A Short Discourse
Grandmaster T'an Hsu
Originating in northern India and spreading to China and other countries in the world, Buddhism aims at nothing less than helping sentient beings enlighten their minds, thus eradicating suffering and conflict and attaining peace. "Buddha" means The Enlightened One--one who awakens both himself and others, having first fully realized perfect and complete enlightenment. Moreover, Buddhism considers loving-kindness and compassion to be essential qualities inherent in enlightenment; for loving-kindness imparts peace, compassion uproots misery.
After his advent into the world, Buddha Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, preached for forty-nine years after his awakening. His sermons were later collected into the Tripitaka, in Twelve Divisions.
Human beings differ in background and disposition and, therefore, the teachings which they receive are also diverse, but all Buddhadharma (the teachings of Buddha) is based on the Tripitaka. After Buddhism was introduced into China, five main schools arose: The Sect, Teaching, Vinaya, Esoterism and Amidism. Buddha Sakyamuni did not establish these schools, nor can any mention of these schools be found in the Buddhist canon. These teachings evolved to accommodate varying characteristics and temperaments of all people. The disciples of the great masters of each school transmitted these teachings during the course of many generations.
Among the five main schools, The Sect represents "A special transmission outside the scriptures." Its emphasis is on Dhyana or meditation practice--the direct pointing to the mind of man: seeing into ones own nature, and the realization of Buddhahood.
The approach taken by the Teaching schools is that an intellectual understanding of the basic principles of Buddhism is necessary before an attempt is made towards self-cultivation through dhyana.
In the Vinaya school, emphasis is on the observation of the precepts laid down by Buddha. One begins by regulating the body and proceeds gradually to composing the mind. The minimum number of precepts is five, but one may also observe from ten to 250. There are also precepts for Bodhisattvas, who are candidates for Buddhahood. By scrupulous observation of the precepts in spirit and letter, one may develop serenity and thereby gain spiritual wisdom.
The Esoteric school specializes in the practice of invocation of mantras, with emphasis on the three-fold mysteries.
The practices of the four schools mentioned above are usually more difficult for the beginner.
In contrast, Amidism is the simplest and most direct way of practice. If one keeps repeating the invocation "Namo Amitabha Buddha" (Homage to the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life) until single-minded attention is reached, one may finally be led by Buddha to rebirth in the Western Paradise, where there is access to Buddha's knowledge and insight and so recover the essence of Enlightenment. This practice is suitable for the intelligent person as well as the dull person. The method to be practiced in the Amidist approach is to repeat the invocation of Buddha's name and to contemplate Buddha with reverence. Of course, one must also strive to uphold the moral precepts.
It may be asked: Why is it necessary to invoke Buddha's name and contemplate Buddha?
Let us understand first the meaning of "Nien Fo" in Chinese.
The character "Nien" is composed of two distinct characters; namely, "chin," which means "now," and "hsin," which means "the mind." Separately, we have "now" and "the mind;" combined, we have "Nien."
"Fo" is short for "Fo T'o," a transliteration of the Sanskrit word "Buddha," which means The Enlightened One. It signifies understanding.
It would be well for everyone to try to practice Amidism because each and every person is capable of undertaking this training. Its purpose is to realize enlightenment and singleness of thought. One single thought may pervade all Ten Dharma Worlds. It is said that all periods of time, both past and present, cannot be dissociated from the present instant, and
the worlds and universes, as numerous as molecules and atoms, are not separate from one another by even a hair's breadth. If one resolves to practice Amidism, practice for one instant produces enlightenment for one instant, while practice at all times produces enlightenment at all times. Likewise, practice for one instant produces understanding for one instant, while practice at all times produces understanding at all times.
Who does not wish to be enlightened? Who does not wish to gain understanding? Most people pay lip service to these ideals by saying they wish to be enlightened and they wish to gain understanding. However, they harbor foolish thoughts in the mind.
What are foolish thoughts? They are the three mental evils of greed, hatred, and delusion. What are foolish actions? They are the three bodily evils: killing, stealing, and harmful sexual conduct. The four oral evils are speaking hypocritically, and using harsh, false and suggestive language. As a result of mental, vocal, and bodily pollution, human beings constantly involve the six senses in discrimination of sight, sound, etc. Thus most lives are spent precariously living on crude sense data.
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