Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
Charitable Giving Brings Many Blessings
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
"We must spread the seeds of goodness across fields of merits and virtues
and help everyone grow the sprouts of Bodhi.
Buddhas and Arhats represent fields of merits and virtues.
Replete with excellent virtues, they can give rise to infinity.
[In this way], all sentient beings
attain excellent merits and virtues,
spread good seeds across fields of blessings
and be reverent in making offerings
to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the Three Treasures.
They extend the Buddha's wisdom-life and cultivate fields of merits, virtues and blessings."
We should all be mindful. This passage helps us understand how to [cultivate] blessed fields of merits and virtues. It says here that. "We must spread the seeds of goodness across fields of merits and virtues." We must find a way to scatter seeds across these fields, sowing them in the field of everyone's heart, hoping that everyone will be able to move in the direction of goodness and blessings. What is the source of these blessings? Goodness helps everyone develop sprouts of Bodhi. The goodness in our hearts gives us a sense of direction. We should understand this clearly from the start. How should we begin to cultivate these fields of blessings?
"Buddhas and Arhats represent fields of merits and virtues." The Dharma and its true principles began with the Buddha. He awakened to the true principles and the Right Path. After the Buddha became enlightened, He wished to help everyone understand these principles by finding a way to open up this path and help everyone walk it. So, the Buddha had but a single aspiration, and this aspiration was to find a way to spread the Dharma far and wide. In this way, a single person's awakening could be spread to everyone so that they too might have the chance to awaken. For the universal true principles behind all things in the world to be made comprehensible to all, this must begin from a seed. But where could He go to find these seeds and go about creating these circumstances? The Buddha thought about it. This led Him to think of the five people who had followed Him out of the palace to engage in spiritual practice.
Those five had followed Him to engage in spiritual practice. However, there was also a time when circumstances led those five people to turn against the prince. They abandoned him, leaving the prince. When the prince was alone by himself, His heart was untroubled, and he was able to focus and quiet His mind. Sitting beneath the Bodhi-tree, he earnestly engaged in silent meditation. He would experience all kinds of different psychological states, but he conquered all those illusory states of mind. This is known as "subduing maras."
When we sit in meditation, if we are not careful, illusory states may appear before us. If we are not careful, if we are tempted by these illusions, it will be impossible for us to reach equal enlightenment. On the contrary, we may enter a realm of wicked maras. So, while he sat meditating, many different illusions manifested before him. He knew that they were all false and illusory, so, with a completely upright mind, he subdued those illusory maras of the mind one by one. Eventually, his mind grew calm, and he entered a state of tranquility and clarity, wherein his mind was entirely empty and still, pure and undefiled. An unenlightened being is incapable of experiencing a state of tranquility like this. The amount of time this took is indescribable. When he emerged from Samadhi, at that time, his thoughts, his views and understanding, were completely different.
Upon attaining enlightenment, His circumstances were completely different from before. So, the Enlightened One viewed the world [and thought], "Alas! All is suffering! There is suffering everywhere. What is the cause of suffering? How can people remove themselves from suffering to awaken and attain freedom?" He thought about this [and decided] He should transform the people closest to Him first. [His five] loyal and devoted [relatives] had already left the palace and were already in Deer Park. This was His chance to bring the Sangha into being. So, He began heading toward that place. When these five people saw Him, they thought that Prince Siddhartha had come back to them. They originally planned to ignore Him, but as the Buddha drew nearer, they all simultaneously saw how the Buddha carried Himself [differently], and they could not help being pulled in by His virtue. The five began to approach Him from afar, welcoming Him with reverence and decorum.
The Buddha began by finding a place to sit down and told them, "My current spiritual state is different from the state I was in when we were all practicing together in the past." The five told Him, "It's true! During the time we've been apart, we've been searching in hopes of finding a direction for our spiritual practice. We still haven't found that direction." The Buddha said, "I have found this direction. Please listen mindfully to what I have to say." He began simply, with the Four Noble Truths, teaching the five of them "suffering, causation, cessation and the Path," these four true principles alone. Still, He had to turn the Dharma-wheel three times to teach this to them. They came to understand that the world's suffering comes from "causation," many different afflictions accumulating resulting in karmic causes and effects throughout lifetime after lifetime. In each lifetime, everything we do, whether we speak or are silent, still or in motion, all our thoughts and actions return to the field of our eighth consciousness. We have no control over our coming and going [from this world]. [When we understand] we are living like this, we will finally understand what we must do. "I must establish my direction by willingly following in the Buddha's footsteps." This is how it got started, how the Sangha was formed.
Although it was a very small Sangha, the Buddha hoped that His five disciples, in addition to being guided in their course of spiritual practice, would spread the Buddha-Dharma throughout the outside world, thereby transforming sentient beings. This was when people began referring to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha by name. Moreover, their spiritual practice was such that these five all had attained understanding. The Four Noble Truths was their initial contact with the Dharma. By understanding these, they approached the path, thereby attaining [the fruit of] Srotapanna. This is the path we are able to walk; we just have yet to walk it all the way through. We have yet to reach the fruit of Sakrdagamin. Sakrdagamin is the second fruit. Anagamin is the third fruit, and true Arhatship is the fourth fruit.
So, they began to realize that there was a path they could take. They could follow the Buddha in spiritual practice. There are different levels to the principles. The Buddha started from the simplest teachings to help them understand. The Four Noble Truths and the 12 Links of Cyclic Existence helped them realize the transience of life and change their way of thinking. These teachings are very profound, but they start out very simple. The Buddha wants us to apply them in our daily living, in how we comport ourselves, in our every action. As our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body connect with the external environment, how does our mind connect with our eye-root, and how does the eye-root connect with sight-objects? How does our consciousness, which is formed by the connection with these sense objects, analyze these things in the way it does? What is the meaning behind the world we see with our eyes? It is created and synthesized by our mind. We are making it sound simple, but when the Buddha spoke about the principles, He was very detailed.
Next, the ear hears a sound, and so on; all [the Roots and Dusts] come together. When the Five Roots connect with the Five Dusts, this all goes into our consciousness, our mind-consciousness. The Five Root-Consciousnesses all come together in the mind-consciousness. The mind-consciousness follows the Five Root-consciousnesses; it is a synthesis of each independent consciousness. Whenever we look at, hear or feel something, all kinds of different thoughts arise within us. So, this is where [we decide to do] good or evil; the dividing line is here. Once we finish thinking about it, we take actions that lead us to create [karma].
So, there are countless questions when it comes to [the workings of] our consciousness. The Dharma is very complicated, so the Buddha has to lead us step by step through the stages of. Srotapanna, Sakrdagamin, Anagamin, and finally, the stage of Arhatship. This takes quite a while. So, the Buddha wanted these five people, these five seeds, to come to a full understanding of the methods of spiritual practice. This, of course, is how monastics learn to eliminate their desires. Not only do they eliminate their desires in the desire realm, they even learn to transcend the desire realm itself. This is the way to become an Arhat, with a pure mind free of desirous thoughts; this is the state of Arhatship.
So, Buddhas and Arhats represent the fields of merits and virtues. Every acre of this field of blessings enables us to sow the seeds of goodness. So, it says, "Replete with excellent virtues, they can give rise to infinity." So, the fields of blessings of Buddhas and Arhats enable sentient beings to sow seeds with joy. As long as every seed is sown in the Buddha's and His Sangha's field of blessings, then every single word of the Buddha-Dharma will be truly accepted and taken to heart. Then, everyone will engage in spiritual practice in accordance with the Dharma. "[In this way], all sentient beings" naturally "attain excellent merits and virtues."
So long as we all listen to the Dharma, we must mindfully work to understand it. How should lay practitioners listen to the Dharma? How can they turn the Dharma-wheel in their minds, turning evil into goodness and greed into charity? Practices like these continuously help everyone to understand. They slowly eliminate their worldly, unwholesome thoughts, and they learn to increase their thoughts of goodness by knowing the importance of contentment, understanding and gratitude. They must slowly work up to this state of mind.
When it comes to charitable giving, they know how to give. They "spread good seeds across fields of blessings and are reverent in making offerings." How do we go about charitable giving? How do we go about making offerings? They understand this very clearly. After listening to the Dharma, they know what they must do, what they must give. They do not necessarily need to give money. Besides giving material things, they can benefit others with their actions. There are all kinds of different ways to give. They distinguish between these very clearly. This is what is meant by "spreading good seeds across fields of blessings." We must not deviate from [this practice]. "Reverence in making offerings" is most important. These are known as "giving with reverence." There are more than just offerings of wealth, offerings of material goods or tangible ways of giving or making offerings. Most important of all is for us to "be reverent in making offerings." We can do this through deep faith, with faith and understanding deep in our hearts, by making offerings of conduct. When we make offerings of conduct like this, we must start [by making offerings to] the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. We must know the importance of making offerings to the Three Treasures with clear discernment and understanding. This is our field of blessings. This is also how we "extend the Buddha's wisdom-life and cultivate fields of merits, virtues and blessings."
