目录 Table of Contents
How to Learn and Practice Dharma
Khenpo Yeshe Phuntsok Rinpoche
Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy
Sertar, Sichuan Province, China
With the blessings of my noble guru,
To all dharma practitioners,
For the benefit of all sentient beings.
During this national holiday, we have precious free time to gather together, to learn and practice dharma, thus accumulating merits on the way towards Buddhahood. Seeing the current situation of how people study dharma, I’d like to talk about the right method to learn and practice dharma, according to the sutra guidelines as well as the precious teachings from my noble guru H. H. Wish-Fulfilling Gem Jigme Phuntsok. So the title of my talk is, How to Learn and Practice Dharma.
The number of Buddhism organizations and groups has increased much in recent years. Buddhists involve themselves in more activities for the benefit of others and of their own, such as sutra and shastra studies, meditation, animal protection and releasing, and many other charitable efforts, which are all booming. Since there are so many choices for our Buddhist life, we need to figure out which ones are the most essential, which ones are less important. We must not forget the essence of all these.
So what is the essence of dharma? To answer this question, we need to look in the twelve links of dependent origination that depict the truth of samsara, the life cycles that all sentient beings go through.
In daily life there are always many cases calling for help. Patients can’t be cured after exhausting all family savings; a family is struck by sudden accidents and falls into despair; children can’t afford basic education in rural areas, even many sick stray cats and dogs in streets. They are all suffering tremendous adversities. As Buddhists we are obligated to help them, and we naturally do so driven by our compassion.
Meanwhile we should ask, by offering a hand at the moment, do we make their life free from any more problems? As life keeps changing, they get what they need for now, but how about the future? Nobody can guarantee that they will remain happy for the rest of their lives. We never know what will happen tomorrow. But one thing for sure, future problems down the road are inevitable.
Why is adversity endless like the waves of the ocean? From the twelve links of dependent origination, we can see the cause of samsara is karma and affliction, and the effect of samsara is birth, aging and death. If the cause isn’t removed, then suffering won’t stop in the sequence of birth, aging and death.
Therefore, even if it does help to address their immediate needs, this kind of help is limited. As you can imagine, ladling out surface water in a boiling pot won’t stop the boiling, because the pot is on a big fire.
More than that, countless sentient beings have been undergoing unbelievable sufferings for eons. They live in the realms of hells or hungry ghosts and are tortured by severe pain that we human beings can’t imagine.
The cause of suffering for all sentient beings is karma. As long as karma continues, the unfavorable situations will keep occurring. If we find a way to eliminate karma, then we bring more profound and more lasting happiness to sentient beings. As a Buddhist, this is the most meaningful contribution.
The dedication of our merits to sentient beings is a sort of direct way to relieve their karma, as the big karma may be reduced and the small ones eliminated. However, if we think about the seeds of karma, from beginningless time, every being has been accumulating countless karma seeds, and new seeds are continuously produced. Therefore, just by dedicating our merits the seeds of karma cannot be completely eradicated.
The seeds of karma are sowed by affliction, nurtured by the water of affliction and continuously grow and ripen. If we are able to control and eliminate affliction, karma wouldn’t grow any more, since its water line is cut off. Thus we can release sentient beings from suffering. Then we ask, does affliction have its own source? We can see that the source of affliction is just self-attachment. It is due to ignorance that sentient beings hold on to the non-existing “I” as real.
Questioning and analyzing like this, we can reveal all the direct and indirect causes of suffering. As long as the root, the ignorance of sentient beings, is cut off, all kinds of suffering in this world will be eliminated forever.
If someone is too poor to make a living, a rich person may give him some money which lifts him out of poverty immediately. But to enlighten a sentient being is a much more complicated and daunting task, as it cannot be achieved by wealth alone. We need skills to work on ignorance, just like a doctor knows how to treat patients. In the ideal situation, we’ve already cleared our own ignorance and afflictions and have the ability of clearing those of others. Or at least, we know the authentic remedy to clear them.
So where can we find this method of enlightening ignorance? Can an ordinary being find it by himself? Absolutely not. Otherwise since beginningless time, they should have found the answer. How about non-Buddhism or other philosophers? Neither can they, because none of them have liberated themselves. In this world, among all different religions and philosophies, only Buddhism points out the root of suffering. As the Buddha said, ignorance causes self-attachment, which produces affliction, affliction generates karma and karma leads to the results of suffering. This is the law of dependent origination. So if an intelligent and wise man cares about the wellbeing of himself and all others, he ought to seek effective methods from dharma to break the chain of twelve links of dependent origination.
Answer: Truthfully and clearly, dharma has revealed the cause of suffering in samsara, and the way to break free from samsara. But can we really take in the dharma teaching and quickly enlighten our daily life? For few people with extraordinary wisdom, it is doable. We do have good models in the past, like the Sixth Patriarch Huineng of Zen, the omniscient Mipham Rinpoche, as well as my guru, H. H. Wish-Fulfilling Gem Jigme Phuntsok. However as ordinary people like us, it will be hard enough to comprehend the truths in dharma, let alone practice them.
Why is it hard? Is dharma deliberately obscure and difficult?
Of course not. All of the dharma describe direct experiences of the enlightened beings, which – like our daily perception of a cup of tea or three meals – is intuitive, straightforward, and easy to understand. Meantime dharma is consistent with the Buddha’s teaching in sutra texts, and is very logical and evident. Then why is dharma so hard for us? It’s mainly due to our old habits. We ordinary people have adapted to this mundane world manifested by samsara. Our interest and intelligence are limited to what we see in this manifestation, and never give much thought beyond this world. We don’t know how to practice dharma, and feel it is distant from the world. No surprise because dharma advocates supra-mundane merits and aims to go beyond this world.
Nevertheless, no matter how unfamiliar dharma feels, we can get used to it so long as we want to learn. Since dharma brings us the greatest benefit, definitely we should get acquainted with it again and again. This process comprises three steps: listening, contemplating and meditating, which are the cores of dharma learning.
The reality of samsara is endless suffering, and the cause of suffering isn’t lack of wealth, but karma and affliction, which are produced by ignorance. Therefore, to eliminate the whole suffering of samsara, we have to eradicate ignorance. All of these teachings, however, are beyond our common sense in daily life. So only following the approach of listening, contemplating and meditating, can we really live the dharma and stop the endless suffering cycles for ourselves and for all sentient beings.
In short, listening, contemplating and meditating make up the necessary process to learn and practice dharma. Through listening to sutra and shastra teaching, we realize the substantial suffering of this world and its root cause. We learn the truths of suffering and arising of suffering, as well as the state after suffering is eliminated and the way to reach the state, i.e., the truths of cessation of suffering and the path. Through contemplating, we digest the teaching we hear, grow faith in it and thus think and act according to the new principles. Through meditating and practice, we transcend our mind and replace old karmic habits with dharma teaching. Eventually our wisdom, or consciousness, will align with the Buddhist sages’ and our ignorance will be eradicated permanently.
The three steps are not unique to dharma learning. To learn any worldly skill one needs to go through these same steps. It’s the common process for us to learn anything new.
For example, you want to become a pilot. First, you study the mechanism of an airplane and the instructions of how to control it, and then memorize the theory. This is listening. Then, you review the knowledge and familiarize yourself with everything in a real aircraft. This is contemplation. Finally, you fly with your coach, and after repeated practices, you’ll turn those instructions to your new habits and reinforce them. This is meditating.
So what are the common misunderstandings and pitfalls during this process? Let’s take a look.
Generally speaking, there are five mistakes to watch out for.
1). Not listening carefully. Some sit through teachings just to receive the transmission and some blessing from it. They do not pay attention to the meaning of dharma, and the teaching just goes in one ear and out the other. Well, without sincere respect and faith for dharma, one wouldn’t be able to receive blessing from the lineage. Worse, this kind of attitude towards dharma will produce bad karma and lead to lower realms. On the contrary, with deep respect and faith, one will listen attentively and dedicate the mind to memorizing the teachings.
2). Listening but not contemplating. Some people just prefer listening. They may have heard much teaching, chanted and recited many sutras, but have not contemplated dharma meanings. We should know that one doesn’t reach dharma by just repeating the dharma words without absorbing their meanings. For example, continuously reciting the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, all-pervasive suffering, emptiness, luminosity, etc., can’t help us to approach the real dharma. Even if we obtain the wisdom of listening, lacking logical and solid contemplation, the wisdom will only help us to recognize afflictions, but will not be strong enough to fight them. It’s like a bun drawn on paper, we see how it looks, but can’t overcome hunger by feeding on it. The omniscient Mipham Rinpoche once explained this clearly in The Precious Beacon of Certainty. As he said, for all of the dharma teachings from ground, path to result, there can be two learning results. One is to think through the teaching exactly according to the sutra, which will allow faith and unflinching determination to arise. Following the path described in the teaching, one can attain enlightenment rapidly. The other is to remember only bits and pieces of the wording, without ever examining the meanings, like a mindless parrot mimicking human speech. One may get a little faith in this way, but won’t acquire enough wisdom to cut through the jungle. The liberating path would be a picture on paper or some imagination in head, without any practical effects to lead to nirvana.
Meanwhile, we must break old thinking patterns and views. It is a fault to subject Buddha and Bodhisattva’s pure vision to one’s narrow and biased view, just like making a clean vessel dirty. We’d better look from the level of Buddha and Bodhisattvas as much as we can, to comprehend their thoughts as they are in the teaching. This is a shortcut, rightfully so, to align one’s mind with sutras and shastras, and to master their profound meaning.
3). Not associating listening and contemplation with reality. One has to link dharma teaching to reality during learning. All of the dharma that Buddha taught is for eliminating the two attachments of self and phenomena, and the resultant two obscurations of affliction and cognition. So dharma is exactly to solve our own problems, not something or someone else. If we ignore this connection and separate the teaching from our own situation, then both listening and contemplation would become useless, and we would just be wasting the opportunity to obtain any blessing from dharma.
4). Only listening and contemplating, but without meditating. Meditation is the only way to experience dharma teaching. Meditation is the purpose of listening and contemplation. Once the view is formed through listening and contemplation and also get confirmed in our daily experience, we need to continuously meditate on it with our mind. Otherwise, the view wouldn’t have strong enough power to overcome afflictions and to replace old habits. This would be an even bigger waste, just like giving up the wish-fulfilling gem that’s almost in your hand.
5). Only meditating, but without listening and contemplating. Because most of us are not able to cultivate merit directly from meditating, we need the first two steps. Without listening and contemplating, we don’t have the right guide and methods for meditation. Listening and contemplating according to dharma provide us with the right view and methods as a solid foundation and effective protection against obstacles during meditation. Skipping steps and jumping straight into meditation might work for a few with deep virtuous roots and merits of wisdom, like Samantabhadra. But for most people who confine themselves in daily gain and loss, meditating without learning is useless, like barking up the wrong tree. In the end it will not generate any merit, and worse, may even erode the faith of liberation.
All in all, each of the eighty-four thousand kinds of teaching from the Buddha are methods of taming our mind, which can only be achieved through the three steps of listening, contemplating and meditating. Meditating is the key, and listening and contemplating are prerequisites. So none of them can be skipped. Excellent listening and contemplating require us to fully understand the teaching, reproduce the original meanings from Buddha and Bodhisattvas, and also apply each of them to reality.
The correct way of learning dharma is of high priority for us Buddhists. Only following the right way, will we be able to gradually feel the afflicted karma diminishing, thus commit ourselves to dharma. Only after we commit ourselves, is it possible to influence others with the same dharma. Following the process of listening, contemplating and meditating is the best way to get this point. Ignoring them and breaking the natural pattern will lead one to being stuck with old afflictions and karma for years without any progress.
