Lecturer: Master Cheng-Yan
Subject: Cultivate Merits and Practice Goodness (內修德 外行善)
We are all disciples of the Three Treasures, so we should believe in the Dharma that Buddha expounded.
The Buddha is the speaker of the truth. But we sentient beings are foolish with much karma. We hear Right Dharma, but do not believe it, so we constantly accumulate karma until we die.
This is why we humans constantly create karma. Although many people understand the principle, they cannot practice it. This is from not thoroughly believing in karmic retribution. If we can believe it, we can speak and practice it. When we know the truth, we need to speak it. Then we definitely need to practice it. Thus we are people who truly believe. Otherwise it has not really entered our minds. We just know what the principles state, but we do not actually believe them. We do not know how to keep ourselves pure, do not know to practice Great Love, all the way until we die. We constantly create karma until we die. This is truly a pity. We have nothing to say if we do not know the truth. If we know, but refuse to or cannot practice it, that is truly a pity. I remember some time ago, I told this story.
In some village in mainland China, there was a very wealthy family. The father had two sons. When the father was very old he told them, “What I want to leave to you is not all this property. I want to pass on morals and ethics. You have to believe in cause and effect. We have to give happily. Family wealth is temporary, but a wealth of merits and virtues is eternal.” The father passed away not too long afterwards. After he dies his sons felt deep sorrow. The elder son kept thinking over his father’s last words about focusing on the wealth of merits and virtues, rather than family wealth. So starting then, he spent a lot of time in the temple, asking questions and trying to understand the wealth of merits and virtues. A monk began elucidating the teachings, helping him to deeply understand Buddha-Dharma. Studying the Dharma made him very happy. He also happily gave and helped others. But his younger brother thoughts, “Since father left behind so much wealth, I should protect it for him. That is how I can be filial. Why does my brother spend all day only studying the Buddha-Dharma, leaving me to deal with all this property?” One day he said this to his older brother, who relied, “I feel our father told us that no matter how much property we have, it is limited, not ours in the end.Our father also told us that the wealth of merits and virtues is more important and eternal.I want to cherish this body our parents gave me.I want to create merits and virtues for them with this body.”
“How will you create merits and virtues?”He said, “I want to become a Buddhist, devote the body our parents gave me to promote the Three Treasure.Buddha’s teachings can protect sentient beings.Everyone can walk on the Bdudha’s path and attain an unlimited wealth of merits and virtues.”
The younger brother did not think much of this, so the older brother smiled and left.From then on, he focused on studying the Buddha-Dharma.Later, he became a monk.The younger brother busily ran his business.After 30-some years, his wealth had grown exponentially.
But he eventually grew old, got sick and died.His family held an elaborate funeral.
Four or five years later, there was an ox plowing the fields.Its burden was heavy, and it was tired, but the farmer hoped to plow more of the field, in order to produce more rice.He earnestly wanted to farm the land.Normally a cart would be filled about 80 percent.But this farmer would overload it.The ox pulled and pulled, but stopped when it got tired.So, the framer beat him.This went on for some time.The ox was exhausted, its entire body beaten and covered with lash marks.
One day a seasoned monk passed this village.This was his childhood home.As he passed, the ox had just finished plowing and the farmer was returning home.It saw this monk and knelt on all fours.It lifted its head to look at the monk, and shed tears.
When that monk saw this ox, he used a very clear mind to analyze why it continued to shed tears.A sudden realization hit him.“Are you so-and-so? Were you my brother?”The ox cried even harder, bowing its head till it touched the monk’s feet.It seemed to acknowledge him, as if prostrating, as if repenting.Before his older brother left home, he told him, “Worldly wealth is temporary.”“Merits and virtues are eternal.”“Believe in and respect the Three Treasures.”
“Give to those who are poor.”But the younger brother refused to believe.He thought his brother was going too far.Since he was not protecting the family business, if he wanted to be a monk, then let him go.He was not understanding of his brother at all, and did not have faith in him.
His brother had left home and was now a respected monk of great virtue.But he himself had taken the form of an animal, who toiled in this family’s fields and was beaten and wounded all over.He felt helpless.When the older brother realized that this was his brother, he told the farmer, “I want to buy this ox.How much will you sell him for?”The farmer saw that this monk was very loving and he possessed some compassion for the ox who had already worked so hard.So, he said, “I’ll give him to you for free .”
So, this monk took the ox back to the monastery. Every day the ox stood outside the hall when everyone else entered .It seemed to be paying respect to the Buddha. When there were Sutra lectures, it also came to quietly listen to Dharma.The ox enjoyed the rest of its life there and paid respect to the Buddha, listen to the Dharma It spent the rest of its life in this way.
