The world goes through the stages of formation, dwelling, decay, and emptiness. People undergo birth, old age, sickness, and death. These are very natural phenomena. If you understand, you will see that formation includes dwelling, decay, and emptiness; and that birth includes old age, sickness, and death. Without formation, there would be no dwelling, decay, or emptiness. Without birth, old age, sickness, and death would not occur either.
Living beings, however, use their discursive thoughts and attachments to analyze these phenomena. But even if they spent several great eons analyzing them, they would still be just as muddled as before. Right when they are about to understand a little, they get muddled again. In this way, they remain within transmigration and cannot escape. If we wish to escape transmigration, we must cultivate to discover our inherent Buddhahood. Then, there will be no coming or going, no purity or defilement, no increase or decrease, and no birth or cessation. There will be no worries or afflictions whatsoever. The five turbidities will cease to exist. But, since we cannot let go of the false, we fail to discover the true.
If you can't give up death,
you can't exchange it for life.
If you can't renounce the false,
you can't obtain the true.
If we don't calm our false, wild natures, then genuine wisdom cannot manifest. Our inherent nature is covered by ignorance.
Ignorance has two accomplices—the desires for food and sex. Food and sex support ignorance in perpetrating all sorts of evil. A Confucian proverb says, "Food and sex are part of human nature." We are born with the craving for food and sex. Why is it that we have not been able to demolish our ignorance, eliminate our afflictions, and reveal our wisdom? Because we crave food and sex.
Food gives rise to sexual desire, and sexual desire gives rise to ignorance. We are all born knowing how to eat. Once a baby is born, it cries because it wants milk, and it doesn't quiet down until satisfied. Thus, the desire for food is something we are born with.
Once the desire for food arises, the desire for sex arises as well. Men are attracted to beautiful women, and women are charmed by handsome men. People become infatuated and obsessed and cannot see through their desires. The nourishment from the food we eat is transformed into reproductive essence; and once that essence is full, sexual desire arises.
When warm and well-fed,
one entertains thoughts of lust.
When cold and hungry,
one considers stealing.
When well-fed and well-clothed, men think about women and women think about men. It's always the same old thing. When one is poor, one thinks about stealing. One gorges oneself on rich food until one is overweight, and then entertains thoughts of lust. But first, people have the desire for food. They wish to eat delicious food that keeps their bodies strong and healthy. If they eat less than their fill, they aren't satisfied. If they eat too much, lust arises and they plunge headlong into the pursuit of sex, sometimes even at the risk of their own lives. Therefore, food and sex are inseparable. If ignorance didn't have the accomplices of food and sex, it wouldn't act up so much.
For left-home people, the less rich the food is, the better. Food should not be regarded as too important. A cultivator should practice moderation and eat only enough to sustain himself. We should neither eat very rich food, nor eat spoilt food, for either one could ruin our health.
I really admire the "Fruit Monk" [Elder Master Guangqin] in Taiwan. He is not greedy for money or for sensual pleasures. He doesn't even look at the offerings people make to him. Ordinary people are so attached to wealth that they value it more than life itself. But this monk is so unconcerned about wealth that he doesn't even check to see how much money the offerings contain. He just puts the offerings aside, and anyone can take them.
Some of the Fruit Monk's disciples stole quite a sum of money from him and then sneaked off and returned to lay-life. You'd expect him to watch his money more closely after that, but he doesn't. He still doesn't bother to keep track of, or even look at, his offerings. How great would you say this old cultivator's samadhi power is? He used to eat only fruit and peanuts, and never ate seasoned food. He detached himself from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects, and dharmas, and he attained the first stage of Arhatship. He has had many miraculous responses in his cultivation, and Taiwan is under his constant protection. Some recognize what kind of person he is, but others don't see his virtue and criticize him for being a "mute monk." Since he is now quite old and not as healthy as before, he occasionally eats a little porridge. Some people criticize him for this and say he will fall. Actually, their attitude is wrong. Why should they meddle in his affairs? Whether or not he eats porridge is his own business. If every cultivator could be as unselfish and undefiled as this elder monk, Buddhism would surely flourish and the Proper Dharma would prevail in the world. This old monk is my favorite fellow cultivator. He and I have the same aspirations and travel the same path.
We can't say that we do everything right at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, but we do try to follow the Buddha-dharma and practice the teachings. People at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas don't think it's so very important to eat delicious food, wear fine clothes, or live in a fancy place. We are satisfied if we can sustain our bodies, which are temporary aggregates of the four elements anyway. What we really need is the supreme flavor of the Dharma. That's why Sutra lectures and Dharma talks are held daily at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
During the lectures, all of you should pay diligent attention to the Flower Adornment (Avatamsaka) Sutra. Don't be lazy. You are listening to the Sutra for your own sake, not for your teacher's sake. If you already understand everything, you don't have to listen. However, you don't really understand everything. Your understanding is mere world-ly cleverness and intellectual knowledge. You're playing into the hands of your own intelligence. You are learning the Dharma for your own good, not for your teacher or anyone else. So don't let the time pass in vain, or you'll later regret it.
A talk given on May 9, 1982
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas