People are divisions of the Buddha's spirit; they are not the Buddha's entire body. One of the Buddha's pores may emit light, and within that light, limitless living beings appear by transformation. It may be that the Buddha's breath gives off light; that light also generates immeasurable living beings. The Buddha's light can create living beings by transformation, and so it is said, “All living beings have the Buddha-nature, and all can become Buddhas.”
As people, our breath can also generate an uncountable number of microorganisms. In the breath of one of these microorganisms, limitless numbers of other living beings also appear by transformation. However, while living beings transformed from the Buddha's spirit can become Buddhas as soon as they cultivate, the living beings who are transformed from those living beings are one level removed, so it isn't as easy for them to become Buddhas.
Animals can also create beings by transformation, because they have breath. A profusion of microorganisms is hidden in their breath. Under suitable conditions, they can turn into living beings. If the aiding conditions aren't present, they disappear. Similarly, there are infinite numbers of germs and bacteria in our bodies, which are also living beings. The germs can also create more germs by transformation. Therefore, we can say, “Creation never stops, and transformation continues without cease.”
If we analyze this more deeply, we find that large living beings can create large living beings by transformation, and small living beings can create small living beings by transformation. They are all multiplying prolifically, each within its own kind. Consequently, there are boundlessly many living beings in the world, and the more they multiply, the more numerous they become. When they multiply to the point that there isn't enough room in the world for so many living beings, the world will be destroyed. This world will be destroyed, and another world will be created. This is all part of the process of becoming deluded, creating karma, and undergoing retribution. Although we are deluded and muddled in this process, we don't try to gain a clear understanding, because we think we already understand very well.
The Doctrine of the Mean says, “People all say, ‘I know,’ but when they are driven into various nets, traps, or pitfalls, they don't know to escape.” People all claim to have wisdom, but if you were to drive them into a trap, they wouldn't even know to avoid it. Would you call this wisdom or stupidity?
Living beings all need to eat. The reason whales can be trained to perform tricks obediently is that they want to eat. If they are rewarded with a piece of meat, they will do whatever they are told. People are controlled by their desires for wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep; as a result they become deluded and muddled. They are traveling along a dangerous road and have forgotten to return home. The more they wander, the farther from home they stray. The farther they stray, the more they wander. Drifting and flowing in the bitter sea of birth and death, they don't know enough to pull themselves out. See how pitiful they are!
If living beings aren't confused by money, they're confused by sex. They're always involved with these two things, and cannot get away from them. They may also be confused by food, by fame, or by sleep. These are all false attachments of living beings. They have no way to smash through their confusion. If people could see through this confusion, they would obtain self-mastery.
A talk given on the evening of August 29, 1982,
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas