Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
Taking Universal Compassion as Our Root
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
We must cultivate and uphold Bodhicitta as our cause
and take universal compassion as our root.
We must impart the provisional and true teachings as the ultimate [practice]
and augment and safeguard our purifying practices.
Please be mindful! Together, we engage in spiritual practice, accept and uphold the sutra and comprehend the principles of the sutra. We are now facing an era of great [change]. With the increased population and confusion in people's minds, our will to listen to the sutras must be even more eager and earnest.
"We must cultivate and uphold Bodhicitta as our cause." We aspire to listen to the sutra and learn the Dharma in order to move toward awakening. This awakening is Bodhicitta. Since a very long time ago, longer than anyone can fathom, an ignorant thought has led us astray. This delusion has persisted over countless lifetimes and continues into the present. Where did we come from in this vast world? Where will we go? In this lifetime, we have the karmic affinity to gather together and accept and uphold the Lotus Sutra together. [Thus], we can put the Lotus Sutra into practice and apply it in the world by practicing the Bodhisattva Way. This is accepting and upholding Bodhicitta. Thus, we now begin to carefully plant this seed very deeply in our mind. Beneath the ground of our minds, we diligently cultivate, store and protect it. [In doing so], we have discovered "the cause" of this seed of Bodhi. So, we must diligently cultivate, store and protect [this seed].
We have already discovered our nature of True Suchness. Although previously covered by layers of delusion, we presently have this awakening and have begun to [recognize] this deeply hidden cause. Now, we must understand even more clearly to "take universal compassion as our root." Our seed is already in place. So, we must now comprehend [how to interact with] each other.
Everyone clearly understands that "loving-kindness" means "unconditional loving-kindness." While causes and conditions bring us together, we each also have our own circumstances and karmic retributions. In order to practice the Bodhisattva-path, we must [be able to accept] each sentient beings' own circumstances and karmic retributions. Those who suffer in life have received the retribution of suffering. As Bodhisattvas, whether or not we share karmic affinities with others, we should always create blessings for them. For those who suffer, we give them material goods to help meet their needs. "Having relieved them from suffering, [Bodhisattvas] then expound the Dharma for them." We need to point out to them that everyone intrinsically has Buddha-nature. What about "universal compassion"? That means taking the suffering of others as our own suffering. When there are difficulties in the world, we also have a responsibility [to help]. This is called "universal compassion." Every [individual] is connected to all sentient beings in the world. "We feel others' pain as our own. We feel sad when others suffer." This universal compassion is our foundation for practicing the Bodhisattva-path.
If we do not help others with great compassion, we will just say, "I hope you are happy," but when we encounter suffering people, we will not reach out to lend them a hand. You see, when our Tzu Chi Bodhisattvas immediately go to wherever there is an emergency or disaster, their first act is to reach out their hands and quickly embrace the survivors, saying, "Don't be afraid!" Or they give them a smile to provide some warmth and comfort. Then, they gradually survey the situation. "It is really difficult. It is a disaster, an emergency situation. What can we do to help them resolve this?" This demonstrates their universal compassion.
Consider the Bodhisattvas from Kaohsiung. Five or six of them came over for "the Let's Not Forget That Year" documentary. Since last year (2018), I have been saying to them that we must remember the past to bear witness for [our] time and to write this history for all mankind. Since we are all here now, [we remember] the environments we encountered, how we dedicated ourselves, how we interacted with suffering beings, how we helped and comforted them and what kind of suffering they endured. For those families at that time, those series of disasters have caused [many] hardships. We can [find out about] each one from interviews. Our interviewers are still here, as are those who were rescued and those who gave aid. At this time, [these] awakened sentient beings are able to meet with those in suffering to collaborate on reconstructing that part of history at that time for us now.
We helped them think up [a topic]. "You can do a documentary about 9/21 Earthquake." This was a major incident in Taiwan. The "9/21 Earthquake" [helped] show us that "the world is impermanent and the land is fragile," just as it states in the Sutra of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings. Early in the morning that day, the ground began shaking violently. Within seconds, everything had completely changed. Before dawn, [many] people were still dreaming, or perhaps they were planning whom they wanted to meet during the day and what they wanted to do; people had so many hopes to get ready to meet these people after dawn, to make decisions about their future careers and to make many plans. Some people were having many sweet dreams. Suddenly, the earth jolted and completely changed everything within seconds. [We could hear] tragic cries and voices of people searching for each other as they faced the collapsed buildings.
Some people did not have time to get out. Some called for people from outside [buildings]. Some people were injured. We also knew that some people were trapped and could not be saved or so on. The happiness of but a few seconds before was completely destroyed moments later. This was the manifestation of impermanence. This showed us that "the land is fragile." Even tall mountains completely collapsed, and people were buried underneath. As soon as this severe disaster took place, Bodhisattvas emerged from the ground immediately from all directions and converged at [the affected] areas in Central Taiwan. This included Nantou, Taichung and Dongshi. Tzu Chi volunteers, in an orderly manner, chose a direction and quickly set to work conducting relief operations. Because this was a very strong earthquake, many volunteers gave a great deal of themselves. How many people were mobilized? There were tens of thousands of volunteer shifts! This showed their "unconditional loving-kindness and universal compassion." Some of them set aside their careers, while others set aside their families. Some people closed their businesses, while others took a long leave. All these people dedicated themselves to the relief efforts of 9/21. This is worthy of remembering. Recalling this, [we can also recall] many other events [from that time].
In Kaohsiung, I also spoke about remembering; "Let's not forget that year." As volunteers in Kaohsiung remembered, [they asked], "Master, can we recall what happened much later on?" "That is fine. As long as you can awaken your memories. You can [share] what you recall from [those events] you were closely involved with, whichever year they happened." They replied, "We want to share our experiences from Typhoon Morakot in 2009." Indeed, as soon as they mentioned this, [my mind] was also filled with memories. Indeed! How did we dedicate ourselves during that disaster relief mission? How were Tzu Chi volunteers mobilized? This, too, took a long time, but the [site] was cleaned up faster.
There were many people affected by it. The village of Xiaolin was destroyed. Just under that big piece of land alone, which was eventually abandoned, several hundred people were still buried there; even today, there is no way [to recover them]. At that time, government agencies, civilian organizations and people from abroad all came together to see if they could find survivors buried by the mudslide. Despite our continuous efforts, they finally announced they had given up on rescuing the people [still trapped] underground. This was really tragic. So many families lost their loved ones.
It was truly shocking to witness this scene. We began to wonder, "Is this mountain over-developed?" Can the people move down to the plains? Living in the mountains was dangerous, so moving to the plains would be safer, and they could improve their livelihood too. So, [for the reconstruction], we chose [a site in] Shanlin District. With the active support of the government, we also began to plan proactively. Once the land was approved, we mobilized our volunteers [to] prepare the land, draw up plans and begin the construction. [Finally], it was time for them to move in; [following] Typhoon Morakot, [we built nearly 1000] houses in 88 days, and we prepared 88 gifts [for each house]. Thus, in 88 days, the project was completed, and they were able to move in before the Lunar New Year celebration. Before they moved, we needed to get everything ready. We provided the items for their bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens, and we even [provided] fans and refrigerators. Every home was furnished. They only had to bring their clothing with them, and they could live a happy life there, without any worries.
An entire village of more than 700 households moved in first. This might sound like a simple process, but how did we manage to complete it? We [organized] more than 10,000 volunteer shifts. Tzu Chi volunteers, government workers, military and police were all mobilized to pave the roads with interlocking paving blocks, throughout the entire village. The entire village had been constructed and planned in a very safe and thorough manner. The buildings were solidly built. They were not temporary buildings. Indeed, they will last for several generations. They were warm and sturdy housing units. We completed them within 88 days, and we had all the household items ready for them. It was such a miracle. So, we told them the many stories that went into [this great effort]. There were also other villages, like Changzhi Township, in Pingtung, and many other places, where dozens or perhaps hundreds of households were completed [one after another].
Completing these buildings was relatively easy, because everyone worked together, "[with] universal compassion as our root" and "cultivating and upholding Bodhicitta" as the "cause" all of our Bodhisattvas [shared]. Everyone gave rise to Bodhicitta, and acted out of great compassion. There are too many stories for me to share. While you all are in Kaohsiung, I hope you begin to interact with each other, quickly calling on those who were involved, those who helped and the Bodhisattvas who worked on these projects. While we still have our memories, we must quickly record and chronicle these great historical events. For the events [we remember] more clearly, we must record them in detail. These are stories [about] the true history of this world.
A team of five or six people [who are compiling a history of our efforts] returned and told me that they had already conducted enough interviews to publish six books in this first phase. [This was] according to the analysis they gave me. Their interviews were comprehensive, and their layout was planned appropriately. However, when we looked back at our timeline in greater detail and did a check, [we realized], "Wow, there are still things missing." So, we needed to [fill in the details]. We even [missed] some of the [affected] countries. In 2009, how many countries suffered from disasters? How many touching stories from those countries had not been included?
They said that there were many more to be added. This is an example of taking responsibility. They began to recall these [events] together, and then they compiled the factual [information]. Thus, [the history they are compiling] bears witness to this era of Tzu Chi and the history of mankind. One wrote about the suffering people we helped, while another wrote about the universal compassion [our volunteers] exercised during disaster relief. In those times, many Bodhisattvas emerged like this to dedicate themselves, with no fear of hardship. They set their many matters aside and prioritized rescuing others. These are all very touching stories.
Before rescuing others, this group of Bodhisattvas had to [reaffirm] their aspirations first. This is because, in the past, everyone had formed aspirations and made vows to give rise to Bodhicitta and practice the Bodhisattva-path. This aspiration serves as their cause. When there are disasters in the world, [due to] their universal compassion, they will gather together and dedicate themselves to helping those who are suffering in the world. They feel others' pain as their own and feel sad when others suffer! This is how they practice [the Dharma] in a real-life situation in our world. So, we must mindfully seek to comprehend this.
"We must impart the provisional and true teachings as the ultimate [practice] and augment and safeguard our purifying practices." During those times, [had I begun to teach] the Lotus Sutra for you to listen to, yet? I had not. Those who listened to [me teach did so] without a dedicated effort. Still, "the provisional" [teachings led] us all to form the same aspiration to give of ourselves to help others. Everyone was willing to do this. Thus, it was [while listening to] provisional teachings that we began to give of ourselves to serve others. At that time, we had not entered the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, but everyone simply knew that "with goodness as our root, we help others through Tzu Chi." This is our direction. Once we realized our direction, we all worked together to serve others.
With "the provisional teachings," each person followed their own direction as they dedicated themselves to pursuing the same goal. Continuing on into the present, although we are now discussing the Lotus Sutra, I am still asking everyone to quickly recall [these past events]. Thinking back on our past, everything we did was [the Bodhisattva-path]. As we mentioned, Bodhisattvas practice the Six Paramitas; actualizing the Six Paramitas in all actions is the Bodhisattva-path. Thus, we have already verified this. This is why we need to recall these real people and true stories with [evidence] and eye-witness accounts. By writing them down now, we can pass them on to later generations, and they will become the ultimate True Dharma. This way, we can benefit later generations and "augment and safeguard our purifying practices. I give without expectations and am grateful!" We must pass on the examples of our predecessors to future generations [so they can be] transmitted, generation after generation.
So, I asked the volunteers, "How long have you been in Tzu Chi?" One of the Faith Corps Bodhisattvas replied, "I have passed it on to four generations." He has passed [the Dharma] from one generation of Faith Corps Bodhisattvas to the next. As diligently as ever, they continue compiling [these stories] in the hope of presenting their memories truthfully to future generations.
This work can "augment and safeguard our purifying practices," [for it] verifies "the provisional and true teachings as the ultimate [practice]." Besides not deviating from the path, we must also pass it on to future generations so that they can continue to transmit it. This is very important. So, this is what people who uphold the sutras do. Living in this time and this place, we have been able to listen to the Dharma, and we have [put it into practice] by helping others in this current era. So, we must all cherish this time and [remember it] very mindfully.
The previous sutra passage states,
"As for the ornaments that adorn their bodies, their clothing, their strings of jewels and their various kinds of fragrant oils, they will smell these scents and know who they are. Whether those heavenly beings walk, sit, play or carry out magical transformations, those who uphold the Lotus Sutra will smell their scents and know them all."
Previously, we explained that wearing dignified clothing represents reverence and strings of jewels that people wear represent wisdom and so forth. These are mostly explained using analogies.
Now, the following passage continues,
"As for the flowers and fruits of all the trees and the aroma of butter, those who uphold the sutra, while dwelling here, will know where they all are. Deep in the mountains, in treacherous places, the sandalwood trees unfold their flowers while sentient beings dwell in their midst. Upon smelling their fragrances, they will know them all."
By reading these passages, we [can understand] "things like these." Thus, reading on from the previous sutra passage, [we know] these things. [From the] flowers and fruits a tree produces, these fragrances are extracted from the aroma of [their oils]. When one who upholds the sutra [encounters them], they will know from the time and the environment the virtues that have been cultivated. "These things are all clearly explained in the sutra." We know this quite well. "By upholding the sutra and understanding its meaning, we will understand its cause." Thus, we can know what their causes and conditions are. This is what we just discussed. Bodhicitta is the cause of awakening. Once we understand this, we must undertake all actions [in pursuit of it]. Thus, one who upholds the sutra is one who truly practices this. In this way, we can truly understand the sutra through these explanations.
As for the flowers and fruits of all the trees and the aroma of butter, those who uphold the sutra, while dwelling here, will know where they all are: These things are all clearly explained in the sutra. By upholding the sutra and understanding its meaning, we will understand its cause. From "all the trees" onward, [the sutra discusses] the fragrances of non-sentient beings and the fragrances of sentient beings.
From "all the trees" onward, [the sutra discusses] the fragrances of non-sentient and sentient beings. Non-sentient beings are trees, flowers, fruits and so forth. The fragrances of sentient beings belong to beings that [live in] the heaven, human and other realms. Beings with life are "sentient beings."
Continuing on, it says, "Deep in the mountains, in treacherous places, the sandalwood trees unfold their flowers while sentient beings dwell in their midst. Upon smelling their fragrances, they will know them all."
Deep in the mountains, in treacherous places, the sandalwood trees unfold their flowers, while sentient beings dwell in their midst. Upon smelling their fragrances, they will know them all. Those who abide peacefully in singlemindedness as they uphold the Dharma and take joy in the path happily dwell deep within the mountains, amidst the fragrant sandalwood forests. As for the sentient beings in these remote valleys, they will know them all upon smelling them.
So, we can understand how "abiding peacefully in singlemindedness, [we] uphold the Dharma." Deep in the mountains, the course of the mountain paths becomes clear to us as we read this passage. If we single-mindedly uphold the Dharma here, we will know that, whether the mountains are treacherous or deep, even in these places, there are spiritual practitioners there. Those who take joy in the path will find a very pure place to engage in spiritual practice. This was discussed in the long-form prose section. So, as they [abide] in that place, they are physically and mentally happy, living joyfully and freely deep within the mountains.
All around the mountain, there are all kinds of flowers and trees that are very fragrant, like sandalwood and so on. All around the mountain, in this place, there are oxen, sheep, elephants and other animals. It is a very tranquil place. Still, there are also treacherous mountain roads and dangerous places. [Despite this], those who take joy in the path still practice in that environment. Spiritual practitioners in those peaceful places can also understand the minds of those practitioners in [the mountains], as well as the conditions on the mountains. So, sentient and non-sentient beings all coexist in that kind of environment. This is what this passage says.
Continuing on, the following passage says,
"As for all the sentient beings within the earth of the Iron Ring Mountains and their vast seas, those who uphold the sutra will know where they all are upon smelling their scents. As male and female asuras and all their followers fight and play, they will know them all upon smelling their scents."
We can clearly understand this by reading this passage. Beyond [our world], there are "the Iron Ring Mountains and their vast seas." Those who have read the Earth Treasury Sutra might ask, "Where are the Iron Ring Mountains?" We have discussed the Iron Ring Mountains before. Within the Iron Ring Mountains are hell, the Seven Mountains and the Eight Seas, which are completely surrounded by the Iron Ring Mountains. "As for all the sentient beings within the earth," [meaning] the sentient beings there, "those who uphold the sutra will know where they all are upon smelling their scents." They should be able to tell that the inner and outer [realms are separated by] the Iron Ring Mountains, which encircle this space, layer by layer.
As for all the sentient beings within the earth of the Iron Ring Mountains and their vast seas, those who uphold the sutra will know where they all are upon smelling their scents: Externally, this refers to the iron mountains that encircle the salty seas with iron rings, demarcating the boundary of each small world. There are sentient beings within the earth here. Internally, this refers to the skin that covers the body and contains our qi and blood. Sense organs and sense objects come together in our consciousness. We are dependent upon the physical body we inhabit. Those who excel at upholding the sutra will all be able to realize its source.
Externally, "the iron mountains encircle the salty seas," demarcating the boundary of each small world. This [refers to] hell. Of course, this is not where humans live. The iron mountains encircle it, and inside, there are sentient beings. Thus, we know that the beings inside are suffering greatly.
The word "internally" is used as an analogy. We often talk about the macrocosm of the world and the microcosm of human beings. Inside our body is a microcosm, so this represents what our skin contains. What is contained [beneath] our skin? Our organs, qi and blood, spleen, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, bone marrow and so on are all contained within our bodies. Each one of them has their own position, and they are arranged in layers. [As our] "sense organs and sense objects come together in our consciousness," this involves our Six Roots, the Six Sense Objects and the Six Consciousnesses. Everyone should understand this clearly.
Since we depend on our physical bodies, we know our own body the best. "Ah, I can see with my eyes. I can hear with my ears." Not only can we know the state of the outside world, but we are also able to know our own organs. "I have a weak stomach. I have an irregular heart rate." We can all use feelings to describe these. So, we are "dependent upon the physical body we inhabit. Those who excel at upholding the sutra will all be able to realize its source." This is like exploring what is inside our body. The macrocosm contains so many realms, including Heaven, the world of the Iron Ring Mountains, the form realm, the formless realm and so forth. Those who uphold the sutra must investigate them all, just like we learn about our own bodies.
As male and female asuras and all their followers fight and play, they will know them all upon smelling their scents: Male asuras are hideous. They enjoy using their speech to argue and enjoy using their bodies to fight. Mostly due to their anger, arrogance and doubt, fights and arguments are like games to them.
Continuing on, [the passage speaks of] male and female asuras and all their followers who all fight, play and so on. In Heaven, heavenly beings have their entertainment and games. However, asuras also have their own games. Their games involve fighting. When it comes to asuras, male asuras are hideous, while female asuras are beautiful. Male asuras enjoy using their speech to argue and using their bodies to fight. So, people like this are called "asuras."
They have heavenly blessings but lack heavenly virtues. They know to make offerings and do so generously. Still, they lack cultivation, and their [poor] tempers have not changed. Therefore, they are called "asuras." They can be found in all the realms. Among the Six Realms, they belong to the realm of Asuras. Asuras from heaven, the human, hell, hungry ghost and animal realms are all very aggressive. They anger easily. People like that are all called "asuras," mainly due to their anger, arrogance and doubt. They derive fun from fighting and regard it as a form of play.
The original mind is the master, and everything else is a follower. The good are known as heavenly beings. The evil are known as asuras. Good and evil oppose one another, thus they are said to be fighting a war. [Asuras] enjoy this, thus they see it as playing a game.
"The original mind is the master," means that they are single-minded. If they can do good deeds and completely get rid of their bad habitual tendencies, their minds will be dedicated to doing good deeds. If they can do this, they become known as heavenly beings. Those who cultivate both heavenly virtues and heavenly blessings are called heavenly beings. Those who just cultivate blessings and want to do good deeds, yet refuse to eliminate bad habitual tendencies are called asuras. Those with doubts, jealousy, anger and delusion are all called "asuras."
They still have these types of bad habitual tendencies in their minds. Although they are practicing good deeds in the world and are living with those who practice good deeds, they refuse to correct their bad habitual tendencies and mindsets, so are still categorized as asuras. They have blessings but lack virtues. "Good and evil oppose one another." Because of this, asuras are constantly opposing Sovereign Sakra, and they are often in battle. The enemies of heaven are asuras. "[Asuras] enjoy this, thus they see it as playing a game." They regard fighting as the most joyful thing.
Moreover, male asuras are hideous, stubborn by nature and aggressive. They fight constantly with Sovereign Sakra. Female asuras are beautiful. They have heavenly blessings, but lack heavenly virtues. When a single [discursive] thought arises, all their other thoughts will follow along.
Male asuras are hideous and stubborn. No matter how we persuade them, they will not change their bad habitual tendencies. Some of them may not fight with others, [but] when we remind them of their bad habits, saying, "You need to change this and that," they will not change, no matter what we say. They are very stubborn. These bad habitual tendencies make them very stubborn. Female asuras are beautiful. However, they lack heavenly virtues. "They have heavenly blessings but lack heavenly virtues."
This is all [due to] their thoughts. They are willing to practice giving, so why do they refuse to get rid of their habitual tendencies? Because their bad habits are so deeply [rooted] that they easily give rise to thoughts of attachment, arrogance and anger. Although female asuras are beautiful, they also have these kinds of habitual tendencies. So, we need to be very mindful. Being in this world, regardless of our gender, we need to refine our habitual tendencies through spiritual practice. Without refining our habitual tendencies, we may cultivate a lot of blessings, but our practice may still be imperfect. We must make every effort to practice and enter the Bodhisattva-path, for we cannot do it with imperfect practices.
[We must become like] "those who uphold the sutra while dwelling here." Since we have aspired to uphold the sutra, we must be very dedicated to do so. "We must cultivate and uphold Bodhicitta as our cause." Our seed, our nature of True Suchness, still abides. While we are all living together in these times, we can engage in spiritual practice together with the same goal. Not only do we have a common understanding and common vision, but we must also share in a common action, with "universal compassion as our root."
If we understand where we are now, we should know what we should strive for. We already know that [practicing] the "provisional" and "the true" in parallel is our ultimate [practice]. From "the provisional" of the past to the present, we have witnessed "the true teachings." Speaking of "the true teachings," we now no longer simply say, "Thus, I have heard. Oh, this is what Tzu Chi has done in the past." We must not only do this. We must also write down what has been done with specific dates, specific locations and specific people, for these are the true record of history. This is very important. So, everyone, please always be mindful and constantly recall the past. I wish blessings for everyone. With our past aspiration, we must review what we have done. We can say, "Fortunately, I also dedicated myself during those times." This is the experience we have. Everyone, we must always be mindful!