CHAPTER 24: SPIRITUAL CULTIVATION THROUGH FAITH
The Buddha's compassion and selflessness are boundless; his greatest wish is for all his followers to emulate him, not just regard him as an unattainable model. Everyone, therefore, is a potential buddha.
3.91 Three Types of Faith Cultivation Original Text in Chinese
Next, awakening aspiration by way of cultivation through faith. What types of cultivation? Briefly speaking, three types. What three? One, straight heart, rightly meditate on Zhen Ru. Two, deep heart, joyful to accumulate all kinds of meritorious deeds. Three, compassionate heart, desirous to uproot sufferings of all sentient beings.
Interpretation Next, let us look at the awakening of aspiration by way of the cultivation through faith. What are the different types of this kind of cultivation? Briefly speaking, there are three types of cultivation through faith. What are the three types? One, it is the cultivation of the direct mind, which involves meditating correctly on the Supreme Reality. Two, it is the cultivation of the deep mind, which is joyfully accumulating the performance of all kinds of meritorious deeds. Three, it is the cultivation of the compassionate mind, which is desirous to uproot the sufferings of all sentient beings.
Commentary These three types of cultivation exemplify three outstanding features of Buddhism, namely directness, depth and compassion. Buddhism aims at attaining spiritual fulfilment directly according to the level of the aspirants. At the highest level, one can attain nirvana without employing a single rite nor tool. Some rituals may be used at lower levels, but they are designed to help less advanced devotees achieve specific purposes, and not for mystifying or dramatizing the religion. Buddhism is deep, elucidating aspects of reality that modern science is only starting to investigate. Buddhist compassion for all beings is proverbial; their concern for the welfare of plants and animals is as much as for humans.
3.92 Direct Mind and Deep Mind Original Text in Chinese
Question: Earlier it was said that the Dharmarealm has only one characteristic, and the body of the Buddha is not two. Why not meditate on Zhen Ru, instead of dependent on devotees performing kind deeds.
Answer: Like a hugh previous gem, its nature is bright and pure, but still contains impurities. Although people meditate on the precious nature, if not polished by various expedient means, finally it cannot attain purity. So like sentient beings, the Spiritual Body of Zhen Ru is by nature empty and pure, but defiled by countless impurities. Although people meditate on Zhen Ru, unless permeated by various expedient means, they still cannot attain purity. Impurities are unlimited, pervading everywhere in the phenomenal realms. Cultivate all types of kindness, so as to counteract. If people cultivate all forms of kind deeds, then naturally they will logically return to Zhen Ru.
Interpretation Question: Earlier it was said that the Dharmarealm, or the whole of phenomenal realms, is only one and undifferentiated, and the body of the Buddha, or transcendental cosmic reality, is not dualistic. Then, why do we not meditate on the Supreme Reality: instead we are taught that spiritual realization is dependent on devotees performing kind deeds. Answer: It is like a huge precious gem, whose nature is bright and pure, but it still contains impurities. People may meditate on the pure nature of the gem, but if it is not polished by various expedient means of the jeweller, ultimately it still cannot attain purity. So it is for sentient beings. The Spiritual Body of Zhen Ru, or the Supreme Reality in its transcendental aspect, is by nature empty and pure, but it is defiled by countless impurities in its phenomenal aspect. Although people may meditate on the Supreme Reality, unless they are permeated by various expedient means of spirituality, they still cannot attain purity. Impurities are unlimited, pervading everywhere in the phenomenal realms. We have to cultivate all types of kindness so as to counteract these impurities. If people cultivate all forms of kind deeds, then they will naturally return to the Supreme Reality.
Commentary There are three main ways of faith cultivation, namely cultivating the direct mind, the deep mind, and the compassionate mind. Since the phenomenal realms and the transcendental reality are the same Supreme Reality, why is it not sufficient just to cultivate the direct mind, i.e. directly meditate on the one and only Universal Mind (even though the devotee may not have understood nor experienced it)? Although the Universal Mind is pure by nature, in its phenomenal form it is defiled by impurities. Hence, to attain purity, it is efficacious to counteract against these impurities, and a useful method is cultivating the deep mind, which means accumulating the performance of kind deeds. But, why does performing kind deeds make the mind, or heart, deep? And how does having a deep heart naturally enable the aspirant return to the Supreme Reality. A deep heart refers to depth in knowledge as well as in intuition. Performing kind deeds improves one's karma, thereby making him more spiritually intuitive. This eventually enables him to understand the operation of karma, and its role in the transformation of Cosmic Reality into the phenomena world. With a better understanding and intuition of cosmic laws, he has a better opportunity to attain Cosmic Reality. Moreover, Cosmic Reality is pure by nature, and purity when manifested phenomenally is often expressed as kindness. Performing kind deeds, therefore, leads the person naturally to return to the Supreme Reality.
3.93 Expedient Means for Faith Cultivation Original Text in Chinese
Briefly speaking, four kinds of expedient means. What four?
One, practise fundamental expedient means. See all phenomena in their nature as unborn, free from defiled concepts, not abided to life-death. See all phenomena come together because of cause-effect, fruit of karma never lost, arise because of great compassion, cultivate prosperity and merits for others, save all sentient beings, not attached to nirvana. Accordingly the spiritual nature never abides.
Two, capable of stopping expedient means. With humility, repent past wrongs, capable of stopping all evil phenomena from increasing or developing. Follow spiritual nature, can be free from wrongs.
Three, awakening good roots, increasing and developing expedient means. Diligently honour and pay homage to the Triple Gem, praise and rejoice in the Buddha, and seek his blessings. Because of respect and love for the Triple Gem, the heart is strengthened, faith is increased and developed, thus with ambition to seek the unsurpassed Tao. Also because the spiritual power of Buddha increases strength, he is able to eradicate karmic obstacles, his good roots do not relapse, and following spiritual nature he eradicates hindrance caused by bad karma.
Four, the great vow of universality expedient means. Thus one makes vow till the end of the future, save all sentient beings without exception. So as to attain perfect, all-embracing nirvana, according to the unending and unlimited spiritual nature. The spiritual nature is extensive and big, pervading all sentient beings, undifferentiated without two, without subject and object, completely quiescent.
Interpretation Briefly speaking, there are four kinds of expedient means. What are the four kinds? One, there are expedient means for practising fundamental doctrines. The aspirant should see all phenomena in their nature as unborn, i.e. they are neither being born nor not being born. He should free himself from defiled concepts, and not cling to the idea of being reborn to a higher station. He should understand that all phenomena exist because of the principle of cause and effect, and in the phenomenal world the fruit of karma is never lost. His own existence is due to the great compassion of the Supreme Reality; thus, while he has the rare opportunity of human existence, he should cultivate prosperity and merits for others, and aspire to save all sentient beings. Yet, he must not attach himself to the concept of nirvana. He should conform accordingly to the essential nature of the Supreme Reality which has no abiding. Two, there are expedient means capable of stopping further evil karma. With humility, the aspirant should repent past wrongs; these expedient means are capable of preventing all evil phenomena from increasing or developing. If he follows the essential nature of the Supreme Reality, he can be free from wrongs. Three, there are expedient means for awakening spiritual awareness, and for increasing and developing this awareness. The aspirant should diligently honour and pay homage to the Triple Gem, i.e. the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. He should praise and rejoice in the Buddha, and seek his blessings. Because of his respect and love for the Triple Gem, his mind is strengthened, and his faith is increased and developed, with the result that he develops the ambition to seek the unsurpassed way to enlightenment. Also because the spiritual power of Buddha increases in strength inside himself, he is able to eradicate karmic obstacles, and his good roots do not relapse into weak ones. Following the essential nature of the Supreme Reality, the aspirant can eradi¬cate the hindrance caused by bad karma. Four, there are expedient means for realizing the great vow of universal salvation. Thus the aspirant makes the vow that till the end of eternity, he will save all sentient beings without exception, so that they too will attain perfect, all-embracing nirvana, with its unending and unlimited spiritual nature. The Supreme Reality is omniscient, pervading all sentient beings, undifferentiated without duality, without subject and object, and is completely quiescent.
Commentary There are countless expedient means or ways to help devotees attain spiritual fulfilment through the cultivation of faith. Briefly speaking these countless expedient means can be divided into four major categories, which represent four distinct attitudes regarding spiritual development. The first category includes expedient means that make people realize the existence of a dimension beyond the physical, such as telling myths about gods and demons. The second category persuades people to stop doing evils, like praying in temples and following religious precepts. The third category develops spiritual awareness, like serving the monks and reciting scriptures regularly. The fourth category involves the aspirants making a definite decision to cultivate for spiritual fulfilment, such as becoming monks. These expedient means are specially meant for those who approach spiritual cultivation through the sheer strength of belief, often without philosophical knowledge or intuitive wisdom. Such cultivation through faith is the slowest of the three approaches, taking numerous life times for development. Although many Buddhists employ this approach, it is least encouraged by great Buddhist masters, who have always advocated that acceptance of any religion should be based on understanding and experience. This cultivation through faith corresponds to the Theravada way of spiritual development. Faith cultivation is spread over numerous life times, unless the faithful are blessed with favourable circumstances where they are exposed to deeper understanding or intuitive experience when they may attain nirvana rapidly. Hence, it is not uncommon to find that many Theravada followers are merely contented with leading morally pure lives with the hope that they may eventually be reborn as monks so as to devote their lives to spiritual training. Even as monks, their highest aim is to become arahats (or arahans), i.e. conquerors who have destroyed lust, hatred, sorrow and all other negative qualities. Theravadins would never dream of becoming Buddhas: that would be exceedingly presumptuous, if not sacrilegious, for they believe that there is only one Buddha in our historical time. Because of their great respect for the Buddha, Theravadins believe that no one can ever approach his attainment. According to Mahayanist thinking, this attitude is immature. The Buddha's compassion and selflessness are boundless; his greatest wish is for all his followers to emulate him, not just regard him as an unattainable model. Everyone, therefore, is a potential Buddha. The Vajrayana master, Lama Anagarika Govinda, a former Theravada teacher and later the only Westerner with the rare honour to become a Lama, explained in his own words that he initially went to Tibet "to uphold the purity of the Buddha's teaching, as practised in Ceylon, and to spread its message in a country where the Buddha-Dharma had degenerated into a system of demon-worship and weird beliefs". But after having acquired deeper understanding and insightful experience in Tibet, and also because of his concern for his Theravada brethren, he laments that "(according to the Sinhalese themselves) Ceylon had not produced a single saint during this long period," and it was "preposterous to assume that anybody could actually realize any of the state of higher consciousness of which the sacred texts speak so often."
3.94 Four Levels of Faith Cultivation Original Text in Chinese
Because of the aspiration awakened by bodhisattvas, thus see some of the Spiritual Body. To see the Spiritual Body, following the power of their vows, is manifested in eight kinds to benefit sentient beings. This is rebirth from the Tushita heaven, enter the womb, abide at the womb, out of the womb, out of the family, attain the Tao, turn the wheel of dharma, enter nirvana. But the bodhisattvas are not called the Spiritual Body, because the conditioned karmic effect of countless past lives, have not been terminated. In accordance with their rebirth, interact with slight suffering.
Not because of karmic effect, but with the power of the great vow. As mentioned in the sutras, may be reborn in evil places, but not really retrogression. But for beginning bodhisattvas who have not established the right path thus misunderstand with fear, thus fearful to stir courage. Again, when the bodhisattvas have made their vows, free from fear and doubt, not fearful of second level land. Even if they hear extreme suffering in immeasurable aeons, still cultivate diligently to attain nirvana, never fearful nor doubtful because know all dharmas since origin come from nirvana.
Interpretation Because their spiritual aspiration is awakened, the bodhisattvas, i.e. Mahayanists who are determined to seek enlightenment for themselves and for all sentient beings, have some awareness of the Supreme Reality. To attain Cosmic Reality, following the power of their vows, they have eight kinds of manifestation for the benefit of all sentient beings. These eight manifestations are rebirth from the Tushita heaven, entering the human womb, abiding at the womb, coming out of the womb, leaving the family to enter monkhood, attaining enlightenment, turning the wheel of dharma (i.e. spreading the Buddhist faith), and entering nirvana. However, these bodhisattvas have not attained perfect enlightenment or Buddhahood yet, because they have not terminated all the conditioned karmic effects of their countless past lives. Hence they still suffer slight miseries in accordance to their rebirth into the phenomenal world. Their slight suffering is not because of bad karma, but because of the spontaneous power of their great vows to save other beings. As mentioned in the sutras, these bodhisattvas may be reborn into evil states of existence. However, this is not really retrogression in their spiritual growth, but a means to place beginning bodhisattvas, who have not been firmly established in the right path, in fearful situations so that they will be stirred into courageous effort for spiritual development. Moreover, once the bodhisattvas have made their vows, they are free from fear and doubt, and are not fearful that they might fall back into inferior realms. Even if they know that they need to suffer extreme hardship for immeasurable aeons, they still cultivate diligently until they attain nirvana. They are never fearful nor doubtful, because they have deep faith that all dharmas from the beginningless beginning are originally in nirvana.
Commentary The term "bodhisattvas" during Asvaghosha's time referred to Mahayanists who had vowed to seek salvation for other beings besides themselves. Nowadays, "Bodhisattvas" refer to enlightened beings who voluntarily delay their entry into Buddhahood so as to help all sentient beings. The Tushita heaven is one of the many heavens of bliss where sentient beings go to because of their good karma. In Buddhist cosmology, the Tushita heaven, though being the abode of gods, is not very high in the spiritual hierarchy. It is only at the ninth level -- our human realm is at the fifth level -- in an ascending order to the highest at the 31st level. Levels 1 to 11 belong to the realms of desires (karma loka, yu jie); levels 12 to 27 to the realms of form (rupa loka, se jie); and levels 28 to 31 to the realms of non-form (arupa loka, wu se jie). This passage illustrates four levels of spiritual development based on faith, and are figuratively described as "winning virtues", "slight overcoming", "through the teaching of power", and "determined effort". As his spiritual aspiration is awakened, the bodhisattva wins for himself the virtues of his faith. Then he overcomes the slight suffering he has to undergo for his existence in the phenomenal world to save others. He may seem to regress to evil states of existence so as to stimulate the innate spiritual power in him. Finally he is determined in his effort to attain Enlightenment. This chapter and the last part of the previous one explains spiritual cultivation through faith, which is one of the three categories of spiritual cultivation, the other two being cultivation through understanding and cultivation through insight. Faith cultivation extends over countless life times, and the faithful, depending on whether he has good or weak spiritual roots, may progress or retrogress in his path, which is thus termed "undetermined". But if he passes a critical stage, he wins assurance of progress only, and his path is then said to be "determined". Cultivation through faith can be approached in three main ways, namely through cultivating the direct mind, the deep mind and the compassionate mind. The countless expedient means to do so may be classified into four kinds: realizing that there is a spiritual dimension beside the physical, stop doing evil, increasing spiritual awareness, and determining to attain Enlightenment. The spiritual development of the aspirant can also be generalized into four levels, namely winning his faith, enduring slight suffering, arousing his spiritual courage, and making determined effort for spiritual fulfilment. The spiritual path through faith alone is arduous and long. Nevertheless, spiritual development can be sped up tremendously with cultivation through understanding and through insight. This is explained in the next chapter.