Explanations by Master Cheng-Yan
Subject: Ears and Eyes of Compassion and Wisdom (悲智耳目 聞觀眾生)
“This Chapter on the Merits and Virtues of Dharma Teachers” exists purely to “demonstrate the five ways of teaching the Dharma. This will enhance our spiritual power and enable us to pass it down unhindered, and we will attain the merits of pure Six Roots that purify ourselves and others. We must use the eye-root of great compassion to observe all sentient beings of the world and use the ear-root of great wisdom to listen to the voices of all sentient beings on earth.”
The Buddhist practitioners, the Dharma teachers who uphold the Lotus Sutra in the Chapter on the Merits and Virtues of Dharma Teachers, as the Buddha tells us, “demonstrate the five ways of teaching the Dharma.” The sutra tells us that reading, reciting, upholding, transcribing and expounding are the five ways of teaching the Dharma. In fact, most important of all are reading and reciting, which are our fundamental duties. As we read and recite, if we do not understand the sutra passage, we will not fully understand the principles. But when we do understand the sutra passage, we will understand the sutra’s principles, and then it is best that we write down [what we can understand]. This does not just mean copying [the passage]; this means being able to write about [its meaning]. It is best if we can take the Dharma to heart and focus our minds on understanding the Dharma. To understand the Dharma, we should write down our insights and thoughts. If we compile them into a book, this is of course even better. This is because the written word can be passed down. Spoken words disappear as soon as we hear them, but written words can be passed on; writings have been passed down like this for ages. We must read, recite and transcribe the sutra, and be able to encourage others to accept and uphold [the Dharma] by putting it into practice. We put it into action, and we are also able to publish what we write. Being able to teach and write about them is even better. Most importantly, we must practice and uphold [the teachings]. If we are only able to expound, recite, transcribe and write about them but fail to uphold them through our actions, then [our efforts] will be futile. Upholding [the Dharma] is very important. Upholding the Lotus Sutra requires us to analyze the depth of our merits and virtues, and we must also extend this analysis to the faculties of our Six Roots through comparison.
The eyes have 800 merits and virtues. The ears have 1200 Meritus and virtues. This has all been broken down for us. Spiritual practice [means] putting the teachings to use. We must accept, uphold, read, recite, transcribe, advise others to teach and teach for them. If we are able to accomplish all five methods simultaneously, this is best. For us to truly put them into practice, we must find a way to align the Dharma with our actions. We must recite the sutra and know how to teach it and spread it. If we are unable to write an entire book, this is okay, but we must always practice [the Dharma]. This is very important. So, regarding these five ways of teaching the Dharma, if we can do all five sufficiently, “This will enhance our spiritual power and enable us to pass it down unhindered.” We must walk along this path, mindfully opening it [as we go]. This path has been opened, section by section, and it grows increasingly longer. So, when [our spiritual power is] “enhanced,” this means we will be unhindered and unobstructed as we continuously pass down [the sutra]. So, “we will attain the merits of pure Six Roots that purify ourselves and others.” If we can do all five of these things, “we will gain perfect merits and virtues for ourselves and others.” Our Six Roots will all be replete [with merits], and they will all be able to help each other. This requires us to work hard be mindful.
Just because our eyes see something [we want], we cannot unleash our greedy thoughts and indulge ourselves. We must see all things clearly and know the difference between right and wrong. This is what we must learn to do. We cannot form opinions from sight alone; once we see something, we must analyze and understand right from wrong. We must analyze each thing meticulously to see if it is useful or not. This requires us to focus our analysis on the best method for putting things to use, by utilizing our eyes and ears. Our ears can hear what our eyes see. Even if it makes no sound, we can still learn the use of something. All [living] things make a sound; none are soundless, because all [living] things have life. There are living things that make tiny noises that we are unable to hear, but we can use our eyes to see all these things that each have their own subtle sounds. I often say that the earth sounds as if it is breathing. We must look at the earth and understand it. The earth contains gasses, hot gasses, which [are found] underground. When gas is present, there is sound. So, by using our eyes to see [the earth] and our minds to infer [its breathing], it is as if we had the [supernatural] power of the ear. Our ear-root works together with our eye-root to help us thoroughly understand [the world]. When our ears hear something and know what is [causing] the sound, this is like having the power of the eye to see this form. When we close our eyes and our ears hear the clock ticking, [we say], “Oh, that is the sound of the clock.” We hear a rumbling sound outside, and as [it] passes by us, [we wonder], “What is that sound? Oh, that is the sound of a train.” What does a train look like? In our minds, we envision the image of a train. Hearing it, our ears can give us this image because our minds have processed it before and our eyes have seen it. Thus, it has been engraved in our consciousness. When we listen with our ears, [we know] that it is the sound of a train, and [we know] what a train looks like. This is how the ears and eyes work in harmony. Sound and form are able to come together. This is how our roots work together. So, we must [attain] “the pure Six Roots that purify ourselves and others.” The things we [truly] want to see and hear are not so close to us. For our eyes to constantly see more than this, we [must] “transform consciousness into wisdom.” We [process] the Dharma we hear with our consciousness, but we must transcend [using] our consciousness to hear the sounds of the Dharam. In the sky above there is the Heaven of Purity, which includes the desire realm, form realm and formless realm. These are the principles of the sutra, the principles contained in its words. These principles are not just something we can pick up and look at. Rather, we must use our minds to understand them. They have no form or appearance. [Thus], all appearance come from non-appearance. These are the principles that enable us to [perceive] these things we cannot see and understand them using our minds. So, how do we transform our consciousness into wisdom? Wisdom is made up of discerning wisdom and impartial wisdom. How do we transform it? The answer lies in the Buddha-Dharma. Once we accept the principles, we can only experience their essence through inner cultivation and external practice, by putting the Dharma into action.
So, what kind of method should we use? “We must use the eye-root of great compassion” to see things. Then, we must transcend these things to comprehend their principles. Everyone that we see using our eye-root is a Buddha. However, do we have faith that everyone has the Buddha in their hearts? We believe this because the Buddha told us so. “But why is this person so dim-witted? He is so hard to deal with. He doesn’t understand anything. How can he have such a poor memory? He doesn’t listen. Why is he so dull?” and so on. People are still people. And for [each] person, the Buddha tells us that the Buddha-nature is intrinsic to us all. Everyone intrinsically has Buddha-nature, but we sentient beings have certain obstructions. This obstruction come from our afflictions and ignorance. How do we engage in spiritual practice now? With “a heart of great compassion.” Great compassion is easy to explain. Great compassion is achieved by putting the Dharma into practice. What is unconditional loving-kindness? What is “universal compassion”? We discuss this quite often. This is something we can achieve. Those people have no relation to us; it is just that we heard about the hardships they are experiencing there and that a disaster occurred. That place may be very far away from us, and we may not have any connection to them. However, the great loving-kindness in our hearts cannot bear for this faraway place to suffer such terrible disasters and endure such severe hardships. So, we all come together and work hard to overcome countless difficulties. We are able to go to [those places] and relieve them of their suffering.
This is like how (in 2019), a group of Bodhisattvas returned from Myanmar, united by a common mission and shared path. They shared the same view. Their unconditional loving-kindness and universal compassion is what united them all. They worked very hard for ten days to help over 40,000 households. Life was difficult for [the people there], and they had been struck by disaster. The flooding lasted for two months and had inundated their crops and fields. They were ready to begin the harvest, but [suddenly], their fields were flooded. After two months, the water receded. Once the water receded from the fields, weeds sprouted up. Not a single crop could be seen. All that could be seen were weeds. An entire season of rice was spoiled. When Tzu Chi volunteers assessed the disaster, they saw so much suffering! These people were already in debt.
Now, to replant their crops, they would need to loan even more money. They would have to go into debt to replant. We learned about them and saw their living situation. Alas, their homes did not even have four walls. It was not “a home with nothing but four walls; it was “a home with no walls”. Their homes were made of thatch, [which] had already rotted away. We could see from the front straight through to the back of the house. It was so tragic.
