Talks given by the Venerable Master from November 20-30, 1974 at the Buddhist Lecture Hall in Hong Kong
Why should we be human beings? As people, should we be good people or bad people? Should we benefit society or should we hurt society? As members of a household, should we be perfect people or imperfect people? We must ask ourselves these questions. Once they are resolved, we’ll know what to do. We should also ask ourselves why we are studying the Buddhadharma? Why do we believe in Buddhism? What advantages have we gained by believing in Buddhism? What benefits have we brought to others by believing in Buddhism? As Buddhists, do we continue to be people who are lost and confused? We may have believed in Buddhism for many years, but we don’t know the reasons for it. We are still selfish and self-interested and unable to let go of things. Remaining like this while believing in Buddhism is useless. Buddhists are selfless. They help others. In the past, Buddhists practiced the way of the Bodhisattvas and helped others. Oftentimes they would do this anonymously. Unlike ordinary people, however, we may just help a little bit but we began to promote ourselves. We advertise, “Oh, I did this and I did that. I helped someone with this or I helped someone with that. I support this Dharma Master and I have protected that monastery.” That “I” is out in front, bigger than Mount Sumeru. If we believe in Buddhism in this fashion, then we will gain no advantage even if we believe for 84,000 great eons. This is because we have not really understood that the Buddhadharma is about helping ourselves and helping others.
We should enlighten ourselves and enlighten others. We should not obstruct others; we should help others in any way we can. We should give whatever is good to others, and take on the mistakes and the blame of others. We should give the credit for achievements to others, but we shouldn’t say, “Well, I’m giving you something; you should thank me.” You should not claim ownership of it. In fact, you should do it anonymously. Then you are someone who truly practices the Buddhadharma. As for taking the blame, it means taking responsibility for mistakes. For example, if someone were to ask who was responsible, you shouldn’t answer, “I don’t know,” or, “It’s so-and-so.” That would be wrong.
This is a simple idea in Buddhism. Some of you have been Buddhists for several decades, but you are still only concerned with yourself. Now that I’ve returned, many people are saying, “Master, please bless me. Please help me. I’ve got so many problems.” But before I arrived, how did you survive? How come you have so many problems when I come back? You ask your teacher to bless you, but who can your teacher ask to bless him? You depend on your teacher, but who does your teacher depend on?
If I had the power, I would make all of you live to be 100 years old and never die. Wouldn’t that be fine? However, I don’t have that ability, so even if you want to live to be 100, you should reflect upon yourself. If you have no temper and no afflictions, then you will naturally live a long time.
No one ever asks me about my problems. No one ever says to me, “Master, Master. What is your problem? Let me help you.” You don’t say, “Master, you want to build a temple, you need money, so, I’ll give you all my money.” No one has done that. No one has made a great resolve for Bodhi. People only come to me asking to help them. However, I don’t know who to go to for help. So I want to point out that you are extremely selfish.
Buddhists should not be selfish, or be concerned only about their own sons, daughters, or family matters. We should be public-spirited and selfless. We should help others, so that Heaven will help us. But you say, “Well, I can’t help anyone, because I don’t have any food to eat.” In that case, you should recite the Buddha’s name until you are single-minded, focused and undisturbed. That way, you will gain an efficacious response. So we who study the Buddhadharma should examine ourselves to see why we are so selfish and unreasonable.
Let me tell you another story. The story is about why an American monk had no pants to wear. Is it a joke? The United States is a country with abundant material wealth. Well, monks are different because they are poor. That’s why they have no pants to wear. It may be okay for them at home in the monastery when they are sitting in meditation. They might have no pants on, but they could cover their legs with a blanket. However, they can’t go without pants in public, because they would be taken by the police and put behind bars. Although the United States is a free country, you cannot go without pants in public. Who has no pants? It’s this one [The Master points to Bhikshu Heng Ju who is sitting next to him.]
How come he had no pants? He was pretending to be an old cultivator. I don’t know if he is an old cultivator or not, but at least he appears to be so. For instance, at Gold Mountain Monastery, he was the first monk to live outside. That’s why I said that, first of all, he had no house to live in. Secondly, he had no food, and thirdly, he had no pants while he was bowing. So he had none of these three basic necessities of clothing, food, and shelter. But still, he managed to survive, because the two of them had made the resolve to pray for world peace. When I came back from my trip to Brazil in South America, I said that the world is nearing its end. I was thinking someone would pray for world peace and that there still might be hope. One month later, a comet appeared. Scientists and astrologists were saying that a comet was coming very close to the earth. According to the Shurangama Sutra, a comet is a very inauspicious star that would cause many deaths and disasters on earth. So it would be best if people could pray for world peace. This is when Guo Yu [Heng Ju] boldly volunteered to go on a pilgrimage doing three steps and one bow.
The first time he tried this, he put on his full armor and set off as if he were going into battle. He started out at night. The police saw this “monster” and followed him in their car, but they didn’t dare to question him. This was in San Francisco. The next day at 3 p.m. he came to a garden. Starved and tired, he took a nap. I don’t know whether he actually slept or not, but later he came back stealthily. He didn’t succeed on his first try, but half a month later, he wanted to try it again. This time, this old cultivator here [the Venerable Master points to Bhikshu Heng Yo] volunteered to be his Dharma protector. How was this old cultivator going to be his Dharma protector? If Heng Ju had to carry his sleeping bag and his other luggage, it would not be easy to do three steps one bow. So this Dharma protector carried the items so Heng Ju could do three steps one bow for one hundred paces. Then the protector chased after him. If he couldn’t catch up, then he flew. What does it mean to say he flew? It just means he bowed a little faster. [To Heng Ju:] How long was it before your pants ripped? [Heng Ju: “The third day.”] It was on the third day.
Because his pants were really old and ragged, he went three days on the trip before his pants ripped. He was ready to quit. He told Guo Yu [Heng Yo], “My pants are ripped! I can’t keep going. What can I do?” Isn’t it okay for an American monk on the road to be without pants? No! Maybe it’s okay in a dance club or a striptease show, but not on the road. Not for a monk. As they went they turned a corner and there they saw a pair of pants. These pants were not too old, not too new; not too long, and not too short. They were just the right size. So, how did that pair of pants get there? Who put it there? No one knew that this monk had no pants to wear. And nobody said, “If I knew it, I would send him a pair of pants.” Actually, even if somebody tried to give him a pair of pants, they would give it to him personally, not put it on the road. This is how this person overcame his difficulty, and this is the story of an American monk without pants. In San Francisco he lived for three years in a three by six foot hut in a little garden behind the Gold Mountain Monastery. That’s the story of how an American monk had no housing. He also had no food but one meal a day. About one month before we came here, there were six people on a three-week fast at Gold Mountain Monastery. Every day they had only one cup of water. He too had tried to fast for three weeks, but failed. He was only able to go for one week.
To be continued