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Blog » Sweet Dews Of Dharma Talks » 2014 » Reform oneself just once

Reform oneself just once2014-04-29


 Spoken by Dharma Master Heng Ju
    English Translation by Genglin Zheng

During the New Year’s holiday, we bowed to the Shurangama Repentance. I believe many of you have not participated in this repentance before; even for me, this was the very first experience. It is truly a rare and special occasion. One can say that it is an occasion difficult to encounter in hundreds of millions of eons.

In the Shurangama Sutra, the Venerable Ananda requested the dharma from the Buddha on behalf of all beings. Although Ananda was foremost in erudition and learning, the Buddha still said, “Ananda, even though you are foremost in learning, you are like a person who is only well-versed in the study of medicinal herbs. But when you come face to face with the herbs, you don’t recognize any of them.” We living beings are the same. We think that we are using our true mind, but we don’t know where the true mind really is.

Let me share a story. There was an elderly wealthy person. He was worried that his spoiled son would not be able to live independently. He thought to himself, if I hand my fortune over to my son, it might be harmful to him. Why don’t I let him go work hard for himself? So he told his son how he established himself from nothing and how hard he worked. His son was very touched; he wished to follow his father’s footsteps.

The young man built a big, sturdy ship. Amidst the cheers of friends, he sailed away. He travelled many oceans and experienced perils and difficulties. Having come upon many islands, he finally arrived at a tropical grove. Searching through the trees in this place, he found a very tall tree, about ten meters in height. There were only a couple of trees of this species in the grove. He cut down the trees and peeled off the barks, keeping only the dark inner part of trees. The heartwood was fragrant. He thought to himself, “Now, I have found a rare treasure.” He carried the log to the market to sell. But no one was interested in his fragrant wood. At that time he saw a peddler selling charcoals. It was very good business and soon the charcoals were sold out. “Well, what good business!” he pondered.

Day after day went by. His mind swayed. “Why don’t I burn the log and make charcoals out of it?” So he burned the fragrant wood into charcoals and took them to the market the next day. The charcoals were sold instantly. He was very happy, thinking to himself, “I was right to have changed my mind.” He went back home and told his father that, by turning the fragrant wood into charcoal, the wood was sold instantly. His father was very sad at hearing about this. In tears, he said, “Son, you sold the most precious sandalwood as charcoal. Don’t you know how precious the sandalwood is? The powder from a small piece of sandalwood is worth a cartload of charcoals.”

This story tells us that we often neglect the sandalwood in our own hands; instead, we admire the charcoals in other people’s hands. To lose the precious sandalwood is like losing our own Buddha nature. We tend to admire other people; we compare ourselves with other people. Sometimes, we are determined to learn Buddhism and achieve sagehood. Maybe we are courageous in the beginning. But then we see the easy life of ordinary people. Because their lives seem more carefree and easier, I envy that and change our original determination. We turn ourselves back into ordinary people who don’t cultivate anymore.

It’s not easy to practice Buddhism nor is it easy to cultivate because it takes effort. For example, some people resolved to receive the Bodhisattva precepts, but along the way, they realized that it is too difficult to be a Bodhisattva. We are inclined to compare ourselves with others. When comparing to people who are better off, we feel inferior; when comparing to people who are worse off, we feel superior. We lose ourselves and our self-confidence in the midst of all these comparisons. Let us not envy the charcoals in other people’s hands. Let us instead treasure the sandalwood in our hands and treasure who we are.

Right now everyone is having lunch. May I ask if anyone would say, “I don’t know how to eat?” Of course we all know how to eat. It is very commonplace and easy, right? Now for a second story:

A shramanera once asked a high monk: “Master! In your practice, is there any secret to enlightenment and cultivation?” The high monk answered, “I eat when I feel hungry and sleep when I am tired.” The shramanera said, “This is no different from anyone else! Everyone does them.” The high monk said, “I am indeed different. You should know that ordinary people keep other things in mind while eating and have many false thoughts. They dream in their sleep, so they don’t sleep at ease. But when I eat, I pay attention to eating, without false thoughts; when I sleep, I never dream. This is where I am different from other people.” The high monk continued: “Most people don’t know about single-mindedness. They go about chasing social status and riches; that’s why they are constantly busy. So they incur all kinds of false thoughts in their mind. In the end, they lose the priceless faith in themselves. Such is the result of not knowing how to apply an straightforward mind to mundane matters.”

So the most precious thing in the world is our straightforward mind, a mind with no impure thoughts. In the sutras, it is often mentioned by the high monks that “A straightforward mind is the way.” If we face things with a straightforward mind, many things would naturally have solutions. Furthermore, we should see past fame and fortune, success and failure. That way we can live unimpeded and at ease.

Here’s another story. A layperson asked a high monk: “What is the best food in the world? “ The high monk murmured to a young monk and sent him to the market to get the food. The young monk returned shortly with the best food. The layperson opened the package. There, alas, was a pig’s tongue! The layperson felt odd. The high monk said, “Don’t you know! The tongue can speak the most beautiful language and the most exquisite words.” The layperson nodded his head. Then the layperson asked, “What is the worst food in the world?” The high monk again murmured to the young monk and sent him to the market to buy the worst food.

Shortly, the young monk returned with the worst food. The layperson opened the package and again saw the pig’s tongue. The layperson felt even more confused. “Isn’t this the best food? How come it is now the worst food?” The high monk said, “Well, you really don’t know this! The tongue is the worst thing; it can call the white black and black white. You see, the tongue is a very powerful thing. It can change a person’s fate; so it is the worst food.” The layperson, at hearing this, admired the high monk very much. For what he said was not something we ordinary people can easily grasp. This story tells us that we should be very careful in what we say. A few misguided words could ruin a person’s future, just as a few wholesome words could transform a person for the better.

At the onset of this New Year, we should resolve to say and do wholesome things for the entire year. Speaking is not an easy task. Even with a thousand words of good advice, it’s hard for us to teach and transform even a single person for the better. On the other hand, it’s very easy for us to hurt someone or ruin them with just a few words. Just say something hurtful and that person will remember it forever. Isn’t this how it is? The act of speaking is a very serious matter.

The Buddha said, “For a person to reform a thousand people for a thousand times is not as good as reforming oneself just once.” I would like to use this to conclude the above stories.