Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
Turning Deluded Thinking into Insight
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
"We must turn the Three Kinds of Deluded Thinking into the Three Insights
1. Through insight into past lives,
we clearly realize the past
2. Through insight into cyclic existence,
we clearly realize the future
3. Through insight into ending all Leaks,
we clearly realize the present.
Through this sequence, we can cure ourselves of our foolishness throughout the Three Periods.
Insight into past lives completely cures our foolishness from our past lifetimes.
Insight into cyclic existence cures our foolishness from our future lifetimes.
Insight into ending all Leaks cures our foolishness from our present lifetime."
Reading these words, we might find them a bit unclear. However, if we are mindful, we should have no difficulty. We normally listen [to these teachings] and teach them; we just need to be mindful. It says that now, "We must turn the Three Kinds of Deluded Thinking into the Three Insights." The Three Kinds of Deluded Thinking are what we often talk about; in our past, present and future lifetimes, we have greed, anger, ignorance and so on. Ignorance and dust-like delusions are all deluded thinking. When it comes to matters in our distant past, in the present and in our future lifetimes, we do not know anything and have no way of understanding them at all. In addition to this, we have had greed, anger and ignorance since ancient times. We do not know now what we brought from the past, and, moreover, we know nothing about the future. This is all deluded thinking.
As we listen to the Dharma now, step by step, we gain clearer understanding. The Three Kinds of Deluded Thinking that I just mentioned, in simple terms, refers to our past, present and future lifetimes and greed, anger and ignorance; they refer to our delusions of ignorance and dust-like delusions. Hearing these terms, [we think]. "Oh, I understand, I understand." So, we do not need to explain them one by one. As we listen, we understand. The more we talk about them, the more we understand because everyone has already heard and understood them. Those who are more diligent will continue to contemplate [the Dharma]. After they hear the Dharma, they still constantly contemplate it. They think, "Have I encountered this Dharma in daily life? Am I applying it in dealing with people and matters?" This is listening to the Dharma. If we hear it, practice it and keep this Dharma in our hearts every day, then we are putting in the effort.
We must earnestly be diligent in order to "turn the Three Kinds of Deluded Thinking into the Three Insights." Having the Three Insights means to know. Take "insight into past lives" for example. If we have deluded thinking, then we do not know what our past lives were like. We refer to the past as "past lives." In our past lives, because of ignorance, we had deluded thinking. Now, we have turned deluded thinking into insight. So, with "insight into past lives," [our understanding] is clear and apparent. Not only is it clear; we have analyzed it again, so we call this "insight." Not only are we "clear," but in clarity, we have gained insight to realize everything that happened in the past.
We often cannot figure out why things are the way they are now. If we clearly [understood] the past, we would not think, "Why does this happen to me?" Then, when we encounter difficulties right now, we naturally feel very at ease. Because we had such "causes" in our past, we attain such "effects" in our present lifetime. [If we think], "Ah, I accept it willingly," then we will naturally not feel so much suffering. So, "Through insight into past lives, we realize the past." We realize what we have done in the past and the affinity we have with others. If we understand all of this, then we will be clearer on the course of our [current] life.
And the second [insight]? "Through insight into cyclic existence, we clearly realize the future." How did we die in our past lifetime? How did we come into this lifetime? How will we die in this lifetime? Where will we go in our future lifetime? We must understand this clearly. If we understand this lifetime very clearly, we will be at ease about matters in the future. So, we should earnestly practice and cultivate ourselves so that we feel no regrets in this lifetime. If we clearly benefit people, then naturally our minds will not be lost.
We are here due to "causes." Now we face "conditions." Did we form good affinities with people? With good causes and conditions, our hearts are at ease, and we are not deluded. So, let us earnestly examine ourselves in this lifetime. If we have not done enough [good deeds], we must quickly do them. If we are wrong about something, we must quickly correct it. Then naturally, our heart will be at peace, and we will feel at ease in this lifetime. So, if we can do this, then we can understand the future. We will clearly know where we will go in the future.
The third [insight] is "insight into ending all Leaks." Insight into ending all Leaks means that we listen [to the teachings] right now and that, after listening, [we think]. "Is there something I want to do today?" Maybe we have not carefully considered what we want to do today, but after listening [to the teachings, we think], "Oh, I see. Maybe I should change my methods." For example, [in 2018], a train departed from Shulin and was going to pass through Yilan and Hualien toward Taitung. Suddenly, the train derailed. This train derailment was very serious.
Several Dharma masters from the Abode were on their way back from Taipei, but then their train could not pass through. Since they could not pass through, they got off and went directly to Yilan to care for the victims of the accident. Also, from Tzu Chi University of Science and Technology, a professor, along with her students, was coming back from Taipei. They happened to be on this train [that derailed]. There were three people who had minor injuries. After calling to tell us not to worry, the professor led the group of students to stay there and help people however they could.
All this happened suddenly. Everyone had been acting without thinking of what would happen in the next moment. No one would think [this would happen]. So, people still did not understand; Everyone still had afflictions and ignorance. If we have "insight into ending all Leaks," then we can clearly understand the past, the present and, certainly, the future. This "insight into ending all Leaks" means that, right now, we can clearly understand the principles, or that after we have understood the principles, we will not panic when something happens. However, those at the scene [of the disaster], especially those on the train, must have been very anxious. Every second must have felt as long as a day. Even a brief moment must have seemed like a very long time. The rescuers on the outside were also very worried and continuously dispatched more rescuers to go in.
All our Bodhisattvas in Yilan mobilized. They needed to care for the rescuers. They needed to care for the injured. They also needed to care for... As time went on, they also needed to provide dinner as well as give the rescuers something hot to drink and snacks to eat.
" Yilan Tzu Chi volunteers were very busy there, and we were constantly in contact with them, too. This is called life. Impermanence can strike in an instant, and no one can predict it. We have no way of understanding what will happen.
In summary, we have these Leaks in life. Leaks refer to ignorance. "Ending all Leaks" means ending all ignorance, so then we have the Three Insights. Right now, we still have ignorance. "Leaks" refers to ignorance. "End" means to have no more afflictions. If we can end all Leaks, all afflictions, if we clean them all away, then naturally, we gain insight and are clear.
So, "past lives" refers to us knowing our past. As for "cyclic existence," in our past lives, how did we die, and how are we born [into this life]? [Our understanding of] how we come and go is truly still confused. We are unclear about past matters, and we are ignorant of present matters. This is called the Three Kinds of Deluded Thinking. If we can eliminate these Three Kinds of Deluded Thinking, then naturally we gain the Three Insights. We must clearly understand this.
So, "Through this sequence, we can cure ourselves of our foolishness throughout the Three Periods." If we can clearly understand the past, we will understand the future and eliminate our current afflictions. If we can understand these one by one, our foolishness throughout the Three Periods, our foolishness, meaning our delusions, will naturally be gone. Because we still have no way [to understand], we still have the ignorance from our past and present; we still do not have understanding. So, "Insight into past lives completely cures our foolishness from our past lifetimes. Past lives" refers to our previous lifetimes.
In our past lives, what did we do? If we know, if we understand, then we can make up for the past. In the past, because we had such encounters with others, "Oh, this time, I am willing [to accept things]." If we treat ourselves in this way, by knowing, we take a step back. By not knowing, we will cause trouble for each other and continue to fight ceaselessly. So, we must understand in order to cure [ourselves]. If we understand, then we have a way to deal with [the present].
No matter what our past was like, in the present, when we take a step back, our whole world opens up. People do not need to fight over things. We were like this in the past, so we must willingly accept our present suffering. We must be very wiling. In the past, we joyfully did things. If we took things from others or took advantage of others, it was because we were unafraid then. We might have done this a lot, so in this lifetime, we will suffer a lot. We must be willing to repay [our debt]. No matter how it happened, no matter if we know it or not, in the present, we must open our hearts. We must let things go after they happen and not engage in interpersonal conflict. Then, naturally, we will gain insight.
No matter what we were like in our past lifetimes, we must adjust ourselves well in our current life; we must not have foolishness or delusion. We must have a little more wisdom. Some might say, "Why are you so stupid? You can fight for it! Why do you want to step back?" Those who take a step back are truly wise. By appearing foolish but possessing great wisdom, a matter can quickly and peacefully blow over. "Insight into cyclic existence" [refers to insight] into our deaths and births. We go through cyclic existence from our past lifetimes through the present. We must be very clear [about this]. [We experience] birth and death as cyclic existence continues from past to present. When will we, in this cyclic existence of the Six Realms, finally be able to understand the law of arising and ceasing? This is why we need to engage in spiritual practice.
