When Shakyamuni Buddha left home to practice the Way, he was accompanied by three relatives from his father's side and two from his mother's side. In the end, however, these five people all left the Buddha. Why? Three of them found the Buddha's ascetic lifestyle too bitter, so they left the Buddha and took up other methods of practice. The other two saw the Buddha drink some porridge with milk and left in disgust, thinking the Buddha was a wimp who couldn't take suffering. So, you see, beings can never be satisfied.
The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas find it difficult
To fulfill the wishes of beings.
Beings wish for different things. Their greed is insatiable. Once you fulfill a being's wish, he'll start craving something else. The greed of beings can be compared to a bottomless pit that can never be filled. We have been greedy ever since the time we were born. From youth through middle age to old age and death, our whole lives are driven by greed. If we are greedy for fame, we will die in the pursuit of fame. If we are greedy for profit, we will die in the pursuit of profit. Pursuing fame, we get burned to death; chasing after profit, we die by drowning. These are the disasters of water and fire. If we pursue wealth and honor, wind will cause our death. Living beings take worldly affairs extremely seriously and cannot put them down.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was cultivating, he endured toil and suffering, but his fellow cultivators all abandoned him and went to follow other ways of practice. Now we are cultivating in accord with the Buddhadharma, and many people disapprove of what we are doing. They think they will lose out on too much if they cultivate. They cannot bring forth a sincere mind and make a true resolve. Even after leaving the home-life, some people care only about getting their meals and don't do any work. Unconcerned about ending birth and death, they idly while away their time. When the ghost of impermanence comes for them, they'll have no control over their own birth and death. If that is how we act after leaving the home-life, we are wasting our time. If we think we can casually commit offenses within Buddhism, we are criminals within Buddhism!
While a prince, Shakyamuni Buddha cultivated extremely difficult ascetic practices and eventually became enlight-ened. After he became a Buddha, the first thing he did was to turn the Dharma Wheel of the Four Truths: suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the Way. As to suffering, there are the Three Sufferings, the Eight Sufferings, and limitless sufferings. The Three Sufferings are:
1. the suffering within suffering,
2. the suffering of decay, and
3. the suffering of process.
They are briefly described as follows:
1. The suffering within suffering is experienced by those who are so poor they don't even have a place to live, clothes to keep out the cold or heat, or food to eat. They suffer such extreme misery because they failed to cultivate in past lives. Instead, they cheated their teachers, scorned the teachings, engaged in evil, and were too clever and cunning for their own good. Not knowing enough to cultivate the Way, they fell and had to undergo suffering. Most of these people have just come from the animal realm. Because they slandered the Great Vehicle and cheated their teachers, they fell into the hells, underwent rebirth in the realms of hungry ghosts and animals, and finally became humans. Yet even as humans, their faculties are imperfect.
2. The suffering of decay. This type of suffering is undergone by those who are rich and honored. A person may have all he needs in terms of clothing, food, shelter, and transportation. He may own his own plane, boat, and mansion. But then a sudden fire burns up all his property, leaving him destitute. Or maybe he dies in a plane crash or a shipwreck. These belong to the suffering of decay. Everything had been going well, but then he loses everything, perhaps even his life. This is the suffering caused by the decay of blessings.
3. The suffering of process. Perhaps you are neither rich nor poor, and so you do not experience the previous two sufferings. You just lead a very ordinary life. From childhood, you enter the prime of life, grow old, and die. Your thoughts flow on in a continuous succession, and you cannot control them. When you grow old, your eyes get blurry, your ears become deaf, and your hands and feet are no longer nimble. This is the suffering of process.
The Three Sufferings hold tremendous sway over our lives. Even the greatest hero is sometimes overwhelmed by these sufferings, even to the point of dying. Isn't that pathetic?
Good deeds bring a good reward;
Evil deeds bring an evil retribution.
The retribution may come early or late, but we never fail to receive the blessings or calamities we deserve. We should take care not to commit limitless offenses in a moment of indulgence.
A single mistake brings everlasting regret;
By the time we recover, we will have
reached a ripe old age.
No matter what happens, we have to maintain a righteous and proper spirit. After leaving the home-life, we should protect and practice the Proper Dharma. We must abide by the rules in every moment and not commit even the slightest transgression of the precepts. It is easy to create bad karma in a moment of carelessness. That's why there are said to be many Buddhist monks and Taoist priests at the gates of hell. Left-home people who don't follow the rules are headed for the hells. No mercy is shown to those who deliberately commit offenses. In fact, their punishment is tripled. It's not a lot of fun. Don't act recklessly, thinking that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas cannot see you. Even the gods and spirits can read your mind, how much more the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas! Don't think you can do evil things because the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have their eyes closed. You're just fooling yourself-it's like covering your ears and stealing a bell, hoping that others won't hear it. When it's time to suffer the consequences, it'll be too late to regret what you've done.
Lao Zi said, "I suffer great troubles because I have a body. Without a body, what troubles would I have?" People cannot relinquish their various attachments because they are locked in the cage of the five skandhas. Since they entertain various attachments, discriminations, and discursive thoughts, they cannot put an end to birth and death.
