From limitless eons in the past until now, we have had too many bad habits and faults. We haven't known how to repent and reform, and how to cultivate, so day by day our bad habits increase, our wisdom decreases, and our karmic offenses grow heavier. As a result, if we want to cultivate, it's not easy. If we want to learn to be good, it's also not easy. If we want to leave the home-life, it's even more difficult. We cannot break free of the various retributions which bind us up. Not fearing the retribution, we unknowingly planted causes that created a lot of offense karma. So now that we want to cultivate, causes and conditions arise from every direction to obstruct our cultivation of the Way. For some, it's the family situation which prevents them from cultivating. Some are prevented by the national circumstances. In other cases, the individual's behavior has generated all kinds of obstacles, making it impossible for him or her to cultivate.
Therefore, if you truly want to cultivate, it's as hard as ascending to the heavens. Now, if it's that difficult, does it mean we shouldn't cultivate? Not at all. The more difficult it is, the more we have to cultivate. We must overcome the hardship. If we don't take a flying somersault to escape from our distress and difficulty, then we will never be able to break through our karmic obstructions. So we have to cultivate the ability to endure what others cannot endure, to yield where others cannot yield, to practice what others cannot practice, to do the things that others cannot do, to eat what others cannot eat, and to put up with what others cannot put up with. In that way, over the days and months, we can increase our wholesome merit and virtue a bit, and reduce our offenses and evil deeds a bit. Day by day, our wisdom grows, and our karmic obstacles become lighter. Since we accumulated the karmic obstacles bit by bit in the past, now we have to reduce them bit by bit. It's like when the weather turns cold, each day is colder than the day before, until winter has arrived. When the cold reaches the utmost point, the weather starts warming up again. But it doesn't warm up instantly. Each day is warmer than the day before, and gradually the hot weather arrives. The hot weather represents the time when our karmic obstacles have been lessened, and the cold weather represents the time when our karmic obstacles are heavy. These are just analogies.
As we are here cultivating, you can investigate Chan, recite the Buddha's name, or do whatever, as long as you find something to do, so your mind won't be idle and start having random thoughts. Instead of having random thoughts, you should use the time to recite the Buddha's name, hold mantras, or recite sutras. Don't let the time pass in vain. If you allow your mind to casually indulge in random thoughts, you're just wasting a lot of energy without accomplishing anything.
"It's hard to obtain a human body. It's hard to be able to hear the Buddhadharma. It's hard to be born in a Buddhist country. It's hard to meet a Good and Wise Advisor. It's hard to encounter a good Way-place." If you can't find a good Way-place, then even if you want to cultivate, you won't be able to. So a good Way-place is essential. Now at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, there is a place for holding Chan Sessions, there is a place for reciting the Buddha's name, and there is also a place for bowing repentances. You can do anything you like, as long as you cultivate and seriously apply effort and don't waste time.
If any of you are willing to apply effort, I am willing to be your Dharma protector to aid you in applying effort. That's because when I first wanted to work hard on cultivation, I couldn't find a good place where I could do it. In every place I went, there was a lot of detailed, superficial work that had to be done. For example, in the Chan Hall, you had to learn to use the handbell, hit the boards, serve as a proctor who makes rounds, pour tea for people to drink, collect the teacups－a whole bunch of fussy details. You wanted to apply effort, but all your effort went into the trifling matters of serving tea, collecting teacups, making rounds as a proctor, and hitting the bell, boards, wooden fish, and drum. These petty jobs took at least three weeks to learn, and usually the Chan Session only lasted one or two weeks. These miscellaneous tasks were more than enough to keep you busy learning.
Now at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, you may investigate Chan, recite the Buddha's name, translate the sutras, study the sutras, or engage in other practices. In general, if you practice with a concentrated mind, then everything will be convenient for you. There won't be any of the complicated regulations and petty details requiring you to do this job or that job, making you dizzy with so many superficial matters. It's very simple here. The proctor (wei no) only has to start and end the periods of silent sitting. If you are here and you still fail to apply effort, then I don't know if there's any place where you can apply effort. This is the best place where you can apply skill and have the most convenience. Don't be applying skill and at the same time having idle thoughts, such as: "Today's lunch was awful. It's really cold. How am I going to sleep tonight?" Don't have all these useless idle thoughts, and let the time pass by in vain! You should concentrate your mind and focus your attention, and apply effort as if your life depended upon it.
