Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
Great Merits and Virtues in Spreading the Dharma
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
"The giving of fearlessness:
All sentient beings
cling to life and fear death.
By upholding the precepts and protecting and cherishing the lives of all beings
without any intentions to kill or harm others,
we will help all sentient beings become fearless,
bringing peace and ease to their bodies and minds.
The giving of wealth:
Those who uphold the precepts never encroach upon others' belongings.
Rather, they give of their own wealth
and share it with others.
The giving of Dharma:
This is being able to teach the Dharma to others
and help them attain awakening."
Everyone, we must be earnestly mindful. As we give to others, we must mindfully comprehend the meaning and significance of "giving." From tangible ways to intangible ways [of giving] and even entering [people's] hearts, how do we mindfully go among people to comfort and encourage sentient beings? In this life, how do we even help them take the Dharma to heart so that they can comprehend the principles? In The Sutra of Infinite Meanings, we remember the teachings of how giving helps resolve people's various hardships. "Having relieved them from suffering, [Bodhisattvas] then expound the Dharma for them." I often mention and share this phrase. In our hearts and minds, we should comprehend this phrase very well. The essence of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings is an explanation of the Lotus Sutra. If we remember every sentence in the Sutra of Infinite Meanings, when we talk about it, we [should] be able to connect them all together.
Let us first look at "giving of wealth." "Those who uphold the precepts never encroach upon others' belongings." This means that those who sincerely understand and want to give to others certainly know to have self-discipline. Those who have self-discipline know to guard against wrongs and stop evils. Those who guard against wrongs and stop evils are those who uphold the precepts. When it comes to things that are wrong, we must absolutely not do it. When circumstances force themselves upon us, in such cases, how should we face them? We must absolutely exercise goodness and not take "an eye for an eye." To guard against wrongs and stop evils means that, in our actions, we will never do anything that harms others. This is when we uphold the precepts. Only those who uphold the precepts like this can give of their wealth and go among people without defilement or attachment.
This kind of person "never encroaches upon others' belongings." Such people not only go among people to give but also never encroach on others for profit. Whatever professions they are in, in all their actions, they will never take advantage of others. We should "never encroach upon others' belongings." When something does not belong to us, it is not ours. When it is not ours to have, we must not encroach on what is rightfully others.' So, "The giving of wealth" means that, "Those who uphold the precepts never encroach upon others' belongings. Rather, they give of their own wealth and share it with others." Not only do we not encroach on others' belongings, we even share our own wealth with them. "If I have something, so should everyone else. If I get to enjoy something, everyone should get to enjoy it, as well." There should be no disparity between rich and poor; everyone should enjoy the same pleasures. Only in this way can society be harmonious. This is the giving of wealth.
There is also the giving of Dharma. "The giving of Dharma. This is being able to teach the Dharma to others and help them attain awakening." So, we must not only do good deeds, but after listening to the Dharma, we must also teach it. We hope to share the Dharma with everyone. We hope that everyone can get to know what we know. As we learn to comprehend the Dharma's principles, [we hope] that everyone else will as well. This is "the giving of Dharma."
The most important thing, besides the giving of wealth and the giving of Dharma, is "the giving of fearlessness" to all beings. We have already given our wealth, have not encroached on others and have even shared with everyone our happiness and belongings. So, we have brought ease to their hearts and resolved their difficulties. Following this, "having relieved them from suffering, [we must] then expound the Dharma for them," until we have given fearlessness to all beings so that they are at peace and ease.
We have previously discussed the Eight Liberations. As we liberate ourselves, we must also liberate others. [We should not think], "I only have to treat humans like this." We must be the same toward all living beings. After we give to people, they can also draw closer to us. After we tame all sentient beings, once they know that we will not harm them, they can also draw nearer to us. This is "the giving of fearlessness." We are able to draw near to them, and they are able to draw near to us. This is because we know that "all sentient beings cling to life and fear death." We put ourselves in their shoes. Sentient beings have always been like this. If we can put ourselves in their shoes and understand that all living beings cling to life, even if it is an insect or an ant, [we] are all the same.
If we can comprehend this great principle, we will "take refuge in the Buddha to comprehend the great path." We must know this principle, meaning that we need thorough understanding in all things. We know we must release and protect living beings, but if we want to protect them, we must understand life. When it comes to life, we must seek to comprehend even the smallest sentient beings. They also cling to life, fear death and care for their own lives. We must also clearly understand this principle. Furthermore, we want to be people who uphold the precepts and protect and cherish the lives of all beings. We must strive even harder to understand the nature of living things. Every human, every living being, is the same. We fight for life and fear death. This is true of every living being.
