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Blog » Sweet Dews Of Dharma Talks » 2014 » The Wondrous Meaning of “Precepts and Samadhi Make True Fragrance”

The Wondrous Meaning of “Precepts and Samadhi Make True Fragrance”2015-01-31


Spoken by Dharma Master Heng Yun on February, 2014
at the Dharma Realm Buddhist books Distribution Society, Taipei
English Translation by Lotus Lee


Flowers have fragrance, but it does not last forever. The fragrance of the incense that is burned in the Buddha Hall does not last forever either. However, there is a kind of fragrance that lasts forever, which is the fragrance of precepts and samadhi, as in “precepts and samadhi make true fragrance” (from the jiedingzhenxiang praise). We are doing the Jeweled Repentance of Emperor Liang and we sing this praise every day, so today I would like to talk about “precepts and samadhi make true fragrance.”

The Shurangama Sutra says: “From precepts arises samadhi, and from samadhi, wisdom comes forth. These are the three studies of no outflows.” From precepts, samadhi arises, and only from samadhi can there be wisdom. Any person who is working to attain Buddhahood must diligently practice the three studies. We could also rephrase “precepts and samadhi make true fragrance” and say “precepts, samadhi, and wisdom make true fragrance,” because precepts are the source of samadhi, and samadhi is the source of wisdom. This is true fragrance, which pervades the ten directions and will never fade. Therefore, if you uphold the precepts vigorously, this fragrance will pervade all places. In Sanskrit, the words pratimokṣa and śīla both mean precepts. When one upholds the precepts, one will be tranquil and appear dignified.

There are many kinds of adornment in the world, but there is nothing that can compare to the virtue that comes from upholding the precepts. The term “adorned with myriad virtues” means that internally, one has virtue, and externally, one has awesome deportment. If you have virtue, you will naturally have very good deportment, and you will be very adorned and solemn. We can only see the Buddha’s adornment from statues and paintings, but I have seen the Venerable Master’s adornment personally. In 1993, the Venerable Master went to Taiwan to propagate the Dharma. Before we flew back to America, while we were waiting in the airport, the Venerable Master asked me to read the newspapers to him. Since the Venerable Master cared about country affairs a lot, he had put forth numerous suggestions to the political realm, many of which were shocking to people in Taiwan. He asked me to read the newspapers to him to see how people had responded. One example I remember clearly is that one reporter provided positive feedback, saying: “This Dharma Master really cares about our country, so we should take notice and heed his warning.” He was not a Buddhist and so used the phrase “highly refined and graceful” to describe the Venerable Master. Among the Buddha’s disciples, the one with the best deportment was the bhikṣu Aśvajit, whose conduct influenced and transformed many people. In the same way, the Venerable Master’s compassion and virtue was naturally reflected in his words and actions. This is a manifestation of precepts. If we can uphold the precepts, our virtue will also shine with a bright and luminous light.

When “diligently cultivating precepts, samadhi, and wisdom,” we should first cut off all evil. Every day, before lunch, we recite the three recollections: “I vow to cut off all evil” is a kind of precept, because you refrain from doing any bad things. “I vow to do all good” means that you will practice all wholesome things. In the precepts, that is called upholding and practicing. “I vow to save all living beings.” This means that you apply the virtue of upholding the precepts to greater purposes, and use it to help other living beings. Just now Mrs. Chou mentioned that she regularly visits old people who live alone, and she has learned a lot from their experiences. By doing so, her wisdom will increase, even if she is not aware of it. If we uphold the precepts, we can change our lives and nature; furthermore, we learn to care for and help other beings. This is called “benefiting the self and benefiting others, and enlightening the self and enlightening others.” You may not be aware of it, but you are already practicing the Bodhisattva Way. Just now, Mrs. Chou said, “I found that I was capable of being nice and gentle to others; why couldn’t I treat my own family members the same way?” Usually, when we interact with family members, there is more of an attachment to the self involved. Because we are emotionally caught up with them, we may have some more expectations, whether we’re aware of them or not. We could say that this may also have to do with being selfish. After asking this question, Mrs. Chou decided to treat her family members as if they were her friends. Once she changed her attitude and opened her mind, she did not get angry or have afflictions when certain situations arose. This is a kind of samadhi.