Each of the three steps has a measuring standard. The criterion of listening is to attain the wisdom of listening; for the other two is to attain the wisdoms of contemplating and meditating. No matter which dharma gate we are going through, such as cause and effect gate, prajna gate or pure land gate, the gauge is the same, which is whether the wisdoms are produced.
Simply put, the wisdom of listening is attained after listening, as we hear and understand the dharma teaching. It is analogous to the studying stage in worldly terms. The wisdom of contemplating is attained after much reflection of the dharma, when the meanings are accepted and engraved in our heart. It is equivalent to the understanding stage as usually called. The wisdom of meditating is attained when the dharma embed in our mind, after it is repeated and practiced for a while. It is called the application stage in worldly terms.
Take as an example the selflessness of persons in the teaching of the middle way. With the wisdom of listening one should know all sentient beings are nothing but five aggregates of body and mind, and also that even on a relative level there isn’t a permanent, complete “I” who is immune to causality. The wisdom of contemplating is that, one thinks about this logically and truthfully, eventually becomes convinced and able to turn it into his own thoughts. Finally, with the wisdom of meditating one can break the habit of self-attachment and create a no-self state in his mind.
Another example in learning Bodhicitta, the wisdom of listening is to be able to explain relative and ultimate Bodhicitta, their merits and how to arouse them. The wisdom of contemplating provides us a much more lucid and stable understanding, and the wisdom of meditating can change our mind to be consistent with Bodhicitta after applying the former wisdom to reality for practice.
One more example of pure land. After hearing, chanting, and transcribing the sutras and shastras, we realize the superior beauty of the pure land, and the inferiority of the saha land. We also gain good knowledge of the great vows of Amitabha and the right chanting method. This is the wisdom of listening. Then we continue to contemplate these teachings and develop such an unflinching determination that putting sutra aside, we are still clear about why the pure land is superiorly beautiful and the current world is inferiorly ugly. Whenever thinking about the vows of Amitabha, we know why they are inconceivably powerful. Whenever reciting Amitabha, we know the effects of different methods and to which situation they apply. These are all coming from the wisdom of contemplating. At some point, by cultivating these thoughts and visualizations, we can practically, not only theoretically, verify the defects of this current world and the marvels of the pure land, and feel the great merit of Amitabha’s vows, as well as the practical benefits of the mindfulness of the Buddha. These are all from the wisdom of meditating.
All the merits of three vehicles of dharma originate from the wisdoms cultivated through listening, contemplating and meditating. All the Buddhas, from the past to present, had heard and contemplated the dharma jewels diligently, exactly perceiving the teaching by continuous meditation, and then accomplishing their enlightenment. Our Fundamental Teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, liberated countless sentient beings in this saha land, and his dharma jewels still transform the mass in today’s evil age of five turbidities, so that sentient beings can rely on them to get the benefits of liberation. But eons ago, our own master was an ordinary sentient being, and once fell into hell because he kicked his mother’s head. Although he got out of the hell due to the virtuous thought of taking on other’s suffering, but without diligently listening, contemplating and meditating on dharma, as an ordinary being, how could he bring such grand benefits to all sentient beings?
Amitabha built West Utmost Joyful Land, a distinguished pure land where even the name of suffering is never heard of. He benefited countless beings of all the worlds. If Monk Fazang hadn’t put great efforts in listening, contemplating and meditating, how could he have generated so much energy just by himself?
Another example is Venerable Milarepa, who had killed 35 persons for revenge, very rare and horrendous evil karma. However, with the fear of being reborn in lower realms and with the strong devotion to his guru, Venerable Milarepa became Buddha within the same life through practicing dharma. This is a wonderful demonstration of how powerful dharma is. Following dharma and practicing, the incredible power may not just turn a bad person to good, but also liberate one from samsara and achieve Buddhahood. Venerable Milarepa had shown this inconceivable power of dharma.
