Understanding the Buddha’s Teaching
Confucius said, “If terms are not used correctly, then what is said will not accord with the truth. If what is said does not accord with the truth, then tasks will not be accomplished. If tasks are not accomplished, then proprieties and music will not flourish. If proprieties and music do not flourish, then punishments will not be appropriate. If punishments are not appropriate, then people will be at a loss as to what to do. Therefore, a gentleman needs to use terms correctly, and what he says must be carried out appropriately. A gentleman cannot be casual with his words.”
This is why, after the master became a monk, the most important thing for him was to promote the correct definition of Buddhism.
The word “Buddha” conveys the meaning of awakening and wisdom. What is so valuable is that this perfect wisdom and awakening are equally innate in all beings and can also be uncovered by all beings. In other words, everyone can become a Buddha. The key is to completely let go of wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. Three thousand years ago in India, Sakyamuni Buddha gave us absolute proof. One thousand seven hundred years later in China, Master Huineng, the sixth patriarch of the Zen school, also set the best example for us.
The first words that Sakyamuni Buddha said after he attained enlightenment were “Amazing! Amazing! All beings have the wisdom and virtues of a Buddha but cannot attain them due to their wandering thoughts and attachments.” From this we can see that the perfect wisdom, virtues, and auspicious marks attained by the Buddha are innate in all beings to the same degree. “All beings” here refers not only to humans, it also refers to ants and insects, as well as hell beings who have committed the gravest offenses. Sakyamuni Buddha does not have more innate wisdom and virtues than us, and ants and insects do not have less.
Why then are we so different from Buddhas and bodhisattvas in wisdom, virtues, appearances, and good fortune? The Buddha said that the problem is that we have severe wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. This is why our wisdom, virtues, appearances, and good fortune cannot compare with those of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The ants, insects, and hell beings have far more wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments than we humans do, so their wisdom, virtues, appearances, and good fortune cannot compare with ours.
The master says that the Buddha’s teaching taught us to let go of our wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments and to be an honorable and courageous person. His teaching is true teaching. It is also a teaching of wisdom that guides all beings to return to the true nature and show the true self.
Cultivation means “correcting one’s wrong thoughts and actions.” It is the process of letting go of wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. Attaining enlightenment is the result of letting go of wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments, and of uncovering perfect wisdom and virtues.
In an article titled “Questions and Misunderstandings about Buddhism,” a Christian named Xiaoen wrote, “Master Chin Kung says that Buddhism is the Buddha’s teaching. It is a teaching of wisdom, a teaching of understanding the universe and life. Currently, there are at least four forms of Buddhism existing simultaneously. The first form is traditional Buddhism, which is the Buddha’s teaching. The second form is religious Buddhism. Although Buddhism was originally not a religion, it is now practiced as one. The third form is academic Buddhism, where it has become a philosophy and a subject for academic research. The fourth form is cult Buddhism. This deviated form appeared about thirty or forty years ago. It is most unfortunate!
“Chinese Buddhist practitioners set aside Theravada Buddhism in favor of Confucianism [and Taoism]. In particular, they adopted Confucius’ virtues [and the Taoist teachings of the law of cause and effect] as the basis for learning Buddhism. Master Chin Kung is like a direct student of Sakyamuni Buddha because he best understands the true meaning of Buddhism.”
The master often says that Buddhism is the perfect multicultural social education of the utmost virtuousness taught by the Buddha for the benefit of all beings in the Nine Dharma Realms. In regards to time, it includes the past, present, and future. In regards to space, it encompasses everything: from our living environment all the way to infinite worlds. It includes infinite dimensions and is not restricted by boundaries between countries or those between ethnic groups and religions.
In 1923, the great Buddhist scholar Mr. Ouyang Jingwu gave a speech at Nanjing Normal University titled “Buddha-dharma is Neither a Religion nor a Philosophy. It is a Modern-day Essential.” His speech caused a sensation at that time.
Why did he say that the Buddha-dharma is not a religion? The master explains that in religion, the relationship between God and humans is that of master and servants or that of father and children. God created everything, and humans cannot become God. The Chinese word for “religion” is zongjiao. In Buddhism, zong refers to the Zen school and jiao refers to the sutra-study schools. In others words, zongjiao is a term that encompasses all the different learning methods (schools).