After you develop samadhi, you will have wisdom. With wisdom, you will be able to take care of matters properly. For instance, you will know how to interact with people appropriately, whether they are older or younger than you, and whether they are your seniors or your subordinates. This is the wisdom of ordinary people. From precepts, samadhi arises, and from that arises true wisdom that is like eternal fragrance, just like the Buddha’s great wisdom. The Buddha has four kinds of great wisdom: wisdom of the great perfect mirror, wisdom of inconceivable observation, wisdom of accomplishing all one sets out to do, and wisdom of equality. “Great” means that it is boundless and limitless; anything that has limits and boundaries cannot count as great. “Perfect”: Chinese people like things to be perfect and flawless. If a circle is missing a part, it cannot be perfect. A mirror can reflect things. When something is put in front of the mirror, the mirror shows its reflection; when the thing is taken away, the mirror returns to its original state. Wisdom of the great perfect mirror means that this kind of wisdom is great and perfect, and when matters arise, like a mirror, this kind of wisdom immediately reveals the true nature of all phenomena, but does not become attached.

We are also capable of reflecting things like a mirror, but when we see with our eyes and hear with our ears, we get attached. When we see things not going our way, or our children not being cooperative, we get angry and have afflictions. After we use a mirror, the mirror will not retain the reflection. If it did, wouldn’t that be terrifying? Since a mirror retains nothing after it is used, when we deal with matters as they arise, we should be like this wisdom of the great perfect mirror, which remains unattached and does not cling to anything. This is the inherent wisdom that everyone has.

The wisdom of equality: to be honest, it is very hard for us to treat everything equally. It is difficult for monastics to refrain from following our own likes and dislikes, let alone laypeople; monastics are still in the process of learning, and are not sages yet. As for laypeople, their attachments to their family and children are even more difficult to let go of. For instance, you would definitely treat your own children differently than the children of other people. However, the Buddha practices kindness without affinities and compassionately views all beings as being of one substance. He sees everything as one and all things equally, and does not discriminate between near and far, familiar and unfamiliar, good and bad, or favorable and unfavorable.

The next one is wisdom of inconceivable observation, which is also inherent wisdom. Commoners have wisdom that can observe things, but it is not inconceivable. We should have the wisdom to observe matters. For example, in the Way-place, how should we inspire laypeople to aspire to Bodhi? After they become members of the Sangha, how should we help them cultivate? All of these require wisdom to observe and reflect. The Venerable Master had a lot of wisdom and would tell you which Dharma Door was more suited to you, but we do not have that kind of wisdom. A person may like eating salty food, but if we keep telling them to eat sweets, they would become very afflicted, and we probably would not find out that they liked salty food until much later. The point is that when people are in the right position, they will be able to cultivate better.

In the sutras, there is a story about the Venerable Shariputra and two of his disciples. One of them was an ironworker and the other collected corpses for a living. Shariputra told his ironworker disciple to cultivate the contemplation of a body decaying, and told his corpse collector disciple to cultivate the practice of counting the breath. However, no matter how hard they tried, these two people could not succeed in their cultivation, and so they went to ask the Buddha. The Buddha simply told them to trade cultivation practices. Since the ironworker disciple always pounded iron with a certain rhythm, with the practice of counting the breath, his cultivation succeeded easily. Because the corpse collector had experienced the impermanence of the world firsthand, the contemplation of a body decaying also helped him succeed in his cultivation. After trading cultivation methods, both of them were able to attain fruition. This is an example of the wisdom of inconceivable observation. We may not be able to get there at the moment, but we should observe everything calmly and collectedly, and not lose our tempers without thinking as soon as we see or hear something. That cannot even pass as “observation,” let alone “inconceivable.”

With the “wisdom of accomplishing all one sets out to do,” one will be able to take care of all matters perfectly, and benefit sentient beings.

