Abide in the Mahayana Mind

-by Grand Master WeiChueh

Translated from the Chinese by the  Chung Tai Translation Committee , 2010

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“Abiding in the Mahayana Mind helps the self; skillfully employing expedient means helps others. By using various expedient means we can teach and guide countless sentient beings to abide in the Mahayana Mind.”

Expedient means and ultimate method

      Today I will discuss the importance of “abide in the Mahayana mind while skillfully employ expedient means.” We have advanced from an agricultural society to the space age. Since every person’s perception, values, and lifestyle differ, it is not easy to teach and practice Buddhism in the present society. An ancient master said, “Buddha taught countless Dharmas to cure different afflictions of the mind.” This punctuates the importance of skillfully employing expedient means to bring different kinds of people to enlightenment. If expedient means are not skillfully employed, there may be no benefit but harm instead. Yet, without expedient means, Buddha Dharma will become inaccessible and may not prosper.

     Furthermore, if there are only expedient means but no ultimate method, it will be difficult for both laypersons and monastics to reap the true benefits of the Buddha Dharma. With the ultimate method, one can transcend all suffering and attain perfect enlightenment like the Buddha. To achieve this, we must abide in the Mahayana Mind.  Abiding in the Mahayana Mind benefits oneself; skillfully employing expedient means benefits others. By using various expedient means we can teach and guide countless sentient beings to abide in the Mahayana Mind.

An ancient master said, “One lamp dispels the darkness of a thousand years.” The lamp is this very mind that is listening to the Dharma right now. Enlightened, the afflicted mind becomes the bodhi mind and mundane existence becomes nirvana. A sutra says, “Single is the inherent nature we return to, many are the expedient gateways that bring us there.” Even though there are many Buddhist paths—the three essentials that end outflows (morality, samadhi, and wisdom); the six perfections (charity, morality, tolerance, diligence, meditation, and wisdom); or any of the 84,000 methods—they all ultimately lead back to the revelation of our inherent nature. This inherent nature is simply the present mind that is listening to the Dharma now. So where is this present mind? It is in our awareness.

 Levels of enlightenment

      There are different levels in the enlightenment of the mind. The first is “fundamental bodhi.” This is the inherent awareness that everyone has. It is what knows and what perceives. It is the mind that is hearing these words at this moment.

       Mundane beings give rise to ignorance, affliction, greed, anger, killing, robbery, and adultery. Their lives are filled with darkness, emptiness, conflict, violence, and deception. They are “unenlightened”; they do not know their bodhi mind yet.

      When we listen to and study the Dharma, we know that life consists of birth, aging, illness, and death. If we wish to be free, all we have to do is to transform our thoughts, then we can immediately turn this ocean of suffering into a Pure Land, we can transcend mundane existence and attain bodhi and nirvana. “Water can support a boat, but also sink a boat.” It is all in this present mind. This is the beginning of enlightenment, or “initial bodhi.”

After “initial bodhi” we continue to work unceasingly. Whether by the method of sudden enlightenment or gradual cultivation, we finally eradicate the six fundamental afflictions of the mind: greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, doubt, and false views. This is called “sambodhi” (correct awakening), the state of the Buddhist saints.

After attaining sambodhi, we must continue the path of Mahayana by bringing forth a mind of great compassion, practicing the bodhisattva way, pursuing the noble buddha path, and liberating all sentient beings. We further “cultivate non-cultivation” and “being mindful of no-mind”, eventually realizing the principle of Middle Way Reality. This is the stage of true bodhisattvas. Now we begin to erode our “original ignorance”, the most subtle and deeply rooted delusions. When we eradicate a part of this ignorance, we reveal a part of our Dharmakaya, the true body of the buddha, which is neither physical nor non-physical. When the Dharmakaya is fully revealed, one attains buddhahood. This process is called “progressive realization of bodhi.”

Progressing this way, we finally arrive at “virtually perfect bodhi”. At this stage, all that remains is the last vestige of the original ignorance, which we must shatter by entering into “vajra samadhi”, then buddhahood is complete. This is known as “unsurpassed complete enlightenment” or “ultimate bodhi”.

