Let us mindfully seek to comprehend this. All of us in this world come from different environments. In this world, some people are very blessed. They are born into wealthy families, and their parents are peaceful and wise, caring for their family and loving their children. All the siblings are able to receive a very good education. After they grow up with a good education, they each get married and start their careers, and they each have a good family life. This is a life of blessings. [In the past], they shared the affinities to create blessings, so they can now enjoy such a harmonious family life. This is something very precious.
However, some people are born into poor families, and their lives are difficult. Their parents do unskilled labor. For some, their fathers indulge in vices, while their mothers exhaust themselves to raise the children in any way they can. Their household is already poor, but the husband goes out to eat, drink and gamble, indulging in all sorts of bad habits. He comes back and asks his family for money, and when he does not get any, he gets furious. In families like these, children who want to receive a good education encounter many difficulties! Even for those who are very determined, their families still require them to work, to labor to help their mothers. There are many families like these. There are also those who experience accidents. There are too many cases to use as examples. In society and the world, there are so many different family situations and different family environments. There is truly unbearable suffering!
Why are some born to well-off families? Why are their entire lives so smooth? It must be due to deep causes in past lifetimes. Having planted seeds of good causes very deeply in previous lifetimes, they created powerful blessed conditions. This was in previous lifetimes; we must believe that in past lifetimes, they created blessings. With these blessed karmic conditions, they were born to such a complete family, in such a good household. This means their causes and conditions were very complete. Thus, their present circumstantial retributions enable them to enjoy good lives. This good karma from past lives is due to making offerings to Buddhas; they must have made offerings to countless Buddhas. These are causes and conditions of making offerings to Buddhas, going among people, helping other beings and creating good karma. Such causes and conditions are the most perfect of all.
Knowing to make offerings to the Buddha is due to an inherent understanding of principles. When we understand many principles, these principles that we understand [must have] entered our mind in a past life. With these seeds in our eight consciousness, our eighth consciousness will be completely full of this understanding of the Buddha's principles. Thus we bring the Buddha's principles along in coming to this world. At that time, we put the principles into action and by going among people, stored many affinities in our consciousness. So, by following the rules and the principles and at the same time creating good affinities, we cultivated both blessings and wisdom, creating very complete blessed karmic affinities that we brought into this life.
This is why we have blessings. So, these blessings [show that] in previous lifetimes we had "compassion for sentient beings with their circumstantial and direct retributions. In human form, [we] heard the Dharma [and] practiced respectfully." This is how we must have lived in previous lives. We might not know what our past lives were like, but if we feel satisfied in this lifetime, if we feel that we have a good family and an abundant life that leaves us satisfied and joyful, then in our past lives, besides making offerings to countless Buddhas, "we had compassion for sentient beings with their circumstantial and direct retributions."
Everyone should know about circumstantial and direct retributions. In our past life, these people were born into that same lifetime, into certain environments. In the past, these might not have been very good environments, but their circumstantial [retributions] were to be born in those families. Or due to life's impermanence, after they grew up, their family environment may have suddenly become unfavorable, and their lives changed. In that life, we felt for these people and went to their aid. [Encountering] sentient beings with such circumstantial and direct retributions, we could not bear it, so we helped them.
Right now, Tzu Chi volunteers around the world are helping people like this. Some are our long-term care recipients. When someone reports a case, after looking into it, we begin to take care of them, Even if it is a newly opened case, for each household, [we try to understand] why their lives are so tragic. We understand, from their own explanations and from descriptions by the people around them, what this household was like in the past and what kind of impermanence they encountered that caused them to end up like this.
These are the circumstantial and direct retributions of our aid recipients. The environment they were born in and the difficult environment they are in now are their circumstantial and direct retributions. Their circumstantial retributions led them to that time and that environment. As for their direct retributions, they will of course grow up and their parents will age, grow ill and die. This is the impermanence of life. On their own path through life, many things may not go their way. They have their families, but they are not happy in their family situations. Their wives and children leave them. When this happens, what will it be like in the end? It is different for many families. This kind of direct retribution is due to their own individual [karma].