So, since we have no intention to kill or harm others, we can "help all sentient beings become fearless." People fear insects, and insects fear people. People fear tigers and lions, but in fact, vicious animals like tigers and lions are afraid of people. Why do snakes bite people when they see them? Because they fear that people will strike them. They are likewise protecting themselves. All living beings do the same. So, how do we [cultivate] a mind that has no [intention of] killing or causing harm? By having no intention of harming others, not even the slightest thought of it, and treating living beings with sincerity, "we will help all sentient beings become fearless." In this world, between people and between people and all beings, we have this mindset of killing something when we see them. Because we are afraid, we kill them. The more we kill, the more will they fear people, and then they will counterattack. This creates a way of life where we guard against each other to defend ourselves. To protect our own lives, we encroach on others' way of life.
So, living beings, including humans, have this state of mind where they fear each other. Because we are afraid when we see these beings, we want to kill them. They are afraid of us because they fear us killing them. So, they attack us first. This is a way of life. We are harming each other's lives, all because of fear that we may harm each other. So, how can we help sentient beings be mutually fearless? You do not fear me, and I do not fear you either. You want to draw near to me, and I also want to draw near to you. We interact with, love and cherish each other. This is "helping all sentient beings become fearless, bringing peace and ease to their bodies and minds." This is having a fearless mind, which is also the giving of fearlessness.
If we can cultivate this kind of [mindset] of not harming each other and having mutual love, then naturally, the way of life in the world will be peaceful. Of course, to have this state of mind is not at all easy. When we see a mosquito, we wave it away, but it still swarms around us, buzzing beside us. If it stings us, there is always that flash of a thought. With that "flash," in that brief moment in time, our hand will naturally strike it instead of waving it away. We have lost our patience and are afraid that it will bite us. So, how can we cultivate our own mind and reach that [state of] being able to endure annoyance and have love? This is very difficult, but this is spiritual cultivation.
This kind of spiritual cultivation is not easy. If we want to reach a state where other people and other living things are equal to us, this is not at all easy. However, we can be preventive. Pests abound due to poor sanitation. In such an unwholesome environment with poor sanitation, pests breed and make us feel afflicted. Then, with a thought, within an instant, we easily [strike out] with our hand. This all happens in the external environment. Why are there so many of these animals now? It is because of people's cravings for taste. If we gave them a natural ecosystem, there would not be so many things annoying us.
In summary, starting from the giving of wealth and the giving of Dharma, we must also consider and cultivate the giving of fearlessness. We must very mindfully connect these together. The Buddhist sutras also say the same thing, that we must cherish all lives. So, we must understand this very well.
In the previous sutra passage, Sakyamuni Buddha already explained to Maitreya Bodhisattva about taking joy in others' merits. "To take joy in [others' merits] is not just to rejoice for others but to also be able to follow in doing." Afterwards, the Buddha feared that Maitreya still did not have a clear understanding, and Maitreya Bodhisattva also wanted to have a deeper understanding, so the Buddha then answered in greater detail.
In the following sutra passage, Maitreya Bodhisattva asked the Buddha again. Because he would attain Buddhahood in the future, he needed to take good care of sentient beings in this world now. He had to form good affinities with sentient beings. He understood that to spread the Dharma would take a very long period of time, but he had to start from this time to understand the teachings that the Buddha taught for the people of these times. This was because Maitreya had to prepare to take over. Although there was still a long time, when it comes to taking over [this work], it is the same for us. We must know how to carry out this mission and prepare to pass it on. So, if we do not understand, we must quickly ask. The person who will hand over the work must quickly teach [the new person] now. Over this period, the handover must be done well.
So, Maitreya Bodhisattva will attain Buddhahood in the future. Now, he must ask for every teaching on behalf of all sentient beings so that when they want to spread the Dharma, they will have a clearer understanding. So, Maitreya Bodhisattva [listened to] the Buddha's subtle and intricate teachings on how to attain merits and virtues and how to discern them. Even if the Buddha had already answered his questions one by one, Maitreya Bodhisattva still asked in greater detail. So, he said, "World-Honored One, such a person would have so many merits and virtues..." Because the Buddha had asked, "Are these plentiful or not?" Maitreya Bodhisattva said, "They are plentiful. They have given of themselves so much, so they have infinite merits and virtues."
"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. 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!"
"Even if this benefactor," the one who is serving others and cultivating merits and virtues, "were only to give sentient beings all the delightful objects," this person would already attain infinite merits. "How much more so for helping them attain the fruit of Arhatship!" If we can give to ordinary sentient beings, bringing them peace and helping them have abundant things so that they are not worried about their living, giving them "all the delightful objects," the merits and virtues will already be many. This is to say nothing of helping them attain Arhatship. The merits and virtues for this is even greater. This is how Maitreya Bodhisattva replied to the Buddha.
The previous sutra passage already talked about the fourth fruit of Arhatship. These people had attained all the teachings. The Buddha had analyzed and explained the Dharma for them, so they had attained all that they should and had already reached "beyond the stage of learning." They had learned all the teachings of the Small Vehicle. This fourth fruit of Arhatship is also a field of blessings in life. Because they have very mindfully engaged in spiritual practice, they have eliminated afflictions and clearly understood the Dharma of suffering, causation, cessation and the Path. They know how they come and go in life. Now, they only lack actualizing the Six Paramitas in all actions. They must further diligently advance. If they could help sentient beings attain the fruit of Arhatship, they would attain infinite merits and virtues.
The Buddha continued in even greater detail and said this to Maitreya Bodhisattva.
"The Buddha said to Maitreya, 'Now I will explain this clearly for you This person gives all these delightful objects to the sentient beings of the Six Destinies in 400 trillion asankyas of worlds, then helps them attain the fruit of Arhatship The merits and virtues he attains from this still cannot match the merits and virtues of that fiftieth person.'"
[The Buddha] explained this even more clearly. These people who give are giving to sentient beings of the Six Realms throughout 400 trillion asankyas of worlds, such an expansive space. They are not only saving people.
The Six Realms refer to sentient beings in the Six Destinies. The givers have given widely in all places. They have also helped [them] attain the fruits of Arhatship. The merits and virtues of this are truly great.
He clearly explained how many merits and virtues such a benefactor would attain; they would be fewer than that fiftieth person's small amount of merits and virtues from taking joy [in hearing the sutra].
He explained this to us in even greater detail. "Such a benefactor" can [give] to all sentient beings. In the realm of sentient beings, in all ways that he can give, he has given. For this kind of great benefactor, how great are the merits and virtues attained? We must further explain it in detail. If we were to speak of all these merits and virtues, "they would be fewer than the fiftieth person's." "The fiftieth person" whom the Dharma is passed on to, this "fiftieth person" we speak of, is [the person] generations and generations later. One generation passes [the Dharma] on to the next. They then pass it on to the second generation. The second generation passes it on to the third. Generation after generation, it is passed down until it reaches the fiftieth generation. So, this is "the fiftieth person." This truly is not at all easy.
What the first generation does will not necessarily be done by the second one. When some commissioners were certified, we saw how they shared with us, "This is my son and my daughter-in-law who are certified as commissioners. In addition, there is also my daughter and son-in-law. Also, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are here. They are all people that I have transformed." This one family has children and grandchildren. The grandchildren are also holding their children. This is already three generations. These three generations have not only acknowledged and affirmed [the Dharma], they have also accepted it. This is already three generations of people.
However, for some, their second generation is already unable to accept [the Dharma]. Seeing these three generations of people, I also hope that even the young ones they are holding in their arms will likewise be in such a family atmosphere in the future that helps them grow up to accept [the Dharma]. Thus, for generation upon generation, they not only accept it, they also know to practice it. They not only know to practice it, they also willingly listen, listen joyfully, take it to heart and are able to share the Dharma with others, teaching people how to act. They see it, practice it and teach others to practice it, working together with people. Some have been, some are being and some have yet to be transformed. They are those who have achieved, are achieving and have yet to achieve. In this way, generation after generation, they find ways to continue cultivating people.
In taking joy in others' merits and virtues, as stated previously, the benefactor helps so many; he helps all sentient beings in the Six Realms. This great benefactor has the blessings to help sentient beings attain the fruit of Arhatship, but that "fiftieth person" can listen, teach and spread the Dharma, passing the Dharma down generation after generation. This great benefactor cannot compare to "that fiftieth person." We can clearly see that, when it comes to the Lotus Sutra, those who listen to the Dharma, teach the Dharma and transmit the Dharma are very important. Beginning in the Chapter on Dharma Teachers, the Buddha recruited people for the Dharma and exhorted Bodhisattvas to form aspirations. We can see that the Great Vehicle Dharma must keep being passed down generation after generation and lifetime after lifetime. Otherwise, it will quickly disappear already after one lifetime.
Giving of material wealth like this can only relieve suffering in one lifetime. Thus, this is not as good as listening to this wondrous Dharma and, after hearing just one verse, being able to gain deep faith and understanding. The merits and virtues of spreading the True Dharma are great.
