A Brief Commentary on The Sutra Of The Four Practices For Bodhisattvas Spoken By The Buddha(Part VI)By Acharya ZhiguangAt Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain on July 2015Offering by three ways of pleasing the masterHow can we attain enlightenment in the shortest time? We need to please our teachers. It is clearly said in many Tantric scriptures that if you please your masters, you will obtain extraordinary accomplishments.There are two examples in The Words Of My Perfect Teacher. The first is the story of how Naropa followed Tilopa and the second is how Milarepa followed Marpa Lotsawa. Both Naropa and…
A Brief Commentary on The Sutra Of The Four Practices For Bodhisattvas Spoken By The Buddha
By Acharya Zhiguang
At Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain on July 2015
Offering by three ways of pleasing the master
How can we attain enlightenment in the shortest time? We need to please our teachers. It is clearly said in many Tantric scriptures that if you please your masters, you will obtain extraordinary accomplishments.
There are two examples in The Words Of My Perfect Teacher. The first is the story of how Naropa followed Tilopa and the second is how Milarepa followed Marpa Lotsawa. Both Naropa and Milarepa attained the ultimate enlightenment by pleasing their masters.
In The Treasury Of Precious Qualities by Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa, it says:
"If you make offerings to the teacher with your belongings, serve the teacher with great respect by words and deeds, the merits gained will never fade. Within the three ways of pleasing the teacher, practicing Dharma is the best."
There are three ways to please the teachers. The least preferable way is making offerings to the teachers with money or goods. The medium way is serving them devotedly through our deeds, words and mind. The best way is practicing the teachings from the teachers, never going against the teachings, practicing what the teachers have taught us diligently and persistently, and making offerings with Dharma practices, so we can attain the supreme enlightenment.
The Tantra Of The Array Of Samayas says:
"What’s better than meditating for a hundred thousand kalpas,
On a deity with all the major and secondary marks,
Is thinking of the teacher for an instant.
What’s better than reciting mantras for tens of millions of times,
Is a single prayer addressed to the teacher."
Of all practices in Vajrayana, the most important one is Guru Yoga.
So I always remember my masters and practice Guru Yoga in my daily practices. I think remembering the masters should be able to bring in immeasurable merits. I often pray to my masters including Guru Padmasambhava. I have great faith in Guru Padmasambhava because I had dreamed of him three times in 1996 before I set off to Tibet for Dharma study. I believed that it must be Guru Padmasambhava calling me, so I left for Tibet to study Tibetan Buddhism in 1997.
I remember my masters such as H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche when I practice Guru Yoga every day. Most part of my studies in Tibet actually started from Larung Gar, so I think that H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche had given me enormous kindness.
Of course in my mind, all the teachers I have followed, including Guru Padmasambhava, H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and the Patrul Rinpoche, are all one, whether they are of Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Southern or Northern tradition.
In a word, I have few merits myself, but one of the practices I often do is remembering my masters. To sum up all my experiences in over 30 years of practices, one key is following the virtuous teachers. It is all due to the blessings of the teachers that an inferior person like me can contribute a little to Dharma and all beings. So I have made a vow that I will take refuge by the feet of the virtuous teachers forever and ever, and be their student forever and ever.
(c) Learn and follow the teachings and actions of the teacher
As Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa stated in the Treasury of Precious Qualities:
“Like swans that swim in a gorgeous pool, Like bees gathering nectar from the flowers,
It is rare to accompany the teacher all the time. Be tireless in following the teacher’s teachings, To taste, through faith, his perfect qualities.”
He’s saying that just like the swans swimming in a gorgeous pond will not roil the water but enjoy being in the pond, and like the bees flying into the flowers will not damage them but gather their essence, similarly, we should follow the teacher’s teachings tirelessly, joyfully and enthusiastically, and act accordingly. We should let the wisdom and qualities in the teacher’s mind into our own through faith and intelligent practice, like pouring the nectar from one bottle to another.
H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche once said that for a master truly intended to benefit all beings, no matter what he is doing, the disciples should not waste such an opportunity and should try to get involved by all means, physically or financially. Like a drop of water having entered the ocean will not evaporate before the ocean dries up, if we could get involved in any virtuous activities of the master, the waterdrop of our aspiration will enter into the vast ocean of merits of the master, and consequently our merits will never be exhausted. It is clear that such merits are far greater than the self-centered ones.
So, when the masters are carrying out the great Bodhisattva deeds, we should participate in their causes of spreading Dharma teachings and benefiting all beings according to our ability and circumstances. In Section 4.4 of the Chapter of Karma and Causality in Volume 16 of the Abhidharmakośa-kārikā (or Verses On The Treasury Of Abhidharma), the Bodhisattva Vasubandhu described the common karma with a metaphor as follows: “When the soldiers in a troop set out to do one thing together, all of them equally share the retribution as the ones who actually do it.” This is the power of common karma. The aspiration and the merits of the master are incomparable. Although our power is very little, if we can add our little power into the master’s causes of spreading Dharma teachings and benefiting all beings, we will simultaneously obtain the same limitless and boundless merits as the master.
There is a metaphor. Suppose there is a swift horse that runs so fast that it can run a thousand miles in one day. Suppose there is also a fly. If it tries to fly one thousand miles, it might die in the end. However, there is a way for the fly to travel one thousand miles easily, that is, it can ride on the back of the horse. When the horse has run 1,000 miles, so has the fly. This metaphor was told by a Tibetan Lama.
But I think we can slightly change this metaphor in this modern time. If the fly has sufficient merits and is smart enough, it can sneak onto an airplane so as to travel even farther and more comfortably. I think we can compare the master to the airplane today.
This is true for us too. Whatever meritorious activities our masters are doing, we should participate as much as we can. Like a fly riding an airplane, it would be fairly easy for us to reach a very distant place.
As stated in The Treasury Of Precious Qualities by Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa:
“For those aspired to engage in the actions of enlightenment,
When seeing virtuous teachers accumulating both merits and wisdom, We should try to be involved in teachers’ work,
Even just by carrying messages or sweeping the floor.
Tasks like these bear supreme merits Which will help us reach Path of Liberation.”
Therefore, nothing is more extraordinary than the masters in terms of refuge and the supreme field for accumulating all merits.
(d) Faith ─ the key to following the teachers in the correct way
In The Words Of My Perfect Teacher, the master is described as the union of the Three Jewels through reasoning and quoting from Buddhist scriptures. It says: "The teacher embodies the essence of all the past, present and future Buddhas. His body represents the Sangha, his speech represents Dharma, his mind represents the Buddha, so the teacher is the union of the Three Jewels….” As the Buddhist verses say: “The teacher is the Buddha；the teacher is Dharma；the teacher is also the Sangha; the teacher is the one who accomplishes everything. The teacher is Glorious Vajradhara.” It also says that, "Since the teacher takes us, whom none of the thousand Buddhas of the Good Kalpa could save from this sinful world, as his disciples, his compassion and kindness have exceeded that of all Buddhas."
So, the qualities of our masters are no different from those of all Buddhas, but the kindness of our masters to us is greater than that of all Buddhas. It is also stated in the Essence Of Nectar-Stages Of The Path To Enlightenment written by the Tibetan senior master Yeshe Tsondrü: “The followers rely on the master, who is equal to the Buddha in true nature. He constantly guides his disciples using the nectar of holy Dharma, and his kindness is far greater than that of all Buddhas.”
Imagine what we would do if our masters did not come to help and save us? We would likely stay in the darkness, reincarnation and sufferings forever. Although we have Buddha statues and the Buddhist scriptures, we cannot communicate directly with the Buddha, nor can we understand the true meaning of the scriptures. Without our masters, it would be impossible for us to be truly freed from Samsara. The masters are the supreme object for our practice. If we have full faith in our masters, we can attain enlightenment and Buddhahood with no difficulty.
Let me tell you a story.
At the time of the Buddha, there was a monastery called Pine Monastery in the suburbs of Rajgir where the Buddha often gave Dharma teachings and held over 100 monks. In a village near Pine Monastery, there was a devout Buddhist lay woman who had great faith in Buddhism. In order to be able to listen to Dharma teachings everyday, she asked Pine Monastery to send a Bhikshu each day to her house to receive her offerings. After the offering, she always earnestly asked the Bhikshu to give her Dharma teaching. So, all the monks in Pine Monastery knew that this devout lay woman was quite experienced in hearing, contemplating and practicing Dharma.
One day, it was the turn of an old Bhikshu to receive the offerings from her. His name was Mahara and he just became a monk for one day. Though he appears to be a senior Bhikshu, he hadn’t started learning the Dharma yet. Knowing his ignorance, he was afraid to meet the lady who was proficient in Dharma, but he couldn't go against the arrangement of the monastery. With no choice, he tramped over the paths toward the woman’s house.
Seeing the old Bhikshu, the lady had great faith in him because he appeared to be a senior practitioner. She respectfully offered the Bhikshu Mahara a very abundant meal. After he finished eating, the woman prostrated before him and asked him to teach Dharma. This is called “There is no free meal”. It is not so easy to receive offerings. After enjoying a nice meal, you have to give Dharma teachings.
The old Bhikshu fell in a dilemma. The delicious meal he just had didn’t feel very nice any more at this moment. Because he just became a monk for one day and hadn’t listened to any teachings, he sat there and started racking his brain for what to say next. (The audience laughed.) Just like me now. This Bhikshu thought for a long time, and finally came out with two words: “So painful!”
The lady regarded him as a great senior old Bhikshu with good Dharma practices, so she had extraordinary faith and reverence. She was even visualizing this old Bhikshu as a Buddha or Bodhisattva. When she heard him saying “So painful”, she instantly recalled the teachings about sufferings in Samsara and renunciation arose very strongly. She contemplated on the truth of suffering, and unexpectedly attained Srotapanna (the First Stage of Enlightenment) at the moment. She then went into a deep meditation.
Seeing the woman entering meditation, the old Bhikshu ran away hastily back to the monastery. The woman found that the old Bhikshu was gone after emerging from meditation and thought he flew away with supernormal power. She went after her teacher with an extraordinary offering all the way to Pine Monastery to thank him for helping her attain the enlightenment of Srotapanna.
This is the story of “Mahara started practicing Dharma at an elderly age. This clumsy offering receiver worried about teaching as a return. While he was distressed at his ignorance, the respectful listener attained Srotapanna”. That’s why the disciple’s faith is the most important. If the disciple has faith, he will attain enlightenment even if the master only says two words. Since I have said so much, have any of you attained enlightenment? Just a joke. (The Archarya laughed.) So the most important key to enlightenment lies in our faith.
In The Words Of My Perfect Teacher, there is another story that can prove this also.
There was an old lady in Tibet whose son frequently went to India for business. The old lady said to her son, “Can you bring me a sacred thing of the Buddha for me to worship?” She asked her son many times, but he forgot every time and returned with nothing for his old mother.
One day, the son was going to India again and his mother said to him, “This time you must bring something back, or I’ll kill myself in front of you.” But the son forgot again about bringing his mother a sacred thing of the Buddha when he returned home. He thought to himself, “This is no good. My mother will surely kill herself.” Right when he was worried, he suddenly saw a dog’s dead body on the side of the road. He pulled out a tooth from the dog’s body, and wrapped it with a very nice Hada. Upon arriving home, he told his mother that it was a tooth of the Buddha.
The mother enshrined the tooth in the prayer hall with great faith and worshiped it every day by prostrating before it and making offerings to it very reverently, as if she was facing the real Buddha and praying with complete faith. Later, there were many relics growing out of this dog tooth. At last when the old lady was dying, there were many auspicious signs of liberation from Samsara such as rainbows and halos.
These two stories fully show the importance of faith. If you have faith, the blessings from the Buddha will reach you by any means. So faith is the key for us to attain all accomplishments.
There is a crucial practice in Tibetan Buddhism called The Thirty-Seven Practices Of Bodhisattvas, one of the handed-down works of Master Nguluchu Thogme Zangpo (also known as Bodhisattva Wu Zhu Xian) of the Sakya Lineage. He wrote in The Thirty-Seven Practices Of Bodhisattvas: “When virtuous teachers are relied upon, one’s sins will be eliminated, and one’s merits will grow like the waxing moon. Cherishing virtuous teachers much more than one’s own body is the Bodhisattva’s practice.” One important practice in The Thirty-Seven Practices Of Bodhisattvas is how to eliminate all bad karmas and increase all merits, that is, one should regard virtuous teachers as more important than oneself.
From the Buddhist sutras or the works such as The Words Of My Perfect Teacher, Treasury Of Precious Qualities, and The Thirty-Seven Practices Of Bodhisattvas, we can see that all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, all eminent monks and great masters hold that relying upon virtuous teachers is one crucial factor for us to be saved from Samsara and attain Buddhahood.
So the teacher is a very harsh condition for us to face. If you serve and make offerings to your teacher, the resulting merits will be enormous. On the other hand, if you come up with evil views to your teacher, or do harmful things, the bad karma to be gained will be also enormous. We need to be very prudent on this.
While following the teachers, we should avoid lack of respect. If there is any disrespect in our actions, speeches and thoughts, we must repent to purify them as quickly as possible.
If we have irreverence to the teachers, it’s not the teachers who will have loss. The teachers will lose nothing, but we will bear great sufferings.
There were 84 Mahasiddhas in India. One of them was named Savaripa and he was a hunter. One day he encountered another hunter while hunting. That hunter asked him, “How many animals can you kill with one arrow?” Savaripa answered, “I can kill one animal with one arrow”. Then that hunter said, “I can kill 300 animals with one arrow”. Savaripa replied, “Are you kidding? It’s impossible.”
At this moment, 500 animals suddenly showed up. This very powerful hunter then said, “I can kill 300 animals with one arrow.” Although Savaripa was a hunter, somehow a little mercy arose within him. He said, “It’s a bit too merciless to kill 300 animals with one arrow. 100 is good enough.” So, that very powerful hunter really killed 100 animals with one arrow. Savaripa admired him with the utmost sincerity, and asked, “Can you have me as your student to teach me this powerful archery?” That powerful hunter said, “I can have you as my student, but you must obey what I say.” This powerful hunter was actually the incarnation of Avalokitesvara.
Afterwards, this powerful hunter told Savaripa, “In order to learn archery, the first step is to quit eating meat for a month.” Savaripa promised that he’d be a vegetarian for a month. A month later, the powerful hunter came back to find out that Savaripa did have kept his promise, so he taught him to observe and meditate on sufferings in Samsara. (My guess is that he may have taught the first half of The Words Of My Perfect Teacher: the difficulty of finding the freedoms and advantages, the impermanence of life, the principle of cause and effect, and the defects of Samsara.) Then the powerful hunter taught him to generate great compassion. At last he taught him the teaching of emptiness. Gradually, under the guidance of the Bodhisattva, Savaripa totally became a Buddhist practitioner and practiced continually in the mountains for 12 years. At last he attained enlightenment of Mahamudra. The archery learning failed certainly. But he gained accomplishment.
Later, Master Savaripa remained in Samsara to help and save the beings based on the instruction of his teacher Avalokitesvara. There were two practitioners at the time: one of them was a great pandita named Maitripa, and the other was Prince Sakara. After hearing about the accomplishment of Master Savaripa, they set out to visit the Master out of admiration.
However, when they met Savaripa, they found he was accompanied with two consorts who were killing beings. Upon seeing this picture, these two practitioners had different thoughts in their minds. The Prince Sakara instantly generated incomparable faith. He thought that the way Savaripa was using to help and save beings was extremely extraordinary and the killed were very lucky for they must have all been saved from Samsara. So he prostrated to Master Savaripa. After the Master imparted an oral instruction to him, he instantly attained realization of Mahamudra and his body turned into the rainbow body. Because of his full faith, he corresponded with the Master in an instant and immediately attained the accomplishment as the Master.
However, the great pandita Maitripa had a few erroneous thoughts at the first sight of the Master. However, when he witnessed the accomplishment of the prince, he immediately realized his own fault and corrected the wrong view quickly. So, the Master conferred empowerment on him and gave him precious teachings, and consequently he attained the great wisdom of realizing the truth of Dharma realm. But because he had lost faith in front of the Master, he never attained the accomplishment of rainbow body in his life; he gained the realization of Mahamudra during the intermediate state between death and rebirth.
There are many other stories that show the importance of following the virtuous teachers. So the Buddha said in this Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas that, the second key method for Bodhisattvas practice, which is very very important, is relying upon virtuous teachers according to Dharma teachings. This is the quickest way to attain enlightenment.
(To be continued)
- Different Paths, Same Destination—Interviews and Dialogues Transcending Sectarianism
- A DROP OF GHEE—Twelve Verses from the Lotus Sutra for a Fulfilling and Happy Life
- The Fourfold Path to Buddhahood—A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha
- Part VII – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha
- Part VI – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha
- Part V – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha
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- Dharma Talk of Acharya Zhiguang on the Vesak Day of 2020
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