So, if we have insight into cyclic existence, then naturally we can completely cure future suffering. This is how cyclic existence works. After we died in our past lifetime, we were born in the present. After we die in our present lifetimes, we will be born in the future. If we can clearly understand the past, present and future, the same principles can be applied to completely cure [our ignorance]. Then, we will not be entangled in future lifetimes.
Next, regarding the power of ending all Leaks, we have just discussed this. When it comes to all our delusions of ignorance, our afflictions, ignorance and delusions, we must be able to eliminate these three one by one. Ignorance is not understanding matters. "Why is it like this?" What about "afflictions"? Afflictions come when we encounter matters that we cannot resolve. These are called "afflictions." What about "delusions"? Delusions refer to feeling lost about things that have not yet happened. These are delusions. We keep worrying about matters that have not yet happened. Or we should be content but still feel that we do not have enough, that we want [more] for our descendants, for ourselves and so on, having boundless desire for fame and wealth. These are all called "delusions."
Ignorance, delusions and afflictions are all things we need to understand, layer by layer. We must quickly eliminate these layers of afflictions. This is "ending all Leaks." With this wisdom, we will naturally cure [our foolishness], "cure our foolishness from our present lifetime." In this lifetime, we should end [the Leaks] from past lifetimes. We must not bring our anger and hatred from past lifetimes into this lifetime and then become entangled in more hatred and bring it into the future. So, if we have "insight into ending all Leaks," naturally we will resolve them in this lifetime. We will repay what we owe others and write off what others owe us. We should form good affinities in this lifetime so we will not be entangled in [Leaks] in our future lifetimes. This is "curing our foolishness from our present lifetime." At this time, we must not carry [our afflictions] forward into the future. These afflictions and ignorance are many and will take forever to be resolved. However, grasping one truth, we understand them all, so we must always be mindful!
He immediately employs skillful means and teaches the True Dharma of Nirvana. "There is nothing in the world that lasts forever; it is all like foam, bubbles or flickering light. You all must quickly give rise to a sense of renunciation."
The previous sutra passage says, "He immediately employs skillful means and teaches." There are many teachings that we cannot make sense of, so we should actually listen more. Not only should we know them ourselves, but we should also let others know them. To let others know, we must be even more diligent ourselves. So, we must clearly understand the law of nature of life. [To cure] these afflictions and ignorance, if we have the teachings, then we naturally understand the law of nature. We will grow old. Our hair will turn grey, our skin will wrinkle, our teeth will fall out, our appearance will change and so on. These are all part of the law of nature. In the end, everything will disappear.
So, this same principle applies to the Buddha. This also applies to spiritual practitioners. However, there are benefits for spiritual practitioners. When the Buddha entered Parinirvana, He had already eliminated all afflictions. When we unenlightened beings die, we still drag our afflictions with us. However, when the Buddha and noble beings pass away, they have eliminated all their afflictions. This is called Nirvana. Nirvana is a state of ultimate peace. A state of ultimate peace means purity, with no more afflictions within [our minds]. So, it is called Nirvana. The pure Dharma of Nirvana is called True Dharma.
"There is nothing in the world that lasts forever." When we understand [all teachings], we know that nothing in the world lasts forever. Why should we have attachments in this world? Nothing is permanent. Human life continuously changes. Haven't we talked about this before? We have! From infancy to youth, to middle age, to old age, our bodies continue to change with every second. With our sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, we keep connecting to external conditions. As we continue to connect to these conditions, we are afflicted by these states as we constantly replace the old with the new. External conditions continue to bring afflictions, and [our body] continues to wear down. The human body alone does not last forever, to say nothing of external matters.
There is nothing that is permanent; everything is unstable and fragile. "It is all like foam, bubbles or flickering light. You all must..." Everyone should know that they need to "quickly give rise to a sense of renunciation." We must not have any more attachments in this world. We must all be responsible for our duties and do what we each must do. How long do we have left in our lifetime? Those older in age must seize the time in life and be wholesome people and do what we should do. So, we must earnestly be mindful.
