September 9, 1974 | Monday evening
On the Ritual for Requesting Dharma
Ven. Master Hsuan Hua
The method we use here for requesting Dharma is unique. You won’t find it being done this way in any other bodhimaÜÉa in the world. Gold Mountain Monastery is somewhat different from Buddhism in the rest of the world. When the sutras are lectured in China , Japan , Thailand , or Burma , no one requests the Dharma as we do here. Even the Elder Master who visited us recently had never seen anything like our ritual for requesting the Dharma, and he went home thinking we were quite peculiar.
This is not peculiar; this is the method that was used when the Buddha was in the world. Before the Buddha would speak Dharma, someone would always request it of him. If no one requested it, the Buddha usually did not speak. He remained silent and entered samadhi. If someone requested Dharma, he spoke.
To request Dharma, you must first circumambulate the Buddha to the right at least three times. To circumambulate four or more times is also correct, because the more merit and virtue you create, and the fewer faults you have, the better. And so now we are returning to the ancient ritual of requesting Dharma, as it was done when ŚÁkyamuni Buddha was in the world.
Whoever requests Dharma should take your responsibility very seriously and see it as an extremely important act. If you do it well, then as a reward, in the future you will certainly be able to speak Dharma with unobstructed eloquence. You will be like Purnamaitreyaniputra, the Buddha’s disciple who was foremost in speaking Dharma and who had unimpeded eloquence. No doubt in the past he had always asked others to speak the Dharma and so as a reward, he himself became endowed with eloquence in speaking the Dharma.
The opportunity to perform the ritual for requesting Dharma is very rare. The person who requests Dharma should raise a stick of incense with both hands to the spot between the eyebrows, and circumambulate with eyes cast down, respectfully and single-mindedly thinking of how the Buddhas everywhere in the cosmos are receiving his request to speak Dharma.
I am lecturing sutras for you now. Whether I speak well or not is one thing, but it’s important to realize that I am representing the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in teaching and transmitting some of the sutras; I’m not just speaking on my own. You, in turn, are just representing me in translating these explanations into Western languages. If you know how to listen whether I lecture well or not, then: “General statements and detailed explanations all express the ultimate truth.” In other words, if you don’t know how to listen, then no matter how profound the lecture is, you won’t understand it. If you know how to listen, then even if the lecture isn’t very good, you will still be able to gain a thorough understanding of the principles.
Timely Teachings, pages 371 - 372.