A Commentary On The Sutra of Ananda's Query Concerning the Ultimate Results Of Performing The Buddha's Teachings As Good Or Ill Luck

Spoken By Venerable Master Chin Kung At Amitabha Buddhist Society (Singapore) On April 4, 2001

Translated with Annotation by the Kumarajiva Project
Thome H. Fang Institute

Lecture No. 1

Fellow students, good morning! This time we have several students joining me to the Kuching (in Sarawak, Malaysia) high mountain to attend the Ground- breaking Ceremony for building the “Gratitude Memorial Buddha Recitation Hall.” The construction project is scheduled for completion in November. After its completion we will have a new place as practice centre which can serve as a year-round, 24-hours Buddha recitation hall and a lecture hall as well. We will have four Memorial Halls there, generally each serving as a classroom, larger than this one. The total space can enable four lecturers to give lectures on the Sutras simultaneously. So, in the future, we can make use of this place to practice lecturing on the Sutras. It is a practice centre provided for four orders of our folks [monks, nuns, the male and female devotees] who wish to join with us in our common cause of cultivation and discipline. Of course, no one comes here to stay forever, all come for just a short-term residence. Those entering Malaysia could stay there only as long as the local Custom Office permits. When I was there, I heard our dharma-affinity with the Malaysian community is remarkably well. We are all highly pleased to hear that.

As taught by the sages and wise men of ancient China, the goal-setting is a matter of topmost importance for the aspirants. By “goal-setting” is meant that, for all our life, we must have a certain direction, a certain goal to pursue. As well put in the common saying for exhortation, “One shall aim at becoming a sage or a virtuous.” What is meant by that? It simply means that we shall be taught to become a kind person, a good person, rather than a powerful or rich one. Confucius is such a great sage [Trans.: though powerless for almost all his life],[1]his most favored disciple is Yan-hui [Trans.: though extremely poor for all his life, is a noble character of humble, wisdom and virtue], next only to the sage. The meaning of “the sagely” (sheng) is very close to that of “the divine” (shen). Thus, generally we have put these two terms together to represent a composite notion of “shen-sheng” or “sheng-shen,” meaning thereby “the sacred or holy.” It signifies that only when one has thoroughly well understood the reality of the universe and life, can one be truly called “sacred or holy.” Thus viewed, “taking sageliness or holiness as our goal” just means that we are urged to become a clear-minded or wise person, not a muddle-headed or stupid person.

If we have really understood, we will realize: “From where have we come before life, and to where shall we go after death? Not only we can clearly understand all these matters, but we also could clearly understand the truth of “the past as beginning-less and the future as end-less,” should our meritorious deeds incessantly accrue. What kind of person could accomplish it? Buddhism teaches “Illuminating one’s mind as seeing one’s true nature.” [Trans.: those who are enlightened, or who as referred to in Buddhism, have seen one’s True Nature or Buddha Nature and have comprehended the true reality] Men of this mundane world can hardly be expected to understand that. How is it possible? They wonder. We may say, though all the world don’t believe it, and all consider it impossible, yet the sages and wise men of ancient China, and the multitude of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas of India all concur: It is possible; not only possible, but originally it is really the case. Thus, it is clearly asserted in the Sutras, that “all sentient beings attain to Buddhahood originally,’ that is, “by the original potency within themselves.” We have read in the Infinite Life Sutra that “All are originally capable of attaining to the Buddhahood.” Thus, we see, education by the sages and the virtuous aims at nothing but helping all of us restore our original potency and [creative] power. One who has thus restored one’s true self comes to help us do the same. This is “teaching” or “educating” in the truest sense of the term.

“Teaching or education” means “the process of growth for those who have awaken themselves earlier to come forward to help awaken those who are to awaken themselves later.” One is awaken early, while people like us are not yet; one comes forward to help us restore our own great wisdom and great awakening as original endowment in our self-nature. This very process [of self-restoration and self-renovation] is called “education.” Only wisdom as self-awakening and self-enlightenment can help us solve our whole bunches of problems. Wisdom as the power to recognition, in the Buddhist term, is called the “gateway [approach] of knowledge and understanding”; awakening is called the “gateway [approach] of action and deed.” As concretely actualized in our daily life, the latter is called “the Six Harmonies.” In other words, by self-actualization one lives such a lifestyle that one is able to get along with all other humans and things in a perfectly harmonious relation, without any slight defects. Such a perfect personality in heaven and earth, such a most consummate person, is what we call “the sagely or the holy person.” It is completely by abidance to wisdom that one can accomplish so much, and so well. For one sees so clearly, so penetratingly.