The fragrance that is emitted from the Buddha’s four kinds of wisdom is the precept-fragrance that pervades the ten directions and never fades. The praise says, “Precepts and samadhi make true fragrance; as soon as it is burned, the fragrance shoots into the heavens.” When we have precepts and samadhi, this true fragrance arises, and it travels to all the worlds in the ten directions. Here, “the heavens” serves as a symbol and represents the fact that this true fragrance exists in the worlds everywhere.

“The assembly is sincere and respectful.” Who is the assembly? It refers to us, the people who are bowing. We sincerely and respectfully bow to the Three Jewels: the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. “The embers glow in the golden censer.” We could also compare this censer to a big kiln where precepts and samadhi are fired and turn into pure gold, which does not fear fire. “In an instant, the fumes and smoke swirl upwards and immediately pervade the ten directions.” The melody of the “Precepts and Samadhi make True Fragrance” praise in the Jeweled Repentance of Emperor Liang is very beautiful, but our resolves and the fragrance of our minds should be even more so. Therefore, everyone should be most sincere.

When we do many things, we are actually planting seeds. For instance, the precepts are wholesome seeds, for receiving the precepts is to bring forth the wholesome seeds of the Buddha nature. We can compare this to growing a tree: for there to be a tree, a seed must sprout and grow before there are flowers and fruit. By 2015, it will be the 20th anniversary of the Venerable Master entering Nirvana. Many Way-places go into decline after their founder passes away, but the monasteries founded by the Venerable Master do not have this problem. Of course, we should still work hard to support the monasteries. As long as we practice them diligently, the Venerable Master’s teachings will continue on. There are many people who like to draw near to his Dharma. In recent years, every time the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas holds the memorial for the Master’s Nirvana day, do you know what ethnicity of people there are the most of? Vietnamese people. Why are they so thankful to the Venerable Master? In 1974, during the Vietnam War, the Venerable Master accepted an invitation to go to Ho Chi Minh City, even though it was very dangerous at the time. Many people asked him not to go, but he insisted because he had already given his word. During that critical period, the Venerable Master still went to Ho Chi Minh City and spoke the Dharma in Vietnam for some time. We still have the recordings of his lectures.

During the Vietnam War, the United States took in many refugees, and the Venerable Master set up a refugee camp in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia, and taught them the Buddhadharma. When I went to the US, I would usually stay at Gold Sage Monastery, and although the ceremonies there are performed in Chinese, many Vietnamese laypeople come anyway. Even though they do not know any Chinese, they participate nevertheless. Some of them could even follow along through an entire session of Emperor Liang’s Repentance, albeit with no knowledge of what we were doing. Later, some people would bring a copy that had been translated into Vietnamese, and read along so that they would have a better idea of what was being recited. Even though it is quite cumbersome for them, they still insist on going to the Venerable Master’s monasteries. Gold Sage Monastery has a little Buddha Hall, and they would go there to bow to the Buddhas and bow to the Venerable Master. Some of them said that the Venerable Master would speak to them and pat their heads. We used to have small ceramic statues of the Venerable Master, but most of them were bought by Vietnamese laypeople. Now we order copper statues, which are made in Taiwan.

There is a layman whose Dharma Name is Guo Kong, who is about sixty years old. He is Chinese Vietnamese and speaks Mandarin. Now he is helping Gold Sage Monastery obtain permission from the government to begin rebuilding. When I asked him what affinities he had with the Venerable Master, he said that when he was young, his entire family took refuge with the Master, but after that, not only did he fail to learn the Buddhadharma, he also did many bad things. The certificates of all five family members were placed on the altar, but one day, his certificate disappeared. The other four certificates were still there. He was very shocked and began to change himself, diligently learning Buddhism. After more than ten years, when the Venerable Master was about to enter Nirvana, his certificate suddenly appeared on the altar again. He said that this was because the Venerable Master was trying to teach him something. Many Vietnamese laypeople have responses related to the Venerable Master. I believe this is all because of the wholesome seeds that the Venerable Master planted. He went to Malaysia to speak the Dharma in 1978, 1982, and 1988, and monasteries were eventually established there as well. I heard that in one day, Tze Yun Tung Temple had 500 visitors. One morning, a layperson went to Deng Bi An Temple and stood near the door at seven o’clock in the morning, counting the number of people that came in, and reported that more than 120 people arrived in the span of about ten minutes. They say that even if the monasteries in Malaysia all closed their doors, the people would come anyway. This is also because of the wholesome seeds that the Venerable Master planted.

