The prince was ready to give up his country, city, wife, and children. He didn't want his own kingdom and gave it away. He also gave his city and his own wealth and property to others; he no longer wanted them. The hardest thing for a person to give up is his own wife, but he was able to do it. He was able to give his wife and children to other people.
The Buddha was able to give his internal wealth--his head, eyes, brain, and marrow, and also give his external wealth--his kingdom, city, wife, and children. If you needed them, he would give them to you. That's why no one could compare with him. No one else could make such great sacrifices. In cultivating the Bodhi Way, he could practice what was hard to practice and could endure what was difficult to endure. He was able to bear what others found unbearable.
When his causes were perfected and his results were fulfilled, he attained Buddhahood. Since he planted causes to perfection, he received a perfect fruition. He achieved success. That is, he became a Buddha. After attaining Buddhahood, he finished transforming those with whom he had affinities. He taught and transformed those beings whom he was supposed to teach and transform, and then he entered Nirvana. Nirvana is a state where there is no coming into being and no ceasing to be. It is the absence of birth and death. One has put an end to the cycle of birth and death.
The Proper Dharma Age refers to the time when the Buddha is in the world. During the Proper Dharma Age, people cultivate. Everyone can attain dhyana concentration and become enlightened. As soon as people cultivate, they realize the fruition of a sage and end birth and death. That's the Proper Dharma Age. By the Dharma Image Age, however, only a semblance of cultivation remains. No one is serious about cultivation. During the Proper Dharma Age, people are strong in dhyana concentration. When the Dharma Image Age arrives, people focus on the superficial aspects; they are good at building temples. The construction of temples and Buddhist images becomes very popular. The Proper Dharma Age lasted a thousand years, and so did the Dharma Image Age, but they have already ended. In the present Dharma Ending Age, Buddhism is near its end. Taking the analogy of a tree, we could say Buddhism is the branch-tips and is extremely weak. The Proper Dharma Age is comparable to the roots of the tree, the Dharma Image Age to the trunk. Now in the Dharma Ending Age, we are at the branch-tips. How long does the Dharma Ending Age last? It prevails for ten thousand years. We still have more than eight thousand years left to go.
However, if true cultivation occurs in the Dharma Ending Age, then we have the Proper Dharma right within the Dharma's ending. If there are people who build or renovate temples and monasteries or make Buddhist images, then we have the Dharma Image Age within the Dharma Ending Age. If there is no one who cultivates or who builds Buddha images or temples in the Dharma Ending Age, then the it is truly the end of the Dharma. During the Dharma Ending Age, the Buddhist Sutras will disappear. They will be destroyed of themselves. Only the Amitabha Sutra will remain in the world for an additional five hundred years. After those five hundred years, even the Amitabha Sutra will be gone, and only the phrase, "Amitabha Buddha" will remain. The name of Amitabha Buddha will stay in the world for another one hundred years and rescue innumerable living beings. Then the Buddhadharma will completely disappear from the world. No one will know how to recite the Buddha's name or understand anything at all. Right now we are still in a pretty good time period. Although it is the Dharma Ending Age, we can still work hard in cultivation.
The present time is a time when "the Proper Dharma Age and Dharma Image Age have already ended. In the present Dharma Ending Age,? there are teachings but no adherents. Buddhism still exists, but there are no practitioners. The practitioners contradict the teachings. For example, monastics are not supposed to eat meat, drink wine, or flirt with women, but they act just like laypeople with regard to these matters. When this happens, the Dharma is gone. Buddhism exists in name only, but no one practices it. "Adherents" refer to genuine practitioners, not necessarily those who propagate the Dharma. If there aren't even any people who truly practice, how could there be propagators of the Dharma? There wouldn't be any.
At that point, no one can distinguish the deviant from the proper. This refers to people such as Lu Shengyan, people who like to take risks and seek their fortunes. It also refers to monastics who don't act like monastics. They cannot tell the difference between deviant and proper. Also, certain externalist sects think, "We can bow to Guanyin, and we can bow to Guandi; we can bow to this deity and that deity." They don't know what is proper and what is deviant. No one can tell right from wrong.
We compete and struggle with each other. We are constantly arguing about rights and wrongs, discriminating between self and others. We pursue profit and fame. People chase after fame and fortune. If they are not attached to a good reputation, then they are attached to profit.
To be continued