Once the water receded, the next planting season would not be for another two to three months. We must help them make the most of this time. As long as people worked hard, the land had always [supported] them. They just had to clean it up, plow the soil, pull the weeds and so on. Once the field was plowed, they would just have to sow the seeds. Naturally, one all the seeds were planted, with care, they would reap an abundant harvest. This was our thinking. We went back to make plans with them to help them spend these two or three months planting mung beans. We helped them select the mung beans, choosing top-quality beans and then distributing them. Of course, this was a very difficult and complicated process. We had to assess every household. So, with several thousand household [to help], we rushed to get them the beans. With such high-quality beans, they happily got to work planting them, and they have already reaped an abundant harvest of mung beans. They are very happy.
Next, they must begin to plant rice once again. There were four counties, [with fields that could be leveled quickly. We hoped that after harvesting the mung beans, they could repay their old debts. We did not want them to take out new loads, so we gave them rice seeds to plant [instead]. Tzu Chi volunteers led them in singing the Jing Si Aphorism songs and gave them Jing Si Aphorism [cards]. The teachings [brought them] great joy, and they all shared them with each other. They had never known such joy before in life. They met this group of Bodhisattvas with such sincere love. We surveyed [their situation] again and again. Once they had assessed the disaster, [the locals] thought the volunteers had only come to look around, and they would never see them again. They never expected our volunteers to come care for them again and plan to give them bean seeds. They thought our promises were empty. Would they ever see our volunteers again? They did indeed see them again. The bean seeds had already arrived beforehand, and they had been distributed to each person. [The volunteers] encouraged them to work hard at planting them. They planted and harvested t hem. They were so joyful. This time, they again received the rice seeds. Once again, they felt at ease and again, this group of volunteers, like friends and family, embraced them and gave them many encouraging words. They helped them realize they had the ability and strength to stand up [on their own]. Our volunteers encouraged them, saying, “You can also be someone who help others. This is how Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks came to be”. “Everyone can do this too. A handful of rice can save [lives]. Most importantly, you can carry this forward. You can tell others to join in and help too”.
So, they recruited [more] Bodhisattvas there, and 1000 to 2000 people signed up and became [Tzu Chi] volunteers. They happily took the bamboo banks and rice banks home and wanted to encourage everyone to do good deeds. Everyone had faith that the suffering they experienced in this life was from failing to create blessings in their past life. Now, in this life, they understood even more clearly that in small increments, they are able to help others; this is what it means to be a Bodhisattva. By continuously giving without expectations, one can attain great blessings. They understood the principles clearly and were able to put each one into action. Thus, they attained [spiritual] joy and received the material provisions of bean seeds and rice seeds. One by one, I listened to them share about the Dharma-joy in their hearts.
I was unable to go there myself, but I heard about the methods they implemented. With this Dharma, [the volunteers] were able to rescue them, for they “[used] the Dharma to transform them”. They helped so many people escape suffering. Helping all of these people enabled them to recognize their own blessings by witnessing their suffering and it filled their hearts with Dharma-joy. “We must use the eye-root of great compassion”. There are so many Bodhisattvas who share one common aspiration, which is this eye-root [of great compassion]. Whenever we hear of suffering around the world, it is with our ear-root. So, we can use our eye-root to “observe all sentient beings of the world”. There was great suffering in that place. So, we could not help but give rise to great compassion and go there. It is from the eye-root of great compassion that we observe all sentient beings in the world. Once we have accomplished this, we will then use the ear-root of great wisdom to hear the voices of all sentient beings on earth. [We need] this kind of wisdom. They are all so far away. How can we possibly save them? These several hundred people came in two teams. All the volunteers from these teams add up to 400 to 500 shifts. With 400 to 500 shifts, how could they help 40,000 to 50,000 households. This required everyone to share the same vision and the same voice. So, with the eye-root of great compassion, we can observe all sentient beings. They are suffering, so we must utilize our compassion and go to help them. This takes great compassion and an observant eye. How could we possibly understand their suffering? How could we possibly understand their suffering? We must use the ear-root of great wisdom. When our volunteers went there, they listened to them pour their hearts out. They listened to them say [things like], “Oh, I have already accumulated so much debt”. Now, all of my hopes for this season have been destroyed. Now, I need to take out loans for another season”. We heard this with our ears and saw their living conditions with our eyes. We heard about their years of suffering, and then analyzed [their situation]. We use the ear-root of great wisdom to listen to the voices of all sentient beings on earth.