What kinds of affinities will they encounter? If they encounter negative affinities, this is "the suffering of meeting those we hate." Or their affinities might bring them together with people they love. Yet human relationships are temporary and lead to "suffering of parting from those we love." Or perhaps there is much suffering of "not getting what we want." When we get something we seek and then lose it, this too brings great worries. This too happens frequently in our society. When Tzu Chi volunteers receive a case, it could be a matter of emergency aid. Or it could be a case of short-term care or perhaps this family requires long-term care.
So, we must always go to assess [each case]. Is it an emergency case or a short-term case? How long a time should we provide aid? Perhaps it requires an intermediate time or perhaps a long period of care. For the people presently facing these circumstantial and direct retributions, how should we treat them? We have compassion for sentient beings, with their circumstantial retributions. How should we care for them? We should willingly give of ourselves. "[We have] compassion for sentient beings with their circumstantial and direct retributions."
In this lifetime, we see among our group of Bodhisattvas so many people who do these kinds of things. Perhaps we say to ourselves, "Oh, I do this all the time. There are truly many families like this, and I frequently [go to help them]." If you are doing this, I say to you, "Congratulations!" You have already formed Great Vehicle aspirations and have compassion for sentient beings; you started taking the actions of a Bodhisattva, which makes you a Bodhisattva. If you are like this in this lifetime, then I believe you were also this way in previous lifetimes. That you can do it in this lifetime means that in your past lifetimes, you already formed these tendencies.
"In human form, they heard the Dharma [and] practiced respectfully." People who do this, whether in a past lifetime or in this lifetime, are able to listen to the Dharma in this world and earnestly engage in spiritual practice while feeling compassion for sentient beings. They regard sentient beings as their own relatives. They treat elders like their own parents, and they treat all sentient beings as they would the Buddha, showing them respect and reverence. This act of "sincerely and reverently making offerings to all" means we are very sincere in showing our utmost respect.
We often see, not only in Taiwan but in many countries, group after group of Tzu Chi volunteers in their blue and white uniforms. In different countries and different provinces, we will often see these groups of Tzu Chi volunteers as they are walking or even climbing mountains. Are they going sightseeing? No. They go up into the mountains where the roads are difficult to walk. The roads are so poor that they must climb. On shaky suspension bridges others dare not cross, they will hold onto each other's hands and lead each other across, calling out as they go. Some chant the Buddha's name, some call out, "Master!" and some shout, "Sister, hold on tight!"
Why do they go to such great efforts, forcing themselves to follow this path? It is because there are suffering people at the other end of the road, and they must go there to help them. This is why I always say that we must show them gratitude! We must show them respect! If this group of Bodhisattvas in the world, these Living Bodhisattvas, do not inspire respect and reverent love in us, then what kind of person do we respect and love?
So, we must be mindful to "sincerely and reverently make offerings to all." For the sake of these suffering people, [our volunteers] are willing to be like "one who travels 1000 miles to find a teacher or who journeys 10,000 miles to learn a skill." It is as if they are going to seek a teacher, a famous master. Visiting those families, they learn so much. They uphold this aspiration and walk the Bodhisattva-path; this is the meaning of learning from the Buddha. When we engage in this kind of practice, the reverent mindset with which we make offerings should let us "draw nearer to those above." We should draw near those who are at a higher level than us, to those who serve as our role models. Then when sentient beings suffer, we must go out to help them. This is what we must learn. As Buddhist practitioners, this is what we must do.
We need to change our mindset. It is not enough that when we pay respect to the sutras, we are very sincere. "When I worship the Buddha, I am very sincere. I am reverent when I make offerings." If you are truly reverent, what do you use to make offerings? What do we give as our offering to the Buddha? Sakyamuni Buddha is no longer here; He entered Parinirvana more than 2000 years ago. So, what should we give as our offering? Of course, we must use our reverence. With a sincere mindset, we must put the teachings into practice and use our conduct as offering. We must use the teachings given to us by all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and practice according to the Dharma. This is the best offering we can make. The only offerings received by all Buddhas and. Bodhisattvas are this kind, not whatever material offerings you make to them. Not at all!