This is because the Buddha-Dharma must come from the Buddha and the Sangha. The Buddha formed the Sangha when He came to teach the Dharma. The Sangha has become a symbol among people. This appearance of the Sangha took shape with magnificence. For the Buddha-Dharma to be able to flourish, the Sangha must be very pure. They must be pure, and they must focus on the Dharma the Buddha taught and walk the path the Buddha walked. We must be mentally and physically pure and dignified in our demeanor, for only then will we be able to "extend the Buddha's wisdom-life." We must let people see for themselves how dignified, orderly and magnificent we are as a monastic community. Then, all they hear will be full of Dharma, helping them transform their minds and turn toward goodness so that their hearts become pure and undefiled. This elimination of evil begins with goodness; we must "nurture any goodness already arisen" and "quickly give rise to goodness not yet arisen." We still need to keep eliminating evil. We must forever keep the evil we eliminate away and must quickly eliminate what still remains. This means we must eliminate evil and head toward goodness.
This starts with the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Buddha's Dharma manifests through the Sangha in all kinds of ways, giving people a chance to see it, hear it and experience it for themselves. This brings people so much joy, for hearing the Dharma makes them feel very free. This is what the Sangha is like in the world. So, this is something that we must mindfully seek to experience. I hope that everyone, whether they have renounced the lay life or not, will uphold the image of the Sangha very well. This "extends the Buddha's wisdom-life" and, very importantly, "cultivates fields of merits, blessings and virtues." When we give sentient beings spiritual guidance toward the right direction, their seeds of goodness will grow.
Truthfully, all sentient beings have Buddha-nature. We will discuss Never-Slighting Bodhisattva later on. No matter how people wished him ill, no matter how they would curse or beat him, once he distanced himself from them a bit, he would always tell them, "Thank you! I dare not belittle you. You are my virtuous friend. In the future, you, too, will attain Buddhahood." Thus, we must engage in the Bodhisattva-practice by enduring all kinds of worldly situations. So, the Chapter on Bringing Peace and Joy makes it very clear to us that in the course of our spiritual practice, we must be able to overcome the adversities and obstructions that may test us in society. This is what it means to be a spiritual practitioner.
What about lay practitioners? When they listen to the Dharma, they also need to mindfully take it in. Listening to the Dharma is not a matter of participating in a social event. Listening to the Dharma is a dignified affair. It is rare to hear the Buddha-Dharma. Having encountered the Buddha-Dharma, we are able to accept and make use of it. Once we accept it, we can make full use of it among people by going among them and creating blessings. This is the meaning of "great compassion." The world is full of suffering; we cannot bear it. We suffer when they suffer; when others are hurt, we feel their pain. "We feel others' pain and suffering as our own." Our heart goes out to them, so we immediately want to serve them. This is the meaning of "great compassion."
When times are peaceful, we must find ways to create blessings and bring harmony to our society. If we can create a harmonious society, everyone will be blessed. When we see others' sadness, suffering and pain, our heart goes out to them, and we think of ways to help them bring peace to their minds and stability to their lives. This is the meaning of "universal compassion." We gain "unconditional loving-kindness" and "universal compassion" from the Buddha-Dharma and put it to use. This is what it means to "make use of it." When lay people listen to the Dharma, they must be sure to listen with a sense of dignity. This is not just a social event. I hope everyone will be very mindful as they enter the teachings of the path.
Now, let us enter the sutra and mindfully seek to understand it.
All at once, they fulfill the path of the Srotapanna, the path of the Sakrdagamin, the path of the Anagamin and the path of the Arhat, eliminating all Leaks. Abiding deep in Samadhi, they all attain freedom. They are replete with the Eight Liberations.
"All at once, they fulfill the path of the Srotapanna." [Those who reach] "the path of the Srotapanna" [will say], "I understand; I have begun to form aspirations toward this path." They have yet to attain fruition, but they have begun to take the initial steps. This is "the path of the Srotapanna." Once they reach this stage, this is known as "the fruit of the Srotapanna."