Everyone, this is now, after hearing the Dharma, we go out and put it into practice. This takes great compassion, loving-kindness and wisdom [to work] for the sake of all suffering beings in the world. We understand what is in their hearts. When we go to help them, once everyone completes their work, everyone is very joyful. So, we must mindfully seek to understand this.
Now, let us look at the next sutra passage, which says, “When it comes to all the sounds within and beyond the great trichiliocosm, from Avici Hell below up to Peak Heaven above, they will hear all these sounds without damaging their ear-root. Because their ears are keen and sharp, they will discern and understand them all.
In this sutra passage, [the Buddha] is telling us, “Yes, we must use our ear-root to listen” [both] “within and beyond” the great chiliocosm. However far Taiwan is from other countries, but we can hear the sounds of those who suffer, and we can also see them. Even if they are all the way “up [in] Peak Heaven” or down in hell, we can see them all. With our abundant love, our pure and undefiled love, we can go help them by serving unconditionally and returning with joy. [This] fills us with Dharma-joy. This is like going “up to Peak Heaven above” and returning with joy. This is just like how the sound of the Dharma makes everyone rejoice This is ultimate joy.
“They will hear all these sounds” [means] we can hear people suffering there. Switching to another subject, “They joy of the people there together with the joy we feel after helping them” are all pure [feelings], with pure sounds. So, “They will hear all these sounds”. We hear all of these sounds without damaging [our] ear-root. When we heard of their extreme suffering, we all went to help them. When we heard of their wonderful joy, we felt soothed. Thus, our ear-root remains undamaged. These are all good sounds. “[Thus, our]” ears are keen and sharp. We have good thoughts like these, for good thoughts come from good minds. Our minds are vessels for all phenomena. When our minds are pure, we will have keen ears like there. With “keen and sharp ears, we will be able to discern things clearly”. Then, we “can discern and understand them all”.
This is from the previous sutra passage. To know this is not impossible for us. As for what the sutra has said up to this [point] we have already done it all. Our ears have heard it, our eyes have seen it. [Some of us] have also walked this path, reaching out their hands to do this work. [They] heard these sounds and faced these challenges. We are already serving others successfully.
“Though those who uphold the Lotus Sutra have yet to attain the heavenly ear, just by using their ears they received at birth, their merits and virtues will already be as such”.
This is what today’s sutra passage says. “Uphold” refers to those who uphold the Lotus Sutra, who have yet to attain the heavenly ear. Now, we are all reading the Lotus Sutra. We have also formed aspirations and made vows to accept and uphold it and put it into action. We have all made these vows. We have also started to listen to and recite the sutras. Yet, we are still unenlightened beings. We still use the ears of unenlightened beings. When we hear someone speak, do we take it in? Or do we not take it in? Do we understand the things they say? We still have some way to go, so we “have yet to attain the heavenly ear”. This is because our ear-root is still very dull. When we reflect on ourselves, this is the state of our reality.
Though those who uphold the Lotus Sutra have yet to attain the heavenly ear…: Only those who attain the unobstructed heavenly ear will be able to hear so far away. Those now in the stage of unenlightened beings, through the power of upholding this sutra, can turn consciousness into wisdom.
[That we] “have yet to attain the heavenly ear” means that we [must] be unobstructed to be able to attain the heavenly ear. We must eliminate all afflictions from our minds. This [means our] ear-root is truly pure. The heavenly ear [requires] a very pure ear-root. They “will be able to hear so far away”. Only the ear-root of heavenly beings can hear like this.
“Those now in the stage of unenlightened beings, through the power of upholding this sutra, can turn consciousness into wisdom”. Practically speaking, we are still in this world; we are listening to the Buddha-Dharma right now. We are still unenlightened beings, but we must mindfully seek to earnestly listen to the Buddha-Dharma. So, it is this kind of power that enable us to “turn consciousness into wisdom”. We are still unable to truly attain heavenly ears. By being able to listen and understand the sutra, everyone will be united by the power of our shared aspirations and common mission. Then we will be able to do these things. These causes and conditions create opportunities for us to turn consciousness into wisdom. As unenlightened beings, [we must not say], “They are so far away from us”. We [should] not think like this. As soon as we think it over and find it worthy, we should just go and do it. This is everyone’s shared values and views. We must do whatever needs to be done.