So, when you donate money, what is it for? It provides relief. Why do you donate money? To help the poor, to help people overseas who are suffering, to help provide education, medicine and so on. All money donated goes to building communities, providing medicine and education, promoting humanistic culture and so on. These are offerings of conduct. Actually, the material goods we create go to benefitting others. Thus, if when we are among people we act with mutual respect and care for each other, then we create a harmonious society. So, toward people, we must "sincerely and reverently make offerings to all. [We] draw close to those above us and feel for those below, loving them just as we revere the Buddha." This is what I have been telling you all along.
"[We] feel for those below, loving them just as we revere the Buddha." We should not only give without expectations, we must also be sincere and reverent when we give. We must show that we have this attitude. When giving, we must be very joyful, as if we were receiving the Buddha's teachings. Every person we encounter is a future Buddha. As long as we give each one of them a seed and they accept it from us, even if it is just one line or one verse, a good seed will be planted. Naturally, this cause will eventually sprout and grow into a big tree. It will then bear an abundance of fruits lifetime after lifetime.
Thus, our "deep causes [from] past lifetimes" are due to the offerings we made to the Buddha and to practicing according to the teachings. So, we have compassion for sentient beings, for the suffering they experience in this world due to their direct and circumstantial karmic retributions. Therefore, we go to help them. To make good use of this human form, we must both help people and listen to the Buddha-Dharma. Then, as we engage in spiritual practice, we should sincerely cultivate reverence, sincerity and a mindset of making offerings. We need to draw near to spiritual practitioners. As for those who are suffering, we must quickly care for and protect them as if we were respectfully guarding the Buddha. Are we really unable to do this? This is very simple; it can be done! We just need to give rise to thoughts of kindness.
Starting from the things we encounter every day, we can listen carefully to the stories we hear. As we frequently watch and listen [to what happens in the world], we just need to make this change in mindset. This is something we can all do. Engaging in spiritual practice is as easy as changing a thought in our minds. So, we must simply be mindful.
The previous sutra passage states,
"Furthermore, if there are people who accept and uphold, read and recite, explain and transcribe even one verse of the Wondrous Lotus Sutra, reverently viewing this sutra as the Buddha...."
Furthermore, if there are people who accept and uphold, read and recite, explain and transcribe even one verse of the Wondrous Lotus Sutra, reverently viewing this sutra as the Buddha....
If aside from listening to a single line or verse we can also accept and uphold it, feel joyful when hearing it and take it to heart, then, some day in the future, an environment will appear before us which demonstrates the principles of this line. With a joyful mind, we will begin to investigate the source of the principles. Thus, we should accept and uphold it. Whether it is just one short line or verse or we extensively read and recite sutras, we should be able to explain it afterwards. After explaining it, [we should] transcribe it. After reading, we might forget it, but what we write down will remain. When it comes to the Wondrous Lotus Sutra, we must willingly listen to it, recite it, explain it and reverently transcribe it. In this way, we treat the Wondrous Lotus Sutra with the respect fitting for a Buddha. The reverence we display for this sutra should be the same as if we were seeing the Buddha. Wherever the sutra is present, so is the Dharma, which means the Buddha is present as well. This is the reverence [we must show].
"[They] make all kinds of offerings, flowers, perfumes, strings of jewels, scented powders, fragrant oils, incense, silken canopies, hanging banners, clothing and music or even putting their palms together in reverence."
[They] make all kinds of offerings, flowers, perfumes, strings of jewels, scented powders, fragrant oils, incense, silken canopies, hanging banners, clothing and music or even putting their palms together in reverence.
These are the kinds of things that they will use as offerings to dignify a place of practice. When the Buddha is no longer in the world, people of later generations dignify their places of practice by arranging flowers there. They come to create a certain spirit there, to create an atmosphere [of reverence], so they make flower arrangements. They also decorate it with all kinds of material goods or even use scents so that when people enter it they smell a fresh fragrance. All of this gladdens the heart;as soon as people enter this place of practice, they feel joy arise within.
There are scented powders and oils which, when lit, give off a fragrance. There are also fragrant oils that can be spread and applied in that place. Or they may use incense. Nowadays there are also diffusers for scented water vapor. These all serve the same purpose, making people feel the place is fresh and fragrant and helping them feel carefree and at ease. There are also things we can see, [such as] "silken canopies." In front of the Buddha's image, we decorate a bit with banners, silken canopies and so on. As for [offerings to] the Sangha, these can be clothing, music etc. This means that in a place of practice, they make it feel very joyous and decorated. Thus, when people enter, they feel reverence, the atmosphere of a spiritual training ground.
The following sutra passage states,
"Medicine King, you should know that these people have made offerings to 10 trillion Buddhas and in the presence of those Buddhas fulfilled great vows. They had compassion for sentient beings, so they were born into the world."
Medicine King, you should know that these people have made offerings to 10 trillion Buddhas and in the presence of those Buddhas fulfilled great vows. They had compassion for sentient beings, so they were born into the world.
He said, "Medicine King!" The Buddha again mindfully called Medicine King Bodhisattva. "You should know that these people have already, in past lifetimes, made offerings to 10 trillion Buddhas." I have been sharing these numbers with everyone these past few days. I feel that all people are Buddhas, so we must make offerings to everyone. I also make offerings to everyone; teaching the Dharma is my offering. When everyone makes offerings to each other, we can quickly reach 10 trillion Buddhas.
In our interactions with others in this lifetime, no matter sentient beings' karmic retributions, we can always help them, for we have the karmic conditions to hear the Dharma. In fact, the reason we can draw near the Three Treasures is that in past lifetimes we obtained the Dharma. We listened to it and truly made offerings to 10 trillion Buddhas. "Have made" means that in the past we made offerings like this.
Medicine King, you should know that these people have made offerings to 10 trillion Buddhas: Have reverent faith in that all those who make offerings to the sutras in past lifetimes have made offerings to countless Buddhas, World-Honored Ones. Made offerings to Buddhas: [They created] deep causes in past lifetimes.
"Have reverent faith that all those who make offerings to the sutras." These people all have very deep karmic conditions with this sutra. In the past, they have read, listened, transcribed and taught this sutra etc. These causes and conditions come from making offerings. In past lives, they had these blessed [conditions]. "In past lifetimes, [they] made offerings to all Buddhas, World-Honored Ones." When we make offerings to a sutra, we are making offerings to the Buddha. When we can put its principles into practice, we are also making offerings to the Buddha. By practicing according to teachings, we are putting the Great Vehicle teachings into action in this world. This is how we make offerings to all Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones.
So, "made offerings to Buddhas" is to say, "Medicine King, you should know that in past lifetimes, these people made offerings to many Buddhas, to 10 trillion Buddhas." Because they place great importance on this sutra and listen to it [intently], from hearing a single line or verse, their reverence is inspired, so they read, recite accept, uphold, copy and teach it. Thus, they constantly advance. This is upholding the Buddha's Dharmakaya and making offerings to the Buddha's Dharmakaya. They have been doing this for a long time.
So, this sutra describes the images in the Dharma realm.
This sutra describes the images in the Dharma realm. All sentient beings can realize Dharma-nature through this. Thus, making offerings to the wondrous Dharma of a verse is like making offerings to the Dharma-body of all Buddhas.
All sutra passages contain principles within them. When put into words, these principles are intangible, but they contain very rich imageries. For example, in the Jataka Sutra, about the time before the Buddha came to the world, He constantly spoke of past causes and conditions, made analogies and so on. Likewise, we can also take the things we see, what we hear and what moves us, and tell others about it. When someone talks to us, the imagery [they speak of] will appear in our minds. Among [the descriptions of] the principles, there are countless such images. Though we just listen to their descriptions, we can actually see [these things] in our minds.
Let me tell you that in Canada, at this time, there are still forest fires burning. A group of Tzu Chi volunteers is there. Mr. Gary Ho, his wife and a group of volunteers have traveled there. When I speak of this person, many of you will be able to picture him. When I say that Mr. Miao and Mr. Chuang also went, their images will also surface in your minds. Yes, they are in that place, finding ways to provide comfort.
There are some people who have not been able to return home for more than a month. They have no belongings and cannot go home, so they are very distraught. What can be done? [Our volunteers] said they made the local officials and emergency relief personnel aware that Tzu Chi volunteers are at this booth. When someone is emotionally unstable, they bring them over to this booth and seek out the Tzu Chi volunteers. When [the volunteers] told me about this, they described it, while I [took in their words] by listening. After hearing it, I retained these images in my head, how many Tzu Chi volunteers there were, how many Faith Corps members and how many commissioners there were, surrounding these distraught survivors. Some [survivors] have become depressed, while others suffer bipolar disorder. [They described] how they comfort [these people].
Yesterday, they also told us that there is a woman who is a terminal cancer patient. She saw everyone receiving blankets and heard how Tzu Chi volunteers comforted people, so she also wanted to become a volunteer. Wearing the volunteer vest, she spent a few days with the Tzu Chi volunteers. During that time, she heard everyone praising these blankets. Our volunteers saw that the fire still was not extinguished after such a long time, so they exercised their wisdom and called on everyone to reverently pray.
They asked the people there to reverently pray. We are followers of Buddhism, but there were people of many faiths on site. With humility and respect, [they asked,] "Is there a priest present? Is there a pastor present? Is there a nun present? Come, let us all pray together." There was none, so the Tzu Chi volunteers led everyone in prayer. They reverently prayed for the weather to become more humid so it could rain. Since people could not extinguish the fire, they asked the heavens to help extinguish it. Everyone [prayed] very sincerely!
They shared with everyone the content of the prayers. This woman with terminal cancer, who came to be a volunteer, looked very apologetic. I saw the photo of her. She said, "Although I am not a disaster survivor, I have seen the blankets [you've handed out]. Could you give one to me?" They all knew she had terminal cancer because she had told them. Our Tzu Chi volunteers were a bit hesitant. "Since she is not a disaster survivor, how can we give her a blanket?" However, considering her terminal cancer and that this was her wish, [they felt], "It's ok, let us give her one to fulfill her wish." She hugged this blanket to her chest as if she was praying, looking very reverent. Carrying this blanket with her, she went to visit someone with the same illness as her. This person was a child; a child who also had terminal cancer.
When she went to his home, the child with cancer happened to be in pain. He was stirring restlessly, crying out in pain. She saw his parents standing by his side, unable to do anything to help. She stood there, holding the blanket in her hands. Then she thought of something. She used this blanket she was holding to cover the child, comforting him as she learned from our volunteers. To her surprise, the child who had been stirring restlessly gradually began to calm down. After he settled down, a smile appeared on his face. Then, after a while, the child passed away.
She used her blanket to cover this child's body. She thought, "Should I send this blanket with him, or should I take it back? I should send it with him!" The child's parents were very touched that she came at the right time and put this blanket on his body, in this way, in the very end, eliminating his pain. The child gave a smile, and then, shortly after, passed away. She sent this blanket with the child, and he was buried with it.
She brought this story back [to the volunteers]. The next day, she told it to the Tzu Chi volunteers. She said, "It was so miraculous, I could not believe it. I gave my blanket away to this child." Our Tzu Chi volunteers thought, "This is inconceivable!" She had given someone else what they gave her. "Would you like us to give you another one?" This woman, clutching her hands as if holding a blanket, said to them, "What you gave me is already in my heart; it will always be in my heart. Although I gave [the blanket] to this child, it will always remain in my heart."
You see, this happened in our world. This kind of imagery, although it happened in Canada a few days ago, through writing or video conferencing, was reported to the Department of Religious Affairs. Staff from the Department of Religious Affairs then told me this story yesterday and this story, this imagery, has been turning over in my mind. I believe that, as I have told it to you now, if you have all mindfully listened, this image should be in everyone else's minds too.
