Over the centuries, Buddhism has produced an enormous quantity of teachings, doctrines and highly complex systems of thoughts, making it very difficult to obtain a grasp of the full range of Buddhist philosophy and practice. In Lotus in the Stream, Chinese Buddhist Master Hsing Yun offers a Buddhist primer that organizes the major ideas and practices of Buddhism, from the most basic to the most complex, and presents them in concise, accessible, yet highly insightful mini-essays. An accomplished scholar of Buddhism, Master Hsing Yun also illuminates Buddhist doctrines with the light of decades of practice. Whether read straight through or flipped through as a handy encyclopedia, Lotus in the Stream is the perfect reference for beginners and advanced students of Buddhism alike.
The essays in this volume were selected with the intention of providing readers of English with the core teachings of the Buddha. They were gathered from three collections of essays written in Chinese by Master Hsing Yun.
Every effort has been made to make this volume accessible to the general reader. Buddhist terms are clearly defined and new ideas are carefully presented in an understandable order. Chinese and Sanskrit titles cited within have been translated into English and a glossary of terms is included in the back. Readers are encouraged to turn to the glossary from time to time to remind themselves of the meanings of important words.
The Buddha frequently encouraged the translation of his teachings. He said that they should be studied in our native languages whenever possible, for he wanted them to be familiar to us whatever our country or culture. I know that it is Master Hsing Yun's deepest wish that this volume of essays will serve to make Buddhism a familiar and comprehensible subject to all who enter these pages.
I would like to thank Master Hsing Yun and the members of Buddha's Light International Association for their help in making this translation possible. I would also like to thank Bill Siebold, Carl Ewig, Rush and Marie ,Glick, Maryrita Hillengas, Albert Cummings, John Sievers, Peggy Willet, and the many other people who have been kind enough to help with the preparation of this manuscript.
May any and all merit that may accrue from this work be shared by sentient beings everywhere.
There is one thing about the Dharma that I am completely sure of: the Dharma is for people. The Buddha's teachings are not a cold philosophy designed merely to rearrange the concepts in our minds, they are a living act of compassion intended to show us how to open our hearts to the miracle of awareness-our own awareness among the awareness of others. I learned this truth just as everyone must learn it-by living life and applying the Buddha's teachings to what I saw. I hope that by describing a few of my experiences, I will help readers understand my approach to the Dharma and why I feel so certain that the Dharma is something that must be practiced with other people, among other people, and for other people.
I was born in a country village in Jiangsu Province, China in 1928. Like most people of that time and place, my family held a mixture of religious beliefs; they believed in gods and spirits as well as in the teachings of the Buddha. Where one belief began and another left off was not always clear, but one thing was certain-religion was a very important part of everybody's life. By the time I was only three or four years old, I had already fully absorbed the deep religious conviction of the Chinese peasant class.
During much of my boyhood, I lived in my maternal grandmother's house. Due to her religious beliefs, my grandmother became a vegetarian at the age of eighteen. After she married my grandfather, she continued this practice and took up new ones. Every morning she awoke very early to chant a Buddhist sutra. Though she could not read a single word, my grandmother had completely memorized both the Amitabha Sutra and the Diamond Sutra, among others. Her chanting brought her powerful religious experiences, which she interpreted as meaning that she was gaining super-natural powers. This caused her to redouble her efforts. She began getting up even earlier and meditating even more.
I can still remember her getting up in the middle of the night when it was still dark outside to meditate. Somewhere she had learned a yogic practice that made her stomach growl very loudly. The rumblings were so loud, they often woke me up out of my dreams.
Once I asked her, "Grandma, why does your stomach make so much noise?"
She replied, "This is my kungfu. It is the result of years of training."
In the years that followed, I was exposed to many other forms of popular religious practice, including seances, spirit walking, and visionary journeying into other realms.
I entered the monastery when I was twelve years old. My world changed completely at that time. I went from being a carefree child to being a disciplined student of the Dharma. I studied for seven or eight years before I went home again for the first time. By that time, the war with Japan was over. I found my grandmother sitting under a tree sewing. I knelt beside her and the thought came to me that in all the years I had been in the monastery I had not once heard anyone say anything about any meditation technique that would make your stomach growl. I thought that maybe this would be a good chance to teach my grandmother something more about the Dharma. I said, "Grandma, does your stomach still make that noise when you meditate?"
With the perfect sincerity of an old woman, she replied, "Of course it does. How could I possibly live without that kungfu?"
I said, "But what is the use of having your stomach growl? Cars and air-planes also make noise. A machine can make more noise than your stomach. Having your stomach make noise can't do anything to elevate the moral nature of the human race, nor can it be of any help in liberating sentient beings from the cycle of birth and death. I have met many great masters over the last few years, and not one of them ever makes his stomach growl when he meditates."
My old grandmother was stunned by my words. She sat still for a long time. At last she said, "Then what is the right way to cultivate myself?"
I said, "Proper cultivation requires that we develop our characters to their fullest by raising our moral natures at every opportunity that presents itself. True Spiritual practice asks us to observe ourselves closely so that we can come to realize the true nature of our minds. None of this has any- thing to do with making our stomachs growl!"
My grandmother looked at me for a long time. Beneath her kindly old gaze, my certitude dissolved completely. The worst thing was that she had believed me! Her decades of solitary practice were the foundations of her faith. Though it may have been true that the growling of her stomach was doing little for the moral elevation of the human race, it was also true-and this was a far deeper truth-that her kungfu was all that she had. It had been everything to her. In a single thoughtless moment, and with just a few words, I had managed to cause her to doubt the very foundations of her faith. I could hardly bear to look upon the disappointment in her eyes. I was young and I had traveled beyond our little village, so she had believed me. We continued to talk, and yet I could see that nothing that I could say would ever remove the pain I had caused her. That memory troubles me to this day.
Before long, mainland China entered the turmoil of the communist revolution. I became a medic in a military unit that was sent to Taiwan. At first, we all thought that we would return to mainland China very soon, but as the revolution progressed, and more troops retreated, we realized that we would probably have to stay in Taiwan for a long time. As I took up preaching the Dharma in Taiwan, I remembered my experience with my grand-mother. Never again did I try to destroy the complex folk beliefs that were held by the people who came to hear me speak. I had realized that this kind of religious conviction can be like an introduction to the higher truths taught by the Buddha. No one can comprehend the Dharma in a single sitting, and thus we should respect the beliefs that every person holds.
When I moved to Ilan on the east coast of Taiwan, I quickly realized that I was probably the first Buddhist monastic who had ever gone there to teach the Dharma. There was a temple in the area dedicated to the goddess Matsu, a protector of sailors. Smoke from incense filled the temple all day long. All of the local people went there to bow before the altar and worship. None of those people had any real understanding of Buddhism, but they all thought that what they were doing was a form of Buddhist practice. Since they were satisfied with their religious practices, no one from outside had been able to convince them to try anything else. Many Christian missionaries had visited the area, but not one of them had succeeded in winning any converts.
With the memory of my grandmother's disappointment still fresh in my mind, I approached the task of presenting the Buddha's teachings with considerably more reserve than I might have. I decided that I would be gradual in my approach and carefully build upon what those people already had. I knew very well that to try to overturn their beliefs would do no one any good. Such a course of action would lead only to their disappointment in themselves or their rejection of the Dharma and me. Before the deep truths of the Buddha are widely disseminated within any society, it is important to go slow in preaching the Dharma. Wrong views are not as good as right views, but at least for a time they may serve to assuage the sense of loneliness and isolation that people feel when they are bereft of all religious conviction. My early life experiences in the Chinese countryside taught me that religion is important to the well being of society as a whole. One look in my grand- mother's old eyes taught me to see that it is essential to the well being of each and every human heart. Every Buddhist monk has to study the Dharma and learn from as many teachers as he can, and I was no exception. A Buddhist monk usually studies under one principal master. My master was Master Chih K'ai (I911-81). Master Chih K'ai was the abbot of Ch'i Hsia Shan monastery, one of the largest and oldest monasteries in China. Though Master Chih K' ai was the abbot of a great monastery that was famous all over China, he never really did anything to help me at all. He sent me away to study in other monasteries and years sometimes passed before I so much as saw him. When rarely I did see him, he never gave me the opportunity to sit and talk with him and ask him questions. He was like most of the older monks of his generation; they all treated the younger monks very coldly. If Master Chih K'ai wasn't yelling at me for something I did then he would be ordering me to do something else. He never once asked me if I needed something or if he could help me in some way. In ten years, all he ever gave me was two sets of clothing. Of course I didn't dare ask him for money to buy clothes. Whenever I wrote home, though, I would always say something like, "Master is very good to me. I am very happy here. Please don't worry about me."
In the 1930S and 1940s, China was a very poor country. The monastery where I lived had over four hundred people living in it. Our community was so poor that we were served coarse rice only about twice a month. The rest of the time we ate thin rice porridge. The porridge we were given for breakfast was so thin it was almost clear. The little bit of food that was served along with the porridge was usually nothing more than bean curd leas or dried turnip strips. Real bean curd was reserved for guests. The turnip strips usually had maggots crawling out of them right at the table. Since we never had any cooking oil, the bean curd dregs were never cooked. There were few nutrients in what we ate, but I don't remember people getting sick very often. Most of us were quite healthy. Monastic life taught us to be stoic. We were expected to be tough and to be able to withstand physical hardship. Stoicism is not the only virtue in the world, but I think that it can be very helpful in both learning and teaching the Dharma. If one cannot bear the trials of the body, then how can one ever expect to conquer the mind?
There is no better teacher than life itself. I don't like to teach my disciples that way anymore, but I do not regret having been trained in the old style. After you have spent years living like that, there is almost nothing that can ever disturb you again.
I became an ordained monk at the age of fifteen. The ordination ceremony took fifty-three days to complete. That period of time left an indelible impression on my mind. It is the source of many of the habits I still have today.
During the fifty-three days of the ceremony we were required to pay absolute attention to what we were doing. For fifty-three days I barely opened my eyes, and I never once dared to turn my head and look at what was going on around me. At fifteen, most children are very curious about their surroundings. They want to look at everything and see who is doing what. If they hear the wind in the grass, they want to go to the window and see what is going on. This is the normal curiosity of a young person. During my ordination ceremony, such behavior was impermissible. If we so much as moved, one of the presiding monks would come over with his wooden cane and beat us quite severely. He would say, "Little boy, what do you think you're doing? Pull your ears in and quit paying so much attention to things outside of yourself!" Or, "Young man, don't keep looking around at everything you see! Of all the things that you see, which of them belongs to you?"
I can well remember being hit by that cane and then thinking that what the master had said was true: in all of Ch'i Hsia Shan monastery, there was not a brick, or a tile, or a blade of grass anywhere that belonged to me. That lesson really sank in, and today I still have the habit of often closing my eyes and withdrawing from the world around me. The peaceful vistas of the inner world open at such times, and my eyes and ears become filled with the sounds of inner solitude rather than the noises of phenomenal change. When the ordination ceremony was almost over and I got my first look at the world again, I can still remember how vivid and fresh it appeared to me. Mountains and trees and flowers leapt into my mind with an intensity I had never experienced before.
There is a saying, "Talking about the Dharma for ten minutes is not as valuable as practicing it for one minute." The essays in this book have been presented to help people learn the profound teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. They have not been presented as mere ideas, to be held in abeyance from life. To learn the Dharma and not practice it would be tragic! It is my greatest hope that everyone who reads this book will also practice the teachings contained within it. Chanting the Buddha's name or being consistent about meditation is like cooking. Our constant effort is like the fire under a pot of rice. If we light the stove and then turn it off again, we will not succeed in preparing our meal. But if we apply the right amount of heat for the correct length of time, we will gain the full benefit that our efforts have earned us. This is the wisdom of thousands of years of Buddhist practice. When we focus on these great teachings and allow our-selves to be receptive to them, the wonderful and compassionate energies of higher realms will begin to fill our lives. And with them we will learn the way to find the truth.
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