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Don’t Show Off Your Spiritual Powers

If you indiscreetly manifest your spiritual powers, ordinary people will be amazed and infatuated by them and will worship them.
The Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana was foremost in spiritual powers, but the World Honored One repeatedly warned him not to casually show off his spiritual powers. Why? Because not everyone has spiritual powers. If you indiscreetly manifest your spiritual powers, ordinary people will be amazed and infatuated by them and will worship them. Consequently, people with spiritual powers will have many people making offerings to them, while those who don’t have them might not receive any offerings. Therefore, the Buddha forbade his disciples from casually displaying their spiritual powers, so as to protect cultivators of the future.
Cultivators should not praise their own virtue and say that they are enlightened, or claim to be Patriarchs or Bodhi-sattvas. Those are serious lies that will cause one to fall into the Hell of Pulling Tongues. This is no joke. Only people who don’t know anything would behave in such a conceited way. Truly wealthy people never say to others, “You know what? I have all these diamonds and precious gems. I have more treasures than all the treasures in the world put together.” If you advertise yourself like this, bandits will definitely target you and find a way to rob your treasures. The same thing happens in cultivation. You can’t tell people, “I have spiritual powers. I hear the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas talking, and I see them appear before me.” If you say that, you are giving the demon king an opportunity to come in and work with you, control your activities, and make you part of his retinue.
Cultivators should clearly recognize whatever states they encounter; they shouldn’t let those states affect them, but should use samadhi power to influence states. Don’t make reckless claims or tell lies about having attained certain spiritual powers or seen certain states. You should know that such states are the mischief of demons, who want to destroy your resolve for the Way and make you go insane. These are signs of demonic possession; these states are not real. The section on the Fifty Skandha-Demon States in the Shurangama Sutra explains this very clearly. I hope you will investigate it thoroughly and not be fooled by such states. Otherwise it will be too late for regret. People who investigate Chan should not get attached to states. It is said, "When the Buddha comes, slay the Buddha. When the demon comes, slay the demon." Slay anyone who comes, no matter who it is. This is not being attached to any conditioned dharmas or any marks and appearances. Cultivators should apply effort single-mindedly. They have no time to mind other people’s business. Don’t be arrogant, and don’t be greedy for fame or benefits. If you have such thoughts, you have entered a demonic state.
No matter what the circumstances, cultivators should never become self-satisfied and arrogant, and think they are something special. They must be very careful not to make mistakes in cause and effect. Otherwise the consequences will be unimaginable.
Cultivators concentrate on upholding pure precepts in order to purify the three types of karma: physical, verbal, and mental. People with spiritual powers would certainly never admit that they have them; how much the less should people without spiritual powers make reckless claims. Wouldn’t that just be creating the causes for falling into the hells? It’s scary! If your mouth karma isn’t pure, you’ll undergo punishment in the Hell of Pulling Tongues. Don’t be reckless. Always watch over yourself. Don’t misbehave and talk a lot of nonsense. If you plant impure causes, you’ll receive impure retributions.
A talk given on June 6, 1981