“Awareness” is the bodhi mind: in the eyes it is the seeing; in the ears it is the hearing; in the nose it is the smelling of the fragrance; in the mouth it is the speaking; in the hands it is the grasping; in the feet it is the moving; in the faculty of consciousness, it is the thinking of the past, present and future. It is the mind that knows; this mind is at the gate of the six senses. Everyone has it, but if we do not make serious efforts, this mind can never settle and attain peace.

 Purity and defilement arise from the mind, not from outer objects

  There once was a Chan Master, Miao Fung, who traveled far and wide on foot to seek the Dharma. He was spending the night at an inn and suddenly woke up with a fever. In the darkness, he groped his way to the kitchen to drink some water. The next day, he recollected the sweetness of the water, and went back to get some more. What he found was actually dirty and smelly water used for washing the feet. He immediately vomited, but at that very moment he was enlightened to the nature of the mind: “When drinking, it is very sweet; when smelling, it is very fetid; purity and defilement arise from the mind, and not from external objects.” The water had not changed; the difference was all due to his discriminating mind, the mind of attachment.

After enlightenment, we still need gradual cultivation to attain the Way. The Way is not something that we create. Whatever is created will perish; it does not last. To cultivate the Way is to eliminate delusive thoughts, afflictions, ignorance, and karmic habits, then the inherent nature of our mind will naturally manifest. This is the Way.

This mind must have clarity and understanding. It is not a simple task and requires great determination. Try this meditation: for three minutes do not think of anything about the past, present, or future; do not become drowsy; be the master of your mind. When you achieve this, you are like a buddha for three minutes. If you can maintain this for ten minutes, you are like a buddha for ten minutes. This pure and lucid mind is our true self.

To abide constantly in this pure mind is to “abide in the Mahayana Mind.” But in our present society, if we only teach the above principle, most people may not easily understand or accept it. Therefore, we also need to “skillfully employ expedient means.” Without different expedient means to help and guide sentient beings to enlightenment, most people have no way of attaining buddhahood.

Five directions of Buddhism

 At Chung Tai, we set forth five expedient means in propagating Buddhism to the multitude:

  1. Buddhism in Academic Research: Buddhism essentially is a body of profound wisdom. We can use modern methods of research to investigate Buddhism so that the study can be more systematic and accessible. This expedient means helps the academic world understand the Dharma.
  2. Buddhism in Education: Chung Tai Chan Monastery established its Buddhist Institute to educate the Sangha, and over 100 meditation centers worldwide to teach the Dharma and meditation to a wide variety of people. Furthermore, it established the Pu Tai elementary, middle, and high schools to apply the Buddhist principles in education.
  1. Buddhism in Science: Buddha’s approach to understanding reality and human suffering is based on empirical observations; this is in congruence with scientific methods. The principle of causality is fundamental in both Buddhism and science. In addition, we use modern technology, such as computers and the internet, to spread the message of Buddhism.
  1. Buddhism in Culture and the Arts: Throughout the ages, Buddhism has inspired prominent and outstanding artistic creations. The architecture and interior of Chung Tai Chan Monastery embodies Buddhist art of a very high order, unifying symbolism from ancient India and China with modern engineering and technology.
  2. Buddhism in Daily Living: Buddhism is practical and anyone can lead a happier life by following its principles. For example, the Four Tenets of Chung Tai are practical ways to apply Buddhism in daily life: (1) to our elders be respectful, (2) to our juniors be kind, (3) with all humanity be harmonious, and (4) in all our endeavors be true.

     In summary, applying the central principles of Mahayana Buddhism benefits the self by benefiting others. If we can abide in the Mahayana Mind, skillfully employ expedient means, make diligent effort and persist in these directions, we will surely bring happiness to ourselves and to others.

  * (1) Mahayana Mind (大乘心):The bodhi mind, the enlightened mind, the original mind, the Buddha nature inherent in all of us.