So, the next sutra passage says, "When these people hear this Dharma, they all attain Arhatship. They become replete with the Six Spiritual Powers, the Three Insights and the Eight Liberations. But as to that final, fiftieth, person who hears a single verse and takes joy in it, this person's blessings far surpass theirs, beyond description by analogy."
These verses repeat the earlier [prose]. Here, we will explain it again very simply. This was in a previous sutra passage, so we are explaining it very simply now.
"When these people hear this Dharma, they all attain Arhatship. They become replete with the Six Spiritual Powers, the Three Insights and the Eight Liberations. But as to that final, fiftieth, person who hears a single verse and takes joy in it, this person's blessings far surpass theirs, beyond description by analogy."
Insight into past lives: This is knowing what happened to oneself and others in all past lifetimes. Insight of the heavenly eye: This is knowing what will happen to oneself and others in all future lifetimes. Insight into ending all Leaks: This is using wisdom to eliminate all afflictions. For Arhats, these are called the Three Insights; for Buddhas, they are called the Three Understandings.
"Insight into past lives" [refers to] "knowing what happened to oneself and others in all past lifetimes." This further helps us clearly understand. If we can attain "insight into past lives," we can further understand the relationship between ourselves and others. We know our past lives, where we came from. In our past lives, what kind of relationship did we have? What kind of interaction did we have? If we can gain "insight into past lives," then we should know all these things.
So, we ask ourselves, "How can we understand ourselves?" Moreover, it is even harder to understand others. So, "the insight into past lives" is still very far from us. There is also "insight of the heavenly eye." We explained insight of the heavenly eye earlier. When it comes to "insight into cyclic existence," we must clearly understand cyclic existence. [Knowing] present and future, birth and death, is having "insight of the heavenly eye."
It is as if we have very bright eyes and can clearly see all matters, understanding all things in our future and those of others. This is "insight of the heavenly eye. Insight into ending all Leaks" means that, in the present, no matter what our past or future is like, at this moment, we must quickly grow our wisdom. The Buddha guided us to enter this door of wisdom so that we could understand all worldly appearances. So, we must use wisdom to eliminate all afflictions. If we clearly understand all worldly matters, then what is there worth being afflicted over? Let us quickly end all afflictions with wisdom.
When it comes to these matters of life and death or of gain and loss, we should eliminate all of them. We should have no [afflictions from] gains or losses or from life and death. We must eliminate these very discursive afflictions. If we can accept and let go of these matters, then we are engaging in cultivation just like Arhats who attained the Three Insights. Only Arhats who attain the fruits are able to understand this state of mind. For Buddhas, they are called the Three Understandings. The Buddha had already accomplished all of this.
[The sutra passage] continues, "When these people hear this Dharma, they all attain Arhatship."
When these people hear this Dharma, they all attain Arhatship: When these people hear this Dharma, they practice according to His teachings and all attain the Four Fruits.
If we attain the Three Insights and the Six Spiritual Powers, then naturally we will attain Arhatship. These people hear the Dharma and practice, and after earnestly engaging in practice, they can attain the fruits. Actually, we ordinary beings still do not clearly understand "causes." What are we doing right now? If we are still not clear, how can we attain the fruits? Will we be forever unclear? No, it is just that we have not been mindful in entering the Buddha's principles. If we put our hearts into entering the principles, then naturally we can accept and let go of matters in the present. Then, all things will be clear.
So, "They become replete with the Six Spiritual Powers, the Three Insights and the Eight Liberations." These six powers are "heavenly eye, heavenly ear, knowing other's minds, knowing past lives, transporting oneself and ending all Leaks."
They become replete with the Six Spiritual Powers, the Three Insights and the Eight Liberations: The six powers of the heavenly eye, heavenly ear, knowing other’s minds, knowing past lives, transporting oneself and ending all Leaks are known as the Six Spiritual Powers.
These are known as the Six Spiritual Powers, the Three Insights and the Six Spiritual Powers. These include the power of the heavenly eye, knowing past lives and ending all Leaks. We called these the Three Insights earlier. There are also the powers of the heavenly ear, [knowing other's minds], and transporting oneself. All together, these are the Six Spiritual Powers. [With these], we are without obstructions, so we are very clear and can thoroughly understand things. However, we are still far from this state.