If you can't renounce death,then you can't exchange it for life.If you can't renounce the false,then you can't realize the true.
You should be applying effort not only when you are in the Recitation Hall and the Chan Hall, but at all times and places. Applying effort means your eyes are not turned by sights, your ears are not turned by sounds, your nose is not turned by smells, your tongue is not by turned by flavors, your body is not turned by sensations of contact, and your mind is not turned by dharmas. If you remain unmoved by all those states, and can instead turn those states around, then you are applying effort.
Walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, do not be apart from this. Separating from this is a mistake. In every moment, pay attention to whatever you are doing, and control your thoughts. Raise the Jeweled Sword of the Vajra Wisdom King up high, and slash through all the armies of afflictions and demons!
Q: What should I do if people slander me when I am working for the public?
A: If you are working for the public and are slandered, you should want to do it even more! If you quit because people slander you, you are not really being true.
Q: Why do Buddhists of the present fail to understand the Proper Dharma, and instead do everything they can to obtain spiritual powers? Why are most of today's Buddhists even more in love with money?
A: This question is very important, because people nowadays have all been poisoned by money. There is a kind of cancerous poison on money, which is extremely toxic. Invisibly, the demons sprinkle this poison on the money, and so as soon as people come in contact with it, they forget everything. They forget even their parents, and the only thing they know is money. They regard money as their closest friend and create a lot of offenses for the sake of money. Even Buddhists will think of all kinds of schemes and will do anything to get it, including consulting geomancers and seeking secret dharmas. They are even greedier than ordinary people who don't understand the Buddhadharma－their greed is greater than the sky. This is known as the decline of the Dharma. The decline of the Dharma means that no one understands true principles. If we want to correct this problem, we have to uphold the Six Great Principles of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas－do not contend, do not be greedy, do not seek, do not be selfish, do not pursue personal benefit, and do not lie. These six requirements can reverse the deviant and evil trend of the Dharma-ending Age. You shouldn't think the Six Great Principles of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are that simple. Ordinary people are not only unprepared to study them, they are not even ready to hear them. It was for the cultivators of Three Steps One Bow (Heng Sure and Heng Chau) that I spoke these Six Great Principles. I saw how hard they were working and thought it'd be a pity if I didn't speak some true Dharma for them. These Six Great Principles are a demon-spotting mirror and a demon-subduing pestle for destroying deviant knowledge and views.
As for spiritual powers, they are gained not through seeking, but through cultivation. And even if you get them as a result of cultivation, you shouldn't think they are a big deal. Spiritual powers are not a big deal in Buddhism. They are just small skills, a kind of child's play, and cannot be considered something important. Students of Buddhism who are out to get spiritual powers have gone down the wrong road and are basically not Buddhists of proper faith.
Q: Why do people pay homage not to the Monk from Tang, Great Master Xuanzhuang, but rather to Sun Wukung (the monkey in Journey to the West)? Also, is there really a Sun Wukung?
A: Since Sun Wukung had the golden rod; knew how to perform somersaults, ascend to the heavens and enter the earth; and was skilled in everything, everyone adored him. Sun Wukung, Ju Bajie, Sha Seng, and so forth, actually existed, but they were invisible spirits. They aided and protected the Monk from Tang on his trip to India to obtain the sutras. They were not visible to the eyes of ordinary people. They didn't possess physical bodies like ordinary people; they were spirits. But Great Master Xuanzhuang was an honest, down-to-earth cultivator. He didn't know how to do flying somersaults, or cause a big uproar in the celestial palaces. He only knew how to hide his talent and truly cultivate the Way. Relying on the three qualities of determination, sincerity, and constancy, he single-mindedly went to obtain the sutras, and dedicated himself to benefiting living beings. As a result, Sun Wukung and the others were moved to guard and support him.
A talk given on November 26, 1982