Disclaimer: The translations are not official nor endorsed by 2OR, so please just treat it as a ‘fan-based’ translation. The Buddha-Dharma is profound. No matter how you convey it, it won’t be completely perfect. Because the Buddha-Dharma is an experience, it’s an awakening 【佛法深奥无比，怎么写，都不会是究竟圆满。佛法是一种悟】. Please enjoy, and I hope it serves as a good filler until the official English version comes out.
Once we have set an objective for cultivating the mind, we must ask ourselves, “How do we cultivate our mind? How do we introspect it?” The answer depends on the comprehension of your mind to realise it – that is called ‘awakening’. To awaken is to develop a sudden insight about something. We always talk about the desire to awaken spiritually. However, with the principles already laid out clearly – cause and effect, cyclical rebirths, karmic conditions and destiny, what else are we meant to awaken to? In reality, everything that happens in our everyday life provides us with opportunities to awaken and deepen our understanding of life. Awakenment is a cyclical process whereby we practise the teachings of the Buddha-Dharma and apply it into our everyday lives, and from the experiences we gain from doing so, we gain a better comprehension of the Buddha-Dharma. Then we reapply what we’ve learnt back into our everyday lives, and the process repeats itself. This is similar to preparing for a test, where we constantly apply the guiding principles, learn and perform written essays in doing our exercises. From these exercises, we master the basic concepts until we reach a level of proficiency where we are able to put the theory into practice freely. Over the course of cultivation, each time we apply the Buddha-Dharma in the correct manner, the level of spirituality of our state of mind will be elevated accordingly. Nonetheless, even if we did well for nine consecutive attempts but erred on the tenth, all the previous efforts that we had achieved would have come to nought. That’s why the cultivation of the mind is like treading on thin ice.
Many fellow practitioners have studied the Buddhist teachings expounded by me very thoroughly, gaining an in-depth grasp and cultivating diligently. This is an encouraging sign, as it indicates that they appreciate the unique excellence of this Buddhist practice. However, judging from the various questions posted online and their approach in handling interpersonal relationships, it is evident that many are still at a stage where they struggle to repay their karmic debts, have yet to understand that the Buddha-Dharma is closely intertwined with our daily lives and learning Buddhism begins with learning about the basic principles of human behavioural integrity. Although some may seem to have tamed their temper through their effort in performing the recitation of Buddhist scriptures, they have neither done any self-introspection nor have they proactively tried to identify and correct their shortcomings. In other words, they have yet to take the initiative to apply the knowledge of Buddhism in their daily lives and practise what they have learnt personally. For example, on the question of cultivating “Discipline, Concentration and Wisdom”, how many of us understand why we need to observe the precepts and what precepts are to be observed. Why it is that observing the precepts will give rise to concentration? What does it mean by concentration? We need to get to the bottom of these questions. Similarly, we need to fully comprehend the many conclusions derived from the past experiences of our predecessors. We need to find out the basic principle on which the conclusion was drawn. Only then will we be able to understand why our predecessors reached their conclusion. For example, why is it that we can practise cultivation diligently when we practise forbearance in the face of humiliation? On which theory is it based? Why is the concept of “non-self” given so much emphasis and what is its purpose? Not only do you gain an understanding of the theories, but you will also be able to put them into practice. You cannot just apply the theories mechanically, but you need to fully understand them so that you can draw inferences from other cases. This is similar to our study of mathematics and its law of application.
Hence, awakenment is not something distant nor abstract. In fact, in our daily practice of Buddhism, we are gradually being awakened unconsciously. How do we perform recitations of Buddhist scriptures and how does performing recitations change our lives for the better? Subsequently, we would have to systematically and consciously work towards awakening. If you are inquisitive and ask more questions, you will understand more profound truths. It is because of such an understanding that Buddhist practitioners refrain from doing bad deeds, just like people who know the laws are apprehensive of committing criminal offences.
What does cultivating morals imply doing?
It is about cultivating our own behaviour. The objective is to attain the highest level of spirituality in terms of realisation, that is to become fully enlightened. There are three aspects of cultivation: the discipline of one’s own actions, regulation of one’s own speech and elevating one’s morality. In fact, once we understand that negative karma is a major force that binds us in the web of rebirth and that negative karma stems from our deeds by “conduct, speech and thoughts”, then it is easy to understand that the objective of these three aspects of cultivation is to prevent us from creating new negative karma. The discipline of one’s own actions refrains us from creating the karma of misconduct while regulation of speech is to refrain us from creating the karma of unwholesome speech. The elevation of consciousness and morality is to guard us against conceiving any bad intentions, thereby reducing the chances of creating the karma of unwholesome thoughts.
Our understanding of this principle serves as a benchmark for us to correct our negative behaviour. It reduces our negative karma, and then we cease to create the karma of rebirth. Nevertheless, applying this principle and the extent of its application in our lives will depend on each individual’s level of understanding. For example, your superior at your department had increased your workload so much so that you totally occupied and worked overtime frequently, while others who received the same salary as you had less work to do. Under such circumstances, you may be able to forbear and refrain from doing anything improper on the surface, but are you truly not angry inside your mind? What’s so important about not getting angry? If you don’t show that you’re angry, will you be called a coward? What ought to be the right mentality?
It is up to us to discover and comprehend. With each question answered, the level of spirituality of our state of mind will go one step higher. Different levels of comprehension will give rise to different levels of spirituality. Failure to do so will make you compare your workload with that of others, and you will harbour the ill-feelings of indignation at the thought of being treated unfairly. This is the time you have developed negative karma unknowingly, thinking that you have been victimised. As a result, you deviate from the correct path of cultivation. As a matter of fact, any effort will be paid off eventually. “ The master can only lead you through the door, but it is up to the individual when it comes to showing the results of their cultivation.” It’s precisely because every individual is different, so the problems that they face are also different. Therefore it’s not possible for me to lay out all the possible answers for you to comprehend. Fortunately, it is also said that the approaches may be varied, but the fundamental principle remains unchanged, which means there are always some guiding principles to abide by. It all boils down to understanding the truth of life by being mindful of the law of cause and effect and karmic affinity. Besides adopting the doctrine that I am expounding to solve problems in your daily life, you should also set some criteria to perform more meritorious deeds and exercise self-restraint to prevent generating negative karma.
In the discussion of the three aspects of cultivation, I haven’t mentioned about performing meritorious deeds. But why are merits considered the consequence of cultivating our actions? It’s because merits are the direct result of the three aspects of cultivation: performing benevolent deeds, holding on to benevolent thoughts and speaking kind words.
What does cultivating our mind imply doing?
Cultivation of the mind is a topic that we would have to face inevitably at one point or another in our journey of spiritual cultivation. For beginners or those who have yet to experience any spiritual reaction from their practice, they may start by focusing on eliminating karmic obstacles and performing meritorious deeds. Weighty negative karma and karmic debts are like the uncleansed dirt on our body - when the body is still contaminated, cultivation of the mind at this juncture is out of the question. When our negative karma has been reduced to a certain level, the time will naturally come for us to practise the cultivation of the mind gradually. The “method of cultivating the present life” is what I wish to impart to you. It is unique compared to other “methods of cultivating the future life”. Evil stems from the heart. In actual fact, our negative karma and our inner demons are inextricably linked. Now that we have the opportunity to repay our karmic debts before practising cultivation, we are thus all geared towards making headway in our practice. Although both are methods for cultivating the mind, the method of Guan Yin Citta is more effective at clearing the hindrances in our mind, giving us the upper-hand in subduing the inner demons within us, elevating our state of mind and achieving desired results.
From these three aspects of cultivating our morals, it can be seen that it is closely interrelated with the mind. To cultivate and correct oneself, we must first find out what kind of unwholesome behaviour that we have. This process of self-realisation is the same as the process of cultivating the mind. By constantly introspecting our conduct and introspecting our mind, we will always be improving. There is no standard rule on how to cultivate the mind, and it is impossible to provide a concrete explanation on how to do so. This is because the karmic force that affects each individual varies, so the obstacles they face along their path of cultivation are different. Nevertheless, everything returns to oneness at the source, but there are many expedient methods that lead us there. Though there are many differences along our path of cultivation, there is only one final aim, that is to attain the state of mind of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva. The Buddha’s heart is one that embraces all sentient beings while the Bodhisattva’s heart is one that possesses great compassion. Hence, we have to reflect our minds upon the minds of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva. Only then will we be able to find what we need correcting within our mind, and from it correct our conduct.
Buddha’s mind refers to the selfless concern towards the suffering of sentient beings while the Buddhisattva’s mind refers to the Four Sublime States of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. These unparalleled level of spirituality of the mind serve as a source of emulation and the ultimate goal in our journey of cultivation and self-correction. The genesis of cultivation lies in correcting our mind, thereby reaching a level of spirituality that is pure and constant. This means that we must be practical by identifying our flaws, eliminating the three poisons of greed, hatred and ignorance, and eradicating attachment to the self and also attachment to others. Once our mind is settled and wholeheartedly dedicated to cultivation, we may then achieve spiritual purity and gradually understand our mind and see our true nature. We will then be able to see our inherent Buddha-nature, including our conscience and kindness, which will, in turn, thrive on developing into compassion.
What is the purity of mind?
Spiritual cultivation starts from the cultivation of the mind. However, the perception of what is right may differ from individual to individual. Even two opposing parties may insist that they are right. This is the first question that we face; What is right? How do we determine what is right? A selfish person may say, “Aren’t all people like that?” A husband who frequently quarrels with his wife may insist that she is uncaring towards him; while a son who has not been in touch with his 80-year-old mother for a decade may defend himself and retort that she was ruthless towards her wife back then. Under such circumstances, for people who have never once felt that they are in the wrong in a decade, would they reflect upon themselves? What would prompt them to reflect upon themselves? It could be an external factor, for example, an insightful speech delivered by Master Lu during a Dharma talk; a sudden realisation dawned upon oneself while travelling; the sight of a child supporting his elderly mother by the hand; or even an anecdote in the neighbourhood related by a colleague, etc. All these could be the sudden catalyst for repentance. However, the prerequisite for such turning points is to have an accumulation of merits and virtues as the foundation. Regardless of the method of acquisition - whether these meritorious deeds were accumulated by performing recitation or by doing kind deeds - you may only gain the possibility of having an instant awakening after you have acquired merits to a certain level. Only at this stage will your negative karmic obstacles be eliminated, thus removing the “dirt” that obscures your inherent nature. It is then that you will be able to see your unselfish, filial, loving and tolerant inherent nature.
At the same time, it is important to recognise that the source of such afflictions - greed, hatred and ignorance, still remain. Life is often less than smooth-sailing and such imperfection of life may be largely attributed to greed, hatred and ignorance. This is why they are termed as the three poisons. For example, just after you have managed to subdue your selfishness for a while, you may be back to your old self again and think “who else should be more qualified than me” when there is an evaluation for rewards or promotion in your department. Or just as you have managed to resolve the decades-long cold war between you and your mother, and fetched her home to stay with you, some remarks made by her may send you flying into a rage again. Under the influence of these three poisons, your burgeoning inherent kind nature is nowhere to be found once again.
Hence, if the three poisons have not been eradicated, cultivation of the mind would only reap half the result with twice the effort, or without any progress at all. Even veteran practitioners who are known to have practised cultivation conscientiously are unable to wipe out the three poisons in them completely. The result of spiritual cultivation depends solely on personal effort. External intervention such as advice and help from others are unable to serve as a deciding factor. Even if Master were to give you personal advice and exhortations to curb your greed and ignorance, it would ultimately amount to nothing if you fail to see the true nature of things. There are so many infatuated couples who continue pining miserably for each other, unable to accept the fact that the karmic affinity between them has come to an end. There are so many who are enjoying high social status and great wealth, yet they put all their stakes at risk in pursuit of more material gains to satisfy their insatiable greed. These are examples of people who are unable to see the true nature of things and fail to realise that life is brief and impermanent. They may understand the theories of karmic affinities and the law of cause and effect, but it is another question when it comes to putting it to practice. It is no longer a matter of the rising and ceasing of affinities but rather the result of cause and effect from past lives that change with the passage of time. Once the affinity has ended, the fetters would also vanish accordingly. Everything in the human realm is like falling leaves and flowers; in all cases, life is but illusory. The riches and honour enjoyed in this life are interrelated with kind deeds performed in your past life. If you wish to continue reaping these benefits in subsequent lifetimes, all you need to do is to intensify your cultivation in your quest for more meritorious blessings. In conclusion, the three poisons are ubiquitous in the process of spiritual cultivation, and they are the biggest challenges constantly faced by all practitioners.
The antidote to the three poisons is none other than “Discipline, Concentration and Wisdom.” It all starts with practising self-restraint. When your mind is settled, you will be able to advance along the path of cultivation. There will come a day when you are disillusioned and see the true nature of things - this is the time when you gain wisdom, and the poisons are no longer an issue to you. Nevertheless, in the subsequence phases, the three poisons may just manifest themselves in the form of other temptations. Just when you are disillusioned with wealth, you are faced with the temptation of status. Once you have seen the illusory nature of status, you may be enticed with lust. Once you have realised the body being mortal, there comes the temptation of fame, and the list goes on.
In addition to the forces of temptation, each individual in this world has to grapple with their own set of troubles in life - from the household to the nation and the world at large, all of which brings us a lot of worries. We cannot even rein in the wandering mind, let alone practising the cultivation of the mind.
Interpersonal relationships are inevitable as long as we live in this world. Although self-discipline may help refrain us from forming negative karmic affinities with others, we cannot expect people around us to do the same. When others form negative karmic affinities with us, that is when injustice is done to us, and we find ourselves being misunderstood or even hurled with insults. Under such circumstances, the practice of forbearance is the proper approach to maintaining the purity of our state of mind. Exercising forbearance when being insulted is not a form of cowardice but a golden practice that saves us from establishing negative karmic affinities. The moment we take offence or bear a grudge when someone takes a shot at us, then negative karma is formed. Only by practising forbearance can we reject this “malicious aura”, thereby preventing negative karmic affinities from taking root. Forbearance is merely a superficial expression. What we truly want to attain is a state of mind that is unperturbed by external influences and one that sees the emptiness of disgrace. Thus, there’s a saying, “Let not the mind be perturbed by changing external conditions”.
In addition, we have to eliminate attachment, be it attachment to the self or attachment towards others, as they are a form of prejudice which stemmed from our incomprehensive understanding of things. As our life experiences and perception of life differ, we develop prejudice which we think is right. Understandably, it is this attachment that causes us to be prejudiced and biased in our understanding of things and principles. However, the problem is that we fail to realise that our views are prejudiced, so we continue to be deceived by our deviated view. The solution to the root of the problem lies in removing the notion of ‘self’. We should not be opinionated and dogmatic in our study of Buddhism. Instead, we should learn to look into problems with a ‘dialectical and comprehensive’ approach and then combine it with our practical experiences in life to understand Buddha-Dharma. Our mind needs to be purified every now and then; our negative karma needs to be eliminated to prevent worries and temptations from afflicting us. With that, inner peace is gained, and our spiritual state is purified. The objective is to reveal our inherent nature. When the purity within us reaches a certain level, our inherent nature will become prominent and no longer becomes easily tainted and hidden. At this juncture, we need to take great care of the mind, nurture it and let it thrive to make sure that it doesn’t run off-course again. This is considered the starting point in learning Buddhism.
Does it mean that the only way to achieve purity of the mind is to renounce the world? Paradoxically, this world of affliction is the best place for cultivating the mind. If the mind is not pure, even if you retreated into a forest, you would still be unable to let go. To achieve purity of the mind, it doesn’t mean that one has to let go of everything and one’s karmic affinities. Nor does it mean that you should no longer socialize with others because you want to avoid forming karmic affinities. “Purity” in this context is about being untainted and pure, and not being defiled with bad habits and negative affinities. It is a state achieved through cultivation, and not merely through the act of evading.
What constitutes the concentration of mind?
All of us encounter different conditions that lead us on to the path of Buddhism. There are some whose acceptance comes more easily than others, resolutely persisting in learning Buddhism ever since attending their first Dharma talk by Master Lu. There are also others who find the situations mentioned in the radio programmes to be similar to what they are facing in life and then adopt the method taught by Master Lu. Having practised and seen the desired result, they find what is taught to be true, and they become steadfast in their faith. Regardless of what the conditions are, once the faith is established, the concentration of the mind is attained. However, this state of concentration is temporary. Once we recover from an illness or when our child who used to suffer from a speech disorder has finally begun to speak one day, we come to realise how great Buddhism is, but we begin to give excuses that we are too busy and unable to find time to perform the recitation of Buddhist scriptures. There are others who start off with unsurpassed enthusiasm which wears off over time. There are others who only follow what is taught without making any effort to learn and seek realisation. These do not classify as ‘concentration’. When they encounter other problems in life, for example, losing their jobs, or facing a love relationship problem, they will still be going around in circles without a single clue on how to deal with the situation at hand. They may even start questioning, “I have done what was suggested by Master Lu for a month now, how come I am still unable to get a job?” or “Why haven’t I met the love of my life after following what was taught by Master Lu for half a year?” - Doubt begins to set in. When there is negative karma, there will be worries. When one is overwhelmed by worries, the ‘self’ will then be dragged along by these worries, thereby losing the concentration of the mind. Hence, the cultivation of Mahayana Buddhism (the method of saving sentient being) has to be established on the foundation of Theravada Buddhism. Therefore, we have to focus on self-cultivation first to improve ourselves and our family. Only with a mind that has no hindrances, do we have no fear. It is then do we discuss our aspiration to help liberate others from suffering in our path of cultivating the mind.
The concentration of the mind can be defined in two ways: firstly, to be steadfast in faith; secondly, to be unwavering in achieving one’s goal, the foundation of which is built upon rationality. This includes understanding the difference between mundane dharma and supramundane dharma, the law of cause and effect, reasons behind the surge and decline in one’s destiny, as well as the interrelationship between positive and negative affinities, the power of karma and the web of affliction. Only in-depth understanding of all the above can lead us to acquire concentration of the mind to practise moral cultivation. At the same time, we must also understand the truly genuine compassion and greatness of the Bodhisattva as well as Her commitment to saving the suffering humanity in times of need. Meanwhile, we too must first be prepared to fulfil what is required of us. This will then enable us to be convinced that the difficulties we face today are not without reasons and that they are merely temporary. Consequently, we can achieve a stoic state of mind that remains unmoved by circumstantial changes, a state of complete realisation and awakening. Of course, this is considered to be a relatively high level of spirituality of one’s state of mind that may be difficult for everyone to achieve. But at least we know what is the right direction and we can strive towards this goal. As for the final result, it is just like how exam results are unknown until they are released.
The mind will be drifting if it is not firm. A purified mind will give rise to a concentration of the mind which in turns lead to the path. Generally, we can say that the Buddha-Dharma is closely intertwined with our lives. Apply the Buddha-Dharma in your daily lives, comprehend the Buddha-Dharma from your life experiences, remain steadfast, then eventually everything will change for the better.