There are more examples in history. Venerable Nanda used to be very attached to women, and couldn’t forget his early wife after he became a monk. When the Buddha showed him heaven, he saw the goddesses and desired them even more. Venerable Subhutti used to be easily irritable, and even the sound of wind and rain could anger him. Venerable Suddhipanthaka used to be dumb and often forgot the first sentence when going onto the second one. However, they were all enlightened and became great Arhats under the throne of the Buddha. What made this happen? It was nothing but the wisdom gathered through continuous and diligent listening, contemplating and meditating.
So the wisdom obtained from dharma is hundreds and thousands of times more precious than the most valuable thing in the world. It will dig out the values of the precious human body, and make us the richest in the world. Meanwhile, we can help our friends and relatives by sharing dharma with them, so they can also receive the dharma blessing. In the biography of the old master Tanxu, Recollection of Shadow and Dust, there’s a story of a lay practitioner, Wenhua Liu. After reading and researching on Surangama Sutra for seven or eight years, he freed his enemies, wife, daughter and parents in his own vision. You may want to find and read the book.
With these three kinds of wisdom, we can recognize negative emotions of the people around us and help them with dharma to analyze and overcome their anxieties, calm their turmoil and inspire them to live a meaningful and purposeful life. This is a very big support to the harmony of society and the peace of our nation. Much more than that, if one’s virtuous root gradually gets matured, one can practice the supreme Vajrayana which takes only six months to become Buddha. For most people dwelling in samsara for countless eons and with shallow wisdom and poor merits, this is absolutely inconceivable, because primary school alone takes six years. However, the wisdoms attained from dharma through listening, contemplating and meditating really makes it possible.
The three wisdoms of dharma cannot rise from non-Buddhist or worldly knowledge, which at best leads people to pray to a nonexistent and humanized deity. They can’t imagine that the nature of mind of all sentient beings exactly possess the luminosity of tathagatagarbha, which perfectly has all kinds of merits. Therefore we should dedicate efforts to listening, contemplating and meditating, in such a way to cultivate the great wisdom, for our mind to be teeming with the merits of dharma.
The wisdoms of listening, contemplating and meditating can generate numerous merits. For ordinary beings like us, the merits apparently generated at the initial stage are: recognizing afflictions, suppressing afflictions and then finally eradicating afflictions.
The wisdom of listening enables us to recognize affliction. As a common characteristic, sentient beings are being surrounded by afflicting emotions all the time, but as being deluded, we seldom recognize them and, on the contrary feel good about ourselves. In fact, most of our mundane people have completely false perceptions. When confronted we always consider and defend ourselves first; an obsession of someone is called great love; being wishful and hurting others is “self-expression”; the effort of chasing fame and wealth is praised as the best exertion of life; attachment has a positive tone. All of these are due to a lack of wisdom, and are the manifestation of our ignorance. Fixing the mind and effort on such delusions, we spend the whole life busy about nothing. All is vain and adds much more bad karma. Through listening to the teaching of dharma, we can clearly see what things are valuable and thus stick to them for benefitting others and ourselves. Also we can tell what things are harmful and thusly cut them off. Those that are harmful to oneself and others are afflictions. So whenever they appear, we can detect them and recognize where they come from, even though we may not be able to remove them right away. This is how the wisdom of listening works.
Some people claim, “My attachment is too strong and too hard to give up.” This is a typical case in which the wisdom didn’t arise from listening. This kind of person vaguely acknowledges a word “attachment”, but has no idea what it really looks like and doesn’t link it to himself. The moment he’s talking, he’s in attachments. He treats love, hatred and merits as real, and can’t realize that they are just the attachment he’s talking about, not to mention how to overcome them. In contrast, if one does have the wisdom of listening, he or she will feel ashamed rather than comfortable, not even keep repeating the complaint as a show-off.
