Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
The Practice of Sincere, Undefiled Giving
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
>> "When we maintain our practice to cultivate blessings, we will gain merits. We must brighten our luminous virtue and sincerely give of ourselves while remaining undefiled. When we do all that is good without expecting anything in return, we will gain virtues. These virtues enable us to behold our nature of wondrous existence in true emptiness, spread the seeds of goodness and turn our consciousness into wisdom."
>> Never forget that year. In 2009, a typhoon of moderate intensity, Typhoon Morakot, caused a severe disaster. On August 8, as severe floods devastated the land, volunteers exercised their loving-kindness and compassion to form blessed affinities.
>> ...or his fragrance as he expounds the Dharma in the Hall of Wondrous Dharma for all the heavenly beings of Trayastrimsa Heaven, or his fragrance as he plays in those gardens, or the bodily fragrances of other male and female heavenly beings. They will be able to smell them all from afar. [Lotus Sutra, Chapter 19 - On Dharma Masters' Merits and Virtues]
>> "In turn like this, all the way to the Brahma realm and up to the summit of existence, they will smell all heavenly beings' bodily fragrances. Furthermore, they will also smell all the incense burned by all heavenly beings." [Lotus Sutra, Chapter 19 - On Dharma Masters' Merits and Virtues]
>> In turn like this, all the way to the Brahma realm and up to the summit of existence: Starting from Trayastrimsa Heaven, [they will smell everything] in turn all the way to Brahma Heaven, and then from Brahma Heaven up to Peak Heaven. The Brahma realm: This refers to the realm of King Brahma.
>> Smell all heavenly beings' bodily fragrances: Regarding the virtuous fragrances of all the heavenly beings and their corresponding bodily retributions, they will smell them all.
>> Beings in the formless realm have no form or body, so how can they have any fragrance? The thoughts in our minds are formless, odorless and invisible, yet they may have the fragrances of precepts, Samadhi and wisdom. Though there is no body or form, it does not mean there is no empty realm or the fragrance of the fruit of Samadhi.
>> Furthermore, they will also smell all the incense burned by all heavenly beings: When all heavenly beings practice and ascend in sequence, this is like burning incense and taking it in to attain virtues.
"When we maintain our practice to cultivate blessings, we will gain merits. We must brighten our luminous virtue and sincerely give of ourselves while remaining undefiled. When we do all that is good without expecting anything in return, we will gain virtues. These virtues enable us to behold our nature of wondrous existence in true emptiness, spread the seeds of goodness and turn our consciousness into wisdom."
Everyone must be mindful of this. "When we maintain our practice to cultivate blessings, we will gain merits. We must brighten our luminous virtue and sincerely give of ourselves while remaining undefiled." We should mindfully seek to understand this. All of us have the aspiration to engage in spiritual practice, but this does not necessarily mean that we must become monastics to be [spiritual practitioners]. Spiritual practice is [to help] us all return to our intrinsic nature. This is what we must all seek after. It is not only monastics who are considered spiritual practitioners. Anyone who [seeks to] return to their intrinsic nature is "maintaining practice."
[Those who live] in society are able to serve others and benefit humanity. This comes from the sincerity in our hearts; we are willing to help others. As for what needs to be done, if it is right, then we should just do it. This should be our [thought process]. When we feel that something is right [to do], we must go do it. So, this [creates] "merits." We do not do this for anything but to create blessings for others. We do not do it for ourselves. So, mindfully giving without expectations [creates] "merits."
[We must] "brighten our luminous virtue. The path of great learning is in brightening luminous virtue." We must clearly understand that everyone intrinsically has a virtuous nature. "Human nature is inherently good." Everyone's nature is intrinsically pure; this is our virtue. So, to "brighten [our] luminous virtue," means that we must all return to our intrinsic nature by understanding that we have this pure, undefiled goodness. So, there is an old saying, "Human nature is inherently good." This nature that is intrinsic to us is [our] "luminous virtue." And we must very clearly understand this.
Why are we unclear and fail to understand? Why do we not understand our intrinsic nature? It is because of ignorance. This is the ignorance that the Buddha talked about. So, it is because of our ignorance that the mirror in our hearts, our pure and undefiled intrinsic nature, has become covered by ignorance. Is it that we do not have [this nature]? We absolutely do have it. It is just that we are unable to put it to use. We are unable to see the value of our intrinsic nature. We cannot see it. This is why we need to eliminate ignorance. This is what the Buddha taught us. We must clearly understand that everyone has "a nature that is inherently good." What is supremely good is our undefiled nature.
So, what is our "nature"? It is sincerity. We must have sincerity [when we encounter] people, matters and things by giving without expectations. This is also the [kind of] giving talked about in Confucian teachings. In Buddhist teachings, [we call it] "undefiled." It is the same principle. Although the name is different, the content and true principles are the same. So, "We must brighten our luminous virtue," by giving while remaining undefiled. We give to others while remaining undefiled, and we must also be grateful. This is our training ground as Bodhisattvas, which gives us the opportunity to cultivate our Bodhisattva-practice. Isn't this phrase what Tzu Chi volunteers often say and hear?
So, "the merit" mentioned earlier is about "When we maintain our practice to cultivate blessings, we will gain merits. We must brighten our luminous virtue and sincerely give of ourselves while remaining undefiled. When we do all that is good without expecting anything in return, we will gain virtues." This is [how we create] "merits and virtues." I hope that everyone can understand this clearly. Practicing compassion is "doing all that is good." We are doing many, many good deeds, but we always give without expectations. After we do this, everyone is at ease and joyful. This is being "filled with Dharma-joy."
I have been continuously encouraging everyone to think back [on our history]. Thinking back to our past, what have we done that has truly benefited others in this world? In this life that we are living now, having come to this world, have we given anything or have we done anything for others? We must also remember them. For the past several years, we have heard [a lot] about dementia. The elderly [often develop] dementia. With dementia, they lose their memory; these memories are all forgotten.
However, medical studies are now saying that the cells in our brains need to be constantly active. So, how do we keep them going? [This is why] I am appealing to everyone, especially our experienced and older volunteers, "Come, let us recall the past and awaken our brain cells one by one." We have to exercise our brain to recall the past. Where should we begin remembering? In Taiwan, our clearest [memory] is the 921 Earthquake.
It was a very tragic and devastating disaster, and people truly gave [selflessly]. Living Bodhisattvas emerged from the ground to [help] sentient beings in extreme suffering by comforting and helping them continuously, day and night. Scene after scene, these vivid [images] unfolded. Our memories of that time are vivid and abundant.
When I went to Kaohsiung, I also made this appeal to everyone there to recall their memories and they said, "Master, that year brings so many memories to mind for us, But what happened after the 921 Earthquake, the flooding from Typhoon Morakot, can we recall and share about that?"
Never forget that year. In 2009, a typhoon of moderate intensity, Typhoon Morakot, caused a severe disaster. On August 8, as severe floods devastated the land, volunteers exercised their loving-kindness and compassion to form blessed affinities.
Typhoon Morakot was also a major historic incident for Taiwan, during which the love of many organizations came through, and Tzu Chi [took part] from start to finish.
At that time there really were over 10,000 people who were mobilized to participate in the construction of permanent housing. Great Love Villages were built in. Kaohsiung's Shanlin and Pingtung's Changzhi Village. These were all very large villages of several hundred households. [Ultimately], over 1000 households [were built] in the Shanlin village, which we built from the ground up.
In particular, in Shanlin, following Typhoon Morakot, we spent 88 days building this village. After construction, we delivered [supplies] to them for the move-in. We delivered 88 gifts, including clothing and chests, closets and beds, kitchen utensils, refrigerators and countertops; we [gave them] all of this. For [on top of their] counters, [we even gave them] soap, dishcloths, oil, salt, bowls and plates; everything was there. The people moving in just had to bring clothes to change into; they already had a complete home. They brought a change of clothes, and as they came in we told them, "This house is yours. Everything inside is yours."
Some people thought, "Is this really happening to me? Does this beautiful [place] really belong to me?" Some had doubts, and [others] thought they were dreaming. At the time, Tzu Chi volunteers spent 88 days on this construction site. [When they began], it was very hot, and they worked until almost New Years Day. We had to hurry to move them in for the New Year. So, as the weather changed from sweltering heat to blowing winds and misting rains, Tzu Chi volunteers never stopped to rest. Seeing them move into their homes in time to celebrate the Lunar New Year made everyone very happy.
Handing over the homes, their job was done, and the volunteers were filled with Dharma-joy. They did all of this for people unrelated to us. By giving without expectations like this, they helped so many disaster survivors to get a fresh start in life. [Between] the house, the land and everything inside, they had all of the material goods [they needed]. This turned their lives around and gave them so much joy. The children had a school they could go to, and there was also a church. In one village, we helped them build two churches, one grade school and also a recreation center. We hoped that the people there would be able to live and [orient themselves] toward faith, [so] we gave them everything they needed.
As we remember [all that] we gave them, the [feeling] of liberation [we gained] from giving without expectations truly [confirms] the sincerity of our giving. To "give while remaining undefiled" means that our minds are totally unobstructed. At the time, everyone worked very hard. From Pingtung, Kaohsiung, Tainan, Taichung, Hsinchu, Taoyuan, Taipei, Hualien and so many [other] places, everyone came together. We mobilized over 10,000 people in total, [who worked in shifts]. Those who stayed to watch over the site worked [throughout] the night. Even military soldiers were mobilized to help pave the ground with interlocking bricks. They worked rain or shine, night and day. If we look back at that time, it really was very touching.
When the work was completed, the homes were handed over and everyone left. No one said, "I built that one. I worked so hard for that. I collected donations for that place. We were mobilizing people since August 12th. We appealed internationally [for help]." Whether they were raising funds or working on the construction, thinking back to it now, [the way that] people were so moved was truly precious. So, everyone [gave rise] to this "luminous virtue and sincerely gave of themselves while remaining undefiled." By upholding our spiritual practice and creating blessings among people in the world, we truly actualized [the Dharma]. We built houses for them and thought of everything [that would] give them a long-lasting [home] that could be passed down for generations. Isn't this creating blessings for them? We built homes for them, allowing many generations to continue to live there in peace in such a nice environment.
After we helped them, we gave them our undefiled sincerity. This [comes from] our pure, intrinsic nature. We often talk about ignorance. In fact, the things that we often do [serve to] bring up our intrinsic nature, which is most pure and undefiled. We do not do this for ourselves. We do not do it to obtain something. [We do this] for those who are suffering, these disaster survivors. It is for their sake that we must provide them with a safe place to make a living. So, we bring peace to their minds, bodies and lives. It was for these people that we gave of ourselves.
"When we do all that is good without expecting anything in return, we will gain virtues." Recently, we have been talking about how the nose can smell many scents, [and] how countless good deeds [emit] a fragrance. So, this goodness is a virtue, and the fragrance of virtue permeates everything. In the Sutra of Infinite Meanings we read about fragrant winds, which blow with the fragrance of virtue. This represents people's goodness, the intrinsic goodness in our minds. It is like a fragrant breeze of good thoughts. So, with our nose alone, we can smell this fragrance.
When we think back, we [can] hear these stories from the past 20 years, 10 years or five years. This was how Tzu Chi volunteers around the world have helped others wherever they are. From the Dominican Republic, (in 2019), we also heard that Tzu Chi volunteers were celebrating 20 years in [that place].
It was because of a severe flood that we [first] went to provide disaster relief. The [impact of the storm] at that time was so severe that it affected seven or eight countries in South America. We mindfully went and continuously gave aid to many of these countries. With the seeds [of new volunteers], a significant presence began [to grow] in the Dominican Republic. There was a group of people there who were willing to carry on Tzu Chi's power of love. During these 20 years, when there was a disaster in Haiti and an earthquake in El Salvador, volunteers in this nearby country were mobilized. Tzu Chi has now been [there] for 20 years. We heard this news and saw that Tzu Chi volunteers in the USA had gone to the Dominican Republic to begin the celebration with everyone there.
