What does it take for the Proper Dharma to exist in the world? If you honestly practice without coveting fame, benefit, or offerings, then the Proper Dharma exists in the world. If every left-home person observes the precept of poverty (not holding money), sits in meditation, eats only one meal a day, always wears the kashaya sash, and strictly observes the precepts, then the Proper Dharma exists in the world. The Proper Dharma exists in the world when we practice according to the Buddha's teaching at all times.
Look at the left-home people at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. They have little greed, cultivate quietly, carefully observe the precepts, respectfully receive vegetarian meals, and bring forth a great resolve for Bodhi. My vow is that, wherever I go, I will only allow the Proper Dharma to exist; I will not permit the Dharma to come to an end.
During the Dharma-ending Age, the Dharma reaches its end, its leaves and branches; it is far removed from the roots. In the Dharma-ending Age, it is difficult to distinguish the true from the false, unless one has Dharma-selecting Vision. To practice the Proper Dharma entails not being greedy for fame and benefits, not lusting after beautiful forms, and not being selfish.
However, people in the Dharma-ending Age have misguided views. They confuse right and wrong, mistaking fish eyes for pearls. Even if the Proper Dharma were presented to them, they would not recognize it. Therefore, Great Master Xing An said in his essay, "Exhortation to Resolve the Mind upon Bodhi," "There are teachings but no adherents. No one can distinguish the deviant from the proper; no one can tell right from wrong. We compete and struggle with each other. We pursue profit and fame."
People in the Dharma-ending Age excel at competition. For instance, they compete in temple building. "Your temple is seventy feet high? I'm going to build one that's seventy-one feet tall"; "Your temple is seventy-two feet high? Then I'm going to build one that's seventy-three feet tall. Mine will always be higher than yours." Instead of comparing to see who excels at cultivation, they compete to see who can build more temples. With such an attitude, they waste donors' money and lead people into the hells. If people do not cultivate honestly, they will get crooked results. What's the point of competing to build temples if no one lives in them? What a pity that we end up with so many empty temples! That's how the Dharma-ending Age is.
Laypeople shouldn't be greedy when making offerings to left-home people. If your attitude is, "You support that Dharma Master, and I'll support this one," you are breaking up the Sangha and preventing left-home people from living and cultivating together. If everyone competes to make offerings to a single monk, that monk will become really confused, living in his own little temple with nothing to do. In the end, what merit is there in that?
I am speaking the truth. Monks should live together in a large monastery so that they can cultivate diligently and alert and urge each other on in their practice. If a monk lives alone in a small temple, no one knows when he slacks off in his practice or indulges in good food. It won't be hard for him to eat a little meat and drink a little wine. Laypeople think they are creating merit when they give all their offerings to an individual monk. Actually, they are just sending that monk into the hells! What merit and virtue could the donors possibly attain? The things I say are things that no one likes to hear.
You must understand that if you want to make offerings to the Triple Jewel, you should make them to a large Way-place--a place of true cultivation. It should not be that you make personal offerings to one monk and I make personal offerings to another. That is not in accord with the Dharma.
I am sure many left-home people are annoyed by my words, because I am hindering their freedom. In a large monastery, they cannot sleep or eat casually, nor can they eat meat or break the precepts. Living alone by themselves, they can do whatever they please. Of course there are true cultivators who live alone and work hard at their practice. However, nowadays, such individuals are extremely rare.
Why would laypeople want to make offerings to a single left-home person? They think there is special merit and virtue in doing so. Little do they know that it actually destroys the harmony of the Sangha. The Sangha is a "harmonious assembly"--everyone lives together and cultivates. If you live alone, how can you call yourself a "harmonious assembly"? With whom are you harmonizing? If you are always harmonizing with laypeople, you will end up a layperson yourself.
I am saying this out of deep concern. "Truthful words jar the ear, but help one to act wisely. Good medicine is bitter to the taste, but cures sickness." Dharma Masters should not be privately "owned"; they should be accessible to the public. Therefore, there are always many people living at Gold Mountain Monastery, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and our other temples. They encourage each other, exhort one another to reform, and correct each other's faults. They do not compete against one another.
Why would left-home people praise themselves and slight others? Because they are greedy for offerings. The "Exhortation to Bring forth the Bodhi Resolve" says, "The world is filled with people who don't know who the Buddha is, what the Dharma means, and what a Sangha is." A Sangha refers to a group of at least four left-home people dwelling together in harmony, with no disputes. One left-home person all by him or herself cannot be called a Sangha..
Another widespread problem is that many people don't know what the Triple Jewel is. There are laypeople who want to set themselves up as a fourth jewel. Nowadays, not only do laypeople fail to make offerings to the Triple Jewel (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha), they expect the Triple Jewel to provide for them. They may soon come up with fifth, sixth, and seventh jewels. If this is not a sign of the Dharma-ending Age, then what is?
A talk given in November 1979