Explanations by Master Cheng-Yan
Subject: Skillfully Teaching the Wondrous Dharma (舌根善淨 巧說妙法)
“With the tongue-root, we discern between sweetness and bitterness. We must eat with contentment, for to a pure [mind, all food] is like ambrosial dew. We must use our tongue-root to speak and read the sutra and use our pure tongue-root to skillfully teach the wondrous Dharma. Then, we will attain all 1200 merits of the tongue.”
We must be mindful. From what we [just] heard, what merits does the tongue-root have? As we understand it, if a person lacks a tongue how can they live? Eating, swallowing and providing health and nutrition to the body all starts with consuming food with our mouths. When consuming food with our mouths, the tongue’s [function] is most important. The tongue is able to hold onto water. The movement of our tongue, whether we extend it, retract it or swallow, [is essential], for we rely on [these functions]. This tongue-root is very important because it is related to the primary [ways] that we humans nourish our bodies. So, we must be very mindful. We normally do not pay attention to it; we normally do not value its importance. But this time, [the passage] informs us about how we use our tongue-root to discern what is spicy, bitter, sweet, salty or bland, with the [sensory function] of our tongue. Nowadays, we know about the nervous system and how the tongue’s nerves [allow us to] taste and naturally have the function of distinguishing salty, sour, bitter, bland, spicy and so on. [Our tongue-root] can discern all of these. So, “We must eat with contentment, for to a pure [mind, all food] is like ambrosial dew.” In our spiritual practice, we must be content. No matter what we [have] to eat, we should be content; [whether it is] sweet, salty, bitter, sour, spicy or so on, simply having something to eat is good enough. No matter what we eat, we will take in various nutrients, and when we eat with gratitude and contentment, this is the pure mind, [which makes] everything we eat [taste] like ambrosial dew. There is a type of fruit, which is very small. [If we] eat just one, then no matter what sour food we eat [next], as long as we eat that fruit first, anything we eat afterwards tastes sweeter, and will not [taste] sour. In this world, there are many such [examples], [depending on] our environment and our needs. There are always various resources available to us.
The principle is the same. So, if we humans can be content with our food, then, with our pure minds, anything we eat will be as delicious as ambrosial dew; it will be tasty and nutritious. Furthermore, with our tongue-root, we can also speak about and read the sutra. [When we] “use our pure tongue-root to skillfully teach the wondrous Dharma,” [we will] “attain all 1200 merits of the tongue.” These words are plainly [stated] so that everyone can understand them. So, we must earnestly make good use of our flexible tongue when we speak. Will the words we speak create merits, or will we create evil karma? If [we create] evil karma [through] harsh speech, gossip, flattery and so on, these [words] which come out of our mouths, can create a lot of turmoil in people’s minds, causing rifts in people’s relationships, creating disturbances throughout society and doing harm to an entire country; a single tongue [can cause all of] this. When those with minor influence speak, [their words] only cause interpersonal conflicts. [But] when those with major influence speak, [their words can] impact societies and countries. A single tongue can have immense influence. So, good people use their tongue-roots to teach the Dharma and speak good words. They speak good words to everyone and encourage everyone to do good deeds; these are also merits of the tongue-root. [So, we also use] “our tongue-root to speak and read the sutra.” Those who have a pure tongue-root are spiritual practitioners, who only speak about the principles. The principles open up a path, which we can pave with [the words of] our tongues. Then, people can easily follow this path, for it is smooth and without errors; this is the correct path to take in life. The words from our tongues point people in the right direction of this path. This is how we “use our pure tongue-root to skillfully teach the wondrous Dharma.” We can use various methods to say the right thing and encourage everyone [to advance] in a virtuous direction. These are the merits of the tongue. When we make good use of our tongues, we can first take good care of our health, and second, we can grow our wisdom-life, which is pure and undefined; [this is how] we attain all 1200 merits.
So, we must earnestly safeguard our tongue-root. We must care for it and pay attention to it. We have only one tongue in our mouths, so we must mindfully put it to good use and not cause it [to act] mistakenly. As the master of our tongue-roots, only when each of us earnestly looks after them will we be able to speak good words, read the sutra and teach the Dharam. This is why we must cherish [our tongue-roots].
Continuing on, the previous passage says, “Brahmins, lay practitioners and people of the kingdom will fully devote their lives to following, serving and making offerings to them. Furthermore, all Hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas will always take joy in seeing them.”
These Brahmins, lay practitioners and all the people in the kingdom will fully devote their lives; they vow to spend their lives following, serving and making offerings. [Next, it mentions] all Hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. These are the [beings of the] Four Noble Realms. [Among the Four Noble Realms, Hearers have engaged in spiritual practice and are categorized as noble beings. Pratyekabuddhas have also engaged in spiritual practice, and, needless to say, Bodhisattvas [have too]. Buddhas have surpassed the realm of noble beings and are certainly respected by everyone. Why are these noble beings respected? Because they guide people by teaching the Dharma; their teachings enter people’s minds, and they [help] sentient beings to know the way. This is why everyone loves and respects them.
So, “Wherever these people are, all Buddhas will teach the Dharma there. They will be able to accept and uphold all Buddha-Dharma, and they will also be able to utter the profound and wondrous Dharma-sound.”
They have taught the Dharma to everyone, and, after listening, everyone can transmit the teachings. So, all Buddhas will be where They are. Once these people listen to the Dharma, they will mindfully transmit the teachings. So, all Buddhas always pay special attention to where these people teach the Dharma, [to see] whether, in listening to and teaching the Dharma, they have deviated at all. [If] there is no deviation, They are joyful and praise these people. So, these people who have accepted the Dharma will uphold all of the teachings that they received from the Buddha. “They will also be able to utter the profound and wondrous Dharma-sound.” Those who accept and uphold the Buddha-Dharma will always utter this profound and wondrous sound because the teachings they share [contain] profound and wondrous principles. So, these “profound and wondrous sounds” [refer to] the profound and wondrous Dharma. Continuing on, [it says], “At that time, the World-Honored One, wishing to restate His meaning, spoke in verse.”
At that time, the World-Honored One, wishing to restate His meaning, spoke in verse, “Their tongue-root will be pure, and they will never experience bad tastes. All the food they eat will turn into ambrosial dew.”
The long-form prose section already explained this. But because of its importance, [the Buddha] always restated His meaning in verse, for repeating it like this helps His explanation. If there was anything missing the [first] time, the verse section then repeats and supplements it.
At that time, the World-Honored One, wishing to restate His meaning, spoke in verse: The essential meaning of the long-form prose from earlier is respected here in verse to help people remember it clearly.
The verse [section] says, “Their tongue-root will be pure, and they will never experience bad tastes. All the food they eat will turn into ambrosial dew.” So, it says, “Because their tongue-root will be virtuous and pure, bad tastes will never enter [their mouth]. Whenever any bad tastes reach their mouth, their understanding and contentment” will then “turn it all into ambrosial dew.”
Everyone should be clear from reading these words. Because we are spiritual practitioners, we [should be] understanding of everything. [If] we are content grateful for everything, then just having something to eat is good enough, and we can accept each kind of food gratefully. This means our tongue-root is “virtuous and pure”. When we are virtuous, anything consumed with our tong-root tastes good. “Bad tastes will never enter [our mouths]; even when we eat the most unpalatable food, we will say, “Delicious! This tastes good!” We will never object to any bad-tasting food. So, “bad tastes will never enter [our mouths].” Even if something tastes bad, we will say, “This tastes good!” So, “Whenever any bad tastes reach our mouths, our understanding and contentment [changes them].” No matter what bad tastes enter our mouths, we will say, “This is good, this is good! Delicious! I am grateful and contented.” It [tastes] like ambrosial dew, so we do not mind. “This is good! I am grateful.” This is how spiritual practitioners [respond].
Next, the following passage says, “With a deeply pure and wondrous voice, they will teach the Dharma in assemblies, using various causes and conditions as analogies to guide the minds of sentient beings. Everyone who hearts them will rejoice and prepare the finest offerings.”