Once we attain the wisdom of contemplating, we can stop affliction from growing. The wisdom of contemplating means we take in the wisdom of listening as our deep belief. As people usually say, the thoughts are reformed and transcended. In this case we still have the habitual inertia from old views, and afflictions may still come up continuously. Nevertheless, we can recognize them immediately by the wisdom of listening, and further suppress them with the wisdom of contemplating, in the way to concentrate our mind on dharma instead of being distracted.
For example, I’m irritated when seeing someone. When it happens and with the wisdom of contemplating, I can analyze the situation and easily understand that this uncomfortable feeling is only due to my expectation of others. As explained in dharma, I’m annoyed because someone’s behavior is not following my standards, so my ego gets hurt. With the realization of these facts, this person in deed helps me reveal my subtle attachments. A case like this makes me realize that I’m capable of anger and disappointment again in similar situation, so how am I going to get out of the jail of samsara? What’s more, disliking someone means my compassion is too shallow to let me recall that the person had been my mother in previous life and cared for me. Badly treating a mother from previous life is the same as badly treating my mother in this life, both unethical. Hence with the wisdom of contemplating, we can manipulate thoughts in the way taught by dharma, so that the on-going negative emotions and attachments can be suppressed. Furthermore, we may be grateful to the person who provides us an opportunity to discover our shortcomings.
We can completely root out affliction with the wisdom of meditating. It works like the gem sword of Manjusri, cutting off ignorance thus eliminating the growth of any afflictions.
Suppose we’re meditating on compassion. When the meditation gets matured, compassion will become our accustomed thinking, and every thought in our mind will become associated with compassion. So we’ll automatically put first the benefits of all sentient beings. At this stage although affliction’s seeds aren’t cleared completely, and their karmic energy may still have some effects, they won’t control us anymore. Or we’re meditating on prajna, the emptiness. When getting the direct insight that all the phenomena do not substantially exist and are just dreams and illusions, we’ll not be able to attach anything even if we try to, because there’s no such thing to be attached. By rooting out attachment, afflictions will find no space and be eliminated too.
Take as another example the emptiness of selflessness. When the habitual meditation ripens, the wisdom makes us perceive right away no self but five aggregates, which are many-bodies, ever changing every moment and interacting with each other as causes and conditions. So in this illusory world, we can find no permanence, no unity and no free “I”, “you”, or “he” to grasp. Then our mind becomes very tranquil, without worry or disturbance. Affliction is totally extinct because there’s no cause for it.
Or if we’re meditating that all phenomena are illusions in this mundane world. Every day we diligently meditate that all phenomena are the play of causality, and there’s no coming or going, no substantial existence, and everything is a phantom in a mirror. Once we accumulate enough power of the practice, we can directly experience this lucid and blissful state, in which affliction permanently disappears.
So from now on, we should use the three rules to check our progress during dharma learning. For example, these days we are studying The Exegesis of Prajna Chapter: the Wish-Fulfilling Gem of Purifying Water (Ketaka Gem). First you need to recite the stanzas before class, make necessary preparations to get an overview and mark the parts you don’t understand. This is the necessary pre-work that you can’t ignore. Then while listening, you should pay attention to the explanations of the stanzas, and also try to connect the dharma terms with real situation, and try to figure out how they correspond to reality, such as the nature of self, emptiness, manifestation and so on. Right after class it’s necessary to review. Following such procedures we will be able to grow the wisdom of listening and recognize how and where we attach ourselves to self, where it should be emptiness, and so on. Secondly, we need to meticulously analyze the dharma meaning, starting with each detail and then going up to the big picture. Analyzing the detail means to understand every dharma phrase and paragraph. Grasping the big picture means to comprehend why these phrases and paragraphs appear in the context of the whole book. Meanwhile, guided by the teaching, we should observe in our reality why the nature of self is empty, why appearance is illusory, and why “I” doesn’t exist even in the relative level of truth. In this way we will be able to grow the wisdom of contemplating. Finally, we should continue analytical and abiding meditation guided by the wisdom of contemplating, so that such wisdom will gradually merge into our mind and transform our mind into the all-knowing discriminating wisdom, which can manifest the dharma in its entirety without flaw.
If we don’t get such experience and feel frustrated during learning, we need to go back and check our learning approach. Most certainly we have not followed the right way described above.
In the beginning stage of dharma learning, some may feel a strong faith and afflictions seem not so apparent. However after a while, he experiences increased afflictions meanwhile the faith starts wearing off. Does that mean he has regressed? The answer is no, because usually at the beginning the person can’t really tell the afflictions. With more listening and contemplating, he develops greater ability to look into his mind, and find many more afflictions that are always there. These afflictions have been formed by the energy of habituated clinging since beginningless time due to delusion. So it’s actually a progress of being able to recognize them. It’s like approaching the ocean. From afar the water seems tranquil and still, but when up close, you see countless waves.
There’s one more thing to be careful about. Usually if we don’t pay attention, the wisdom of listening can be easily mistaken as the wisdom of contemplating. In this case one likes to repeat complex or obscure dharma phrases – “self-nature is luminosity”, “affliction is the Buddha nature” and so on – blindly thinking one has reached those states. This is due to insufficient contemplating, not carefully observing the mind and not associating dharma with experience. Such behavior is absolutely not the wisdom of contemplating, not to say the wisdom of meditating. This is a common pitfall to watch out for.
In summary, the wisdoms gained through listening, contemplating and meditating are immensely powerful, and there’s nothing in the world can compare with them. The wisdom of meditating is relatively hard to achieve, as we need to work on old habits. But the wisdoms of listening and contemplating aren’t difficult as long as we exactly follow the right way to study dharma. Also the two wisdoms help us recognize and overcome afflictions. On the contrary, not cultivating these three kinds of wisdom will result in huge obstacles for any Buddhist practitioners.
After diligent listening and contemplating and attaining the wisdoms, some may stop and not continue onto meditating. This is such a big waste of the wish-fulfilling gem. It’s like in a famine, a starving person desperately found some rice, cooked and prepared it, then walked away without eating.
This is due to the old habitual tendencies acting as obstructions, and karmic obscurations starting to manifest. The wisdom of meditating arises from deep consciousness with innate continuity. Compared with it, the wisdom of contemplating is superficial and intermittent. In other words, it appears only when you intently contemplate, and disappears when the attention stops. It is in this high stage that we need to meditate to keep the wisdom activated at all times. After repeated practice through meditation, we reinforce the wisdom into new habits, which can shatter the old habitual attachments.
If the wisdom of meditating is not formed, we can never be blessed by the realization of dharma. Neither can we devote ourselves to dharma activities for the continuity of the Buddha wisdom, nor help and liberate sentient beings effectively. In conclusion, we must continue meditation after attaining the wisdom of contemplating. Do not stop until reaching the wisdom of meditating, and always go further, as one more step in the long journey.
If we only have the wisdom of listening, not followed by contemplation, we can’t cultivate the wisdom of contemplating. And of course the wisdom of meditation won’t happen like no springs coming out of dried water source.
The wisdom of listening enables us to recognize affliction, however without reflecting on their faults and distress, on the antidote methods as well as on the blissful states of resolving it, we may still indulge ourselves in afflictive emotions.
Some feel affliction is too hard to control after a little listening and contemplating. They fancy obscure shortcuts for easier results, and daydream of retreating in a remote cave to practice. But the wisdom of contemplating alone can effectively suppress affliction. Through deeply contemplating the true face of affliction, its cause as well as its fault and distress, new perspective and understanding will get rooted in one’s mind. As a result, whenever affliction rears its head, disgust will be the reaction followed by focusing on how to overcome it. So you see, no matter what afflictions arise, desire, anger, jealousy or pride, all of them can be suppressed effectively by the wisdom of contemplating, even though it may not prevent them from arising.