So, it mentions "describing." Even in a sutra, when something is clearly described, [the image] will appear. By writing it down, it will be clear. Whether this sutra or these stories, we can describe them and bring them out. They all contain principles of people and matters. They bring together principles, people and matters. The actual [event] happened there; once that image is gone and the event has passed, it becomes like an illusion or a dream, but its impression will still remain. It is the same idea.
So, "All sentient beings can realize Dharma-nature through this." If we are mindful, then we can apply this Dharma among people. That group [of survivors] in Canada has no relationship with us. Yet in practicing according to the teachings, we took the Buddha's teachings to heart and applied the Dharma in a distant place. We applied it to help others with whom we have no relation. Now [this story] has become a memory; when we think of it, this imagery is conjured up in our minds.
We can then take this image, and describe it again continuously passing it on. Teaching and transmitting the Dharma is also done like this. This is "realizing Dharma-nature." This is what the Dharma is like, and this is what our nature is like; once we take it to heart, we can then tell it [to others]. We depend on the description of this image to express it in a very vivid way. So, "Thus, making offerings to the wondrous Dharma of a verse is like making offerings to the Dharma-body of all Buddhas." It is like making offerings to the Buddha's Dharma-body.
So, "In the presence of those Buddhas [they] fulfilled their great vows." We all should place great importance on this sutra, Even if it is just a single line or verse, we must cherish it all. So, "In the presence of all Buddhas [they] fulfilled their great vows." We must form aspirations and make vows. During the Buddha's lifetime, we formed Great Vehicle aspirations, so now we must also form Great Vehicle aspirations and likewise go among people to transform sentient beings. So, "In the presence of all Buddhas, they have fulfilled their vast aspirations."
And in the presence of all Buddhas they have fulfilled their great vows: In the presence of all Buddhas, they have fulfilled their vast and great aspirations.
Both when the Buddha was in the world and in past dust-inked kalpas before, we continually formed vows like this.
So, "They had compassion for sentient beings, so they were born into the world." Because they wanted to have compassion for all sentient beings, they were born into this human world.
They had compassion for sentient beings, so they were born into this human world: Because they wanted to have compassion for all sentient beings, they were born into this human world.
This means that the reason we were able to be born in this world was that we all listened to the Dharma.
So, this refers to the six kinds of Dharma teachers. The six kinds of Dharma teachers, as we said yesterday, accept and uphold the sutra, read and recite, chant, transcribe, expound and make offerings.
This refers to the right practices: The six kinds of Dharma teachers accept and uphold, read and recite, chant, transcribe, explain and make offerings.
With these six kinds [of practice], if we are able to earnestly carry out the Dharma, then we are like the six kinds of Dharma teachers.
"Since far-off kalpas, they have truly served all Buddhas and planted the roots of all virtues."
Since far-off kalpas, they have truly served all Buddhas and planted the roots of all virtues. However, they were not born in the Pure Land, nor did they live in the heavenly realms. The reason that they still remained in the defiled land of the human realm is in fact because they had compassion for and wanted to transform sentient beings. Thus, they manifested in this world.
Since far-off kalpas, we have been like this; we already practiced according to the teachings and "served all Buddhas." We practiced according to the teachings and followed what the Buddha taught. We already had these good causes from past lifetimes, so we took every line and verse to heart and put them into practice. "However, they were not born in the Pure Land, nor did they live in the heavenly realms." They were still in the defiled land of the human realm following their affinities. This was actually because they had compassion for sentient beings, so in order to transform sentient beings, they manifested here.
Everyone, in the past, we engaged in spiritual practice. Some people may feel, "I have practiced in this way in the past, so why did I have to be born into this world?" We did not have to be born in the human realm; it was that we were willing to come here. We came here journeying on our vows. Coming to this world, we fulfilled these causes and conditions. We must bring purity to people's hearts. We do not seek to be reborn in the Pure Land, but we hope to return to this Saha world to keep bringing purity to it. We must make this vow. This is the Buddha's greatest expectation of us; He hopes that we will all always be mindful.