What is the universe and human life? Why can one get along so well with both of them whereas we cannot? Because of our ignorance [avidya, or unenlightenment]. Being ignorant, we produce our own bewilderment and illusionment, which attract innumerable troubles, thus forming what is generally called the “karma-hindrance” (“karmavarana”) [Trans.: i.e., the screen and hindrance of the past karma—actions and deeds hindering the attainment of Bodhi] or “ye zhang”. Once our wisdom blossoms, our karma-hindrance dissolves. We must make it perfectly clear to ourselves: What a sagely teacher can teach us? On our daily life and conduct, the guidance he gives us comes entirely from the fountain of authentic wisdom. Therefore, never shall we misunderstand his intention, by saying “Ah, all these are only his dogmas, serving as our bondage.” Then, you would be totally mistaken, basically you don’t recognize the sage! Not at all. No sage would bother to constrain or harness any other person, nor to make any single law so coercive in nature as to force any one to do this or that. In the Sastras and Sutras the Buddha has made this point perfectly clear while saying: “Neither the Buddhas nor the Bodhisattvas attempts to make one single law.” All of their acts and deeds, and all their teachings, originate spontaneously from the True Nature. Whose True Nature? Our own True Nature. We have not seen our own True Nature yet; they have seen our True Nature to be the case originally. As is implied in the assertion “Human nature is originally good.” That original goodness is exactly your True Nature. That goodness is the goodness in the ultimate and perfect sense, not the good in “good vs. evil” where it is used in the relative, hence derivative, sense. Therefore, we must make up our mind and set up our goal to become a sage and a virtuous, to become a Buddha, a Bodhisattva. Only then, will we be on the right track.

Generally speaking, the teachings we have received from the sages and virtuous consist of no more than two aspects: knowledge and conduct. Today our studies stress on Confucianism and Buddhism, which are no exception. Like the two sides of the same coin, these two aspects definitely merge in one. One aspect implies and is implied by the other. All sutras are no exception. The elementary level sutras, those meant for the beginners, stress more on the conduct, than on the knowledge aspect; for those senior and more sophisticated students who have already studied for a long while, the teachings of the sages and virtuous surely stress more on the other way round. Our knowledge and conduct must correspond with one another before we can enter into the dharma-truth; otherwise, should there be any cleavage between them, we are detained at the entrance thereby.

The conduct aspect is emphasized especially for the beginners. Without making serious efforts at the conduct aspect, you are detained at the entrance, no one can help, no matter how good teacher may be. Therefore, we call the teachings of the ancient sages and virtuous as “the way of respect for teachers,” which surely must be based on “the way of filial piety towards parents.” The Buddhist teachings, as you must aware, begin with “Three Conditions of Pure Karmas” (“Three Conditions” in short) as the starting point of practice: In the first part of first condition we are told: “Be a filial son or daughter and support your parents.” — the way of filial piety towards parents; in the second part of first condition we are told: “Be respectful to our teachers and elders” — the way of respect for teachers. In the last part of first condition, we are further told “Be compassionate and not killing any living beings” and “Follow the Ten Good Conducts”. Thus, the way of filial piety for parents and the way of respect for teachers is concretely put into practice. The last part of first condition is the summary of the entire body of The Sutra of the Path of Ten Virtuous Conducts. You have requested me to lecture subsequently on The Sutra of Ananda’s Query Concerning the Ultimate Results of Performing the Buddha’s Teachings as Good or Ill Luck, which is also the afore-mentioned two ways concretely actualized in one. In contents, it is completely identical with The Sutra of the Path of Ten Virtuous Conducts; it may be regarded a supplementary reading thereto.

From where shall we begin with our learning program? With the ten virtuous conducts. From among the multitude of people, the learning individual, first of all, shall aim to be a good person. Where lies the good of being a good person? It lies exactly in enabling ourselves to live a happy life, free from anxiety, afflictions, and cares, to live all our life in a world of love; to live all our life in a world of gratitude. How blissful and how happy it is! You feel neither hatred, nor grievance, nor hostility, nor opposition, nor discrimination, nor attachment towards any events, any things, and any person, whether within this world, or beyond it. Far from being enlightened and wise as we are, in conduct and principle we have approximated to the stage of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. This is called “learning from the Buddha as model.” We have already started the learning, i.e., learning the Buddhas’ and the Bodhisattvas’ way of living. If you ask why? What is the rationale? For what so much ado? The Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas have already clearly stated for us. Nevertheless, we still remain in the dark.

