Section Five Taking Refuge and Red Envelopes

 by You-Bin Chen

Excerpted from "A Discussion of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua's Contribution to Buddhism" by You-Bin Chen - Vajra Bodhi Sea Monthly Journal from June, 1966 to October, 1997.

Among Asian Buddhists who have taken refuge, there is a popular misconception. Everyone thinks that the more teachers you take refuge with, the better. This is a sign of the Dharma Ending Age. By taking refuge with this one and then taking refuge with that one, they cause contention among the Dharma Masters, who quarrel with each other over who has the Dharma affinities and who gets the disciples. But the Master always asked those who had already taken refuge not to sign up to take refuge again-that they could just follow along and rejoice from the sidelines. The contemporary High Sanghan Great Master Yinguang also said that in taking refuge, the member of the Sangha is representing the Buddha in transmitting the three refuges. He is a certifier, not the person one is taking refuge with. That means we really should ask, "Who was the Master who certified your being transmitted the three refuges?" not "Whom did you take refuge with?" The Master said:

Some people say, "The Youth Good Wealth visited fifty-three (teachers), why can't I bow to a few more teachers?" But you need to realize that the Youth Good Wealth was always sent on by his previous teacher to the next teacher. It wasn't that he greedily longed for another Dharma Master endowed with virtuous conduct and so turned his back on his current teacher and stole away to take refuge with another. A lot of older Chinese Buddhist disciples have taken refuge tens or hundreds of times. But when you ask them what "take refuge" means, they don't know. Isn't that pathetic? They say that all left-home people are their teachers. But I say they don't have any teacher at all because their minds lack faith, so how can they be saved? One must have faith in order to be saved. Don't say "Probably the Buddha didn't notice the first time I took refuge, so I'd better do it again."

Actually when it comes to the question of red envelopes, all along the Master was very opposed to the custom. That's because there's an element of cheating in it. No one knows how much money is in those red envelopes. For Buddhist disciples in Asia, taking refuge and red envelopes amount to the same thing. That being the case, people who can't come up with red envelopes and those of externalist ways don't dare believe in the Buddha and take refuge. The Master said:

In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Youth Good Wealth holds a very important position and yet he has had a very complicated influence on Chinese Buddhism. Most Dharma Masters know very well that for a person to take refuge with lots of different teachers is incorrect. It is not in accord with the Buddha dharma. But if they don't let it happen, their "tokens" (the red envelopes) will diminish significantly. And so to this day no one openly opposes this custom. Knowing full well it is wrong, they still do it. Complicated, huh? Why? First, it's for the sake of the "youths" (pulling in laity) and second it's for the sake of "Good Wealth" (getting one's share of red envelopes). This is the worst habit going in Buddhism.

The Master's true knowledge and brilliant views are decisively different from the multitudes. How much compassion there is behind the Master's lion's roar that he emits because he "cannot bear to watch the sagely teachings decline"! A lot of "movie star teachers" in Taiwan, being put on pedestals by their disciples, forget all about their responsibility to "carry on the Thus Come One's work of saving living beings." Every day they wallow in their intoxication for fame and profit and neglect the great matter of birth and death. Actually when disciples of the Triple Jewel encounter left-home teachers, they should inquire about the Buddhadharma, not just be intent upon giving them red envelopes. In Thailand, Sri Lanka and so forth, the laity makes offerings of food to the Triple Jewel. Besides which, the Buddha restricted the Bhikshus to one meal a day at noon. he definitely would not have permitted them to use their bowls to beg for money.

In roll 7 of Translations of Extra Material from the Agama Sutra, the Buddha said: "Holding gold or other money or valuables is not one of the Dharmas of Shamans, disciples of Shakya. If they do hold gold or other money or valuables, then they are not according with the Dharmas of Shramanas. " And so begging for money is not pan of the method of cultivation for left-home people. In the 54th roll of the Four Divisions Vinaya the Buddha told the Elder Pearl Garland: "Shramana, disciples of Shakya should not hold gold and silver; they should give away their pearls and gems, and should not adorn themselves. Anyone who holds gold or silver will involve themselves in the five desires. If they involve themselves in the five desires, then they are not following the Dharmas of Shramanas, disciples of Shakya." Who would have thought that in these days of the Dharma-ending Age there are left home people who use their bowls to beg for money. This has a devastating effect on the reputation of Buddhism and on the practices of members of the Sangha, especially now when those who are begging are just passing themselves off as left-home people in order to destroy the Buddhadharma. If members of the Sangha themselves did not carry their bowls to beg for money, then there certainly wouldn't be people willing lo undergo the suffering of passing themselves off as part of the Singh. That's why the Master encouraged his disciples lo hold the precept against possessing money as much as possible; to avoid "lying up conditions" with money as much as possible. The Master said:

That's because left-home people can cultivate if they don't have money. As soon as they have money, they certainly won't be able to cultivate. I can guarantee it. Look into it! Investigate it. Taoists are referred to as "poor Taoists." Sanghans are referred to as "poor Sanghans." Nobody talks about "rich Sanghans" or "rich Taoists." And so when you use your money to make offerings to "rich Sanghans" and "rich Taoists," it's the same as if you were committing offenses. I'm going to offend a lot of people by saying this. But although I am offending you, I have to tell the truth.

Another thing that's happening in contemporary Buddhism is so-called "Dharma for getting rich." The Master was also stern and proper about this one: "There isn't any such Dharma of getting rich in Buddhism." Great Master Yongjia said in his Song of Enlightenment: 'The Shakyan disciples say that they are poor; they are indeed poor in body, but not poor in the Way. As to poverty, their bodies are ever wrapped in coarse rags. As to the Way, a priceless jewel is stored in their hearts." That's referring to Buddhism's "poor Sanghans." The expression "rich Sanghans" does not exist. Since they are "poor Sanghans,' how can they transmit "Dharmas of getting rich"? (and delude people by saying it's a method of the Buddha's when in fact it absolutely is not!) The Master's comments are:

You should look carefully at anyone who teaches others "Dharmas for getting rich" to see if he himself is rich or not. If he is, then that's because you are hoping to get rich and so you give your riches to him. That's why he has money. It's like investing in stocks. You first have to buy some stocks before you can make money. And so you first have to make an offering to him-maybe a thousand, or ten thousand, or a hundred thousandnd then your whole safe will be chocked full of money and it will emit red light, is it? Or yellow light? Or black light? Or purple light? If that isn't a professional crook at work, what is it? Since I would never transmit a Dharma for getting rich, I am exposing this secret.

Buddhism is a lofty teaching. It certainly doesn't stop with the "red envelopes" that accompany seeking fame and profit. Nor does it stop with the "Dharma Assemblies" that go along with saving souls. The Buddhas and those with great wisdom want living beings to understand that the world is impermanent and that they should get rid of their greed, hatred, and stupidity. How can the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas be relegated to the level of gods from whom one "seeks for wealth and officialdom'? Isn't that just bribery? Then how would Buddhism be different from Eastern or Western folk religions?


Return to homepage | Top of page