Five Dharma


August 26, 2000 Dharma Discourse[1]:

Five Dharma

---- Qualities that a Meditator Should Possess‧1

The following is a brief summary of five qualities, stressed for cultivators resolved on meditation studies:

Listening: A meditator should willingly listen to Dharma. By applying the teachings through self-introspection, right mindfulness is developed. The mind becomes purified.

Renunciation: By being widely learned on the proper teachings, wisdom shines forth with clarity and purity. The shortcomings of worldly affairs becomes apparent; their detriments revealed, the mundane will no longer hold any allure.

Motivation: Admiration for the True Path will be generated. The state of Nirvana will be regarded as a safe haven, filled with supreme meritorious virtues. One will be motivated to strive for such a state.

Wariness: The meditator becomes mindful. Until Attainment[2] is reached, one easily slips into sufferings of the lower realms. Impure thoughts, unwholesome actions committed doubtlessly will bring such fate.

Diligence: Extinguishing defilements and attesting to purity, one shuns from laziness and laxness. Diligently one cultivates samadhi[3] and vipassana[4]. Thus, the mind becomes bright, tranquil, concentrated and unconfused. In accordance with Dharma, progressively one enters the path of awakening.

A detailed discussion about these five qualities follows:

1.)Listening: A meditator should willingly listen to Dharma. By applying the teachings through self-introspection, right mindfulness is developed. The mind becomes purified. To "willingly listen to Dharma" means to want to learn about the teachings. Why do we need to study? The phrase "by applying the teachings through self-introspection," tells us to use the wisdom gained from our studies and to observe what is happening inside us. Buddhist novices easily harbor misguided thoughts such as, "I study Buddhism, not so much for myself but in order to one day sit on the high lecture throne and preach to others." However, the right reason for studying Dharma is to achieve wisdom, realize the Ultimate Truth. We study in order to rid afflictions[5] and gain purity.

We renounce worldly pleasures, leaving the mundane life[6] behind. Once we practice Buddhism, our thoughts should be about breaking the grip holds of our afflictive states. Now we are in a monastery, where the Great Hall holds Buddha images to be worshipped; the Mezzanine of Sutra Reserves holds a storehouse of scriptures; the Meditation Hall is used for practicing samadhi and vipassana; the Lecture Hall is used for listening to the Buddhadharma; and so on. Everyday, people here vow to study, to change from the ordinary, to achieve the holy. With such a gathering, afflictions should no longer exist. Yet right mindfulness is sometimes lost. We forget our initial goal to achieve the transcendent. Problems occur when people stick to their old self-indulging ways, to their old bad habits.

That is why we should constantly read the sutras and their commentaries[7]. We should contemplate the true meaning behind the words. After reading a section, close the sutra and your eyes. Then ask, "What does this passage mean? What is the principle here?" Apply the concept to self-introspection. There is a saying, "Using a mirror, one will have a well groomed appearance; using the sutra, one will have proper thoughts."‘The Diamond Sutra’ is just such a mirror-great and perfect, a single reflection that will show us the weaknesses and the strengths. When temptation or ill will arises, we need to know it is wrong; a taint exists. If passing is sixty percent, how do we score? Even if our deficiencies are not usually apparent, we are still greatly in error if we have not learned that all phenomenon is illusionary, transitory, and ultimately empty of any inherent nature. All afflictions──desire, ill will and false views, stem from not understanding this concept.

What should we do at this point? Once "right mindfulness is developed; the mind becomes purified." The word "right" in this case means purified, cleansed. Purified wisdom is called right mindfulness. We ought to build up wisdom to guide our minds, our actions. Repeatedly reflect these thoughts:"Anything arising from causes and conditions is empty of inherent nature; known also as false entities; known also as the Middle Way." If we can always maintain right mindfulness, our afflictions will not arise as much. Let our minds be in a state of purity under favorable situations as well as unfavorable ones.

In 'The Sutra Spoken by Vimalakirti', in the chapter on "The Dharma Door of Non-Duality," the Bodhisattva of Wonderful Meaning said, "Eye and forms are separate. If one realizes the true nature of the eye, no longer will greed, hostility or ignorance arise when in contact with forms. A state of stilled cessation this is called. Likewise so with the ear and sounds, the nose with fragrances, the tongue with flavors, the body with touch, and the mind with dharmas; all are dualistic. If one understands the nature of the mind, one will not give rise to greed, hostility or ignorance in regards to phenomenon. Stilled cessation this is called. To dwell in this state is to have entered the Dharma Door of Non-Duality." Reading this, entering the Door of Non-Duality may seem too difficult. Not actually! If we contemplate this principle, even if we may not immediately enter awakening, we are working towards enlightenment.

The lifestyle of a monastery is pure and wholesome. Living here, our minds should also be pure and wholesome. Nevertheless, what if someone comes along and insults you? Are you resentful? If so, that is not purity. Or if somebody praises, "You are so diligent in your practice, you uphold the precepts with such chastity, you are a role model to us all. " If you become flattered by these comments, that is not purity either. Regardless the situation, whether insulting or flattering, do not let anything linger in the heart-"bring forth a mind which is not attached to forms, also not dwelling in sounds, fragrances, flavors, touch, or dharmas. One should give rise to a mind that resides nowhere." We have succeeded when we can do this.

If you continuously study the Dharma, constantly use it to reflect and maintain proper mindfulness, then vexations will not arise as often. Purifying the mind will also be easier. There are times while meditating our thoughts wander. We cannot practice samadhi; we cannot practice vipassana. We started contemplating the meaning of the teachings, but ended with thoughts like, "That person just glared at me! What did he mean by that?" We are always wallowing in these types of annoying thoughts, and cannot keep focused on the proper ones. What should we do? Go to do some sweeping. Sweep the Great Hall, the Meditation Hall, or the courtyard. Keep them neat and tidy. When things get dirty, just do some more sweeping. Do not ask, "Why are you always asking me to do things and not someone else?" Don't be like that. If you practice regularly in this manner, once you sit down to meditate, the purity inside will quickly be discovered. Then if you want to focus your thoughts, you will be able to; if you want to contemplate, you will be able to. Why is this? When we cannot concentrate during our sessions, our wandering thoughts are like rubbish outside the courtyard, spoiling the nice surroundings. So by repeatedly cleaning up the outside environment, a parallel condition occurs. We actually facilitate an inner cleansing process; we will improve our meditation. That is why we need to keep busy and not slack off in a monastery. If things are not going our way, do not keep heading towards the afflictions. Stay on the path; think, "These predicaments are here to test me, to see how far I've gotten." What is your reaction when someone berates you? How far you have progressed, all shows through at that moment.

Everything that I have said comes entirely from sutras and their commentaries. If we do not study the teachings after we are ordained, how will we gain wisdom? The Buddha told us, "If one sees all marks as non-marks, one sees the Tathagatha." We ought to start from this and deepen our understanding. Why throw out holy words of wisdom? Why shut your eyes in seclusion and only contemplate, "Who is the one recalling the Buddha?" That is acting as if the Buddha never existed and you can reach enlightenment by yourself without any help from the teachings. Is this right? If you never studied the Dharma, how much can you know? You will not understand anything. Spiritually, from the standpoint of those who are striving for Attainment, being the world's greatest authority in some subject is worthless. Again, "A meditator should willingly listen to the Dharma. By applying the teachings through self-introspection, right mindfulness is developed. The mind becomes purified." From studying scriptures, wisdom will arise and through wisdom our minds will be purified. Once we have reached such a level, then we will have the ability to disseminate and teach the Dharma. If a beginner practices and studies simply to teach, that would not be completely correct.

2.)Renunciation: By being widely learned on the proper teachings, wisdom shines forth with clarity and purity. The shortcomings of worldly affairs will become apparent, their detriments revealed, the mundane will no longer hold any allure.

"Renunciation" is not being satisfied with worldly affairs. One becomes weary, wanting disassociation from them. This is proper thinking for a practitioner. Where does this renunciation come from? "By being widely learned on the proper teachings." And how does one become knowledgeable about the Dharma? Not by enrolling in a Buddhist academy and listening to a Dharma teacher lecture once on 'The Diamond Sutra.' You can't respond with, "I've already heard it. I don't want to listen to it again. It's best if you lecture on 'The Samdhinirmocana Sutra' or some other sutra" because you have heard the explanation from the beginning "thus I have heard" to the end, "paid homage and left." Learning and understanding do not happen with one lecture. Or if someone asks, "So you're studying in a Buddhist academy, what type of courses do they offer?""Lots and lots," you reply. "‘The Lotus Sutra, The Diamond Sutra, The Samdhinirmocana Sutra, The Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, and The Yogacarabhumi Shastra’……I've learned them all." That would not be the right attitude either.

Even if you are young with a great memory, it still won't do if you do not have deep contemplations. Review the teachings over and over. Just by hearing a Dharma teacher explain, "all marks are false; if one sees all marks as no marks, one sees the Tathagatha," and committing words to memory is not enough. One needs to genuinely contemplate the text in order to gain insightfulness. You may take notes and read them. Then you need to close your eyes and constantly reflect on its meaning. Do this until you can attest to the words, from the bottom of your heart say assertively:" Yes! 'If one sees all marks as no marks, one sees the Tathagatha.' Yes!so it is!" At that moment, your understanding will hold a different light from explanations in a mere textbook. Without studying, although you may be extremely exceptional, young with a mind like a tape recorder memorizing volumes of Dharma without missing a single word, you would still not be considered "widely learned." It is not adequate unless you can delve into the profundities. "Widely learned," means to undertake repeated contemplations until Ultimate Truth is thoroughly understood.

"By being widely learned on the proper teachings, wisdom shines forth, one gains realizations with clarity and purity." If we continuously expose ourselves to the Dharma, putting added effort into contemplation, gradually our wisdom will grow. Wisdom will "shine" forth with "purity." What "shines" is brightness and clarity--wisdom itself. That which has been purified is no longer sullied by afflictions. Wisdom without purity, that still has taints of greed, hostility and ignorance, contains clarity but cannot have foresight. Only wisdom without afflictions, the Self and the Other[8] radiates with pure brilliance; then "the shortcomings of worldly affairs will become apparent."

In worldly pursuits, becoming a king or a corporate tycoon is considered prestigious--an envy of most. High status, immense power, and enormous wealth are desirable assets. But these objects are desirable only if someone compassionate uses them for virtue. Or else they just increase wrongdoings. A person who sees the shortcomings of worldly affairs, is someone who probably practices the Four Foundations of Mindfulness[9]. A person who doesn't practice the Four Foundations of Mindfulness would not be able to overcome Greed Afflictions[10]. When power and authority are at stake, who would not follow their afflictions and begin transgressions?

Thus when " the mundane no longer holds any allure," no joy will exist for worldly desires, letting go becomes easy and pursuits for Attainment become the focus. An ordained clergy without the proper teachings or purified wisdom, may think, "How did I ever get myself into this? I could have been such a big success out in the world!" Whenever someone builds a big temple, becomes an abbot and receives recognition, you grumble, " You're not so much better. Whatever you can do, I can too!" If one thinks this way, the shortcomings of worldly affairs will never become apparent.

Being serious about spiritual practice means that we must let everything else go. If we are unable to do so, meditation will produce no results. Some people make a little progress but then have thoughts like, "I'm doing well. Soon I will be an Arhant. In next to no time, my concentration will reach the State of Non-Arising, Non-Cessation of All Thoughts[11]. I can be the director of the Chinese Buddhist Association now." Thoughts about prominence pop up again. Isn't this impeding your own progress, self-created hindrances[12]?

In 'The Nirvana Sutra', there are two sisters: Auspicious the eldest and Misfortune, the younger. The two are inseparable, always following each other. Just as with life, unhappiness follows closely behind happiness; just when things are going well, that is when problems begin. The great military hero, Chu Ko Liang of the late Han Dynasty, once wrote, "I was basically an ordinary citizen, a modest farmer from Nan Yang surviving in chaotic times. I never sought to be known by the feudal lords." He only wanted to lead a quiet, simple life reading and plowing his fields. He never wanted the wealth or glory. However when Liu Pei, "called upon my humble hut three times to seek my advice on the affairs of the nation, I felt obligated, thus allowing myself to be of service." He finally gave in. Why the somberness when his gifted abilities surpassed all others? Was it because he understood the inevitable suffering that Auspicious and Misfortune would bring? He died before witnessing the winning vic tory; a tragic ending which future heroes would mourn his loss. With all his wisdom, Chu Ko Liang could not escape the trap of the two sisters.

veryone has ideals and ideas about "living the good life." But going after such dreams become like bait, like the electric rabbit that dogs chase after in racetracks. Yet most of us are willing to undergo much heartache, spending our whole lives in hopes of catching ultimate happiness--an unending chase that always eludes us. To our last breath, we do not realize that we were fooled by it all. This includes Chu Ko Liang. As monastics, we take the Buddha as our teacher. We should be wiser than Chu Ko Liang, never allowing ourselves to become involved. We completely let go of the unsatisfying desires of the world and the suffering that comes with these pursuits. With sincerity we devote ourselves to seek the joys of Nirvana.

(to be continue......)

  1. This discourse was given at Fa Yun Monastery's North Campus to mainly an audience of monks and nuns. Footnotes were later added by the translators.
  2. Attainment means reaching a transcendent state, becoming a holy sage, being liberated from the lower realms.
  3. Samadhi is a "stilling" technique used to develop jhana, deep concentration. The mind stays focused on an object of meditation
  4. Vipassana is a "contemplative" technique used to develop insight, wisdom. The mind tries to understand the Dharma by reflecting on its meanings.
  5. Afflictions means afflictive, negative emotional states that disturb the practice. All afflictions stem from three deeply rooted ones: greed, hostility and ignorance. Greed is sometimes called desire, temptation, or craving. Hostility includes ill will. Ignorance includes delusions, false views and misconceptions about life. Afflictions result in suffering.
  6. In this context leaving the mundane life means to leave lay life and enter the Order.
  7. Shastras, Abhidharma
  8. The Self is misconceptions related to the existence of an ego, an "I." The Other is misconceptions and attachments to all other objects and beings.
  9. Four Foundations of Mindfulness in the Mahayana Tradition are contemplations on: the impurities of the body, suffering, impermanence, and emptiness of all phenomenons.
  10. Greed afflictions in this sense mean attachments, cravings and also false views.
  11. This is the first holy state to be reached, the first state of a Bodhisattva. In this meditative absorption, when all thoughts neither arises nor ceases, the Ultimate Truth is realized.
  12. Hindrances are any mental or physical occurrence that impedes spiritual progress.