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1. Question: Are the teachings in the Lotus Sutra about expedient means? Answered by Acharya Zhiguang: The Lotus Sutra surely contains teachings about “expedient means,” but it is not limited to that. It is about “opening the gate of expedient means and revealing the ultimate truth.” “Expedient means” is important; without it, we would not be able to enter into the Dharma of the ultimate truth to attain enlightenment. However, the expedient means should never be separated from the ultimate truth. In other words, the ultimate purpose of expedient means is to guide sentient being to enter into teachings of…

2019.10.02

1. Question: Are the teachings in the Lotus Sutra about expedient means?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

The Lotus Sutra surely contains teachings about “expedient means,” but it is not limited to that. It is about “opening the gate of expedient means and revealing the ultimate truth.” “Expedient means” is important; without it, we would not be able to enter into the Dharma of the ultimate truth to attain enlightenment. However, the expedient means should never be separated from the ultimate truth. In other words, the ultimate purpose of expedient means is to guide sentient being to enter into teachings of the ultimate truth; otherwise expedient means would be meaningless. The teachings of ultimate truth require expedient means to benefit all beings, so the expedient means and the ultimate truth must work together. The Lotus Sutra states that it opens the gate of expedient means and reveals the ultimate truth, meaning that it uses the teachings of incomplete truth and employs expedient means to help sentient beings eventually enter into the teachings of the ultimate truth. This is the most important purpose of the Lotus Sutra—to enlighten sentient beings about the wisdom and insight of the Buddha and help them attain Buddhahood in the end.

That is why the Lotus Sutra contains a chapter titled as “Expedient Means.” Master Zhanran stated in the Summary of the Lotus Sutra: “‘Means’ refers to ‘secret,’ and ‘expedient’ refers to ‘wonderful.’ The true secret is that which is taught through wonderful methods. The Lotus Sutra demonstrates that the priceless jewel sewed in the lining of the drunk man’s robe is no different from the unique pearl in the king’s topknot, just as the hired worker is no different from the wealthy Elder’s son. Such teachings and expressions are truly wonderful secrets.”

Why can’t most ordinary beings attain Buddhahood? Because they lack faith in themselves. My master, the Venerable Shen Renyan, once said the Lotus Sutra talked about five kinds of beings attaining Buddhahood, and we will have faith in ourselves after learning about them.

The first kind are the arhats of the Hinayana. According to the Lotus Sutra, all arhats received the Buddha’s prediction that in the future they would all attain Buddhahood, including Kashyapa, Ananda and Rahula. What does this mean? It means all Hinayana practitioners will attain Buddhahood in the end.

The second kind are those who have committed the five rebellious acts and the ten evil deeds. Devadatta is a perfect representative of such beings. He had committed the five rebellious acts and ten evil deeds, but the Buddha predicted that he would become Devaraja Buddha in the future. Therefore, even people who have committed the five rebellious acts and ten evil deeds can also attain Buddhahood as long as they become enlightened. People like that are much worse than us. So, if they can become Buddhas, we will definitely attain Buddhahood in the future.

The third kind are animals. As stated in the Lotus Sutra, the daughter of the dragon king attained Buddhahood when she was eight years old. As a member of the dragon family, she is not even a human being at all but an animal. So, if she has become a Buddha, shouldn’t we, as human beings, have more reasons to attain Buddhahood?

The fourth kind are those who have wrong views. In the Lotus Sutra, King Subhavyuha used to have wrong views. His wife, Lady Vimaladatta, as well as his two sons, Vimalagarbha and Vimalanetra, were actually Bodhisattvas who deliberately chose to be incarnated as his children to convert him. Later they persuaded him to visit the Buddha and listen to His teachings. Then he was also given the prediction of attaining Buddhahood by the Buddha. This is an example of people with wrong views attaining Buddhahood.

The last kind are all sentient beings who have made connections with the Lotus Sutra. The following is stated in the chapter of the Expounder of the Dharma in the Sutra: “Thereupon the World-honored One by addressing Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Medicine King), through him addressed eighty thousand mahasattvas, saying: ‘O Bhaisajyaraja! In this assembly do you see innumerable humans and nonhumans such as devas, naga kings, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen, those seeking the sravaka vehicle, the pratyekabuddha vehicle, and the Buddhist path? If, in the presence of the Buddha any beings such as these hear a single verse or line of the Lotus Sutra, and thereupon have even one thought of rejoicing in it, I will bestow upon them my prediction that they will attain highest, complete enlightenment.’ The Buddha addressed Bhaisajyaraja, saying: ‘If, after the parinirvana of the Tathagata, any being hears even a single verse or line of the Lotus Sutra, and thereupon has even one thought of rejoicing in it, I will bestow upon them the prediction that they will attain highest, complete enlightenment.’” So, actually all of us are already included in this prophesy since the Buddha says all beings who have ever read the Lotus Sutra will become Buddhas in the future. If anyone makes a connection with the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha will bestow upon him the prediction that he will attain the supreme perfect enlightenment. So, we will definitely attain Buddhahood in the future.

The Lotus Sutra helps us to build our confidence. We may have thought that attaining Buddhahood is so distant that it seems almost irrelevant to us. However, if we have learned about these five kinds of beings attaining Buddhahood in the Lotus Sutra, we will gain faith in our attainment of Buddhahood in the future. As long as we hear, contemplate and practice the Dharma strictly in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings, we will all become Buddhas. This is the main principle of the Lotus Sutra.

2. Question: What shall I do when my family gets annoyed with me for practicing the Dharma?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Practicing the Dharma is not just about listening to the Dharma or attending group practice. Of course, these are Dharma practices. However, the foundation of Dharma practice is possessing a virtuous character. We should, above all, do our utmost to be good people, which means we should fulfil our duties and responsibilities and make other beings happy.

Everyone has their own roles and duties: parents should love their children, while children should be filial to their parents; wives and husbands should respect and love each other; elder siblings should love and care for their younger brothers and sisters, who, in return, should respect their elder siblings; the management should take good care of the staff, who, in return, should be dutiful and work hard to do their job well.

It is indeed not good if our Dharma practice annoys our family. “When we do not, by what we do, realize what we desire, we must turn inwards and examine ourselves in every point.” We should examine ourselves for the causes, be more considerate of our families, see things more from their perspective, and treat them with compassion and tolerance.

In addition, dedicating our merits of chanting sutras and other Dharma practices to our family on a daily basis would also be very helpful to them.

3. Question: As a Buddhist, I understand that losing my temper would “burn down my forest of merits.” However, this bad habit is so strong in me that it happens over and over again. I have been trying to repent and purify my karma in this respect by diligently chanting the mantra of Bodhisattva Cundi and the mantra of Vajrasattva, but I still make the same mistake time and time again. What should I do?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

First of all, we should understand that everyone has shortcomings before they attain Buddhahood. Hatred is one of our common flaws. We should resolve to overcome our various shortcomings in the long run. We may repent every day, but still repeat the same mistakes. Bad temper cannot be eradicated in a day or two because we have been habituating hatred since beginningless time and this habit has inertia. When encountering an unpleasant situation, we still get angry even though we are aware it is not right to do so. This is simply a habit built up in the past. Although we still get angry despite repeated repentance, we should not think that repenting is useless. By repenting, good habits will grow stronger and stronger over time while the habit of hatred will become weaker and weaker.

Next, let’s see how we can overcome hatred.

Firstly, we need to understand the harm caused by hatred. Hatred results in very serious bad karma. According to Mahayana Buddhism, the worst kind of bad karma is hatred. This is because hatred is the opposite of compassion and brings harm to other beings.

Next, we can overcome hatred by skillful means. There are many ways to tame hatred. Here I would like to introduce a simple yet powerful one. We usually have hatred for someone because they have hurt us or they have done something wrong. This is a natural response that ordinary beings have. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, however, have a completely different response. Not only will they respond without hatred, they will feel great compassion for those who have committed mistakes. They know these beings are actually pitiful because they are ignorant and unable to control their mind. They plant the seeds of suffering and will inevitably suffer magnified retributions that will cause hundreds of thousands of times more afflictions in the future. Therefore, they should not be hated but deserve our compassion instead. This is a way to transform hatred into compassion. Of course, we may not be able to succeed right away, but with repeated practice, eventually you will react with compassion naturally when you see someone making a mistake.

Lastly, if we make a dedication of merits in the correct way after our Dharma practice, the merits we have collected will be preserved. They will not be destroyed, even if we fail to refrain ourselves from hatred later. 

4. Question: How do we manage the love-hate relationships with our family members?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

In general, family members gather in samsara simply for the following reasons: to repay kindness, to seek revenge, to collect debts, or to pay off debts.

The best way to treat our family members is to generate compassion and Bodhicitta towards them, to try our best to treat them kindly and make them happy in the spirit of the Medicine Buddha’s Twelve Great Vows, and to influence them with wisdom and compassion. It would be best if we could practice the Dharma and chant the Buddha’s name together, so we can all return to the Pure Land. Thus, the perfect ending will be achieved when we convert our love-hate family members into Dharma companions.

Even if we are truly unable to influence our family members, we should still try our best with full compassion. At least, we should make the supreme name of the Medicine Buddha (Namo Bhaisajyaguru) be heard by them, and in the future, they will surely be awakened from ignorance to enlightenment and elevated from suffering to bliss.

5. Question: What shall we do when we are given live fish or shrimp as gifts?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Whenever someone gives you live seafood, freshwater fish and the like, always accept them and then release them back into the wild. By doing so, you will benefit both yourself and others, and gain immeasurable merits.

When releasing them, you can recite any life release ritual you have learned. At the very least, recite to them the Mantra of Avalokiteshvara, Om Mani Padme Hum, several times to plant the seeds of liberation for them.

6. Question: How do we practice the Dharma even when we are having a meal or a cup of tea?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang

All forms of enjoyment consume our merits; what we eat and drink today is the fruit of our positive karma. In the Vajrayana teachings, there are many skillful means to transform eating and drinking into Dharma practice that accumulates new merits, instead of consuming our karmic rewards.

Making Offerings

Before having a meal or drinking tea or even just water, we should make an offering to our Guru and the Three Jewels by reciting a simple verse of offering as follows: “I offer this to the Guru, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.” You may also recite the ritual of Vajrayana Tsog offering if you have received the transmission. By doing so, we accumulate the merits of making offerings to our Guru and the Three Jewels. Although having a meal still consumes a little of our merits, the merits accumulated by making offerings to the Guru and the Three Jewels far outweigh the merits consumed, because our Guru and the Three Jewels are the most supreme field of merit for us to sow positive karmic seeds in.

Setting Intentions

Then, we should set our intentions by reciting the following verses: “I vow to rid myself of all evils. I vow to cultivate all virtues. And I vow to liberate all beings.” These verses include giving up evil, doing good and generating Bodhicitta. They also remind us that the purpose of eating and nourishing our body is to use it to diligently practice the Dharma, benefit all beings, and attain Buddhahood. With such intentions, eating becomes a Dharma practice that generates immeasurable merits.

Praying

Next, we can pray for the Medicine Buddha to bless the food or drinks by reciting the Medicine Buddha mantra three times while envisioning that the Medicine Buddha purifies us with nectar to cleanse our bad karma and make us healthy. By doing so, the food or drinks will have a healing effect.

Giving Alms

We can also perform a food-giving ritual before a meal if we have received the transmission of food-giving. If there is any leftover after the meal, we can give it to other beings by reciting the heart mantra of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Om Mani Padme Hum, seven times while envisioning that the food is transformed into infinite nectar for all beings in the six realms to enjoy.

Dedicating the merits

Lastly, we dedicate the merit of our previous practices.

By taking the above steps, having a meal or a cup of tea becomes a Dharma practice in the Vajrayana view. Instead of consuming good karma, our practice of making offerings and giving alms helps us accumulate merits, strengthen our faith in the Three Jewels and our compassion for all sentient beings.

7. Question: Nowadays, there are more and more diseases, fatal illnesses, wars and disasters constantly threatening people’s lives, as well as more and more tragedies of elderly parents mourning the loss of their children. Are there solutions in Buddhism to such problems?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

In Buddhism, the real cause of people’s ill health, short lifespan, sudden and violent death is considered to be their negative karma created by killing or other harmful deeds done in the past, including murder, abortion, animal farming or slaughter, selling livestock or seafood, etc. It is stated in Chapter 4 of the Sutra of the Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva that “to killers, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva speaks of the retribution of a short lifespan.”

The act of killing includes killing conducted by oneself, participating in others’ killing, instructing others to kill, and rejoicing at seeing a killing. If you instruct someone else to kill, not only will yourself create the negative karma of killing, so will the one that kills under your instruction, which constitutes an even greater karmic sin. Rejoicing at seeing a killing, meaning that you feel delighted when seeing someone kill, will result in you committing almost the same karmic sin as the killer. So, when we see others kill, we should never agree with or rejoice at it.

When we watch war or action movies, we cannot help rejoicing at and cheering for the good guys defeating or killing the bad guys. Is this considered as “rejoicing at seeing the killing?” Yes, it is. Of course, it does not generate exactly the same karma as the actual killing but mainly the karma of evil thoughts, for no one has been really killed in the movies. So, we need to guard our mind cautiously when watching movies.

Likewise, killing in video games, although somewhat different from actual killing, also generates serious bad karma of evil thoughts and plants negative seeds in your mind.

Therefore, if we want a long life without illness or sudden and violent death, we should do our best to avoid killing of any form and other harmful deeds. We should also repent diligently to purify our previous karma of killing. Moreover, we should exert ourselves to protect other being’s lives, release animals that are set for slaughter, and safeguard the health and safety of others.

Meanwhile, we can also pray to the Buddhas for blessing, such as Buddha Suvarnabhadra Vimala (Buddha of Golden Precious Light and Wonderful Conduct and Accomplishment), one of the seven Medicine Buddhas. He made the following vow specifically aimed at sentient beings’ acts of killing and other harmful deeds: “I vow that, when I attain Buddhahood in my future life, for the sentient beings who take other beings’ lives by slaughter or other harmful deeds and thus suffer in hell or, if reborn as humans, live short lives with many illnesses or get harmed by water, fire, knives or poison, and are doomed to suffer painful deaths, if they hear my name and chant it devotedly, all their negative karmas of killing will be eliminated and they will live long lives without illnesses or sudden and violent deaths until they attain Buddhahood.”

So, if we have generated various karma of killing, we should diligently repent and reform from now on. Furthermore, we should chant “Namo Buddha Suvarnabhadra Vimala” with the utmost sincerity. Through the blessing of his vow, we can purify ourselves of previous karma of killing, live long lives free of illnesses or sudden and violent deaths, and ultimately attain Buddhahood.

8. Question: What should we do when we are unable to overcome certain predicaments and obstacles in life?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Under such circumstances, you should pray to your Guru and the Three Jewels and to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for blessing, just like when a child is unable to move a big rock, he will seek help from his parents to move it.

The blessing is composed of two parts: granting blessings and receiving blessings. The Guru and the Three Jewels, with their absolute compassion and omniscient wisdom, will bestow their divine powers on anyone who prays to them. However, it’s only through the faith of the prayers that the two sides can interact for the blessings to actually get across to the prayers.

According to Buddhist sutras, all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions and the three periods of time view us sentient beings as their own children. Their great compassion, vast wisdom and supreme powers are boundless. When we pray, the blessings from the Guru and the Three Jewels will enter into our lives and we will then have the ability to face and overcome the predicaments.

9. Question: Why do my prayers seem unanswered sometimes?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Whether or not your prayers are answered should not be judged by your own standards. In fact, the Buddha’s response already reaches you the instant you say the prayer, and it surely comes in the most timely and suitable way, but it might not necessarily be exactly what you expect. We must understand that.

Never think that the prayers are unanswered simply because our wishes are not fulfilled. In fact, your wishes are not necessarily all good for you. Just like when small children keep asking for candy, do you have to satisfy them? Wise parents will not fulfill every wish their children have; teachers with wisdom will likewise not grant every wish of their students; these people know what’s best for those in their care and of course the Buddha knows best of all. Actually, you don’t know what is the best for yourself, but the Buddha does because he is omniscient. So, you must believe that the Buddha will bless you in the way that suits you the best.

The blessings from the Buddha are only given in the way that would truly bring temporary and ultimate benefits to sentient beings. They are never meant to meet all your wishes or satisfy your ego.

If your wishes only reinforce your ego and aim at realizing your delusions, they would take you ever farther away from the awakening of life and enlightenment. The Buddha wants you to be enlightened, but you want to remain confused, so do you think He would fulfil all your wishes?

Therefore, no matter what results might turn out, you should still keep chanting the sutras, practicing the Dharma and praying, and then accept whatever comes your way, firmly believing that everything that happens is the best arrangement made for you by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Never wonder, “Why are my prayers still not answered? Why are my wishes still not fulfilled?” If you think that way, you’re separating your mind from the Buddha’s blessings. This is the wrong way of thinking that many people often have. Actually, when you think that way, your prayers will really go in vain. Why? Because you have doubts in your mind.

The Great Compassion Mantra has infinite merits. But why do some people chant it to no avail? The reason is explained in the Sutra of Thousand-Handed and Thousand-Eyed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvas Vast, Perfect, Unimpeded, Great-Compassionate Heart Dharani as follows: “The only exception is those who have doubts in the Mantra.” It is because of their doubts that they do not receive the blessings.

\10. Question: How do we get our wishes fulfilled when we pray for wealth, promotion or prosperous careers?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Your praying to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for wealth, promotion or a prosperous career is like your son asking you for money. Are you going to give it to him?

If your son is very promising in that he has moral virtues, refrains from evil and does good to benefit both himself and others, and he practices the Dharma diligently, then when he asks you for 10,000 RMB to do something that would benefit sentient beings, I think, as long as you are able to, you would certainly give him the money. You would probably be willing to fund him with 100,000 RMB, not to mention 10,000.

However, if he eats and drinks every day to excess, and lives a life of unrestrained sensual indulgences, would you still give him 10,000 RMB? You certainly would not.

Similarly, when we pray to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to fulfil our wishes, we should ask ourselves if we have sufficient merits to deserve what we wish for, or are we simply being greedy?

One does not need much to live. In many cases, we need very little but want very much. Think about how many poor people in this world are struggling for survival. We are all very rich compared to them.

Do you keep unnecessary things at home? I bet you do. Do you have clothes that you have never worn? I bet you do. Do you have things hidden away somewhere in your home that you have never used? I bet you do too.

In this sense, we are all rich. If we still want to have more, this is essentially greed. Would Buddhas and Bodhisattvas fulfil your greed?

In fact, you already own so much that you can actually help others. If you are to benefit beings with your belongings, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will surely help you. The more you want to benefit the beings, the more Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will give you. This is beyond all question.

Many people complain that their Dharma practices are not working. Actually, it is very important for you to look deep into your heart and examine the motivation behind your prayers. Do you really intend to benefit sentient beings, or is this only an excuse to pursue your own interest?

All the Dharma practices taught by the Buddha are ultimately meant to reveal our inherent Buddha nature and Tathagata wisdom, and help us attain supreme Bodhi (the supreme perfect enlightenment) with perfect virtues and merits to benefit both ourselves and others.

However, many of our Dharma friends do not aspire for such great achievement.

Maybe they pursue profound Dharma teachings just because they want their business to get better or to live more comfortably. Of course, these motivations do not conform with supreme Bodhi. So, when they feel that the Dharma practices they have done fail to achieve their personal agenda, they lose faith in the Dharma.

The profound Dharma teachings are to help us attain supreme enlightenment. It certainly does not conform with the Dharma if we practice it only to have a happy mundane life. Why are our practices not working? It is not because the teachings are ineffective, but because our mind is not compatible with the teachings.

We should observe our mind and examine ourselves. In the meantime, we must have faith in the Buddha, the Dharma and ourselves. It is said in the Flower Adornment Sutra that “all beings have the Tathagata-wisdom.” Every one of us has the Tathagatagarbha, but it takes practice to reveal our Buddha nature.

Of course, this does not mean that we cannot pray for wealth, promotion or prosperous careers and such. The Buddha allows us to have such wishes, but we should fulfil them in the correct way by raising the bar of our aspiration and practicing the Dharma diligently for the purpose of benefiting and enlightening both ourselves and others.     

11. Question: What should I do to save myself from depression?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Buddhism offers a simple method to cure depression with no side-effects by chanting “Namo Buddha Ashokattamshri (Carefree Supreme Auspicious Buddha).” This is the name of the fourth Buddha of the Seven Medicine Buddhas. This Buddha made a vow before attaining Buddhahood: “Upon the attainment of Buddhahood in my future life, for those who are afflicted with worries and anguish, if they hear my name and faithfully chant it, all their worries and anguish will be eliminated by the power of chanting, so they will live long and peaceful lives till they attain Buddhahood.” Because Buddha Ashokattamshri has achieved Buddhahood long time ago, his vows are definitely true and valid. So, depression, which is caused by worries and anguish that afflict people physically and mentally, can be overcome by chanting “Namo Buddha Ashokattamshri.”

However, whether or not the chanting will take effect depends on how much faith you have. The effects of all Dharma practices depend on faith. If we do not have enough faith, the effects will be compromised. It is not that the Buddhas do not have the power to bless us, but that their blessings will not be able to enter our heart if we close it up. It is just as if you want to get some sunlight but choose to hide in a dark corner while the sun shines all over the earth.

The blessing of the Buddha pervades the whole Dharma realm and embraces all sentient beings, but if you do not open up your heart to the Buddha, He can do nothing but shed tears at our sufferings. It’s important that we understand the power of the Buddha’s great compassion and vows, so we can fully open our heart to the Buddha and faithfully pray and chant “Namo Buddha Ashokattamshri.” His blessing will get across into our heart when it is open, so all our worries and anguish will be eliminated and we will live long and peaceful lives till we attain Buddhahood. This method is simple and effective with no side-effects.

Another method is to realize no-self and emptiness. From a certain point of view, we unenlightened beings are all bound to feel somewhat depressed before we attain Buddhahood. It happens whenever we get stuck in our mind traps. Some people suffer worse because they are stuck longer; some suffer less as they somehow think it through sooner. When can you utterly get rid of depression? The answer is when you realize no-self and emptiness. Who would be suffering from depression if there is no “self” at all? The reason you are depressed is simply that you have this concept of “self” and are attached to it. However, it is much harder to realize no-self and emptiness than to chant “Namo Buddha Ashokattamshri.”

12. Question: We always say that it is easy for ordinary people to aspire to attain enlightenment, but it is hard for them to keep up this aspiration at all times. So, how can we maintain a firm resolve in walking the path to enlightenment?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Based on my over thirty years of experience in practicing the Dharma, I think the most important thing is that we should rely on good teachers and friends. For example, in the middle of the night, if a person is heading to a place in a virgin forest that he has never been to, it’d be almost impossible for him to arrive smoothly. However, if he goes there with a clear map, a guide who is familiar with the route and 30 other companions, then there will be nothing to worry about and he will successfully get to the destination no matter how tough the journey may be.

The same is true for the path of Dharma practice. The guide is our good teacher; the Dharma that he teaches is the map; and the companions are those Dharma friends who study with us. With these three conditions met, we will be able to keep our resolve firm until we are ultimately liberated and attain Buddhahood.

Among the above three conditions, the most fundamental and important one is to follow a qualified spiritual teacher properly. Dharma practice is a process that continuously reduces our self-attachment till it is eliminated. Following a qualified spiritual teacher is the quickest and the easiest way. Such a teacher will only teach you the Dharma practices that suit you the best and help you attain Buddhahood in the shortest time. On the path to supreme Bodhi, if we want to make steady progress and avoid detours and setbacks, the best way is to follow a qualified virtuous teacher properly.

13. Question: Through diligent Dharma practice, some Buddhist practitioners’ negative karma may turn into minor retributions in this life instead of much graver ones in future lives. How should one deal with the great stress when such negative karma bears fruit?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

First of all, we should keep a positive attitude and know that it is actually a good thing. The Diamond Sutra states that “Furthermore, Subhuti, if a virtuous man or woman who receives, holds in mind and reads and recites this sutra is despised by others, this person’s karmic sins that would otherwise cause him or her to suffer in evil destinies will be eliminated and they will attain Supreme Enlightenment (Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi).” Through Dharma practice, one may turn grave retributions in future lives into minor ones in this life. When it happens, one should not have wrong views about the Dharma as they will create very serious negative karma.

Secondly, we should understand that “one who creates negative karma bears the consequent sufferings by oneself.” All the sufferings are the result of our own negative karma. There’s no one else to blame.

Thirdly and most importantly, we should then practice the Dharma even more diligently because it is the only way to further mitigate the consequent retributions. We should generate Bodhicitta and do more practices that are comparatively more powerful, such as chanting the Lotus Sutra, the Maha Cundi Mantra and the Vajrasattva Mantra.

Lastly, we should not be too stressed; we should have faith that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will definitely bless us and their blessings will be precisely appropriate and will never overwhelm us.

With these four aspects achieved, our karmic retributions will be diluted more quickly and smoothly.

14. Question: The true nature of all sentient beings is Buddha and we are all future Buddhas, and all the sufferings we experience on the path to Buddhahood only eliminate our negative karma, therefore, “every day is a good day; everything is a good thing,” and all that happens to us only helps us to get closer to Buddhahood. Is this conclusion correct?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

If we do not correctly hear, contemplate and practice the Dharma, “everything” will not be a good thing at all but a delusion in samsara. By contrast, everything will be a good thing only when we whole-heartedly take refuge in the Three Jewels and hear, contemplate and practice the Dharma according to the Buddha’s teachings.

Master Yinguang said: “Our true nature would manifest only when we have cultivated virtues and merits. If we are solely dependent on our true nature and give up on cultivating virtues and merits, we would, from now till the end of time, remain only as sentient beings without refuge and protection while wasting our precious Buddha nature.” It’s said in the Ksitigarbha Sutra that: “every action and every thought of beings in southern Jambudvipa creates karma and sins.” Without properly hearing, contemplating and practicing the Dharma, we are only to create new negative karma and cause ourselves ever more sufferings, so how can everything be a good thing?

15. Question: Can we wear Buddha images?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

It is clearly stated in many Buddhist scriptures that one can wear Buddha images or sutras.

For this question, some students mentioned that Master Yinguang opposed wearing Buddha images as described in the Collected Writings of Master Yinguang. (Please find the details in the Reply Letter to Upasaka Wu Chongyin as follows: “I definitely did not know anything about making badges with the image of Shakyamuni Buddha on them. Later, when Daojie came to Mount Putuo and gave me such a badge, I severely reprimanded him for desecrating the Buddha.” See the Collected Writings of Master Yinguang, Volume 2, Third Edition.)

It is true that Master Yinguang did say so. The reason for his objection is very simple—we are disrespectful to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas because we do not behave properly on many occasions. This does make sense. If you feel that you do not show enough respect to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas most of the time, or you feel guilty about wearing Buddha images at dirty places, you should follow Master Yinguang’s advice and there will be no problem at all.

However, it does not mean that what Master Yinguang said is to be taken for granted as the only correct view. The opinion that Buddhists can wear Buddha images is also supported by teachings and reasoning in many Buddhist scriptures.

Take, as an example, the Marici practice we have been promoting since last year. It is stated in the Marici Sutra translated by Amoghavajra that “if one wants to make offerings to Marici Bodhisattva, one should make an image of Marici Bodhisattva of gold, silver, copper, white sandalwood or red sandalwood. The image can be in the form of a goddess of half an inch or between one and two inches in height, either standing or sitting on a lotus flower. It should be perfectly adorned with ornaments such as a crown and necklaces. The goddess should be holding in her left hand a heavenly fan that resembles the one held by the heavenly maids standing before Vimalakirt, and her right hand should be lowered with the palm facing outward and the five fingers extending in the gesture of bestowing blessings. There should be two heavenly maids standing on both her sides, each holding a white duster in their hands. Once the image is made, one can wear it on his head or his arm or place it in his clothes. Thanks to the mighty divine power of Marici Bodhisattva, the person wearing her image will not encounter any disasters. He will always prevail over his enemies, and no villains, ghosts nor demons will harm him.”

As described in this Marici Sutra, once the image of Marici Bodhisattva is made, people can wear it on their head (in ancient times, everyone wore their hair up in a bun so the image could be put on the bun) or their arm, or place it in their clothes.

If we wear the image of Marici Bodhisattva, her mighty divine power will protect us from harms by disasters, enemies and all the villains, ghosts and demons.

Apart from the Marici Sutra translated by Amoghavajra, it is also clearly stated in other versions of the Marici Sutra that one can wear not only the images but also the sutras of Buddhas, which will protect them and ward off calamities.

This is why we awarded an amulet card of Marici Bodhisattva to each of those who had finished chanting the Marici mantra one hundred thousand times last year. The amulet card bears on the front the image of Marici Bodhisattva as depicted in the Marici Sutra, and on the back the text of the Marici Sutra.

Another example is the Shurangama mantra. It is stated in the Shurangama Sutra that wearing the Shurangama mantra generates various merits such as subduing all demons.

Furthermore, it is stated in the Sutra of Mahapratisarah Dharani that enormous merits will be generated by wearing the Mahapratisarah Dharani. We have talked about a story of a very evil person in ancient times who fell into hell but immediately attained liberation and Buddhahood after a small piece of cloth from a worn prayer flag with a syllable of a mantra on it fell on his remains.

In the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism, there is a mandala covering especially for people to wear. It is stated in the Daigo-ji Sanken Holy Teachings that “the mandala covering is also called ‘the clothes of impermanence.’ It helps a dying person to be mindful and reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss where he could see the Buddha and hear the Dharma to quickly attain Buddhahood.” The mandala covering is called the clothes of impermanence. By wearing or carrying it on you, you will remain mindful when you are dying and will be reborn in the Western Pure Land, where you will see the Buddha and hear the Dharma to quickly attain Buddhahood. This is made very clear in the teachings of the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism.

Our Dharma friends who have visited Japan know that there are various amulets known as Omamori available in all Japanese temples of Tendai, Shingon or other traditions. What are in the Omamori? Actually, inside are Buddha images and mantra wheels.

This is all particularly true in Tibetan Buddhism. Nearly all the practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism wear a Gha-u box. Basically, everyone in Tibet wears Buddha images, mantra wheels and Buddhist scriptures. Many Tibetan children wear a long string of Buddha images and keep wearing them for their whole life. The Gha-u boxes usually contain objects of supreme blessing power, such as Buddha images and mantra wheels. Some eminent monks and masters wear very large Gha-u boxes about the size of a small schoolbag.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are also teachings about liberation by the act of wearing. For example, you can wear the Single Son of the Buddhas Tantra (Sang Gyay Say Chig Gyu), a Dzogchen Tantra, if you have received the initiation. In addition, according to the precepts, once wearing it, one cannot take it off and must keep wearing it all the time; otherwise he would break the precepts.

All in all, there are plenty of the Buddha’s teachings and arguments through reasoning that justify the practice of wearing Buddha images, scriptures or mantra wheels. As a common tradition in Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, this practice is well based on authentic scriptures and teachings of the Buddha. I hope you will learn more about this.    

As stated in the Marici Sutra, by wearing the image of Marici Bodhisattva, you will be protected from any harms caused by all ghosts, demons and evil people. This is what the Buddha told us personally, so why don’t you believe it? You should believe the words of the Buddha and act accordingly if you are a disciple of the Three Jewels.

Many of us may learn about the opinion of a certain patriarch and assume it is the only correct view. I find that to be problematic. I often say that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas give different teachings to different beings. They always adapt their Dharma teachings according to the capacities of their students as sentient beings’ wisdom and views vary.

For example, the most fundamental view in Tantric Buddhism is pure perception. In the vision of the Buddha, everything is pure and nothing is impure. The idea that “some places are impure while some other places are pure” is, in fact, just a dualistic thought of the ordinary beings. We should gradually change our mind to turn impure views into pure ones.

Master Yinguang’s advice against wearing Buddha images is meant for those who discriminate between “pure” and “impure.” If you have a strong discriminating mind towards “pure” and “impure,” and you feel disrespectful wearing Buddha images at certain places and are concerned about it, or you actually have a disrespectful attitude, then you should not wear Buddha images.

However, if you have faith and want to be with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas constantly to receive their protection and blessing, you can surely wear Buddha images. What’s more, if you can view everything as pure, you can wear Buddha images anytime and anywhere. It all depends on your faith and respect. In essence, it does not conflict with what Master Yinguang said.

Therefore, we should work harder on hearing, contemplating and practicing the Dharma, and learn extensively and deeply about the teachings of the Buddha. This is very important. I hope you all understand this.

16. Question: Does charity work have anything to do with the Dharma?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

It depends on your motivation. If the charitable work is done for your own reputation, it does not really count as good karma and will eventually vanish together with the vanity it brings about. If your motivation is simply to help others, it is only a virtuous act of “men and gods.” Although it is also a kind of good karma to some extent, it’s not a supreme one, as it will only bring about merits that will enable you to gain a favorable rebirth as either a human being or a god. If your motivation is to attain self-liberation, it is then a Hinayana practice generating merits that will help you transcend birth and death and liberate yourself from samsara in the future. If you, as a Mahayana practitioner, generate Bodhicitta and apply it in your charitable work, then any good deeds you do will cultivate merits of the Mahayana that will enable you to attain Buddhahood. Not only will you liberate yourself from samsara, you will also realize perfect Buddhahood to benefit all beings, thus your charity work becomes a truly supreme Dharma practice.

17. Question: Merit is the source of all mundane and supramundane happiness and accomplishments. What is the best way to cultivate merits?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

We all want joy and happiness. Everyone wants to have good fortune and merits. But how do we cultivate them? The best way is to generate Bodhicitta.

If we generate Bodhicitta, how much merit would it create? It is said in Lord Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment that the merit of Bodhicitta, if it has shape and form, would fill up and go beyond the entire empty space. How big is the entire empty space? It is extremely big and boundless. If we generate Bodhicitta, the karmic rewards and merits we cultivate will be greater than the entire empty space. Such immeasurable and inexhaustible merits will not only bring us joy and happiness, but will also help us to attain Buddhahood eventually.

18. Question: What are the fundamental conditions for Bodhicitta?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

There are two kinds of Bodhicitta, namely, relative Bodhicitta and absolute (ultimate) Bodhicitta.

There are two conditions for relative Bodhicitta. It is stated in the Ornament of Clear Realization that “the perfect enlightenment is sought with the aspiration to benefit others.” Bodhicitta has two indispensable elements. Firstly, one aspires to benefit all sentient beings out of great compassion. Knowing that all beings have been our loving mothers since beginningless time, we aspire to benefit them to repay their kindness because we cannot bear to see them suffer in samsara. Secondly, one seeks the perfect enlightenment in order to have sufficient wisdom and power to benefit sentient beings. Only when we ourselves have attained Buddhahood can we benefit all beings ultimately by leading them to the opposite shore to attain Buddhahood and eternal bliss. It is for this very reason that we aspire to attain perfect Buddhahood.

The aspiration to attain the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment needed to ultimately benefit all sentient beings is known as “aspirational Bodhicitta.” If one not only has such an aspiration, but also sets out to realize it by diligently hearing, contemplating and practicing the true Dharma, and by truly engaging in myriad practices of the Six Perfections (Generosity, Discipline, Endurance, Diligence, Concentration and Wisdom), this is known as “engaged Bodhicitta.” If one has both aspirational and engaged Bodhicitta, he can be considered as having relative Bodhicitta.

19. Question: What are the criteria for a qualified spiritual teacher?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

It is stated in the Mahayana-Sutralamkara that “one should follow a spiritual teacher who is disciplined, concentrated, of true wisdom, outstanding in good qualities, diligent, proficient in various Dharma teachings and skillful means to tame the disciple’s afflictions, awakened to the true nature of all phenomena, skilled in speech, compassionate, and untiring to guide his disciples.” These ten merits that make a qualified spiritual teacher are also elaborated in How to Follow a Spiritual Teacher. Generally speaking, the most important criterion for a spiritual teacher is whether he has pure lineages. This is relatively easy to tell, while the other merits are not so easy to observe because we have to be with the teacher for a long time to find out about such merits gradually. Qualified teachers always possess clear and pure lineages. Good teachers praise and promote their lineages, not themselves. This is very important. Inferior teachers always brag about themselves but rarely mention their lineages, and most likely they don’t even have any lineages at all. Therefore, when observing a teacher, we should first focus on whether he possesses pure lineages or not, and then observe whether he has the essential merits of a qualified spiritual teacher.

20. Question: In this Dharma-ending Age, evil teachers giving false teachings are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. How should we plant the karmic seeds appropriately to be able to find qualified spiritual teachers in all our future lives?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Chant the Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra as much as possible, because aspiration is critical. The Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra is the king of aspirations of all Bodhisattvas. It contains aspirations such as:

With all advisors good and wise who benefit me by explaining Samantabhadras deeds,

I vow always to congregate together:

May they never be displeased with me.

I vow to always meet Thus Come Ones face to face

And the hosts of disciples who gather around them.

To all of them I will raise offerings which are vast and great,

Untiring to the end of future eons.

With bad advisors forever left behind,

From paths of evil he departs for eternity,

Soon to see the Buddha of Limitless Light

And to fulfil Samantabhadras Supreme Vows.

If you often recite the Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, you will find wonderful spiritual teachers and stay away from evil teachers.

So, it is most important to read as many scriptures as possible and to be widely learned by delving into the Sutra Pitaka. If you know little about the Dharma, you will very likely encounter evil teachers. It will be better if you have a certain level of knowledge of the Dharma, because it is the Dharma that you should be based on, not the person.

21. Question: Is it true that whether or not we can meet a qualified spiritual teacher depends on our merits and causes from our past lives?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Merits and causes from the past lives are indeed important, but they can still be changed. According to Buddhism, everything has its causes and effects; however, you can manage to either prevent a cause from yielding results, mitigate its effect, or magnify its results. All this is controllable. Just like a flower seed, if you keep it in a glass bottle, it will never sprout, let alone blossom; if you plant it in fertile soil, with sufficient sunlight, rain and water, it will grow big quickly; if you plant it in a barren field, it will only grow small and do so slowly. Therefore, causes and effects are not unchangeable.

In a way, we, as ordinary beings, must have planted a lot of negative karmic seeds in our past lives, however, by properly following a qualified spiritual teacher, those seeds would never have the chance to grow and bear fruits. The law of cause and effect is not fatalism. Causes and their effects can both be changed through Dharma practice. A cause made previously will not necessarily create effect unless the right conditions arise. If you follow a bad teacher, of course, these negative karmic seeds would ripen in no time. However, if you follow a good teacher, you would have the opportunity to eliminate your negative karmic seeds through Dharma practice.

22. Question: When we have met in this life a predestined Guru who turns out to be a qualified one after our examination, should we try to have as little contact with other spiritual teachers as possible?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

There is one prerequisite for visiting and learning from multiple spiritual teachers. Master Lianchi once said, “It requires sharp eyes for a student to ‘Can Fang’ (See Note 1).” In other words, if we want to visit and learn from multiple teachers, we must have the ability to discern between good and bad teachers. Nowadays, many people actually do not have such an ability.

In the Avatamsaka Sutra, there is a well-known story called “The Fifty-three Visits of Sudhana (Child of Wealth).” Sudhana travelled through one hundred and ten cities and visited fifty-three virtuous teachers. Bodhisattva Manjushri first directed him to Bhiksu Meghasri, who likewise directed him to the next teacher after he finished teaching Sudhana. Every teacher Sudhana visited and studied with was recommended to him by the preceding teacher. If we already have adequate capability, it is all right for us to visit and follow other teachers with the permission of our current teacher. I myself also have followed many teachers, all of whom have been approved of or even recommended to me by my previous teachers. It is definitely okay to study with other teachers this way. Therefore, it is necessary to follow a qualified teacher in the first place. When your Dharma practice reaches a certain level, your teacher will refer you to other teachers for more teachings if necessary. He will not set unnecessary restraints on you if he is a qualified teacher.

Note 1: Quoted from Jottings by a Bamboo Window by Master Lianchi. The phrase “Can Fang” means “visiting teachers to seek the Path.”

 

Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers

2019-10-01

1. Question: Are the teachings in the Lotus Sutra about expedient means?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

The Lotus Sutra surely contains teachings about “expedient means,” but it is not limited to that. It is about “opening the gate of expedient means and revealing the ultimate truth.” “Expedient means” is important; without it, we would not be able to enter into the Dharma of the ultimate truth to attain enlightenment. However, the expedient means should never be separated from the ultimate truth. In other words, the ultimate purpose of expedient means is to guide sentient being to enter into teachings of the ultimate truth; otherwise expedient means would be meaningless. The teachings of ultimate truth require expedient means to benefit all beings, so the expedient means and the ultimate truth must work together. The Lotus Sutra states that it opens the gate of expedient means and reveals the ultimate truth, meaning that it uses the teachings of incomplete truth and employs expedient means to help sentient beings eventually enter into the teachings of the ultimate truth. This is the most important purpose of the Lotus Sutra—to enlighten sentient beings about the wisdom and insight of the Buddha and help them attain Buddhahood in the end.

That is why the Lotus Sutra contains a chapter titled as “Expedient Means.” Master Zhanran stated in the Summary of the Lotus Sutra: “‘Means’ refers to ‘secret,’ and ‘expedient’ refers to ‘wonderful.’ The true secret is that which is taught through wonderful methods. The Lotus Sutra demonstrates that the priceless jewel sewed in the lining of the drunk man’s robe is no different from the unique pearl in the king’s topknot, just as the hired worker is no different from the wealthy Elder’s son. Such teachings and expressions are truly wonderful secrets.”

Why can’t most ordinary beings attain Buddhahood? Because they lack faith in themselves. My master, the Venerable Shen Renyan, once said the Lotus Sutra talked about five kinds of beings attaining Buddhahood, and we will have faith in ourselves after learning about them.

The first kind are the arhats of the Hinayana. According to the Lotus Sutra, all arhats received the Buddha’s prediction that in the future they would all attain Buddhahood, including Kashyapa, Ananda and Rahula. What does this mean? It means all Hinayana practitioners will attain Buddhahood in the end.

The second kind are those who have committed the five rebellious acts and the ten evil deeds. Devadatta is a perfect representative of such beings. He had committed the five rebellious acts and ten evil deeds, but the Buddha predicted that he would become Devaraja Buddha in the future. Therefore, even people who have committed the five rebellious acts and ten evil deeds can also attain Buddhahood as long as they become enlightened. People like that are much worse than us. So, if they can become Buddhas, we will definitely attain Buddhahood in the future.

The third kind are animals. As stated in the Lotus Sutra, the daughter of the dragon king attained Buddhahood when she was eight years old. As a member of the dragon family, she is not even a human being at all but an animal. So, if she has become a Buddha, shouldn’t we, as human beings, have more reasons to attain Buddhahood?

The fourth kind are those who have wrong views. In the Lotus Sutra, King Subhavyuha used to have wrong views. His wife, Lady Vimaladatta, as well as his two sons, Vimalagarbha and Vimalanetra, were actually Bodhisattvas who deliberately chose to be incarnated as his children to convert him. Later they persuaded him to visit the Buddha and listen to His teachings. Then he was also given the prediction of attaining Buddhahood by the Buddha. This is an example of people with wrong views attaining Buddhahood.

The last kind are all sentient beings who have made connections with the Lotus Sutra. The following is stated in the chapter of the Expounder of the Dharma in the Sutra: “Thereupon the World-honored One by addressing Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Medicine King), through him addressed eighty thousand mahasattvas, saying: ‘O Bhaisajyaraja! In this assembly do you see innumerable humans and nonhumans such as devas, naga kings, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen, those seeking the sravaka vehicle, the pratyekabuddha vehicle, and the Buddhist path? If, in the presence of the Buddha any beings such as these hear a single verse or line of the Lotus Sutra, and thereupon have even one thought of rejoicing in it, I will bestow upon them my prediction that they will attain highest, complete enlightenment.’ The Buddha addressed Bhaisajyaraja, saying: ‘If, after the parinirvana of the Tathagata, any being hears even a single verse or line of the Lotus Sutra, and thereupon has even one thought of rejoicing in it, I will bestow upon them the prediction that they will attain highest, complete enlightenment.’” So, actually all of us are already included in this prophesy since the Buddha says all beings who have ever read the Lotus Sutra will become Buddhas in the future. If anyone makes a connection with the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha will bestow upon him the prediction that he will attain the supreme perfect enlightenment. So, we will definitely attain Buddhahood in the future.

The Lotus Sutra helps us to build our confidence. We may have thought that attaining Buddhahood is so distant that it seems almost irrelevant to us. However, if we have learned about these five kinds of beings attaining Buddhahood in the Lotus Sutra, we will gain faith in our attainment of Buddhahood in the future. As long as we hear, contemplate and practice the Dharma strictly in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings, we will all become Buddhas. This is the main principle of the Lotus Sutra.

2. Question: What shall I do when my family gets annoyed with me for practicing the Dharma?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Practicing the Dharma is not just about listening to the Dharma or attending group practice. Of course, these are Dharma practices. However, the foundation of Dharma practice is possessing a virtuous character. We should, above all, do our utmost to be good people, which means we should fulfil our duties and responsibilities and make other beings happy.

Everyone has their own roles and duties: parents should love their children, while children should be filial to their parents; wives and husbands should respect and love each other; elder siblings should love and care for their younger brothers and sisters, who, in return, should respect their elder siblings; the management should take good care of the staff, who, in return, should be dutiful and work hard to do their job well.

It is indeed not good if our Dharma practice annoys our family. “When we do not, by what we do, realize what we desire, we must turn inwards and examine ourselves in every point.” We should examine ourselves for the causes, be more considerate of our families, see things more from their perspective, and treat them with compassion and tolerance.

In addition, dedicating our merits of chanting sutras and other Dharma practices to our family on a daily basis would also be very helpful to them.

3. Question: As a Buddhist, I understand that losing my temper would “burn down my forest of merits.” However, this bad habit is so strong in me that it happens over and over again. I have been trying to repent and purify my karma in this respect by diligently chanting the mantra of Bodhisattva Cundi and the mantra of Vajrasattva, but I still make the same mistake time and time again. What should I do?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

First of all, we should understand that everyone has shortcomings before they attain Buddhahood. Hatred is one of our common flaws. We should resolve to overcome our various shortcomings in the long run. We may repent every day, but still repeat the same mistakes. Bad temper cannot be eradicated in a day or two because we have been habituating hatred since beginningless time and this habit has inertia. When encountering an unpleasant situation, we still get angry even though we are aware it is not right to do so. This is simply a habit built up in the past. Although we still get angry despite repeated repentance, we should not think that repenting is useless. By repenting, good habits will grow stronger and stronger over time while the habit of hatred will become weaker and weaker.

Next, let’s see how we can overcome hatred.

Firstly, we need to understand the harm caused by hatred. Hatred results in very serious bad karma. According to Mahayana Buddhism, the worst kind of bad karma is hatred. This is because hatred is the opposite of compassion and brings harm to other beings.

Next, we can overcome hatred by skillful means. There are many ways to tame hatred. Here I would like to introduce a simple yet powerful one. We usually have hatred for someone because they have hurt us or they have done something wrong. This is a natural response that ordinary beings have. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, however, have a completely different response. Not only will they respond without hatred, they will feel great compassion for those who have committed mistakes. They know these beings are actually pitiful because they are ignorant and unable to control their mind. They plant the seeds of suffering and will inevitably suffer magnified retributions that will cause hundreds of thousands of times more afflictions in the future. Therefore, they should not be hated but deserve our compassion instead. This is a way to transform hatred into compassion. Of course, we may not be able to succeed right away, but with repeated practice, eventually you will react with compassion naturally when you see someone making a mistake.

Lastly, if we make a dedication of merits in the correct way after our Dharma practice, the merits we have collected will be preserved. They will not be destroyed, even if we fail to refrain ourselves from hatred later. 

4. Question: How do we manage the love-hate relationships with our family members?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

In general, family members gather in samsara simply for the following reasons: to repay kindness, to seek revenge, to collect debts, or to pay off debts.

The best way to treat our family members is to generate compassion and Bodhicitta towards them, to try our best to treat them kindly and make them happy in the spirit of the Medicine Buddha’s Twelve Great Vows, and to influence them with wisdom and compassion. It would be best if we could practice the Dharma and chant the Buddha’s name together, so we can all return to the Pure Land. Thus, the perfect ending will be achieved when we convert our love-hate family members into Dharma companions.

Even if we are truly unable to influence our family members, we should still try our best with full compassion. At least, we should make the supreme name of the Medicine Buddha (Namo Bhaisajyaguru) be heard by them, and in the future, they will surely be awakened from ignorance to enlightenment and elevated from suffering to bliss.

5. Question: What shall we do when we are given live fish or shrimp as gifts?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Whenever someone gives you live seafood, freshwater fish and the like, always accept them and then release them back into the wild. By doing so, you will benefit both yourself and others, and gain immeasurable merits.

When releasing them, you can recite any life release ritual you have learned. At the very least, recite to them the Mantra of Avalokiteshvara, Om Mani Padme Hum, several times to plant the seeds of liberation for them.

6. Question: How do we practice the Dharma even when we are having a meal or a cup of tea?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang

All forms of enjoyment consume our merits; what we eat and drink today is the fruit of our positive karma. In the Vajrayana teachings, there are many skillful means to transform eating and drinking into Dharma practice that accumulates new merits, instead of consuming our karmic rewards.

Making Offerings

Before having a meal or drinking tea or even just water, we should make an offering to our Guru and the Three Jewels by reciting a simple verse of offering as follows: “I offer this to the Guru, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.” You may also recite the ritual of Vajrayana Tsog offering if you have received the transmission. By doing so, we accumulate the merits of making offerings to our Guru and the Three Jewels. Although having a meal still consumes a little of our merits, the merits accumulated by making offerings to the Guru and the Three Jewels far outweigh the merits consumed, because our Guru and the Three Jewels are the most supreme field of merit for us to sow positive karmic seeds in.

Setting Intentions

Then, we should set our intentions by reciting the following verses: “I vow to rid myself of all evils. I vow to cultivate all virtues. And I vow to liberate all beings.” These verses include giving up evil, doing good and generating Bodhicitta. They also remind us that the purpose of eating and nourishing our body is to use it to diligently practice the Dharma, benefit all beings, and attain Buddhahood. With such intentions, eating becomes a Dharma practice that generates immeasurable merits.

Praying

Next, we can pray for the Medicine Buddha to bless the food or drinks by reciting the Medicine Buddha mantra three times while envisioning that the Medicine Buddha purifies us with nectar to cleanse our bad karma and make us healthy. By doing so, the food or drinks will have a healing effect.

Giving Alms

We can also perform a food-giving ritual before a meal if we have received the transmission of food-giving. If there is any leftover after the meal, we can give it to other beings by reciting the heart mantra of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Om Mani Padme Hum, seven times while envisioning that the food is transformed into infinite nectar for all beings in the six realms to enjoy.

Dedicating the merits

Lastly, we dedicate the merit of our previous practices.

By taking the above steps, having a meal or a cup of tea becomes a Dharma practice in the Vajrayana view. Instead of consuming good karma, our practice of making offerings and giving alms helps us accumulate merits, strengthen our faith in the Three Jewels and our compassion for all sentient beings.

7. Question: Nowadays, there are more and more diseases, fatal illnesses, wars and disasters constantly threatening people’s lives, as well as more and more tragedies of elderly parents mourning the loss of their children. Are there solutions in Buddhism to such problems?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

In Buddhism, the real cause of people’s ill health, short lifespan, sudden and violent death is considered to be their negative karma created by killing or other harmful deeds done in the past, including murder, abortion, animal farming or slaughter, selling livestock or seafood, etc. It is stated in Chapter 4 of the Sutra of the Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva that “to killers, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva speaks of the retribution of a short lifespan.”

The act of killing includes killing conducted by oneself, participating in others’ killing, instructing others to kill, and rejoicing at seeing a killing. If you instruct someone else to kill, not only will yourself create the negative karma of killing, so will the one that kills under your instruction, which constitutes an even greater karmic sin. Rejoicing at seeing a killing, meaning that you feel delighted when seeing someone kill, will result in you committing almost the same karmic sin as the killer. So, when we see others kill, we should never agree with or rejoice at it.

When we watch war or action movies, we cannot help rejoicing at and cheering for the good guys defeating or killing the bad guys. Is this considered as “rejoicing at seeing the killing?” Yes, it is. Of course, it does not generate exactly the same karma as the actual killing but mainly the karma of evil thoughts, for no one has been really killed in the movies. So, we need to guard our mind cautiously when watching movies.

Likewise, killing in video games, although somewhat different from actual killing, also generates serious bad karma of evil thoughts and plants negative seeds in your mind.

Therefore, if we want a long life without illness or sudden and violent death, we should do our best to avoid killing of any form and other harmful deeds. We should also repent diligently to purify our previous karma of killing. Moreover, we should exert ourselves to protect other being’s lives, release animals that are set for slaughter, and safeguard the health and safety of others.

Meanwhile, we can also pray to the Buddhas for blessing, such as Buddha Suvarnabhadra Vimala (Buddha of Golden Precious Light and Wonderful Conduct and Accomplishment), one of the seven Medicine Buddhas. He made the following vow specifically aimed at sentient beings’ acts of killing and other harmful deeds: “I vow that, when I attain Buddhahood in my future life, for the sentient beings who take other beings’ lives by slaughter or other harmful deeds and thus suffer in hell or, if reborn as humans, live short lives with many illnesses or get harmed by water, fire, knives or poison, and are doomed to suffer painful deaths, if they hear my name and chant it devotedly, all their negative karmas of killing will be eliminated and they will live long lives without illnesses or sudden and violent deaths until they attain Buddhahood.”

So, if we have generated various karma of killing, we should diligently repent and reform from now on. Furthermore, we should chant “Namo Buddha Suvarnabhadra Vimala” with the utmost sincerity. Through the blessing of his vow, we can purify ourselves of previous karma of killing, live long lives free of illnesses or sudden and violent deaths, and ultimately attain Buddhahood.

8. Question: What should we do when we are unable to overcome certain predicaments and obstacles in life?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Under such circumstances, you should pray to your Guru and the Three Jewels and to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for blessing, just like when a child is unable to move a big rock, he will seek help from his parents to move it.

The blessing is composed of two parts: granting blessings and receiving blessings. The Guru and the Three Jewels, with their absolute compassion and omniscient wisdom, will bestow their divine powers on anyone who prays to them. However, it’s only through the faith of the prayers that the two sides can interact for the blessings to actually get across to the prayers.

According to Buddhist sutras, all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions and the three periods of time view us sentient beings as their own children. Their great compassion, vast wisdom and supreme powers are boundless. When we pray, the blessings from the Guru and the Three Jewels will enter into our lives and we will then have the ability to face and overcome the predicaments.

9. Question: Why do my prayers seem unanswered sometimes?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Whether or not your prayers are answered should not be judged by your own standards. In fact, the Buddha’s response already reaches you the instant you say the prayer, and it surely comes in the most timely and suitable way, but it might not necessarily be exactly what you expect. We must understand that.

Never think that the prayers are unanswered simply because our wishes are not fulfilled. In fact, your wishes are not necessarily all good for you. Just like when small children keep asking for candy, do you have to satisfy them? Wise parents will not fulfill every wish their children have; teachers with wisdom will likewise not grant every wish of their students; these people know what’s best for those in their care and of course the Buddha knows best of all. Actually, you don’t know what is the best for yourself, but the Buddha does because he is omniscient. So, you must believe that the Buddha will bless you in the way that suits you the best.

The blessings from the Buddha are only given in the way that would truly bring temporary and ultimate benefits to sentient beings. They are never meant to meet all your wishes or satisfy your ego.

If your wishes only reinforce your ego and aim at realizing your delusions, they would take you ever farther away from the awakening of life and enlightenment. The Buddha wants you to be enlightened, but you want to remain confused, so do you think He would fulfil all your wishes?

Therefore, no matter what results might turn out, you should still keep chanting the sutras, practicing the Dharma and praying, and then accept whatever comes your way, firmly believing that everything that happens is the best arrangement made for you by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Never wonder, “Why are my prayers still not answered? Why are my wishes still not fulfilled?” If you think that way, you’re separating your mind from the Buddha’s blessings. This is the wrong way of thinking that many people often have. Actually, when you think that way, your prayers will really go in vain. Why? Because you have doubts in your mind.

The Great Compassion Mantra has infinite merits. But why do some people chant it to no avail? The reason is explained in the Sutra of Thousand-Handed and Thousand-Eyed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvas Vast, Perfect, Unimpeded, Great-Compassionate Heart Dharani as follows: “The only exception is those who have doubts in the Mantra.” It is because of their doubts that they do not receive the blessings.

\10. Question: How do we get our wishes fulfilled when we pray for wealth, promotion or prosperous careers?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Your praying to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for wealth, promotion or a prosperous career is like your son asking you for money. Are you going to give it to him?

If your son is very promising in that he has moral virtues, refrains from evil and does good to benefit both himself and others, and he practices the Dharma diligently, then when he asks you for 10,000 RMB to do something that would benefit sentient beings, I think, as long as you are able to, you would certainly give him the money. You would probably be willing to fund him with 100,000 RMB, not to mention 10,000.

However, if he eats and drinks every day to excess, and lives a life of unrestrained sensual indulgences, would you still give him 10,000 RMB? You certainly would not.

Similarly, when we pray to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to fulfil our wishes, we should ask ourselves if we have sufficient merits to deserve what we wish for, or are we simply being greedy?

One does not need much to live. In many cases, we need very little but want very much. Think about how many poor people in this world are struggling for survival. We are all very rich compared to them.

Do you keep unnecessary things at home? I bet you do. Do you have clothes that you have never worn? I bet you do. Do you have things hidden away somewhere in your home that you have never used? I bet you do too.

In this sense, we are all rich. If we still want to have more, this is essentially greed. Would Buddhas and Bodhisattvas fulfil your greed?

In fact, you already own so much that you can actually help others. If you are to benefit beings with your belongings, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will surely help you. The more you want to benefit the beings, the more Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will give you. This is beyond all question.

Many people complain that their Dharma practices are not working. Actually, it is very important for you to look deep into your heart and examine the motivation behind your prayers. Do you really intend to benefit sentient beings, or is this only an excuse to pursue your own interest?

All the Dharma practices taught by the Buddha are ultimately meant to reveal our inherent Buddha nature and Tathagata wisdom, and help us attain supreme Bodhi (the supreme perfect enlightenment) with perfect virtues and merits to benefit both ourselves and others.

However, many of our Dharma friends do not aspire for such great achievement.

Maybe they pursue profound Dharma teachings just because they want their business to get better or to live more comfortably. Of course, these motivations do not conform with supreme Bodhi. So, when they feel that the Dharma practices they have done fail to achieve their personal agenda, they lose faith in the Dharma.

The profound Dharma teachings are to help us attain supreme enlightenment. It certainly does not conform with the Dharma if we practice it only to have a happy mundane life. Why are our practices not working? It is not because the teachings are ineffective, but because our mind is not compatible with the teachings.

We should observe our mind and examine ourselves. In the meantime, we must have faith in the Buddha, the Dharma and ourselves. It is said in the Flower Adornment Sutra that “all beings have the Tathagata-wisdom.” Every one of us has the Tathagatagarbha, but it takes practice to reveal our Buddha nature.

Of course, this does not mean that we cannot pray for wealth, promotion or prosperous careers and such. The Buddha allows us to have such wishes, but we should fulfil them in the correct way by raising the bar of our aspiration and practicing the Dharma diligently for the purpose of benefiting and enlightening both ourselves and others.     

11. Question: What should I do to save myself from depression?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Buddhism offers a simple method to cure depression with no side-effects by chanting “Namo Buddha Ashokattamshri (Carefree Supreme Auspicious Buddha).” This is the name of the fourth Buddha of the Seven Medicine Buddhas. This Buddha made a vow before attaining Buddhahood: “Upon the attainment of Buddhahood in my future life, for those who are afflicted with worries and anguish, if they hear my name and faithfully chant it, all their worries and anguish will be eliminated by the power of chanting, so they will live long and peaceful lives till they attain Buddhahood.” Because Buddha Ashokattamshri has achieved Buddhahood long time ago, his vows are definitely true and valid. So, depression, which is caused by worries and anguish that afflict people physically and mentally, can be overcome by chanting “Namo Buddha Ashokattamshri.”

However, whether or not the chanting will take effect depends on how much faith you have. The effects of all Dharma practices depend on faith. If we do not have enough faith, the effects will be compromised. It is not that the Buddhas do not have the power to bless us, but that their blessings will not be able to enter our heart if we close it up. It is just as if you want to get some sunlight but choose to hide in a dark corner while the sun shines all over the earth.

The blessing of the Buddha pervades the whole Dharma realm and embraces all sentient beings, but if you do not open up your heart to the Buddha, He can do nothing but shed tears at our sufferings. It’s important that we understand the power of the Buddha’s great compassion and vows, so we can fully open our heart to the Buddha and faithfully pray and chant “Namo Buddha Ashokattamshri.” His blessing will get across into our heart when it is open, so all our worries and anguish will be eliminated and we will live long and peaceful lives till we attain Buddhahood. This method is simple and effective with no side-effects.

Another method is to realize no-self and emptiness. From a certain point of view, we unenlightened beings are all bound to feel somewhat depressed before we attain Buddhahood. It happens whenever we get stuck in our mind traps. Some people suffer worse because they are stuck longer; some suffer less as they somehow think it through sooner. When can you utterly get rid of depression? The answer is when you realize no-self and emptiness. Who would be suffering from depression if there is no “self” at all? The reason you are depressed is simply that you have this concept of “self” and are attached to it. However, it is much harder to realize no-self and emptiness than to chant “Namo Buddha Ashokattamshri.”

12. Question: We always say that it is easy for ordinary people to aspire to attain enlightenment, but it is hard for them to keep up this aspiration at all times. So, how can we maintain a firm resolve in walking the path to enlightenment?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Based on my over thirty years of experience in practicing the Dharma, I think the most important thing is that we should rely on good teachers and friends. For example, in the middle of the night, if a person is heading to a place in a virgin forest that he has never been to, it’d be almost impossible for him to arrive smoothly. However, if he goes there with a clear map, a guide who is familiar with the route and 30 other companions, then there will be nothing to worry about and he will successfully get to the destination no matter how tough the journey may be.

The same is true for the path of Dharma practice. The guide is our good teacher; the Dharma that he teaches is the map; and the companions are those Dharma friends who study with us. With these three conditions met, we will be able to keep our resolve firm until we are ultimately liberated and attain Buddhahood.

Among the above three conditions, the most fundamental and important one is to follow a qualified spiritual teacher properly. Dharma practice is a process that continuously reduces our self-attachment till it is eliminated. Following a qualified spiritual teacher is the quickest and the easiest way. Such a teacher will only teach you the Dharma practices that suit you the best and help you attain Buddhahood in the shortest time. On the path to supreme Bodhi, if we want to make steady progress and avoid detours and setbacks, the best way is to follow a qualified virtuous teacher properly.

13. Question: Through diligent Dharma practice, some Buddhist practitioners’ negative karma may turn into minor retributions in this life instead of much graver ones in future lives. How should one deal with the great stress when such negative karma bears fruit?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

First of all, we should keep a positive attitude and know that it is actually a good thing. The Diamond Sutra states that “Furthermore, Subhuti, if a virtuous man or woman who receives, holds in mind and reads and recites this sutra is despised by others, this person’s karmic sins that would otherwise cause him or her to suffer in evil destinies will be eliminated and they will attain Supreme Enlightenment (Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi).” Through Dharma practice, one may turn grave retributions in future lives into minor ones in this life. When it happens, one should not have wrong views about the Dharma as they will create very serious negative karma.

Secondly, we should understand that “one who creates negative karma bears the consequent sufferings by oneself.” All the sufferings are the result of our own negative karma. There’s no one else to blame.

Thirdly and most importantly, we should then practice the Dharma even more diligently because it is the only way to further mitigate the consequent retributions. We should generate Bodhicitta and do more practices that are comparatively more powerful, such as chanting the Lotus Sutra, the Maha Cundi Mantra and the Vajrasattva Mantra.

Lastly, we should not be too stressed; we should have faith that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will definitely bless us and their blessings will be precisely appropriate and will never overwhelm us.

With these four aspects achieved, our karmic retributions will be diluted more quickly and smoothly.

14. Question: The true nature of all sentient beings is Buddha and we are all future Buddhas, and all the sufferings we experience on the path to Buddhahood only eliminate our negative karma, therefore, “every day is a good day; everything is a good thing,” and all that happens to us only helps us to get closer to Buddhahood. Is this conclusion correct?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

If we do not correctly hear, contemplate and practice the Dharma, “everything” will not be a good thing at all but a delusion in samsara. By contrast, everything will be a good thing only when we whole-heartedly take refuge in the Three Jewels and hear, contemplate and practice the Dharma according to the Buddha’s teachings.

Master Yinguang said: “Our true nature would manifest only when we have cultivated virtues and merits. If we are solely dependent on our true nature and give up on cultivating virtues and merits, we would, from now till the end of time, remain only as sentient beings without refuge and protection while wasting our precious Buddha nature.” It’s said in the Ksitigarbha Sutra that: “every action and every thought of beings in southern Jambudvipa creates karma and sins.” Without properly hearing, contemplating and practicing the Dharma, we are only to create new negative karma and cause ourselves ever more sufferings, so how can everything be a good thing?

15. Question: Can we wear Buddha images?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

It is clearly stated in many Buddhist scriptures that one can wear Buddha images or sutras.

For this question, some students mentioned that Master Yinguang opposed wearing Buddha images as described in the Collected Writings of Master Yinguang. (Please find the details in the Reply Letter to Upasaka Wu Chongyin as follows: “I definitely did not know anything about making badges with the image of Shakyamuni Buddha on them. Later, when Daojie came to Mount Putuo and gave me such a badge, I severely reprimanded him for desecrating the Buddha.” See the Collected Writings of Master Yinguang, Volume 2, Third Edition.)

It is true that Master Yinguang did say so. The reason for his objection is very simple—we are disrespectful to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas because we do not behave properly on many occasions. This does make sense. If you feel that you do not show enough respect to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas most of the time, or you feel guilty about wearing Buddha images at dirty places, you should follow Master Yinguang’s advice and there will be no problem at all.

However, it does not mean that what Master Yinguang said is to be taken for granted as the only correct view. The opinion that Buddhists can wear Buddha images is also supported by teachings and reasoning in many Buddhist scriptures.

Take, as an example, the Marici practice we have been promoting since last year. It is stated in the Marici Sutra translated by Amoghavajra that “if one wants to make offerings to Marici Bodhisattva, one should make an image of Marici Bodhisattva of gold, silver, copper, white sandalwood or red sandalwood. The image can be in the form of a goddess of half an inch or between one and two inches in height, either standing or sitting on a lotus flower. It should be perfectly adorned with ornaments such as a crown and necklaces. The goddess should be holding in her left hand a heavenly fan that resembles the one held by the heavenly maids standing before Vimalakirt, and her right hand should be lowered with the palm facing outward and the five fingers extending in the gesture of bestowing blessings. There should be two heavenly maids standing on both her sides, each holding a white duster in their hands. Once the image is made, one can wear it on his head or his arm or place it in his clothes. Thanks to the mighty divine power of Marici Bodhisattva, the person wearing her image will not encounter any disasters. He will always prevail over his enemies, and no villains, ghosts nor demons will harm him.”

As described in this Marici Sutra, once the image of Marici Bodhisattva is made, people can wear it on their head (in ancient times, everyone wore their hair up in a bun so the image could be put on the bun) or their arm, or place it in their clothes.

If we wear the image of Marici Bodhisattva, her mighty divine power will protect us from harms by disasters, enemies and all the villains, ghosts and demons.

Apart from the Marici Sutra translated by Amoghavajra, it is also clearly stated in other versions of the Marici Sutra that one can wear not only the images but also the sutras of Buddhas, which will protect them and ward off calamities.

This is why we awarded an amulet card of Marici Bodhisattva to each of those who had finished chanting the Marici mantra one hundred thousand times last year. The amulet card bears on the front the image of Marici Bodhisattva as depicted in the Marici Sutra, and on the back the text of the Marici Sutra.

Another example is the Shurangama mantra. It is stated in the Shurangama Sutra that wearing the Shurangama mantra generates various merits such as subduing all demons.

Furthermore, it is stated in the Sutra of Mahapratisarah Dharani that enormous merits will be generated by wearing the Mahapratisarah Dharani. We have talked about a story of a very evil person in ancient times who fell into hell but immediately attained liberation and Buddhahood after a small piece of cloth from a worn prayer flag with a syllable of a mantra on it fell on his remains.

In the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism, there is a mandala covering especially for people to wear. It is stated in the Daigo-ji Sanken Holy Teachings that “the mandala covering is also called ‘the clothes of impermanence.’ It helps a dying person to be mindful and reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss where he could see the Buddha and hear the Dharma to quickly attain Buddhahood.” The mandala covering is called the clothes of impermanence. By wearing or carrying it on you, you will remain mindful when you are dying and will be reborn in the Western Pure Land, where you will see the Buddha and hear the Dharma to quickly attain Buddhahood. This is made very clear in the teachings of the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism.

Our Dharma friends who have visited Japan know that there are various amulets known as Omamori available in all Japanese temples of Tendai, Shingon or other traditions. What are in the Omamori? Actually, inside are Buddha images and mantra wheels.