On the other hand, without the wisdom of contemplating we have no means to defend ourselves from affliction. We can only watch it damaging the practice, or worse, get caught up and fuel its destructive flames with our wrong perception. If that happens, there is no need for a Mo or fortuneteller to tell you what Mara is hitting you, because it is yourself who nurtures the Mara of affliction, surrenders to him and becomes his follower.
To avoid these problems, we shall stick to the continuous listening and contemplating, so that both wisdoms will be deeply rooted in our mind and become reliable.
Listening, contemplating and meditating are the main approaches of the transmission of dharma teaching. Missing them will directly cause the recession of Buddhism, and the essence of dharma will be lost and thus it becomes nominal and not different from worldly knowledge.
The main distinction between dharma and other religions or philosophies is that, dharma reveals the essence of all worldly phenomena which is suffering; it points out the root cause of unhappiness to be karma and afflictions, which is the arising of suffering; it offers the solution of eliminating them, and describes the states and path to the cessation of suffering. Without these essential teachings, dharma loses its unique features and can’t be distinguished from other philosophies.
In that case, the practitioners have no aims or doctrine of being Buddhists. They may not first work on and improve their own mind with dharma teaching, but rather pursue other activities that resemble the taste of dharma. They are blind, and even poorer than the physically blind. If the virtuous roots are mature, the blind may still have a chance of listening, contemplating and meditating on dharma. But those who give up listening, contemplating and meditating, are doomed to grow wrong views and remain defiled by desire, anger and ignorance in this illusory world. Their path to liberation is once again terminated in this life, which would be an awful pity and loss.
What’s more, if one didn’t study sutra thoroughly, he would likely lose the faith of Three Jewels. If just engaging in worldly charitable activities – encouraged too by other religions aiming for noble rebirth of human and gods – then we can hardly experience any difference with non-Buddhism, neither experience the unique enlightenment in Buddhism. In the long run, it could happen that such Buddhists just prefer material enjoyment and eventually give up the refuge and turn to non-Buddhists.
Before achieving enlightenment as supramundane sages, all ordinary people’s minds have the seed of pervasive discrimination of self. Some non-Buddhism religions may also declare that phenomena are all like dreams and illusions, however they believe in the true existence of God, self-nature, etc. Their liberation relies on a concrete god taking them to heaven. They don’t think awakening is to abandon self-attachment and to eradicate afflictions by their own efforts of listening, contemplating and meditating. So without these efforts, and unable to realize the unparalleled value of Three Jewels and the distinctive merits of Amitabha, they may very likely stay in Buddhism while holding on to views of non-Buddhism, and praying to Three Jewels and Amitabha with non-Buddhism approaches. In such case there might be some blessing, but very little since it’s not the right way to pray and not aligned with Three Jewels and Amitabha.
Hence to avoid non-Buddhism views and its tendency during dharma practice, we must rely on dharma as the only rule, instead of our own conceptualized mind. We shall study dharma with feet on the ground, and try to understand the real meanings of concepts such as samsara, nirvana, sentient beings, Buddha, affliction, wisdom, etc. We should never judge the teachings with our narrow thoughts and habits, and make up plausible understanding. In such a way it can be guaranteed that our practice is following the right dharma.
To sum it up, we’d lose any blessing from the dharma jewels if we gave up listening, contemplating and meditating. The world would fall back to darkness as if the sun sank. Losing dharma would be the hugest loss for all sentient beings. The Buddha had been practicing for three countless eons before achieving full enlightenment, and led countless beings to enlightenment with his precious teaching, the dharma. Since then from generation to generation dharma was inherited by every patriarch, till today in our hands. If we don’t receive and pass it on, it would be like a big family losing successor, the precious lineage would be broken, and the awakening of sentient beings would become impossible. This is the biggest offense to all Buddha and Bodhisattvas, and the biggest unfiliality to all mother-like sentient beings. This is why today’s Buddhists should take the responsibility and strive to prevent it from happening.