Let us read this mindfully. “With a deeply pure and wondrous voice, they will teach the Dharma in assemblies.” When Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and so on teach the Dharma to an assembly, they use their pure and wondrous voices and very mindfully [explain] these principles. How can the true principles of the world be adapted to sentient beings’ [mindsets]? They must think very profoundly to teach according to [people’s] capabilities. They cannot speak arbitrarily; they must be very mindful. Teaching the Dharma to an assembly of varying capabilities requires a deeply pure and wondrous voice. Speaking with this voice, the Dharma they teach, can be suited to everyone’s varied capabilities; each person can make use [of these teachings]. This is very difficult. We can see the teachings are clearly profound. When heard by those with limited capabilities, [we ask], “Do you understand what you hear? Yes, I understand what I have heard. Do you comprehend it? I comprehend it”. “Tell me, what have you comprehended? Master has told us that we must be understanding about everything. We must speak good words and do good deeds. Isn’t that right?” “Correct! You are right!” In fact, when these simple words are [spoken to] those with great capabilities, [we need only ask], “Do you understand?” “I understand. The principles are truly profound and suitable”. When such simple [words] are heard by those with very developed capabilities, they [find the words] very meaningful and can benefit much from these few words. Thus, the voice [they use to teach] the Dharma achieves two [goals] at once. By speaking a single sentence, [everyone], no matter their background can clearly understand the meaning. Thus, the most valuable teaching. Is that [which] can be put to use. Some types of people can listen to the Dharma, understand it, change their ways and start anew. They accept the Dharma with a pure mind, and they can be understanding about anything, including what they eat, transforming bad tastes into [ambrosial dew]. They can change [their perceptions] about food. There are many of us who [say], “I used to be very picky about food. Now, that is no longer the case because I often listen to the Dharma and Master has explained that we must be grateful to have food to eat”. We often hear about such people who used to be quickly about food. There are people like this who are now very [easygoing about food]; they eat everything and find everything good. This shows that they have taken in the Dharma. For instance, [Wu Baiqian] is a young child of five years old; he is so young. When wearing his formal suit, he looks like a mini Faith Corps volunteer. Wearing this clothing of a Faith Corps [member], he came to visit the abode. This was [in 2019] when Faith Corps members from the Southern Region of Pingtung, Kaohsiung and Tainan came to the abode for a retreat. Our Commissioner-Bodhisattvas [staffed the retreat], taking part in the logistics and hospitality teams and so on. These women did the same work as the men to support this [retreat] for the Faith Corps and help [the Faith Corps members] to focus and relax on their diligence retreat. This mini Faith Corps volunteer, this young volunteer, traveled from Taipei, and at the closing ceremony, he took center stage to direct everyone in singing the Faith Corps anthem. Standing at the podium in front of the microphone, he directed everyone in the Faith Corps anthem. He presented himself [well] and was very cute. When the Faith Corps team entered, the whole team also presented themselves well. So, here, right in front of me, when everyone sat down, he stood right here, not even tall enough to reach the table, and started to speak. He encouraged everyone to respect and love life. He said he is a vegetarian and that I wanted him to promote vegetarianism. “You are so young, but you are already a vegetarian? Why are you a vegetarian? You are vegetarian out of compassion and love. You are so wise and your body is so healthy. Let others see [your wisdom and good health]. Go and promote vegetarian. This was what I told him in Taipei. He took my words to heart to wherever he goes, he promotes vegetarianism. The words of children can impact the values of adults.
He shared his experiences, and then he made an appeal. He [spoke about] the three [African] countries, where so many people have experience disaster. [Just] as I appeal to everyone, he also [encouraged everyone] to donate to [help] flood [survivors] in these three African countries. When he was finished, he took out the bamboo bank that he carries, and immediately, he asked the adult volunteers, “Dear Tzu Chi’s uncles, is it ok for me to ask you to donate now [to disaster relief]? I was sitting next to him, so first, he asked me, “Can I do this? [before asking], Tzu Chi uncles, can I ask you to donate?” Sitting next to him, I said, “For now, let them make the most of their time. They are sharing now, but you can wait them. Once this concludes, they go to the dining hall, so you can ask them to donate there”. So, he waited there and was very well-behaved. After I finished talking and everyone started to enter the dining hall, he began to approach people with the bamboo bank, [saying], “Thank you [for your donation]!” This is young child heard [my teachings] with his ears and shared them with his mouth. He used his voice to collect donations and express his gratitude. All food is agreeable to his mouth and tongue. As long as [the food] is not meat or fish, he considers all food to be tasty. If such a young child can accomplish this, we adults can do it too. So, as for the merits of the tongue-root, [this passage] first helps us understand that it has the function [of distinguishing] salty, sweet, bitter and astringent [tastes]. But most importantly, [it enables is to speak]. When our tongue begins to move, its greatest function is to speak good words and teach the Dharma, mindfully adapting the Dharma that we understand to accord with people’s capacities. So many people have varying capabilities, so how can we [adapt] the Dharma to suit them all? This is very critical, so we must be mindfully.
With a deeply pure and wondrous voice, they will teach the Dharma in assemblies: Through deep contemplation and with a pure and wondrous voice, they will go among assemblies to expound all the teachings, enabling everyone who listens to attain understanding.