I think that many of these seeds are things that we did not see in the beginning, but when you think back, you will see that they have begun to sprout. Let us turn back to Taiwan. Other than the United States, the country that the Venerable Master traveled to most frequently was Taiwan. In 1974, 1982, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1993, the Venerable Master accepted people’s invitations to speak the Dharma or to host Dharma Assemblies for the protection of the country and eradication of calamities. In 1974, he went to Taiwan twice, and during the second time, lectured on the Pure Conduct Chapter and stayed until the first few months of the coming year. In 1989, the Venerable Master also came to Taiwan twice: the first time was for the opening of the Proper Dharma Buddhist Academy on January 3rd; there were also quite a few people who were ordained as monastics. The second time was in October, to host a Dharma Assembly for the protection of the country and eradication of calamities.

In 1990, there was a big Sangha meeting in Southeast Asia, and the Venerable Master was invited to be the main speaker. At the time, Proper Dharma Buddhist Academy had moved to Jinshan, and Dharma Master Liang and I, along with about twenty people, were living in a very cramped space of about 700 square feet. The Venerable Master came to Taiwan to see us, and also went to Liugui to establish residency in Taiwan. He traveled to Taiwan more than ten times. We should know that he cared a lot about this place. In 1989, the Venerable Master stayed in Taiwan the longest, and during that period, there was a big earthquake in San Francisco. When he heard the news, the Master said: “Ah, all of my attention was on Taiwan. I neglected the other side.” This is because he once said, “If I am in San Francisco, I will not allow any big earthquakes to happen.” When he was not in San Francisco, a big earthquake occurred.

Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society was actually started by some laypeople, like Guo Guan and Guo Zhu. We’re very grateful to their efforts, as monastics did not take up residence there until 1991. Before that, they lived at Dongjing Monastery in Hualian, because starting in 1989, the Venerable Master wanted to establish Buddhist academies outside the United States. The first of these academies was called Proper Dharma Buddhist Academy. Many current Sangha members, including Dharma Master Cai, were students there. However, after about a year, we moved away.

In the past, I was never really aware of things that happened, because of the wholesome seeds that the Venerable Master had planted in the past. It never crossed our minds that we would leave Dongjing Monastery, and establish Amitabha Sagely Monastery in Hualian. An old lady, Mrs. Chou, offered the land to the Master, and so Amitabha Sagely Monastery was founded. About twenty years later, we now have a bigger area. The new Amitabha Monastery is very big. We can even establish a Buddhist Academy for people new to the Buddhadharma, and for people who want to gain a deeper understanding of the Buddhdharma or become monastics. Amitabha Sagely Monastery has the capability to do all that. Looking at Amitabha Monastery’s history, we can see that the wholesome seeds that the Venerable Master planted in Taiwan are growing.

My personal hopes are to continue the Proper Dharma Buddhist Academy, help more people learn the Buddhadharma, and teach and develop talented people in Buddhism, especially Sangha members, so that monastics will be able to combine practice and learning, and cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. Monastics serve to lead the assembly, so if the monastics do well, the laypeople will follow suit. This happens very naturally. On the other hand, if the monastics are sluggish and do not have correct views, the laypeople will not do things right either. Yesterday, Jin Jie Shr’s daycare teacher came to visit her. Her daycare teacher is an elderly layman, and he said that because there were some problems in his family, he went to a temple to do some fire offerings and whatnot. The Dharma Master there said that they were not allowed to go against or argue about anything he said. Afterwards, this monastic took them to eat meat. This layperson began to have doubts, and when he came to Amitabha Sagely Monastery, he immediately asked Jin Jie Shr why this monastic would take them to eat meat.