As well stated in the beginning stanza of The Classic of Three Characters, “Human nature is originally good.” And we may well keep chanting the text. Do we really understand its meaning? No. It has been stated in Buddhism, especially in the Mahayana Sutras, “Oneness of the Mind-Nature, Sunya (Vacuity), the Dharma Realms (Dharma-dhatu), and the non-duality of the physical body, the Buddha-Land, and all sentient-beings” in terms of which to elucidate the same truth; namely, it teaches us thus: “Pervasive throughout all the world of Sunya and all the Dharma Realms there is nothing but one self.” If you have entered into this world of vision, congratulations! You have become a Buddha, you have succeeded in attaining to the Buddhahood. On the same token, the Chan (Zen) Sect of Buddhism has advanced the assertion: “Pervasive throughout all the world of Sunya and all the Dharma Realms there is nothing but one monk’s eye.” It signifies the same view: In loving a person, we love ourselves; in hating a person, we hate ourselves, being at the odds with ourselves. Why? Throughout all the world of Sunya and all the Dharma Realms there is nothing but one self. For this reason, a truly enlightened person definitely has neither hatred, nor grievance, nor hostile opposition, but always exuberant with the heart of joy, and with universal equity towards all those who are enlightened such as the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas, and all those who are unenlightened, such as those still caught in the six directions of suffering and all forms of existence, regardless of intimate or strange, remote or close. But, as a matter of fact, there is the difference between intimate and strange, remote and close. Why so? Because of the difference in affinities or, in our current usage, a matter of difference in opportunity which, in the Buddhist terms, is called “a matter of affinity according to the timing and circumstance,” or simply “a matter of karma distribution or karma share.” It is not a difference in “reason”; nor a difference in “events”; but a difference in “affinity.”

In our learning, we must look up to the Buddhas’ and the Bodhisattvas’ teaching as standard. It is a standard originally endowed in our true nature, not an external one, as if drilled into us from outside. If we affirm on this very point, we will then be willing to strive to learn, earnestly and diligently. For we realize that this way of practicing accords with our natural virtues, and this way of learning unveil our true nature spontaneously. The Chan (Zen) Sect of Buddhism teaches: “Illuminating one’s mind as seeing one’s true nature.” Thus, this learning follows the approach of “Illuminating one’s mind as seeing one’s true nature,” and correspond to “Jiao Xia” (Mahayana schools other than Chan Sect is known as “Jiao Xia” in Chinese) doctrine of “Great understanding as perfect comprehension” and also concurs with what is taught in our Pure Land Sect as “One mind undisturbed in Enlightenment”. These two Sects, though different in ways of expression (used in describing the level of cultivation) are identical in meaning. When we set our cultivation in this direction and goal, we are surely on the right track. In our learning, we must strive, seriously and diligently. Be sure to understand that I must work hard, and learn seriously, with the same compassionate heart as the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas, and with the same universal love and equity towards all sentient-beings as is said of all the sacred and holy personalities in all great religions. Loving all sentient-beings and sympathizing with all sentient-beings, we must help all of them get enlightened, get out of the ocean of pain and suffering, and enjoy genuine happiness. If I don’t work hard in learning, I would be unable to help them and they must stay in suffering for one day longer. On the other hand, if I work hard in learning, I would be able to help them get enlightened and they would be able to leave the world of pain and suffering and enjoy genuine happiness for one day sooner. This is what the Buddhists have called “accumulating merits and enhancing virtues.”

We need true cultivation ourselves. How shall we proceed? We must wash clean all kinds of pollution in the past. What kind of pollution? Pollution of selfishness and self-interest, pollution of fame and status, de luxe and decadent saturation in enjoyment, pollution of greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance, and the pollution of five passions and six sense objects. Unless washed clean, all these will hinder your way to freedom and emancipation. On the other hand, if you can get rid of all these pollutions diligently as washed clean, you will then obtain great freedom and genuine emancipation, and your faculties of wisdom and virtue will emerge naturally. Our difficulty lies not so much in the teachings of the sages and virtuous, but in our unwillingness to wash clean all our past afflictions and habits. We just won’t do it. In our daily life, the six sense organs get in close contact with six objects of the defiled worlds, we still go along with our afflictions and habits. It won’t work. This problem is serious. The moment you have succeeded in cutting them off, you become a Buddha right away. Though not one completely enlightened yet, you must have proven yourself Buddha-like to a certain degree, at least. Therefore, to remain a mere fellow, or to become a Buddha hinges upon one instant of thought. It all depends on whether, or not, you can turn your thought aright. So much for our lecture today.


[1] Except for a short period of time, about three months, during which he served as Minister of Justice for his native State of Lu.

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