The Buddha went even further by opening a path for everyone to continue onward. This is "the path of the Sakrdagamin." With "the path of the Anagamin," He opened another path enabling them to understand even more fully and draw even closer. Next is "the path of the Arhat." So, He opened path after path for everyone to mindfully approach realization. Sincere people will achieve realization and understanding. So, when someone makes use [of the Dharma], they will [attain] "fruition," just like Ajnata Kaundinya and the others, the five bhiksus. After the Buddha turned the wheel the first time, four of them still failed to understand, so He turned the Dharma-wheel a second time. Then, He turned the wheel a third time. Slowly, he helped them understand and enter the path of the Srotapanna, then that of the Sakrdagamin and the Anagamin, which they came to understand one by one. When they fully understood these, they then began to enter the path to Arhatship. The Buddha broke it down into these different levels to help them understand how to eliminate desires that lead to afflictions. As we eliminate our afflictions layer by layer, the principles will grow clearer and clearer. As we put an end to our desirous thoughts, we will reach an undefiled state of mind, pure and free of afflictions. This is Arhatship, which is the fourth fruit.
So, they "eliminate all Leaks." As they make their way along each of these paths like this, they eliminate all of their ignorance. They "eliminate all Leaks." "Abiding deep in Samadhi, they all attain freedom." Through calm contemplation, they have removed the spiritual hindrances of the maras one by one. Their minds abide forever in right thinking. In this state of pure, right thinking, they will never deviate or become distracted. So, this is why it says, "Abiding deep in Samadhi, they all attain freedom." Their minds are so at ease that there is nothing that can disturb them, so they are able to attain the Eight Liberations. When their Five Roots, Five Dusts and Five Consciousnesses connect with the external world, they enter a state of right thinking, in which they are very at ease in their behavior. Their mature seeds, the ones that entered their eighth consciousness, become very pure. This is the process. These past few days, we have discussed how to slowly bring [these teachings] into our spiritual practice. How do we complete the Sangha? How do we fulfill the principles? These are the most basic teachings.
In the next sutra passage, [the Buddha] went on to say, "So, what do you think? Would this great benefactor's merits and virtues be plentiful or not?"
"So, what do you think? Would this great benefactor's merits and virtues be plentiful or not?" Maitreya replied to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, such a person would have so many merits and virtues that they would be infinite and boundless."
This is the Buddha speaking with Maitreya about the merits and virtues of that great benefactor. He asked Maitreya Bodhisattva, "So, what do you think?" Maitreya had asked the Buddha, so the Buddha answered Maitreya. Then, the Buddha asked [Maitreya], "What do you think? If someone like this great benefactor were to make offerings such as these, carrying on the Buddha-Dharma in the world, would the merits and virtues they attain for this be few or plentiful?"
Maitreya Bodhisattva then replied. "Maitreya replied to the Buddha, 'World-Honored One, such a person would have so many merits and virtues that they would be infinite and boundless.'" We just discussed this. Since this great benefactor can extend the Buddha's wisdom-life, his merits and virtues would be truly great. So, Maitreya Bodhisattva replied, "Such a person would have so many merits and virtues" that they would be infinite in number. Maitreya's response was very appropriate. He confirmed what the Buddha had confirmed. Such was the conversation between the Buddha and Maitreya. They confirmed that his blessings, benefits, merits and virtues would be so many that they would be infinite and boundless. When the World-Honored One asked him about this, Maitreya replied that his blessings and virtues would be truly great. So, because of this, we can be very certain of this.
In the next passage, [Maitreya] went on to say,
"Even if this benefactor were only to give sentient beings all the delightful objects, he would still attain infinite merits and virtues. How much more so for helping them attain the fruit of Arhatship!"
This benefactor only thinks of one thing, the fact that people are suffering. When sentient beings are impoverished and suffering, he will seek to donate charitably to them to relieve their suffering, to give them what they need so that what they receive might bring peace and joy to their bodies and minds. He will already gain infinite merits and virtues for this; how much more so for "helping them attain the fruit of Arhatship"! His merits and virtues will of course be great. So, in this passage, Maitreya answers the Buddha by saying, "His merits and virtues would already be great." This all begins from a single aspiration to give charitably to ordinary people; when they are in hardship, he brings peace to their body and mind, providing them with what they need. These are "the delightful objects." When we give them what they need, they will attain peace and stability.
In the Sutra of Infinite Meanings, it also says, "Having relieved them from suffering, they then expound the Dharma for them." This is why we must find ways to save sentient beings from their various hardships by bringing stability to their lives. By bringing peace and stability to their lives, we can help them attain peace and joy. Once we relieve them of suffering, we can proceed to teach the Dharma to them. The merits and virtues of this are infinite.
Even if this benefactor were only to give sentient beings all the delightful objects, he would still attain infinite merits and virtues: Giving blessings has many meanings. Just by giving them these delightful objects, he has already [created] boundless blessings.