"Giving of material wealth like this can only relieve suffering in one lifetime." The material wealth that we give to people can only relieve the suffering of their lifetime. This is not as good as listening to this wondrous Dharma and "gaining deep faith and understanding from hearing just one verse." If we want to practice giving, we must first listen to the Dharma, these teachings about why we give. When we give, we must reach the state of the Three Spheres of Emptiness. Everyone should understand this method and have deep faith and understanding of it.
We often hear, "Why do you all work so painstakingly? Master told us to. You are just doing what Master Cheng Yen says? Master is right. Whatever she asks us to do, we should just do it." They make it very simple. They believe in what their teacher says, and they just do it. Indeed, if the teaching is right, just do it. We can understand directly that this is the principle, that there are so many [people who suffer]. How are we going to save them all? If we do not put [the Dharma] into practice, we will listen to the Dharma and let it pass us by. So, in listening to the Dharma, from hearing just one verse or phrase, we can give rise to deep faith and understanding.
I often say, "For Buddha's teachings, for sentient beings." These six words represent my deep faith and understanding. It is true, we are unable to know everything; there are so many writings [about Buddhism]. I cannot go through or read them all. There is never enough time. How can Buddhism be acknowledged by people? We can see Buddhism being applied in this world. It is not just there for people to see; "Oh this is what Buddhism looks like!" No. The appearance that we see contains the potential of true principles, which is the altruistic potential that we employ. So, the Buddha-Dharma is very helpful to mankind. This is why we need to help people know the Dharma. First, we need to help people realize that "this is Buddhism." "This is the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation." If we do not interact with them, they will not even know the word "Buddhism." First, we must help them see "Buddhism" and "the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation."
So, when we go out to serve others, we [attain] merits and virtues. First, we demonstrate the main idea in words to help them understand that helping them is what the Buddha taught. So, the first thing we must do is to bring people together. Now, in many countries, Buddhism is something that people in those countries have never heard of. They do not know that there is such a religion in the world. Buddhists go there bringing love, responding to sentient beings when they are in greatest need. We go there to comfort them and help them stabilize their lives. At this time, we help them realize that this religion is one that helps people.
This is the time when we have deep faith and understanding [in working] "for Buddha's teachings, for sentient beings." We must always find ways for the Buddha-Dharma and people to connect, "[enabling them] to gain deep faith and understanding from hearing just one verse." This is very important. So, "The merits and virtues of spreading this Dharma is great." We must not tarnish Buddhism's reputation, but instead be able to demonstrate how the Buddha's teachings are important for mankind. Only then are we truly people who spread the Dharma. The Buddha teaches the Bodhisattva Way in hopes that we understand how to walk the Bodhisattva-path. It is not simply practicing with our actions, we must also be able to share with everyone. This is how we should practice.
For instance, in 2018, there was severe flooding in Myanmar. Some fields were submerged for over two months, and all of the crops were ruined. Those farmers had taken out loans at high interest rates in order to buy seeds to sow their crops. They were already in debt. They hoped to be able to harvest their crops so they could pay off their debts and raise their families without starving. The rains completely flooded their crops, and the crops were all destroyed. To these poor people, it was like one disaster after another. We saw their fields lying in waste and heard their heartbreaking [stories] of being in debt and having no food to eat.
We asked them, "What are you going to do? You have finished eating your crops and rice. What will you do next? Oh, if we had crackers, we could eat crackers. What if you finish all those crackers, with no more crackers left, what will you do? We will just drink water then." This elderly person spoke in such a helpless tone, but he did not dare to hope that anyone in this world would help them. This is because, for a very long time, they had been living like this. Everyone was impoverished and had trouble even caring for themselves, so how could anyone help others? So, they felt very heartbroken and helpless.
The weather was like this, with heavy rains and flooding that continued for over two months. We heard from a Malaysian Tzu Chi volunteer that, when he went to that place, their homes were elevated. They lived in elevated homes there, and the walls were already gone. There were no walls and no roof, but people still lived there in such conditions. When he went up to the home, he was very worried. "When I went up, if it were to collapse, what would I do?"
When he came down, an elderly woman saw how sincere and nice he was. She did not ask him for anything. She took this Faith Corps member by the hand and could not bear to let go. She continued to rub and rub [his hand]. He said, "Grandma, why are you holding on to me so tightly?" She said, "It is nice to touch you. We have never seen someone here as chubby as you. Rubbing your hand is so nice." She was content with this.