So, the sutra passage goes on to say, "But as to that final, fiftieth, person who hears a single verse and takes joy in it, this person's blessings far surpass theirs, beyond description by analogy."
But as to that final, fiftieth, person who hears a single verse and takes joy in it, this person's blessings far surpass theirs, beyond description by analogy: The merits and virtues from hearing just a single verse of the sutra and taking joy in it surpass those who teach many people to attain the Four Fruits.
If we can hear just a single verse or a phrase of the sutra, as we discussed previously, if we can take joy in it, then our merits and virtues are great.
What is the degree of [our merits and virtues]? They "surpass those who teach many people to attain the Four Fruits." If we can clearly hear a single verse, we attain blessings greater than "those who teach many people to attain the Four Fruits." We attain the Three Insights and the Six Spiritual Powers through hearing the sutras and understanding fully, in body and mind. If we can hear just a single verse of the sutra and fully understand it clearly, we can grasp one truth and understand all truths. So, if we can do this, we can be clear about the Three Insights and the Six Spiritual Powers. So, our "blessings far surpass theirs."
The next sutra passage [says],
"For hearing it in turn like this, they will attain infinite blessings. This is to say nothing of the one in the Dharma-assembly who is first to hear it and take joy in it."
This is encouraging us to truly [accept] the Lotus teachings of the Great Vehicle. The Lotus Sutra is a Great Vehicle Sutra. If we can earnestly accept every line and verse, then within every verse, we can further explore many principles of the teachings that are within the sutra passage. This is why [the Buddha] says, "For hearing it in turn like this, they will attain infinite blessings. This is to say nothing of the one in the Dharma assembly who is first to hear it and take joy in it." In the beginning, in our first encounter, we take [the teachings] deeply to heart. We delve deeply [into the teachings], cultivate ourselves and teach others to practice. We rejoice for others and joyfully take in [the teachings]. We can practice ourselves while teaching others to practice, as well. These merits and virtues are incalculable.
For hearing it in turn like this, they will attain infinite blessings. This is to say nothing of the one in the Dharma assembly who is first to hear it and take joy in it: He compares the last person with the first person to take joy in it and teach it to others. The merits of [the last person] are unsurpassable and incalculable; how much more so for those who diligently cultivate and uphold it themselves, while also encouraging others to learn, uphold, take joy in and listen to the Dharma in turn.
So, this is to say nothing of "those who diligently cultivate and uphold it themselves, while also encouraging others to learn, uphold, and take joy in [the Dharma]." There are many matters we listen to in turn. We must put effort into being mindful. There is much confusion in life. In this confusion, we cannot teach the Dharma clearly. So, we cannot understand it very well while listening, either. Yet, if we think about it in simple terms, impermanence strikes in an instant. How does impermanence strike in an instant? Once it happens, there can be many subsequent issues. Many people may be worried for their injured relatives because they do not know if those injured will survive or not. What about those who may have passed away? Their families may be completely heartbroken, crying out loud in that place. The deceased have left. They may still have had many things to pursue in life, but [it all ended] in an instant. We are not clear about these [details]. So, we do not understand them. And how did those around them deal with it? Why did something like this happen? People have to investigate the problem. So, for things that happen in the present, we do not know what the causes and conditions were in the past. Everything happens in an instant, and there is so much to talk about and so many things to investigate. It is the same when we teach the Dharma. In "suffering, causation, cessation and the Path," to explain just "suffering" to us, the Buddha had to teach the Dharma for 42 years to accord to our capabilities, gradually guiding us. Now, there was not enough time, so He had to be quick; time was running out. He changed direction to teach the True Dharma. The True Dharma is inseparable from worldly Dharma. The world is complex like this. He taught the Bodhisattva Way so that we could clearly know that the world is like this, and that we must quickly go among people. We must cultivate ourselves while also encouraging others to cultivate. In this way, we benefit both ourselves and others; we [gain] merits like this. It is so simple when we teach it, but it sounds so complicated when we hear it. This is because the Dharma is very intricate. So, we must always be mindful!.