Friends from afar and good advisors from nearby, let us investigate together the principles of being a person and becoming a Buddha. In being a person, we should take the eight virtues-filial piety, brotherhood, loyalty, trustworthiness, propriety, righteousness, incorruptibility, and a sense of shame-as our standard. To become a Buddha, we should extend the scope of the eight virtues and be filial, dutiful, loyal, trustworthy, kind, just, proper, and wise towards the whole world. We should keep expanding these qualities until they are so vast there's nothing beyond them, yet so minute there's nothing inside them. That is the kind of spirit we should have in practicing Buddhism, but it is not easy to perfect.
Nowadays some cultivators feel as if they have lost something when they practice Buddhism. Because they don't obtain any apparent benefit, they feel they are suffering a loss. And so they lose their enthusiasm for cultivation. Good advisors, please be aware that:
If you don't renounce death,
You can't exchange it for life;
If you don't give up the false,
You can't achieve the true.
We should broaden our views, expand our thinking, and not be concerned solely with ourselves and our own families and countries. We should expand our minds to encompass the universe. We should think about helping all of humanity, instead of just making plans for ourselves.
Benefiting people and not harming them is a basic requirement of cultivating the Buddha Way. How can we benefit and not harm people? By practicing the Six Guidelines of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas:
1. Not fighting. We don't fight with anyone. You may fight with me, but I won't fight with you; you may scold me, but I won't scold you; you may beat me, but I won't beat you; you may bully me, but I won't bully you. That is the overall principle at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was an immortal cultivating patience in a past life, he did not fight with King Kali; instead, he taught and transformed him with virtue. King Kali cut off the immortal's four limbs and asked him if he was angry. The patient immortal said, “No.” King Kali didn't believe him and asked him to prove it. The immortal said, “If I have no anger, my limbs will grow back.” After he said that, his limbs were restored. Instead of being angry with the king, the immortal made a compassionate promise to the king, saying, “When I become a Buddha, you will be the first one I come to save, and you will renounce the householder's life and cultivate.” Later, when the immortal became Shakyamuni Buddha, in accord with his vow he went to the Deer Park to teach the Venerable Ajnata-kaundinya (King Kali in a previous life), who renounced the householder's life and became one of the first five Bhikshus.
2. Not being greedy. Once greed arises, it is insatiable. Whether you crave money or material things, you are never satisfied. The greedier you become, the less satisfied you are; the less satisfied you are, the greedier you become. You will be greedy until you grow old, and you still won't understand. Greed may have ruined your whole life, but in the end you still express deep regret for not having obtained certain things. How pitiful! The City's second guideline is not to be greedy for money, benefit, or fame; not to be greedy for anything. We just do our basic duty and propagate the Buddhadharma in order to continue the Buddha's wisdom life.
When the Buddha was in the world, one day he and the Venerable Ananda came upon a pile of gold. The Buddha walked past the pile without even glancing at it. The Venerable Ananda had not perfected his samadhi, so walking by he took a glance at it. The Buddha told him, “That's a poisonous snake.” Meanwhile, a farmer tilling his field overheard the mention of a poisonous snake and went to take a look, only to discover that it was actually a pile of gold. Overjoyed, he took the gold home and instantly became a rich man. But his neighbor was suspicious of the source of his wealth, and reported it to the king. The king sent for the farmer and asked him where he had gotten the money from. The farmer truthfully told his story. The king then sent his people to search the farmer's house, and they found lots of gold. They took the gold back and showed it to the king. Seeing the gold, the king became furious, because it was stolen from the state treasury. The king thought the farmer had stolen it and threw him in jail. Only then did the farmer understand the truth behind the Buddha's having called the gold a poisonous snake. The above story illustrates that one shouldn't be greedy for unexpected wealth.