In summary, this is how Tzu Chi volunteers give of ourselves. Disasters happen one after another in this world. I also remember the August 7th flooding in 1959. At that time, I was not yet a monastic. I was still a lay person. At the time, southern Taiwan experienced devastating flooding. We saw the devastation this disaster caused at that time; homes were made of mud bricks, and once they were soaked with rain, they totally collapsed. When I accompanied Dharma Master Xiu Dao to Douliu to visit her parents, we had to pass through Changhua County.
More than one month after the flood, we drove through that area and saw scenes of utter destruction. As we entered the city center, there was a great stench from those buried [in the mud] who had not been dug out yet. This August 7th Flood was such a tragedy. So, in time, people could rebuild on the land and [eventually] were able to forget what happened. Those who are older still remember the August 7th Flood. And at that time, I was still quite young. I encountered the August 7th Flood in my youth.
Now, (in 2019), as we are talking about Typhoon Morakot, I have already entered old age. Because of [the flooding from] Typhoon Morakot, we all joined in to help. Now, as we think back on it, there are still many people who can share about it. Today, those who moved into Great Love Villages are living happy lives. We changed their lives.
In their daily living, everyone ought to be healthy in body and mind and living a happy life. This is because everyone has these "virtues that enable us to behold our nature." Our luminous virtues behold our nature within; it is "wondrous existence in true emptiness." The "nature of True Suchness" we speak of is "true emptiness," but there is [also] "wondrous existence." Speaking of the August 7th Flood, it seems like a vague incident when we discuss it. But now, they have rebuilt [those areas], and there are tall buildings on those lands. Everything in the past is truly empty, but it truly existed. So, I constantly say that we must bear witness to our times and write the history of this world. We must definitely write it down.
So, we must keep spreading and planting these seeds of goodness. We must remember that this is "transforming consciousness into wisdom." This is giving without expectations. As we think back on it, we can see [those people] enjoying their blessings for they are healthy and safe now. These are blessings. We did this to create blessings in their lives. [At that time], so many people gave of themselves by raising funds and dedicating themselves to help. Now, everything has been completed. So, "We must never forget that year" of Typhoon Morakot in 2009, which was a severe disaster. At that time, our slogan was, "On August 8, as severe floods have devastated the land, exercise loving-kindness and compassion to form blessed affinities." This was how we [gave assistance] following Typhoon Morakot. So, we must be very mindful to serve others without expectations. This is the virtue of giving without expectations. That is how Bodhisattvas practice giving in this world, without expectations. So, this accumulates countless good deeds. We keep accumulating them by giving and creating blessings in this world. We must remember all the [experiences] we have encountered in this world.
The previous sutra passage says, "...or his fragrance as he expounds the Dharma in the Hall of Wondrous Dharma for all the heavenly beings of Trayastrimsa Heaven."
...or his fragrance as he expounds the Dharma in the Hall of Wondrous Dharma for all the heavenly beings of Trayastrimsa Heaven, or his fragrance as he plays in those gardens, or the bodily fragrances of other male and female heavenly beings. They will be able to smell them all from afar.
Trayastrimsa Heaven is full of those who accumulated blessings; they accumulated good deeds and blessings, so they were able to be born in Heaven. For those blessings that they accumulated, how much time did it take them, doing good deeds for blessings and merits, to receive the retribution of being born in Heaven? Be it Trayastrimsa Heaven, Brahma Heaven and so on, they all enjoy the pleasures of Heaven.
"...or his fragrance as he plays in those gardens." Because they have these blessings, they are constantly in [a state of] enjoyment. These pleasures come from the merits of creating blessings. So, they also have this fragrance that is worthy of being praised. They are blessed to enjoy [these] pleasures "...or the bodily fragrances of other male and female heavenly beings." These are all people who have created blessed retributions and are worthy of praise. In this state, their bodies emit a fragrance that can be smelled by [those who uphold this sutra].
So, the next sutra passage says,
"In turn like this, all the way to the Brahma realm and up to the summit of existence, they will smell all heavenly beings' bodily fragrances. Furthermore, they will also smell all the incense burned by all heavenly beings."