A Sutra says:
Sentient beings, on receiving the Buddha’s precepts,
Join the ranks of the Buddhas.
Their position is equal to the Greatly Awakened Ones;
They are the true disciples of the Buddhas.
This verse indicates that receiving the precepts is a prerequisite for Buddhists before they can become Buddhas.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was about to enter nirvana, Ananda asked the Buddha about four matters. The first of these four was, after the Buddha enters stillness, whom should we rely upon as our master? For when the Buddha dwelt in the world, we took the Buddha as Master.
The Buddha told Ananda and all the disciples, “Take the Pratimoksha as your master.” The Pratimoksha refers to the Precepts. If people can receive the Five Precepts and practice the Ten Good Deeds, they can be reborn in the heavens. If they receive the Ten Precepts and practice a hundred good deeds they can become Arhats.
What are the Ten Precepts? They are the Sramanera (novice) precepts. If they can receive the 250 Bhiksu precepts, they certainly can become Buddhas. Therefore, the verse says, “Sentient beings, on receiving the Buddha’s precepts,...” All living beings, no matter what species they are, are included here: that is to say, flying creatures, aquatic creatures, land animals, and plants. Flying creatures refers to those who fly in the sky; aquatic creatures refers to creatures that swim, such as fish. Animals have energy and blood; plants include flowers, grasses, and trees. All living beings can receive the precepts. So when the Venerable Elder Xu was transmitting the precepts at Nanhua Monastery, a camphor tree spirit came to seek the precepts, and a tiger came to take refuge. Because this happened on a mountain, the tree spirit wanted to receive precepts, and the tiger wanted to take refuge. What if this were in a city? In a city, the tree spirit would not have come to receive precepts, and the tiger would not have come to take refuge because although they may have had a wholesome intent, they feared bad people. In a heavily populated area, there would have been bad people who just wouldn’t have allowed them to come and receive the precepts.
“Join the ranks of the Buddhas.” To receive the precepts is just to join the ranks of Buddhas.
“Their position is equal to the Greatly Awakened Ones.” Your position and the Buddha’s position are just the same.
“They are the true disciples of the Buddhas.” They are genuine disciples of the Buddha. From these few lines of verse, we know that receiving the precepts is extremely important.
If you do not receive the precepts you cannot be called a Bhikshu, a Shramanera, nor a Bodhisattva. So it is essential to receive the Shramanera Precepts, the Bhikshu Precepts, and the Bodhisattva Precepts. Together this is called the Great Threefold Ordination.
Ordination is very popular and well-established in the East. If one were to open the books and look into the history of the West, they would see that it has never existed before in the West. It did not exist in America nor in any other Western country.
Hence, this is the first time that the Proper Dharma has come to the West although the timing is a little bit early—too early by one year. If we had waited till next year it would have been a little bit better because the publicity for it was insufficient. Actually, such an event may require three years’ publicizing—it should have been publicized three years prior to its taking place.
But last year, these five people who went to Mahayana Monastery in New York to observe the Opening Ceremony got anxious and couldn’t wait any longer. They made an announcement that Gold Mountain Monastery would transmit the Precepts this year.
Actually, this ordination is held least three years early. Before I said one year, but actually, it was early by three years. Thus, there are fewer people. But with fewer people, there will be more Buddhas.
Receiving the Precepts in the West is like panning for gold. Looking for gold in the sand is very difficult and requires a lot of labor.
Because this year’s ordination was done ahead of the planned schedule, very few people have come to receive the Precepts—only three novice monks and novice nuns came to seek the transmission of the Precepts. As for the others, some seek to receive the Bodhisattva Precepts while others seek the Five Precepts. Gradually, there will be more people in the future. But as for now, only three? Is three too few? No. Not only is three not too few, even if there were only one person, that would not be too few.
Nevertheless, these three are the forerunners—the first three for the first time; that is exactly what the “Three Tathagatas” stands for—with Aksobya Buddha in the east, Limitless Lifespan [Amitabha] Buddha in the west, and Shakyamuni Buddha in the center.
In the future, the three will become nine; and nine times nine will turn into an infinite number. There will be an endless number of people! Everything is difficult in the beginning because no one dares to try in the beginning. What is meant by “receiving the precepts”? They do not understand. Not only they, but also some Buddhist disciples in the past did not understand it, nor do people in this country understand.
So when we advocated the Precepts Transmission, people thought it was a very strange thing: “What is meant by ‘transmitting precepts’?” They were really alarmed and surprised. Alarmed and surprised, some wanted to come, yet dared not to, for they did not know what it was all about. Wouldn’t you say this is pitiful? All of you think about it; isn’t this the way it is?
This year, these three people have come to seek the complete Precepts for entering the monastic order; this represents one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future—hence the three periods of time of the past, the present, and the future—and also the three Tathagatas of the three periods of time.
When you three are bowing to the Buddha, you should do it with sincerity; also, when reading or reciting the Vinaya Code or Buddhist Sutras, do it sincerely. You should not be lax or sloppy in the slightest. When there are many people, some will be sloppy. When there are few people, you cannot be sloppy. You certainly must be sincere. The fewer we are, the better we should do things. When there are a lot of people, we won’t be able to take good care of everyone. You should bow to the Buddha every day, and also to the Patriarchs every day. Every morning, make three bows to all the Patriarchs of the East and the West, and every evening make another three bows.
Traditionally, when one bows and pays respect to the Patriarchs in monasteries, one needs to go to the Patriarch Hall. It is about a five-minute walk to the Patriarch Hall from the Main Buddha Hall and five more minutes back.
When I was on Putuo (Potola) Mountain we needed to climb up the mountain to the Patriarch Hall to bow. When we finished, we came down the mountain—it was like this every day. What was the purpose of the climbing? Just to make the three bows. Five minutes up and five minutes down through many steps; that’s what we did to pay respect to the Patriarchs. Why was it this way? For the sake of practicing filial piety—we need to be filial to the Patriarchs of the East and the West. Now we are about to venture forth into the monastic order, so even more should we be filial to the Patriarchs.
During the Ordination period, we need to bow to the Patriarchs every day. When it is time to bow, according to the tradition in Buddhist monasteries, the ritual master (Yin Li Shi) will call out: “Line up—.”
Didn’t you have this procedure of formal lining up in Taiwan? The master says, “Face the center —. Line up and face up the Buddha—. Three bows.” That was how it was done. Since we are so few here, we do not need to chant in this manner. Especially we Buddhists of the West do not need to stand facing each other towards the center. Instead, we can say, “Line up —, face forward—, look up — and stand in respect!” After that we can bow in respect to the Patriarchs.
Our rule here is to face the Buddha, unlike in Chinese Buddhism where people face one another towards the center. You look at me and get upset with me. I look at you and am just about to blow up.
Now in the West nobody looks at anybody, but looks at the Buddha because the Buddhas never lose their temper. However, if we go to other places, we still need to respect and follow the rules of those places. They follow tho old rules and are unfamiliar with our new rules. When we do the Morning Ceremony and the Evening Ceremony, we face the Buddha, whereas people in Chinese Buddhism face the center and each other. That is why I said, “The Buddhism we practice here is not the Buddhism practiced in China. We are establishing a new Buddhism here.”
From now on the Shramaneras and Shramanerikas should listen to the instructions of their seniors who were ordained in Taiwan. During the ordination period, everyone must absolutely follow the rules and study seriously. Today at this opening I have a few informal words for you: there is a saying in China, “As long as one is sincere, even if one may not be doing things right and well, it is not too far yet!” No matter what you do, do it with a sincere heart. If you seek to receive the Precepts with a sincere heart, you will surely obtain the Precepts.
To be continued