So, “With a deeply pure and wondrous voice, they will teach the Dharma in assemblies through deep contemplation”. At all times, we must earnestly contemplate. As we look at the world and the incidences of impermanence which take place, how do people interact with one another? In terms of worldly matters, when a disaster strikes somewhere, how many within the vicinity will feel empathy? We can all say the word “empathy,” but when any corner of the world or when any one person, near or far, experiences suffering, do we truly five rise to empathy? To empathize is to feel; we must [try to] feel how others feel. The “universal compassion” of the Buddha-Dharma [means we must] take sentient beings’ suffering as our own suffering.
In Turkey, there is a group of Syrian children and teachers [at the EI Menahil International School]. That day, after my talk, the teachers told the children, “Currently, these three African countries are experiencing disasters.” They appealed to everyone for support. [They asked], “Where are these three countries?” When the teachers explained and showed the news footage to the children, the children began to cry. The teachers encouraged everyone to exercise empathy and offer help with love. Everyone very enthusiastically [brought in] spare change and deposited it all in the bamboo bank. One girl could not stop crying. She cried while watching the news footage, and she cried while donating money. Her teacher asked her, “Why are you crying?” She was crying so loudly. She said, “Seeing the suffering people there with no home to return to, they are just like my brothers, who have nowhere to live. Just thinking about it makes me cry.” This girl was only about this big. She is very young, yet she has such empathy.
The country of Haiti is also suffering greatly. The people there are very impoverished; their poverty is beyond words. The entire country is impoverished. Our Tzu Chi volunteers have been there for a very long time. For over 10 years, we have been [going there]. In that place, we helped them build schools. During the construction period, we worked with a construction agency there, an engineering and construction team, dispatched by Taiwan and stationed in Haiti. We entrusted the manager, Mr. Zhang, [with their care, saying], “If there is anything [they need] here, please, lend them a hand. Please help take care of these matters.” When we began to [ask for donations] this time, this Mr. Zhang also appealed to these impoverished people. [In response], they enthusiastically donated. Seeing them donating so enthusiastically was a very touching sight. How much money was raised altogether? Over NT$2000. Every cent of this NT$2000 [was given] enthusiastically by everyone. This money was not easily [raised]. [The people there] are so impoverished, yet, cent by cent, with all the change in their pockets, they donated [all they had]. This is truly very touching. So, in this world, what can attest to [the love] in people’s hearts? Every day, people talk about great principles, but once they truly see others suffering, does this love arise within them? Of course, we are looking forward to [a time when] everyone can inspire great loving-kindness and compassion in their hearts and, through word of mouth, encourage everyone to do good deeds. This is the principle. Have we inspired this mindset [in ourselves]? We hear about people using their cellphones to read the news and donate money online. One by one, people donate this way. Whether they donate NT$100 or NT$50, little by little, these [donations] accumulate, [demonstrating everyone’s] kindness. Every [donation], whether big or small, [shows] people making their best effort. These are all merits.
So, “through deep contemplation” [means that] principles are not only meant to be spoken; they must be applied. For people to truly exercise their love, this [teaching] of loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity must be inspired in everyone. [The Four Infinite Minds] is a great principle, [which encompasses] the main spirit of Buddha’s teachings. This is a profound principle. From more than 2000 years ago until now, and into the future, the Buddhist sutras that we all [read] never fail to [mention] “loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity”. This is very important.
So, with “a pure and wondrous voice,” these profound principles are spoken using the tongue-root, [as they] “go among assemblies”. By moving their tongues to [generate] clear speech that can penetrate everyone’s minds, [they] “expound all the teachings” like this. They go among assemblies to expound [the Dharma] and thus “enable everyone who listens to attain understanding”. [Everyone who] listens can attain understanding by opening their hearts.
Using various causes and conditions as analogies to guide the minds of sentient beings: They will use all kinds of positive and negative causes and conditions and matters and principles as analogies to explain, guiding all sentient beings who hear the Dharma to set their minds in the right direction.