All of the people there were very skinny. They had never seen a chubby person. In fact, she said he was chubby, but by our standards here, he was just average. Yet, in Myanmar, they felt that touching his hands, the hands were not just bones but had flesh. This granny held on to his hand tightly, constantly rubbing and rubbing. You see, they have never seen people from the outside who showed such gentle care toward them. They said, "We did not know that you would help us, but your coming to see us has made us very content. You listened when we had no one to talk to, so we are already very happy." Thus, [the volunteers] listened to many [of their stories]. The stories were very heartbreaking, but I admire them very much.
In the next sutra passage, the Buddha analyzed it very clearly. So, "The Buddha said to Maitreya, 'Now I will explain this clearly for you.'"
The Buddha said to Maitreya, "Now I will explain this clearly for you": The Buddha wanted to reveal the Dharma He taught in the past and present. Thus, He said, "Now I will explain this clearly."
This is revealing the Dharma the Buddha taught in the past, up to the present, analyzing it for everyone. In the past, He talked about saving sentient beings in the Six Realms for a very long time. He kept comparing [these merits] to spreading the Dharma, listening to the Dharma and passing down the True Dharma. He compared the merits and virtues and "explained clearly."
So, "This person gives all these delightful objects to the sentient beings of the Six Destinies in 400 trillion asankyas of worlds."
This person gives all these delightful objects to the sentient beings of the Six Destinies in 400 trillion asankyas of worlds: 400 trillion represents the Four Forms of Birth. Every kind of sentient being has their own world.
"400 trillion" is an analogy for the Four Forms of Birth. Altogether, they are egg-born, womb-born, moisture-born and transformation-born. If these sentient beings, these lives, were all added up together, they would be "400 trillion." Every kind of sentient being has its own world. This "400 trillion" represents many different types of worlds. These living beings have their own world, and we [should] give to them and cherish them so that we can protect their spirits.
So, we just discussed the giving of wealth and the giving of Dharma. If we can give fearlessness, we can help these "400 trillion" womb-born, transformation-born and other beings, these countless beings to not be afraid of us, and us to not be afraid of them. This is the giving of fearlessness. This is impartiality in the three types of giving. So, in the Four Forms of Birth, we are able to see womb-born, egg-born, moisture-born and transformation-born beings. We know all of this now.
This is to say nothing of the Six Realms, the heaven, human, hell, hungry ghosts, animal as well as asura realm. These are sentient beings in the Six Destinies. "He helps [them] attain the fruit of Arhatship."
Then he helps the sentient beings of the Six Destinies attain the fruit of Arhatship: By his virtuous practice of the Six Paramitas, he gives of himself to beings of the Six Destinies. Then he helps all sentient beings attain the fourth fruit of Arhatship, continuing on the Buddha's wisdom-life.
We give to all of these sentient beings, but saving them one time or in one life is not enough. "Having relieved them from suffering, we then expound the Dharma for them." This is in the Sutra of Infinite Meanings. We should help all sentient beings listen to the Dharma and enter the fourth fruit of Arhatship, "continuing on the Buddha's wisdom-life." This is how the fourth fruit of Arhatship is attained, and we can spread the Dharma's wisdom-life. So, "the merits and virtues he attains" is through the continuous giving of wealth and giving of Dharma; on top of the merits and virtues from these two, there are those from the giving of fearlessness. If we can do this, these are [our] merits and virtues.
The merits and virtues he attains: By the combination of the three types of giving, the giving of wealth, Dharma and fearlessness, he attains these merits and virtues.
"The giving of wealth: Those who uphold the precepts never encroach upon others' belongings." We roughly discussed this previously. So, we can share [our wealth] with people. And "the giving of Dharma"? It is "teaching the Dharma to others." It helps others to gain the same awakening that we have so that everyone understands the principles of the Buddha-Dharma. So, as people who listen to the Dharma, we must also learn to be people who teach the Dharma.
"The giving of fearlessness: All sentient beings fear death." We must truly comprehend that all beings cling to life and fear death. So, as people who uphold the precepts, we "have no intentions of killing or harming others" and also help sentient beings become fearless. We must earnestly help people understand this so that they feel supported and their minds can be completely fearless. This is how we truly learn the Buddha-Dharma.
The giving of wealth: Those who uphold the precepts never encroach upon others' belongings, and they also give of their own wealth. The giving of Dharma: This is being able to teach the Dharma to others and help them attain awakening. The giving of fearlessness: All sentient beings fear death. Those who uphold precepts have no intention to kill or harm others and help all sentient beings become fearless.
In learning the Buddha-Dharma and upholding the precepts, we can accept the Dharma. After accepting it, we [should] further spread the True Dharma. Clearly understanding the Great and Small [Vehicle] Dharma is what we must truly learn.