If monastics lead laypeople in this way, and if some laypeople follow along without clearly understanding the situation at hand, the Buddhadharma will eventually die out. Therefore, I believe that our responsibility as monastics is to practice well, carry on the traditions, and guide others to learn the proper Dharma. Due to all of these things, I believe that the wholesome seeds that the Venerable Master planted have begun to sprout. It takes a long time for a tiny seed to grow into a big tree, so this can be seen as an incubation period. By doing Emperor Liang’s Repentance now, what seeds are we planting? We are planting wholesome seeds, seeds for attaining Buddhahood, so I hope that everyone will cherish this opportunity.

In the precepts and samadhi praise, the last sentence is “In the past, Yashodhara eradicated calamities and avoided obstacles.” Who was Yashodhara? She was the Buddha’s wife. When the Buddha was still known as Prince Siddhartha, Yashodhara wanted a son very badly, and his father King Suddhodana wanted a grandson very much as well. Prince Siddhartha then pointed at Yashodhara’s stomach and announced, “You are now with child,” and went on to renounce the lay life. After six years, during which the Buddha was not present, Yashodhara had a son named Rahula. In Chinese, the word Rahula means “obstacle.” Rahula had to undergo the retribution of being stuck in his mother’s womb for six years because in one of his past lives, he trapped a mouse in its hole for six days. At the time, traditions in India were very strict and brutal. If a woman was unfaithful to her husband, she would be burned to death.

When people saw that Yashodhara had a son six years after the prince renounced the lay life, they concluded that she had been unfaithful. They proceeded to dig a hole which they filled with fire and were about to burn Yashodhara and Rahula to death. At this time, Yashodhara said: “If I have been faithful, then the child and I will not be burned to death. Lotus flowers will appear to protect us.” She then jumped into the fire. Lotus flowers really appeared from the flames and held up both of them. Therefore, it is said that she “eradicated calamities and avoided obstacles.” Why was she able to do so? Because in her past lives, she upheld the precepts very well, especially the precept against lying. As a result, whatever she said always came true. If you want whatever you say to become reality, then you must diligently uphold the precept against lying. This is the story behind the sentence “In the past, Yashodhara eradicated calamities and avoided obstacles.”

The last line is “Homage to Incense Cloud Canopy Bodhisattva, Mahasattva.” There are two possible interpretations: the first is that Incense Cloud Canopy Bodhisattva arrives at the Dharma Assembly personally, and the other is that we are helping Incense Cloud Canopy Bodhisattva achieve his goal, because the fragrance that is produced from precepts and samadhi pervades all directions, like the clouds in the sky. In the New Year, I hope that everybody will become Incense Cloud Canopy Bodhisattva and keep up the good work. After we become Incense Cloud Canopy Bodhisattva, we have to attain Buddhahood. I hope that everyone will make true fragrance from their cultivation of precepts and samadhi.

“Precepts are the origin of unsurpassed Bodhi, for they nurture all wholesome roots of goodness.” This year, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas will be transmitting the Bodhisattva precepts. I hope that everyone will go to CTTB to take the precepts, because this is a rare and wonderful opportunity. However, before one can take the precepts, one’s previous practice of the precepts must be reviewed first. For instance, if you have accidentally stepped on insects and killed them in the past, you did not harbor the intent to kill, so this does not count as a major offense, but you should still repent. On the other hand, if you have taken the five precepts and have committed a major offense, especially with regards to the precept against sexual misconduct, then the procedure for transmitting the precepts at CTTB requires you to bow to the Buddhas and do repentances until you see such auspicious signs as light or flowers, which means that your offenses have been eradicated. Only then can you receive the Bodhisattva precepts. If you had an abortion after you took the five precepts, that is also a major offense, and you will also have to bow to the Buddhas until you see auspicious signs before you can take the Bodhisattva precepts.

“Once sentient beings take the Buddha’s precepts, they have entered the state of all Buddhas. Now that their state is the same as that of the Great Enlightened Ones, they are truly the Buddha’s disciples.” Transmissions of the Bodhisattva precepts are very rare, so I hope that all of you will cherish this opportunity.