The Buddha-dharma is not a philosophy either. In philosophy, there is dualism. Therefore, there are idealism and realism. But the Buddha-dharma says that all the phenomena in the universe are “manifested by the mind and altered by the consciousness.” Therefore, what manifests and what is manifested are one, not two. There is absolutely no dualism.
Although the title of Mr. Ouyang Jingwu’s speech did not say what the Buddha-dharma is, from the contents of his speech, we can see that Buddhism is indeed a teaching. From his fifty-seven years of learning, the master clearly points out that the Buddha-dharma is not a religion but a teaching. It perfectly encompasses the teaching of morality, virtues, the law of cause and effect, science, and philosophy. Additionally, it has reached the pinnacle of these five kinds of teaching.
The master often says that Buddhist teachings will help all beings transform foes to friends, evil to goodness, delusion to awakening, and ordinary people to sages. At a personal level, when one truly practices, one will be able to change one’s destiny, leave suffering, and attain happiness. On a larger scale, the Buddhist teachings will help us resolve all conflicts and various complex problems and achieve world harmony. At the ultimate level, the teachings can help us to truly be able to end the cycle of birth and death and share an eternal, perfect, and happy life of truth, goodness, beauty, and wisdom with beings in the Dharma Realms. Today, so many individuals, families, and countries are experiencing much conflict and grief, and many afflictions. The Buddha-dharma and the moral teaching of all religions and the sages are indeed, as Mr. Ouyang Jingwu said, modern-day essentials.
Learning and Practice
In 2007, the master was invited by the International Confucian Association to give a talk. He said:
In the past, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism were teachings, not religions. In addition, these three teachings have merged into one. Young children received a good foundation of Confucian moral teaching, the Taoist teaching of cause and effect, and Buddhist perfect teaching. After these three teachings are firmly rooted in a person, this person then delved deeply into one teaching and immersed himself in it for ten years. Ancient people said, ‘After ten years of hard study, one becomes famous overnight.’
This is the truth. I have seen this happen.
In Confucianism, the beginning of the Three Character Classic succinctly points out the general guideline of teaching: All people are innately good. Although they have similar nature, they acquire different habits. If they are not taught, their nature will change for the worse. In teaching, single-minded concentration is of the utmost importance.
In teaching, the idea that ‘human nature is originally good’ is affirmed first: ‘All people are innately good.’
The concept of the teaching of the sages originates in this sentence: ‘Although they have similar nature, they acquire different habits.’
The essence and implementation of teaching are based on this sentence: ‘If they are not taught, their nature will change for the worse.’ If people are not taught, their habits will lead them further away from their nature. As one’s nature is good and one’s acquired habits are bad, this means that one becomes a bad person.
The sentence ‘In teaching, single-minded concentration is of the utmost importance’ is very important. One becomes a great man or a sage through single-minded concentration. When one teaches, one should do so with single-minded concentration. When one learns, one should also do so with single-minded concentration. And this single-minded concentration is what Buddhism calls the teaching of precept observation, meditative concentration, and wisdom. We must attach great importance to this.
The roots of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism are Guidelines for Being a Good Person, the Ten Virtuous Karmas Sutra, and the Accounts of Request and Response, respectively. I think the Ten Virtuous Karmas Sutra carries the same weight as the Buddhist canon. Why? Because the Ten Virtuous Karmas Sutra is the foundation for Sakyamuni Buddha’s forty-nine years of learning, practicing, and teaching. It illustrates how the Buddhist canon is put into practice in daily life, at work, and in the interaction with people. Also, Guidelines for Being a Good Person should carry the same weight as the Confucian texts, and the Accounts of Request and Response, as the Taoist scriptures. We should value these three roots and respect them this way. We should diligently learn and practice these three roots and then propagate and enhance them.
The learning of these three roots is the basic requirement for becoming a sage. After learning them, one should focus on the study of one of the three teachings and immerse oneself in it over a long time. One will definitely attain great achievements like the ancient sages.
