The blue-necked peacock which flies through the air, never approaches the speed of the swan. Similarly, the householder can never resemble the monk who is endowed with the qualities of a Muni (silent sage) who meditates aloof in the forest. (Spoken by the Buddha in the Sutta Nipata, Verse 221)
Recently one of the students in our high school asked me a question: “Why does a person have to renounce the householder's life to become a monastic in order to become Enlightened? Can't a householder realize Enlightenment?”
My answer was direct and simple. To realize even the very lowest level of genuine Enlightenment, that of a Stream-Enterer (Srotapanna) is an incredible achievement. Just think how monastics renounce worldly pleasures. They reduce the amount they eat and drink and only partake of the food that is offered to them. They reduce the amount they sleep. They do not go out into the world as they please to indulge in worldly entertainments--seeing movies, dancing, parties, etc. They do not receive any salary, so they do not have money with which they can spend on material objects or pleasures as they please. Yet even under those circumstances, very few monastics are able to successfully develop the meditational skill and most importantly the requisite prajna-wisdom to realize even this lowest level of Enlightenment.
Now how much more difficult is it for a householder, who can buy whatever food and drink he wants, partake of it whenever he pleases, and indulge himself in worldly entertainments as he pleases. He makes a salary and uses the money as he wishes to support his worldly way of life. If he/she has a spouse and/or children then their life is devoted to taking care of those responsibilities as well. This is not to say that it is impossible for householders to become Enlightened, but how much the more difficult is it for them, when they have freely chosen to live a life embroiled in worldly pleasures that are a hindrance to spiritual enlightenment. The Venerable Master gave these instructions in a lecture at the City of 10,000 Buddhas (November 11, 1983) with respect to the difficulty of having success in cultivation while still being attached to material comforts:
The goal of renouncing the householder's life to become a monastic is to end birth and death, not to enjoy oneself. Since you have renounced the householder's life to cultivate why should you be greedy for material comforts? If you crave material comforts, why did you renounce the householder's life?... Any monastic who has renounced the householder's life who is still finicky about material comforts does not have any skill in cultivation and is a monk in name only.” (Talks on Dharma, Vol. 2 pgs. 175-176)
There is a common refrain in the Buddhist Sutras spoken by the Buddha over and over again, which expresses the principle of the great advantage that the monastic life offers for those who want to fully devote themselves to the Buddha's path to Enlightenment:
A householder, or his son, or one belonging to any family, listens to the Dharma. On hearing the Dharma, he develops faith in the Buddha. When faith is developed, he considers thus:
“Full of bondage is the life of a householder. It is a path laden with defilement. A monk's (Shramana's) life is free as the open air. Difficult it is for a layperson to pursue the holy life in all its fullness, in all its purity, like a polished conch-shell. Now it would be better for me to shave off my hair and beard, don the monastic robes, renounce the householder's life and go forth into the homeless life.”
Having gone forth, he dwells restrained by the restraint of the monastic, disciplinary code (Pratimoksha). He is possessed of good conduct and has a suitable subject for constant meditation. Seeing the danger in the slightest faults, he disciplines himself in the rules. Being possessed of good words and good deeds, he pursues a pure livelihood. He is endowed with morality and his sense faculties are guarded. He attains mindfulness and clear comprehension and is content.
Anybody can see the immense difference between the life of a householder and that of a Buddhist monastic. This difference was also quite evident in the teachings of the Venerable Master. Indeed, those who had the incredible good fortune to be in close proximity to the Venerable Master while working, studying, and cultivating under his guidance saw that the way he treated even his most devoted and close householder disciples, was quite different from the way he taught his monastic disciples. He had much higher expectations for his monastic disciples and therefore taught them in a way that was more direct and personal. One can say that because they are part of the monastic family, the Master taught them in a way not unlike a parent teaching his children. With householders, the teaching was purposely less direct and personal, and the expectations were, of course, much less in comparison to that of monastics. However, the high standards for monastics, implies much more responsibility and greater consequences when one does not fulfill those responsibilities. This principle is well proclaimed in a lecture the Master gave in the 1970's at the original Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco:
While we eat, we should make the Three Recollections and the Five Contemplations. There's a saying:
A single grain of donor's rice,
Is as mighty as Mount Sumeru.
If one should eat it and then fail to cultivate,
One will have to repay the debt by wearing fur and horns.
How dangerous this situation is! This is called “losing one's human body while wearing the precept sash”! So monastics who have renounced the householder's life wherever they may be, must sternly guard the moral precepts. Before we've put an end to birth and death, before our thoughts of desire have been severed, we may not be the slightest bit lax or careless.
Samantabhadra Bodhisattva exhorts us:
This day is already done.
So our lives are that much shorter.
Like fish in an evaporating pond.
What happiness is there in this?
Be diligent and vigorous,
As if saving your own head.
Always be mindful of impermanence (death).
Be careful never to be lax.
We monastics who have renounced the householder's life must cherish each passing minute and second of time. Remember: “An instant of time is worth an ounce of gold. Even an ounce of gold cannot buy back an instant of time.” Time is just this precious, so don't waste it! Work hard at your cultivation. Be ever more vigorous. Only then can you expect success.” (Talks on Dharma, Volume 3, pgs. 66-67)
This does not mean that the householder doesn't have a very important role to play in the support of the Dharma. As the Buddha said:
They pay you great service, O monks, the Brahmins and householders who give you clothing, food, bedding, and medicines. You, also, pay them great service when you teach them the good Dharma and the pure life. Thus it is through your mutual help that the religious life, which causes the transcending of birth and death and puts an end to suffering can be practiced. Each relying on the other, householders and monastics cause the good Dharma to prosper. The latter (monastics) are protected from need, since they receive clothing and the rest; and the former (householders), having practiced the Dharma in the world, the path which leads to good forms of rebirth, delight in the heavens possessed of great happiness. (Itivuttaka III)
In these words the relationship between the Buddhist monastic community and that of householders is clearly defined and understood. Also, the fruits of the two--transcending birth and death versus rebirth in the heavens--are also plainly distinguished. However, one must again point out the heavy responsibility of monastics to fulfill their duty to develop the spiritual “kung fu” to truly be able to teach the Dharma. This ability does not come from studying the sutras alone. Again this is well taught in the words of the Venerable Master in a lecture given at Gold Mountain Monastery (August 8, 1974):
True skill, true kung fu, isn't in any book, isn't in any sutra, or any shastra, or in any part of the vinaya. It requires that you truly do the work of cultivation. The sutras just tell people the path. They teach you how to cultivate. But if you merely know the path and don't cultivate it, that is useless. That's as if you decide you are going to go to some city and you know the way there, but you don't actually go. If you don't go, then you'll never arrive at the city. You won't be able to get to the treasures there. If you don't get to the treasure chest, then you won't be able to acquire the valuables that you wish for. Sutras tell you the road to the treasures.
The vinaya is a method which teaches you how to get to the treasures. But if you know the method and you don't use it, then you are never going to get to the treasures. The shastras discuss the doctrines and how to get to the treasures. But if you merely discuss coming and going, merely talk back and forth, and you don't actually cultivate, then to the ends of the boundaries of future time, you won't get the treasures.
When you are confused,a thousand volumes are too few.
When you are enlightened,one word is too much.
When you're all muddled and confused, you can look at a thousand books and it won't be sufficient. It will still be too few.
If you have really become enlightened, if you've really penetrated to enlightenment, you have awakened, then one word is a lot of talk. You have no use for it. In the Chan school we speak of “using the mind to seal the mind” and “not being established by the written or spoken word”. There isn't any language or literature. The inheritance of the Singular Dharma is also called the Mind Ground Dharma. The Dharma door of the mind ground tells you to cultivate it and to recognize it. It is the ‘light and wind' of the original ground. It's not from any other place. You will not find the Mind Ground Dharma anywhere outside. But if you return the light, search within yourself, apply your kung fu to the inherent nature, you will recognize your own mind and see your own nature. That's what counts. (Listen To Yourself, Think it Over, Volume 1, pgs. 140-141)
Once a person has actually attained a level of enlightenment--has realized the fruit of the holy sages--then one is able to teach the Dharma. Once again this is well expressed in a favorite quote by the Venerable Master, that was spoken in the earliest days of his teaching in America and which appeared at the end of the Biography of the Venerable Master, Volume I, page 89:
You need only fear that you yourself will not be true. Do not fear that others will surpass you.... Whether others envy me or not makes no difference, I am happy all the same, for I am of one substance with the Buddhas.
If you would like to come along with me and be of one substance with the nature of the Dharma Realm, fine. If you don't, it does not matter to me. When you have arrived at that state, then you can speak the Buddhadharma.