金山聖寺 Gold Mountain Monastery

Gold Mountain Monastery

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DRBA 法界佛教總會

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目錄 Contents

Three Prerequisites for Learning Buddhism –

Belief, Vows and Practice


All good-knowing advisors, today is my turn to come forward to share my experience of being a Buddhist. Being a novice and lack of knowledge, I look forward to hearing from your comments and correction on my talk.

The topic of today's talk is “Belief, Vows and Practice”. Although it was more than 2500 years when Buddha Shakyamuni lived in this world, his teachings are still applicable and relevantly fresh in nowadays. The synonyms of Buddha are Supreme Scholar, Heroic Tamer and Teacher of Gods. In fact, he is not only a great teacher, but also an engineer of mind and artist of life.

The first thing to learn Buddhism is to believe. When Shakyamuni Buddha instructed his disciples, he encouraged them to practice what he taught instead of believing what he said. We beginners, based on our limited knowledge, surely have doubts about Buddha's or Venerable Master's instructions. Even though nowadays ‘science’ could not validate or prove what Buddhist teachings are right, it does not mean they are wrong. In “Hundred Dharma Doors Analects”, the text states that belief is the first dharma door among 11 beneficial dharma doors, while doubt is one of the causes of 6 afflictions. The “Sutra of Budhisattva's Original Vows” also states that first is to believe; second is to think; third is to validate it. We have to believe what Buddhist teachings first and think afterwards. Doubt arises when we think because it is what we are taught at school, to suspect what other people say before it was proved. However suspicion sometimes is a large hindrance for beginners in learning Buddhism. Third is to prove it by the act. We need to confirm Buddhist teachings by acting. For instance, when someone told you that reciting Buddha's name will grant you such merits and virtues, you may suspect whether it is true. Similarly while we are reciting mantras such as Great Compassion Mantra or Shurangama Mantra, we may doubt about their powerful strength simply because of not knowing the meanings of mantra. We might ask ourselves “Will I gain benefits by reciting those unmeaning words to me? ”Indeed that is what belief is. Whatever we are convinced is true; it is true even thought it may be false. Whatever we are convinced is false; it is false even though it is true. Another example is seeing a doctor. A patient may felt cured without taking any medicine by just seeing a well-known doctor, simply because of his confidence in this doctor's techniques. Even though doctor gave him or her some vitamin pills, he or she may believe that such a famed doctor has cured his illness. In fact that is why two groups, control and experimental, were used for testing a new drug. The participants in control group are given a placebo and experimental group, the real medicine. Likewise the same medication prescribed from two physicians may get significantly different results on the same patient.

I have some personal experiences on this. I remembered one time I picked up a blind lady who needed a ride. It came upon that I was playing the Great Compassion Mantra in the car and she asked me what music it was. She said she felt very peaceful and relaxed after listening to the Mantra. She is an American and I believed she has never heard any mantra before. Sometimes I play Great Compassion Mantra during work and my colleagues are curious what the meanings of the song are. My reply is “I do not know, either”. They all wonder why I keep playing a song that I do not know what it is. I think it is what belief is, i.e. to believe it is true first.

The second is to vow. The power of vow is very important. The “Sutra of Past Vows of Earth Store Budhisattva” mentions Earth Store Budhisattva's past vows before he accomplished the Budhisattvahood. Emperor Liang's Repentance also states the vows in the text and we recite the three vows in our daily chanting before meals.

I grew up in Taiwan but I did not have an opportunity to know proper Dharma until I came to the United States. Whenever I encounter troubles, I always want to have a quick answer for solving the problems. Hoping to get help, I personally have tried practicing external or deviant paths such as asking embodied divines or ghosts. However the answer I got was against my wish most of the time. Luckily I did not believe in those, maybe because I have made such a vow in the past so I would be able to get acquaintance with proper Dharma in this life.

I had the chance of getting close to Venerable Master's Way Places when I came to the States. I feel very blessed, just like you, to have the opportunity of knowing Proper Dharma. By that time, I realized that all Buddhas and Budhisatttvas have made different vows in their past lives. Moreover their vows are different from those of ordinary people who may only wish to have a prosperous business, making profits and money, a wonderful family and so on. Vow and strength interacts each other. When we make a vow, we have the strength. Pure Land is an auspicious and magnificent place, that is because Amitabha Buddha has made tremendous vows in his past lives. Venerable Master has made 18 great vows and so does Medicine Buddha, 12 great vows. They have their similarities, i.e. hoping all beings to attain bliss and free of suffering.

I remembered one time my son had to breed a caterpillar larva (silkworm) for his science class. You may know that butterfly has soft and fragile wings when it just comes out of cocoon. At that time, my son was holding the newly born butterfly in his palms and wondering why it did not fly away. Unfortunately his action has severely injured butterfly's wings and legs such that it could not even make itself stand up, leaving alone to fly. He called his teacher and Mom for help. Upon seeing this scene, my wife has suggested euthanizing the butterfly for getting rid of its suffering. However my son has a different thought. He has demonstrated us this poor little butterfly's strong will to live on by showing us its desire to sip sugar water whenever he fed it. Just like a small ant, it would run away for its life whenever it is disturbed. Indeed all beings would like to live without any pain or suffering. That is why Buddhas and Budhisatttvas make their vows for benefiting all beings, i.e. wish every living being can leave suffering and attain bliss, but not for the sake of themselves.

The last is to practice. Confucius said ‘refrain ourselves from wrong doing by practicing proprieties”. Moses also taught his disciples the 10 precepts. Shakyamuni Buddha instructed us not to do any evil but do practice all good deeds. Therefore we come to the Way Place for practicing cultivation, holding precepts, reciting Buddha's name and meditating. We all know this is the most important step cultivation. However I feel very shameful on discussing this because it is my worst part. Sutra texts say “ceasing greed, hatred and stupidity” and “do no evils’. Although I am still far from that state, I would still encourage myself to come to the Way Place as often as possible so I could be molded and influenced gradually by the merits of Triple Jewels.

Recently I have read a book called “Stories of Water”, which was written by a Japanese scholar. He has investigated water crystallization under different situations. He found it water created beautiful crystals at low temperature when it was spoken with decent words. On the contrary, if water was spoken or tagged with bad or hatred words on the bottle, the crystallization was awful. Buddhist texts have even illustrated this concept more thoroughly by stating “A single rise of thought is yet a fault, an offense.” Our thoughts are the causes of all karmas that we need to endure in the future. I do not have more comments on this part because I myself did not put efforts in practicing Buddhism. All you great advisors with virtue certainly do better than me.



Gold Mountain Monastery

800 Sacramento Street. San Francisco, CA 94108 U.S.A.
Tel: (415) 421-6117