ELEMENTARY TEACHINGS FOR THOSE WHO PRACTICE BUDDHISM
There have always been two categories of Buddhists:
Those who leave their homes to become priests and those who practice Buddhism at home.
These are monks and nuns who left their homes, their native land and their friends permanently to live in a Buddhist temple or in the mountains spending the rest of their life praying, taking care of temples, cultivating virtue and purifying their minds so as to explain to and help people understand and practice Buddhism. They are not interested in temporal matters. Their family and home are the world, their relatives are the entire mankind.
They devote themselves to their religion in order to become aBuddha and be freed from the law of metemphsychosis.
THOSE WHO PRACTICE BUDDHISM AT HOME
These are all of us. All believers who cannot leave their homes to become priests because they feel they are still bound to their country, their families, and their fellow countrymen that they can not join priesthood. They are eager, however, to welcome and praise the ideals of mercy, altruism, and universal concord of Buddhism and the law of cause and effect (Karma) as preached by Buddha. Therefore, they worship Buddha at home, make vows to take refuge in religion, observe a number of abstinences, read books of prayers to improve themselves and assist monks. In so doing, they can gradually reach deliverance.
These persons study Buddhism to improve themselves. They are layfollowers.
From the foregoing, we can see that in our faith we belong to the category of those who practice Buddhism at home, and study Buddhism to improve ourselves.
ON THE FOUR DEBTS OF GRATITUDE
We can read in an ancient book as follows: "In thousands ofBuddhist books of prayers, filial piety is always taught first."Now that we have taken refuge in Buddhism, and practice it at home,let us do our best to obey our Master in observing filial piety.
Our Buddha of Tay An used to advise us that to keep filial piety, there are Four Debts of Gratitude we must strive to comply with:
Be thankful to our ancestors and parents.
Be thankful to ourcountry.
Be thankful to the Three Treasures: Buddha, Buddhic Law; Sangha (priesthood.)
Be thankful to our fellow countrymen and to mankind (for the priests, be thankful to the donators.)
BE THANKFUL TO OUR ANCESTORS AND PARENTS
We were born with a body to be active from our childhood to manhood with a given wisdom and knowledge. Do we know how much our parents have suffered during all those years ? Our ancestors gave birth to our parents, therefore, we must be grateful to our ancestors as we are towards our parents.
To show our gratitude to our parents, we must obey the right lessons they teach us and must not annoy them. If our parents did anything wrong or acted against moral laws, we should do our best to advise and prevent them from doing so. We should also support them, keep them from hunger and sickness, we should bring accord among brothers and sisters and happiness to our family so as to please ourparents. Pray for our parents to enjoy happiness and longevity. Whenthey die, pray for their souls to be freed from sufferings in the Buddhist Kingdom.
To show our gratitude towards our ancestors, let us not do anything wicked or shameful to our family's name. And if our ancestors had done anything wrong, and left a legacy of sufferings to their descendants, we should dedicate ourselves to act in compliance with the moral principles to restore our ancestors' honor.
BE THANKFUL TO OUR COUNTRY
We were born thanks to our ancestors and our parents, but we owe our living to our native land. While enjoying our land, and its produce, we feel it is our duty to defend our country, if we want our life to be happy and our race to survive. Let us contribute to the safe-guarding of our fatherland and to make it strong and prosperous. Let us try to liberate it from foreign dominations. We are safe only when our country is strong and wealthy.
Let us try our best and dedicate ourselves to our country according to our ability and strength. In case we have no talent to assume important responsibilities or no opportunity to help our country, let us try to avoid doing wrong things that may hurt it and we should never help the enemy in harming our native land.
That is how we show our gratitude towards our country.
BE THANKFUL TO THE THREE TREASURES
What are the Three Treasures? They are: Buddha, The Buddhist Teachings of Buddhism and the Priesthood.
Man is born and brought up to thank to his ancestors and parents and he owes his existence to his country; that is the physical aspect of life. In the spiritual field, man needs the help of Buddha, the Teachings of Buddhism and the Priests to open his mind. Buddha is the most flawless and most perfect creature who is infinitely altruistic and determined to save living creatures from misfortune and sufferings. That is why He bequeathed His Teachings to the Priests asto disseminate them through the world. The Priests are none but Buddha's great disciples. As Buddha always guides and saves human beings from bewilderment and suffering, we must respect Him, we must believe and have confidence in His world-salvation work and comply with His Teachings conveyed to us by the Priests. Our ancestors hadknown the miracle, the deep love of Buddha towards human beings. Theyrespected and venerated Buddha, acted in compliance with His Teachings and have cultivated and strengthened our religion so as to expand it, thus building a castle of peerless and unparalleled virtue bequeathed to posterity.
It is therefore our duty to follow our ancestors highest virtues, to have a clear mind so as to reach the path of deliverance and help those who fall into misfortune. We must especially continue to cultivate and spread Compassion and Fraternity everywhere among human beings. Only then would we not be ungrateful to the magnificent work left by Buddha and our ancestors and not be guilty towards future generations.
BE THANKFUL TO OUR FELLOW COUNTRYMEN AND MANKIND
Ever since our birth, we find ourselves depending on people aroundus, and as we grow up, our dependency on them grows. We need their grains to live on, their clothes to keep ourselves warm and their houses as shelters against weather adversities. We enjoy happiness and share misfortune with them.
They and we are of the same culture and tradition, history, and language. Together we form a Nation. Who are they then? They are what we call our fellow countrymen. Our fellow-countrymen and we are ofthe same root, have the same illustrious and heroic history, help each other in distress, have the same task of building of bright future for our country. Our fellow-countrymen and we have a close relationship, we are indivisible, undetachable and never would we be there without our fellow-countrymen or vice-versa. We must therefore do our best to help them as to show them in some way our gratitude for the assistance we have received from them.
Besides our fellow-countrymen, there are other people in the world, those who are working hard to supply us with necessities. They are the human race, those who live with us on this earth. What would become of us if there were no mankind ? Would we have enough materials for our needs ? Would we be able to be self-sufficient ? In brief, would we be able to face, by ourselves, nature's inclemencies, illnesses, dangers, and keep up our present living ? Definitely not. Our people, therefore, need mankind, i.e. other people, and we must be grateful to them. Let us think of them as we do of ourselves andof our own compatriots.
Moreover, Buddha's mercy and compassion are very wide and deep: they are boundless, without discrimination of race, of social status and are bestowed upon all living creatures.
There is, therefore, no valid reason for us to do harm to otherpeople only for our own sake or that of our fellow-countrymen. On thecontrary, we should have a spirit of concord, of indulgence towardsthem and we should make it our duty to help them in case of distress.
For the priests who have taken refuge in Buddhism, they should, in addition to their gratitude as stated above, be directly thankful to donators who supply them with daily needs. They depend on them for their rice, clothes and medicine necessary for their existence. In brief, they are entirely dependent on the kindness of people fortheir life. They are deeply in debted to everyone. They should, therefore, guide mankind in the search for Truth in order to show their gratitude to the favors received.
ON THE THREE KARMAS
Man is subject to the law of Nature. Al these laws are covered byone word "DUTY"
To fulfill human duty, one must comply with the Four Debts of Gratitude. But we must also avoid the Three Karmas and abstain from the Ten Evils just like we must keep ourselves from being indebted if we want to get rich.
Everyone is subject to the following Three Karmas:
Physical Karma ( sins caused by the body)
Verbal Karma (sins caused by the tongue)
Mental Karma (sins caused by thoughts)
These Karmas are caused by the following Ten Evils:
Physical Karma is related to three evil actions:
1. Killing living creatures
Verbal Karma is related to four evil actions:
1. Double tongue
2. Abuse of power
3. Defaming (vicious tongue)
Mental Karma is related to three evil actions:
KILLING LIVING CREATURES
Man at birth is a good creature. But once he has to live in a world among cruel and wicked people, he is soon influenced by evil tobecome wicked and violent himself.
Men kill each other for money, for women, for wealth and position,out of hatred or ambition. They kill each other for the sake of a man, a group, a social class or a country. They want to destroy mankind and think that no order has the right to live with them.
At the royal court, the fact that the king considers his subjects of little importance and that the latters see their king as their enemy has resulted in many internecine wars. Among the people, children attack their parents, servants betray their masters, pupils kill their teachers, husbands and wives harm each other, sisters and brothers fight one another. Internecine fights break out often due to the above mentioned reasons. That is the situation of man among men.
With animals, men are even more cruel: they kill them for food, out of superstition, or merely for the sake of killing. Although we can not stop killing living creatures (chickens, ducks, pigs...) in order to feed ourselves, we should not take advantage of the sayingthat "animals are born to feed man" to kill them abusively. We must use them according to our food requirement and not waste by killing them if such is not a necessity. Particularly, we should notkill animals for ritual sacrifices. Some people believe that when they commit an offense against divinities, killing living creatures would wipe out their offense. Such a belief is wrong and superstitious, because in their metaphysical and noble position as saints and gods, there is no reason for divinities to do wrongs forthe sake of personal feelings. When caught in an accident or illness, rather than taking medicine, some people would pray to Buddha in thehope of recovering, and for this they also kill animals and call on sorcerers. They should understand the reason for their misfortune as a result of their sins from their previous life (Karma) when they did not repent or accomplish good deeds. When killing animals for ritual sacrifices, they added another crime to the unpaid previous ones.
Furthermore, some people kill animals for the sake of killing; some shoot birds flying in the air; some shoot birds flying in the air; some catch fishes swimming in the water. They use animals as targets for shooting pleasures and completely forget that animals too have a soul, a body and that they also have the right for life just like human beings.
We must, therefore, show compassion towards them, especially domestic animals: buffaloes, oxen, horses, dogs, cats...are not to bekilled because of their contributions to us in our daily activities. In brief, no unnecessary killing of living creatures can be forgiven or justified. Specifically, we should abstain from doing so for any reason on fasting days.
"Extreme poverty results in robbery" is but an excusefor atheistic and dishonest people. They wander outdoors in the daytime and break into houses during the night; they want to have food and clothes without having to work for these. They are residues of society who live as outlaws, hide themselves, disturb others' security, specialize in killing and robbing honest people without paying any attention to the fact that the latter have to work hard toearn their possessions. These are the worms that spoil the soup. These criminals cause no many calamities to the laborious and honest families. They are the cause of poverty and trouble to man's happiness.
Being poor, instead of working, they commit fault after faultcrime after crime, and cause so many misfortunes to mankind. Although God's net may be loosely meshed they cannot escape it and although they might not be tried by man's law, their evils will be repaid by evils if they do not repent, or mend their ways and improve themselves by getting rid of their fiendish habits.
Of the thousands of good deeds, filial piety comes first. Of the thousands of bad deeds, lascivity comes first. So it written in ancient books.
From time immemorial crime was committed everywhere, from royal courts down to the common people, from within families to outsidestrangers. It is the source of so many distressing spectacles. Aren't the stories of Emperor Te who married Thoi Tus' wife and An Loc Son who committed adultery with Duong Quy Phi good examples for posterity? There have always been instances when the rich power to oppress the humble. We must also note the many cases of adultery.
In order to prevent our morals from being corrupted and to preserve the reputation of our family, we should not let ourselves be seduced by lascivious desires, but should behave the way of our ancestors by always remembering our duty in Piety, Loyalty andPurity.
On top of the crimes committed by the tongue, this sin of "doubletongue" is also the cause of misunderstandings, quarrels, and provocations resulting in hatred. People's righteousness is minimizedand their wrongs exaggerated. Therefore, the tongue sows division, quarrel, and the destruction of friendship between people. It is also the source of much discord and discontent.
To get rid of these evils, one should see to it that our words be truthful and decent. And then, there will be less trouble between the communities and no more disagreement in society. Thus, we will not have to suffer hate and disdain from others any longer.
ABUSE OF POWER
This crime is about the masters who abuse their power to blame their servants, about officials who abuse their power to insult thepeople. The rich rely on their wealth to disdain the poor, the smart ones on their cleverness to tell lies. The learned men use their knowledge to dishonor the illiterate.
Let us avoid such oppression. Our subordinates do have a brain to think, but are tied by misfortune to a humble condition. If they make mistakes, let us give them serious advice using kind words with them.
DEFAMING (VISCIOUS TONGUE)
Coarse swears and vulgar insults are the reason for this crime that involve also children insulting their parents, paying no attention to moral principles and filial piety. They threaten people, oppress their neighbors and open their mouth only to swear without even sparing Buddha and God. Day and night, they swear Buddha's andGod's names, and such acts will only pile up their sins.
Falsehood has been the source of injustice to the people. We usually find excuse for our wrongs; we exaggerate our righteousness and would invent tales to down grade other people' merits. By their boastful, vain and endless talks, liars only stir up other people'disdain.
To avoid degradation, Man must make it a habit in the use of decent words and abandonment of impertinence. He should respect Truth and not tell lies.
This is the cause of many disasters: war, robbery, murder....desire for fame and profit for power and social status. All these have pushed men into many internecine fights and caused immense disasters. Robbery, murder, corruption, struggle for power have caused people much misery. Cupidity made people sorrowful, it made them cry in silence. They commit suicide when they become desperate. People kill themselves for power, for love, or out of failure. Wars, killings, massacres, and wicked deeds are all the results ofcupidity. When man can wipe out cupidity, then sorrow will be diminished. However, life is full of ups and downs. Let us use what we have on hand and abstain ourselves from using wicked ways to obtain our want. We must, therefore, think of others just as we do of ourselves. Let us put aside our selfishness and cupidity in order to cultivate virtue. Let us give alms to the poor, and confess our sins in order to find peace in paradise and to evade the deceptive illusions of this world.
A quick temper usually induces man into committing evils, evenmurders. The winner gets prouder and the loser becomes ashamed andhate spreads wider. "One loses one's mind when angry"; angerthus makes us lose our self-control and become wicked and cruel,without any judgment about justice, right and wrong.
When we keep our temper under control, we feel free, and our mind is relieved. Let us be generous and forgive the sinner. Let us bepatient and not quarrel or strive for supremacy to avoid hatred.
This crime is the result of poor judgment and thinking. Man can rarely distinguish what is right and what is wrong. He persists in keeping his prejudices and refuses to recognize the truth. He is ignorant all his life long, remains fond of futile thoughts, only thinks stubbornly and behaves wickedly without trying to find the path to deliverance.
Let us wipe off superstition, agree upon moral principles, avoid the path of error, awake from illusions to break the veil of darkness which shields our mind, and walk on the path of virtue to gradually reach immortality.
ON THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATHS
After the extermination of the Three Karmas, let us act accordingto the Eightfold Paths and after the sins have been suppressed, the Ten Happy Ways will appear. We are just making another step on thepath of virtue. Such progress does not mean we have reached our goal. Therefore, we must practice the Eightfold Paths afterwards as this isthe daily Book of Prayers of anyone who wants to escape the path oferror to get on the way to deliverance. The Eightfold Paths consists of:
This means to be able to understand and examine in compliance with the truth.
Man is usuallycarried away by his ownself and his mind is veiled so that truth is somewhat distorted. Whether it is because of the lack of clear sightness or of personal grudge or selfishness, man does not see the right path, therefore, he cannot have the right judgment, thus, resulting in people being victims of injustice. That is why the Right Understanding teaches us in using our mind to analyze every matter, looking carefully into them, to avoid error in judging whatsoever, beit ours or others. A careful view, a clear judgment will prevent us from forming erroneous opinion, so that we can put our self aside to avoid confusing our mind. It would thus help us understand things clearly and thoroughly and have a right judgment.
Furthermore, it would help us understand the worldly ties and the wonder of religion, so that we can drive the evils away, get rid of passion, return to virtue, and therefore, escape the sorrows of the world. It would prevent us from falsehood and thus we can avoid making errors inpracticing religion.
In this world, man is induced by desires: fame, interest, power, attachment... and his mind gets confused in such desires which he cannot fight. This is vicious aspect of life.
The rightful consideration tells us to have our heart serene, our nature peaceful, our mind noble. That truth is our duty towards mankind, towards God and Buddha, towards ourselves. We must, therefore, use our mind intrying to help the living creatures in the circle of misfortune. Let us believe in Buddha and God and pray the Almighty for their blessings. Let us find deliverance for ourselves by happily practicing our religion whether we are rich or poor.
The activity of Buddhist priests can cause no evils because it is confined to meditation, prayers, reading and writing books and maintaining their temples.
On the contrary, those who practice their religion at home have to earn their living; some engage in small businesses, others perform various trades. However, although their lives are dependent on livelihood, such dependency is quite different from that of the dishonest and robbers, and they do not do deceptive and malicious undertakings. In the earning of their living, they also pledge to reject professions that do harm to man: proxenetism, commerce of narcotics and alcohols, usury, speculations.
Although those who are engaging in these harmful professions do not compel their customers to buy, the fact remains that their businesses are the very cause of spoiling, degenerating and debauching the people. They are accomplices and the criminals are those inveterate addicts and drunkards. That is why the "Right Action" heading prohibits the practice of the above mentioned professions.
Those whopractice their religion at home do not kill living creatures without reason, nor do they strike or harm anyone which may result incommitting evil actions.
Atheist used to say that the body is the man. As long as the body exists, the man exists and he disappears when the body is gone. There are no saintsor Gods or Buddha, no Karma nor metempsychosis; there are no sins, no blessings; no vital spirit nor soul either. Life is that of a man'sbody, living means fighting, the strong is bound to win and the weak to loose. That is why so many treacherous tricks have been used, so many lies told so many cruelties committed.
The "RightEffort", therefore, advises to keep our belief firm. Even if our desires were great, even if some power tried to induce or force togive up Buddhism to do other things, they could not drive us away from our belief if we remained strong. We must remember that the work of the Almighty is to save human beings from sufferings. We must keep in mind that living creatures are engulfed in an ocean of sufferings, that as long as some living creatures have to suffer, we will suffer with them and that it is our duty to awaken those in this world so that they can free themselves from the Karma of their previous existence. For that purpose, one must come back to reason and aim at Nirvana, with a determination to improve oneself and become enlightened in order to also help others from worldly ties. We mustget rid of all sorrows, all evils, by quelling the six sensory organs and trying hard to keep a clear mind: serenity, happiness, seriousness,.. in our determination to reach Nirvana and to help others on the path to deliverance.
One is used to seeing one's body as the center of the universe, considers it as something precious and takes care of it. That is the result of the six sensory organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. The eyes like to see the beauty, the ears like to hear sweet sounds, the nose likes to smell sweet scents, the tongue likes to taste delicious food, the body likes to be well treated and the mind likes temporal power.
One look for everyway possible to fortify one's body; such a concern tarnishes the mind and makes it so blinded that one no longer thinks of suppressing the Karmas.
Let us, therefore, get away from things that darken our mind, get rid of pompous and frivolous things and have our body under control to find the path to Immortality, let us enter into the meditation and contemplation to bring ourselves into Nirvana.
The six sensory organs cause people to catch the six wordy sins. As one wants to nourish one's body, one has desires which are the sources of sins. Among the sins, four items from the tongue: The Double Tongue (which people disagree with each other), the Abuse of Power (which consists in insulting subordinates), the Vicious Tongue (wicked, vulgar words, offending divinities), and Falsehood (telling lies).
Let us train our tongue so that our speech will be decent and truthful. Let us get rid of lies and cunnings, vulgar and coarse words. Whenever we have to discuss anything, we must make it clear and straight. To our superiors, our speech must be virtuous and so are the advises we giveto others to guide them the right way. Such behavior is helpful to others and is in compliance with the moral principles.
This consists in remembering righteous things. One remembers what is left and what is lost, what is successful and what has failed, what one likes and what one dislikes. The seven passions and the six desires have forced manto waste much power of the mind for their sake. Fame and wealth, affection, power and honor.. are recalled daily. That is why man rolls forever in the six ways of metempsychosis law with no hope of escaping the circle of life and death.
To be freed from metempsychosis and to put an end to this miserable life, let us think of the way of preaching our religion, getting rid of superfluities, engraving on our heart Buddha' meritorious services towards living creatures. We must remember that the body is created by earth, water,fire and gas and that sooner or later it will go back to the soil. Only through Right Mindfulness shall we be able to eradicate the sources of troubled emotion and vicious desires with all their evil consequences.
Man longs to live longer, to get richer and be happier. He does not understand that life is temporary, wealth and heritage are just like drifting foam or clouds moved by the wind. Birth, illness, old age, death, such are the conditions which are laid upon one man after another...upon the entire mankind without exception. Man loses, however, his head in his quest for fame and benefits, riches and honor, all those shabby and vile things.
He does not try to understand that besides the ephemeral nature of life, there is nothing that does not move, nothing is permanent. If we use Concentration to break through the veil of darkness, we will see that there will be no sadness, no misery, no metempsychosis. And when we use the Right Concentration to get rid of all grieves and sorrows, drive away all desires that induce us into evils, our mind would not be confused any longer, our thoughts will be as clear as the full moon with a transparent light which no outside dust can affect. We will feel free from worldly ties and we will gradually reach the Deliverance World.
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Credit 1: pghh.org
Credit 2: hoahaobuddhism.org