them.
To be continued