We also speak of the Eight Sufferings, although there are in fact infinite kinds of sufferings. The Eight Sufferings are:
1. the suffering of birth
2. the suffering of old age
3. the suffering of sickness
4. the suffering of death
5. the suffering of being apart from those you love
6. the suffering of being together with those you hate
7. the suffering of not obtaining what you want
8. the suffering of the raging blaze of the five skandhas
These Eight Sufferings are the most harmful things in the world. They are briefly explained below.
1. The suffering of birth. People have already suffered many hardships by the time they are born. When a mother eats cold food, the baby in her womb feels as if it's in the freezing mountains. When she eats hot food, the baby feels as if it's in a volcano. Being in the womb is an unpleasant experience. During birth, the baby cries because it feels as if it's being squeezed between two great mountains. The baby cries, "Ku! Ku! Ku!" ["Ku" means "Suffering" in Chinese.] The baby is trying to say that it is in terrible pain, but it can't talk. If we didn't have bodies, we wouldn't feel pain and suffering. We experience all sorts of physical suffering through our bodies. Right at the time of birth, the baby's agony is like that of a live turtle whose shell is ripped off.
2. The suffering of death. Birth leads inevitably to death. When a person dies, the four elements disperse and his spirit is dragged off by the karmic wind. Death entails unspeakable suffering.
3. The suffering of sickness. The human body is a false combination of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Perhaps there is more fire than water, or more air than earth, or more water than fire. In general, if the four elements are not in balance, we become sick. We may suffer headaches, footaches, sore arms, backaches, heart pain, sickness in the spleen or kidneys, and so on.
Each individual's sicknesses are different, and each sickness has its own cause. Lustful people tend to suffer kidney ailments. Greed for money can cause heart disease. A big temper makes the liver sick. Vexation and distress harm the lungs. Resentment causes spleen disease. Diseases of the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys have their origin in hatred, resentment, affliction, anger, and vexation. Hating people harms the heart. Resenting people hurts the spleen. Getting afflicted at others hurts the lungs. Getting angry at others harms the liver. Feeling vexed by people harms the kidneys. When hatred, resent-ment, affliction, anger, and vexation act up, the four elements become unbalanced. An excess of joy, hate, sorrow, fear, or desire throws the four elements out of balance and causes various sicknesses. Sickness speeds up the aging process and brings on the suffering of old age.
4. The suffering of old age. In old age, our eyes grow blurry, our ears become deaf, our teeth fall out, and our legs can't walk very well. We no longer have much control over our body. People can never truly feel at ease because of the tremendous afflictions caused by the first four sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death.
5. The suffering of being apart from those you love. We are born as people in this evil world of the five turbidities because of love. If our emotional love were not so strong, we could be reborn in other worlds, such as the Land of Ultimate Bliss or the Lapis Lazuli Land. The ancients said,
If you didn't have such strong emotions,
you wouldn't be born in the Saha World.
If your karma is not emptied, you cannot
be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
With karma ended and emotions emptied, one is a Buddha. With heavy karma and confused emotions, one is a common mortal. Worldly people are deluded by emotional love and cannot get beyond it. They think it's the best thing around. In reality, the stronger our passions, the more confused we become. Some people know very well that it's wrong, yet they want to get more deeply involved. As soon as boys and girls grow up, they are eager to get married and race down the same old road.
Love is a kind of emotional attachment that weighs us down. People experience psychological suffering and trauma because of love. When two people are in love, they are as if stuck together with glue; they need each other as much as fish need water. But if circumstances force them to separate, they experience the suffering of being apart from those they love; such partings are unbearably painful. These psychological ordeals are very hard to cope with.
6. The suffering of being together with those you hate. People who get along well can work together without conflict. But sometimes we may detest a person and want to get away from him. Yet no matter where we go, we keep meeting up with him. The more we hate him, the more we run into him. This is also a form of psychological suffering.
7. The suffering of not obtaining what you want. If you seek something, you are greedy for it. If you cannot obtain the object of your greed, you'll experience all sorts of afflictions. That's also a kind of suffering. Whether you desire fame, profit, wealth, or sex, if you cannot obtain it, you suffer. Even if you do obtain what you want, you won't be happy. Before obtaining it, you are anxious to get it. Once you've got it, you constantly worry about losing it. Your mind is never peaceful or happy. You always feel uneasy.
（八）五阴炽盛苦。五蕴：色、受、想、行、识，又叫五阴，都是不容易降 伏，很不容易看空的。这五蕴炽然而盛，如火一般，烧得人精神痛苦万分。 这八苦令人烦恼万分，可是你若有安心法，有安身法，这八苦就与你漠不相关了，所以说：
8. The suffering of the raging blaze of the five skandhas. The five skandhas [aggregates which make up the illusory self] are form, feeling, thinking, formations, and consciousness. It is very difficult for us to overcome them and see them as empty. The five skandhas burn us up and keep us in a state of agonizing pain.
The Eight Sufferings cause great vexation to human beings. But if you understand the way to mental and physical peace, these sufferings won't affect you.
The Eight Sufferings cannot disturb
The old monk who knows how to set
himself at ease.
A talk given on May 1, 1982
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas