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A DROP OF GHEE—Twelve Verses from the Lotus Sutra for a Fulfilling and Happy Life

Ekayana Culture About the Author Acharya Zhiguang was born Zheng Fu in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province of China. He became a Buddhist at an early age. Over the past thirty years, he has studied Sutra and Tantra teachings in Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Theravada tradition and Japanese Buddhism from more than ninety spiritual teachers in China’s Han and Tibetan areas, Sri Lanka, Japan, Bhutan, Nepal, India and more. He has also studied traditional Chinese culture. He has been spreading the Dharma since 1993 and endeavoring to integrate the ancient wisdom of Buddhism with the rapidly-developing modern society to benefit numerous…

2019.10.04

Ekayana Culture

About the Author

Acharya Zhiguang was born Zheng Fu in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province of China. He became a Buddhist at an early age. Over the past thirty years, he has studied Sutra and Tantra teachings in Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Theravada tradition and Japanese Buddhism from more than ninety spiritual teachers in China’s Han and Tibetan areas, Sri Lanka, Japan, Bhutan, Nepal, India and more. He has also studied traditional Chinese culture. He has been spreading the Dharma since 1993 and endeavoring to integrate the ancient wisdom of Buddhism with the rapidly-developing modern society to benefit numerous sentient beings.

Acharya Zhiguang has no sectarian bias. He advocates that Buddhists should uphold the principle of the Buddha and equally respect all Buddhist sects with pure lineages. For many years, Acharya Zhiguang has been making relentless efforts to invigorate Buddhism as a whole by promoting the communication and solidarity among different Buddhist sects and committing himself to the preservation and transmission of the teachings of various Buddhist sects and lineages.

Acharya Zhiguang is currently the abbot (chief priest) of the Ichijo Temple in Shimeisan of Kyoto Japan, the mentor of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centres around the world, and the mentor of Chinese Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Cultural Exchange Association (Taiwan). He is the first Chinese person who has been granted the title of Great Acharya of Sanbu-to-ho of the Japanese Tendai esoteric school and the rank of Chusojo of the Japanese Shingon Daigo-ha lineage.

Introduction

The Lotus Sutra, the king of all sutras, is renowned as the “ghee” of the Buddha Dharma. It contains not only the secrets to attaining Buddhahood, but also all the wisdom that helps us to live a fulfilling and happy life. This book explains in simple words twelve verses in the Lotus Sutra. Although they are only a drop of the ghee, we can still benefit from its wonderful taste for a lifetime.

Contents

Foreword

Foreword 1

Foreword 2

Chapter 1  Introduction

The karmic connection of the Lotus Sutra with the East

The supreme merits of the Lotus Sutra

Tasting the flavor of “ghee” from the twelve verses of the Lotus Sutra

Chapter 2  Leaving bad companions and making friends with virtuous people

Chapter 3  Observing the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels

Misunderstandings about the precepts

Five criteria for a fulfilling and happy life

The Five Precepts: The causes of a fulfilling and happy life

Upholding and promoting the Five Precepts, starting with ourselves

Chapter 4  Uttering soft and gentle sounds, with their clear and pure voices

A clear and pure voice originates from four types of good karma

Soft and gentle words touch the deepest part of the heart

Chapter 5  With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma, they make the people eager to hear them

With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma

Making the people eager to hear them

Chapter 6  Skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease

What is the true source of happiness?

How can we skillfully cultivate our mind?

Three ways to subdue the Five Poisons

1. Attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction

2. Attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction

3. Realizing that affliction is Bodhi

The metaphor of a poisonous herb

Different methods for different capacities

Our three options when meeting a tiger in a dream

Common antidotes to the Five Poisons

Chapter 7  Always practicing patience and being compassionate toward all

Why should we always practice patience?

Why should we be compassionate toward all?

Chapter 8  Entrustment

One can only benefit from these teachings by accepting them in faith and practicing accordingly

Chapter 9  Ancient and Modern Cases of Receiving Blessings from the Lotus Sutra

Three Ancient Cases

Seeking last-minute refuge in the Buddha at the gate of hell, a sinner is released and comes back to life thanks to the merit of reciting a verse from the Lotus Sutra

A person who held evil views is saved thanks to the power of the Lotus Sutra; the saying that every single character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha is indeed to be believed

An old woman has her sins expiated and returns to life thanks to listening to the Lotus Sutra, and empties hell by chanting the name of the Lotus Sutra

Two Modern Cases

Grandpa Lu and the Lotus Sutra

The illiterate Grandma Huang gains worldly and supramundane benefits through copying the Lotus Sutra by hand

Afterword

Foreword 1

Acharya Zhiguang has always been committed to researching, studying, and practicing Buddhism. The publication of this book in Japan is the result of his tireless efforts. I would like to express my heartfelt respect and sincere congratulations for this achievement.

Acharya Zhiguang guides us with the beacon of sutra and tantra teachings of the single vehicle, which aim to help sentient beings attain Buddhahood. These include Mahayana sutras like the Lotus Sutra as well as teachings of the secret mantra. He also offers us a clear explanation of the correct way of life.

In this book, Acharya Zhiguang analyzes and summarizes twelve teachings in a clear and concise manner, based on one of the fundamental sutras in the Tiantai school: the eight-volume Lotus Sutra. Honored as the king of the sutras taught by all Buddhas, the Lotus Sutra clearly declares the original intention of the Buddha and is part of the authentic teachings of the single vehicle that open the door of Buddha wisdom to all sentient beings, that show them Buddha wisdom, awaken them to it and induce them to embark on the path of Buddha wisdom.

The Tendai school of Japan is a comprehensive Buddhist tradition rooted in the Tiantai doctrine on the Lotus Sutra, which was developed by Master Zhiyi, the founder of the Tiantai school. Later, the Tendai school also incorporated elements of shingon mikkyo (teachings of secret mantra and dharani centering around the Vairocana-abhisambodhi-tantra). Acharya Zhiguang resonates with the Tendai teachings of Mount Hiei. After he was ordained at Mount Hiei, he was bestowed with the Mahayana Bodhisattva precepts and became a Bodhisattva monk of the Tendai school. He then trained at the Hiei-zan Gyoin (the main training temple on Mount Hiei) for two months. He later became a “Great Acharya of Sanbu-to-ho” of the Japanese Tendai esoteric school after being trained in going to the altar and preparing the altar for the empowerment rite of Dharma transmission. In addition, he also attended the Tendai Lotus Sutra Assembly and passed the Examination of Learning and Argumentation with excellence. From ancient times, this highly authoritative assembly has been an official event held every four years according to the decree of the Japanese emperor. The Examination of Learning and Argumentation is the final assessment for monks of the Tendai school. The fact that Acharya Zhiguang has completed the training and passed this examination carries great historical significance, as it is the first time a Chinese person from mainland China has accomplished this in Japan.

Acharya Zhiguang has lofty aspirations and is determined to bring the tantra and sutra teachings he has received at Mount Hiei back to China and to Chinese communities around the world. He’s also fully committed to carrying forward and promoting these teachings.

This book reveals the secrets of the Lotus Sutra in a simple and concise manner through twelve essential verses of forty-eight Chinese characters in total that Acharya Zhiguang has selected and summarized from the sixty-nine thousand characters in the Lotus Sutra. The book clearly instructs readers on how to live a fullfilling and peaceful life by spending every day contentedly and happily, maintaining the right mental state, the right life habits and Dharma practice, and more.

In the Lotus Sutra, upholding, reading, reciting, explaining and copying the Sutra are taught as the “five important practices.” This book by Acharya Zhiguang is a summary of these practices, so I especially recommend it to you. I hope that the readers will be able to savor this “drop of ghee” and live their lives fully through upholding the Lotus Sutra as recommended and instructed in this book.

Take Kakucho

Abbot of Hiei-zan Enryaku-ji

Kanshu of Mizumadera, Ryukokuyama

Foreword 2

In the huge whirlpool of social upheavals that are currently underway, the world is undergoing constant, silent change. In the face of this reality, we must cultivate correct judgment and rectify our minds.

To this end, this book, A Drop of Ghee, can serve as a list of valuable guidelines to fully meet our needs.

As humans on this planet, we each have our own way of life. This varies greatly between different people, eras, and societies. Whether based on history or on our personal experience in today’s world, we all understand that it would be very dangerous to prescribe one standard way of life for all human beings. It is beneficial for everyone to have their own lifestyle. However, among our myriad ways of life, isn’t there also a common pattern that applies to everyone? Since we are all human beings, there must be a common and universal way of life which people are always seeking. To meet this need, this book selects twelve verses from the entire Lotus Sutra. Each verse consists of four Chinese characters, forming a guideline of forty-eight characters in total.

The original name of the Lotus Sutra, the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, is a metaphor that compares the wonderful authentic Dharma to a beautifully blooming white lotus flower: the lotus blossom grows in silt, yet remains untarnished by it.

The Lotus Sutra is a precious scripture that is chanted by the most Buddhist followers primarily in countries and regions around India, the areas along the Silk Road, to inland China, Tibet, Japan, Nepal and South Korea. Moreover, the entire Lotus Sutra revolves around the central idea of the single vehicle, from beginning to end. It reveals that, although the three vehicles of Shravaka (those who attain enlightenment through listening to the Buddha’s oral teachings), Pratyekabuddha (those who attain enlightenment solitarily without following a teacher, and do not teach the Dharma or transform sentient beings), and Bodhisattva (those who practice the Dharma to benefit all sentient beings), all seem to lead sentient beings to Buddhahood through their own path, they all belong to the single vehicle and there is neither a second nor a third vehicle. They are simply three different names for the Buddha’s skillful means of teaching and transforming living beings. The Lotus Sutra especially emphasizes the idea of the single Buddha vehicle. It is full of romance, poetry, and rich literary quality, but its claims are sometimes very serious, too. The author of A Drop of Ghee, Acharya Zhiguang, is a hands-on practitioner of the single Buddha vehicle, and he has drawn on his practical experience to select the twelve verses for the book.

Here are the twelve verses, which form pairs to make six longer priciples:

Verses 1 & 2:

“Leaving bad companions and making friends with virtuous people.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9·16a)

Verses 3 & 4:

“Observing the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-16a)

Verses 5 & 6:

“Uttering soft and gentle sounds, with their clear and pure voices.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-2c)

Verses 7 & 8:

“With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma, they make the people eager to hear them.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-2c)

Verses 9 & 10:

“Skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-38a)

Verses 11 & 12:

“Always practicing patience and being compassionate toward all.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-39a)

As shown in the selected verses listed above, the book describes the importance of karmic connection, the criteria for a full and happy life, the attitude of being amiable to others and talking to them with gentle words, the importance of listening to the teachings of the Buddha, the true source of happiness, how to cultivate one’s mind properly, and lastly, the importance of being tolerant and forbearing. A Drop of Ghee elaborates on the twelve verses of four characters each that are taken from the Lotus Sutra, and proves the importance of living and working in accordance with these twelve teachings. The author is proficient in Tibetan Buddhism and has rich experience in its authentic practice. He is also well versed in traditional Chinese culture, which lends an added depth to the book. This book is an unprecedented work that provides an original interpretation of the true nature of Buddha.

A Drop of Ghee is a book that deeply touches the reader’s heart, resonates with them, and enables them to gain inspiration from anything they might be experiencing in their own lives.

Nakata Junna

Zasu (head priest)

of the Daigo-ji General Head Temple

Chapter 1

Introduction

The karmic connection of the Lotus Sutra with the East

The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, or the Lotus Sutra for short, is recognized as the “king” of all Buddhist sutras and occupies a very prominent position in Buddhist circles. This sutra was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Master Kumarajiva. His mother once told him this prophecy after attaining the third stage of Hinayana enlightenment: “The true essence of the profound teachings given by the Buddha in the Lotus-Nirvana Period, the Vaipulya Period (also known as the Correct and Equal period) and the Prajna Period (the Wisdom Period) must be widely preached and spread to the East. Only you have the power to do this.” Like Master Kumarajiva himself, his mother was also a siddha (one who has attained enlightenment). She told Master Kumarajiva that the essential teachings of the Lotus Sutra were expected to be spread widely throughout the East, mainly through his power. Therefore, Master Kumarajiva’s journey to the East to promote the Lotus Sutra was in part due to his mother making this prediction and entrusting him with this mission. This story is recorded in Biographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra, written in the Tang Dynasty.

Biographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra records another prediction relating to Master Kumarajiva: “When I (Master Kumarajiva) was in the Kingdom of ancient India, I traveled around its five regions to seek Mahayana teachings. From Master Suryasoma, I got a taste of the Mahayana doctrines. He earnestly entrusted a Sanskrit copy of the Lotus Sutra to me, saying, ‘The sun of Buddhism will set in the West, yet its afterglow will reach the Northeast, a region which has a karmic connection with the Lotus Sutra. You must spread it there prudently.’” So, in this passage, Master Kumarajiva relates how he traveled around Ancient India to look for Mahayana teachings. He studied the Mahayana doctrines from Master Suryasoma. At that time, Master Suryasoma entrusted him with a Sanskrit copy of the Lotus Sutra, and told him that the bright light of the Dharma would illuminate the Northeast after the Buddha entered Nirvana. Master Suryasoma meant that the Lotus Sutra was karmically connected to the areas to the northeast of India, and hoped that Master Kumarajiva could spread its teachings there with great care and sincerity.

These so-called “areas to the northeast of India” actually refer to China and Japan. So, after Master Kumarajiva translated it from the Sanskrit, this sutra became very popular, particularly in China and Japan. As a result, countless people have attained both temporary and ultimate happiness through this sutra.

Biographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra also contains many detailed accounts of people who received blessings and even attained enlightenment through practicing the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. We can develop great faith through reading these stories.

The term “Ekayana” in our Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre means “single vehicle” (a single conveyance that carries sentient beings along the path to enlightenment) and also comes from the ultimate teaching of the Lotus Sutra, that “exposes the temporary teaching of the three vehicles and reveals the ultimate truth, guiding the three vehicles into the single vehicle.” From the outset, we have made a special effort to promote the Lotus Sutra. We have completed the worldwide group practice of ten thousand recitations of the sutra at least three times so far. Many of our Dharma friends persevere in reading, upholding, copying and promoting the Lotus Sutra. These practices generate inconceivable merits.

The supreme merits of the Lotus Sutra

There are more than 69,000 Chinese characters in the Lotus Sutra, and every one of them is a Buddha. Even if we only copy one character in it, there will be a Buddha to save us if we fall into hell in the future. Therefore, this sutra offers supreme, unparalleled merits, as proven by many true stories recorded in B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra.

The Lotus Sutra is also very popular in Japan. It has become extremely widespread there with a very large number of followers since Master Saicho (also known as Dengyo Daishi) founded the Tendai school of Buddhism to preach this sutra 1,200 years ago. At present, many Japanese people still read, uphold, preach, and copy the Lotus Sutra.

The Lotus Sutra is indeed supreme. All sentient beings who have formed a karmic connection with it will eventually be liberated and attain Buddhahood. Therefore, it is stated in the Lotus Sutra that “of those hearing this Dharma, there will be no one who will not become a Buddha.” So, it’s clear that no person who has heard the Lotus Sutra will fail to become a Buddha.

In the chapter of the Lotus Sutra entitled “Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja,” it says, “Just as srotaapannas (those who have entered the stream of the teaching), sakrdagamins (those who are to return to this world once again), anagamins (those who are never to return), arhats, and pratyekabuddhas are the best of all the common people, this is the best of all the sutras taught by all the Tathagatas, Bodhisattvas, and sravakas. Those who uphold this sutra are the best of all sentient beings. The Bodhisattvas are the best of all sravakas and pratyekabuddhas. Likewise this sutra is the best of all sutras. Just as the Buddha is the King of the Dharma, this sutra is the King of Sutras.” Similarly, it is stated in A Synopsis of the Lotus Sutra by Master Ouyi that “the Lotus Sutra discloses the ultimate and definitive teachings of all Buddhas.”

Tasting the flavor of “ghee” from the twelve verses of the Lotus Sutra

Literally, “ghee” refers to the finest class of clarified butter, which originated in ancient India. It is often used figuratively to symbolize the most profound essence of Buddhist teachings.

The Lotus Sutra, the “King of all Sutras,” is the most outstanding and profound of all Buddhist scriptures. Therefore, it is very difficult for us to truly understand its teachings. During the Sui Dynasty, there lived a great master called Zhiyi who was a prominent patriarch of the Tiantai school. He is known as the “Little Shakyamuni of the East,” and is also honored as the Koso (founder) of the Japanese Tendai school. He elaborated in particular depth on the Lotus Sutra in his Three Great Works of the Tiantai School: Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra (Fahua Xuanyi), Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra (Fahua Wenju), and Great Calmness and Insight (Mohe Zhiguan).

It’s said that Master Zhiyi once gave a ninety-day lecture on the word “wonderful” as used in the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma. In other words, he spent ninety whole days elaborating on just the title of the Lotus Sutra. So, we can see how profound this sutra is. Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra, which is the first of the Three Great Works of the Tiantai School, is the collection of Master Zhiyi’s teachings on the title of the sutra during those ninety days.

The second work, Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra, gives an interpretation of the text of the Lotus Sutra. The third work, Great Calmness and Insight, explains methods of practicing perfect and sudden calm and insight. It teaches how to realize the state described in the Lotus Sutra and how to accomplish the Lotus Samadhi.

It is stated in Chapter 14 of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra that “from the cow comes fresh milk; from fresh milk comes cream; from cream comes fresh butter; from fresh butter comes clarified butter; from clarified butter comes ghee, and ghee is the best.” Master Zhiyi of the Tiantai school classified the holy teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha into five periods—namely, the Avatamsaka Period (the Flower Garland Period), the Agama Period, the Vaipulya Period (the Correct and Equal Period), the Prajna Period (the Wisdom Period), and the Lotus and Nirvana Period. He associated these periods with the five respective dairy products: milk, cream, fresh butter, clarified butter, and ghee. Master Zhiyi compared the Lotus Sutra to ghee, the most refined of the five, because he considered it to be the most sublime, subtle, and definitive sutra.

The perfect and sudden teachings of the Lotus Sutra are extremely profound. If we truly understand the deep and secret meaning of the Lotus Sutra, we can “open the door to Buddha wisdom, show ourselves Buddha wisdom, awaken ourselves to Buddha wisdom, and enter into the path of Buddha wisdom,” and we will thus attain Buddhahood. Master Ouyi said in the Summary of the Lotus Sutra, “We must know that one can indeed attain Buddhahood immediately by practicing according to the perfect and sudden teachings. So, as the verses go, ‘Dharma-nature is like a great ocean. It is non-discriminatory and all-embracing. All beings, unenlightened or enlightened, are equal; no one is higher or lower. Only by eliminating the impurities in one’s mind can one attain enlightenment as easily as turning over one’s hand.’”

The Lotus Sutra contains not only the secret to attaining Buddhahood, but also all the wisdom that can help us to live a fulfilling and happy life. Since the Lotus Sutra contains nearly 70,000 characters and a great variety of teachings, it would take us a very long time to explain the whole sutra sentence by sentence. Nowadays, people lead very busy lives. So, for our study in this book, we will select twelves verses from the 69,000-plus characters in the Lotus Sutra to taste a drop of its sublime and unequalled essence.

Everyone wants to live a fulfilling and happy life. The twelve verses in the Lotus Sutra are intimately connected with our happiness. On our journey to accepting and upholding the Dharma, we can start by first learning and following these twelve verses. We don’t need to know much in the beginning. If we fully understand these twelve verses and effectively put them into practice, we can change our destiny and create a happy life.

These twelve verses are excerpted from the Lotus Sutra. Each verse contains four Chinese characters, so there are forty-eight characters in total, with pairs of adjoining verses each forming a small passage. Though very short, these verses are extremely rich in meaning.

Chapter 2

Leaving bad companions and making friends with virtuous people

People’s fates differ greatly. Why do some people have good fortune and others, bad? Aside from individual karma, another factor or “condition” also plays a very important role in shaping one’s destiny—the people one associates with.

As the ancient Chinese saying goes, “One takes on the color of one’s company.” With good teachers and friends, your life will head in the right direction. If you have bad companions, they will have a negative effect on you; your life will be ruined and will go from bad to worse. Therefore, we must “leave bad companions and make friends with virtuous people.”

In the Discourse on Blessings (Mangala Sutta), the first verse spoken by the Buddha is “not to associate with the foolish, but to associate with the wise and to honor those worthy of honor—this is the highest blessing.”

Everyone wants a happy and blessed life. In the Discourse on Blessings, the Buddha taught that we should first of all “not associate with the foolish.” The foolish are bad companions. So “leaving bad companions” simply means not associating with the foolish.

Instead, we should “associate with the wise.” “The wise” refers to truly virtuous friends and teachers. To associate with virtuous friends and teachers and “to honor those worthy of honor”—this is the highest blessing.

All Buddhas preach the same truth. In other words, the doctrines preached by all Buddhas are the same. The same is true with traditional Chinese culture. In the Disciplines of Children, a traditional Chinese children’s primer, it says, “If a person associates with people of virtue, he will gain immeasurable benefits. His virtues will grow and his faults will diminish each day. Not to associate with people of virtue will cause him immeasurable harm. Bad people will then become his companions, and ruin everything in his life.”

If we can associate with the virtuous teachers and friends, we will gain “immeasurable benefits” and our lives will constantly improve. “Our virtues will grow each day, and our faults will diminish each day.”

Yet the book also says that “not to associate with people of virtue will cause him immeasurable harm. Bad people will become his companions, and ruin everything in his life.” If we fail to associate with virtuous teachers and friends, we will suffer immeasurable harm; we will get involved with bad friends and evil teachers and our lives will keep deteriorating. The people we associate with are an important external condition for our fate and can change our lives tremendously.

Many Chinese people are familiar with Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons, a book of family rules written by Yuan Liaofan in the Ming Dynasty. Today, it has become a famous inspirational book. In the book, Yuan Liaofan is finally able to change his destiny and fulfill his wishes. How was he able to do this? Because he met a spiritual teacher, Zen Master Yungu. From his teachings, Yuan Liaofan learned that “one creates one’s own destiny and shapes one’s own fortune.” This changed his life forever. So, we can see how important it is to “leave bad companions and make friends with virtuous people.”

Everyone has a different fate. There are many reasons for this—one important factor is what kind of people you learn from. As Buddhists, we want to live a fulfilling and happy life, and more importantly to attain liberation and Buddhahood in the future. What is the most important thing for us to do to achieve this goal? The answer is to follow a virtuous teacher. It’s also stated in Words of My Perfect Teacher that “no sutra, tantra, or sastra speaks of any being ever attaining perfect Buddhahood without having followed a spiritual teacher. . . A spiritual teacher or companion is our true guide to liberation and omniscience, and we must follow our teacher with respect.”

Master Ouyi, one of the four eminent monks of the late Ming Dynasty, was the ninth patriarch of the Pure Land school and the first patriarch of the Lingfeng sect of the Tiantai school. He once set forth four key points of practice. One of them is “relying on virtuous friends is one’s refuge.” The virtuous friends he referred to are virtuous teachers. “Relying on virtuous friends is one’s refuge” means that we must rely on virtuous teachers in order to attain accomplishments.

The other three key points are: “Keeping the precepts is the foundation of one’s cultivation; gaining rebirth in the Pure Land is the destination of one’s path; and contemplating the mind is the top priority of one’s practice.” It can be said that these four key points cover the entire Buddha Dharma. “Relying on virtuous friends is one’s refuge” corresponds to the first two of the twelve verses—“leaving bad companions and making friends with virtuous people.” The next point, “upholding the precepts is the foundation of one’s cultivation,” precisely corresponds to the subsequent two verses that we are going to study next: “observing the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels.”

Chapter 3

Observing the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels

Once we have begun following a spiritual teacher, we will start to study and practice the Buddha Dharma. But where should we start? According to Buddhist teachings, there are three steps that we should follow: precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. The precepts lead to samadhi, which in turn gives rise to wisdom. Therefore, we must start by observing the precepts.

Misunderstandings about the precepts

Some people who do not understand the precepts are often afraid of them. They think that the precepts will place a lot of constraints on them, and they will feel a loss of freedom. They may even refuse to study Buddhism out of the fear of having to uphold the precepts. However, this is in fact a major misunderstanding of the precepts.

The precepts are intended to help us do good and stop doing evil. They were prescribed by the Buddha to protect us from being hurt. By upholding the precepts, we will sow no negative seeds and sow plenty of positive ones instead. Thus our life will grow brighter and brighter. If we fail to follow the precepts, we will plant many negative seeds and consequently experience much suffering in the future.

Therefore, the precepts are not meant to constrain us, but rather, to protect us. Take traffic rules, for example. We are less likely to have dangerous car accidents if we follow the traffic rules. The same is true for the precepts. They are actually like a guide, protecting us on our journey across the sea of sufferings of birth and death, until we finally arrive at the opposite shore of nirvana.

Five criteria for a fulfilling and happy life

Buddhist precepts include Pratimoksha (monastic law for individual liberation), Bodhisattva precepts, and samaya (the conduct required of a tantric practitioner, often as a set of vows or commitments). Pratimoksha precepts focus on not hurting any sentient beings; Bodhisattva precepts focus not only on avoiding hurting any sentient beings, but also on benefiting them; and samaya focuses on maintaining a pure vision.

For ordinary people like us, the Five Precepts for laypeople in Pratimoksha are the most important. We don’t necessarily have to undertake them right away, but it is critical for us to understand their spirit and core meaning, because they contain the secrets to a fulfilling and happy life.

Many people want to be happy and successful, but how many of them know what true happiness and success are? Moreover, what are the right ways to achieve happiness and success? Everyone most likely has their own standards and approaches. However, if you employ the wrong standards and methods then your life will head in the wrong direction and you will only experience more and more suffering and failure.

Many believe that having plenty of money makes for a successful life, and some think that they will be happy and successful when they attain a higher social status. In order to achieve success, some people make their “aspirations” by hanging pictures of big houses and BMW cars on the wall, telling themselves every day, “I want a BMW car! I want a big house!” and imagining money rushing towards themselves like a flood. . . This kind of “aspiration” is essentially an encouragement of greed. Can it truly make us happy? No, it cannot. There are several old Chinese sayings that offer wisdom on this topic: “Greed muddles one’s mind, and lust for gain blurs one’s vision,” “He who knows contentment is rich,” and “A contented mind is a perpetual feast.” Everything in the world works according to its laws. Wealth runs on its own laws, so does happiness. If you go against these laws, you may end up with money leaving you like an ebb tide and happiness retreating far beyond reach. So, without the right standards and methods, it is very likely that our life will end up heading in the opposite direction from happiness and success.

So, what does make a successful life then? What does it mean to live a happy and fulfilling life? There are five criteria for a successful, fulfilling, and happy life. I invite you to read them below and see for yourself if they make sense.

1. Good health

I think most people can agree that health is very important. Being unhealthy can cause us a lot of pain.

2. Abundant wealth

If we are healthy but very poor, we may still feel unhappy.

3. Happy marriage

This is also very important. It’s difficult to feel happy if one’s marriage is a total failure.

4. Good reputation

If you have a good reputation, everyone who mentions your name will give you a “thumbs-up” out of great admiration for you. This is also a very important criterion for success and happiness. On the flipside, it’s likely you will feel unhappy if others disdain to mention your name, or if you have a terrible reputation.

5. Inner wisdom, peace, and happiness

This one is even more important. It is the core of all the five criteria. Without inner wisdom and happiness, all external factors will essentially become meaningless. Moreover, if this fifth criterion is not fulfilled, you won’t necessarily be happy even if you have met the first four, because you will not be able to deal with some of the flow-on effects they may bring about in your life. On the contrary, if this criterion is satisfied while the other four are not, it’s still possible for some people to live happily and feel no pain—Master Milarepa is one example.

In fact, many Buddhist practitioners who have achieved true renunciation in their mind will feel happy regardless of whether the first four conditions are fulfilled. However, since most of us haven’t reached such an elevated state, these four conditions are still very important to us. In addition, even Buddhas and Bodhisattvas sometimes need to manifest the fulfillment of these four conditions in order to benefit all beings. So, for most people, the recipe for a fulfilling and happy life is to accomplish all five of these goals and balance them well.

The Five Precepts: The causes of a fulfilling and happy life

In order to accomplish success in the aforementioned five areas, let’s take a look at the Five Precepts prescribed by the Buddha. You will realize that they are the cause of a fulfilling and happy life if you understand their essential meaning.

The First Precept: No killing

We want to stay healthy and live a long life. What is the cause for this? Many people often take expensive medicines or supplements because they think it’s good for their health, while others prefer exercise practices such as yoga or Tai Chi. They do all this with the same goal—staying healthy and living longer. So, will these approaches be successful in ensuring they live a longer, healthier life? No, not necessarily.

According to statistics, there are many instances of people suffering side effects from medicines that can result in various diseases or even death. Many athletes who do a lot of sports also die young. I have a friend who used to practice yoga—although people often feel good and relaxed after doing yoga, he strained his neck while practicing. So, is yoga guaranteed to keep you healthy? No, not necessarily.

So, what is the genuine cause of health and longevity? According to the Buddha, it is “no killing”— this means not hurting other beings, and especially no abortion.

Why aren’t we healthy? Why are some people so short-lived? It is because we committed too many acts of killing and hurting other beings in our past lives. The karmic results of killing are illness and a short lifespan. In modern society, the sin of killing is widespread, and there are many abortions. If we refrain from killing, try to protect the lives of other beings, and frequently practice life release (a traditional Buddhist practice of saving the lives of beings that were destined for slaughter), then we will live a longer and healthier life. So, as you can see, by not hurting other beings we bring benefits not only to those beings, but also to ourselves.

The Second Precept: No stealing

What should we do in order to achieve abundant wealth? We should refrain from stealing, and should not misappropriate or damage the property of others. Otherwise, we will suffer the loss of our own property in the future. This is a very simple law of causality.

According to the law of karma, “Whatever deeds you have done will always have their effects, while you will never reap what you haven’t sown.” Every cause brings about an effect. That is to say, all you have done with your body, speech, and mind will eventually come back to you, with an effect many times stronger than that you caused to others. Therefore, if we cause others any loss of wealth, we will become poor in the future.

We can observe that different people who are in the same line of business get different results. Why? The most important reason is that everyone has different karma. If you have committed the sin of stealing and caused the loss of others’ property in the past, you will find it hard to make money. If you have never committed the sin of stealing in the past but instead have given a lot to help others and make offerings to the Three Jewels, then you will find it easy to make money. This is the law of cause and effect. This is why so many people doing business in the world all have different outcomes.

Likewise, the same business will produce different results if it is run by a different person. A few years ago, one of my students opened up a store that traded with foreigners. His business was very successful. At that time, he had a Buddhist friend who was very poor. He always wanted to help him, so he dismissed the manager of the store and let his friend run it. However, on his friend’s very first day at work, something bad happened—the global economic crisis broke out. As a result, there was almost no business at all for a whole month. So, as you can see, these different people who ran the same business delivered completely different outcomes.

So, why do different people doing the same thing achieve different outcomes? Because they have different karma. Let me give you another example of a successful case.

In China, there are generally many stores on a street. There was a time when China’s economy was not so good, so business was slow for many stores. One day, a store owner met one of our Dharma friends. The Dharma friend said to him, “If you want your business to flourish, you should recite the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha as much as possible, and often give alms and make offerings.”

The store owner thought to himself, “My business is slack right now, and I have a lot of free time anyway. Okay—I will give the sutra a try.” So, he took the Dharma friend’s advice. He recited the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha every day and made some offerings. The Medicine Buddha has vowed to bless all the beings who recite his name so that they may overcome all the difficulties in their lives, including poverty.

The shop owner recited the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha many times a day. Then, something amazing happened—while the other businesses on his street were still not doing well, his own business grew better and better. Therefore, he developed great faith in the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha. There are many cases like this.

So, even in the same environment, whether or not our business is successful still depends on our own karma.

Therefore, we will reap the karmic rewards of abundant wealth by upholding the precept of no stealing, giving alms and offerings to plant plenty of seeds of wealth.

The Third Precept: No sexual misconduct   

In order to live a happy life, one needs harmonious interpersonal relationships as well as good health and abundant wealth. For a layperson, this means he or she needs a happy marriage and a harmonious family.

How can we find a spouse with whom we get along well? And how can we maintain a harmonious relationship with our spouse?

Nowadays, there are various marriage counseling courses available. Do they always work, though? This is hard to say. Sometimes, the counselor who gives you advice may have failed in his or her own marriage. The mundane approaches that we often use are not always reliable. Many counselors will say that communication is very important and teach you how to use a lot of techniques in your communication with your spouse. However, our communication still turns out to be successful only in some cases and unsuccessful in others.

Therefore, whether or not people can communicate with each other in harmony is not necessarily related to their communication skills. I remember that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche once said, “In this world, there is no such thing as communication. There is only ‘successful miscommunication’ and ‘unsuccessful miscommunication.’”

So, what is the true cause of harmony? What are the real conditions for a happy marriage? The answer still lies in the fact that karma dictates everything. In other words, you need the seeds of harmony to attain harmonious relationships. To this end, the most important thing is that you keep the precept of no sexual misconduct.

Sexual misconduct includes extramarital affairs, homosexuality, masturbation, sexual fantasies, and so forth, as explained in many Buddhist scriptures. “No sexual misconduct” means that you should be faithful to and  responsible for yourself and your spouse, and avoid harming the relationships and marriages of others.

Sexual misconduct leads to very serious consequences, including strained relations between spouses and families, inharmonious marriages, extramarital involvements, and so on. Why are so many people unhappy in their marriages today? It is due to their negative karma from sexual misconduct.

How, then, can we find a good spouse? How can couples get along well and live happily together till the end of their days? The answer lies in keeping the precept of no sexual misconduct. If both the husband and the wife uphold this precept, they will build trust with each other and there will be no discord between them, thus guaranteeing happiness in their marriage.

The Fourth Precept: No lying

How can we build a good reputation? We must be honest and avoid lying.

If we can always keep our promises, then we will earn the trust and admiration of others and enjoy a good reputation. Honesty is an important factor in earning a good reputation.

Lack of integrity is a very serious problem in today’s society. Why do people fail in their business and personal lives? In many cases, it is because they frequently break their word and deceive others.

We can gain the trust of others and build our credibility and good reputation by refraining from lying, always thinking twice before we speak, saying what we mean and meaning what we say, and honoring our word.

A good reputation has enormous value. Whatever you do, you will have other people’s trust, and you will become successful. Honesty is highly valued in the world of business, for example. If you always break your promises, you will certainly fail in the end.

The Fifth Precept: No drinking alcohol

According to Buddhism, external wealth, sensual pleasures, fame, profit, and so on can only bring us limited happiness; it is our inner awakening, wisdom, and compassion that can bring us endless bliss. So, what should we do in order to attain inner awakening and wisdom? We must get rid of the negative seeds that cause ignorance.

What are these negative seeds that cause ignorance? Drinking alcohol is one of them. We all know that we will become confused after drinking too much. Drinking alcohol makes us more and more ignorant.

Broadly speaking, all substances that cause us to become addicted to or dependent on them are harmful to our mental health; these include cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. We should be extremely cautious with them. We should get rid of these things that do no good to our body and mind and obscure our wisdom.

Everything that makes us addicted to it will strengthen our inner attachment. The more attachments we have, the more pain and constraint we will feel in our hearts. We must let go of these attachments in order to be free and happy.

We not only need to rid ourselves of the bad habits of drinking alcohol, smoking, and taking drugs, but also to plant the positive seeds of wisdom—we should listen to, contemplate, and practice the Dharma. It is stated in Chapter 25 of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra that “there are no other than the four practices by which one may attain Nirvana. What are these four practices? Firstly, one must associate with a virtuous teacher. Secondly, one must listen to the Dharma attentively. Thirdly, one must focus one’s mind on contemplating the Dharma. Fourthly, one must practice the Way of the Dharma.” How can we cultivate great wisdom and attain Buddhahood? The answer is that we must follow a spiritual teacher and listen to, contemplate, and practice the Dharma.

Upholding and promoting the Five Precepts, starting with ourselves

We must “observe the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels.” The purpose of observing the precepts is to avoid sowing the seeds of suffering. Without such seeds, there will be no fruits of suffering. Therefore, whatever Buddhist precepts we have undertaken, we should truly cherish them,  sincerely uphold them and carefully guard against violations, just as we would protect our eyes from injury.

Today, I have mainly explained the spirit and the essential meaning of the Five Precepts for laypeople—these are the most fundamental disciplines in Buddhism. Of course, one indispensable prerequisite to Pratimoksha is that before undertaking it, one should first generate renunciation to seek liberation from samsara. This is very important.

If you want to learn about the conditions, exceptions, prohibitions, observation, and violation of the Five Precepts in greater detail, you can refer to the relevant scriptures and other sources of information, such as Annotation of the Sutra of the Upasaka Precepts by Master Ouyi. Of course, you will gain more merits if you can take precepts from a spiritual teacher of a pure lineage. As stated in the Sutra of the Sacred Dharani of Great Consecration, “the Buddha said, ‘He who observes the Five Precepts will be protected by twenty-five guardian deities who stand guard around him and at the door of his home day and night, and give him blessings at all times.’” Indeed, we will attain supreme benefits by upholding the Five Precepts. I suggest that you learn about the Five Precepts first, and then undertake some or all of them with the guidance of a qualified spiritual teacher according to your situation. Upholding any of these precepts will bring you the corresponding merits.

Even if you have not undertaken the precepts, you will still have an easy conscience and a peaceful mind if you can follow the principle of the Five Precepts and try your best to refrain from hurting other beings or doing anything that troubles your conscience. We will certainly live a fulfilling and happy life if we refrain from sowing the seeds of suffering and doing our best to plant more seeds of happiness.

It is particularly important for husbands and wives to both keep the Five Precepts. By doing so, they take responsibility for themselves and for each other. This is a very good commitment to their marriage. In Japan, there are special Buddhist wedding ceremonies in the Shingon and Tendai traditions, during which both the bride and the bridegroom must undertake the Ten Precepts for laypeople—namely, no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, no idle talk, no harsh speech, no divisive speech, no greed, no hatred, and no wrong views. I think this is a very good tradition. If the husband and wife can take the Five Precepts or the Ten Precepts for laypeople when they get married, this will lay a very good foundation for a happy marriage.

The Five Precepts provide a guarantee for a fulfilling and happy life. We should vigorously advocate for and promote the spirit of the Five Precepts. A family will become a pure land if all its members observe the Five Precepts; a company will become a pure land if all its staff observe the Five Precepts; a country will become a pure land if all its people observe the Five Precepts; and the whole world will become a pure land if everyone in it observes the Five Precepts.

If we can achieve this, war will first of all cease to exist, because the first of the Five Precepts is “no killing.” People would certainly not need to fight in wars, and all weapons could be destroyed. If we want peace in this world, we must promote the Five Precepts, starting by observing them ourselves.

Chapter 4

Uttering soft and gentle sounds, with their clear and pure voices

The Buddha has incomparable merits. One of them is the Brahma sound, which is one of the thirty-two major marks of the Buddha. The Brahma sound means that the Buddha’s voice is very clear and pure.

A clear and pure voice originates from four types of good karma

The expression “with their clear and pure voices” means that the Buddha’s speech is free from the four verbal sins: lying, idle talk, harsh words, and divisive speech.

Lying means expressing false information. Idle talk means speaking meaningless words. Harsh words refer to language that is hurtful to others. Divisive speech means words that sow discord and separate people.

These four types of speech all create negative karma. If our speech is afflicted by these kinds of faults it will become defiled, causing a lot of misfortune in our lives. There’s a Chinese saying that describes this situation: “The tongue cuts the throat.” Much trouble, conflict, suffering, and even disasters can result from careless talk or saying the wrong thing.

Modern people suffer from many problems with their speech. They are constantly deceiving each other, stirring up intrigue, fighting and gossiping. Meaningless words are spoken and heard everywhere. Through these actions, modern people create very serious evil karma of speech.

Indeed, lying is very prevalent in modern society and ordinary people’s speech is constantly defiled by falsehoods.

When it comes to idle talk, the situation in modern society is much the same. Most content on the internet or on television regarding finance, entertainment, military affairs, and so forth can be categorized as idle talk. Idle talk includes anything that induces greed, hatred, or ignorance, and anything that is meaningless or not based on correct views.

Harsh words are also a serious problem. We often see husbands and wives fighting viciously, with harsh words flying from their mouths like axes and wounding those around them. We compare these kinds of people to “axe gangsters,” (The “axe gang” was a notorious gang active in Shanghai before China’s liberation. It became infamous for its members who used axes as weapons to hurt others.) It might not take long for physical injuries to heal, but a mental wound can take much longer. So, harsh words create very bad karma. Sometimes even a very simple and trivial matter may escalate dramatically due to harsh words and develop into a nasty fight that ends in a broken marriage or family.

There is also a lot of divisive speech in modern society. Why is there so much disharmony within teams, families, and marriages? It is largely because people have sown discord among others in the past. As a result, they experience disharmony in their own teams, families, or marriages.

If we want to earn the trust of others, the ability to speak with power, and more harmonious interpersonal relationships, free from separation and alienation, we must eliminate the four types of faulty speech. We must also uphold the four rules of wholesome speech: no lying, no idle talk, no divisive speech, and no harsh words. These rules also form four of the aforementioned Ten Precepts for laypeople.

It is very easy to create bad verbal karma through our speech. If we talk carelessly without forethought, we are prone to making these four mistakes in our speech. Therefore, as Buddhist practitioners, we must be able to maintain full awareness of our situation and know what we should and shouldn’t say.

In fact, all the precepts formulated by the Buddha can be summed up in one sentence: you must hold yourself responsible for your own life, thoughts, speech, and actions. This is because the karmic seeds you plant through your thoughts, speech, and actions will all ripen in the future and bring you rewards or retributions that are many times more powerful than what you have sent out.

Soft and gentle words touch the deepest part of the heart

If we successfully cut out lying, idle talk, divisive speech, and harsh words from our speech, this is called “clear and pure voice.” Furthermore, the Buddha also specifically proposed that we should “utter soft and gentle sounds,” which means that we should speak softly and gently, not roughly. The Discourse on Blessings (Mangala Sutta) also says, “Pleasant speech is the supreme blessing.”

Try and think about interpersonal interactions for a minute. Which do you think is more likely to touch the listener’s heart: soft and gentle words, or yelling and shouting? It goes without saying that soft and gentle words will do a much better job in most cases.

You cannot change others by yelling and shouting at them. The more you yell and shout at them, the more closed their hearts will become. Why might you yell and shout at people? Because your heart is growing farther and farther away from theirs, so you feel that you can only get your message across by yelling and shouting. In fact, a harsh tone will only block any information from getting through, as the listeners will react by closing their heart to your message. If you “utter soft and gentle sounds,” they will immediately open up to you.

A fable tells of how the North Wind and the Sun once got into an argument about which of them was the more powerful, so they decided to find out through a competition. What kind of competition? They agreed that whichever of them could make a traveler take off his clothes would be declared the stronger of the two.

So, they chose a traveler wearing a cloak. The North Wind tried first and worked really hard to blow his cloak off. However, the harder it blew, the colder the traveler felt and the more tightly he wrapped his cloak around himself. Then came the turn of the Sun. It shone upon the traveler with all its warmth, and he naturally took off his cloak.

So, we should communicate with others using heart-warming language, instead of trying to convince them with cold words. Many people, including husbands and wives, family members, classmates, colleagues, relatives, and friends, sometimes fail in their communication even though they have very good intentions and what they say makes a lot of sense. This is simply because the way they speak is inappropriate and their tone is unpleasant, so others are unwilling to listen to them, or even become annoyed and argumentative. This results from a poor understanding of the art of speaking. If we know how to “utter soft and gentle sounds with our clear and pure voice,” we will always succeed in getting others to listen and accept whatever we say.

Some people especially like to “debate” with others; or, to put it more bluntly, to pick fights. However, haven’t you ever discovered that although you have won an argument, you have lost the heart of your opponent in the process? So, you have a choice: do you want to win the verbal fight, or do you want to win the other person’s heart? This is what we must consider.

Therefore, in the Discourse on Blessings, the Buddha says that one of the secrets to a blessed life is “pleasant speech.” We must not only focus on expressing true and correct information, but must also pay attention to the way we speak and make sure we express this information using words that are agreeable and pleasant to others.

If what we say makes others happy, this is an auspicious thing in itself. However, we certainly shouldn’t resort to using flowery words or deceptive statements. We must express true information; abandon lying, idle talk, divisive speech, and harsh words; and be sure to speak in a gentle and pleasant manner. If we can achieve this, our words will make others happy, and we will gradually attain the state described in the following two verses of the sutra.

Chapter 5

With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma, they make the people eager to hear them

The Brahma sound, which is one of the Buddha’s thirty-two major marks, refers to the fact that the Buddha’s voice has five aspects of purity. According to the Dirghagama Sutra, “his voice has five aspects of purity, which are together known as the Brahma sound. What are these five aspects? The first is integrity. The second is resonance and elegance. The third is clarity. The fourth is profoundness and completeness. The fifth is all-pervasiveness, meaning that his voice can be heard from afar. The voice with these five characteristics is considered to have the Brahma sound.”

With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma

The Buddha’s voice has these five qualities of integrity, resonance and elegance, clarity, profoundness and completeness, and all-pervasiveness. Every word that the Buddha says is beneficial to sentient beings. It would be impossible for the Buddha to say anything meaningless. Every word and every practice taught by the Buddha in the Tripitaka scriptures in twelve divisions, including the 84,000 Dharma gates, is intended to benefit all beings.

“All the different teachings of the Buddha are intended to cure different afflictions of the mind.” The teachings of the Buddha are all aimed at overcoming different sorts of afflictions and sufferings that affect sentient beings. Since sentient beings are afflicted by countless sufferings, the methods taught by the Buddha are likewise countless. Why do we vow to “learn all of the countless Dharma gates”? Because we have so many afflictions that they cannot be overcome with one single method. For example, if we suffer from many different illnesses all over our body, it is impossible to cure them all by taking just one medicine. We must take the right medicine for each of the illnesses to treat them individually. Moreover, we should vow to learn all the wisdom of the Buddha so as to benefit sentient beings by curing all their afflictions and helping them attain temporary and ultimate happiness.

Making the people eager to hear them

All the Buddha’s teachings make up the “infinitely profound and subtle Dharma.” After hearing them, sentient beings will be filled with joy and become enlightened. They will finally be able to “open the door to Buddha wisdom, to see, awaken to and enter it” and attain Buddhahood.

These two verses from the Lotus Sutra regarding speech teach us how to talk properly. We must refrain from lies, idle talk, divisive speech, and harsh words. We should speak in a way that “makes the listener feel happy” by using gracious, pleasant, gentle words.

We must utter meaningful words that conform to the Dharma and can bring temporary and permanent benefit to others. It is said in the Lotus Sutra that, “If they teach works on worldly affairs, or treatises on political science or business, all these must be in harmony with the true Dharma.” We have to live and work in this mundane world, but we should remain mindful at all times. Everything we say should conform to the true Dharma. We must not say meaningless, idle things, or speak useless words. If someone engages in too much meaningless talk, his or her speech will lose its effectiveness.

Some people speak with a pleasant voice and powerful language, causing many people to readily listen, accept, and follow what they have said. By contrast, some people have an unpleasant voice that makes their listeners feel uncomfortable. Even if what they say is right, people simply won’t listen or act according to what they have said, and may even feel averse to them or be compelled to argue. Why is this? The difference lies in whether one has pure or impure karma of speech. If you have pure karma of speech, your words will be very powerful. If you don’t, because you have spoken many false, idle, harsh or divisive words, then your speech will be rendered powerless in the future. In this case, others will not listen to you even if what you say is absolutely right.

So, what should we do to “make people eager to hear” what we have to say? We should rid ourselves of the four kinds of negative karma of speech. Nowadays, more and more people are unable to express themselves clearly; this poor speaking ability is just one of the results of negative karma of speech.

So, what should we do when we find ourselves afflicted by negative karma of speech? We must repent sincerely and diligently practice the teachings of these two verses we have learned today. In other words, we must try our best to speak honest, meaningful, harmony-building, soft, kind words, in order to benefit others as much as possible. We can also accumulate good karma of speech and voice by praising the Buddha and making offering to the Three Jewels with beautiful songs.

So, good karma of speech is really very important. In particular, we need pure karma of speech when we want to help others, especially when we try to give Dharma lectures to spread the Buddha’s teachings to benefit sentient beings.

Chapter 6

Skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease

What is the true source of happiness?

All living beings, from human beings to animals, in Asia, Europe or anywhere else, are actually pursuing the same goal: avoiding pain and attaining happiness. This is the common pursuit of all life forms.

From ancient times to the present day, human beings have developed a variety of scholarly traditions, including modern science. All of them aim to achieve the same goal: avoiding pain and attaining happiness. But each of these doctrines has different analyses and conclusions on the causes of pain and happiness. Their methods of ending suffering and attaining happiness are also different, and so are the results.

Some people believe that material affluence and advanced modern science and technology can bring us joy and happiness; some people hold that there is a god who can bestow happiness upon us; some people think that happiness has no rhyme or reason and happens out of sheer luck. There are so many different views. So, what is the Buddhist opinion on this? Buddhism tells us that the true essence of happiness lies in the proper cultivation of the mind.

Everybody wants to be happy. But what is the source of happiness? A lot of people haven’t found it, so they are constantly unhappy. Many people base their happiness on external people, things, or objects, thinking that they will be happy when they find someone they love, buy something they like, or live somewhere they enjoy. However, there is much evidence that all of these cannot bring us true happiness.

For example, suppose you live in a rural or alpine area. When you occasionally visit a city, you think, “How wonderful the city is! Getting around is so convenient, and the living conditions are great. How happy I would be if I lived here!” So, you move from the rural area to work in the city. At first, you are very happy living in your rented room: “Ah! I finally live in the city!”

But after some time, your happiness wanes, because you are only renting while others own their own apartments. Then, you think, “It would be great if I could have my own apartment.” You have to work day and night in order to achieve this goal. After several years, you finally pay the deposit and move into your new home. You are so happy: “Ah! I have my own place now!”

But after some time, you become unhappy again, because some people live in big houses while you only have a small apartment. So, you have to work even harder to be able to live in a house. Finally, you live in your own house, but your happiness is still short-lived because you start to envy the fancy cars some people are driving. . . This is just how humans are. The happiness they have attained is constantly being pushed out of reach by more desires. Human desires are endless.

Any happiness that is based on external people, things, or objects is only temporary. It is not true happiness, and will eventually become a cause of suffering. Why? Because people are wont to make comparisons. As a result, the things they possess will just become a source of pain.

So, what is the true source of happiness? The answer lies in “skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease,” as stated in the Lotus Sutra. According to Buddhism, true happiness is not external. All the happiness and pain that we feel actually originates from our own mind and karma. The expression “skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease” means that we can attain true happiness if we train our mind well.

In Buddhism, there are two ways of training the mind: a temporary method which involves taming afflictions through different mind-training techniques, and an ultimate method which helps us to realize the nature of the mind—to “open the door to Buddha wisdom and see, awaken to, and enter it.”

Only when our mind is well trained can we attain true happiness. Otherwise, it will remain out of reach. Any suffering we experience results from problems within our mind, not from without. All external factors are really just conditions for suffering. The real cause of suffering is the ignorance of our mind. Ignorance gives rise to greed, hatred, and confusion, which in turn lead to various afflictions and sufferings. So, how can we achieve happiness? We must cultivate our mind. If our mind is trained well, we will be happy; otherwise, we will not. Therefore, the Lotus Sutra teaches that a person who can skillfully cultivate their mind will be able to abide in ease. The key to happiness and peace lies in “skillfully cultivating the mind.”

How can we skillfully cultivate our mind?

“Focusing on contemplating the mind,” which is one of the four key practices presented by Master Ouyi of the Ming Dynasty, is a supreme technique of cultivating the mind. It means that we should be constantly observing our own mind. There are four levels of observation of the mind: the shallow, the secret, the secret within the secret, and the utmost secret within the secret. Today, we will explain the meaning of observing the mind at the shallow level; that is, we should always maintain awareness and observe our own mind, being conscious of what we are thinking. When negative emotions such as greed, hatred, and confusion arise in our mind, we must stop them right away. When positive emotions arise, we must help them grow.

Positive emotions refer to loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and level-headedness. Our loving-kindness can bring joy to others, and our compassion can help eliminate their suffering. We feel joy for the happiness of sentient beings and love them all equally. The negative mind is what we call the Five Poisons; namely, greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance, and jealousy. We will suffer if we harbor any of these poisons in our heart. The aim of “skillfully cultivating the mind” is to subdue these five poisons. We will know our mind-training practice has been successful when we are freed from the Five Poisons.

Three ways to subdue the Five Poisons

Buddhism offers three methods of subduing the Five Poisons. The first is to attain Bodhi by eliminating affliction, the second is to attain Bodhi by transforming affliction, and the third is realizing that affliction is Bodhi.

1. Attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction

The first method views affliction as an enemy or poison, and aims to get rid of it. So this method is called “attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction.”

According to the tradition of Hinayana Buddhism and the temporary teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, affliction caused by the Five Poisons should be eliminated via the five antidotes, including “meditation on impurity.”

This method is generally used more often in Hinayana Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths (suffering, origination, cessation, and path), taught by the Buddha when he first turned the Wheel of Dharma, revealed the suffering of samsara and the cause of this suffering, as well as liberation (nirvana) and the path to liberation. Hinayana Buddhism holds that suffering is the result of attachment and desire, and attachment and desire are the cause of suffering. Put another way, suffering is an illness, and attachment and desire are the cause or root of this illness. Such is the relationship between suffering and origination. Hinayana Buddhism also holds that if attachment and desire are renounced, the illness of suffering will also be cured. This is cessation, or nirvana. Therefore, Hinayana Buddhism advocates the path of “attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction.”

The guiding ideology of the Pratimoksha vows in Hinayana Buddhism is that affliction is bad by nature, so we must eliminate it. One of the Pratimoksha vows stipulates that handling money is not allowed, because Hinayana Buddhism holds that money gives rise to suffering and is an external condition of affliction, therefore it must be completely eliminated. This is why Hinayana monks and nuns are not allowed to handle money.

Based on the same logic, Hinayana monks or nuns are also not allowed to marry. They believe that being around the opposite sex is also an external condition of affliction, so they must keep away from members of the opposite sex. This is the view expressed in the Hinayana precepts.

2. Attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction

The second method views the nature of affliction as neutral, neither good nor bad. When you don’t make proper use of it, it becomes bad; when you make good use of it, it can become good. So, instead of abandoning or eliminating it, you should transform it and make good use of it. So, this method is called “attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction.”

Generally, this method is used more often in tantric Buddhism and the exoteric teachings in Mahayana Buddhism. The quintessence of the exoteric teachings in Mahayana Buddhism is Bodhicitta and emptiness. Because everything is empty, affliction does not have an unchanging self-nature but manifests as an “empty existence.” This is the fundamental principle that explains why affliction can be transformed. Meanwhile, because the root of Mahayana Buddhism is Bodhicitta, meaning the attainment of unsurpassed perfect enlightenment to benefit all sentient beings, we don’t need to eliminate affliction if we have the ability to transform it into Dharma practices that enable us to benefit sentient beings and attain Buddhahood. This is the original aspiration of the transformative path in Mahayana Buddhism.

Let us once more use money as an example. In the previous passage about the path of attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction in Hinayana Buddhism, money is considered sinful, and practitioners must eliminate any desire for money. However, according to the transformative path of Mahayana Buddhism, money is empty and doesn’t have a self-nature that is either good or bad. So, money will become sinful if you seek money simply to satisfy your greed, anger, and ignorance; money will become meritorious and successful if you seek and use it out of Bodhicitta. Therefore, as practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism, we do not need to stay away from or abandon money. We must transform our mind and use money properly. If we do so, money will become a favorable condition for us to practice the Dharma, help sentient beings, and spread the teachings of the Buddha.

Now, let us learn from another example of the transformative path, this time regarding the opposite sex. This is a case in which the Buddha personally demonstrates how to attain Bodhi by transforming affliction. This story is recorded in both the Maharatnakuta Sutra and the Sutra of Great Skillful Means Spoken by the Buddha.

We all know that a monk who has received the Bhikshu Precepts is not allowed to marry. In this story, Shakyamuni Buddha was also a monk in one of his past existences—a monk who was flawless in keeping the precepts and excelled in practicing the Dharma. Of course, he was not allowed to get married.

Later, he encountered a difficult situation. Due to his handsome and dignified appearance, a girl fell in love with him and was determined to marry him. She threatened to kill herself if he did not marry her.

The Bhikshu found himself in a dilemma: should he insist on staying a monk and observing the precepts perfectly, or return to secular life and marry the girl? He was fully aware of the merits of keeping the precepts and the faults of breaking them. If he returned to secular life, it was most likely that his reputation would be permanently damaged; everyone would discredit him and see him as a disgrace and a failure who had backed out of his Dharma practice. I believe that the Bhikshu—the Buddha’s previous incarnation—must have been faced with this kind of pressure at that moment.

Nevertheless, according to the account in the sutra, the monk ended up returning to secular life and marrying the girl. However, he did not fall onto the evil paths, but gained rebirth in the Brahma Heaven after he died, thus surpassing the sufferings of life and death for hundreds of thousands of eons and reaching Buddhahood much more quickly.

It is stated in the sutra that at the time, the monk had decided to insist on his pure Dharma practice and left the girl, who was on the point of committing suicide. Yet, he only took seven steps away before he stopped and turned back, because he could not bear to see the girl kill herself. He thought, “I can bear the sufferings of hell even if I break the precepts and fall onto the evil paths, but I can’t bear to see this girl suffer so much, and I simply can’t let her die because of me.” So, why did the monk, the Buddha’s previous incarnation, discard the precepts and marry the girl? The real reason is that he did it out of great compassion.

In Mahayana Buddhism, it is believed that great compassion has tremendous merit. Therefore, we can see from this case that the act of leaving the monastic community to marry the girl did not become an obstacle to the spiritual practice of Shakyamuni Buddha, but rather a favorable condition for the progress of his practice.

We can learn from this case that the act of associating with the opposite sex is also neutral. It all depends on how you handle it. Is your action motivated by greed, or inspired by Bodhicitta and great compassion?

Hinayana Buddhism holds that money and the opposite sex are both sources of affliction, while Mahayana Buddhism holds that the root of affliction cannot be found in external factors like money or the opposite sex, but rather in one’s own mind. Therefore, Mahayana Buddhism maintains that cultivating one’s own mind is a more thorough and effective method of dealing with affliction.

Because Mahayana Bodhisattvas believe in emptiness, they do not treat anything as truly existing and hence do not become attached to it. Neither are they bound by afflictions caused by greed, anger, or ignorance. Therefore, inspired by Bodhicitta, it is possible for them to transform these afflictions into Dharma practices to benefit sentient beings and enhance their own cultivation.

How are afflictions transformed according to the teachings of the secret mantra in the tantric part of Mahayana Buddhism? By viewing the external world as the limitless palace of the yidam, internal sentient beings as male or female deities, all food and drink as nectar, and so forth.

This is the path of “attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction” in Mahayana Buddhism.

3. Realizing that affliction is Bodhi

There is also a third method in Mahayana Buddhism—namely, to directly recognize that affliction is Bodhi by nature. There is no need to eliminate, abandon, or transform affliction as long as you can recognize its ultimate reality.

This method is generally used more often in the real teaching or the secret teaching (the “Diamond Vehicle”) in Mahayana Buddhism. The most basic doctrine of the secret teachings in Mahayana Buddhism is pure vision, which means holding the view that everything is clean and pure. As stated in the Adhyardhasatik**a Prajnaparamit**a Sutra, “All things and all beings are pure.”

So, if you don’t recognize that the nature of affliction is no different than Buddha nature, affliction is just affliction; if you do recognize this, affliction is actually Bodhi, so you don’t have to eliminate it or transform it at all.

This teaching is also called the “real teaching” or “complete teaching” in Mahayana Buddhism, meaning that it is the ultimate and perfect teaching. In the complete teachings of the Tiantai school, it is believed that affliction is Bodhi, life and death are nirvana, and sentient beings are Buddhas.

The real teaching also holds that people can become Buddhas in a very short time. Why is this? Shaku Joshun, a great master of the Japanese Tendai school, explains it in his work, Summary of the Classified Collection of Tendai Practices: “The path of sudden enlightenment enables the practitioner to attain Buddhahood quickly because it aims to instill enlightenment on the empty nature of everything in one single thought. As stated in the Lotus Sutra, ‘Those who hear it even for an instant will fully attain the highest, most complete enlightenment.’” This ancient master quoted the Lotus Sutra to reveal the sublime merit of attaining Bodhi in one single thought through the perfect and sudden path.

The metaphor of a poisonous herb

We can use the metaphor of a poisonous herb to explain the difference between these three methods. Generally, you cannot eat a poisonous herb, or you will be poisoned and may die instantly. For you, this poisonous herb is not only useless, but also harmful—all you can do is discard it. This analogy describes the first method—attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction.

However, for a skilled and experienced doctor, this poisonous herb can be used to treat diseases. In ancient traditional Chinese medicine, many toxic substances were used to treat certain diseases, so in the eyes of a doctor with relevant expertise, these poisonous substances are simply very good medicine. A good doctor can turn the deadly herb into a medicine that cures diseases. This refers to the second method—attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction.

According to Buddhist scriptures, peacocks have a special ability: they will not die after eating poisonous herbs; in fact, this will nourish their feathers and make them grow even more beautiful. Therefore, to a peacock, these poisonous herbs are all delicacies. They do not have to be discarded or transformed—they can simply be enjoyed. This is the third method we mentioned earlier—attaining Bodhi by realizing that affliction is Bodhi by nature.

Different methods for different capacities

These three methods are all authentic Dharma and all aim to tame the afflictions of living beings. Why, then, are they so different from each other? Because “the Buddha offered various teachings only to regulate the various minds of sentient beings.” Different methods can be employed to suit the different faculties of sentient beings.

When it comes to ordinary people, their practice is still at a more basic level, so only the first method can be used. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind,” or, “If you cannot beat it, leave it or avoid it.” They have to take an avoidance approach to keep themselves away from afflictions at first.

Some people can use the second method to transform their afflictions, provided they have reached a certain level in their practice and developed the proper ability.

Some more advanced practitioners have greater wisdom and have attained a higher state in their cultivation. This allows them to practice by directly using their afflictions to attain achievements.

So, what level have you reached in your practice? What is your capacity? You have to choose a suitable method according to your own situation. Of course, Buddhist thought holds that it is very difficult for us to judge our own capacities. The safest way, then, is to rely on a qualified spiritual teacher and ask your teacher to guide you in your practice according to your own capacity and degree of cultivation.

Our three options when meeting a tiger in a dream

Imagine that you are dreaming, and in your dream a tiger is coming to eat you. What will you do? Usually, our first choice is to run off quickly to a place where the tiger can’t find us, though this requires us to run very fast. Or, you could hide somewhere where the tiger can’t get in to catch you. This is our first method of dealing with afflictions—to separate ourselves from them, eliminate them, or hide away from them.

There is an ancient Chinese story that became very famous and is probably known by most Chinese people—it’s called “How Wu Song Slayed the Tiger.” Wu Song was a highly accomplished martial artist. One day he was about to journey over a mountain, and he stopped by at a tavern at the foot of the mountain for a meal before he went up. This restaurant sold very good liquor and had a sign hung up on the door that read “After Three Bowls, Do Not Cross the Ridge,” meaning that the liquor was so good and so strong that one would be much too drunk to get over the mountain after drinking three bowls of it. However, Wu Song was so confident in his ability to handle alcohol that he wanted to challenge this pronouncement, so he drank many bowls of the liquor. Of course, he got drunk.

However, the real danger was not, in fact, being too drunk to cross the ridge—the real danger was that one might encounter a fierce tiger who lived on the mountain, and had killed and eaten a couple of people who tried to cross the ridge in the past. Therefore, ordinarily no one dared to make the journey alone.

But Wu Song was not sober enough to be afraid of the tiger, or of anything for that matter, so he insisted on crossing the ridge and began to wobble his way uphill. He had just gotten over the ridge when, unsurprisingly, he came face to face with the tiger. He was so frightened that he sobered up immediately, but as an advanced martial artist, he was afraid to lose face if he fled, so he decided to fight the tiger.

Wu Song was indeed a very powerful martial artist. After a fierce fight, he successfully defeated the tiger. So, he was later renowned as “the hero who slayed the tiger.”

So, let us return to your dream. You too can try to slay the tiger, just like Wu Song. If your skill and courage is as great as Wu Song’s, you can defeat the tiger, tame it, and turn it into your pet. This is the second option for dealing with the tiger. So, the tiger is not necessarily your enemy. It may become your pet or your friend, but this will only happen if you have the necessary ability. So, you’d better make an assessment of your own abilities. If you are not sure whether you can handle it, it’s better to escape. Otherwise, you might end up offering yourself to the tiger as a delicious meal!

Taming the tiger and turning it into a pet is a metaphor for the second method—transforming afflictions into favorable conditions for your practice.

So, when you run into a tiger in your dream, do you have any better method to deal with it than these two? Certainly! The third method is this: just wake up from your dream, and it will be all over! Isn’t that simple? But though simple, it is also the hardest method. I hope that everyone will gain some inspiration from this metaphor of the tiger in the dream.

Among these three methods of dealing with afflictions, I think most people are likely to use the second one, the transformative method, more often. This is because the first method, avoiding affliction, is not always feasible in reality, since you can’t avoid it forever; and the third method—realizing that affliction is Bodhi, also called “spontaneous liberation”—makes extremely high demands of the practitioner. To apply this third method, you must truly have the proper ability to achieve spontaneous liberation from affliction. So, it is not a method that ordinary people can use.

Next, I will introduce you to some commonly-used methods to tame afflictions arising from the Five Poisons.

Common antidotes to the Five Poisons

First, we must overcome greed. When there is greed in the heart, there will be pain. As the saying goes, “A contented heart is perpetual feast.” Greed can never be satisfied, so it causes suffering. We must use a contented heart to counteract greed; that is, to find happiness in what we own at present. Don’t constantly look outward and harbor the thought that the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill. If we compare ourselves with others all the time, we will experience a lot of pain. Therefore, we must learn to be content with what we have.

Greed is a mentality of scarcity and neediness. Why are we greedy? It is because we have a strong feeling of scarcity in our life, so we are greedy and look outward for things to satisfy our greed. However, a mentality of scarcity will only lead to more scarcity.

Many people confuse cause with effect, thinking that we can only own more if we keep driving ourselves with greed to pursue things in the external world. In reality, this is a mistake. If you keep pursuing external things, it simply means you have a strong feeling of scarcity in your heart. How can the karmic seed of scarcity ripen and bear the fruit of affluence? Karma simply doesn’t work that way.

Only a contented heart can bring about affluence. When you are content with what you have, your heart is in a state of richness and fullness, which is a type of good karma that will cause more abundance in your life. On the contrary, greed is the cause of scarcity and will only lead to more scarcity. It will take us farther and farther away from abundance and make it more and more difficult to have our wishes fulfilled.

Second, we must subdue hatred. Hatred means that we wish poor fortune on others, become angry at or hateful towards them, or hurt them. These are all manifestations of hatred. The karma created by hatred will result in us being hurt by others in the future. So how can we protect ourselves? The answer is to act with the opposite of hatred. Not only should we not hate others, we should also be compassionate toward them. If we always wish others well, help them to eliminate their suffering, and try our best to bring them happiness, we ourselves will surely be happy in the future. Therefore, compassion is the antidote to hatred.

Third, we must overcome ignorance. Ignorance means holding wrong views, not knowing the truth of life and the universe, and not believing in karma. Wrong views will lead to misconduct in our body, speech, and mind, causing suffering and darkness in our lives. Ignorance is the most fundamental of the Five Poisons. As an antidote to this poison, we must listen to the Dharma and cultivate wisdom. True wisdom means holding the right view. This has two main aspects: first, the correct view of karma, meaning that one believes in karma, follows the law of karma, and knows what one should or shouldn’t do; second, a thorough insight into the true nature of all phenomena and a complete realization of the wisdom of emptiness. Only by overcoming ignorance and upholding the right view can we cultivate a bright and happy future in our lives.

Fourth, we must tame our arrogance. Arrogance is a serious problem for modern people. Some people seem to be arrogant about almost anything: being slightly better-looking than others, having a more pointed nose or a fairer complexion, being better-educated or wealthier. . . In reality, there is nothing to be proud of about these things, because they are nothing but the reward of the good karmic seeds that you planted in the past—it’s not as if you have achieved some extraordinary accomplishment. Furthermore, all these traits that people are so obsessed with are impermanent.

We must learn to be humble—“Humbleness helps people make progress, and arrogance makes people fall behind.” We must always observe the merits of others and reflect on our own shortcomings, in order to cultivate the quality of humbleness and overcome our arrogance. If we always look at the shortcomings of others and become obsessed with our own strong points, our arrogance will be unleashed and grow out of control. Therefore, to counteract and eliminate arrogance, it is necessary to focus our attention on appreciating the strong points of others and reflecting on our own shortcomings.

Fifth, we must overcome jealousy. Jealousy is a very powerful poison. When we feel jealous, happiness disappears right away, and it is very harmful to both ourselves and others.

In fact, to be jealous is very ignorant. Why? For example, if we see that a person is very rich and makes a lot of money, we may feel very upset and become very jealous. At this point, we must be careful, because we are planting negative seeds of wealth. The more jealous we feel of others’ wealth, the poorer we ourselves will become. Therefore, jealousy is a kind of poison, a negative emotion that will drag us farther and farther away from all the beautiful things in life. If we are jealous of other people’s money, we will have less and less money ourselves; if we are jealous of other people’s good looks, we will grow uglier and uglier. . . So, jealousy is a very foolish psychological reaction.

How, then, do we overcome jealousy? According to Buddhist beliefs, it can be counteracted by responding with joy. What is “responding with joy”? Here’s an example: when you see that someone is wealthy, you feel happy for that person, thinking to yourself, “It’s great that he’s so rich! I hope he becomes even wealthier in the future.” If you think this way, you will be responding with joy to his good fortune. If you feel sincerely happy for him, you will receive the same blessing of wealth as that of this rich person, and you will also become wealthy in the future. Why does he have so much money? It is simply because he has planted many good karmic seeds of wealth in the past. When you rejoice in his prosperity and his good karmic seeds of wealth, you are actually planting the same seeds of wealth for yourself.

On the other hand, it is very foolish to feel jealous of others’ wealth. Because what does this jealousy do? It causes you to become poorer and poorer, because when you are jealous of others’ prosperity, you plant the seeds of poverty and move in the opposite direction from wealth. However, if you feel sincerely happy for them, in the future you too will have whatever wealth they have now.

Similarly, if we see someone very beautiful, we shouldn’t feel jealous. We should rejoice in the karmic seeds of good appearance that they planted in the past and the karmic reward of beauty that they have received now. We should feel happy for them and hope that they will be even more beautiful in the future. When we do this, we plant our own seeds of beauty and will likewise be rewarded with good appearance. Therefore, responding with joy is a very simple yet wonderful pith instruction that can generate a lot of positive results. We must use this method to overcome jealousy whenever it strikes us.

In the future, when we see others enjoying their good fortune, we must rejoice in their merits so that we will have the same good fortune for “free.” It would be stupid for us to feel jealous, because that will only cause us more loss and drag us farther and farther away from obtaining the same good karmic fruits. Therefore, responding with joy is a supreme Dharma practice that we must master. We should always rejoice in observing any merits or wholesome practices, or any quality of others that is nice and beautiful. In this way, we will experience the same kind of beauty and delight in the future.

The above five teachings are the preliminary methods for “skillfully cultivating the mind.” We must always observe our own mind closely, and whenever we notice these Five Poisons arising, we should counteract them with the right method: contentment for greed, compassion for hatred, wisdom for ignorance, humbleness for arrogance, and rejoicing for jealousy. When we are able to successfully produce the antidotes to the Five Poisons, we will have properly cultivated our mind, and a well-cultivated mind will bring us great happiness.

Chapter 7

Always practicing patience and being compassionate toward all

There are many levels of patience, including patience towards beings, patience towards dharmas, and patience in the realization of the non-arising nature of dharmas. Great Master Zhiyi says in The First Gate in the Sequence of the Boundaries of the Dharma that “There are two types of patience towards beings: first, harboring no arrogance when being venerated and worshiped by others; second, abiding in forbearance and bearing no hatred when being subject to hatred, beating, or cursing by others. This is patience towards beings.” He also says that “There are two types of patience towards dharmas: first, enduring non-mental phenomena, such as cold, heat, hunger, thirst, old age, sickness, death, and the like; second, enduring mental phenomena, including hatred, anger, sorrow, worry, suspicion, lust, arrogance, evil thoughts, and so on. Bodhisattvas are regarded as having accomplished these two types of patience if they can endure all of these mental and non-mental phenomena and remain unmoved by them.” The Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom says, “What is patience towards the non-arising of phenomena? It means the mind at rest in its awakening to the reality of the non-arising of all existences, and to the truth that all afflictions have always been non-arising originally”

There are two types of ordinary patience (patience towards beings). One involves not having arrogance in your heart when others respect you and make offerings to you. In fact, this is very difficult. When we are praised by others, we can get so puffed up with pride that our body even feels lighter, as if we can fly. Under these circumstances, you must maintain awareness and keep your mind under control. The other type of ordinary patience involves abiding in forbearance and refraining from hatred when people insult you, beat you, or curse you.

There are also two types of patience towards dharmas. The first one is patience towards “non-mental phenomena,” for example, adverse conditions we may encounter during our Dharma practice, such as very hot or cold weather, fatigue or backache, as well as agreeable or disagreeable food. We must endure all of these patiently—this is the first type of patience towards dharmas.

The second type of patience towards dharmas is patience towards “mental phenomena,” including hatred, sorrow, suspicion, greed, lust, arrogance, evil thoughts, and so on. We must be able to bear these negative emotions patiently and remain unaffected by them.

Patience in the realization of the non-arising of dharmas means that one recognizes the truth that there is neither arising nor cessation in all phenomena.

The three types of patience discussed above are relatively technical and in-depth concepts. Next, I’m going to explain the superficial sense of the verse, “always practicing patience.”

Why should we always practice patience?

Since beginningless time, everyone has planted many negative karmic seeds. We do not even need to trace back so far. In this life alone, we all have cast countless negative seeds since we were born, and this is why it’s normal for us to encounter various difficulties in our lives. Because all the hardship and suffering we encounter are caused by the bad karma we created in the past, there is no one else to blame. We must repent of the sins that caused our karmic hindrances, and learn to accept and bear them patiently.

When we accept and endure with patience, these negative karmic seeds will transform and disappear, so it’s not a bad thing if we encounter difficulties or hindrances. When this happens, do not think that it is a bad thing or a misfortune. In reality, it is not. It is simply our negative seeds from the past transforming and vanishing. And this is a good thing, because it is in fact a purifying process that cleans up the “trash” and toxics in our life. It is a very good thing that our karmic hindrances are eradicated in the process. Eminent masters in ancient times said, “Enjoyment consumes good karma, while suffering eliminates bad karma.” So, we should accept the difficulties and hindrances in our life with joy.

Most people do not understand karma. When they are harmed by their enemies, they follow the “eye for an eye” philosophy, becoming obsessed with revenge and trying to get even with their enemies. They don’t understand that their enemies are actually their creditors, and that they are harmed by their enemies simply because they have harmed their enemies in the past. Therefore, “an eye for an eye” will only lead to never-ending vengeance and committing new sins, which will result in much graver retributions in the future.

Master Yinguang says that we should “eradicate previous negative karma as the conditions arise, and do not commit new sins.” When we encounter misfortune in our life, we should accept it with ease so as to eliminate our previous bad karma. What’s more, we must not plant new seeds of suffering, which will ripen and bear bitter fruits in the future, trapping us in a vicious circle. The Lotus Sutra teaches us to “always practice patience”; this is the sword of wisdom that severs the cycle of bad karma.

Patience is a very important practice for us as Buddhist practitioners. If we practice it well, we will get great benefits both on the worldly and supramundane levels. Many great people are highly proficient in the practice of patience.

There is an old saying passed down by the ancient Chinese: “Lack of forbearance in small matters upsets great plans.” That is to say, if you want to accomplish a great goal, you must know how to be patient when it comes to the tiny little things. Don’t let small difficulties get the better of you. You should make even greater effort to exercise patience when you are practicing the Dharma in order to attain liberation and Buddhahood. Many eminent monks and masters throughout history also attained enlightenment and accomplishments because they were highly skilled in practicing patience. 

Many prominent Buddhist masters throughout history endured immeasurable hardships and difficulties in their practice, and attained great success in enduring them patiently. Such exemplary figures include the sixth Chan Patriarch Huineng, Master Xuyun, Chan Masters Baiyin and Fushan Fayuan in Chinese Buddhism; Master Naropa, Master Milarepa, and Master Longqên Rabjamba in Tibetan Buddhism; and Master Kūkai and Master Saichō in Japanese Buddhism. Therefore, as a Buddhist practitioner, forbearance is a very important practice.

The Buddha often praised those who practiced patience, recognizing them as people of great power. It is stated in the Sutra of the Buddha’s Final Teachings that “patience is a virtue which cannot be equaled even by upholding the precepts and undertaking the austere practices. Whosoever is able to practice patience can be truly called a great and strong person.” The Buddha said that the merits of patience exceeded those of keeping the precepts and undertaking the austere practices, and only those who are able to practice patience can be truly called “a great and strong person.” If we can conquer others, we might be a person with power; but if we can conquer ourselves, we will be a truly powerful person.

The Mahayana Bodhisattvas who initiate the aspiring and engaging Bodhicitta are the warriors of samsara. The Six Perfections of the Bodhisattva warriors—namely, generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom—will generate supreme merits, although they are very difficult practices. For example, when we have achieved the perfection of patience, we will also have completed the third stage of Mahayana Bodhisattva development.

To “always practice patience” is highly meritorious and virtuous in itself. Not only will it allow us to eradicate negative karma and suffering and accumulate merits and blessings, it will also lead to the karmic reward of dignified appearance in the future. It is taught in the Buddhist scriptures that people are born with dignified appearance because they have practiced patience in their past lives. So, now that you know this secret, you won’t have to go to South Korea for cosmetic surgery! As long as you “always practice patience,” you will accumulate the good karma of beautiful and dignified appearance. In the future, when people treat you wrong, you can actually feel happy about it: “Oh, this person is giving me a great opportunity to become beautiful!” Then, you should begin to practice patience. I think this is a great pith instruction for our practice.

Therefore, if someone harms us, we should not take the “eye for an eye” approach, but should accept it joyfully and practice patience. And more than that, we should also learn to repay evil with good and be compassionate toward all.

Why should we be compassionate toward all?

If others do something that hurts us, not only should we not harbor any grudge against them, we should also be compassionate toward them, because those who hurt us are more pitiful than us. They do evil only because they are driven by their negative karmic energy from the past, and they cannot refrain from hurting other people and planting the seeds of suffering. Therefore, these evil sentient beings actually deserve even more compassion from us. The last verse from the Lotus Sutra I’m going to study with you here is “be compassionate toward all.”

There is an interesting story in the autobiography of Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang (also known as Khenpo Ngagchung). The story is about his master, Nyoshul Lungthok Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche, while he was at the Dzogchen Monastery. One day, the monks at this monastery saw a hunter out hunting. They all felt that the hunter was outrageously evil, and all had great sympathy for the river deer and other animals that he killed. Hearing this, Nyoshul Lungthok Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche said, “Your compassion is completely misdirected. These animals that were killed are not the most pitiful, because in this way their negative karma from the past has ripened and their karmic debts have been paid off. The hunter is actually the pitiful one, because the bad karma he created just now will cause him to suffer endless pain in hell, and even after that, he will still have to pay off the karmic debts he owes these animals for five hundred lifetimes.”

Most people do not understand that it is the person causing harm to others that is the most pitiful, not those who are hurt. When others harm us, we tend to be miserable and feel sorry for ourselves, complaining that others have treated us wrong. Whereas in reality, if others mistreat us, it is simply that our negative seeds from the past are being transformed and exhausted, and our karmic debts are thus paid off. This is not a bad thing for us. However, those who hurt us will suffer multiple times the pain they inflict on us in their future existences, because while the seed might be small, the fruit it grows into is always much bigger. Therefore, people who hurt others are pitiful indeed, since they will suffer so much more pain in the future than the pain they cause us today. Of course, if we do not endure patiently, but instead harm other people when our negative karmic seeds ripen, then we will also be truly pitiful.

Once, a student came to ask me, “I can understand that we should be compassionate toward good people, but why should we be merciful to those who are evil?”

I then explained it to him using this example: “Suppose there are two children. One of them is very filial, wise, and successful in society, and everything is going well for him; the other child is mentally ill and he can’t stop himself from going around doing bad things every day. Now, suppose you are the parent of these two children. To which child will you give more care and attention? You will surely choose to take care of the child who suffers from mental illness, because the very filial and successful child does not need your care since he is doing very well on his own, while the mentally ill child needs you to give him more love and care.”

This is the principle of compassion. We must be compassionate to ordinary people, but we should be even more compassionate to those who are evil. We should follow in the footsteps of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and “always practice patience and be compassionate toward all.”

My teacher, Master Miaozhan, said something very touching right before he passed away. He said, “Never forget that there are so many miserable people in the world.” He advised us not to forget that there are many people in this world who are suffering.

We will feel a lot of pain if we only think about ourselves every day; but if you realize that there are so many sentient beings in this world who are in more pain than you, your pain will be alleviated. When we only focus on ourselves, our painful feelings will be very strong; but when we open our hearts and care about all sentient beings, our own pain will soon decrease or even disappear.

Therefore, when we are suffering, we must think of the innumerable living beings in this world who are also experiencing all kinds of pains, and we should feel sympathy and compassion toward them. We should also generate Bodhicitta like the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, declaring, “May I take on myself the immeasurable suffering of all beings and bring to them the ultimate bliss.” We must give rise to the supreme Bodhicitta and practice diligently to free all sentient beings from suffering and help them attain happiness.

Chapter 8

Entrustment

One can only benefit from these teachings by accepting them in faith and practicing accordingly

Each of the twelve verses from the Lotus Sutra that we have studied in this book consists of only four characters in the Chinese version. Although they might seem quite simple, they are all very profound teachings. If we can truly follow the instructions of these twelve verses, I believe that every one of us will live a happy and fulfilling life, and in the end, we will all attain the supreme and perfect enlightenment.

If we want to truly benefit from the Dharma, it is not enough for us to simply listen to it. We must make sure that we correctly understand every verse we hear and study, and properly put it into practice. The phrase “accept and uphold the Dharma” means that we should accept and follow the teachings of the Buddha by practicing them the right way. If we do not put the teachings we have heard into practice, we will never be able to solve the problems in our lives.

I would like to recommend some methods of practicing these twelve verses from the Lotus Sutra. You can make six bookmarks with two verses on each of them—you can then put the bookmarks in a book or notebook for a frequent reminder to practice their teachings; or you can give the bookmarks to others as a gift so that they too can gain benefits from the Dharma; or you can also carry them with you as a very powerful amulet. It is said in B**iographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra that “every character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha,” and that “when you recite the Lotus Sutra in the world of impurity and degeneration, as an ordinary sentient being, you will only see the characters in it as normal text. Yet they are in fact all Buddhas with the perfect three-fold embodiment; when you have purified your mind, you will see these characters turn into wings on your body, carry you to the Western Pure Land, and then manifest in their original Buddha bodies.” This shows that every character in the Lotus Sutra is indeed a Buddha; so the forty-eight Chinese characters in these twelve verses are forty-eight Buddhas. If you carry the bookmarks with these twelve verses, you will be under the protection and blessing of forty-eight Buddhas, so you will surely be fortunate and contented.

If you have enough faith, you can also use these six bookmarks for divination or to draw lots. When you encounter problems at work or in your life that you feel confused about or do not know how to deal with, you can put these six bookmarks in front of you, then pray devoutly to the Guru and the Three Jewels for their blessing and guidance until you feel strong faith, and then pick one of them at random. The teaching on the bookmark you pick out will be the inspiration and instruction from the Guru and the Three Jewels, in which you will surely find directions and answers for your problems.

The Lotus Sutra is the most complete, perfect, and uniquely wonderful sutra. In this book, we have shared but a single drop of ghee from the Lotus Sutra together. Although we have merely studied these twelve short verses and I have only explained them briefly on a superficial and preliminary level, I still believe that the wisdom in these twelve verses is fully capable of empowering us to create a happy and fulfilling life, and to lay a solid foundation for the great cause of attaining Buddhahood. Therefore, I sincerely hope that this book will be of help to you in your life, career, and Buddhist practice.

This book was originally compiled on the Buddha’s Birthday in 2017 and was further compiled and supplemented by Zhiguang on the summer solstice of 2018.

Chapter 9

Ancient and Modern Cases of Receiving Blessings from the Lotus Sutra

Three Ancient Cases

Narrated by Acharya Zhiguang

The Lotus Sutra, also known by its full name, the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, is the king of all sutras. Like a vast ocean, it contains all the Dharma of the Mahayana and Hinayana and reveals that the Buddha’s original intention of manifesting Himself in this world is to preach “only the Dharma of the single vehicle, neither a second nor a third vehicle.” Therefore, it has been honored as “the lotus flower of the wonderful law that leads sentient beings to Buddhahood.” In Chapter 23, “Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Bodhisattva Medicine King) in the Lotus Sutra,” it is stated that “this sutra is the best of all sutras. Just as the Buddha is the king of the Dharma, this sutra is the king of sutras.”

In the preface he wrote for the Lotus Sutra, Vinaya Master Dao Xuan, the founder of the Nanshan sect of the Vinaya school in China said that “of more than 4,000 volumes of Buddhist scripture that were translated over a period of more than 600 years, from the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty, the Lotus Sutra was unrivaled in popularity.” That is to say, over the 600 years from the Han Dynasty, when Buddhism was first introduced to China, until the Tang Dynasty, a total of over 4,000 volumes of Buddhist scriptures had been translated into Chinese. Among these scriptures, the Lotus Sutra boasted the most readers. This made it the most popular sutra in ancient China.

From ancient times, countless people have benefited from chanting, upholding, writing, and worshiping the Lotus Sutra. Account of the Propagation and Transmission of the Lotus Sutra, and Biographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra, both written in the Tang Dynasty, contain many stories about people receiving supreme blessings through chanting or practicing according to the Lotus Sutra. Many stories about people attaining enlightenment are also recorded in Wu Deng Hui Yuan (Collated Essentials of the Five Lamps) from the Song Dynasty.

Vinaya Master Dao Xuan himself was one of those who became enlightened through chanting the Lotus Sutra. He kept very strict and pure precepts throughout his lifetime. When he practiced the Dharma at Mount Zhongnan, he chanted the Lotus Sutra every day, and at noon, devas from heaven would bring him food as an offering so he did not have to cook for himself. So, if you also chant the Lotus Sutra well enough, you won’t have to cook anymore, because devas will bring you food when it’s time to eat. Of course, it is not all that easy to earn free meals from heaven by chanting the Lotus Sutra!

There are many such stories. Now, I will tell you about three ancient cases of people receiving blessings from the Lotus Sutra, as recorded in B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra in the Tripitaka.

Seeking last-minute refuge in the Buddha at the gate of hell, a sinner is released and comes back to life thanks to the merit of reciting a verse from the Lotus Sutra

In the third year of Zhenguan Era of the Tang Dynasty under the reign of Emperor Taizong, a man named Yu Lintong aspired to chant the Lotus Sutra, but had been too busy with his various worldly affairs to do so. In the end, he fell ill and died by chance.

Immediately after Yu Lintong’s death, six ox-headed, horse-faced officials from hell showed up and took him to the nether realm of Yamaraja. They had just arrived at the main gate of a big city and were about to enter, when suddenly a monk came out from beside the gate and said to him, “I am Bodhisattva Medicine King. You wanted to chant the Lotus Sutra but died before you could accomplish it, isn’t that so? I will now teach you a verse, and you must remember it at all costs: ‘I am always thinking: how can I help sentient beings enter the highest path and quickly attain the Buddha’s body?’ If you recite this verse when you are in hell, you can turn hell into a lotus pond, and the body of a man, afflicted with sufferings, into the body of a Buddha. So you must try to remember it—do not forget!” After Bodhisattva Medicine King had imparted this verse to him at the gate of hell, Yu Lintong managed to hurriedly memorize it.

Then he went into the city to see Yamaraja, who asked him, “Do you have any merits?” He replied, “I don’t have any merits except that I can recite a verse.” Yamaraja then asked, “What verse can you recite?” Yu Lintong said, “I am always thinking: how can I help sentient beings  enter the highest path and quickly attain the Buddha’s body?” His recitation had a miraculous effect: wherever his voice reached, all the beings were instantly freed from hell, and all eighteen levels of hell transformed into a lotus pond. Shocked by what he had just witnessed, Yamaraja hurriedly cried, “Stop! Stop at once! Don’t recite any more. I will let you go right now! Please hurry up and go back to the world of human beings!”

Just like that, Yu Lintong came back to life after he had been dead for two days. He told his family members and fellow villagers about everything he had experienced in hell. All of them found his experience truly incredible and generated strong faith in the Lotus Sutra.

If even a single verse of the Lotus Sutra can be so powerful, can you imagine the power of the whole sutra? So, we must chant the Lotus Sutra as much as possible, since the merits of this sutra are simply unfathomable. The case of Yu Lintong coming back to life not only causes us to generate faith in the Lotus Sutra, but also offers us a warning. You can see how his life before he died is much like many of our lives now, aspiring to chant the Lotus Sutra but always being too busy to do it—day after day, year after year. We must all be wary not to follow in Mr. Yu’s footsteps and end up like him, dying with his aspirations unfulfilled. So, no matter how busy we are, we must never delay chanting the Lotus Sutra. The earlier you chant it, the sooner you will benefit from it. Do not wait until you are already at the gate of hell to seek last-minute refuge in the Buddha.

A person who held evil views is saved thanks to the power of the Lotus Sutra; the saying that every single character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha is indeed to be believed

This story is also from B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra, which records the case of a man from  Yu County in ancient Manchuria. This man, whose name was not recorded in the story, believed in some false superstitions. He did not believe in Buddhism and held evil views about the Dharma. He found Buddhism particularly repulsive—if he so much as saw a Buddha statue or a Buddhist monk, he would wash his eyes out when he returned home. If he heard someone explaining a sutra or talking about the Dharma, or even heard someone chanting a sutra or a Buddha’s name, he would wash his ears out as soon as he got home. Some spiritual friends had tried to lead him to the Buddhist path, but he simply would not listen to their advice. Because he slandered the Dharma, he became more and more destitute, and in the end, he could only live on borrowed money.

Finally, he completely ran out of sources to borrow money from, so he had to go to a monastery for help. In ancient China, most likely starting in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, some large-scale monasteries accumulated the money donated by their followers when they visited to make incense offerings, worship the Buddha, or offer alms to the Three Jewels. They used this money to run a pledge loan business for laypeople. The premises where these businesses operated were called zhi ku (literally, “pledge treasuries”) and are considered to be the earliest pawn shops in China. By the Tang and Song Dynasties, the income of these zhi ku had become one of the major sources of revenue for Buddhist monasteries, and the zhi ku were later known by names such as “Hall of Inexhaustible Treasures,” “Treasury of Immortality,” and “Pledge Loan Storehouse,” among others. The man in the story was planning to borrow three thousand coins from a monastery.

He went to Renshou Monastery and presented himself outside the room where a monk named Daoru lived, not wanting to enter the room. From outside, he said, “I want to borrow three thousand coins.” Master Daoru replied, “You can borrow the money at the zhi ku of our monastery, but you will have to wait for me for a while. I happen to be copying the Lotus Sutra for our benefactors at the moment, and the ink on my ink slab dried up when I was at the end of the first line of Chapter 2 ‘Skillful Means’, so one character is still left unfinished. Could you fetch some water for me? Once I can grind some ink and finish this character, I will help you get the money.”

The man was caught up in an awkward situation. He thought, “I was originally a person who avoided seeing the Three Jewels. I only came here to borrow money today because there is nowhere else I can go. I simply can’t help it! If I fetch water for this monk, it will surely bring me bad luck; but if I don’t help him, I certainly won’t be able to borrow the money.” He thought back and forth about it, hesitating for quite a while before he finally went to fetch the water for the monk. But after handing the water to Master Daoru, he couldn’t stand it any longer and left the monastery. After Master Daoru had used the water to grind his ink and had finished the last character, he got up to help the man with the formalities of borrowing money, but could no longer find him.

After the man had left the monastery and was just about to cross a river, he suddenly fell to the ground and passed out. It took him a long time to come to, and when he finally did he began to cry and repent. He went back to the monastery and told Master Daoru, “I was really dead when I passed out. Two men came to take me to the palace of Yamaraja. As soon as he saw me, he yelled at me and said, ‘Most people adorn themselves with the solemnness and merits of the Buddha, but you? You adorn yourself with evil views! As punishment for this, you will be thrown into the Avichi Hell.’ At this moment, an extraordinary light suddenly appeared in the sky and it shone directly towards the top of my head. Yamaraja rushed to see what was going on, only to find that it was the last character in the first line of the chapter of Skillful Means in the Lotus Sutra. Because you wrote this character with the water I fetched for you, it manifested as a Buddha to save me from hell.”

The man continued, “At that moment, the Buddha said to Yamaraja: ‘I am a character in the text of the chapter of Skillful Means from the Lotus Sutra. Each and every character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha. This man is under my protection, so I have come to save him.’ Yamaraja rejoiced greatly at the Buddha’s words and said, ‘Excellent! Excellent indeed! A character in the Lotus Sutra has manifested as a Buddha and issued forth extraordinary light to save this man. If a sinner like him was still saved by the Lotus Sutra, how can it fail to save those who have faith in Buddhism?’ Saying this, Yamaraja showed me the way back to the human world, and later I woke up.”

After this experience, this man, who had once held evil views about Buddhism, renounced his secular life to become a monk in the monastery. He went on to copy the Lotus Sutra sixteen times.

In B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra, there are quite a few cases testifying to the fact that “each and every character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha.” Don’t be tempted to think that this is just a metaphor. Cases of living beings being saved by Buddhas as manifestations of characters from the Lotus Sutra can be found in many accounts of people receiving blessings from the Lotus Sutra. In the case of this man who held evil views about Buddhism, he had done nothing more than fetch water for the monk, and the character that saved him from hell was not even copied by the man himself. However, because the monk copied the Lotus Sutra using the water that the man fetched, even though he only copied one single character, this character manifested as a Buddha to save him from hell. Therefore, you can see how great the merit of the Lotus Sutra is! If even those who didn’t believe in it were still saved, we can rest assured that the Lotus Sutra will bless and save us if we chant, uphold, expound, and copy it with full faith.

When I was practicing at the Hieizan Gyoin Practice Hall in Japan, all the monks there had to carry out practices related to the Lotus Sutra every evening. It could be either reading or copying the Lotus Sutra, but all the monks there had to keep up this practice every day. I think the merits generated by their practices are so great. As stated in the Lotus Sutra, “such merits will be limitless even if they are measured through the Buddha’s wisdom.” In other words, the merits of copying the Lotus Sutra are simply too enormous to be measured, not even by the Buddha himself.

Therefore, I hope that you will copy the Lotus Sutra as much as possible, and that you see that saving sentient beings will not be too difficult with the help of the Lotus Sutra. You can prepare a copybook for the sutra at home and ask any guests who come to visit you to copy a character, and there you have it! Even if they fall into hell in the future, a Buddha will come and get them out of there. This is a very convenient way to benefit sentient beings.

So, I earnestly ask you to do your best to promote and practice the Lotus Sutra in various ways. The best method is to find ways to help the people around you form connections with the Lotus Sutra. Even if you only manage to get them to copy one character of it, they will be saved by this Buddha in the future! This is the greatest benefit we can bring to sentient beings.

An old woman has her sins expiated and returns to life thanks to listening to the Lotus Sutra, and empties hell by chanting the name of the Lotus Sutra

In ancient times, there was an old woman who lived by the Xunyang River and made a living by killing and selling fish that she purchased from the local fishermen. She had done this for decades and spent her entire life killing fish, without ever taking any other jobs or making use of her human life to do any good deeds that would benefit herself or others. Because she did not know the law of karma, she created very serious negative karma.

One day the old woman died suddenly and came to the presence of Yamaraja.Yamaraja asked the old woman, “What kind of good roots have you planted in the human world, and what kind of good deeds have you done?” (Generally, when you come to Yamaraja, you will first be questioned about what good and evil you have done in your life.)

The old woman thought for a long time, recalling nothing special but killing fish for a lifetime. She pondered this for quite a while, especially the question of what good deeds she had done, yet failed to think of anything that might count as a good deed. Then, Yamaraja asked her to think again carefully, as if he were trying to remind her of something. Why did Yamaraja ask her to think again? Because he has files at hand that record everything people have done in their whole life. Yamaraja keeps such files for every human being and every living being. Not only does he have a sort of “computer” in hell, he also has a “projector,” which was called the “karma mirror stage” in ancient times.Yamaraja simply needs to open your file with a click and everything you have ever done in your entire life from birth to death will be reflected in the karma mirror, like a movie projected on the screen. The file will be perfectly precise without even the tiniest error. Therefore, you‘d better not lie in front of Yamaraja, as there’s no way to hide any bad things you’ve done from him. Of course, it’s the same with all the good things you’ve ever done, too.

In fact, the old woman had done one good deed, so Yamaraja asked her again, “Think about it very carefully! Have you really done no good at all, but only killed and sold fish every day?” Finally, the old woman remembered a good deed she had done. She said, “Once, I was on a trip to purchase fish. Suddenly, rain began to pour down and the boat I was on could not go any further. So I was stranded on an island with a Buddhist temple on it. I took shelter from the rain in the temple. At that time, a monk was giving a lecture on the Lotus Sutra, and I listened to it for quite a while.” And then she asked Yamaraja, “Does that count as a good deed?”

After listening to her report, Yamaraja praised her profusely, saying, “A very profound and subtle one indeed!” So, you see, it was not simply a good deed, but also a very profound and subtle one! Yamaraja then said, “You have generated so much merit that I will let you return to the human world. The retribution for your evil actions would have been very serious, and it is only because you once listened to that lecture on the Lotus Sutra that your bad karma of killing fish for decades has been eliminated completely. However, I still want to show you what kind of retributions you would have received if you hadn’t listened to the lecture on the Lotus Sutra.”

Then he ordered one of his subordinates to take the old woman on a tour of hell. When they came to the sea of karma in hell, the old woman saw that hundreds of thousands of fishermen were tied up with iron chains around their necks and shackles on their bodies, and all were suffering terribly. Wheels of fire relentlessly fell on them from the sky, crashing into their bodies and skulls and burning them to death. Those that escaped this died in other ways: some were beheaded, some were gutted, and still others met with other ends. They were being executed by the exact same methods that they had used to kill fish during their lifetimes. But the most excruciating thing of all was that after they were executed, a wind blew on them and they all came back to life, only to be slaughtered again just like before. It went on and on like this, unceasingly; they died, came back to life, got killed again. The jailers ripped out their intestines, cut their flesh off the bones and ate it, broke their bones to suck out the marrow inside. After they had finished eating, the jailers would bring them to life again and then kill them again to eat their flesh. The screams of these sinners filled the whole place: “Pain! Pain! Pain!”

The warden told the old woman to ask them why they were suffering such terrible retributions, but she was too horrified to say a word. The warden cried out to the sinners, “What kind of sins have you committed to deserve such bitterly painful retributions?” They answered, “Because we were so ignorant that we didn’t know the principle of karma, we preyed on fish and turtles in the human world, and made a living by killing and selling fish. That’s why we are now suffering such excruciating pains, over and over.”

Led by the warden, the old woman witnessed countless sinners being punished and tortured, incessantly suffering painful lives and deaths. Suddenly, she saw a jailer who was sleeping, and she asked, “Why are you so idle?” He replied, “An old woman who killed fish for a living should have been brought here to be punished when she died, but I heard that her sins, which should have caused her to suffer in hell, were all expiated because she had listened to a lecture on the Lotus Sutra. Since she didn’t have to suffer here anymore, I’ve been left with nothing to do.”

Upon hearing this, the old woman was immediately filled with such overwhelming gratitude for the Lotus Sutra that she pressed her palms together and chanted, “Namo the Lotus Sutra.” As soon as she chanted this, all the beings in the whole of hell suddenly disappeared! The warden hurriedly took the old woman back to Yamaraja and reported to him what had just happened. Yamaraja said, “Oh, this is my fault. I had only wanted you to see how you should have suffered to make you remember the lesson, so that when you returned to the human world you would stop killing. I didn’t expect that these sinners would hear you say ‘Namo the Lotus Sutra’ and all be liberated from hell and elevated to heaven!”

Yamaraja rushed to let the old woman return to the human world and instructed her to tell the people living by the river what she had seen and heard in hell, so that they would conduct themselves well in the future. After she returned to the human world, she shared her experience in hell with the local people as she had been instructed, and everyone who heard her story generated exceptional faith in the Lotus Sutra.

You see, all the countless sinners in hell were immediately freed and elevated to heaven simply because they heard the old woman chant, “Namo the Lotus Sutra”. Try and imagine how much merit you will generate if you chant the entire Lotus Sutra. It simply cannot be measured!

Now that I have told you this story, I greatly rejoice with all of you, because in this book you have already learned the twelve verses from the Lotus Sutra. And what’s more, your attitude to learning must have been much more serious and respectful than that of the old woman who killed fish for a living and only listened to the lecture on the Lotus Sutra by coincidence when she took shelter from the rain. So, the merit you have generated by doing this is very great indeed! I believe that after listening to this story, you must already know how to deal with Yamaraja. In the future, if you have an opportunity to be a “guest” at Yamaraja’s place, you must remember that you should chant “Namo the Lotus Sutra” as soon as you get to hell, so that not only you, but also all the other beings who hear it, will be freed from hell. 

This ancient case of receiving blessings from the Lotus Sutra shows us that the Lotus Sutra really does deserve to be honored as the “King of Sutras,” and its blessings and merits are truly unfathomable!

Two Modern Cases

Grandpa Lu and the Lotus Sutra

An amazing modern case of receiving blessings from the Lotus Sutra

Reported by Zheng Shuwen

In November 2015, Ekayana magazine conducted an interview with an elderly gentleman who has great virtuous roots. Read the transcript of this interview below to find out what happened to Grandpa Lu after he chanted and copied the Lotus Sutra.

Grandpa Lu’s connection with the Lotus Sutra

Grandpa Lu had already formed the habit of chanting the Diamond Sutra prior to 2010.

In 2010, after his daughter told him about the teachings of Acharya Zhiguang on the merits of chanting the Lotus Sutra, Grandpa Lu began to chant this sutra too, resolving to chant it a hundred times.

In the same year, Grandpa Lu met Acharya Zhiguang in person for the first time and listened to his teachings on the supreme merits of chanting and upholding the Lotus Sutra. Filled with joy, Grandpa Lu made a vow on the spot to chant the Lotus Sutra two hundred times.

Between 2010 and November 2015, Grandpa Lu chanted the Lotus Sutra nearly a thousand times.

Grandpa Lu’s daily routine

Grandpa Lu gets up every morning between four and five o’clock in the morning and goes to bed between eight and nine in the evening. Sometimes Grandpa Lu will also take a break of about half an hour at noon if necessary. On a healthy day, other than having breakfast and lunch, and going out for a walk occasionally, Grandpa Lu uses almost all his time to chant or copy the Lotus Sutra.

Grandpa Lu receives the blessing of keeping away from sickness through chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra.

“If there is any sick person who hears this sutra, his illness will disappear.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 23: Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Bodhisattva Medicine King)

(Part 1)

When Grandpa Lu was young, he suffered from poor lung function. He had perennial bronchiectasis (damage to the airways) and hemoptysis (coughing up blood or blood-stained mucus), and had suffered from asthma for more than twenty years.

During a physical examination in 2013, shadows in his lungs were detected and lung cancer was suspected. In light of Grandpa Lu’s other symptoms, the doctor recommended a percutaneous lung biopsy procedure and told his family that his condition would continue to deteriorate as he got older.

Holding the medical report, the family found themselves in a dilemma. They were reluctant to make the decision because Grandpa Lu was already over eighty years old. It would be heartbreaking and unbearable for his children to see their father undergo such a painful surgery at this age. However, Grandpa Lu did not seem to be affected by the doctor’s advice. Right after returning from the hospital, he resumed his daily ritual of chanting the Lotus Sutra. His whole family also worked diligently together to perform meritorious deeds for him, such as chanting sutras or mantras, making Buddhist offerings, releasing lives, and so forth. They prayed faithfully for Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to bless Grandpa Lu with improved health and peace in his body and mind.

By the time this article went to press in November 2015, Grandpa Lu’s obstinate asthma had changed from “severe,” as previously diagnosed, to “mild.” His lung nodules do not appear to pose any threat. Although he still has a cough, the symptoms are already much milder than before. What makes the younger generations in the family even happier is that Grandpa Lu, who used to have great difficulty going up and down the stairs, is now able to climb three flights of stairs without much effort, hardly feeling tired or short of breath at all. The blessings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are truly incredible!

(Part 2)

In 2008, Grandpa Lu suffered a stroke. The doctor told the family that the brain lesion (cerebral infarction) causing the stroke could not be cured and could only be treated to prevent recurrence. Grandpa Lu would need to go to the hospital to receive medication at least once every six months, or have intravenous transfusions every month if it became more severe. When a stroke occurs, there may be serious after-effects such as hemiplegia (paralysis of one side of the body), aphasia (language impairments) and other functional disorders, while in severe cases there is a risk of limb paralysis and even acute coma or death.

So, after his diagnosis, Grandpa Lu had to go to the hospital every six months to receive medication to dilate his blood vessels to prevent recurrence. In 2010, he had to visit the hospital for reviews every three months or so. However, in 2013, when Grandpa Lu went to the hospital for a routine examination, the doctor was surprised to find that the damaged brain tissue had miraculously healed without any supplementary treatments!

Grandpa Lu receives the blessing of pure faculty of tongue through chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra

“If sons and daughters of a virtuous family preserve, recite, explain, or copy this sutra, they will attain the twelve hundred qualities of the tongue. All that they taste, whether of good or bad flavor, savory or bland, bitter or astringent, will, through their pure faculty of tongue, come to taste just like the heavenly nectar of immortality, and they will find nothing unpleasant.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 19: The Benefits Obtained by One Who Expounds the Dharma

Though no one in the family knows exactly when it began, at some point, Grandpa Lu started to praise them for the delicious flavor of just about any food they made. At first, his eldest daughter thought that her father was doing this merely out of loving kindness or to show his appreciation for her cooking. However, she later discovered that not only did her father find the food truly delicious, but even the bitter traditional Chinese medicine he had to take had also become pleasing to the old man’s palate.

Following the doctor’s advice, Grandpa Lu had taken traditional Chinese medicine for some time. The herbs in the prescription were extremely bitter and made the medicine very difficult to swallow. At that time, Grandpa Lu’s family was a bit worried that he wouldn’t be able to stand the taste. But an unexpected scene materialized: Grandpa Lu drank up all the medicine in his bowl in one go and sighed, “This medicine is delicious! Absolutely delicious!”

His daughter was very surprised. The next time she prepared the medicine, she tasted it herself; it was so bitter that she spat it out immediately, exclaiming, “Dad, this tastes awful!” But Grandpa Lu continued to insist that the medicine was “absolutely delicious.”

Grandpa Lu receives the blessing of pure eyes through chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra

“Listen to the qualities of those in the great assembly who can fearlessly teach this Lotus Sutra! Such people will attain the eight hundred qualities of the excellent eye. Adorned with these qualities, their eyes are extremely pure.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 19: The Benefits Obtained by One Who Expounds the Dharma

(Part 1)

At the age of sixty, Grandpa Lu was already wearing strong reading glasses, and he couldn’t read the print in the newspaper without them.

However, ever since he began reading the Lotus Sutra, his vision had been steadily improving. When did he stop needing his reading glasses? Neither Grandpa Lu nor his family can remember the exact date. His family simply know that Grandpa Lu, who is currently eighty-six years old, is now able to read even very small print perfectly without reading glasses. The cataract problem he previously suffered from also seems to have stopped affecting him.

(Part 2)

In 2012, Grandpa Lu chanted the Lotus Sutra two hundred times in total. At this time, Grandpa Lu had an unusual experience with the Lotus Sutra.

Grandpa Lu found that wherever he laid his eyes, such as on the walls, stairs, and even the ceilings of his home, texts from the Lotus Sutra would appear vertically on these surfaces. If Grandpa Lu started reading these texts, they would scroll automatically like movie subtitles, displaying exactly the part he was reading. What’s even more amazing is that these scrolling “subtitles” of the Lotus Sutra did not shine during the day but would automatically light up in the evening, adjusting perfectly to Grandpa Lu’s reading needs.

Once, Grandpa Lu’s daughter asked him curiously, “Dad, what text from the Lotus Sutra are you seeing on the wall right now?” Grandpa Lu then read out the text from the white wall, which looked totally blank to others. It was truly amazing.

Grandpa Lu receives the blessing of keeping away from fear through chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra

“In the same way, this Lotus Sutra frees sentient beings from every suffering, all the pains and bonds of illness and of birth and death.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 23: Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Bodhisattva Medicine King)

One day in 2011, Grandpa Lu suddenly said that he felt very dizzy and immediately fell into a coma. His family saw that Grandpa Lu’s face had turned terribly pale. Since all the family members are Buddhist disciples, they were well-prepared for this situation. In a heartfelt yet calm and orderly fashion, they started to pray for Amitabha’s blessing by performing the ritual of aiding the dying to be reborn in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, according to the books of chants that they had readily available at home.

Grandpa Lu woke up from the coma in just five minutes or so, with sweat dripping all over his body but without any signs of physical harm. All his clothes were completely soaked with sweat, as if he had been badly traumatized. He was still in a dreamy state and unaware of what had just happened.

Later, Grandpa Lu said: “If I had passed away like that and gained rebirth in the Western Pure Land, it would have been very good, too.” Grandpa Lu simply has no fear at all when it comes to the uncertainty of life and death, which causes the most fear for ordinary people. He is readily prepared to leave this world and be happily reborn in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.

Finally, let’s listen to Grandpa Lu’s own words: “Everything is full of joy. Now, I am the oldest of all the people who go out for walks in our neighborhood. Every day I chant the sutras and copy them by hand. It is very fulfilling and enjoyable. It is so rewarding to learn the Dharma! My large family wouldn’t be so happy and harmonious if we hadn’t practiced the Dharma. My children are very dutiful to me, so I am very happy every day. I am not afraid of death!”

Grandpa Lu is now a healthy and happy old man. It is hard to imagine that this elderly man suffered from a variety of diseases when he was young. At that time, a younger Grandpa Lu often said, “I don’t even know whether I’ll live till retirement.” Now, not only has he lived till retirement, he is also very healthy, both physically and mentally. He is happy and has a calm and optimistic attitude towards the uncertainty of death. He has transformed from a depressed man with chronic health problems into a happy and healthy old man with a young heart.

May more Buddhist disciples practice the wonderful Dharma diligently and their merit and virtuous roots grow! I hope that the supreme merits and blessings of the Lotus Sutra will benefit more sentient beings.

Note 1: This article was reprinted from Ekayana magazine, Issue No. 4, 2015.

The illiterate Grandma Huang gains worldly and supramundane benefits through copying the Lotus Sutra by hand

Compiled by Miao Min

From 1999 to 2012, Acharya Zhiguang launched three successive campaigns to get people to chant and copy the Lotus Sutra a collective total of ten thousand times. Countless disciples participated and obtained benefits together. In June 2018, at the first Manjusri Wisdom Warriors training camp in Taiwan, Acharya Zhiguang announced that permission had been granted to produce copybooks of an exquisite version of the Lotus Sutra handwritten by a monk named Yuanhao in the Yuan Dynasty and currently kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Upon hearing that the copybooks had been printed, Ms. Wang Guanglian, a disciple of the Acharya, went up on stage and shared with enormous gratitude her elderly mother’s miraculous experience of receiving blessings through copying the Lotus Sutra.

(This article has been compiled based on her live speech and recordings of later interviews.)

“If there is anyone who hears this Lotus Sutra, copies it, or moves others to copy it, their merit will be limitless, even if it is measured through the Buddha’s wisdom.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 23: Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Bodhisattva Medicine King)

The circumstances that inspired Grandma Huang’s practice of copying the Lotus Sutra

In 2010 in Malaysia, Acharya Zhiguang launched the second campaign of chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra a collective total of ten thousand times. After listening to the Acharya’s teachings on the merits of the Lotus Sutra, Ms. Wang Guanglian generated great faith in this sutra. When she returned home, she tried to persuade her mother, Ms. Huang Lingdi, to copy it. Because Grandma Huang’s father had participated in the Battle of Liaoshen, she had developed a sense of straightforward patriotism under his influence. Ms. Wang told her mother that copying the sutra could not only benefit herself and her children, it could also bring blessings to a lot of other people and, indeed, to the whole nation. To set a goal for her mother and give her stronger motivation to copy the sutra, Ms. Wang coaxed her as one might coax a child, saying, “Mom, you must copy the sutra properly and diligently. If you copy it 36 times, you will become a Buddha; if you copy it 72 times, you will become a greater Buddha; if you copy it 108 times, you will become a perfect Buddha!” Grandma Huang had a pure, simple mind and adopted these as her own goals.

That year, Grandma Huang was already seventy-three years old and had been illiterate her whole life. She had never copied any sutras before, but on her first attempt in her whole life, she fortunately managed to copy the sublime Lotus Sutra that would lead living beings to attain Buddhahood. Grandma Huang was long-sighted and couldn’t see very well, so Ms. Wang Guanglian made some copybooks in larger print for her. Grandma Huang was very diligent. She would get up at six o’clock every morning and spend most of her time copying the Lotus Sutra until ten o’clock in the evening, with the exception of mealtimes and a short half-hour nap around noon. She enjoyed copying the sutra so much that she just couldn’t give it up.

Grandma Huang is visited by a deva in response to her devotion

From the second half of 2010 to around the time of the Spring Festival in 2012, Grandma Huang produced one copy of the Lotus Sutra every month on average. By early 2012, she had copied the Lotus Sutra around a dozen times. It was at this time that she had a truly incredible experience.

At that time, she was living at the home of her youngest daughter, Ms. Wang Guangxiu. One morning upon getting up, in the half-light of the early dawn, she saw a white-bearded old man sitting outside the mosquito net that covered her bed. She said to him, “Hello, old man. How come you are here so early?” She thought it was one of the neighbors who had come to visit her. The old man said, “I know that you have been copying the sutra and I have long wanted to visit you, but I was just too busy.” When Grandma Huang opened the mosquito net, the old man with the white beard disappeared with a “whoosh.” Grandma Huang had a very strange feeling. She opened the door and went out of her room to look for him, but all she saw was her youngest daughter doing her morning recitation ritual together with the rest of the family. Grandma Huang asked her daughter if she had seen an old man coming out of the room, and she answered that she hadn’t.

From that day on, Grandma Huang was able to recognize some of the characters in the Lotus Sutra when she copied it. The first character she recognized was “天” (tian), which means “heaven” in Chinese. On the day she saw the white-bearded old man, the character “天” popped up many times. She had been totally illiterate until that day, and all of a sudden she recognized the character “天” for no apparent reason. She had a feeling that the old man who came to visit her at dawn that day was a deva. After recognizing the character “天,” she gradually recognized about one hundred more characters during the process of copying the Lotus Sutra.

Ever since this amazing experience, Grandma Huang has been even more diligent in her copying practice.

Helping others fulfill their wishes

Grandma Huang became more and more faithful in copying the Lotus Sutra. She believed that copying the Sutra could not only fulfill her own wishes, but could also help others to realize theirs. At that time, her second son didn’t own his own home yet, so Grandma Huang said, “I will copy the Lotus Sutra ten times specially for you and dedicate the merit to helping you own your own home.”

Many years prior, her second son had left the state-run organization he worked for and had only recently resumed working there. Usually it would be impossible for him to qualify for the welfare housing allocation program run by his organization. However, it turned out that not only was he granted this welfare, he was also very lucky and drew the best housing unit in the allocation draw. The unit he drew had two storeys, so he actually got the equivalent of two apartments.

After this, Grandma Huang had even more faith in copying the Lotus Sutra. She often told others, “Whatever wishes you have, I can help you fulfill them. As long as I copy the Lotus Sutra ten times for you, your wishes will come true.”

By that time, she had copied the Lotus Sutra about twenty or thirty times, and she became very skilled in this practice. Whenever she had any wishes, or she learned that someone else was suffering from an illness, she would always copy the sutra and dedicate the merits. She had developed full faith in copying the Lotus Sutra.

Several serious illnesses are healed effortlessly

1. Grandma Huang’s decades-long heart disease is cured without medication

Grandma Huang first began suffering from heart disease in her twenties, and ever since then she had to take medicine every day to avoid feeling unwell. After she started copying the sutra, she concentrated so deeply on copying that she forgot to take her medicine. Every day she was absorbed in this state of concentration and even though she kept forgetting to take her medicine, she didn’t feel any discomfort.

Later, Ms. Wang found out that her mother had not taken her medicine for a long time. Since Ms. Wang herself is a doctor, she took her mother’s pulse and measured her blood pressure regularly. After observing her mother for some time, she noticed no problem whatsoever. Since then, Grandma Huang has stopped taking her medicine altogether. It’s amazing that the heart disease that had plagued her for decades healed just like that, without any medication.

2. Grandma Huang recovers from a spinal fracture and stands again

In 2014, Grandma Huang returned to her hometown because she missed her son. One day, her son fell from a three-meter-high staircase. His seventy-eight-year-old mother rushed over to break her son’s fall. The son, who weighed over eighty kilos, fell on his mother with full force. It turned out that the son was fine, but Grandma Huang was seriously injured and suffered a spinal fracture. When she went to hospital the doctors said that there was a risk of her being paralyzed regardless of whether she had spinal surgery, and the likelihood of her standing up ever again was basically zero.

When the accident happened, Ms. Wang rushed back to her mother from Guangzhou. After learning the gravity of her mother’s condition, she decided to take her out of the hospital without surgery. She encouraged her mother to chant “Namo Amitabha Buddha” and pray for the blessings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. At the same time, she also practiced life release for her mother and told her, “Since you have copied the Lotus Sutra so many times, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will bless you.” Hearing the words of her daughter, Grandma Huang was filled with confidence. Ms. Wang often told her mother about the virtuous deeds and merits of her respected teacher, Acharya Zhiguang, who makes great efforts to spread the Dharma, and her mother enjoyed listening. When Grandma Huang was copying the sutra, she would put a photo of Acharya Zhiguang in front of her and pray to it. She vowed to continue the practice of copying the Lotus Sutra. By this time, she had copied it more than thirty times.

Then, about a month and a half later, a miracle happened: Grandma Huang was able to get out of bed and stand on the floor by holding on to the bed frame. At that moment she was already thinking of getting a pen to start copying the sutra again. She had a strong aspiration: “I must get better, because I haven’t copied the sutra enough times yet!” Because copying the Lotus Sutra had cured her heart disease and brought her son the blessing of owning his own home, she believed that this time it could also heal her spinal fracture.

In two months or so, she had already resumed her copying practice. Grandma Huang was the kind of person who could endure great hardships. Sometimes, even when she couldn’t sit up and could only lie on her stomach, she would nonetheless persist in copying the sutra. Later, due to her strong faith and perseverance, against all odds she was able to stand again.

3. Grandma Huang’s fractured femur is healed at the age of eighty

In 2016, while trying to mediate a quarrel between her neighbors, Grandma Huang accidentally fell over and fractured the head of her femur. Given that that she was already eighty years old, the hospital she went to was unable to come up with a treatment plan for her. The doctors there were fairly certain that she would be paralyzed from then on. Despite all of this, she insisted on continuing to copy the sutra while her daughter conducted moxibustion therapy on her. She felt that her task had not yet been completed.

Grandma Huang was not allowed to sit up due to the bone fracture and was supposed to lie straight in bed. Despite this, she insisted on sitting up. Even though she could only sit in a wheelchair with her legs straight, she still managed to continue her copying practice.

The ending of this traumatic incident was nothing short of a miracle: without any formal medical treatment, she somehow managed to get back on her feet and start walking again, limping awkwardly at the beginning, yet improving continuously over time. In about four months, her leg had fully returned to its normal condition as if nothing had happened at all.

Ever since she started copying the Lotus Sutra, so many incredible things had happened to her. Her injured spine had healed, as had her fractured femur. At the age of eighty, not only could she cook, take good care of herself, and handle all her daily activities independently, she could also go up and down six floors easily and even carry a load up to fifty kilos. She carried many loads of earth to make a vegetable garden, with a layer of soil over a meter thick on the concrete ground in her yard, and she planted vegetables in it.

Every day, when she was not busy with her daily chores, she would still copy the Lotus Sutra.

Grandma Huang gains rebirth in the Western Pure Land with the support of favorable conditions

Before the spring festival in 2018, Ms. Wang went home to see her mother. Grandma Huang said to her daughter, “I may not be able to reach my goal of copying the Lotus Sutra seventy-two times. I feel my body isn’t going to hold up for long.” By then she had copied the sutra fifty-three times. Her daughter said, “No problem! You’ve already copied the sutra more than fifty times, so you are qualified. You can go on to be a Buddha now.” Her daughter advised her to concentrate on chanting the name of Amitabha and praying for a rebirth in the Western Pure Land.

On the eighth and ninth day of the first lunar month in 2018, Grandma Huang suffered from acute emphysema and was brought to the hospital. When Ms. Wang rushed back, she felt that her mother was already showing signs of approaching the end of her life, so she immediately made arrangements to expiate the sins of spirits seeking revenge on her mother and release them from purgatory.

What she worried about the most was that it would be impossible to conduct a ceremony or ritual to help her mother gain rebirth in the Western Pure Land if she died in the hospital, because it was the county hospital and it was always full of people. So, she tried to persuade her brother: “When our mother’s time has come, we must bring her home and arrange her funeral according to Buddhist rituals.” But because her brother was the eldest son and an old-school intellectual who was quite influential in the county, he was so concerned about what people might think of him that he simply wouldn’t agree no matter how hard she tried.

In the countryside, people follow the custom of bringing lanterns to their ancestors on the Lantern Festival. The night before the Lantern Festival, while watching over her mother with her older brother in the hospital, Grandma Huang’s youngest daughter, Ms. Wang Guangxiu, nodded off and dreamed that her late father, who died many years ago, came to her mother’s bedside. In the dream, when her father left, the light at her mother’s bedside went out. So, the youngest daughter suggested to her brother that they bring lanterns to their father, thinking this might help their mother to pull through her present struggle. So, the eldest son and the youngest daughter went to bring lanterns to their father. Half an hour after they left, Grandma Huang’s blood pressure began to drop, and the doctor wanted to begin resuscitation. Ms. Wang Guanglian called her brother and asked if he could bring their mother home. Her brother asked her to wait till he arrived, but because there was a traffic jam that night, he was stuck on the road. So, Ms. Wang asked for an ambulance from the hospital and managed to bring her mother home.

The rest of the family were all very cooperative and chanted “Namo Amitabha” for their mother. As soon as the eldest son made it home, Grandma Huang opened her eyes and said, “I’m fine. I feel okay.” At this point, she was even able to sit up and was feeling much better.

Since Grandma Huang showed signs of improvement, the next day, Ms. Wang Guanglian conferred with her brother and they agreed not to send their mother back to the hospital. They then performed life-releasing rituals for their mother.

On the twenty-seventh day of the same lunar month, they placed various holy objects on their mother’s body, including the sublime “liberation kit.” Two days later, at around nine o’clock in the evening, soon after other family members and relatives had left to sleep, Ms. Wang and her brother were watching over their mother. At that moment, they noticed that their mother’s breathing was getting weaker and weaker. At about ten o’clock, in quiet surroundings, Grandma Huang passed away peacefully. Her sons and daughters were able to chant Buddhist rituals without any interference to help their mother be reborn in the Western Pure Land.

The next morning, a group of Buddhists who specialized in chanting rituals to help the dying or the dead be reborn in the Western Pure Land appeared out of the blue to join the family in their chanting. There were no such Buddhist groups in their village and the family didn’t contact anyone for help. An old man in the group told them, “We overheard your family chanting ‘Namo Amitabha’ from outside your house and realized that an elder in your family had passed away, so we came to help as early as we could this morning.”

So, for thirty-six hours they chanted the rituals together for Grandma Huang. Later, when they changed her clothes, they found that her whole body was very flexible, her legs could even be crossed in the lotus position, and her face was as rosy as in life. Everyone who witnessed the scene couldn’t help but marvel at it.

During her lifetime, Grandma Huang had traded in tobacco since the age of twenty-nine and had been a heavy smoker herself. Her negative karma from killing was also quite serious. Except for copying the Lotus Sutra in her later years, she had not performed any other Dharma practices in her entire life, but thanks to her pure faith and dedicated practice of copying the Lotus Sutra, she gained great benefits on both the worldly and the supramundane levels.

Seeing off her mother, Ms. Wang recalled the circumstances surrounding her father’s death back in 2007. There were a lot of complaints and conflicts among the various branches of the family. Ten years later, when her mother passed away, the extended family was particularly harmonious, and the brothers and sisters were closely united. Ms. Wang started studying the Dharma in 2008 with her respected teacher, Acharya Zhiguang, and later introduced the Dharma to her family. As Ms. Wang put it, “I truly feel that a family that practices the Dharma and one that doesn’t are very different!”

Because of Grandma Wang’s various manifestations, her eldest son also generated faith in copying the Lotus Sutra. He picked up his mother’s copybook and began to copy the sutra, going on to fulfill his mother’s vow to copy the Lotus Sutra seventy-two times. Now, more than fifty people in the extended family are copying the sutra, and this has become a new family tradition.

Ms. Wang said, “My family has gained such great benefits and blessings from the Lotus Sutra. Over the years, I have been very enthusiastic about recommending and giving away copybooks of the Lotus Sutra and the chapter of the Gateway to Every Direction Manifested by Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara of the Lotus Sutra to a lot of people. I’ve always wished to have an even more beautiful edition of the Lotus Sutra copybook. So, when I saw that Acharya Zhiguang had brought out this set of copybooks of the Lotus Sutra beautifully hand-written by Yuanhao in the Yuan Dynasty, I was so thrilled that my hair stood on end. I couldn’t help but get up on stage to share this story with my respected teacher and all the Dharma friends here, and tell you all about the unimaginable benefits my family has gained from the Lotus Sutra. And I couldn’t help but order three hundred sets of the Lotus Sutra and offer them to my respected teacher Acharya Zhiguang, to all the Dharma friends here and those who have a karmic connection with the Lotus Sutra. I am so very grateful to my teacher Acharya Zhiguang, to whom I am deeply indebted for his great compassion, wisdom, and skillful teachings.

Postscript

B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra states that every single Chinese character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha. Once you have copied a single character in the Lotus Sutra, even if you fall into hell, a Buddha will come to save you. I hope that all sentient beings will generate faith in the Lotus Sutra and attain Buddhahood together, becoming happy and free from any suffering.

Afterword

This book is a combination of all my lectures on the twelve verses from the Lotus Sutra, which I delivered for the first time in July 2014 and for the second time in November 2017 at Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain.

I would like to express my special thanks to my teacher, Elder Layman Shen Renyan. It is through his teachings that I developed faith in the Lotus Sutra and became a devotee, taking delight in spreading this sutra over the course of many years. I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear that he passed away at 8:00 p.m. on May 9, 2018. With the merit of the publication of this book, may my teacher, Elder Layman Shen Renyan, gain rebirth in the Pure Land of Eternal Stillness and Light, and soon return to the saha world to benefit all sentient beings.

As stated in the Lotus Sutra, “The treasure house of the Lotus Sutra is deep and remote. No one is capable of discovering its true depth.” The same is true of the Perfect Teachings of the Tiantai school. Therefore, I must make it clear that I only have a very superficial understanding of the Lotus Sutra. Although I have consulted commentaries on this sutra by many masters, both ancient and modern, while preparing my lectures, I cannot be certain that I have not misinterpreted anything. If you come across any errors while reading this book, please do not hesitate to let me know.

This book was first published in Taiwan and Japan in June and October 2017, respectively. This new edition, which contains some additions, was republished in Japan right at the historic moment when the Ichijo Temple in Kyoto is being restored and revitalized. I think this must be a remarkable karmic coincidence!

Ever since I was ordained as a monk of the Japanese Shingon and Tendai schools in 2013, I have received precious Dharma transmissions and unreserved teachings from my revered teachers, including the Reverend Nakata Junna Daisojo, the Reverend Take Kakucho Daisojo, and the Great Acharya Fukue Zenkou. Thanks to their kindness, some gradual progress has been made in our endeavor to fulfill the lifetime goal of reviving Tangmi (the Tantric Buddhist tradition of the Tang Dynasty) and spreading the Dharma of the single vehicle. In particular, I believe that the establishment of the Ichijo Temple in Kyoto as a central training site will greatly facilitate the compilation, inheritance, promotion, and practice of Tangmi and the Buddhist tradition of the Tang and Song Dynasties. This is truly a delightful and exciting event.

My teacher, the Reverend Nakata Junna Daisojo, 103rd  Zasu (head priest) of the Daigo-ji Temple, entrusted me with the restoration of the Ichijo Temple in Kyoto. This thousand-year-old branch of the Daigo-ji Temple was built in 1090. It houses a shrine to the Lotus Mandala, and those who worshipped at the temple practiced the Lotus Sutra Dharma ritual twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I feel humbled and, most of all, grateful for this task of reviving the temple, which my teacher entrusted to me. I vow to live up to the expectations of all my teachers to spread the Dharma of the single vehicle extensively and benefit innumerable sentient beings.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Reverend Take Kakucho Daisojo and the Reverend Nakata Junna Daisojo for writing the forewords for this book and providing great support for its publication in Japan.

Finally, I thank the members of the Ekayana Publicity Team for all their hard work.

September 24 (Mid-Autumn Festival), 2018

Zhiguang, a humble follower of Ekayana Buddhism

 

A DROP OF GHEE—Twelve Verses from the Lotus Sutra for a Fulfilling and Happy Life

A DROP OF GHEE—Twelve Verses from the Lotus Sutra for a Fulfilling and Happy Life

2019-10-03

Ekayana Culture

About the Author

Acharya Zhiguang was born Zheng Fu in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province of China. He became a Buddhist at an early age. Over the past thirty years, he has studied Sutra and Tantra teachings in Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Theravada tradition and Japanese Buddhism from more than ninety spiritual teachers in China’s Han and Tibetan areas, Sri Lanka, Japan, Bhutan, Nepal, India and more. He has also studied traditional Chinese culture. He has been spreading the Dharma since 1993 and endeavoring to integrate the ancient wisdom of Buddhism with the rapidly-developing modern society to benefit numerous sentient beings.

Acharya Zhiguang has no sectarian bias. He advocates that Buddhists should uphold the principle of the Buddha and equally respect all Buddhist sects with pure lineages. For many years, Acharya Zhiguang has been making relentless efforts to invigorate Buddhism as a whole by promoting the communication and solidarity among different Buddhist sects and committing himself to the preservation and transmission of the teachings of various Buddhist sects and lineages.

Acharya Zhiguang is currently the abbot (chief priest) of the Ichijo Temple in Shimeisan of Kyoto Japan, the mentor of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centres around the world, and the mentor of Chinese Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Cultural Exchange Association (Taiwan). He is the first Chinese person who has been granted the title of Great Acharya of Sanbu-to-ho of the Japanese Tendai esoteric school and the rank of Chusojo of the Japanese Shingon Daigo-ha lineage.

Introduction

The Lotus Sutra, the king of all sutras, is renowned as the “ghee” of the Buddha Dharma. It contains not only the secrets to attaining Buddhahood, but also all the wisdom that helps us to live a fulfilling and happy life. This book explains in simple words twelve verses in the Lotus Sutra. Although they are only a drop of the ghee, we can still benefit from its wonderful taste for a lifetime.

Contents

Foreword

Foreword 1

Foreword 2

Chapter 1  Introduction

The karmic connection of the Lotus Sutra with the East

The supreme merits of the Lotus Sutra

Tasting the flavor of “ghee” from the twelve verses of the Lotus Sutra

Chapter 2  Leaving bad companions and making friends with virtuous people

Chapter 3  Observing the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels

Misunderstandings about the precepts

Five criteria for a fulfilling and happy life

The Five Precepts: The causes of a fulfilling and happy life

Upholding and promoting the Five Precepts, starting with ourselves

Chapter 4  Uttering soft and gentle sounds, with their clear and pure voices

A clear and pure voice originates from four types of good karma

Soft and gentle words touch the deepest part of the heart

Chapter 5  With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma, they make the people eager to hear them

With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma

Making the people eager to hear them

Chapter 6  Skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease

What is the true source of happiness?

How can we skillfully cultivate our mind?

Three ways to subdue the Five Poisons

1. Attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction

2. Attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction

3. Realizing that affliction is Bodhi

The metaphor of a poisonous herb

Different methods for different capacities

Our three options when meeting a tiger in a dream

Common antidotes to the Five Poisons

Chapter 7  Always practicing patience and being compassionate toward all

Why should we always practice patience?

Why should we be compassionate toward all?

Chapter 8  Entrustment

One can only benefit from these teachings by accepting them in faith and practicing accordingly

Chapter 9  Ancient and Modern Cases of Receiving Blessings from the Lotus Sutra

Three Ancient Cases

Seeking last-minute refuge in the Buddha at the gate of hell, a sinner is released and comes back to life thanks to the merit of reciting a verse from the Lotus Sutra

A person who held evil views is saved thanks to the power of the Lotus Sutra; the saying that every single character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha is indeed to be believed

An old woman has her sins expiated and returns to life thanks to listening to the Lotus Sutra, and empties hell by chanting the name of the Lotus Sutra

Two Modern Cases

Grandpa Lu and the Lotus Sutra

The illiterate Grandma Huang gains worldly and supramundane benefits through copying the Lotus Sutra by hand

Afterword

Foreword 1

Acharya Zhiguang has always been committed to researching, studying, and practicing Buddhism. The publication of this book in Japan is the result of his tireless efforts. I would like to express my heartfelt respect and sincere congratulations for this achievement.

Acharya Zhiguang guides us with the beacon of sutra and tantra teachings of the single vehicle, which aim to help sentient beings attain Buddhahood. These include Mahayana sutras like the Lotus Sutra as well as teachings of the secret mantra. He also offers us a clear explanation of the correct way of life.

In this book, Acharya Zhiguang analyzes and summarizes twelve teachings in a clear and concise manner, based on one of the fundamental sutras in the Tiantai school: the eight-volume Lotus Sutra. Honored as the king of the sutras taught by all Buddhas, the Lotus Sutra clearly declares the original intention of the Buddha and is part of the authentic teachings of the single vehicle that open the door of Buddha wisdom to all sentient beings, that show them Buddha wisdom, awaken them to it and induce them to embark on the path of Buddha wisdom.

The Tendai school of Japan is a comprehensive Buddhist tradition rooted in the Tiantai doctrine on the Lotus Sutra, which was developed by Master Zhiyi, the founder of the Tiantai school. Later, the Tendai school also incorporated elements of shingon mikkyo (teachings of secret mantra and dharani centering around the Vairocana-abhisambodhi-tantra). Acharya Zhiguang resonates with the Tendai teachings of Mount Hiei. After he was ordained at Mount Hiei, he was bestowed with the Mahayana Bodhisattva precepts and became a Bodhisattva monk of the Tendai school. He then trained at the Hiei-zan Gyoin (the main training temple on Mount Hiei) for two months. He later became a “Great Acharya of Sanbu-to-ho” of the Japanese Tendai esoteric school after being trained in going to the altar and preparing the altar for the empowerment rite of Dharma transmission. In addition, he also attended the Tendai Lotus Sutra Assembly and passed the Examination of Learning and Argumentation with excellence. From ancient times, this highly authoritative assembly has been an official event held every four years according to the decree of the Japanese emperor. The Examination of Learning and Argumentation is the final assessment for monks of the Tendai school. The fact that Acharya Zhiguang has completed the training and passed this examination carries great historical significance, as it is the first time a Chinese person from mainland China has accomplished this in Japan.

Acharya Zhiguang has lofty aspirations and is determined to bring the tantra and sutra teachings he has received at Mount Hiei back to China and to Chinese communities around the world. He’s also fully committed to carrying forward and promoting these teachings.

This book reveals the secrets of the Lotus Sutra in a simple and concise manner through twelve essential verses of forty-eight Chinese characters in total that Acharya Zhiguang has selected and summarized from the sixty-nine thousand characters in the Lotus Sutra. The book clearly instructs readers on how to live a fullfilling and peaceful life by spending every day contentedly and happily, maintaining the right mental state, the right life habits and Dharma practice, and more.

In the Lotus Sutra, upholding, reading, reciting, explaining and copying the Sutra are taught as the “five important practices.” This book by Acharya Zhiguang is a summary of these practices, so I especially recommend it to you. I hope that the readers will be able to savor this “drop of ghee” and live their lives fully through upholding the Lotus Sutra as recommended and instructed in this book.

Take Kakucho

Abbot of Hiei-zan Enryaku-ji

Kanshu of Mizumadera, Ryukokuyama

Foreword 2

In the huge whirlpool of social upheavals that are currently underway, the world is undergoing constant, silent change. In the face of this reality, we must cultivate correct judgment and rectify our minds.

To this end, this book, A Drop of Ghee, can serve as a list of valuable guidelines to fully meet our needs.

As humans on this planet, we each have our own way of life. This varies greatly between different people, eras, and societies. Whether based on history or on our personal experience in today’s world, we all understand that it would be very dangerous to prescribe one standard way of life for all human beings. It is beneficial for everyone to have their own lifestyle. However, among our myriad ways of life, isn’t there also a common pattern that applies to everyone? Since we are all human beings, there must be a common and universal way of life which people are always seeking. To meet this need, this book selects twelve verses from the entire Lotus Sutra. Each verse consists of four Chinese characters, forming a guideline of forty-eight characters in total.

The original name of the Lotus Sutra, the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, is a metaphor that compares the wonderful authentic Dharma to a beautifully blooming white lotus flower: the lotus blossom grows in silt, yet remains untarnished by it.

The Lotus Sutra is a precious scripture that is chanted by the most Buddhist followers primarily in countries and regions around India, the areas along the Silk Road, to inland China, Tibet, Japan, Nepal and South Korea. Moreover, the entire Lotus Sutra revolves around the central idea of the single vehicle, from beginning to end. It reveals that, although the three vehicles of Shravaka (those who attain enlightenment through listening to the Buddha’s oral teachings), Pratyekabuddha (those who attain enlightenment solitarily without following a teacher, and do not teach the Dharma or transform sentient beings), and Bodhisattva (those who practice the Dharma to benefit all sentient beings), all seem to lead sentient beings to Buddhahood through their own path, they all belong to the single vehicle and there is neither a second nor a third vehicle. They are simply three different names for the Buddha’s skillful means of teaching and transforming living beings. The Lotus Sutra especially emphasizes the idea of the single Buddha vehicle. It is full of romance, poetry, and rich literary quality, but its claims are sometimes very serious, too. The author of A Drop of Ghee, Acharya Zhiguang, is a hands-on practitioner of the single Buddha vehicle, and he has drawn on his practical experience to select the twelve verses for the book.

Here are the twelve verses, which form pairs to make six longer priciples:

Verses 1 & 2:

“Leaving bad companions and making friends with virtuous people.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9·16a)

Verses 3 & 4:

“Observing the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-16a)

Verses 5 & 6:

“Uttering soft and gentle sounds, with their clear and pure voices.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-2c)

Verses 7 & 8:

“With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma, they make the people eager to hear them.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-2c)

Verses 9 & 10:

“Skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-38a)

Verses 11 & 12:

“Always practicing patience and being compassionate toward all.”

(Taisho Tripitaka volume 9-39a)

As shown in the selected verses listed above, the book describes the importance of karmic connection, the criteria for a full and happy life, the attitude of being amiable to others and talking to them with gentle words, the importance of listening to the teachings of the Buddha, the true source of happiness, how to cultivate one’s mind properly, and lastly, the importance of being tolerant and forbearing. A Drop of Ghee elaborates on the twelve verses of four characters each that are taken from the Lotus Sutra, and proves the importance of living and working in accordance with these twelve teachings. The author is proficient in Tibetan Buddhism and has rich experience in its authentic practice. He is also well versed in traditional Chinese culture, which lends an added depth to the book. This book is an unprecedented work that provides an original interpretation of the true nature of Buddha.

A Drop of Ghee is a book that deeply touches the reader’s heart, resonates with them, and enables them to gain inspiration from anything they might be experiencing in their own lives.

Nakata Junna

Zasu (head priest)

of the Daigo-ji General Head Temple

Chapter 1

Introduction

The karmic connection of the Lotus Sutra with the East

The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, or the Lotus Sutra for short, is recognized as the “king” of all Buddhist sutras and occupies a very prominent position in Buddhist circles. This sutra was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Master Kumarajiva. His mother once told him this prophecy after attaining the third stage of Hinayana enlightenment: “The true essence of the profound teachings given by the Buddha in the Lotus-Nirvana Period, the Vaipulya Period (also known as the Correct and Equal period) and the Prajna Period (the Wisdom Period) must be widely preached and spread to the East. Only you have the power to do this.” Like Master Kumarajiva himself, his mother was also a siddha (one who has attained enlightenment). She told Master Kumarajiva that the essential teachings of the Lotus Sutra were expected to be spread widely throughout the East, mainly through his power. Therefore, Master Kumarajiva’s journey to the East to promote the Lotus Sutra was in part due to his mother making this prediction and entrusting him with this mission. This story is recorded in Biographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra, written in the Tang Dynasty.

Biographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra records another prediction relating to Master Kumarajiva: “When I (Master Kumarajiva) was in the Kingdom of ancient India, I traveled around its five regions to seek Mahayana teachings. From Master Suryasoma, I got a taste of the Mahayana doctrines. He earnestly entrusted a Sanskrit copy of the Lotus Sutra to me, saying, ‘The sun of Buddhism will set in the West, yet its afterglow will reach the Northeast, a region which has a karmic connection with the Lotus Sutra. You must spread it there prudently.’” So, in this passage, Master Kumarajiva relates how he traveled around Ancient India to look for Mahayana teachings. He studied the Mahayana doctrines from Master Suryasoma. At that time, Master Suryasoma entrusted him with a Sanskrit copy of the Lotus Sutra, and told him that the bright light of the Dharma would illuminate the Northeast after the Buddha entered Nirvana. Master Suryasoma meant that the Lotus Sutra was karmically connected to the areas to the northeast of India, and hoped that Master Kumarajiva could spread its teachings there with great care and sincerity.

These so-called “areas to the northeast of India” actually refer to China and Japan. So, after Master Kumarajiva translated it from the Sanskrit, this sutra became very popular, particularly in China and Japan. As a result, countless people have attained both temporary and ultimate happiness through this sutra.

Biographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra also contains many detailed accounts of people who received blessings and even attained enlightenment through practicing the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. We can develop great faith through reading these stories.

The term “Ekayana” in our Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre means “single vehicle” (a single conveyance that carries sentient beings along the path to enlightenment) and also comes from the ultimate teaching of the Lotus Sutra, that “exposes the temporary teaching of the three vehicles and reveals the ultimate truth, guiding the three vehicles into the single vehicle.” From the outset, we have made a special effort to promote the Lotus Sutra. We have completed the worldwide group practice of ten thousand recitations of the sutra at least three times so far. Many of our Dharma friends persevere in reading, upholding, copying and promoting the Lotus Sutra. These practices generate inconceivable merits.

The supreme merits of the Lotus Sutra

There are more than 69,000 Chinese characters in the Lotus Sutra, and every one of them is a Buddha. Even if we only copy one character in it, there will be a Buddha to save us if we fall into hell in the future. Therefore, this sutra offers supreme, unparalleled merits, as proven by many true stories recorded in B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra.

The Lotus Sutra is also very popular in Japan. It has become extremely widespread there with a very large number of followers since Master Saicho (also known as Dengyo Daishi) founded the Tendai school of Buddhism to preach this sutra 1,200 years ago. At present, many Japanese people still read, uphold, preach, and copy the Lotus Sutra.

The Lotus Sutra is indeed supreme. All sentient beings who have formed a karmic connection with it will eventually be liberated and attain Buddhahood. Therefore, it is stated in the Lotus Sutra that “of those hearing this Dharma, there will be no one who will not become a Buddha.” So, it’s clear that no person who has heard the Lotus Sutra will fail to become a Buddha.

In the chapter of the Lotus Sutra entitled “Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja,” it says, “Just as srotaapannas (those who have entered the stream of the teaching), sakrdagamins (those who are to return to this world once again), anagamins (those who are never to return), arhats, and pratyekabuddhas are the best of all the common people, this is the best of all the sutras taught by all the Tathagatas, Bodhisattvas, and sravakas. Those who uphold this sutra are the best of all sentient beings. The Bodhisattvas are the best of all sravakas and pratyekabuddhas. Likewise this sutra is the best of all sutras. Just as the Buddha is the King of the Dharma, this sutra is the King of Sutras.” Similarly, it is stated in A Synopsis of the Lotus Sutra by Master Ouyi that “the Lotus Sutra discloses the ultimate and definitive teachings of all Buddhas.”

Tasting the flavor of “ghee” from the twelve verses of the Lotus Sutra

Literally, “ghee” refers to the finest class of clarified butter, which originated in ancient India. It is often used figuratively to symbolize the most profound essence of Buddhist teachings.

The Lotus Sutra, the “King of all Sutras,” is the most outstanding and profound of all Buddhist scriptures. Therefore, it is very difficult for us to truly understand its teachings. During the Sui Dynasty, there lived a great master called Zhiyi who was a prominent patriarch of the Tiantai school. He is known as the “Little Shakyamuni of the East,” and is also honored as the Koso (founder) of the Japanese Tendai school. He elaborated in particular depth on the Lotus Sutra in his Three Great Works of the Tiantai School: Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra (Fahua Xuanyi), Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra (Fahua Wenju), and Great Calmness and Insight (Mohe Zhiguan).

It’s said that Master Zhiyi once gave a ninety-day lecture on the word “wonderful” as used in the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma. In other words, he spent ninety whole days elaborating on just the title of the Lotus Sutra. So, we can see how profound this sutra is. Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra, which is the first of the Three Great Works of the Tiantai School, is the collection of Master Zhiyi’s teachings on the title of the sutra during those ninety days.

The second work, Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra, gives an interpretation of the text of the Lotus Sutra. The third work, Great Calmness and Insight, explains methods of practicing perfect and sudden calm and insight. It teaches how to realize the state described in the Lotus Sutra and how to accomplish the Lotus Samadhi.

It is stated in Chapter 14 of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra that “from the cow comes fresh milk; from fresh milk comes cream; from cream comes fresh butter; from fresh butter comes clarified butter; from clarified butter comes ghee, and ghee is the best.” Master Zhiyi of the Tiantai school classified the holy teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha into five periods—namely, the Avatamsaka Period (the Flower Garland Period), the Agama Period, the Vaipulya Period (the Correct and Equal Period), the Prajna Period (the Wisdom Period), and the Lotus and Nirvana Period. He associated these periods with the five respective dairy products: milk, cream, fresh butter, clarified butter, and ghee. Master Zhiyi compared the Lotus Sutra to ghee, the most refined of the five, because he considered it to be the most sublime, subtle, and definitive sutra.

The perfect and sudden teachings of the Lotus Sutra are extremely profound. If we truly understand the deep and secret meaning of the Lotus Sutra, we can “open the door to Buddha wisdom, show ourselves Buddha wisdom, awaken ourselves to Buddha wisdom, and enter into the path of Buddha wisdom,” and we will thus attain Buddhahood. Master Ouyi said in the Summary of the Lotus Sutra, “We must know that one can indeed attain Buddhahood immediately by practicing according to the perfect and sudden teachings. So, as the verses go, ‘Dharma-nature is like a great ocean. It is non-discriminatory and all-embracing. All beings, unenlightened or enlightened, are equal; no one is higher or lower. Only by eliminating the impurities in one’s mind can one attain enlightenment as easily as turning over one’s hand.’”

The Lotus Sutra contains not only the secret to attaining Buddhahood, but also all the wisdom that can help us to live a fulfilling and happy life. Since the Lotus Sutra contains nearly 70,000 characters and a great variety of teachings, it would take us a very long time to explain the whole sutra sentence by sentence. Nowadays, people lead very busy lives. So, for our study in this book, we will select twelves verses from the 69,000-plus characters in the Lotus Sutra to taste a drop of its sublime and unequalled essence.

Everyone wants to live a fulfilling and happy life. The twelve verses in the Lotus Sutra are intimately connected with our happiness. On our journey to accepting and upholding the Dharma, we can start by first learning and following these twelve verses. We don’t need to know much in the beginning. If we fully understand these twelve verses and effectively put them into practice, we can change our destiny and create a happy life.

These twelve verses are excerpted from the Lotus Sutra. Each verse contains four Chinese characters, so there are forty-eight characters in total, with pairs of adjoining verses each forming a small passage. Though very short, these verses are extremely rich in meaning.

Chapter 2

Leaving bad companions and making friends with virtuous people

People’s fates differ greatly. Why do some people have good fortune and others, bad? Aside from individual karma, another factor or “condition” also plays a very important role in shaping one’s destiny—the people one associates with.

As the ancient Chinese saying goes, “One takes on the color of one’s company.” With good teachers and friends, your life will head in the right direction. If you have bad companions, they will have a negative effect on you; your life will be ruined and will go from bad to worse. Therefore, we must “leave bad companions and make friends with virtuous people.”

In the Discourse on Blessings (Mangala Sutta), the first verse spoken by the Buddha is “not to associate with the foolish, but to associate with the wise and to honor those worthy of honor—this is the highest blessing.”

Everyone wants a happy and blessed life. In the Discourse on Blessings, the Buddha taught that we should first of all “not associate with the foolish.” The foolish are bad companions. So “leaving bad companions” simply means not associating with the foolish.

Instead, we should “associate with the wise.” “The wise” refers to truly virtuous friends and teachers. To associate with virtuous friends and teachers and “to honor those worthy of honor”—this is the highest blessing.

All Buddhas preach the same truth. In other words, the doctrines preached by all Buddhas are the same. The same is true with traditional Chinese culture. In the Disciplines of Children, a traditional Chinese children’s primer, it says, “If a person associates with people of virtue, he will gain immeasurable benefits. His virtues will grow and his faults will diminish each day. Not to associate with people of virtue will cause him immeasurable harm. Bad people will then become his companions, and ruin everything in his life.”

If we can associate with the virtuous teachers and friends, we will gain “immeasurable benefits” and our lives will constantly improve. “Our virtues will grow each day, and our faults will diminish each day.”

Yet the book also says that “not to associate with people of virtue will cause him immeasurable harm. Bad people will become his companions, and ruin everything in his life.” If we fail to associate with virtuous teachers and friends, we will suffer immeasurable harm; we will get involved with bad friends and evil teachers and our lives will keep deteriorating. The people we associate with are an important external condition for our fate and can change our lives tremendously.

Many Chinese people are familiar with Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons, a book of family rules written by Yuan Liaofan in the Ming Dynasty. Today, it has become a famous inspirational book. In the book, Yuan Liaofan is finally able to change his destiny and fulfill his wishes. How was he able to do this? Because he met a spiritual teacher, Zen Master Yungu. From his teachings, Yuan Liaofan learned that “one creates one’s own destiny and shapes one’s own fortune.” This changed his life forever. So, we can see how important it is to “leave bad companions and make friends with virtuous people.”

Everyone has a different fate. There are many reasons for this—one important factor is what kind of people you learn from. As Buddhists, we want to live a fulfilling and happy life, and more importantly to attain liberation and Buddhahood in the future. What is the most important thing for us to do to achieve this goal? The answer is to follow a virtuous teacher. It’s also stated in Words of My Perfect Teacher that “no sutra, tantra, or sastra speaks of any being ever attaining perfect Buddhahood without having followed a spiritual teacher. . . A spiritual teacher or companion is our true guide to liberation and omniscience, and we must follow our teacher with respect.”

Master Ouyi, one of the four eminent monks of the late Ming Dynasty, was the ninth patriarch of the Pure Land school and the first patriarch of the Lingfeng sect of the Tiantai school. He once set forth four key points of practice. One of them is “relying on virtuous friends is one’s refuge.” The virtuous friends he referred to are virtuous teachers. “Relying on virtuous friends is one’s refuge” means that we must rely on virtuous teachers in order to attain accomplishments.

The other three key points are: “Keeping the precepts is the foundation of one’s cultivation; gaining rebirth in the Pure Land is the destination of one’s path; and contemplating the mind is the top priority of one’s practice.” It can be said that these four key points cover the entire Buddha Dharma. “Relying on virtuous friends is one’s refuge” corresponds to the first two of the twelve verses—“leaving bad companions and making friends with virtuous people.” The next point, “upholding the precepts is the foundation of one’s cultivation,” precisely corresponds to the subsequent two verses that we are going to study next: “observing the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels.”

Chapter 3

Observing the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels

Once we have begun following a spiritual teacher, we will start to study and practice the Buddha Dharma. But where should we start? According to Buddhist teachings, there are three steps that we should follow: precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. The precepts lead to samadhi, which in turn gives rise to wisdom. Therefore, we must start by observing the precepts.

Misunderstandings about the precepts

Some people who do not understand the precepts are often afraid of them. They think that the precepts will place a lot of constraints on them, and they will feel a loss of freedom. They may even refuse to study Buddhism out of the fear of having to uphold the precepts. However, this is in fact a major misunderstanding of the precepts.

The precepts are intended to help us do good and stop doing evil. They were prescribed by the Buddha to protect us from being hurt. By upholding the precepts, we will sow no negative seeds and sow plenty of positive ones instead. Thus our life will grow brighter and brighter. If we fail to follow the precepts, we will plant many negative seeds and consequently experience much suffering in the future.

Therefore, the precepts are not meant to constrain us, but rather, to protect us. Take traffic rules, for example. We are less likely to have dangerous car accidents if we follow the traffic rules. The same is true for the precepts. They are actually like a guide, protecting us on our journey across the sea of sufferings of birth and death, until we finally arrive at the opposite shore of nirvana.

Five criteria for a fulfilling and happy life

Buddhist precepts include Pratimoksha (monastic law for individual liberation), Bodhisattva precepts, and samaya (the conduct required of a tantric practitioner, often as a set of vows or commitments). Pratimoksha precepts focus on not hurting any sentient beings; Bodhisattva precepts focus not only on avoiding hurting any sentient beings, but also on benefiting them; and samaya focuses on maintaining a pure vision.

For ordinary people like us, the Five Precepts for laypeople in Pratimoksha are the most important. We don’t necessarily have to undertake them right away, but it is critical for us to understand their spirit and core meaning, because they contain the secrets to a fulfilling and happy life.

Many people want to be happy and successful, but how many of them know what true happiness and success are? Moreover, what are the right ways to achieve happiness and success? Everyone most likely has their own standards and approaches. However, if you employ the wrong standards and methods then your life will head in the wrong direction and you will only experience more and more suffering and failure.

Many believe that having plenty of money makes for a successful life, and some think that they will be happy and successful when they attain a higher social status. In order to achieve success, some people make their “aspirations” by hanging pictures of big houses and BMW cars on the wall, telling themselves every day, “I want a BMW car! I want a big house!” and imagining money rushing towards themselves like a flood. . . This kind of “aspiration” is essentially an encouragement of greed. Can it truly make us happy? No, it cannot. There are several old Chinese sayings that offer wisdom on this topic: “Greed muddles one’s mind, and lust for gain blurs one’s vision,” “He who knows contentment is rich,” and “A contented mind is a perpetual feast.” Everything in the world works according to its laws. Wealth runs on its own laws, so does happiness. If you go against these laws, you may end up with money leaving you like an ebb tide and happiness retreating far beyond reach. So, without the right standards and methods, it is very likely that our life will end up heading in the opposite direction from happiness and success.

So, what does make a successful life then? What does it mean to live a happy and fulfilling life? There are five criteria for a successful, fulfilling, and happy life. I invite you to read them below and see for yourself if they make sense.

1. Good health

I think most people can agree that health is very important. Being unhealthy can cause us a lot of pain.

2. Abundant wealth

If we are healthy but very poor, we may still feel unhappy.

3. Happy marriage

This is also very important. It’s difficult to feel happy if one’s marriage is a total failure.

4. Good reputation

If you have a good reputation, everyone who mentions your name will give you a “thumbs-up” out of great admiration for you. This is also a very important criterion for success and happiness. On the flipside, it’s likely you will feel unhappy if others disdain to mention your name, or if you have a terrible reputation.

5. Inner wisdom, peace, and happiness

This one is even more important. It is the core of all the five criteria. Without inner wisdom and happiness, all external factors will essentially become meaningless. Moreover, if this fifth criterion is not fulfilled, you won’t necessarily be happy even if you have met the first four, because you will not be able to deal with some of the flow-on effects they may bring about in your life. On the contrary, if this criterion is satisfied while the other four are not, it’s still possible for some people to live happily and feel no pain—Master Milarepa is one example.

In fact, many Buddhist practitioners who have achieved true renunciation in their mind will feel happy regardless of whether the first four conditions are fulfilled. However, since most of us haven’t reached such an elevated state, these four conditions are still very important to us. In addition, even Buddhas and Bodhisattvas sometimes need to manifest the fulfillment of these four conditions in order to benefit all beings. So, for most people, the recipe for a fulfilling and happy life is to accomplish all five of these goals and balance them well.

The Five Precepts: The causes of a fulfilling and happy life

In order to accomplish success in the aforementioned five areas, let’s take a look at the Five Precepts prescribed by the Buddha. You will realize that they are the cause of a fulfilling and happy life if you understand their essential meaning.

The First Precept: No killing

We want to stay healthy and live a long life. What is the cause for this? Many people often take expensive medicines or supplements because they think it’s good for their health, while others prefer exercise practices such as yoga or Tai Chi. They do all this with the same goal—staying healthy and living longer. So, will these approaches be successful in ensuring they live a longer, healthier life? No, not necessarily.

According to statistics, there are many instances of people suffering side effects from medicines that can result in various diseases or even death. Many athletes who do a lot of sports also die young. I have a friend who used to practice yoga—although people often feel good and relaxed after doing yoga, he strained his neck while practicing. So, is yoga guaranteed to keep you healthy? No, not necessarily.

So, what is the genuine cause of health and longevity? According to the Buddha, it is “no killing”— this means not hurting other beings, and especially no abortion.

Why aren’t we healthy? Why are some people so short-lived? It is because we committed too many acts of killing and hurting other beings in our past lives. The karmic results of killing are illness and a short lifespan. In modern society, the sin of killing is widespread, and there are many abortions. If we refrain from killing, try to protect the lives of other beings, and frequently practice life release (a traditional Buddhist practice of saving the lives of beings that were destined for slaughter), then we will live a longer and healthier life. So, as you can see, by not hurting other beings we bring benefits not only to those beings, but also to ourselves.

The Second Precept: No stealing

What should we do in order to achieve abundant wealth? We should refrain from stealing, and should not misappropriate or damage the property of others. Otherwise, we will suffer the loss of our own property in the future. This is a very simple law of causality.

According to the law of karma, “Whatever deeds you have done will always have their effects, while you will never reap what you haven’t sown.” Every cause brings about an effect. That is to say, all you have done with your body, speech, and mind will eventually come back to you, with an effect many times stronger than that you caused to others. Therefore, if we cause others any loss of wealth, we will become poor in the future.

We can observe that different people who are in the same line of business get different results. Why? The most important reason is that everyone has different karma. If you have committed the sin of stealing and caused the loss of others’ property in the past, you will find it hard to make money. If you have never committed the sin of stealing in the past but instead have given a lot to help others and make offerings to the Three Jewels, then you will find it easy to make money. This is the law of cause and effect. This is why so many people doing business in the world all have different outcomes.

Likewise, the same business will produce different results if it is run by a different person. A few years ago, one of my students opened up a store that traded with foreigners. His business was very successful. At that time, he had a Buddhist friend who was very poor. He always wanted to help him, so he dismissed the manager of the store and let his friend run it. However, on his friend’s very first day at work, something bad happened—the global economic crisis broke out. As a result, there was almost no business at all for a whole month. So, as you can see, these different people who ran the same business delivered completely different outcomes.

So, why do different people doing the same thing achieve different outcomes? Because they have different karma. Let me give you another example of a successful case.

In China, there are generally many stores on a street. There was a time when China’s economy was not so good, so business was slow for many stores. One day, a store owner met one of our Dharma friends. The Dharma friend said to him, “If you want your business to flourish, you should recite the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha as much as possible, and often give alms and make offerings.”

The store owner thought to himself, “My business is slack right now, and I have a lot of free time anyway. Okay—I will give the sutra a try.” So, he took the Dharma friend’s advice. He recited the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha every day and made some offerings. The Medicine Buddha has vowed to bless all the beings who recite his name so that they may overcome all the difficulties in their lives, including poverty.

The shop owner recited the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha many times a day. Then, something amazing happened—while the other businesses on his street were still not doing well, his own business grew better and better. Therefore, he developed great faith in the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha. There are many cases like this.

So, even in the same environment, whether or not our business is successful still depends on our own karma.

Therefore, we will reap the karmic rewards of abundant wealth by upholding the precept of no stealing, giving alms and offerings to plant plenty of seeds of wealth.

The Third Precept: No sexual misconduct   

In order to live a happy life, one needs harmonious interpersonal relationships as well as good health and abundant wealth. For a layperson, this means he or she needs a happy marriage and a harmonious family.

How can we find a spouse with whom we get along well? And how can we maintain a harmonious relationship with our spouse?

Nowadays, there are various marriage counseling courses available. Do they always work, though? This is hard to say. Sometimes, the counselor who gives you advice may have failed in his or her own marriage. The mundane approaches that we often use are not always reliable. Many counselors will say that communication is very important and teach you how to use a lot of techniques in your communication with your spouse. However, our communication still turns out to be successful only in some cases and unsuccessful in others.

Therefore, whether or not people can communicate with each other in harmony is not necessarily related to their communication skills. I remember that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche once said, “In this world, there is no such thing as communication. There is only ‘successful miscommunication’ and ‘unsuccessful miscommunication.’”

So, what is the true cause of harmony? What are the real conditions for a happy marriage? The answer still lies in the fact that karma dictates everything. In other words, you need the seeds of harmony to attain harmonious relationships. To this end, the most important thing is that you keep the precept of no sexual misconduct.

Sexual misconduct includes extramarital affairs, homosexuality, masturbation, sexual fantasies, and so forth, as explained in many Buddhist scriptures. “No sexual misconduct” means that you should be faithful to and  responsible for yourself and your spouse, and avoid harming the relationships and marriages of others.

Sexual misconduct leads to very serious consequences, including strained relations between spouses and families, inharmonious marriages, extramarital involvements, and so on. Why are so many people unhappy in their marriages today? It is due to their negative karma from sexual misconduct.

How, then, can we find a good spouse? How can couples get along well and live happily together till the end of their days? The answer lies in keeping the precept of no sexual misconduct. If both the husband and the wife uphold this precept, they will build trust with each other and there will be no discord between them, thus guaranteeing happiness in their marriage.

The Fourth Precept: No lying

How can we build a good reputation? We must be honest and avoid lying.

If we can always keep our promises, then we will earn the trust and admiration of others and enjoy a good reputation. Honesty is an important factor in earning a good reputation.

Lack of integrity is a very serious problem in today’s society. Why do people fail in their business and personal lives? In many cases, it is because they frequently break their word and deceive others.

We can gain the trust of others and build our credibility and good reputation by refraining from lying, always thinking twice before we speak, saying what we mean and meaning what we say, and honoring our word.

A good reputation has enormous value. Whatever you do, you will have other people’s trust, and you will become successful. Honesty is highly valued in the world of business, for example. If you always break your promises, you will certainly fail in the end.

The Fifth Precept: No drinking alcohol

According to Buddhism, external wealth, sensual pleasures, fame, profit, and so on can only bring us limited happiness; it is our inner awakening, wisdom, and compassion that can bring us endless bliss. So, what should we do in order to attain inner awakening and wisdom? We must get rid of the negative seeds that cause ignorance.

What are these negative seeds that cause ignorance? Drinking alcohol is one of them. We all know that we will become confused after drinking too much. Drinking alcohol makes us more and more ignorant.

Broadly speaking, all substances that cause us to become addicted to or dependent on them are harmful to our mental health; these include cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. We should be extremely cautious with them. We should get rid of these things that do no good to our body and mind and obscure our wisdom.

Everything that makes us addicted to it will strengthen our inner attachment. The more attachments we have, the more pain and constraint we will feel in our hearts. We must let go of these attachments in order to be free and happy.

We not only need to rid ourselves of the bad habits of drinking alcohol, smoking, and taking drugs, but also to plant the positive seeds of wisdom—we should listen to, contemplate, and practice the Dharma. It is stated in Chapter 25 of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra that “there are no other than the four practices by which one may attain Nirvana. What are these four practices? Firstly, one must associate with a virtuous teacher. Secondly, one must listen to the Dharma attentively. Thirdly, one must focus one’s mind on contemplating the Dharma. Fourthly, one must practice the Way of the Dharma.” How can we cultivate great wisdom and attain Buddhahood? The answer is that we must follow a spiritual teacher and listen to, contemplate, and practice the Dharma.

Upholding and promoting the Five Precepts, starting with ourselves

We must “observe the precepts perfectly, like pure, bright jewels.” The purpose of observing the precepts is to avoid sowing the seeds of suffering. Without such seeds, there will be no fruits of suffering. Therefore, whatever Buddhist precepts we have undertaken, we should truly cherish them,  sincerely uphold them and carefully guard against violations, just as we would protect our eyes from injury.

Today, I have mainly explained the spirit and the essential meaning of the Five Precepts for laypeople—these are the most fundamental disciplines in Buddhism. Of course, one indispensable prerequisite to Pratimoksha is that before undertaking it, one should first generate renunciation to seek liberation from samsara. This is very important.

If you want to learn about the conditions, exceptions, prohibitions, observation, and violation of the Five Precepts in greater detail, you can refer to the relevant scriptures and other sources of information, such as Annotation of the Sutra of the Upasaka Precepts by Master Ouyi. Of course, you will gain more merits if you can take precepts from a spiritual teacher of a pure lineage. As stated in the Sutra of the Sacred Dharani of Great Consecration, “the Buddha said, ‘He who observes the Five Precepts will be protected by twenty-five guardian deities who stand guard around him and at the door of his home day and night, and give him blessings at all times.’” Indeed, we will attain supreme benefits by upholding the Five Precepts. I suggest that you learn about the Five Precepts first, and then undertake some or all of them with the guidance of a qualified spiritual teacher according to your situation. Upholding any of these precepts will bring you the corresponding merits.

Even if you have not undertaken the precepts, you will still have an easy conscience and a peaceful mind if you can follow the principle of the Five Precepts and try your best to refrain from hurting other beings or doing anything that troubles your conscience. We will certainly live a fulfilling and happy life if we refrain from sowing the seeds of suffering and doing our best to plant more seeds of happiness.

It is particularly important for husbands and wives to both keep the Five Precepts. By doing so, they take responsibility for themselves and for each other. This is a very good commitment to their marriage. In Japan, there are special Buddhist wedding ceremonies in the Shingon and Tendai traditions, during which both the bride and the bridegroom must undertake the Ten Precepts for laypeople—namely, no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, no idle talk, no harsh speech, no divisive speech, no greed, no hatred, and no wrong views. I think this is a very good tradition. If the husband and wife can take the Five Precepts or the Ten Precepts for laypeople when they get married, this will lay a very good foundation for a happy marriage.

The Five Precepts provide a guarantee for a fulfilling and happy life. We should vigorously advocate for and promote the spirit of the Five Precepts. A family will become a pure land if all its members observe the Five Precepts; a company will become a pure land if all its staff observe the Five Precepts; a country will become a pure land if all its people observe the Five Precepts; and the whole world will become a pure land if everyone in it observes the Five Precepts.

If we can achieve this, war will first of all cease to exist, because the first of the Five Precepts is “no killing.” People would certainly not need to fight in wars, and all weapons could be destroyed. If we want peace in this world, we must promote the Five Precepts, starting by observing them ourselves.

Chapter 4

Uttering soft and gentle sounds, with their clear and pure voices

The Buddha has incomparable merits. One of them is the Brahma sound, which is one of the thirty-two major marks of the Buddha. The Brahma sound means that the Buddha’s voice is very clear and pure.

A clear and pure voice originates from four types of good karma

The expression “with their clear and pure voices” means that the Buddha’s speech is free from the four verbal sins: lying, idle talk, harsh words, and divisive speech.

Lying means expressing false information. Idle talk means speaking meaningless words. Harsh words refer to language that is hurtful to others. Divisive speech means words that sow discord and separate people.

These four types of speech all create negative karma. If our speech is afflicted by these kinds of faults it will become defiled, causing a lot of misfortune in our lives. There’s a Chinese saying that describes this situation: “The tongue cuts the throat.” Much trouble, conflict, suffering, and even disasters can result from careless talk or saying the wrong thing.

Modern people suffer from many problems with their speech. They are constantly deceiving each other, stirring up intrigue, fighting and gossiping. Meaningless words are spoken and heard everywhere. Through these actions, modern people create very serious evil karma of speech.

Indeed, lying is very prevalent in modern society and ordinary people’s speech is constantly defiled by falsehoods.

When it comes to idle talk, the situation in modern society is much the same. Most content on the internet or on television regarding finance, entertainment, military affairs, and so forth can be categorized as idle talk. Idle talk includes anything that induces greed, hatred, or ignorance, and anything that is meaningless or not based on correct views.

Harsh words are also a serious problem. We often see husbands and wives fighting viciously, with harsh words flying from their mouths like axes and wounding those around them. We compare these kinds of people to “axe gangsters,” (The “axe gang” was a notorious gang active in Shanghai before China’s liberation. It became infamous for its members who used axes as weapons to hurt others.) It might not take long for physical injuries to heal, but a mental wound can take much longer. So, harsh words create very bad karma. Sometimes even a very simple and trivial matter may escalate dramatically due to harsh words and develop into a nasty fight that ends in a broken marriage or family.

There is also a lot of divisive speech in modern society. Why is there so much disharmony within teams, families, and marriages? It is largely because people have sown discord among others in the past. As a result, they experience disharmony in their own teams, families, or marriages.

If we want to earn the trust of others, the ability to speak with power, and more harmonious interpersonal relationships, free from separation and alienation, we must eliminate the four types of faulty speech. We must also uphold the four rules of wholesome speech: no lying, no idle talk, no divisive speech, and no harsh words. These rules also form four of the aforementioned Ten Precepts for laypeople.

It is very easy to create bad verbal karma through our speech. If we talk carelessly without forethought, we are prone to making these four mistakes in our speech. Therefore, as Buddhist practitioners, we must be able to maintain full awareness of our situation and know what we should and shouldn’t say.

In fact, all the precepts formulated by the Buddha can be summed up in one sentence: you must hold yourself responsible for your own life, thoughts, speech, and actions. This is because the karmic seeds you plant through your thoughts, speech, and actions will all ripen in the future and bring you rewards or retributions that are many times more powerful than what you have sent out.

Soft and gentle words touch the deepest part of the heart

If we successfully cut out lying, idle talk, divisive speech, and harsh words from our speech, this is called “clear and pure voice.” Furthermore, the Buddha also specifically proposed that we should “utter soft and gentle sounds,” which means that we should speak softly and gently, not roughly. The Discourse on Blessings (Mangala Sutta) also says, “Pleasant speech is the supreme blessing.”

Try and think about interpersonal interactions for a minute. Which do you think is more likely to touch the listener’s heart: soft and gentle words, or yelling and shouting? It goes without saying that soft and gentle words will do a much better job in most cases.

You cannot change others by yelling and shouting at them. The more you yell and shout at them, the more closed their hearts will become. Why might you yell and shout at people? Because your heart is growing farther and farther away from theirs, so you feel that you can only get your message across by yelling and shouting. In fact, a harsh tone will only block any information from getting through, as the listeners will react by closing their heart to your message. If you “utter soft and gentle sounds,” they will immediately open up to you.

A fable tells of how the North Wind and the Sun once got into an argument about which of them was the more powerful, so they decided to find out through a competition. What kind of competition? They agreed that whichever of them could make a traveler take off his clothes would be declared the stronger of the two.

So, they chose a traveler wearing a cloak. The North Wind tried first and worked really hard to blow his cloak off. However, the harder it blew, the colder the traveler felt and the more tightly he wrapped his cloak around himself. Then came the turn of the Sun. It shone upon the traveler with all its warmth, and he naturally took off his cloak.

So, we should communicate with others using heart-warming language, instead of trying to convince them with cold words. Many people, including husbands and wives, family members, classmates, colleagues, relatives, and friends, sometimes fail in their communication even though they have very good intentions and what they say makes a lot of sense. This is simply because the way they speak is inappropriate and their tone is unpleasant, so others are unwilling to listen to them, or even become annoyed and argumentative. This results from a poor understanding of the art of speaking. If we know how to “utter soft and gentle sounds with our clear and pure voice,” we will always succeed in getting others to listen and accept whatever we say.

Some people especially like to “debate” with others; or, to put it more bluntly, to pick fights. However, haven’t you ever discovered that although you have won an argument, you have lost the heart of your opponent in the process? So, you have a choice: do you want to win the verbal fight, or do you want to win the other person’s heart? This is what we must consider.

Therefore, in the Discourse on Blessings, the Buddha says that one of the secrets to a blessed life is “pleasant speech.” We must not only focus on expressing true and correct information, but must also pay attention to the way we speak and make sure we express this information using words that are agreeable and pleasant to others.

If what we say makes others happy, this is an auspicious thing in itself. However, we certainly shouldn’t resort to using flowery words or deceptive statements. We must express true information; abandon lying, idle talk, divisive speech, and harsh words; and be sure to speak in a gentle and pleasant manner. If we can achieve this, our words will make others happy, and we will gradually attain the state described in the following two verses of the sutra.

Chapter 5

With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma, they make the people eager to hear them

The Brahma sound, which is one of the Buddha’s thirty-two major marks, refers to the fact that the Buddha’s voice has five aspects of purity. According to the Dirghagama Sutra, “his voice has five aspects of purity, which are together known as the Brahma sound. What are these five aspects? The first is integrity. The second is resonance and elegance. The third is clarity. The fourth is profoundness and completeness. The fifth is all-pervasiveness, meaning that his voice can be heard from afar. The voice with these five characteristics is considered to have the Brahma sound.”

With their voices deep and enticing like the sounds of Brahma

The Buddha’s voice has these five qualities of integrity, resonance and elegance, clarity, profoundness and completeness, and all-pervasiveness. Every word that the Buddha says is beneficial to sentient beings. It would be impossible for the Buddha to say anything meaningless. Every word and every practice taught by the Buddha in the Tripitaka scriptures in twelve divisions, including the 84,000 Dharma gates, is intended to benefit all beings.

“All the different teachings of the Buddha are intended to cure different afflictions of the mind.” The teachings of the Buddha are all aimed at overcoming different sorts of afflictions and sufferings that affect sentient beings. Since sentient beings are afflicted by countless sufferings, the methods taught by the Buddha are likewise countless. Why do we vow to “learn all of the countless Dharma gates”? Because we have so many afflictions that they cannot be overcome with one single method. For example, if we suffer from many different illnesses all over our body, it is impossible to cure them all by taking just one medicine. We must take the right medicine for each of the illnesses to treat them individually. Moreover, we should vow to learn all the wisdom of the Buddha so as to benefit sentient beings by curing all their afflictions and helping them attain temporary and ultimate happiness.

Making the people eager to hear them

All the Buddha’s teachings make up the “infinitely profound and subtle Dharma.” After hearing them, sentient beings will be filled with joy and become enlightened. They will finally be able to “open the door to Buddha wisdom, to see, awaken to and enter it” and attain Buddhahood.

These two verses from the Lotus Sutra regarding speech teach us how to talk properly. We must refrain from lies, idle talk, divisive speech, and harsh words. We should speak in a way that “makes the listener feel happy” by using gracious, pleasant, gentle words.

We must utter meaningful words that conform to the Dharma and can bring temporary and permanent benefit to others. It is said in the Lotus Sutra that, “If they teach works on worldly affairs, or treatises on political science or business, all these must be in harmony with the true Dharma.” We have to live and work in this mundane world, but we should remain mindful at all times. Everything we say should conform to the true Dharma. We must not say meaningless, idle things, or speak useless words. If someone engages in too much meaningless talk, his or her speech will lose its effectiveness.

Some people speak with a pleasant voice and powerful language, causing many people to readily listen, accept, and follow what they have said. By contrast, some people have an unpleasant voice that makes their listeners feel uncomfortable. Even if what they say is right, people simply won’t listen or act according to what they have said, and may even feel averse to them or be compelled to argue. Why is this? The difference lies in whether one has pure or impure karma of speech. If you have pure karma of speech, your words will be very powerful. If you don’t, because you have spoken many false, idle, harsh or divisive words, then your speech will be rendered powerless in the future. In this case, others will not listen to you even if what you say is absolutely right.

So, what should we do to “make people eager to hear” what we have to say? We should rid ourselves of the four kinds of negative karma of speech. Nowadays, more and more people are unable to express themselves clearly; this poor speaking ability is just one of the results of negative karma of speech.

So, what should we do when we find ourselves afflicted by negative karma of speech? We must repent sincerely and diligently practice the teachings of these two verses we have learned today. In other words, we must try our best to speak honest, meaningful, harmony-building, soft, kind words, in order to benefit others as much as possible. We can also accumulate good karma of speech and voice by praising the Buddha and making offering to the Three Jewels with beautiful songs.

So, good karma of speech is really very important. In particular, we need pure karma of speech when we want to help others, especially when we try to give Dharma lectures to spread the Buddha’s teachings to benefit sentient beings.

Chapter 6

Skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease

What is the true source of happiness?

All living beings, from human beings to animals, in Asia, Europe or anywhere else, are actually pursuing the same goal: avoiding pain and attaining happiness. This is the common pursuit of all life forms.

From ancient times to the present day, human beings have developed a variety of scholarly traditions, including modern science. All of them aim to achieve the same goal: avoiding pain and attaining happiness. But each of these doctrines has different analyses and conclusions on the causes of pain and happiness. Their methods of ending suffering and attaining happiness are also different, and so are the results.

Some people believe that material affluence and advanced modern science and technology can bring us joy and happiness; some people hold that there is a god who can bestow happiness upon us; some people think that happiness has no rhyme or reason and happens out of sheer luck. There are so many different views. So, what is the Buddhist opinion on this? Buddhism tells us that the true essence of happiness lies in the proper cultivation of the mind.

Everybody wants to be happy. But what is the source of happiness? A lot of people haven’t found it, so they are constantly unhappy. Many people base their happiness on external people, things, or objects, thinking that they will be happy when they find someone they love, buy something they like, or live somewhere they enjoy. However, there is much evidence that all of these cannot bring us true happiness.

For example, suppose you live in a rural or alpine area. When you occasionally visit a city, you think, “How wonderful the city is! Getting around is so convenient, and the living conditions are great. How happy I would be if I lived here!” So, you move from the rural area to work in the city. At first, you are very happy living in your rented room: “Ah! I finally live in the city!”

But after some time, your happiness wanes, because you are only renting while others own their own apartments. Then, you think, “It would be great if I could have my own apartment.” You have to work day and night in order to achieve this goal. After several years, you finally pay the deposit and move into your new home. You are so happy: “Ah! I have my own place now!”

But after some time, you become unhappy again, because some people live in big houses while you only have a small apartment. So, you have to work even harder to be able to live in a house. Finally, you live in your own house, but your happiness is still short-lived because you start to envy the fancy cars some people are driving. . . This is just how humans are. The happiness they have attained is constantly being pushed out of reach by more desires. Human desires are endless.

Any happiness that is based on external people, things, or objects is only temporary. It is not true happiness, and will eventually become a cause of suffering. Why? Because people are wont to make comparisons. As a result, the things they possess will just become a source of pain.

So, what is the true source of happiness? The answer lies in “skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease,” as stated in the Lotus Sutra. According to Buddhism, true happiness is not external. All the happiness and pain that we feel actually originates from our own mind and karma. The expression “skillfully cultivating the mind and being able to abide in ease” means that we can attain true happiness if we train our mind well.

In Buddhism, there are two ways of training the mind: a temporary method which involves taming afflictions through different mind-training techniques, and an ultimate method which helps us to realize the nature of the mind—to “open the door to Buddha wisdom and see, awaken to, and enter it.”

Only when our mind is well trained can we attain true happiness. Otherwise, it will remain out of reach. Any suffering we experience results from problems within our mind, not from without. All external factors are really just conditions for suffering. The real cause of suffering is the ignorance of our mind. Ignorance gives rise to greed, hatred, and confusion, which in turn lead to various afflictions and sufferings. So, how can we achieve happiness? We must cultivate our mind. If our mind is trained well, we will be happy; otherwise, we will not. Therefore, the Lotus Sutra teaches that a person who can skillfully cultivate their mind will be able to abide in ease. The key to happiness and peace lies in “skillfully cultivating the mind.”

How can we skillfully cultivate our mind?

“Focusing on contemplating the mind,” which is one of the four key practices presented by Master Ouyi of the Ming Dynasty, is a supreme technique of cultivating the mind. It means that we should be constantly observing our own mind. There are four levels of observation of the mind: the shallow, the secret, the secret within the secret, and the utmost secret within the secret. Today, we will explain the meaning of observing the mind at the shallow level; that is, we should always maintain awareness and observe our own mind, being conscious of what we are thinking. When negative emotions such as greed, hatred, and confusion arise in our mind, we must stop them right away. When positive emotions arise, we must help them grow.

Positive emotions refer to loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and level-headedness. Our loving-kindness can bring joy to others, and our compassion can help eliminate their suffering. We feel joy for the happiness of sentient beings and love them all equally. The negative mind is what we call the Five Poisons; namely, greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance, and jealousy. We will suffer if we harbor any of these poisons in our heart. The aim of “skillfully cultivating the mind” is to subdue these five poisons. We will know our mind-training practice has been successful when we are freed from the Five Poisons.

Three ways to subdue the Five Poisons

Buddhism offers three methods of subduing the Five Poisons. The first is to attain Bodhi by eliminating affliction, the second is to attain Bodhi by transforming affliction, and the third is realizing that affliction is Bodhi.

1. Attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction

The first method views affliction as an enemy or poison, and aims to get rid of it. So this method is called “attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction.”

According to the tradition of Hinayana Buddhism and the temporary teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, affliction caused by the Five Poisons should be eliminated via the five antidotes, including “meditation on impurity.”

This method is generally used more often in Hinayana Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths (suffering, origination, cessation, and path), taught by the Buddha when he first turned the Wheel of Dharma, revealed the suffering of samsara and the cause of this suffering, as well as liberation (nirvana) and the path to liberation. Hinayana Buddhism holds that suffering is the result of attachment and desire, and attachment and desire are the cause of suffering. Put another way, suffering is an illness, and attachment and desire are the cause or root of this illness. Such is the relationship between suffering and origination. Hinayana Buddhism also holds that if attachment and desire are renounced, the illness of suffering will also be cured. This is cessation, or nirvana. Therefore, Hinayana Buddhism advocates the path of “attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction.”

The guiding ideology of the Pratimoksha vows in Hinayana Buddhism is that affliction is bad by nature, so we must eliminate it. One of the Pratimoksha vows stipulates that handling money is not allowed, because Hinayana Buddhism holds that money gives rise to suffering and is an external condition of affliction, therefore it must be completely eliminated. This is why Hinayana monks and nuns are not allowed to handle money.

Based on the same logic, Hinayana monks or nuns are also not allowed to marry. They believe that being around the opposite sex is also an external condition of affliction, so they must keep away from members of the opposite sex. This is the view expressed in the Hinayana precepts.

2. Attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction

The second method views the nature of affliction as neutral, neither good nor bad. When you don’t make proper use of it, it becomes bad; when you make good use of it, it can become good. So, instead of abandoning or eliminating it, you should transform it and make good use of it. So, this method is called “attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction.”

Generally, this method is used more often in tantric Buddhism and the exoteric teachings in Mahayana Buddhism. The quintessence of the exoteric teachings in Mahayana Buddhism is Bodhicitta and emptiness. Because everything is empty, affliction does not have an unchanging self-nature but manifests as an “empty existence.” This is the fundamental principle that explains why affliction can be transformed. Meanwhile, because the root of Mahayana Buddhism is Bodhicitta, meaning the attainment of unsurpassed perfect enlightenment to benefit all sentient beings, we don’t need to eliminate affliction if we have the ability to transform it into Dharma practices that enable us to benefit sentient beings and attain Buddhahood. This is the original aspiration of the transformative path in Mahayana Buddhism.

Let us once more use money as an example. In the previous passage about the path of attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction in Hinayana Buddhism, money is considered sinful, and practitioners must eliminate any desire for money. However, according to the transformative path of Mahayana Buddhism, money is empty and doesn’t have a self-nature that is either good or bad. So, money will become sinful if you seek money simply to satisfy your greed, anger, and ignorance; money will become meritorious and successful if you seek and use it out of Bodhicitta. Therefore, as practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism, we do not need to stay away from or abandon money. We must transform our mind and use money properly. If we do so, money will become a favorable condition for us to practice the Dharma, help sentient beings, and spread the teachings of the Buddha.

Now, let us learn from another example of the transformative path, this time regarding the opposite sex. This is a case in which the Buddha personally demonstrates how to attain Bodhi by transforming affliction. This story is recorded in both the Maharatnakuta Sutra and the Sutra of Great Skillful Means Spoken by the Buddha.

We all know that a monk who has received the Bhikshu Precepts is not allowed to marry. In this story, Shakyamuni Buddha was also a monk in one of his past existences—a monk who was flawless in keeping the precepts and excelled in practicing the Dharma. Of course, he was not allowed to get married.

Later, he encountered a difficult situation. Due to his handsome and dignified appearance, a girl fell in love with him and was determined to marry him. She threatened to kill herself if he did not marry her.

The Bhikshu found himself in a dilemma: should he insist on staying a monk and observing the precepts perfectly, or return to secular life and marry the girl? He was fully aware of the merits of keeping the precepts and the faults of breaking them. If he returned to secular life, it was most likely that his reputation would be permanently damaged; everyone would discredit him and see him as a disgrace and a failure who had backed out of his Dharma practice. I believe that the Bhikshu—the Buddha’s previous incarnation—must have been faced with this kind of pressure at that moment.

Nevertheless, according to the account in the sutra, the monk ended up returning to secular life and marrying the girl. However, he did not fall onto the evil paths, but gained rebirth in the Brahma Heaven after he died, thus surpassing the sufferings of life and death for hundreds of thousands of eons and reaching Buddhahood much more quickly.

It is stated in the sutra that at the time, the monk had decided to insist on his pure Dharma practice and left the girl, who was on the point of committing suicide. Yet, he only took seven steps away before he stopped and turned back, because he could not bear to see the girl kill herself. He thought, “I can bear the sufferings of hell even if I break the precepts and fall onto the evil paths, but I can’t bear to see this girl suffer so much, and I simply can’t let her die because of me.” So, why did the monk, the Buddha’s previous incarnation, discard the precepts and marry the girl? The real reason is that he did it out of great compassion.

In Mahayana Buddhism, it is believed that great compassion has tremendous merit. Therefore, we can see from this case that the act of leaving the monastic community to marry the girl did not become an obstacle to the spiritual practice of Shakyamuni Buddha, but rather a favorable condition for the progress of his practice.

We can learn from this case that the act of associating with the opposite sex is also neutral. It all depends on how you handle it. Is your action motivated by greed, or inspired by Bodhicitta and great compassion?

Hinayana Buddhism holds that money and the opposite sex are both sources of affliction, while Mahayana Buddhism holds that the root of affliction cannot be found in external factors like money or the opposite sex, but rather in one’s own mind. Therefore, Mahayana Buddhism maintains that cultivating one’s own mind is a more thorough and effective method of dealing with affliction.

Because Mahayana Bodhisattvas believe in emptiness, they do not treat anything as truly existing and hence do not become attached to it. Neither are they bound by afflictions caused by greed, anger, or ignorance. Therefore, inspired by Bodhicitta, it is possible for them to transform these afflictions into Dharma practices to benefit sentient beings and enhance their own cultivation.

How are afflictions transformed according to the teachings of the secret mantra in the tantric part of Mahayana Buddhism? By viewing the external world as the limitless palace of the yidam, internal sentient beings as male or female deities, all food and drink as nectar, and so forth.

This is the path of “attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction” in Mahayana Buddhism.

3. Realizing that affliction is Bodhi

There is also a third method in Mahayana Buddhism—namely, to directly recognize that affliction is Bodhi by nature. There is no need to eliminate, abandon, or transform affliction as long as you can recognize its ultimate reality.

This method is generally used more often in the real teaching or the secret teaching (the “Diamond Vehicle”) in Mahayana Buddhism. The most basic doctrine of the secret teachings in Mahayana Buddhism is pure vision, which means holding the view that everything is clean and pure. As stated in the Adhyardhasatik**a Prajnaparamit**a Sutra, “All things and all beings are pure.”

So, if you don’t recognize that the nature of affliction is no different than Buddha nature, affliction is just affliction; if you do recognize this, affliction is actually Bodhi, so you don’t have to eliminate it or transform it at all.

This teaching is also called the “real teaching” or “complete teaching” in Mahayana Buddhism, meaning that it is the ultimate and perfect teaching. In the complete teachings of the Tiantai school, it is believed that affliction is Bodhi, life and death are nirvana, and sentient beings are Buddhas.

The real teaching also holds that people can become Buddhas in a very short time. Why is this? Shaku Joshun, a great master of the Japanese Tendai school, explains it in his work, Summary of the Classified Collection of Tendai Practices: “The path of sudden enlightenment enables the practitioner to attain Buddhahood quickly because it aims to instill enlightenment on the empty nature of everything in one single thought. As stated in the Lotus Sutra, ‘Those who hear it even for an instant will fully attain the highest, most complete enlightenment.’” This ancient master quoted the Lotus Sutra to reveal the sublime merit of attaining Bodhi in one single thought through the perfect and sudden path.

The metaphor of a poisonous herb

We can use the metaphor of a poisonous herb to explain the difference between these three methods. Generally, you cannot eat a poisonous herb, or you will be poisoned and may die instantly. For you, this poisonous herb is not only useless, but also harmful—all you can do is discard it. This analogy describes the first method—attaining Bodhi by eliminating affliction.

However, for a skilled and experienced doctor, this poisonous herb can be used to treat diseases. In ancient traditional Chinese medicine, many toxic substances were used to treat certain diseases, so in the eyes of a doctor with relevant expertise, these poisonous substances are simply very good medicine. A good doctor can turn the deadly herb into a medicine that cures diseases. This refers to the second method—attaining Bodhi by transforming affliction.

According to Buddhist scriptures, peacocks have a special ability: they will not die after eating poisonous herbs; in fact, this will nourish their feathers and make them grow even more beautiful. Therefore, to a peacock, these poisonous herbs are all delicacies. They do not have to be discarded or transformed—they can simply be enjoyed. This is the third method we mentioned earlier—attaining Bodhi by realizing that affliction is Bodhi by nature.

Different methods for different capacities

These three methods are all authentic Dharma and all aim to tame the afflictions of living beings. Why, then, are they so different from each other? Because “the Buddha offered various teachings only to regulate the various minds of sentient beings.” Different methods can be employed to suit the different faculties of sentient beings.

When it comes to ordinary people, their practice is still at a more basic level, so only the first method can be used. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind,” or, “If you cannot beat it, leave it or avoid it.” They have to take an avoidance approach to keep themselves away from afflictions at first.

Some people can use the second method to transform their afflictions, provided they have reached a certain level in their practice and developed the proper ability.

Some more advanced practitioners have greater wisdom and have attained a higher state in their cultivation. This allows them to practice by directly using their afflictions to attain achievements.

So, what level have you reached in your practice? What is your capacity? You have to choose a suitable method according to your own situation. Of course, Buddhist thought holds that it is very difficult for us to judge our own capacities. The safest way, then, is to rely on a qualified spiritual teacher and ask your teacher to guide you in your practice according to your own capacity and degree of cultivation.

Our three options when meeting a tiger in a dream

Imagine that you are dreaming, and in your dream a tiger is coming to eat you. What will you do? Usually, our first choice is to run off quickly to a place where the tiger can’t find us, though this requires us to run very fast. Or, you could hide somewhere where the tiger can’t get in to catch you. This is our first method of dealing with afflictions—to separate ourselves from them, eliminate them, or hide away from them.

There is an ancient Chinese story that became very famous and is probably known by most Chinese people—it’s called “How Wu Song Slayed the Tiger.” Wu Song was a highly accomplished martial artist. One day he was about to journey over a mountain, and he stopped by at a tavern at the foot of the mountain for a meal before he went up. This restaurant sold very good liquor and had a sign hung up on the door that read “After Three Bowls, Do Not Cross the Ridge,” meaning that the liquor was so good and so strong that one would be much too drunk to get over the mountain after drinking three bowls of it. However, Wu Song was so confident in his ability to handle alcohol that he wanted to challenge this pronouncement, so he drank many bowls of the liquor. Of course, he got drunk.

However, the real danger was not, in fact, being too drunk to cross the ridge—the real danger was that one might encounter a fierce tiger who lived on the mountain, and had killed and eaten a couple of people who tried to cross the ridge in the past. Therefore, ordinarily no one dared to make the journey alone.

But Wu Song was not sober enough to be afraid of the tiger, or of anything for that matter, so he insisted on crossing the ridge and began to wobble his way uphill. He had just gotten over the ridge when, unsurprisingly, he came face to face with the tiger. He was so frightened that he sobered up immediately, but as an advanced martial artist, he was afraid to lose face if he fled, so he decided to fight the tiger.

Wu Song was indeed a very powerful martial artist. After a fierce fight, he successfully defeated the tiger. So, he was later renowned as “the hero who slayed the tiger.”

So, let us return to your dream. You too can try to slay the tiger, just like Wu Song. If your skill and courage is as great as Wu Song’s, you can defeat the tiger, tame it, and turn it into your pet. This is the second option for dealing with the tiger. So, the tiger is not necessarily your enemy. It may become your pet or your friend, but this will only happen if you have the necessary ability. So, you’d better make an assessment of your own abilities. If you are not sure whether you can handle it, it’s better to escape. Otherwise, you might end up offering yourself to the tiger as a delicious meal!

Taming the tiger and turning it into a pet is a metaphor for the second method—transforming afflictions into favorable conditions for your practice.

So, when you run into a tiger in your dream, do you have any better method to deal with it than these two? Certainly! The third method is this: just wake up from your dream, and it will be all over! Isn’t that simple? But though simple, it is also the hardest method. I hope that everyone will gain some inspiration from this metaphor of the tiger in the dream.

Among these three methods of dealing with afflictions, I think most people are likely to use the second one, the transformative method, more often. This is because the first method, avoiding affliction, is not always feasible in reality, since you can’t avoid it forever; and the third method—realizing that affliction is Bodhi, also called “spontaneous liberation”—makes extremely high demands of the practitioner. To apply this third method, you must truly have the proper ability to achieve spontaneous liberation from affliction. So, it is not a method that ordinary people can use.

Next, I will introduce you to some commonly-used methods to tame afflictions arising from the Five Poisons.

Common antidotes to the Five Poisons

First, we must overcome greed. When there is greed in the heart, there will be pain. As the saying goes, “A contented heart is perpetual feast.” Greed can never be satisfied, so it causes suffering. We must use a contented heart to counteract greed; that is, to find happiness in what we own at present. Don’t constantly look outward and harbor the thought that the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill. If we compare ourselves with others all the time, we will experience a lot of pain. Therefore, we must learn to be content with what we have.

Greed is a mentality of scarcity and neediness. Why are we greedy? It is because we have a strong feeling of scarcity in our life, so we are greedy and look outward for things to satisfy our greed. However, a mentality of scarcity will only lead to more scarcity.

Many people confuse cause with effect, thinking that we can only own more if we keep driving ourselves with greed to pursue things in the external world. In reality, this is a mistake. If you keep pursuing external things, it simply means you have a strong feeling of scarcity in your heart. How can the karmic seed of scarcity ripen and bear the fruit of affluence? Karma simply doesn’t work that way.

Only a contented heart can bring about affluence. When you are content with what you have, your heart is in a state of richness and fullness, which is a type of good karma that will cause more abundance in your life. On the contrary, greed is the cause of scarcity and will only lead to more scarcity. It will take us farther and farther away from abundance and make it more and more difficult to have our wishes fulfilled.

Second, we must subdue hatred. Hatred means that we wish poor fortune on others, become angry at or hateful towards them, or hurt them. These are all manifestations of hatred. The karma created by hatred will result in us being hurt by others in the future. So how can we protect ourselves? The answer is to act with the opposite of hatred. Not only should we not hate others, we should also be compassionate toward them. If we always wish others well, help them to eliminate their suffering, and try our best to bring them happiness, we ourselves will surely be happy in the future. Therefore, compassion is the antidote to hatred.

Third, we must overcome ignorance. Ignorance means holding wrong views, not knowing the truth of life and the universe, and not believing in karma. Wrong views will lead to misconduct in our body, speech, and mind, causing suffering and darkness in our lives. Ignorance is the most fundamental of the Five Poisons. As an antidote to this poison, we must listen to the Dharma and cultivate wisdom. True wisdom means holding the right view. This has two main aspects: first, the correct view of karma, meaning that one believes in karma, follows the law of karma, and knows what one should or shouldn’t do; second, a thorough insight into the true nature of all phenomena and a complete realization of the wisdom of emptiness. Only by overcoming ignorance and upholding the right view can we cultivate a bright and happy future in our lives.

Fourth, we must tame our arrogance. Arrogance is a serious problem for modern people. Some people seem to be arrogant about almost anything: being slightly better-looking than others, having a more pointed nose or a fairer complexion, being better-educated or wealthier. . . In reality, there is nothing to be proud of about these things, because they are nothing but the reward of the good karmic seeds that you planted in the past—it’s not as if you have achieved some extraordinary accomplishment. Furthermore, all these traits that people are so obsessed with are impermanent.

We must learn to be humble—“Humbleness helps people make progress, and arrogance makes people fall behind.” We must always observe the merits of others and reflect on our own shortcomings, in order to cultivate the quality of humbleness and overcome our arrogance. If we always look at the shortcomings of others and become obsessed with our own strong points, our arrogance will be unleashed and grow out of control. Therefore, to counteract and eliminate arrogance, it is necessary to focus our attention on appreciating the strong points of others and reflecting on our own shortcomings.

Fifth, we must overcome jealousy. Jealousy is a very powerful poison. When we feel jealous, happiness disappears right away, and it is very harmful to both ourselves and others.

In fact, to be jealous is very ignorant. Why? For example, if we see that a person is very rich and makes a lot of money, we may feel very upset and become very jealous. At this point, we must be careful, because we are planting negative seeds of wealth. The more jealous we feel of others’ wealth, the poorer we ourselves will become. Therefore, jealousy is a kind of poison, a negative emotion that will drag us farther and farther away from all the beautiful things in life. If we are jealous of other people’s money, we will have less and less money ourselves; if we are jealous of other people’s good looks, we will grow uglier and uglier. . . So, jealousy is a very foolish psychological reaction.

How, then, do we overcome jealousy? According to Buddhist beliefs, it can be counteracted by responding with joy. What is “responding with joy”? Here’s an example: when you see that someone is wealthy, you feel happy for that person, thinking to yourself, “It’s great that he’s so rich! I hope he becomes even wealthier in the future.” If you think this way, you will be responding with joy to his good fortune. If you feel sincerely happy for him, you will receive the same blessing of wealth as that of this rich person, and you will also become wealthy in the future. Why does he have so much money? It is simply because he has planted many good karmic seeds of wealth in the past. When you rejoice in his prosperity and his good karmic seeds of wealth, you are actually planting the same seeds of wealth for yourself.

On the other hand, it is very foolish to feel jealous of others’ wealth. Because what does this jealousy do? It causes you to become poorer and poorer, because when you are jealous of others’ prosperity, you plant the seeds of poverty and move in the opposite direction from wealth. However, if you feel sincerely happy for them, in the future you too will have whatever wealth they have now.

Similarly, if we see someone very beautiful, we shouldn’t feel jealous. We should rejoice in the karmic seeds of good appearance that they planted in the past and the karmic reward of beauty that they have received now. We should feel happy for them and hope that they will be even more beautiful in the future. When we do this, we plant our own seeds of beauty and will likewise be rewarded with good appearance. Therefore, responding with joy is a very simple yet wonderful pith instruction that can generate a lot of positive results. We must use this method to overcome jealousy whenever it strikes us.

In the future, when we see others enjoying their good fortune, we must rejoice in their merits so that we will have the same good fortune for “free.” It would be stupid for us to feel jealous, because that will only cause us more loss and drag us farther and farther away from obtaining the same good karmic fruits. Therefore, responding with joy is a supreme Dharma practice that we must master. We should always rejoice in observing any merits or wholesome practices, or any quality of others that is nice and beautiful. In this way, we will experience the same kind of beauty and delight in the future.

The above five teachings are the preliminary methods for “skillfully cultivating the mind.” We must always observe our own mind closely, and whenever we notice these Five Poisons arising, we should counteract them with the right method: contentment for greed, compassion for hatred, wisdom for ignorance, humbleness for arrogance, and rejoicing for jealousy. When we are able to successfully produce the antidotes to the Five Poisons, we will have properly cultivated our mind, and a well-cultivated mind will bring us great happiness.

Chapter 7

Always practicing patience and being compassionate toward all

There are many levels of patience, including patience towards beings, patience towards dharmas, and patience in the realization of the non-arising nature of dharmas. Great Master Zhiyi says in The First Gate in the Sequence of the Boundaries of the Dharma that “There are two types of patience towards beings: first, harboring no arrogance when being venerated and worshiped by others; second, abiding in forbearance and bearing no hatred when being subject to hatred, beating, or cursing by others. This is patience towards beings.” He also says that “There are two types of patience towards dharmas: first, enduring non-mental phenomena, such as cold, heat, hunger, thirst, old age, sickness, death, and the like; second, enduring mental phenomena, including hatred, anger, sorrow, worry, suspicion, lust, arrogance, evil thoughts, and so on. Bodhisattvas are regarded as having accomplished these two types of patience if they can endure all of these mental and non-mental phenomena and remain unmoved by them.” The Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom says, “What is patience towards the non-arising of phenomena? It means the mind at rest in its awakening to the reality of the non-arising of all existences, and to the truth that all afflictions have always been non-arising originally”

There are two types of ordinary patience (patience towards beings). One involves not having arrogance in your heart when others respect you and make offerings to you. In fact, this is very difficult. When we are praised by others, we can get so puffed up with pride that our body even feels lighter, as if we can fly. Under these circumstances, you must maintain awareness and keep your mind under control. The other type of ordinary patience involves abiding in forbearance and refraining from hatred when people insult you, beat you, or curse you.

There are also two types of patience towards dharmas. The first one is patience towards “non-mental phenomena,” for example, adverse conditions we may encounter during our Dharma practice, such as very hot or cold weather, fatigue or backache, as well as agreeable or disagreeable food. We must endure all of these patiently—this is the first type of patience towards dharmas.

The second type of patience towards dharmas is patience towards “mental phenomena,” including hatred, sorrow, suspicion, greed, lust, arrogance, evil thoughts, and so on. We must be able to bear these negative emotions patiently and remain unaffected by them.

Patience in the realization of the non-arising of dharmas means that one recognizes the truth that there is neither arising nor cessation in all phenomena.

The three types of patience discussed above are relatively technical and in-depth concepts. Next, I’m going to explain the superficial sense of the verse, “always practicing patience.”

Why should we always practice patience?

Since beginningless time, everyone has planted many negative karmic seeds. We do not even need to trace back so far. In this life alone, we all have cast countless negative seeds since we were born, and this is why it’s normal for us to encounter various difficulties in our lives. Because all the hardship and suffering we encounter are caused by the bad karma we created in the past, there is no one else to blame. We must repent of the sins that caused our karmic hindrances, and learn to accept and bear them patiently.

When we accept and endure with patience, these negative karmic seeds will transform and disappear, so it’s not a bad thing if we encounter difficulties or hindrances. When this happens, do not think that it is a bad thing or a misfortune. In reality, it is not. It is simply our negative seeds from the past transforming and vanishing. And this is a good thing, because it is in fact a purifying process that cleans up the “trash” and toxics in our life. It is a very good thing that our karmic hindrances are eradicated in the process. Eminent masters in ancient times said, “Enjoyment consumes good karma, while suffering eliminates bad karma.” So, we should accept the difficulties and hindrances in our life with joy.

Most people do not understand karma. When they are harmed by their enemies, they follow the “eye for an eye” philosophy, becoming obsessed with revenge and trying to get even with their enemies. They don’t understand that their enemies are actually their creditors, and that they are harmed by their enemies simply because they have harmed their enemies in the past. Therefore, “an eye for an eye” will only lead to never-ending vengeance and committing new sins, which will result in much graver retributions in the future.

Master Yinguang says that we should “eradicate previous negative karma as the conditions arise, and do not commit new sins.” When we encounter misfortune in our life, we should accept it with ease so as to eliminate our previous bad karma. What’s more, we must not plant new seeds of suffering, which will ripen and bear bitter fruits in the future, trapping us in a vicious circle. The Lotus Sutra teaches us to “always practice patience”; this is the sword of wisdom that severs the cycle of bad karma.

Patience is a very important practice for us as Buddhist practitioners. If we practice it well, we will get great benefits both on the worldly and supramundane levels. Many great people are highly proficient in the practice of patience.

There is an old saying passed down by the ancient Chinese: “Lack of forbearance in small matters upsets great plans.” That is to say, if you want to accomplish a great goal, you must know how to be patient when it comes to the tiny little things. Don’t let small difficulties get the better of you. You should make even greater effort to exercise patience when you are practicing the Dharma in order to attain liberation and Buddhahood. Many eminent monks and masters throughout history also attained enlightenment and accomplishments because they were highly skilled in practicing patience. 

Many prominent Buddhist masters throughout history endured immeasurable hardships and difficulties in their practice, and attained great success in enduring them patiently. Such exemplary figures include the sixth Chan Patriarch Huineng, Master Xuyun, Chan Masters Baiyin and Fushan Fayuan in Chinese Buddhism; Master Naropa, Master Milarepa, and Master Longqên Rabjamba in Tibetan Buddhism; and Master Kūkai and Master Saichō in Japanese Buddhism. Therefore, as a Buddhist practitioner, forbearance is a very important practice.

The Buddha often praised those who practiced patience, recognizing them as people of great power. It is stated in the Sutra of the Buddha’s Final Teachings that “patience is a virtue which cannot be equaled even by upholding the precepts and undertaking the austere practices. Whosoever is able to practice patience can be truly called a great and strong person.” The Buddha said that the merits of patience exceeded those of keeping the precepts and undertaking the austere practices, and only those who are able to practice patience can be truly called “a great and strong person.” If we can conquer others, we might be a person with power; but if we can conquer ourselves, we will be a truly powerful person.

The Mahayana Bodhisattvas who initiate the aspiring and engaging Bodhicitta are the warriors of samsara. The Six Perfections of the Bodhisattva warriors—namely, generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom—will generate supreme merits, although they are very difficult practices. For example, when we have achieved the perfection of patience, we will also have completed the third stage of Mahayana Bodhisattva development.

To “always practice patience” is highly meritorious and virtuous in itself. Not only will it allow us to eradicate negative karma and suffering and accumulate merits and blessings, it will also lead to the karmic reward of dignified appearance in the future. It is taught in the Buddhist scriptures that people are born with dignified appearance because they have practiced patience in their past lives. So, now that you know this secret, you won’t have to go to South Korea for cosmetic surgery! As long as you “always practice patience,” you will accumulate the good karma of beautiful and dignified appearance. In the future, when people treat you wrong, you can actually feel happy about it: “Oh, this person is giving me a great opportunity to become beautiful!” Then, you should begin to practice patience. I think this is a great pith instruction for our practice.

Therefore, if someone harms us, we should not take the “eye for an eye” approach, but should accept it joyfully and practice patience. And more than that, we should also learn to repay evil with good and be compassionate toward all.

Why should we be compassionate toward all?

If others do something that hurts us, not only should we not harbor any grudge against them, we should also be compassionate toward them, because those who hurt us are more pitiful than us. They do evil only because they are driven by their negative karmic energy from the past, and they cannot refrain from hurting other people and planting the seeds of suffering. Therefore, these evil sentient beings actually deserve even more compassion from us. The last verse from the Lotus Sutra I’m going to study with you here is “be compassionate toward all.”

There is an interesting story in the autobiography of Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang (also known as Khenpo Ngagchung). The story is about his master, Nyoshul Lungthok Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche, while he was at the Dzogchen Monastery. One day, the monks at this monastery saw a hunter out hunting. They all felt that the hunter was outrageously evil, and all had great sympathy for the river deer and other animals that he killed. Hearing this, Nyoshul Lungthok Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche said, “Your compassion is completely misdirected. These animals that were killed are not the most pitiful, because in this way their negative karma from the past has ripened and their karmic debts have been paid off. The hunter is actually the pitiful one, because the bad karma he created just now will cause him to suffer endless pain in hell, and even after that, he will still have to pay off the karmic debts he owes these animals for five hundred lifetimes.”

Most people do not understand that it is the person causing harm to others that is the most pitiful, not those who are hurt. When others harm us, we tend to be miserable and feel sorry for ourselves, complaining that others have treated us wrong. Whereas in reality, if others mistreat us, it is simply that our negative seeds from the past are being transformed and exhausted, and our karmic debts are thus paid off. This is not a bad thing for us. However, those who hurt us will suffer multiple times the pain they inflict on us in their future existences, because while the seed might be small, the fruit it grows into is always much bigger. Therefore, people who hurt others are pitiful indeed, since they will suffer so much more pain in the future than the pain they cause us today. Of course, if we do not endure patiently, but instead harm other people when our negative karmic seeds ripen, then we will also be truly pitiful.

Once, a student came to ask me, “I can understand that we should be compassionate toward good people, but why should we be merciful to those who are evil?”

I then explained it to him using this example: “Suppose there are two children. One of them is very filial, wise, and successful in society, and everything is going well for him; the other child is mentally ill and he can’t stop himself from going around doing bad things every day. Now, suppose you are the parent of these two children. To which child will you give more care and attention? You will surely choose to take care of the child who suffers from mental illness, because the very filial and successful child does not need your care since he is doing very well on his own, while the mentally ill child needs you to give him more love and care.”

This is the principle of compassion. We must be compassionate to ordinary people, but we should be even more compassionate to those who are evil. We should follow in the footsteps of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and “always practice patience and be compassionate toward all.”

My teacher, Master Miaozhan, said something very touching right before he passed away. He said, “Never forget that there are so many miserable people in the world.” He advised us not to forget that there are many people in this world who are suffering.

We will feel a lot of pain if we only think about ourselves every day; but if you realize that there are so many sentient beings in this world who are in more pain than you, your pain will be alleviated. When we only focus on ourselves, our painful feelings will be very strong; but when we open our hearts and care about all sentient beings, our own pain will soon decrease or even disappear.

Therefore, when we are suffering, we must think of the innumerable living beings in this world who are also experiencing all kinds of pains, and we should feel sympathy and compassion toward them. We should also generate Bodhicitta like the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, declaring, “May I take on myself the immeasurable suffering of all beings and bring to them the ultimate bliss.” We must give rise to the supreme Bodhicitta and practice diligently to free all sentient beings from suffering and help them attain happiness.

Chapter 8

Entrustment

One can only benefit from these teachings by accepting them in faith and practicing accordingly

Each of the twelve verses from the Lotus Sutra that we have studied in this book consists of only four characters in the Chinese version. Although they might seem quite simple, they are all very profound teachings. If we can truly follow the instructions of these twelve verses, I believe that every one of us will live a happy and fulfilling life, and in the end, we will all attain the supreme and perfect enlightenment.

If we want to truly benefit from the Dharma, it is not enough for us to simply listen to it. We must make sure that we correctly understand every verse we hear and study, and properly put it into practice. The phrase “accept and uphold the Dharma” means that we should accept and follow the teachings of the Buddha by practicing them the right way. If we do not put the teachings we have heard into practice, we will never be able to solve the problems in our lives.

I would like to recommend some methods of practicing these twelve verses from the Lotus Sutra. You can make six bookmarks with two verses on each of them—you can then put the bookmarks in a book or notebook for a frequent reminder to practice their teachings; or you can give the bookmarks to others as a gift so that they too can gain benefits from the Dharma; or you can also carry them with you as a very powerful amulet. It is said in B**iographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra that “every character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha,” and that “when you recite the Lotus Sutra in the world of impurity and degeneration, as an ordinary sentient being, you will only see the characters in it as normal text. Yet they are in fact all Buddhas with the perfect three-fold embodiment; when you have purified your mind, you will see these characters turn into wings on your body, carry you to the Western Pure Land, and then manifest in their original Buddha bodies.” This shows that every character in the Lotus Sutra is indeed a Buddha; so the forty-eight Chinese characters in these twelve verses are forty-eight Buddhas. If you carry the bookmarks with these twelve verses, you will be under the protection and blessing of forty-eight Buddhas, so you will surely be fortunate and contented.

If you have enough faith, you can also use these six bookmarks for divination or to draw lots. When you encounter problems at work or in your life that you feel confused about or do not know how to deal with, you can put these six bookmarks in front of you, then pray devoutly to the Guru and the Three Jewels for their blessing and guidance until you feel strong faith, and then pick one of them at random. The teaching on the bookmark you pick out will be the inspiration and instruction from the Guru and the Three Jewels, in which you will surely find directions and answers for your problems.

The Lotus Sutra is the most complete, perfect, and uniquely wonderful sutra. In this book, we have shared but a single drop of ghee from the Lotus Sutra together. Although we have merely studied these twelve short verses and I have only explained them briefly on a superficial and preliminary level, I still believe that the wisdom in these twelve verses is fully capable of empowering us to create a happy and fulfilling life, and to lay a solid foundation for the great cause of attaining Buddhahood. Therefore, I sincerely hope that this book will be of help to you in your life, career, and Buddhist practice.

This book was originally compiled on the Buddha’s Birthday in 2017 and was further compiled and supplemented by Zhiguang on the summer solstice of 2018.

Chapter 9

Ancient and Modern Cases of Receiving Blessings from the Lotus Sutra

Three Ancient Cases

Narrated by Acharya Zhiguang

The Lotus Sutra, also known by its full name, the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, is the king of all sutras. Like a vast ocean, it contains all the Dharma of the Mahayana and Hinayana and reveals that the Buddha’s original intention of manifesting Himself in this world is to preach “only the Dharma of the single vehicle, neither a second nor a third vehicle.” Therefore, it has been honored as “the lotus flower of the wonderful law that leads sentient beings to Buddhahood.” In Chapter 23, “Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Bodhisattva Medicine King) in the Lotus Sutra,” it is stated that “this sutra is the best of all sutras. Just as the Buddha is the king of the Dharma, this sutra is the king of sutras.”

In the preface he wrote for the Lotus Sutra, Vinaya Master Dao Xuan, the founder of the Nanshan sect of the Vinaya school in China said that “of more than 4,000 volumes of Buddhist scripture that were translated over a period of more than 600 years, from the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty, the Lotus Sutra was unrivaled in popularity.” That is to say, over the 600 years from the Han Dynasty, when Buddhism was first introduced to China, until the Tang Dynasty, a total of over 4,000 volumes of Buddhist scriptures had been translated into Chinese. Among these scriptures, the Lotus Sutra boasted the most readers. This made it the most popular sutra in ancient China.

From ancient times, countless people have benefited from chanting, upholding, writing, and worshiping the Lotus Sutra. Account of the Propagation and Transmission of the Lotus Sutra, and Biographies of the Devotees of the Lotus Sutra, both written in the Tang Dynasty, contain many stories about people receiving supreme blessings through chanting or practicing according to the Lotus Sutra. Many stories about people attaining enlightenment are also recorded in Wu Deng Hui Yuan (Collated Essentials of the Five Lamps) from the Song Dynasty.

Vinaya Master Dao Xuan himself was one of those who became enlightened through chanting the Lotus Sutra. He kept very strict and pure precepts throughout his lifetime. When he practiced the Dharma at Mount Zhongnan, he chanted the Lotus Sutra every day, and at noon, devas from heaven would bring him food as an offering so he did not have to cook for himself. So, if you also chant the Lotus Sutra well enough, you won’t have to cook anymore, because devas will bring you food when it’s time to eat. Of course, it is not all that easy to earn free meals from heaven by chanting the Lotus Sutra!

There are many such stories. Now, I will tell you about three ancient cases of people receiving blessings from the Lotus Sutra, as recorded in B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra in the Tripitaka.

Seeking last-minute refuge in the Buddha at the gate of hell, a sinner is released and comes back to life thanks to the merit of reciting a verse from the Lotus Sutra

In the third year of Zhenguan Era of the Tang Dynasty under the reign of Emperor Taizong, a man named Yu Lintong aspired to chant the Lotus Sutra, but had been too busy with his various worldly affairs to do so. In the end, he fell ill and died by chance.

Immediately after Yu Lintong’s death, six ox-headed, horse-faced officials from hell showed up and took him to the nether realm of Yamaraja. They had just arrived at the main gate of a big city and were about to enter, when suddenly a monk came out from beside the gate and said to him, “I am Bodhisattva Medicine King. You wanted to chant the Lotus Sutra but died before you could accomplish it, isn’t that so? I will now teach you a verse, and you must remember it at all costs: ‘I am always thinking: how can I help sentient beings enter the highest path and quickly attain the Buddha’s body?’ If you recite this verse when you are in hell, you can turn hell into a lotus pond, and the body of a man, afflicted with sufferings, into the body of a Buddha. So you must try to remember it—do not forget!” After Bodhisattva Medicine King had imparted this verse to him at the gate of hell, Yu Lintong managed to hurriedly memorize it.

Then he went into the city to see Yamaraja, who asked him, “Do you have any merits?” He replied, “I don’t have any merits except that I can recite a verse.” Yamaraja then asked, “What verse can you recite?” Yu Lintong said, “I am always thinking: how can I help sentient beings  enter the highest path and quickly attain the Buddha’s body?” His recitation had a miraculous effect: wherever his voice reached, all the beings were instantly freed from hell, and all eighteen levels of hell transformed into a lotus pond. Shocked by what he had just witnessed, Yamaraja hurriedly cried, “Stop! Stop at once! Don’t recite any more. I will let you go right now! Please hurry up and go back to the world of human beings!”

Just like that, Yu Lintong came back to life after he had been dead for two days. He told his family members and fellow villagers about everything he had experienced in hell. All of them found his experience truly incredible and generated strong faith in the Lotus Sutra.

If even a single verse of the Lotus Sutra can be so powerful, can you imagine the power of the whole sutra? So, we must chant the Lotus Sutra as much as possible, since the merits of this sutra are simply unfathomable. The case of Yu Lintong coming back to life not only causes us to generate faith in the Lotus Sutra, but also offers us a warning. You can see how his life before he died is much like many of our lives now, aspiring to chant the Lotus Sutra but always being too busy to do it—day after day, year after year. We must all be wary not to follow in Mr. Yu’s footsteps and end up like him, dying with his aspirations unfulfilled. So, no matter how busy we are, we must never delay chanting the Lotus Sutra. The earlier you chant it, the sooner you will benefit from it. Do not wait until you are already at the gate of hell to seek last-minute refuge in the Buddha.

A person who held evil views is saved thanks to the power of the Lotus Sutra; the saying that every single character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha is indeed to be believed

This story is also from B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra, which records the case of a man from  Yu County in ancient Manchuria. This man, whose name was not recorded in the story, believed in some false superstitions. He did not believe in Buddhism and held evil views about the Dharma. He found Buddhism particularly repulsive—if he so much as saw a Buddha statue or a Buddhist monk, he would wash his eyes out when he returned home. If he heard someone explaining a sutra or talking about the Dharma, or even heard someone chanting a sutra or a Buddha’s name, he would wash his ears out as soon as he got home. Some spiritual friends had tried to lead him to the Buddhist path, but he simply would not listen to their advice. Because he slandered the Dharma, he became more and more destitute, and in the end, he could only live on borrowed money.

Finally, he completely ran out of sources to borrow money from, so he had to go to a monastery for help. In ancient China, most likely starting in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, some large-scale monasteries accumulated the money donated by their followers when they visited to make incense offerings, worship the Buddha, or offer alms to the Three Jewels. They used this money to run a pledge loan business for laypeople. The premises where these businesses operated were called zhi ku (literally, “pledge treasuries”) and are considered to be the earliest pawn shops in China. By the Tang and Song Dynasties, the income of these zhi ku had become one of the major sources of revenue for Buddhist monasteries, and the zhi ku were later known by names such as “Hall of Inexhaustible Treasures,” “Treasury of Immortality,” and “Pledge Loan Storehouse,” among others. The man in the story was planning to borrow three thousand coins from a monastery.

He went to Renshou Monastery and presented himself outside the room where a monk named Daoru lived, not wanting to enter the room. From outside, he said, “I want to borrow three thousand coins.” Master Daoru replied, “You can borrow the money at the zhi ku of our monastery, but you will have to wait for me for a while. I happen to be copying the Lotus Sutra for our benefactors at the moment, and the ink on my ink slab dried up when I was at the end of the first line of Chapter 2 ‘Skillful Means’, so one character is still left unfinished. Could you fetch some water for me? Once I can grind some ink and finish this character, I will help you get the money.”

The man was caught up in an awkward situation. He thought, “I was originally a person who avoided seeing the Three Jewels. I only came here to borrow money today because there is nowhere else I can go. I simply can’t help it! If I fetch water for this monk, it will surely bring me bad luck; but if I don’t help him, I certainly won’t be able to borrow the money.” He thought back and forth about it, hesitating for quite a while before he finally went to fetch the water for the monk. But after handing the water to Master Daoru, he couldn’t stand it any longer and left the monastery. After Master Daoru had used the water to grind his ink and had finished the last character, he got up to help the man with the formalities of borrowing money, but could no longer find him.

After the man had left the monastery and was just about to cross a river, he suddenly fell to the ground and passed out. It took him a long time to come to, and when he finally did he began to cry and repent. He went back to the monastery and told Master Daoru, “I was really dead when I passed out. Two men came to take me to the palace of Yamaraja. As soon as he saw me, he yelled at me and said, ‘Most people adorn themselves with the solemnness and merits of the Buddha, but you? You adorn yourself with evil views! As punishment for this, you will be thrown into the Avichi Hell.’ At this moment, an extraordinary light suddenly appeared in the sky and it shone directly towards the top of my head. Yamaraja rushed to see what was going on, only to find that it was the last character in the first line of the chapter of Skillful Means in the Lotus Sutra. Because you wrote this character with the water I fetched for you, it manifested as a Buddha to save me from hell.”

The man continued, “At that moment, the Buddha said to Yamaraja: ‘I am a character in the text of the chapter of Skillful Means from the Lotus Sutra. Each and every character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha. This man is under my protection, so I have come to save him.’ Yamaraja rejoiced greatly at the Buddha’s words and said, ‘Excellent! Excellent indeed! A character in the Lotus Sutra has manifested as a Buddha and issued forth extraordinary light to save this man. If a sinner like him was still saved by the Lotus Sutra, how can it fail to save those who have faith in Buddhism?’ Saying this, Yamaraja showed me the way back to the human world, and later I woke up.”

After this experience, this man, who had once held evil views about Buddhism, renounced his secular life to become a monk in the monastery. He went on to copy the Lotus Sutra sixteen times.

In B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra, there are quite a few cases testifying to the fact that “each and every character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha.” Don’t be tempted to think that this is just a metaphor. Cases of living beings being saved by Buddhas as manifestations of characters from the Lotus Sutra can be found in many accounts of people receiving blessings from the Lotus Sutra. In the case of this man who held evil views about Buddhism, he had done nothing more than fetch water for the monk, and the character that saved him from hell was not even copied by the man himself. However, because the monk copied the Lotus Sutra using the water that the man fetched, even though he only copied one single character, this character manifested as a Buddha to save him from hell. Therefore, you can see how great the merit of the Lotus Sutra is! If even those who didn’t believe in it were still saved, we can rest assured that the Lotus Sutra will bless and save us if we chant, uphold, expound, and copy it with full faith.

When I was practicing at the Hieizan Gyoin Practice Hall in Japan, all the monks there had to carry out practices related to the Lotus Sutra every evening. It could be either reading or copying the Lotus Sutra, but all the monks there had to keep up this practice every day. I think the merits generated by their practices are so great. As stated in the Lotus Sutra, “such merits will be limitless even if they are measured through the Buddha’s wisdom.” In other words, the merits of copying the Lotus Sutra are simply too enormous to be measured, not even by the Buddha himself.

Therefore, I hope that you will copy the Lotus Sutra as much as possible, and that you see that saving sentient beings will not be too difficult with the help of the Lotus Sutra. You can prepare a copybook for the sutra at home and ask any guests who come to visit you to copy a character, and there you have it! Even if they fall into hell in the future, a Buddha will come and get them out of there. This is a very convenient way to benefit sentient beings.

So, I earnestly ask you to do your best to promote and practice the Lotus Sutra in various ways. The best method is to find ways to help the people around you form connections with the Lotus Sutra. Even if you only manage to get them to copy one character of it, they will be saved by this Buddha in the future! This is the greatest benefit we can bring to sentient beings.

An old woman has her sins expiated and returns to life thanks to listening to the Lotus Sutra, and empties hell by chanting the name of the Lotus Sutra

In ancient times, there was an old woman who lived by the Xunyang River and made a living by killing and selling fish that she purchased from the local fishermen. She had done this for decades and spent her entire life killing fish, without ever taking any other jobs or making use of her human life to do any good deeds that would benefit herself or others. Because she did not know the law of karma, she created very serious negative karma.

One day the old woman died suddenly and came to the presence of Yamaraja.Yamaraja asked the old woman, “What kind of good roots have you planted in the human world, and what kind of good deeds have you done?” (Generally, when you come to Yamaraja, you will first be questioned about what good and evil you have done in your life.)

The old woman thought for a long time, recalling nothing special but killing fish for a lifetime. She pondered this for quite a while, especially the question of what good deeds she had done, yet failed to think of anything that might count as a good deed. Then, Yamaraja asked her to think again carefully, as if he were trying to remind her of something. Why did Yamaraja ask her to think again? Because he has files at hand that record everything people have done in their whole life. Yamaraja keeps such files for every human being and every living being. Not only does he have a sort of “computer” in hell, he also has a “projector,” which was called the “karma mirror stage” in ancient times.Yamaraja simply needs to open your file with a click and everything you have ever done in your entire life from birth to death will be reflected in the karma mirror, like a movie projected on the screen. The file will be perfectly precise without even the tiniest error. Therefore, you‘d better not lie in front of Yamaraja, as there’s no way to hide any bad things you’ve done from him. Of course, it’s the same with all the good things you’ve ever done, too.

In fact, the old woman had done one good deed, so Yamaraja asked her again, “Think about it very carefully! Have you really done no good at all, but only killed and sold fish every day?” Finally, the old woman remembered a good deed she had done. She said, “Once, I was on a trip to purchase fish. Suddenly, rain began to pour down and the boat I was on could not go any further. So I was stranded on an island with a Buddhist temple on it. I took shelter from the rain in the temple. At that time, a monk was giving a lecture on the Lotus Sutra, and I listened to it for quite a while.” And then she asked Yamaraja, “Does that count as a good deed?”

After listening to her report, Yamaraja praised her profusely, saying, “A very profound and subtle one indeed!” So, you see, it was not simply a good deed, but also a very profound and subtle one! Yamaraja then said, “You have generated so much merit that I will let you return to the human world. The retribution for your evil actions would have been very serious, and it is only because you once listened to that lecture on the Lotus Sutra that your bad karma of killing fish for decades has been eliminated completely. However, I still want to show you what kind of retributions you would have received if you hadn’t listened to the lecture on the Lotus Sutra.”

Then he ordered one of his subordinates to take the old woman on a tour of hell. When they came to the sea of karma in hell, the old woman saw that hundreds of thousands of fishermen were tied up with iron chains around their necks and shackles on their bodies, and all were suffering terribly. Wheels of fire relentlessly fell on them from the sky, crashing into their bodies and skulls and burning them to death. Those that escaped this died in other ways: some were beheaded, some were gutted, and still others met with other ends. They were being executed by the exact same methods that they had used to kill fish during their lifetimes. But the most excruciating thing of all was that after they were executed, a wind blew on them and they all came back to life, only to be slaughtered again just like before. It went on and on like this, unceasingly; they died, came back to life, got killed again. The jailers ripped out their intestines, cut their flesh off the bones and ate it, broke their bones to suck out the marrow inside. After they had finished eating, the jailers would bring them to life again and then kill them again to eat their flesh. The screams of these sinners filled the whole place: “Pain! Pain! Pain!”

The warden told the old woman to ask them why they were suffering such terrible retributions, but she was too horrified to say a word. The warden cried out to the sinners, “What kind of sins have you committed to deserve such bitterly painful retributions?” They answered, “Because we were so ignorant that we didn’t know the principle of karma, we preyed on fish and turtles in the human world, and made a living by killing and selling fish. That’s why we are now suffering such excruciating pains, over and over.”

Led by the warden, the old woman witnessed countless sinners being punished and tortured, incessantly suffering painful lives and deaths. Suddenly, she saw a jailer who was sleeping, and she asked, “Why are you so idle?” He replied, “An old woman who killed fish for a living should have been brought here to be punished when she died, but I heard that her sins, which should have caused her to suffer in hell, were all expiated because she had listened to a lecture on the Lotus Sutra. Since she didn’t have to suffer here anymore, I’ve been left with nothing to do.”

Upon hearing this, the old woman was immediately filled with such overwhelming gratitude for the Lotus Sutra that she pressed her palms together and chanted, “Namo the Lotus Sutra.” As soon as she chanted this, all the beings in the whole of hell suddenly disappeared! The warden hurriedly took the old woman back to Yamaraja and reported to him what had just happened. Yamaraja said, “Oh, this is my fault. I had only wanted you to see how you should have suffered to make you remember the lesson, so that when you returned to the human world you would stop killing. I didn’t expect that these sinners would hear you say ‘Namo the Lotus Sutra’ and all be liberated from hell and elevated to heaven!”

Yamaraja rushed to let the old woman return to the human world and instructed her to tell the people living by the river what she had seen and heard in hell, so that they would conduct themselves well in the future. After she returned to the human world, she shared her experience in hell with the local people as she had been instructed, and everyone who heard her story generated exceptional faith in the Lotus Sutra.

You see, all the countless sinners in hell were immediately freed and elevated to heaven simply because they heard the old woman chant, “Namo the Lotus Sutra”. Try and imagine how much merit you will generate if you chant the entire Lotus Sutra. It simply cannot be measured!

Now that I have told you this story, I greatly rejoice with all of you, because in this book you have already learned the twelve verses from the Lotus Sutra. And what’s more, your attitude to learning must have been much more serious and respectful than that of the old woman who killed fish for a living and only listened to the lecture on the Lotus Sutra by coincidence when she took shelter from the rain. So, the merit you have generated by doing this is very great indeed! I believe that after listening to this story, you must already know how to deal with Yamaraja. In the future, if you have an opportunity to be a “guest” at Yamaraja’s place, you must remember that you should chant “Namo the Lotus Sutra” as soon as you get to hell, so that not only you, but also all the other beings who hear it, will be freed from hell. 

This ancient case of receiving blessings from the Lotus Sutra shows us that the Lotus Sutra really does deserve to be honored as the “King of Sutras,” and its blessings and merits are truly unfathomable!

Two Modern Cases

Grandpa Lu and the Lotus Sutra

An amazing modern case of receiving blessings from the Lotus Sutra

Reported by Zheng Shuwen

In November 2015, Ekayana magazine conducted an interview with an elderly gentleman who has great virtuous roots. Read the transcript of this interview below to find out what happened to Grandpa Lu after he chanted and copied the Lotus Sutra.

Grandpa Lu’s connection with the Lotus Sutra

Grandpa Lu had already formed the habit of chanting the Diamond Sutra prior to 2010.

In 2010, after his daughter told him about the teachings of Acharya Zhiguang on the merits of chanting the Lotus Sutra, Grandpa Lu began to chant this sutra too, resolving to chant it a hundred times.

In the same year, Grandpa Lu met Acharya Zhiguang in person for the first time and listened to his teachings on the supreme merits of chanting and upholding the Lotus Sutra. Filled with joy, Grandpa Lu made a vow on the spot to chant the Lotus Sutra two hundred times.

Between 2010 and November 2015, Grandpa Lu chanted the Lotus Sutra nearly a thousand times.

Grandpa Lu’s daily routine

Grandpa Lu gets up every morning between four and five o’clock in the morning and goes to bed between eight and nine in the evening. Sometimes Grandpa Lu will also take a break of about half an hour at noon if necessary. On a healthy day, other than having breakfast and lunch, and going out for a walk occasionally, Grandpa Lu uses almost all his time to chant or copy the Lotus Sutra.

Grandpa Lu receives the blessing of keeping away from sickness through chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra.

“If there is any sick person who hears this sutra, his illness will disappear.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 23: Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Bodhisattva Medicine King)

(Part 1)

When Grandpa Lu was young, he suffered from poor lung function. He had perennial bronchiectasis (damage to the airways) and hemoptysis (coughing up blood or blood-stained mucus), and had suffered from asthma for more than twenty years.

During a physical examination in 2013, shadows in his lungs were detected and lung cancer was suspected. In light of Grandpa Lu’s other symptoms, the doctor recommended a percutaneous lung biopsy procedure and told his family that his condition would continue to deteriorate as he got older.

Holding the medical report, the family found themselves in a dilemma. They were reluctant to make the decision because Grandpa Lu was already over eighty years old. It would be heartbreaking and unbearable for his children to see their father undergo such a painful surgery at this age. However, Grandpa Lu did not seem to be affected by the doctor’s advice. Right after returning from the hospital, he resumed his daily ritual of chanting the Lotus Sutra. His whole family also worked diligently together to perform meritorious deeds for him, such as chanting sutras or mantras, making Buddhist offerings, releasing lives, and so forth. They prayed faithfully for Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to bless Grandpa Lu with improved health and peace in his body and mind.

By the time this article went to press in November 2015, Grandpa Lu’s obstinate asthma had changed from “severe,” as previously diagnosed, to “mild.” His lung nodules do not appear to pose any threat. Although he still has a cough, the symptoms are already much milder than before. What makes the younger generations in the family even happier is that Grandpa Lu, who used to have great difficulty going up and down the stairs, is now able to climb three flights of stairs without much effort, hardly feeling tired or short of breath at all. The blessings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are truly incredible!

(Part 2)

In 2008, Grandpa Lu suffered a stroke. The doctor told the family that the brain lesion (cerebral infarction) causing the stroke could not be cured and could only be treated to prevent recurrence. Grandpa Lu would need to go to the hospital to receive medication at least once every six months, or have intravenous transfusions every month if it became more severe. When a stroke occurs, there may be serious after-effects such as hemiplegia (paralysis of one side of the body), aphasia (language impairments) and other functional disorders, while in severe cases there is a risk of limb paralysis and even acute coma or death.

So, after his diagnosis, Grandpa Lu had to go to the hospital every six months to receive medication to dilate his blood vessels to prevent recurrence. In 2010, he had to visit the hospital for reviews every three months or so. However, in 2013, when Grandpa Lu went to the hospital for a routine examination, the doctor was surprised to find that the damaged brain tissue had miraculously healed without any supplementary treatments!

Grandpa Lu receives the blessing of pure faculty of tongue through chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra

“If sons and daughters of a virtuous family preserve, recite, explain, or copy this sutra, they will attain the twelve hundred qualities of the tongue. All that they taste, whether of good or bad flavor, savory or bland, bitter or astringent, will, through their pure faculty of tongue, come to taste just like the heavenly nectar of immortality, and they will find nothing unpleasant.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 19: The Benefits Obtained by One Who Expounds the Dharma

Though no one in the family knows exactly when it began, at some point, Grandpa Lu started to praise them for the delicious flavor of just about any food they made. At first, his eldest daughter thought that her father was doing this merely out of loving kindness or to show his appreciation for her cooking. However, she later discovered that not only did her father find the food truly delicious, but even the bitter traditional Chinese medicine he had to take had also become pleasing to the old man’s palate.

Following the doctor’s advice, Grandpa Lu had taken traditional Chinese medicine for some time. The herbs in the prescription were extremely bitter and made the medicine very difficult to swallow. At that time, Grandpa Lu’s family was a bit worried that he wouldn’t be able to stand the taste. But an unexpected scene materialized: Grandpa Lu drank up all the medicine in his bowl in one go and sighed, “This medicine is delicious! Absolutely delicious!”

His daughter was very surprised. The next time she prepared the medicine, she tasted it herself; it was so bitter that she spat it out immediately, exclaiming, “Dad, this tastes awful!” But Grandpa Lu continued to insist that the medicine was “absolutely delicious.”

Grandpa Lu receives the blessing of pure eyes through chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra

“Listen to the qualities of those in the great assembly who can fearlessly teach this Lotus Sutra! Such people will attain the eight hundred qualities of the excellent eye. Adorned with these qualities, their eyes are extremely pure.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 19: The Benefits Obtained by One Who Expounds the Dharma

(Part 1)

At the age of sixty, Grandpa Lu was already wearing strong reading glasses, and he couldn’t read the print in the newspaper without them.

However, ever since he began reading the Lotus Sutra, his vision had been steadily improving. When did he stop needing his reading glasses? Neither Grandpa Lu nor his family can remember the exact date. His family simply know that Grandpa Lu, who is currently eighty-six years old, is now able to read even very small print perfectly without reading glasses. The cataract problem he previously suffered from also seems to have stopped affecting him.

(Part 2)

In 2012, Grandpa Lu chanted the Lotus Sutra two hundred times in total. At this time, Grandpa Lu had an unusual experience with the Lotus Sutra.

Grandpa Lu found that wherever he laid his eyes, such as on the walls, stairs, and even the ceilings of his home, texts from the Lotus Sutra would appear vertically on these surfaces. If Grandpa Lu started reading these texts, they would scroll automatically like movie subtitles, displaying exactly the part he was reading. What’s even more amazing is that these scrolling “subtitles” of the Lotus Sutra did not shine during the day but would automatically light up in the evening, adjusting perfectly to Grandpa Lu’s reading needs.

Once, Grandpa Lu’s daughter asked him curiously, “Dad, what text from the Lotus Sutra are you seeing on the wall right now?” Grandpa Lu then read out the text from the white wall, which looked totally blank to others. It was truly amazing.

Grandpa Lu receives the blessing of keeping away from fear through chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra

“In the same way, this Lotus Sutra frees sentient beings from every suffering, all the pains and bonds of illness and of birth and death.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 23: Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Bodhisattva Medicine King)

One day in 2011, Grandpa Lu suddenly said that he felt very dizzy and immediately fell into a coma. His family saw that Grandpa Lu’s face had turned terribly pale. Since all the family members are Buddhist disciples, they were well-prepared for this situation. In a heartfelt yet calm and orderly fashion, they started to pray for Amitabha’s blessing by performing the ritual of aiding the dying to be reborn in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, according to the books of chants that they had readily available at home.

Grandpa Lu woke up from the coma in just five minutes or so, with sweat dripping all over his body but without any signs of physical harm. All his clothes were completely soaked with sweat, as if he had been badly traumatized. He was still in a dreamy state and unaware of what had just happened.

Later, Grandpa Lu said: “If I had passed away like that and gained rebirth in the Western Pure Land, it would have been very good, too.” Grandpa Lu simply has no fear at all when it comes to the uncertainty of life and death, which causes the most fear for ordinary people. He is readily prepared to leave this world and be happily reborn in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.

Finally, let’s listen to Grandpa Lu’s own words: “Everything is full of joy. Now, I am the oldest of all the people who go out for walks in our neighborhood. Every day I chant the sutras and copy them by hand. It is very fulfilling and enjoyable. It is so rewarding to learn the Dharma! My large family wouldn’t be so happy and harmonious if we hadn’t practiced the Dharma. My children are very dutiful to me, so I am very happy every day. I am not afraid of death!”

Grandpa Lu is now a healthy and happy old man. It is hard to imagine that this elderly man suffered from a variety of diseases when he was young. At that time, a younger Grandpa Lu often said, “I don’t even know whether I’ll live till retirement.” Now, not only has he lived till retirement, he is also very healthy, both physically and mentally. He is happy and has a calm and optimistic attitude towards the uncertainty of death. He has transformed from a depressed man with chronic health problems into a happy and healthy old man with a young heart.

May more Buddhist disciples practice the wonderful Dharma diligently and their merit and virtuous roots grow! I hope that the supreme merits and blessings of the Lotus Sutra will benefit more sentient beings.

Note 1: This article was reprinted from Ekayana magazine, Issue No. 4, 2015.

The illiterate Grandma Huang gains worldly and supramundane benefits through copying the Lotus Sutra by hand

Compiled by Miao Min

From 1999 to 2012, Acharya Zhiguang launched three successive campaigns to get people to chant and copy the Lotus Sutra a collective total of ten thousand times. Countless disciples participated and obtained benefits together. In June 2018, at the first Manjusri Wisdom Warriors training camp in Taiwan, Acharya Zhiguang announced that permission had been granted to produce copybooks of an exquisite version of the Lotus Sutra handwritten by a monk named Yuanhao in the Yuan Dynasty and currently kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Upon hearing that the copybooks had been printed, Ms. Wang Guanglian, a disciple of the Acharya, went up on stage and shared with enormous gratitude her elderly mother’s miraculous experience of receiving blessings through copying the Lotus Sutra.

(This article has been compiled based on her live speech and recordings of later interviews.)

“If there is anyone who hears this Lotus Sutra, copies it, or moves others to copy it, their merit will be limitless, even if it is measured through the Buddha’s wisdom.”

—The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 23: Ancient Accounts of Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaraja (Bodhisattva Medicine King)

The circumstances that inspired Grandma Huang’s practice of copying the Lotus Sutra

In 2010 in Malaysia, Acharya Zhiguang launched the second campaign of chanting and copying the Lotus Sutra a collective total of ten thousand times. After listening to the Acharya’s teachings on the merits of the Lotus Sutra, Ms. Wang Guanglian generated great faith in this sutra. When she returned home, she tried to persuade her mother, Ms. Huang Lingdi, to copy it. Because Grandma Huang’s father had participated in the Battle of Liaoshen, she had developed a sense of straightforward patriotism under his influence. Ms. Wang told her mother that copying the sutra could not only benefit herself and her children, it could also bring blessings to a lot of other people and, indeed, to the whole nation. To set a goal for her mother and give her stronger motivation to copy the sutra, Ms. Wang coaxed her as one might coax a child, saying, “Mom, you must copy the sutra properly and diligently. If you copy it 36 times, you will become a Buddha; if you copy it 72 times, you will become a greater Buddha; if you copy it 108 times, you will become a perfect Buddha!” Grandma Huang had a pure, simple mind and adopted these as her own goals.

That year, Grandma Huang was already seventy-three years old and had been illiterate her whole life. She had never copied any sutras before, but on her first attempt in her whole life, she fortunately managed to copy the sublime Lotus Sutra that would lead living beings to attain Buddhahood. Grandma Huang was long-sighted and couldn’t see very well, so Ms. Wang Guanglian made some copybooks in larger print for her. Grandma Huang was very diligent. She would get up at six o’clock every morning and spend most of her time copying the Lotus Sutra until ten o’clock in the evening, with the exception of mealtimes and a short half-hour nap around noon. She enjoyed copying the sutra so much that she just couldn’t give it up.

Grandma Huang is visited by a deva in response to her devotion

From the second half of 2010 to around the time of the Spring Festival in 2012, Grandma Huang produced one copy of the Lotus Sutra every month on average. By early 2012, she had copied the Lotus Sutra around a dozen times. It was at this time that she had a truly incredible experience.

At that time, she was living at the home of her youngest daughter, Ms. Wang Guangxiu. One morning upon getting up, in the half-light of the early dawn, she saw a white-bearded old man sitting outside the mosquito net that covered her bed. She said to him, “Hello, old man. How come you are here so early?” She thought it was one of the neighbors who had come to visit her. The old man said, “I know that you have been copying the sutra and I have long wanted to visit you, but I was just too busy.” When Grandma Huang opened the mosquito net, the old man with the white beard disappeared with a “whoosh.” Grandma Huang had a very strange feeling. She opened the door and went out of her room to look for him, but all she saw was her youngest daughter doing her morning recitation ritual together with the rest of the family. Grandma Huang asked her daughter if she had seen an old man coming out of the room, and she answered that she hadn’t.

From that day on, Grandma Huang was able to recognize some of the characters in the Lotus Sutra when she copied it. The first character she recognized was “天” (tian), which means “heaven” in Chinese. On the day she saw the white-bearded old man, the character “天” popped up many times. She had been totally illiterate until that day, and all of a sudden she recognized the character “天” for no apparent reason. She had a feeling that the old man who came to visit her at dawn that day was a deva. After recognizing the character “天,” she gradually recognized about one hundred more characters during the process of copying the Lotus Sutra.

Ever since this amazing experience, Grandma Huang has been even more diligent in her copying practice.

Helping others fulfill their wishes

Grandma Huang became more and more faithful in copying the Lotus Sutra. She believed that copying the Sutra could not only fulfill her own wishes, but could also help others to realize theirs. At that time, her second son didn’t own his own home yet, so Grandma Huang said, “I will copy the Lotus Sutra ten times specially for you and dedicate the merit to helping you own your own home.”

Many years prior, her second son had left the state-run organization he worked for and had only recently resumed working there. Usually it would be impossible for him to qualify for the welfare housing allocation program run by his organization. However, it turned out that not only was he granted this welfare, he was also very lucky and drew the best housing unit in the allocation draw. The unit he drew had two storeys, so he actually got the equivalent of two apartments.

After this, Grandma Huang had even more faith in copying the Lotus Sutra. She often told others, “Whatever wishes you have, I can help you fulfill them. As long as I copy the Lotus Sutra ten times for you, your wishes will come true.”

By that time, she had copied the Lotus Sutra about twenty or thirty times, and she became very skilled in this practice. Whenever she had any wishes, or she learned that someone else was suffering from an illness, she would always copy the sutra and dedicate the merits. She had developed full faith in copying the Lotus Sutra.

Several serious illnesses are healed effortlessly

1. Grandma Huang’s decades-long heart disease is cured without medication

Grandma Huang first began suffering from heart disease in her twenties, and ever since then she had to take medicine every day to avoid feeling unwell. After she started copying the sutra, she concentrated so deeply on copying that she forgot to take her medicine. Every day she was absorbed in this state of concentration and even though she kept forgetting to take her medicine, she didn’t feel any discomfort.

Later, Ms. Wang found out that her mother had not taken her medicine for a long time. Since Ms. Wang herself is a doctor, she took her mother’s pulse and measured her blood pressure regularly. After observing her mother for some time, she noticed no problem whatsoever. Since then, Grandma Huang has stopped taking her medicine altogether. It’s amazing that the heart disease that had plagued her for decades healed just like that, without any medication.

2. Grandma Huang recovers from a spinal fracture and stands again

In 2014, Grandma Huang returned to her hometown because she missed her son. One day, her son fell from a three-meter-high staircase. His seventy-eight-year-old mother rushed over to break her son’s fall. The son, who weighed over eighty kilos, fell on his mother with full force. It turned out that the son was fine, but Grandma Huang was seriously injured and suffered a spinal fracture. When she went to hospital the doctors said that there was a risk of her being paralyzed regardless of whether she had spinal surgery, and the likelihood of her standing up ever again was basically zero.

When the accident happened, Ms. Wang rushed back to her mother from Guangzhou. After learning the gravity of her mother’s condition, she decided to take her out of the hospital without surgery. She encouraged her mother to chant “Namo Amitabha Buddha” and pray for the blessings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. At the same time, she also practiced life release for her mother and told her, “Since you have copied the Lotus Sutra so many times, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will bless you.” Hearing the words of her daughter, Grandma Huang was filled with confidence. Ms. Wang often told her mother about the virtuous deeds and merits of her respected teacher, Acharya Zhiguang, who makes great efforts to spread the Dharma, and her mother enjoyed listening. When Grandma Huang was copying the sutra, she would put a photo of Acharya Zhiguang in front of her and pray to it. She vowed to continue the practice of copying the Lotus Sutra. By this time, she had copied it more than thirty times.

Then, about a month and a half later, a miracle happened: Grandma Huang was able to get out of bed and stand on the floor by holding on to the bed frame. At that moment she was already thinking of getting a pen to start copying the sutra again. She had a strong aspiration: “I must get better, because I haven’t copied the sutra enough times yet!” Because copying the Lotus Sutra had cured her heart disease and brought her son the blessing of owning his own home, she believed that this time it could also heal her spinal fracture.

In two months or so, she had already resumed her copying practice. Grandma Huang was the kind of person who could endure great hardships. Sometimes, even when she couldn’t sit up and could only lie on her stomach, she would nonetheless persist in copying the sutra. Later, due to her strong faith and perseverance, against all odds she was able to stand again.

3. Grandma Huang’s fractured femur is healed at the age of eighty

In 2016, while trying to mediate a quarrel between her neighbors, Grandma Huang accidentally fell over and fractured the head of her femur. Given that that she was already eighty years old, the hospital she went to was unable to come up with a treatment plan for her. The doctors there were fairly certain that she would be paralyzed from then on. Despite all of this, she insisted on continuing to copy the sutra while her daughter conducted moxibustion therapy on her. She felt that her task had not yet been completed.

Grandma Huang was not allowed to sit up due to the bone fracture and was supposed to lie straight in bed. Despite this, she insisted on sitting up. Even though she could only sit in a wheelchair with her legs straight, she still managed to continue her copying practice.

The ending of this traumatic incident was nothing short of a miracle: without any formal medical treatment, she somehow managed to get back on her feet and start walking again, limping awkwardly at the beginning, yet improving continuously over time. In about four months, her leg had fully returned to its normal condition as if nothing had happened at all.

Ever since she started copying the Lotus Sutra, so many incredible things had happened to her. Her injured spine had healed, as had her fractured femur. At the age of eighty, not only could she cook, take good care of herself, and handle all her daily activities independently, she could also go up and down six floors easily and even carry a load up to fifty kilos. She carried many loads of earth to make a vegetable garden, with a layer of soil over a meter thick on the concrete ground in her yard, and she planted vegetables in it.

Every day, when she was not busy with her daily chores, she would still copy the Lotus Sutra.

Grandma Huang gains rebirth in the Western Pure Land with the support of favorable conditions

Before the spring festival in 2018, Ms. Wang went home to see her mother. Grandma Huang said to her daughter, “I may not be able to reach my goal of copying the Lotus Sutra seventy-two times. I feel my body isn’t going to hold up for long.” By then she had copied the sutra fifty-three times. Her daughter said, “No problem! You’ve already copied the sutra more than fifty times, so you are qualified. You can go on to be a Buddha now.” Her daughter advised her to concentrate on chanting the name of Amitabha and praying for a rebirth in the Western Pure Land.

On the eighth and ninth day of the first lunar month in 2018, Grandma Huang suffered from acute emphysema and was brought to the hospital. When Ms. Wang rushed back, she felt that her mother was already showing signs of approaching the end of her life, so she immediately made arrangements to expiate the sins of spirits seeking revenge on her mother and release them from purgatory.

What she worried about the most was that it would be impossible to conduct a ceremony or ritual to help her mother gain rebirth in the Western Pure Land if she died in the hospital, because it was the county hospital and it was always full of people. So, she tried to persuade her brother: “When our mother’s time has come, we must bring her home and arrange her funeral according to Buddhist rituals.” But because her brother was the eldest son and an old-school intellectual who was quite influential in the county, he was so concerned about what people might think of him that he simply wouldn’t agree no matter how hard she tried.

In the countryside, people follow the custom of bringing lanterns to their ancestors on the Lantern Festival. The night before the Lantern Festival, while watching over her mother with her older brother in the hospital, Grandma Huang’s youngest daughter, Ms. Wang Guangxiu, nodded off and dreamed that her late father, who died many years ago, came to her mother’s bedside. In the dream, when her father left, the light at her mother’s bedside went out. So, the youngest daughter suggested to her brother that they bring lanterns to their father, thinking this might help their mother to pull through her present struggle. So, the eldest son and the youngest daughter went to bring lanterns to their father. Half an hour after they left, Grandma Huang’s blood pressure began to drop, and the doctor wanted to begin resuscitation. Ms. Wang Guanglian called her brother and asked if he could bring their mother home. Her brother asked her to wait till he arrived, but because there was a traffic jam that night, he was stuck on the road. So, Ms. Wang asked for an ambulance from the hospital and managed to bring her mother home.

The rest of the family were all very cooperative and chanted “Namo Amitabha” for their mother. As soon as the eldest son made it home, Grandma Huang opened her eyes and said, “I’m fine. I feel okay.” At this point, she was even able to sit up and was feeling much better.

Since Grandma Huang showed signs of improvement, the next day, Ms. Wang Guanglian conferred with her brother and they agreed not to send their mother back to the hospital. They then performed life-releasing rituals for their mother.

On the twenty-seventh day of the same lunar month, they placed various holy objects on their mother’s body, including the sublime “liberation kit.” Two days later, at around nine o’clock in the evening, soon after other family members and relatives had left to sleep, Ms. Wang and her brother were watching over their mother. At that moment, they noticed that their mother’s breathing was getting weaker and weaker. At about ten o’clock, in quiet surroundings, Grandma Huang passed away peacefully. Her sons and daughters were able to chant Buddhist rituals without any interference to help their mother be reborn in the Western Pure Land.

The next morning, a group of Buddhists who specialized in chanting rituals to help the dying or the dead be reborn in the Western Pure Land appeared out of the blue to join the family in their chanting. There were no such Buddhist groups in their village and the family didn’t contact anyone for help. An old man in the group told them, “We overheard your family chanting ‘Namo Amitabha’ from outside your house and realized that an elder in your family had passed away, so we came to help as early as we could this morning.”

So, for thirty-six hours they chanted the rituals together for Grandma Huang. Later, when they changed her clothes, they found that her whole body was very flexible, her legs could even be crossed in the lotus position, and her face was as rosy as in life. Everyone who witnessed the scene couldn’t help but marvel at it.

During her lifetime, Grandma Huang had traded in tobacco since the age of twenty-nine and had been a heavy smoker herself. Her negative karma from killing was also quite serious. Except for copying the Lotus Sutra in her later years, she had not performed any other Dharma practices in her entire life, but thanks to her pure faith and dedicated practice of copying the Lotus Sutra, she gained great benefits on both the worldly and the supramundane levels.

Seeing off her mother, Ms. Wang recalled the circumstances surrounding her father’s death back in 2007. There were a lot of complaints and conflicts among the various branches of the family. Ten years later, when her mother passed away, the extended family was particularly harmonious, and the brothers and sisters were closely united. Ms. Wang started studying the Dharma in 2008 with her respected teacher, Acharya Zhiguang, and later introduced the Dharma to her family. As Ms. Wang put it, “I truly feel that a family that practices the Dharma and one that doesn’t are very different!”

Because of Grandma Wang’s various manifestations, her eldest son also generated faith in copying the Lotus Sutra. He picked up his mother’s copybook and began to copy the sutra, going on to fulfill his mother’s vow to copy the Lotus Sutra seventy-two times. Now, more than fifty people in the extended family are copying the sutra, and this has become a new family tradition.

Ms. Wang said, “My family has gained such great benefits and blessings from the Lotus Sutra. Over the years, I have been very enthusiastic about recommending and giving away copybooks of the Lotus Sutra and the chapter of the Gateway to Every Direction Manifested by Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara of the Lotus Sutra to a lot of people. I’ve always wished to have an even more beautiful edition of the Lotus Sutra copybook. So, when I saw that Acharya Zhiguang had brought out this set of copybooks of the Lotus Sutra beautifully hand-written by Yuanhao in the Yuan Dynasty, I was so thrilled that my hair stood on end. I couldn’t help but get up on stage to share this story with my respected teacher and all the Dharma friends here, and tell you all about the unimaginable benefits my family has gained from the Lotus Sutra. And I couldn’t help but order three hundred sets of the Lotus Sutra and offer them to my respected teacher Acharya Zhiguang, to all the Dharma friends here and those who have a karmic connection with the Lotus Sutra. I am so very grateful to my teacher Acharya Zhiguang, to whom I am deeply indebted for his great compassion, wisdom, and skillful teachings.

Postscript

B**iographies of the D**evotees of the Lotus Sutra states that every single Chinese character in the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha. Once you have copied a single character in the Lotus Sutra, even if you fall into hell, a Buddha will come to save you. I hope that all sentient beings will generate faith in the Lotus Sutra and attain Buddhahood together, becoming happy and free from any suffering.

Afterword

This book is a combination of all my lectures on the twelve verses from the Lotus Sutra, which I delivered for the first time in July 2014 and for the second time in November 2017 at Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain.

I would like to express my special thanks to my teacher, Elder Layman Shen Renyan. It is through his teachings that I developed faith in the Lotus Sutra and became a devotee, taking delight in spreading this sutra over the course of many years. I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear that he passed away at 8:00 p.m. on May 9, 2018. With the merit of the publication of this book, may my teacher, Elder Layman Shen Renyan, gain rebirth in the Pure Land of Eternal Stillness and Light, and soon return to the saha world to benefit all sentient beings.

As stated in the Lotus Sutra, “The treasure house of the Lotus Sutra is deep and remote. No one is capable of discovering its true depth.” The same is true of the Perfect Teachings of the Tiantai school. Therefore, I must make it clear that I only have a very superficial understanding of the Lotus Sutra. Although I have consulted commentaries on this sutra by many masters, both ancient and modern, while preparing my lectures, I cannot be certain that I have not misinterpreted anything. If you come across any errors while reading this book, please do not hesitate to let me know.

This book was first published in Taiwan and Japan in June and October 2017, respectively. This new edition, which contains some additions, was republished in Japan right at the historic moment when the Ichijo Temple in Kyoto is being restored and revitalized. I think this must be a remarkable karmic coincidence!

Ever since I was ordained as a monk of the Japanese Shingon and Tendai schools in 2013, I have received precious Dharma transmissions and unreserved teachings from my revered teachers, including the Reverend Nakata Junna Daisojo, the Reverend Take Kakucho Daisojo, and the Great Acharya Fukue Zenkou. Thanks to their kindness, some gradual progress has been made in our endeavor to fulfill the lifetime goal of reviving Tangmi (the Tantric Buddhist tradition of the Tang Dynasty) and spreading the Dharma of the single vehicle. In particular, I believe that the establishment of the Ichijo Temple in Kyoto as a central training site will greatly facilitate the compilation, inheritance, promotion, and practice of Tangmi and the Buddhist tradition of the Tang and Song Dynasties. This is truly a delightful and exciting event.

My teacher, the Reverend Nakata Junna Daisojo, 103rd  Zasu (head priest) of the Daigo-ji Temple, entrusted me with the restoration of the Ichijo Temple in Kyoto. This thousand-year-old branch of the Daigo-ji Temple was built in 1090. It houses a shrine to the Lotus Mandala, and those who worshipped at the temple practiced the Lotus Sutra Dharma ritual twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I feel humbled and, most of all, grateful for this task of reviving the temple, which my teacher entrusted to me. I vow to live up to the expectations of all my teachers to spread the Dharma of the single vehicle extensively and benefit innumerable sentient beings.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Reverend Take Kakucho Daisojo and the Reverend Nakata Junna Daisojo for writing the forewords for this book and providing great support for its publication in Japan.

Finally, I thank the members of the Ekayana Publicity Team for all their hard work.

September 24 (Mid-Autumn Festival), 2018

Zhiguang, a humble follower of Ekayana Buddhism