“Using various causes and conditions as analogies” [means] they make examples of various situations in order to expound the sutra. [Talking about] the difficulties in those three East African countries and [the story from earlier] about that child [were all] analogies that made use of various causes and conditions. With the current disaster in Africa, I wanted to share these people’s situation as an example so that everyone can understand these principles. This is “using various causes and conditions as analogies to guide the minds of sentient beings”. I used these events to guide everyone [to exercise] the love in their hearts. “They will use all kinds of positive and negative causes and conditions and matters and principles as analogies to explain, guiding all sentient beings who hear the Dharma to set their minds in the right direction”. Everyone should understand this by reading it and know what I am saying by listening. There are all kinds of positive and negative causes and conditions. If we are clearly able to do good, but we refrain from doing it and further obstruct others from [doing good also], then we form negative causes. If we are willing to do [good] and further encourage everyone to do [good deeds], then we create positive conditions. So, will we plant negative causes, or do we want to create positive conditions? For example, I have been using this time to encourage everyone [to contribute], and as a result, many countries have taken action. This is [how we create] positive conditions. Once we appeal to them, everyone hears us and forms great aspirations. Once I began [my appeal, the message] was spread until several countries came together. They have already [reported back] responding and sending news [of their efforts]. Thus, [the use of] examples to explain and [connect] these matters and principles has helped us understand [the situation there]. This is how we “guide all sentient beings who hear the Dharma to set their minds in the right direction”. We must set our own minds in the right direction.
Next, [it says], “Everyone who hears them will rejoice and prepare the finest offerings. When it comes to all the deep and wondrous Dharma they teach, their listeners will take it deeply to heart and will be transformed, becoming open-hearted and understanding. They will all attain joy and prepare various pure offerings”.
[The meaning] of this passage is very clear. Everyone who hears this will rejoice [and say],” I am able to do all these things!” They are happy to be able to do these things. “I am willing to help out I accept these teachings and will put them into practice”. This is [making] offerings of our conduct, which are the most supreme offerings. I have explained to everyone before the three types of offerings. First are offerings of wealth, second are offerings of reverence and third are offerings of conduct. [First] are offerings of wealth, which refer to material goods. [Making offerings of] material goods [grants only] the shallowest merits. Second are [offerings of] reverence, which are a step up. Only when we take the Dharma to heart can we make offerings of our reverence. So, the second, more profound level is making offerings of reverence. Third are offerings of conduct. When we put the teachings into practice, we develop our wisdom-life, which [grants] the greatest merits. When we are reverent in our bodies and minds, these are the finest offerings we can make. What we want is to [make] “the finest offerings”. So, “when it comes to all the deep and wondrous Dharma they teach, their listeners will take it deeply to heart and will be transformed”. After listening, they take each phrase to heart and [make the teachings] their own. Having heard other speak, they benefit greatly from these words.
For example, the Syrian girl in Turkey cried upon hearing [of people’s suffering], and she also cried as she donated money. Why was she crying? “Those people in Africa have nowhere to live. They are just like my brothers”. Isn’t this [an example of] putting herself [in the place of] those who are suffering there? So, this is “taking [the Dharma] deeply to heart and becoming transformed”. We have already taken the Dharma to heart and have transformed it into wisdom-life. This is “taking [the Dharma] deeply to heart and becoming transformed. Becoming open-hearted and understanding” [means that] we have already allowed this Dharma to open up the doors of our hearts and have welcomed the Dharma inside. This is being “open-hearted and understanding. We will all attain joy and prepare various pure offerings”. We are joyful, so we prepare the finest offerings. Pure offerings means there is no object, [as our minds are] pure and free of defilements, and our bodies and minds are already “open-hearted and understanding”. We have “taken [the teachings] deeply to heart and become transformed”. So, with joyful hearts, we prepare various pure offerings. These pure offerings are nothing [material], but we make [them with pure] bodies and minds. We understand that the most supreme offerings that we can make are our reverence and putting the teachings into action. Often, as I teach the Dharma, I think about the many who suffer in this world, as well as the many loving hearts who willingly help others. [But] there are also many who hear the teachings but do not understand. Such is life.
In this world, the Five Destinies coexist. The Buddha taught us this, so the more we explain the sutra, the more we realize and understand how the Five Destinies coexist in the human realm. We cannot help but greatly lament this. I hope that every one of us, as we hear the Buddha-Dharma, can put effort into being mindful in our everyday living and make use of our tongue-roots [to share the teachings]. We must not give up. No matter what kinds of [people we encounter], we must [treat them with the knowledge that] everyone has Buddha-nature. If they are not moved by our words this time, we can explain again and keep demonstrating for them, time after time. Each time [we do this], we can inspire the slightest love in their hearts. We constantly say that we do not aim to raise [a certain sum of money]. In Haiti, we saw how so many people donated enthusiastically and accumulated over NT$2000. All of this was accumulated, drop by drop. So, we describe them as drops in the ocean. With each drop, we accumulate merits [as vast as] the ocean. It is the same principle. So, we must be mindful as we listen to the Dharma. We must always be mindful.
(Source: Da Ai TV – Wisdom at Dawn program – Explanation by Master Chen-Yen)