From this story we understand that if people are foolish and refuse to believe when they hear Right Dharma, they will not stop accumulating karma even to the point of death.They may even become oxen and toil. So, we need to believe in cause and effect. The next passage of the repentance text states,
“Without goodness to depend on, merits to rely on when life ends, we fall into all destinies.”
This continues the earlier passage. In this world, we only know to create karma, to take issue over things, always wanting more. We do not understand cause and effect. We do not know that we came with nothing, leave with nothing, and are only guided by karma.
If a lifetime has passed and we did not create any good or accumulate even a bit of virtue, we have nothing to rely or depend on. If we do not routinely accumulate merit, when the karmic conditions in this life end, we will be led by karma into the future. Without any good or blessed affinities, when this life ends, we will descend into the evil destinies.There are many evil realms. They can be categorized into the Three Destinies, the Animal, Hungry Ghost and Hell Realms. We can go to any of them.
“Therefore, today we take refuge with the Three Treasures, and repent with deepest sincerity.”
We know we can fall into an evil realm. So, let us take refuge at once. Use the Buddha’s teachings to extend the reach of the Buddha-Dharma. Regarding the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the Buddha speaks the Dharma, the Dharma is the teaching, and the Sangha spreads the Way.
So, the Three Treasures are very important. They extend the Buddha’s Wisdom-life. It is a way of transmitting the light. The light of the Buddha’s wisdom can illuminate the darkness in all minds. Since our minds are filled with darkness, the Buddha used this to show us the way, to light the lamps in all our minds.
With deepest sincerity and reverence we take refuge. Next it says,
“Next we repent the Animal Realm, in which we face the retribution of not knowing and not understanding.”
When we fall into the Animal Realm, there is no knowledge and no understanding.Because we lived life without cultivating goodness we lack goodness and virtues to rely on; we lack these positive causes and conditions. Positive and negative are opposites, just like black and white. Darkness and light are also opposites.When brightness appears, darkness recedes. So, we need to be bright, have light. What is light? Goodness and virtue. They are brightness
Negative karma and ignorance are darkness. So , darkness is negative.
We must know to cultivate our minds. And create blessing through practice.We inwardly cultivate virtues and create blessings with our actions.This is the fuel for our future.This is our future wealth.
So ,good and evil are polar opposites.Virtues and transgressions alienate each other.The virtues do not have karma of transgressions.Those who fall into the Animal Realm were not protected by goodness or virtues.So , negative karma followed them.We cannot take anything with us but karma. If we do not create blessed karma ,then of course we create bad karma thar follow us.
Thus , when life ends we fall into an evil realm.When this life is over,we will fall into an evil realm for sure.We should know all this.
So , let us repent with deepest sincerity.Then it is said,
“We repent the Animal Realm, where we shoulder the heavy plow and repay our accumulated debt as retribution.”
As in the story I just told,we need to repent often.One of the two brothers did not believe in cause and effect. Although he made a lot of money ,he still fell into the Animal Realm. In that relam he took the form of an ox.An ox has to pull,so it “shoulders the heavy plow”.All oxen come to this world to repay debts.
In ths past people said, “if I cannot repay you what I owe in this lifetime , in the next I will be an ox or a horse to repay you.” So ,it is as they have said,if we receive a lot of help in this life ,but do not repay any of it,we repay it in the next lifetime.Thus we “repay accumulated debts as retribution.”Then it says ,
“We repent the Animal Realm,where we are not free ,and are chooped ,stabbed , butchered ,and cut up as retribution.”
We also need to repent this. Of course we are not free in the Animal Realm.Some come back as dogs and cats. Although we spoil them ,since they are in the forms of cats or dogs ,can they really be free ?They are not free.They cannot do whatever they want .Humans lead a vibrant and diverse life.But animals are limited.Although people love and cherish them ,
they are still not free. This is just one example.What about other livestock ? Other animals ?
Think about it. People fry , back and cook them ,whether they run on land ,fly in the air,
or swim in the water. They are chopped , stabbed , butchered ,and cut up. These are also retributions.We also need to repent for these.
“We repent the Animal Realm,where we have no feet , two feet,four feet or multiple feet as retribution”
In the Animal Realm , some have no feet.Whether they have two ,four or many feet,these beings of all shapes and sizes are not free.This is a result of ignorance in past lives,of not believing in cause and effect. That is why they created so much bad karma. When retributions manifest they take all sorts of different forms.
Each different life form has a different type of life.There is so much suffering;they cannot be free.Humans need to be very vigilant.Although these things take many forms.Have many names , they are all tied to our thoughts.
Our minds can create so much karma,Karma can take many different forms.So ,let us be mindful. Believe in what the Buddha said.The Buddha was one who spoke the truth.We should believe Him,otherwise we constantly accumulate karma over our lifetimes.We do not stop even in our final moments.
Thus our retributions will be unbearably painful.
So ,please always be mindful.
(Source: Da Ai TV 靜思晨語 法譬如水)