3. Not seeking. The principle of the City is not to exploit, beg, or seek. Seeking is similar to being greedy. Greed is something intangible and hard to pin down. Seeking is the actual pursuit of something through exploiting social connections, trying to get it by hook or by crook. What kinds of things do we seek? We seek money, material things, and all kinds of benefits. But at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas the seeking is directed inward, not outward. Seeking within our minds, we sweep out the foolish thoughts, the mad mind and wild nature, jealousy, obstruction, greed, anger, stupidity, and so forth. We don't decorate the outside; instead we adorn and purify the inside. Someone may say, “It's filthy inside. No matter how much you sweep, it's still filthy.” But the filth is only superficial. Our inherent nature is pure and clean, without defilement. It is said,
When people reach the state of not seeking,
Their character will naturally be noble.
If you don't seek anything from anyone, your character will naturally be noble and free of impure thoughts.
When the Buddha was in the world, there was a poor couple that had neither a place to stay nor food for the next day. They lived in a cave and their only possession was a pair of pants. Whoever went out to beg would wear the pants. That's how poor they were. One day a Pratyekabuddha came to test them to see if they had greedy minds. He begged for alms at their cave. The couple discussed how they could make offerings to this monk. They really couldn't find anything, so with a sincere mind they offered the pants to the Pratyekabuddha and sought nothing in return.
The Pratyekabuddha took the pants and offered them to the Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha knew the story behind the pants, and related it to the Dharma assembly. He praised the donors for the merit and virtue they had created. The king of the country, who happened to be present, heard the story and felt ashamed that there should be such poor people in his own country. Thereupon he sent an official with lots of food and clothing for that couple, and provided them with housing and employment. Because that couple didn't have thoughts of seeking, they got such a reward. That is known as “giving something and being rewarded ten thousand times over.
4. Not being selfish. Why is this world deteriorating at such a rate? It's all because people are too selfish. When it comes to things for their own benefit, they strive to be first. But as for things that don't benefit them, they stand aside and watch, perhaps making facetious remarks with an attitude of “watching a fire from a safe distance.”
There are many kinds of selfishness. Some people are selfish regarding position, others about reputation, power, or money. In general, it is selfishness at work when people care only for themselves and disregard others. As the saying goes,
Mahasattva, don't pay attention to others;
Amitabha, it's every man for himself.
This is the way of thinking of the Small Vehicle. There is a saying in the Confucian school: “Sweep the snow in front of your own door, and don't be concerned with the frost on others' roof tiles.” That is the attitude of not meddling in other people's affairs. But people in this world should help and support one another. That's why we should promote the thinking of the Great Vehicle and learn the spirit of the Bodhisattvas, who rescue those in distress upon hearing their cries of suffering. We shouldn't gloat over others' misfortunes.
If people in this world weren't selfish, we could all get along harmoniously like one family. Selfishness creates a lot of problems. So not being selfish is the fourth guideline of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
5. Not pursuing personal advantage. This principle is even more important than the fourth one. No one is willing to give up personal gain. But if the world is to be wholesome, it has to be this way. No pursuit of personal advantage means benefitting others and forgetting oneself, “forsaking oneself for the sake of others.” This attitude surpasses the Bodhisattvas' conduct. Bodhisattvas benefit themselves and others, save themselves and others, and enlighten themselves and others. But we benefit only others, not ourselves; we save only others, and help only others to become enlightened.
6. Not lying. This means having no intention to deceive people. Why do people lie? Because they are afraid of losing their advantage, afraid of taking a loss. If we can treat people with sincerity, we will naturally uphold the sixth guideline of not lying.
Some people may not be happy to hear the Six Guidelines, and they may feel very uncomfortable. I don't care if people are unhappy or ill at ease; I just want to make this clear to all of you. I never oppose anything in this world. Why not? Because my motto is: “Everything is okay.” However, if people oppose me, they are most welcome to, since I won't argue. Today, I have briefly introduced the Six Guidelines of the City to you. If I spoke in detail, you wouldn't hear the end of it. You can practice them throughout your whole life; they are immensely useful.
A talk given on August 14, 1983, at the Buddha Hall, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas