The Key to Enlightenment

How can we become enlightened? Enlightenment can be compared to unlocking a door. When the door is locked, you can't go in or out through it. You have use a key to unlock the door. If you don't have the key, then you'll be locked inside the house forever. Where is the key? It's right where you are; it's very easy to find. How can you find it? As you sit in Chan medidation, recite the Buddha's name, and recite mantras, you are looking for the key. When will you find it? It depends on the level of your cultivation. If you are vigorous, you will find the key very quickly. If you are lax, you'll never find it, not in this life or in lives to come. This is a very simple principle.


In the analogy, the lock in your mind is the ignorance which causes your pure and bright mind to become dark and defiled. When you encounter states, if you lack the wisdom to distinguish good from evil, you will act in deluded ways. After you have gained skill in your practice, you will be able to smash through ignorance and unlock the door of your mind to reveal bright wisdom. Then no matter what happens, you won't get afflicted.


What is ignorance? To put it simply, it is darkness--lack of understanding. Because one doesn't understand the truth, one’s mind is locked up and one cannot attain enlightenment. During the reign of Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty, there was a eunuch named Yu Chao’en. Yu Chao’en asked the National Master [the Dharma Master to whom the emperor bowed as teacher], "What is ignorance?" The National Master said, "You look like a slave. What makes you think you're qualified to ask about the Buddhadharma?" The eunuch was furious. The National Master smiled and said, "That is ignorance." A proverb says: "The fire of ignorance can burn up a forest of merit and virtue."


People who become enlightened are able to do so only because they cultivated many good deeds in their past lives. If they hadn't cultivated those good deeds, they wouldn't attain enlightenment in this life. Do you want to become enlightened? Then you must first cultivate. Only then will there be hope for enlightenment.


How did Shakyamuni Buddha achieve Buddhahood?


He cultivated blessings and wisdom for three asamkhyeyas

And planted the causes for the fine hallmarks for a hundred eons.


For three great asamkhyeya kalpas (limitless eons), he cultivated blessings and wisdom. For a hundred great kalpas, he performed merit that led to his being adorned with the thirty-two hallmarks and eighty subsidiary characteristics. That's why he was able to become enlightened upon seeing a bright star one night while sitting under the Bodhi tree. If he hadn't cultivated in the past, he couldn't have achieved Buddhahood when he did.


A talk given on July 12,1980


Where Do Blessings and Wisdom Come from?



In the past, Shakyamuni Buddha "cultivated blessings and wisdom for three asamkhyeyas of eons, and planted the seeds for good appearance for a hundred kalpas." And so he attained the thirty-two hallmarks and eighty subsidiary characteristics as peerless physical adornments. Cultivators must cultivate blessing and wisdom. How? By doing meritorious works. We should do our best to do any and every deed that brings benefit to living beings. This is cultivating blessings. When we study and recite Sutras and investigate the principles of the Buddhadharma, "deeply entering the Sutra Treasury to attain wisdom like the sea," we are cultivating wisdom. To put it simply, if we do a lot of meritorious deeds, we’ll have blessings; if we listen to Sutra lectures and speak the Dharma, we’ll have wisdom. It’s a very natural principle.


Blessings and wisdom come from cultivation. If you don‘t cultivate, you’ll never have any blessings or wisdom. Cultivators shouldn’t feel that they can get away with an evil deed, however slight it may be; nor should they neglect doing a good deed even if it is small. If you can cherish, cultivate, and plant blessings day after day, you’ll certainly have great blessings in the future. If you don‘t do that, where could blessings and wisdom come from? If you merely wish for blessings and wisdom without doing anything, you’re just foolishly indulging in idle fantasies that will never come true. It‘s like looking for fish in trees--something that could never be.


A talk given on June 4, 1981


Strictly Uphold Precepts and Learn to Be Patient



Precepts are a cultivator's life. If one transgresses them, this would be as grievous as having one’s life cut off. Before the World Honored One entered Nirvana, he told the Venerable Ananda, "Take the precepts as your teacher." This shows how important the precepts are.


“Strictly” means with certainty, cautiousness, and perceptiveness. Cultivators should not talk carelessly. When you need to speak, do so in a discreet and appropriate way, and don’t babble nonsense. In other words, there’s a definite way to act whether you are walking, standing, sitting, and lying down. You can‘t just do whatever you want; that wouldn’t be upholding the precepts.


To “uphold” means to manage. It also means to carefully and cautiously hold something with your hands, being constantly attentive and never lax. We should uphold the precepts with full concentration.


“Precepts” serve to prevent mistakes and to stop evildoing. “Do no evil; do all good." Precepts serve to warn us before we commit offenses; they also stipulate the penalties incurred by offenses. A snake normally slithers in curves, but when it goes into a pipe, it straightens out by itself; this is the function of precepts.


Precepts are laws. In everything we do, we should abide by the rules. There‘s a saying: "Without a compass and a T-square, you can’t draw circles and squares." [Note: In Chinese the words for ‘compass’ and ‘T-square’ form a compound that means “rules”.] We should not act carelessly, hinder other people‘s freedom, or usurp others’ benefits.


In a nutshell, upholding precepts means not having a temper. When we cultivate patience to the utmost degree, then we’ll be able to handle favorable as well as adverse states without losing our calm; we’ll deal with everything naturally and easily. When we reach that level, we won’t transgress the rules. People don’t abide by rules because they don’t have enough patience; they can‘t keep the fire of ignorance under control, and it burns up all the merit and virtue they have cultivated.


A talk given on June 6, 1981



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