In the Chapter on Encouragement to Uphold the Sutra, all the Bodhisattvas, bhiksus and so on asked the Buddha not to worry, for they were willing to accept and uphold the Lotus Sutra and spread it widely. Then, the Buddha went on to teach those Bodhisattvas to encourage others to accept, uphold and spread the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra.
The “Chapter on Encouragement to Uphold the Sutra” is the 13th chapter. [Here], the Buddha already expressed that He would not live much longer in this world. So, “all Bodhisattvas, bhiksus and so on” came to comfort the Buddha and “asked the Buddha not to worry. Do not worry. We are ‘willing to accept and uphold’ it. We are all listening very earnestly. We are all willing to accept and uphold it. We are willing to accept the Buddha’s teachings upon hearing them and make vows for the future. We are willing to spread and teach [this sutra] for sentient beings in the Saha World”. All the Budhisattvas had this kind of aspiration. “They are willing to accept and uphold the Lotus Sutra and spread it widely”. They listened to the Dharma and spread it widely.
“Spreading widely” means they heard the Dharma and then passed it down. So, the Buddha kept encouraging them. “The Buddha went on to teach those Bodhisattvas. You should not just listen by yourselves; most importantly, [you must] encourage others to accept, uphold and spread the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra”. This is like [the mission in Myanmar]. In addition to being joyful, the [volunteers] also made vows; in order to keep encouraging [the local people], they tried to recruit Living Bodhisattvas there. They recruited Living Bodhisattvas, and people came to sign up [for training]. There were another 1000 to 2000 people who signed up and gave us their names and contact information, and they have all been registered. This is what the Buddha taught us to do. He taught us that we must spread [the Dharma], and once we spread it, we must encourage others to also accept and uphold it. We must also encourage others to continue on the Bodhisattva Way. We must accept and uphold the Lotus Sutra’s teachings of the Bodhisattva Way so Bodhisattvas may continue to practice them. This is exactly what our Tzu Chi volunteers demonstrated in that place; [this is] the meaning of the Lotus Sutra.
All heavenly beings in the form realm have an ear-root which enables them to hear sentient beings throughout the Six Realms and all sounds far and near, obvious and subtle. They use their pure ears to listen extensively to all Dharma, and their practice accords with the Dharma.
“All heavenly beings in the form realm have an ear-root…”. With their ear-root, they can hear sentient beings of the Six Realms, whether their sounds are far or near, obvious or subtle. We have already discussed the obvious [sounds], the good and evil [sounds of] unenlightened beings. The minds of unenlightened beings fluctuate. So, the Buddha told us very clearly about the law of karmic retribution. This law of karmic retribution that we see and the subtle and wondrous teachings are all heard by the heavenly ears of heavenly beings. When the Buddha taught the sutra, heavenly beings all came to listen to the sutra. Heavenly beings came to every Dharma-assembly to listen to the sutra. So, they can hear all the sounds [by] “[using] their pure ears to listen extensively to all Dharma”. Heavenly beings proactively cultivated the good teachings when they were in this world. Replete in the Ten Good Deeds and free of desires, they were thus able to be born in the form realm. And the formless realm? [Those beings] engage in spiritual practice until they are free of greed. Without greed or deluded thoughts, they reached the state of calm contemplation; that is the formless realm.
So, to sum things up, all heavenly beings have already heard all Dharma “and their practice accords with the Dharma”. Their course of spiritual practice is in full accord with the Dharma. Now, as Tzu Chi volunteers, we must put the Dharma into action. We practice in this world by serving others without expectations. This is in accord with the Dharma; it is the same principle.
Just by using their ears they received at birth, their merits and virtues will already be as such: This is just by using the body they received from their parents at birth. With their pure ear-root, in combination with other roots, they are already able to hear sounds everywhere, for their merits and virtues are as such.