This is all particularly true in Tibetan Buddhism. Nearly all the practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism wear a Gha-u box. Basically, everyone in Tibet wears Buddha images, mantra wheels and Buddhist scriptures. Many Tibetan children wear a long string of Buddha images and keep wearing them for their whole life. The Gha-u boxes usually contain objects of supreme blessing power, such as Buddha images and mantra wheels. Some eminent monks and masters wear very large Gha-u boxes about the size of a small schoolbag.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are also teachings about liberation by the act of wearing. For example, you can wear the Single Son of the Buddhas Tantra (Sang Gyay Say Chig Gyu), a Dzogchen Tantra, if you have received the initiation. In addition, according to the precepts, once wearing it, one cannot take it off and must keep wearing it all the time; otherwise he would break the precepts.

All in all, there are plenty of the Buddha’s teachings and arguments through reasoning that justify the practice of wearing Buddha images, scriptures or mantra wheels. As a common tradition in Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, this practice is well based on authentic scriptures and teachings of the Buddha. I hope you will learn more about this.    

As stated in the Marici Sutra, by wearing the image of Marici Bodhisattva, you will be protected from any harms caused by all ghosts, demons and evil people. This is what the Buddha told us personally, so why don’t you believe it? You should believe the words of the Buddha and act accordingly if you are a disciple of the Three Jewels.

Many of us may learn about the opinion of a certain patriarch and assume it is the only correct view. I find that to be problematic. I often say that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas give different teachings to different beings. They always adapt their Dharma teachings according to the capacities of their students as sentient beings’ wisdom and views vary.

For example, the most fundamental view in Tantric Buddhism is pure perception. In the vision of the Buddha, everything is pure and nothing is impure. The idea that “some places are impure while some other places are pure” is, in fact, just a dualistic thought of the ordinary beings. We should gradually change our mind to turn impure views into pure ones.

Master Yinguang’s advice against wearing Buddha images is meant for those who discriminate between “pure” and “impure.” If you have a strong discriminating mind towards “pure” and “impure,” and you feel disrespectful wearing Buddha images at certain places and are concerned about it, or you actually have a disrespectful attitude, then you should not wear Buddha images.

However, if you have faith and want to be with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas constantly to receive their protection and blessing, you can surely wear Buddha images. What’s more, if you can view everything as pure, you can wear Buddha images anytime and anywhere. It all depends on your faith and respect. In essence, it does not conflict with what Master Yinguang said.

Therefore, we should work harder on hearing, contemplating and practicing the Dharma, and learn extensively and deeply about the teachings of the Buddha. This is very important. I hope you all understand this.

16. Question: Does charity work have anything to do with the Dharma?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

It depends on your motivation. If the charitable work is done for your own reputation, it does not really count as good karma and will eventually vanish together with the vanity it brings about. If your motivation is simply to help others, it is only a virtuous act of “men and gods.” Although it is also a kind of good karma to some extent, it’s not a supreme one, as it will only bring about merits that will enable you to gain a favorable rebirth as either a human being or a god. If your motivation is to attain self-liberation, it is then a Hinayana practice generating merits that will help you transcend birth and death and liberate yourself from samsara in the future. If you, as a Mahayana practitioner, generate Bodhicitta and apply it in your charitable work, then any good deeds you do will cultivate merits of the Mahayana that will enable you to attain Buddhahood. Not only will you liberate yourself from samsara, you will also realize perfect Buddhahood to benefit all beings, thus your charity work becomes a truly supreme Dharma practice.

17. Question: Merit is the source of all mundane and supramundane happiness and accomplishments. What is the best way to cultivate merits?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

We all want joy and happiness. Everyone wants to have good fortune and merits. But how do we cultivate them? The best way is to generate Bodhicitta.

If we generate Bodhicitta, how much merit would it create? It is said in Lord Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment that the merit of Bodhicitta, if it has shape and form, would fill up and go beyond the entire empty space. How big is the entire empty space? It is extremely big and boundless. If we generate Bodhicitta, the karmic rewards and merits we cultivate will be greater than the entire empty space. Such immeasurable and inexhaustible merits will not only bring us joy and happiness, but will also help us to attain Buddhahood eventually.

18. Question: What are the fundamental conditions for Bodhicitta?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

There are two kinds of Bodhicitta, namely, relative Bodhicitta and absolute (ultimate) Bodhicitta.

There are two conditions for relative Bodhicitta. It is stated in the Ornament of Clear Realization that “the perfect enlightenment is sought with the aspiration to benefit others.” Bodhicitta has two indispensable elements. Firstly, one aspires to benefit all sentient beings out of great compassion. Knowing that all beings have been our loving mothers since beginningless time, we aspire to benefit them to repay their kindness because we cannot bear to see them suffer in samsara. Secondly, one seeks the perfect enlightenment in order to have sufficient wisdom and power to benefit sentient beings. Only when we ourselves have attained Buddhahood can we benefit all beings ultimately by leading them to the opposite shore to attain Buddhahood and eternal bliss. It is for this very reason that we aspire to attain perfect Buddhahood.

The aspiration to attain the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment needed to ultimately benefit all sentient beings is known as “aspirational Bodhicitta.” If one not only has such an aspiration, but also sets out to realize it by diligently hearing, contemplating and practicing the true Dharma, and by truly engaging in myriad practices of the Six Perfections (Generosity, Discipline, Endurance, Diligence, Concentration and Wisdom), this is known as “engaged Bodhicitta.” If one has both aspirational and engaged Bodhicitta, he can be considered as having relative Bodhicitta.

19. Question: What are the criteria for a qualified spiritual teacher?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

It is stated in the Mahayana-Sutralamkara that “one should follow a spiritual teacher who is disciplined, concentrated, of true wisdom, outstanding in good qualities, diligent, proficient in various Dharma teachings and skillful means to tame the disciple’s afflictions, awakened to the true nature of all phenomena, skilled in speech, compassionate, and untiring to guide his disciples.” These ten merits that make a qualified spiritual teacher are also elaborated in How to Follow a Spiritual Teacher. Generally speaking, the most important criterion for a spiritual teacher is whether he has pure lineages. This is relatively easy to tell, while the other merits are not so easy to observe because we have to be with the teacher for a long time to find out about such merits gradually. Qualified teachers always possess clear and pure lineages. Good teachers praise and promote their lineages, not themselves. This is very important. Inferior teachers always brag about themselves but rarely mention their lineages, and most likely they don’t even have any lineages at all. Therefore, when observing a teacher, we should first focus on whether he possesses pure lineages or not, and then observe whether he has the essential merits of a qualified spiritual teacher.

20. Question: In this Dharma-ending Age, evil teachers giving false teachings are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. How should we plant the karmic seeds appropriately to be able to find qualified spiritual teachers in all our future lives?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Chant the Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra as much as possible, because aspiration is critical. The Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra is the king of aspirations of all Bodhisattvas. It contains aspirations such as:

With all advisors good and wise who benefit me by explaining Samantabhadras deeds,

I vow always to congregate together:

May they never be displeased with me.

I vow to always meet Thus Come Ones face to face

And the hosts of disciples who gather around them.

To all of them I will raise offerings which are vast and great,

Untiring to the end of future eons.

With bad advisors forever left behind,

From paths of evil he departs for eternity,

Soon to see the Buddha of Limitless Light

And to fulfil Samantabhadras Supreme Vows.

If you often recite the Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, you will find wonderful spiritual teachers and stay away from evil teachers.

So, it is most important to read as many scriptures as possible and to be widely learned by delving into the Sutra Pitaka. If you know little about the Dharma, you will very likely encounter evil teachers. It will be better if you have a certain level of knowledge of the Dharma, because it is the Dharma that you should be based on, not the person.

21. Question: Is it true that whether or not we can meet a qualified spiritual teacher depends on our merits and causes from our past lives?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

Merits and causes from the past lives are indeed important, but they can still be changed. According to Buddhism, everything has its causes and effects; however, you can manage to either prevent a cause from yielding results, mitigate its effect, or magnify its results. All this is controllable. Just like a flower seed, if you keep it in a glass bottle, it will never sprout, let alone blossom; if you plant it in fertile soil, with sufficient sunlight, rain and water, it will grow big quickly; if you plant it in a barren field, it will only grow small and do so slowly. Therefore, causes and effects are not unchangeable.

In a way, we, as ordinary beings, must have planted a lot of negative karmic seeds in our past lives, however, by properly following a qualified spiritual teacher, those seeds would never have the chance to grow and bear fruits. The law of cause and effect is not fatalism. Causes and their effects can both be changed through Dharma practice. A cause made previously will not necessarily create effect unless the right conditions arise. If you follow a bad teacher, of course, these negative karmic seeds would ripen in no time. However, if you follow a good teacher, you would have the opportunity to eliminate your negative karmic seeds through Dharma practice.

22. Question: When we have met in this life a predestined Guru who turns out to be a qualified one after our examination, should we try to have as little contact with other spiritual teachers as possible?

Answered by Acharya Zhiguang:

There is one prerequisite for visiting and learning from multiple spiritual teachers. Master Lianchi once said, “It requires sharp eyes for a student to ‘Can Fang’ (See Note 1).” In other words, if we want to visit and learn from multiple teachers, we must have the ability to discern between good and bad teachers. Nowadays, many people actually do not have such an ability.

In the Avatamsaka Sutra, there is a well-known story called “The Fifty-three Visits of Sudhana (Child of Wealth).” Sudhana travelled through one hundred and ten cities and visited fifty-three virtuous teachers. Bodhisattva Manjushri first directed him to Bhiksu Meghasri, who likewise directed him to the next teacher after he finished teaching Sudhana. Every teacher Sudhana visited and studied with was recommended to him by the preceding teacher. If we already have adequate capability, it is all right for us to visit and follow other teachers with the permission of our current teacher. I myself also have followed many teachers, all of whom have been approved of or even recommended to me by my previous teachers. It is definitely okay to study with other teachers this way. Therefore, it is necessary to follow a qualified teacher in the first place. When your Dharma practice reaches a certain level, your teacher will refer you to other teachers for more teachings if necessary. He will not set unnecessary restraints on you if he is a qualified teacher.

Note 1: Quoted from Jottings by a Bamboo Window by Master Lianchi. The phrase “Can Fang” means “visiting teachers to seek the Path.”