For the first five years after one leaves the home-life, one should concentrate exclusively on the study of precepts. What are the precepts? In summary, they help us to "refrain from evil and practice all good." If you can stop doing evil and practice good deeds instead, you are upholding precepts. Thus, after one leaves the home-life, one is still like a student in school. Everyday, one must try to study the Sutras and the principles spoken by the Buddha, so one won't waste time. Not only should you do this before you realize the Way, do this after realizing the Way. You should work even harder so the time won't pass by in vain. This is the duty of left-home people.
If you don't read Sutras and learn the Buddhadharma everyday, you will waste a lot of time. Whether you are a left-home person or layperson, you should wholeheartedly apply yourself to studying the Buddhadharma. Don't just listen to what others say without paying the slightest attention.
After a left-home person studies the precepts for five years, he or she can investigate Chan, practice meditation, and learn the Buddhadharma. This is the basic requirement for a left-home person. One can become a Dharma Master only after ten years of effort: studying the precepts for the first five years and practicing meditation for another five years. You don't become a Dharma Master after two and a half days. You ought to know how to act. When people ask who you are, don't answer, "Oh, I'm Dharma Master so and so." "Dharma Master" is a title used by other people to address you; you can't call yourself a "Dharma Master." Every one of you should know this.
It's not easy to be a left-home person or layperson. Therefore, you should be earnest in studying the Buddhadharma. There are some people in Los Angeles who want to practice the Buddhadharma. Lay people can also investigate the Buddhadharma, instructional talks, and all the Sutras of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas everyday. We have some laypeople like that.
I started to practice eating one meal a day before I left the home-life. After several decades as a monk, I'm still practicing it. Sometimes when you get sick, you can eat more. That's permissible. If your body is weak or ill or there are other special conditions, you can act accordingly. Otherwise, this rule cannot be changed.
A person has to study for twelve years in order to become a priest or a minister. Similarly, a left-home person must study for a decade to become a Dharma Master.