From what was mentioned above, we see that the master encourages fellow Buddhist practitioners to attach great importance to Guidelines for Being a Good Person, the Accounts of Request and Response, and the Ten Virtuous Karmas Sutra, (in addition, monastics should also abide by the Precepts for Novice Monks) and use them as the absolute basis of the precepts. This teaching of the master is a true teaching directed at the capacity of today’s people as well as fulfilling Sakyamuni Buddha’s teaching of “Rely on the precepts for guidance. Discipline oneself with a hard life.”
These three roots also provide the essential foundation for success in everything we do in this world and beyond. They are teachings necessary for a harmonious society and a harmonious world. They are simple, clear, and very practical.
Principle: “Compassion is the Essence and Expediency is the Means”
The master often says that the spirit of Buddhism is to teach us to be awakened. The general guideline for learning and practicing Buddhism is “to be awakened, not deluded; to hold correct views, not deviated ones; to maintain a pure mind, not a polluted one.” The methods used should be adapted to local conditions and to modern times. They should be improved over time. No matter where one propagates Buddhism, one should not try to convert local people. Instead, one should help them elevate the intrinsic qualities and nuances of the teaching of their faith. For example, to those who worshipped a god, the Buddha explained the truth about their god for them to admire the virtues of the god and learn from the god’s wisdom and uprightness. In this way, the faith was transformed from blind belief into a teaching of wisdom.
China is a very clear example. Buddhism was introduced to China at the request of Emperor Ming of the Han dynasty in 67 CE. After more than two thousand years, Buddhism and Chinese culture are not only perfectly compatible, they bring out the best in each other. The reason is that after Buddhism was introduced to China, it adopted the Chinese way of living. Chinese and Buddhist clothing, architecture, culture, way of living, morality, and customs merged harmoniously. This was why the Chinese people accepted Buddhism, and it became a part of Chinese culture.
From this example, we can see that Buddhism is respectful of all countries and ethnic groups and does not conflict with the local people in any way. It stresses perfect harmony as in one entity.
The master also often uses Tibet as an example. Buddhism was introduced to Tibet about six hundred years after it was introduced to China’s central areas. Princess Wencheng of the Tang dynasty brought the sutras to Tibet. Before Buddhism’s introduction to Tibet, the Tibetans had their own religion and worshipped many deities. All of their deities were accepted into Buddhism and none of the rituals were changed. But when the propagators of Buddhism explained the nuances of the local religion, they harmoniously combined the Buddhist teaching of “awakening, proper understanding, and purity” with the Tibetan religion, thereby enhancing its essential character.
Why did the propagators of Buddhism do so? Because the Tibetan people had believed in their religion for a very long time and that religion was deeply ingrained in them. Had the propagators of Buddhism opposed and rejected their religion, Buddhism could not have survived there and benefited the local people. This shows the impartial, perfect wisdom and compassion taught in Buddhism.
Direction: To Extensively Lecture on the Sutras and
Guide People to the Land of Ultimate Bliss
As many fellow practitioners know, the most distinctive feature of the master’s lecturing is that he lectures on many sutras but he always guides people to the Western Pure Land no matter which sutra he is lecturing on. As to practice, he urges everyone to end wrongdoings and practice virtuous conduct, and to regard Buddha-name chanting and seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land as the foremost priority.
During his fifty years of teaching, the master has focused on teaching us ordinary people how to practice Buddhism instead of engaging in talks on profound teachings that are beyond our ability to understand and practice. Whether he is lecturing onstage or engaging in a conversation, he is able to quote from many sources and his explanations are very precise. He is good at drawing analogies between science and Buddhism and explains in simple language many concepts that are profound or are mistakenly considered passive and submissive. In particular, his explanations of (1) the noumenon of anything and its phenomenal expressions and (2) causes and results taught in the Pure Land school are thorough, cogent, lively, practical, and perfect. Not only does the influence of his propagation of the Pure Land teachings reach far and wide, he also earns high recognition for what he has done in the larger Buddhist community and also in religious and academic circles.
From all his years of teaching and cultivation, this statement can be considered as the essence of his learning and cultivation:
Emulating the mindset and the practice of the bodhisattvas described in the Brahma Net Sutra; cultivating the awakening, proper understanding, and purity of the true nature; entering the unimpeded realm described in the Avatamsaka Sutra; and abiding in Amitabha Buddha’s Land of Eternally Quiescent Light.
A Brief introduction of
Venerable Master Chin Kung’s