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Affliction is Bodhi

Dharma talk by the Ven. Master Hsuan Hua


The Buddha saw that all living beings suffer from the four great traumas of birth, old age, illness, and death. And he then resolved to leave home and cultivate so as to find a way to solve these four major problems of life. We people bring forth afflictions without even being aware that we are doing so. Sometimes the afflictions manifest in our bodies, other times in our mind. Sometimes our ignorance explodes, and we are totally unconscious of what we are doing.  

Once that ignorance gets loose, then we are lost in confusion, and that is how afflictions become situations that obstruct the Spiritual Way . They are the stumbling blocks for cultivators of the Spiritual Path.  

But at the same time, on the other hand, it wouldn't do to be rid of all afflictions, why not? Because Afflictions are Bodhi, or awakening. If you can use them, then afflictions are nothing but Enlightenment. If you can't use them, then your enlightenment can change back into affliction.  

For example, we might say that Bodhi is water, and afflictions are ice. Ice is water, and water is ice. They both share the same substance; they are not separate. When the temperature is sufficiently cold, then water congeals into ice. When the air warms up, ice melts into water. In other words, when afflictions arrive, then the water freezes into ice. When afflictions vanish, the ice melts into water. This truth is quite easy to understand. Once again, Afflictions are the ice of afflictions that is to say, ignorance; absence of afflictions is the water of Bodhi enlightenment, that is to say, wisdom.

I implore each of you to pay attention to this point! Do not carry on in cultivation for 84,000 great eons and still hang on to your afflictions. Don't make them your daily fare. Do you feel hungry on a day that passes without your eating your fill of afflictions? That's too pathetic!  

When we are ill, where does that illness come from? Sickness arises from the three poisons of greed, hatred, and stupidity. If we could be free of those three, we would never have a day of sickness. The precepts, concentration, and wisdom the Buddha-dharma talks about are effective medicines that neutralize the three poisons.  

If you can use this miraculous panacea to the point that  

The mind is so clear that a reflection of the moon shows in its water; the will is so concentrated that there are no clouds in its sky.  

This state reveals that afflictions have gone. This state is said to be:  

When the mind stops and thoughts are cut off, you have genuine wealth and nobility; When selfish desire ends for good, you become a genuine field of blessings.  

You have ceased the mind that contains false, polluted thoughts; you have cut off the thoughts of climbing and opportunism. This is a genuine riches and honor. Simply put, ending greed brings you wealth and nobility. Why do people fall to greed? Because we don't know how to be content. We feel insufficient, so greed arises. Going free of selfish desire makes us a field of blessings. If we can cut this off, we then become true fields of blessings. Attention everyone!  

When your mind is even and calm, then all troubles vanish;

When your will is concentrated, everything you touch brings fortune.


This maxim is absolutely reasonable, and you can make it a benchmark for your entire life. It will not let you down!  

What are afflictions, in the first place? They trouble the body and hassle the mind. You aren't comfortable or at ease. What is worry? Worry is grief and misery, a feeling of depression and unhappiness. What is perversity? It is disasters and calamities, a run of bad luck. Things such as these tie us up and press us down. We feel that shackles by the lock of our ignorance. We go around as if tied up by the ropes of afflictions. It seems as if a huge rock were squashing us so that we can't even breathe.  We feel stifled. The Buddha wants all living beings to go free of afflictions; and to gain peace and happiness. He wants us to go free of things that oppress us, and to get liberated. Then he teaches living beings to bring forth the great resolve for enlightenment, and how to learn the Buddha’s own practices that build merit and virtue. We living beings really ought to listen and accept, to believe in and even more ought to put these teachings into practice.  

Living beings have an infinite and limitless capacity for affliction. We should recognize that they exist just like mirages. Bodhisattvas see that we are upside down and troubled, and that we turn straight roads crooked, and take what is crooked as straight. We mistake black for white, and turn black white. We make evil out to be good, and we turn good into evil. No matter how the Bodhisattvas teach us, we still manage to cling to our bad habits. Our obstacles are insurmountable. When we hear about our faults, we get unhappy, and we rationalize so that we these habits get justification to survive. We are unwilling to reform our faults and improve our lives. To the point that we get incensed, and our afflictions roar out in profusion.  

Facing these living beings, the Bodhisattvas feel great compassion and sympathy; he takes them by the ear and gives them a good talking to. He exhorts them not to gossip, and not to get afflicted. He says that if they can quell their temper and avoid jealousy and competitiveness, then they can climb out of the ocean of affliction. Human bodies are falsely set up. We shouldn't take this stinking bag of skin as a precious treasure, and worry about it at every hand. No need to run from every pain and pursue every pleasure, because no matter where, no matter when, this body ultimately will bring you nothing but affliction.  


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