Teachings in Chinese Buddhism

    (7) The New Idea We Ought To Have    

Today, I would like to introduce a "new" Buddhist idea to you all. What I would like to talk about is actually an old faith that has been a vital tradition amongst Buddhist circles for thousands of years. Yet it is always new and fresh whenever it is mentioned, especially in a desolate and miserable period such as this. Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta used to say, "I would never slight you, you shall all be Buddhas." His saying indicates the ingrained truth of life. It denotes the attitude we ought to have towards all human beings.

We know that everyone in this world is different. There are the wise, the ignorant, the weak, the strong, the progressive, the stagnant, and the down-trodden. Thought distinguishes the faulty and the correct. Behaviour distinguishes the kind and the cruel. But the differences are never permanent. The differences between us should not be interpreted as good or bad racial qualities, or as fundamental differences in the natures of individuals. According to Buddhism the present differences between wise and ignorant, strong and weak, rich and poor, kind and cruel, are intermediate steps in the process of life. They are not final. As long as we have not achieved the perfected state of enlightenment we are all trapped in the ongoing process of cause and effect, reaping the results of past deeds whilst continually sowing the seeds of future crops.

Those who are unable to strive upwards towards the light will eventually degenerate. Those who are able to exert themselves striving for goodness will find improvement. We humans have the capacity and latent virtues necessary to progress upward, to develop our goodness and to search for the supreme accomplishment. Assuredly then, we will finally attain the state of perfect enlightenment after many rebirths. Just as Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta said, "Everybody will become a Buddha." In Buddhism there is no permanent sin, no permanent affliction and no permanent degeneration. On the contrary, we are all able to recover from delusion and ignorance to become awakened and enlightened. We can turn our defilements into cleanliness and purity. The future always holds goodness and joy. We should apply this idea to ourselves and to our perception of others. This life-view is positive and optimistic and allows us have the confidence and motivation to overcome any difficulties without becoming disheartened.

"Human beings are equal, and all of us are able to achieve Buddhahood." Possessing this faith enables us to avoid slighting others. What is meant by "slight"? Slighting others may involve demeaning them with our disdain, offending them with our pride, or abusing them with our insulting words and behavior. Whilst the tenacious attachment to the competitive self endures and the Buddha-potential remains unclear to us, we may be drawn into this ignorant and unskilful mode of being, alienating ourselves from others. Very often we are self-cantered and are inclined to bully others. This self-intoxicated pride is a distortion caused by an erroneous view of the ego-concept. Unfortunately, this overwhelming complex of egotistical ideas has been deeply ingrained in our hearts all along the chain of rebirths. Our egos have ensnared us in the endlessly repetitive round of transmigrations. Ego delusion involves us in successive births and deaths, making the wide world evolve with afflictions.

Implicit disdain for others may not be very serious, but sometimes it develops into proud conceit and self-aggrandisement. It makes our self into the seeming master, the supposedly superior person; one who has either the intention to make others obey, or one willing to sacrifice the welfare of others in the pursuit of self-satisfying pleasure. Sometimes our self-esteem may reach a low ebb. We place a degraded value upon ourselves but deep in our hearts we refuse to accept that others are better than us. The effect of this smarting insecurity is to arouse tension, hatred, jealousy, intrigue and cruelty in both ourselves and others, thereby making the whole world our foe. This ego-inspired antagonism is a deeply rooted tendency.

A number of religious, political or ideological leaders have fallen into such serious error and come to consider their own religion or philosophy to the only one that represents the Truth. The only way to be right and to deserve to exist is to believe in them, follow them, obey their directions and act upon their opinions. Those who do not believe in these leaders and who do not follow them will be looked on as if they are completely tainted and extremely evil, no matter how good in actuality they may be. They are guilty of treason and must be killed. This old way of praising the mean self, and with narrowed mind feeding its insecurity by cutting down all others in supposed opposition, ruins both oneself and others. It should be changed.

If we can accept the idea that all humans are equal, and that we can all attain Buddhahood, our pride will gradually dissolve. There will be no disdain for others, nor denial of the dignity of the disagreeable. A Buddhist ought to be broad-minded, tolerant, respectful and kind towards others. A real Buddhist will not consider other religions or tenets of thought as nonsense and of no value. Even if they are imperfect, erroneous, or misleading, it is possible that they may carry some semblance of truth and may act as qualified points of reference for us. Regardless of whether a person opposes Buddhism, has unorthodox beliefs, or does not believe in anything at all, that persons shortcomings should not be taken for granted. Nor should it be assumed that he is a completely bad person. Such a person may have a sublime personality, good behavior and excellent habits that serve society’s needs well. Even if he is indeed evil, he will not be completely without a kind thought or behavior worthy of praise.

Believing that all human beings will eventually and inevitably attain Buddhahood, our mind will naturally become tranquil and we will be more generous in our dealings with others. We will understand that our future is determined by our own behavior. Good or evil behavior will lead us to progress or to degenerate, to suffer or to enjoy. If we are evil we will bring suffering to ourselves and to others. Believing in Buddhism gives us the confidence to walk a righteous path and to enter into a loftier and more accomplished situation.

Buddha-dharma teaches us not to hate and not to be destructive with our thoughts, words or actions. Buddhism teaches us to establish a sublime and virtuous ideal, to be firm with ourselves, and to practice self-improvement. It teaches us to do good deeds for the benefit of others and to have patience. It also encourages us to be sympathetic towards the wicked. Do not despise those in error but endeavour to assist their sublimation of that error. Gradually exert your benign influence upon them so that the salutary inclination towards virtuous fulfilment may grow in their minds.

Appreciating the verity and sheer beauty of this ideal enables us to understand why the Buddha wanted us "not to slight the unlearned" and "not to slight those who offend us." Everybody can attain Buddhahood. Those who are ignorant and confused may learn and gradually become more and more learned and virtuous. Those who commit offences against the precepts and rules may confess and gradually accomplish more skilful moral behaviour. With such ideas in mind we can have sincere friendships with other people, and not just take advantage of them. We should sow true kindness containing no seed of war. Consider yourselves to be equal to others. Never consider yourself superior.

With dedication towards these ideas we can increase our compassion for others and strengthen our determination to save all. We can cultivate our wisdom towards non-self (viz. "anatta" the Buddha’s teaching concerning the unreality of ego) and help Buddhahood ripen within us by practicing the perfections of the Bodhisattva. If we can extend this ideal and practice it well we will enter a period of mutual understanding, mutual trust, mutual help and enjoyment of great peace and happiness together.

Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta used to say, "I would never slight you, you shall all be Buddhas." This is a saying of everlasting and perfect truth. With this saying I began and with this saying I shall end. This is a special offering to all of you today.

Translated by Chai Gao Mao, edited by Mick Kiddle, proofread by Neng Rong.(20-6-1995)

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