Left-home people must definitely build up their foundation. What is the foundation of left-home people? It is strict observance of the precepts and Vinaya (rules of discipline and training). The Four-part Vinaya, the Shramanera precepts (rules for novices), the precepts for Bhikshus, the precepts for Bhikshunis, the Brahma Net Sutra (Bodhisattva Precepts), and others, must all be memorized well and studied thoroughly. Only then do you have the qualifications to be a left-home person.
If a firm foundation is not established, then you'll either be daydreaming all day long about getting rich, or you'll be having fantasies of lust. Although you have physically left home, your mind is not on the Way. You are 108,000 miles away from the Way. Such left-home people can only be called the scum of Buddhism. They should not be acknowledged as left-home people.
A left-home person must not exploit his connections with people, even less should he live all by himself in a hut and convince the laypeople to support his Dharma. If you accept offerings for yourself alone, your conduct is not in accord with the Buddha's regulations. Those who behave this way should quickly stop and reform before it is too late. As the saying goes,One grain of the donor's rice,Is heavier than Mount Sumeru.If you eat it and don't cultivate,You'll have to repay it by wearing fur and horns.
In ancient times, people who truly cultivated the Way did live alone in huts, but they also tilled the land to support themselves. They certainly didn't rely on external conditions. They lived in huts to cultivate because they wanted to eliminate greed. When they went into seclusion, it was to perfect their learning and their virtuous conduct. If it is truly for the sake of cultivation, you may live alone. But you may not accept offerings from laypeople exclusively for yourself. If you do, you are turning the Proper Dharma Age into the Dharma-ending Age, which is equivalent to destroying Buddhism.
Nowadays, the typical cultivator likes to live by himself in a hermitage. Why? Because if he doesn't hold the precepts, nobody sees him. If he breaks the rules, no one knows. He can do whatever he wants, because no one is watching over him. He is completely free to do as he pleases. You could say he has no restrictions. Living all by himself in the hermitage, he invites a bunch of laypeople to hold some Dharma session. In reality, he is just living off the Buddha, depending on the Buddha for the clothes he wears and the food he eats.
Some left-home people use the money donated by laypeople not for Buddhist affairs, but instead to buy a Rolls Royce for their personal transportation. Or they may buy a television, and sit there and watch TV every day, forgetting to attend the morning and evening recitations. Perhaps they purchase a refrigerator to store a lot of nutritious food. To sum it up, they indulge in luxury and they crave comfort. This is very prevalent now, and the Buddhist practice of asceticism has totally changed into something else. This is truly being ungrateful for the great pains taken by Shakyamuni Buddha!
Some people say, "Since you're born in this age, you ought to watch television to keep up with the international news. Otherwise, you'll be like a blind and deaf person." If you know what's happening out there, so what? If you know what's going on out there, when it's time to die, will you still have to die?
Someone says, "Well, can cultivators really avoid death?" If you cultivate, when the time comes, you die just the same. But when you die, you understand what's going on, you are totally clear and lucid. For sure, you will not be afflicted with deep distress and anxiety, and you will go peacefully. If you don't cultivate, when the time comes you will also die, but you will die in confusion, worrying about this and thinking about that. Your mind will not be clear and pure, and you will die with anguish. That's the difference. Do you understand now?
I tell you! When cultivators die, they are perfectly clear. They know how they came, and they understand how they will go. They are very lucid and unconfused, and they have not forgotten their original face. People who don't cultivate are muddled when they come, and muddled when they go. They are muddled for their whole lives, without knowing why they have come, or why they have to go. Where have they come from? Where will they go? They have no idea.
The goal of leaving home is to end birth and death, not to enjoy oneself. Since you have left the home-life to cultivate, why should you be greedy for material comforts? If you crave material comforts, why did you leave the home-life? Therefore, I propose that anyone who wants to live in a small temple all by himself, might as well return to lay-life. Why do I say that? It's because returning to lay-life is much better than living alone in a small temple; he won't commit as many offenses. I hope everyone will pay attention to this point and be careful!
If a left-home person lives all by himself, most likely his aim is not to cultivate, but rather to hanker for offerings from people. When I say this, some people will definitely not want to hear it. But I don't care if they want to listen or not; I'm speaking out against the issue, not the people. I'm saying these annoying words out of concern for the future of Buddhism. Let me repeat: any left-home person who is finicky about comfort does not have any skill in cultivation to speak of and is merely using a false name. It is my hope that all of you fellow cultivators will encourage and urge each other on, and that you will not rashly tell lies or do things to fool yourselves.
A talk given on November 11, 1983