The merits and virtues of giving blessings has many different meanings. When we give charitably to suffering sentient beings, many different kinds of merits and virtues will come together. These merits and virtues truly are infinite. However, doing this only brings them refuge during the hardships they suffer temporarily as part of their karmic retributions. Just by giving to them this once, just by helping them bring peace to their lives, this already "creates boundless blessings." They are already infinite. Just by helping an ordinary sentient being stabilize their life, we will certainly gain infinite merits and virtues. "How much more so for helping them attain the fruit of Arhatship!"
How much more so for helping them attain the fruit of Arhatship!: How much more so for transforming them with the Dharma and helping them go beyond the stage of learning, the merits and virtues of which are incalculable. This measures the benefactor's merits and virtues.
They have already attained Arhatship. They have achieved the fourth fruit of Arhatship. They are engaged in spiritual practice, and moreover, they are practicing very steadily. This helps advance the Dharma.
"How much more so for transforming them with the Dharma and helping them go beyond the stage of learning, the merits and virtues of which are incalculable." Those at the fourth fruit of Arhatship are capable of advancing the Dharma taught by the Buddha by continuing to teach it. Not only do they practice it, they are also able to teach it. These people are "beyond the stage of learning." From their point of view, they have absorbed everything the Buddha taught, so they are replete with [the Dharma]. Thus, their merits and virtues are incalculable.
We must understand this clearly. Let us mindfully seek to understand this. Merits and virtues are a product of our actions. We cannot allow ourselves to deviate even a little from the Dharma. Previously, we kept talking about "taking joy in others' merits and virtues." We must create merits and virtues, and we must do this in the right way. We can take joy in others and praise others, but we must have very clear understanding. Otherwise we may think, "This is more or less it." This is something we need to be very mindful about. We must discern and help everyone understand what we should really take joy in and what things are truly praiseworthy. We cannot praise people for no good reason. We must have clear [discernment] and clearly understand "the path we walk." We cannot praise people for no good reason. Once again, later on in the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha will very mindfully explain to us that genuine praise requires the right sense of direction.
So, through charitable giving, we are able to serve others. These past few days, we have kept discussing the Three Spheres of Emptiness. We must give unconditionally. Still, it is only through taking action that it becomes reality. Whenever we do anything, a seed returns to enter our eighth consciousness. Whether it is a defiled seed of evil or an undefiled seed of goodness, it must return to our eight consciousness. As always, we clearly reap what we sow. Whenever we do evil, whenever our bad habitual tendencies [come out], this seed will take its place among the other defiled seeds. Even when we are doing good, if we do not correct our habitual tendencies, the good will be mixed with evil, and those seeds will be differentiated and held within our storehouse consciousness. The good takes its place among the good, while our negative habitual tendencies return to what is evil.
So, we must genuinely be mindful as we listen to the Dharma. In spiritual cultivation, there is nothing to be practiced other than working on our habitual tendencies. As for habitual tendencies, some tend more toward greed, while others tend more toward indulgence. They may even listen to the Dharma and engage in virtuous practices, yet the direction of their virtuous practice will always end up bringing them back to their own [flawed ways], for they are undisciplined. Whether speaking, in motion or silent, [they will create karma] of body, speech and mind. The Chapter on the Practice of Bringing Peace and Joy explains all of this to us very clearly.
So, dear Bodhisattvas, after we listen to the Dharma, we should not waste time on trivial issues; we should not just sit somewhere trying to get rid of the chaos in our minds, just sitting there discussing the origin of this chaos and how to eliminate it. [Instead], how can we use our understanding to resolve issues and be accommodating toward people? We must always have the two [virtues] of being understanding and accommodating. We must be content and grateful in life. However, understanding and accommodating is what we must be toward others, whereas content and grateful is what we must be toward ourselves. We must conduct ourselves with contentment, free of desirous thoughts. If we are grateful, we will be harmonious and respectful toward others. But when it comes to being understanding and accommodating, if people never seem to be happy with us or always sound dissatisfied, then how can we be understanding? How can we be accommodating? This requires a tremendous amount of skill.
So, I ask everyone to drink Tzu Chi's Four-Ingredient Spiritual Soup. Many years ago, I requested everyone to memorize this "Four-Ingredient Spiritual Soup." Now that we have all memorized it so well, I don't know if we can understand the meaning behind it? Do we apply it in the course of our lives? We cannot avoid human relationships. When we go among people, this is what we must do. Are we breaking our habitual tendencies? Do we look upon others with forgiveness? Do we listen to others with understanding? This is a crucial part of our spiritual practice. Contentment and gratitude are also part of our spiritual practice.