With a Single Thought of Ignorance,

One fall into the Cycle of Rebirth

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua


People in the world all live a befuddled life. They never have a lucid moment. They don’t try to break away from the suffering of the cycle of rebirth. Since time without beginning, they’ve been dragged by their ignorance into the six paths of rebirth, where they undergo birth, death, and rebirth, revolving on the wheel that never stops turning. Life is like a play. In this play, they might play the role of a king who enjoys honor and wealth. In another play, they might play the part of a beggar who suffers great hardship. When they are playing a king, they don’t know the misery of being a beggar. As a beggar, they don’t realize the pleasure of being a king. In the twinkling of an eye, the sorrows and joys of partings and reunions which seemed so real become no more than

a spring dream. How much have our karmic hindrances increased? We don’t know. How much virtue have we fostered? We don’t know. That no knowing is ignorance. Ignorance is the root

of birth and death. If we didn’t have ignorance, we wouldn’t suffer in the six paths of rebirth. The purpose of cultivating is to destroy ignorance and to turn consciousness into wisdom. We want to turn the alaya consciousness into the Great Perfect Mirror wisdom. Humans have human ignorance, and animals have the ignorance of animals. Hungry ghosts and hell-beings have their own ignorance as well. Living beings are trying to find a way out of ignorance (out of the Three Realms), but the more they search the more muddled they get. They can’t find an escape route.

They are trapped in the cycle of rebirth. Why? Because their false mind is causing mischief and they don’t use their true mind (wisdom) to find the way out. Ignorance is simply the lack of wisdom. When people have no wisdom, everything they do is upside-down. They take what’s true to be false, what’s right to be wrong. They clearly know that something is wrong, yet they insist

on doing it. They always take the wrong road because they are covered up by ignorance.

Having gone astray, they never find the right path. Those who study Buddhism have to destroy

ignorance and unveil the Dharma-nature. Due to their ignorance, they like to do stupid things. With deviant knowledge and views, their selfishness acts up and they are not public-spirited. Thus they fall lower and lower in every life, until they fall into the animal realm, where they become creatures with very little consciousness, such as ants or mosquitoes. Yet they are still as insatiably greed as ever, and do all kinds of stupid things. Take a look! All the animals have their

own natures. Basically all living beings have the Buddha-nature, but not in completion. Since their natures have been split up and their spirits have scattered, they are stupid and cling tightly to their ignorance. Even though people are the most efficacious of all creatures and are possessed of wisdom, all they do is commit bad karma. Why? Because their ignorance is in control,

obscuring the light of their wisdom. Thus they use their false mind in doing things. There’s a

verse which goes:


Three dots like a cluster of stars,

A hook like the crescent moon:

Furred creatures come from it;

The Buddha comes from it too.


The verse describes the mind. What follows is a brief explanation: Three dots like a cluster of stars. The three dots on the upper part of the Chinese character for “mind” resemble stars lined up in the sky. A hook like the crescent moon. The curved hook on the bottom part of the character

looks like the new, cresent-shaped moon on the third or fourth night of the lunar month.

Furred creatures come from it. Animals with fur and horns are created from the mind. If you act like a dog, you will receive the retribution of becoming a dog. If you do what cats do, you’ll have the retribution of being a cat. The same goes for horses, oxen, sheep, chickens, ducks, and geese. The Buddha comes from it too. When one becomes a Buddha or a Patriarch, it’s also

because of the mind. As it’s said, “Everything’s made from the mind.” Whether you suffer in the hells or enjoy heavenly bliss, it all comes from a single thought of your mind. If you have a good thought, auspicious spirits come to protect you. If you give rise to a bad thought, evil spirits follow you. The ancients said, “Once you trip and fall, you’ll regret it for a thousand ages.” You could also say, “If you err in a single thought, you’ll regret it for a thousand ages.” The difference

between good and evil lies in a single thought. Good thoughts take you upwards, while bad

thoughts send you down. The mind is like a mote of dust floating in the air. It is suddenly

in the heavens, suddenly in the hells, suddenly in the animal realm, suddenly among hungry

ghosts, constantly creating karma and undergoing the retribution, undergoing retribution and creating karma in an endless cycle. When will one realize that “the sea of suffering is boundless, a turn of the head is the other shore? When you realize that the vast sea of karma has no boundaries, quickly turn around and you’ll reach the shore. This is what the study of Buddhadharma is all about. There’s no other clever or ingenious way. To put it simply, it’s just about getting rid of habits and faults, and purging selfishness and self-benefit from our mind. If we can also refrain from contending, being greedy, and seeking, then we’ve grasped the essence of

Buddhadharma. We listen to the Dharma everyday, but we have to understand the essentials of the Dharma. What’s the key point of the Dharma? It’s to refrain from contending, being greedy,

seeking, being selfish, pursuing personal advantage, and lying. We should use these six guidelines as a standard to evaluate our daily conduct. If we don’t meet the standard, we should correct ourselves right away. When we have eliminated all our faults, and have only merit and virtue, we can be considered Buddhists. These are the six great principles of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. I hope everyone can follow them. I wish everyone can become enlightened and attain Buddhahood.


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