“Just by using their ears they received at birth, their meritus and virtues will already be as such.” Right now, [we have] the ears we received from their parents at birth. Our merits and virtues, our spiritual cultivation, is in the ground of unenlightened beings; it is in this world. We have these ears and these merits and virtues. This is how we hear external sounds. Unable to hear [the sound] [of suffering], we give rise to great compassion and observe the suffering of all sentient beings in the world. We use the ear-roots of great wisdom to hear the bitter cries of sentient beings throughout the world. This is how, right now, using the ears our parents gave us at birth, we are able to hear them.
So, with this purity, we serve others without expectations. This is “the pure ear-root”. We go so far and work so hard, [but] we do not expect to attain any benefit. We only want to save people and use the Dharma to transform them. This is all we want. So, this is using our “pure ear-root in combination with other roots”. We use our ears in place of our eyes. In this way, all of our roots work together. They also took their body-root and mind-root there. What about their tongue-root? [The volunteers] came back and told me, “Master, we were there for over 10 days. We only had instant rice to eat. Every day we went out at 4 am we soaked the instant rice in cold water and took it out to eat at lunchtime. It was so tender and delicious. This is all we ate for over 10 days.” They told me that [what] their tongues tasted was very delicious and tender. The people who went there also used their mind-root. Isn’t this how we use all Five Roots at once? I said to them, “I admire you all so much. You had this opportunity to go to this kind of place”. Thus, “in combination with other roots, they are already able to hear sounds everywhere, for their merits and virtues are as such”. This is the Dharma.
As children born of the Buddha’s speech, we listen to the Dharma through our ear-root, nourishing our wisdom-life. When we hear all the languages and sounds throughout the ten directions and Three Periods, we will immediately comprehend them and apprehend all their sources. To clearly hear and understand without any obstructions at all is known as the power of the wisdom of the heavenly ear.
“As children born of the Buddha’s speech, we listen to the Dharma through our ear-root,” nourishing our wisdom-life. We are able to know and understand the principles because the Buddha taught the Dharma in the past. Now that we “have the Dharma to transform them,” we can go where people are suffering and rescue [them]. This is how we use the Dharma to transform them while we develop our own wisdom-life. “When we hear all the languages and sounds throughout the ten directions and Three Periods, we will immediately comprehend them and apprehend all their sources.” Now we need to realize that we already comprehend and understand the source of where this Dharma comes from. So, “We clearly hear and understand without any obstructions at all.” We already understand this clearly. [With] “the power of wisdom of the heavenly ear,” [we] understand completely.
The heavenly eye and heavenly ear are sense organs for us to rely on. Wisdom arises when these two consciousnesses [of the eye and the ear] resonate with each other. When wisdom connects with both external conditions [of sight and sound] unobstructed, this is power. Those who attain realization through their roots are said to have the wisdom of the heavenly eye, and they will also attain the power of the wisdom of the heavenly ear.
“The heavenly eye and heavenly ear are sense organs for us to rely on. Wisdom arises when these two consciousnesses of [the eye and the ear] resonate with each other.” In [giving rise to] this wisdom, our eyes and ears work together and resonate with each other. This is [how we] turn consciousness into wisdom. We are already making use of this wisdom. “When wisdom connects with both external conditions [of sight and sound] unobstructed, this is power.” This is what it means to be unobstructed. With wisdom and causes and conditions, we can overcome all kinds of difficulties and harmonize with our conditions. By [applying] their wisdom to their conditions, they became unobstructed, [enabling them] to accomplish their mission and return. “Those who attain realization through their roots are said to have the wisdom of the heavenly eye and they will also attain the power of the wisdom of the heavenly ear.”
Everyone, we must work hard to be mindful. We must make the most of our time. We must seize the time to grow great compassion in our minds and store great wisdom in the vessel of our minds in the vessel of our mind. Our minds are vessels for all phenomena. We must transform the ground of our minds to help those who are suffering by turning the ground of their minds into a field of blessings and wisdom. They will earnestly rejoice and apply the Dharma, not only to bring stability to their families, but also to bring peace to their minds and grow their wisdom-life. Everyone can spread this power of love to each other and create blessings in this world. This is something that brings us great joy.
The Dharma and our reality can be harmonized. By attaining the Dharma, we become free. We must always be grateful and constantly put the Dharma into practice. So, we must always be mindful!
(Source: Da Ai TV – Wisdom at Dawn program – Explanation by Master Chen-Yen)