Understanding Buddhism (認識佛教): Part 2

This is the second post in a three part series summarizing Understanding Buddhism (認識佛教) by Buddhist monk teacher Master Chin Kung. Here is the first part.

Six Harmonies (六和敬)

The Six Harmonies are rules for four or more people practicing Buddhism together and are followed by Buddhist monks and nuns. In China, harmony is a very important concept. The Qing emperor had it written on three of the main buildings inside the forbidden city and it is what he used to govern the country.

The first is having the same viewpoints (見和同解). Through having the same viewpoints there will be equality, when there is equality, everyone’s mind and heart will be at ease, then there will be joy.

There are many sutras (Buddhist scriptures) to suit many different types of people. In the past, people with the same interests congregated together and made their own sects of Buddhism, each based on different sutras. This is similar to today’s technical colleges. Each technical college has people of similar mindsets. They study one thing, if they were to study many things at once, they would not succeed in any of them.

Even within the same sect, if monks and nuns focus on two different sutras, there need to be two different communities, otherwise there will not be harmony. Furthermore, the practitioners must have the same teacher, so even though they may be learning the same sutra, if they are listening to different teachers teach the same sutra, then their understanding will be different. So there need to be separate communities even when studying the same sutra.

By having many different sects, sutras, and teachers, there are hence many communities of practitioners with different viewpoints and understanding. A person can choose the one best suited to his or her nature. So Buddhism is quite accommodating.

The second harmony is observing the same precepts (戒和同修). By drafting up and voting on the same rules and by following the rules laid out for Buddhist monks and nuns or lay practitioners, there will be equality among everyone in the community.

The third harmony is harmony in living together (身和同住). Living together keeps a person honest. Besides the abbot of a temple, everyone must share a bedroom with others so as to prevent becoming unrestrained when going to bed. Beds must be kept tidy and rules must be followed, more so than in the military. Abbots, the old, and the sick can have their own tiny private room. Abbots have a lot of responsibility so their schedules are different and they shouldn’t sleep in the same room as others.

The fourth harmony is speaking without conflict (口和無諍). Ancient Chinese said that sickness enters through the mouth and disaster comes out of the mouth (病從口入,禍從口出). Speaking is the easiest way to cause problems. It’s common for someone to speak thoughtlessly while the person listening is taking them seriously, resulting in trouble. So the ancients also said, “Speak a little less, chant Buddha’s name a little more” (少說一句話,多念一句佛). It’s better to speak less, and not speak when it’s unnecessary.

Master Chin Kung knew a monk who when asked a question would watch a person’s mind and heart and wait until it was settled before answering, and if your mind and heart didn’t settle, he wouldn’t answer. This way, when he did speak a few sentences to answer you, you would remember it the rest of your life.

The fifth harmony is harmony in experiencing the Dharma bliss (意和同悅). The most basic result of learning and practicing Buddhism is joy, if you’re not experiencing joy you’re doing something wrong. Practicing Buddhism means training one’s mind to be pure, to have correct thoughts and views, and to grow in awareness and not be lost.

The sixth harmony is harmony in sharing benefits (利和同均). This means that everything in the temple should be shared equally among the monks and nuns.

The Three Learnings (三學)

The Three Learnings are precepts (戒), meditative concentration (定), and wisdom (慧). Just as a doctor prescribes medicine to someone who is sick, the Buddha prescribed these three “medicines” to a world three big sicknesses: evil deeds, wandering minds, and ignorance. Precepts stop the evil deeds from happening, meditative concentration brings the mind under control, and wisdom eliminates ignorance.

The Six Perfections (六度)

The Six Perfections are the guidelines for one’s actions in daily life when interacting with things, people, and situations. They are giving (布施), observing precepts (持戒), patience (忍辱), diligence (精進), meditative concentration (禪定), and wisdom (智慧).

Giving (布施)

There are three main types of giving: giving wealth (財布施), giving teachings (法布施), and giving of fearlessness (無畏布施). Giving wealth causes the giver to become wealthy, giving teachings causes the giver to become smart, and giving fearlessness causes the giver to live a long life. Most people who have these things today practiced them in a previous life and are now reaping the benefits. But some people who practice them in this life see the results in this life.

Giving hinges on one’s thoughts and mindset. Always thinking of others and not oneself is giving. For example, you could prepare breakfast for your family in the morning. Or, by paying your health insurance every month and thinking of all the sick people you are helping, by doing so is giving and will cause you to not get sick. At your job, if you work to make a little money and slowly get promoted, then it is not giving. On the other hand, you are working hard to give to your company and make a contribution to society, then this is real giving. Giving one’s time and energy to others is also a form of giving.

A big difference between Bodhisattvas and ordinary people is in their thoughts. A Bodhisattva always thinks of others, an ordinary person usually thinks of only themselves. By thinking of others, our own rewards will be great, by thinking of ourselves, our rewards will be small.

Giving teachings must be done freely or with helping others in mind if it is to be considered real teaching. For example, if someone can’t cook, but you can, and you teach them for free, then this is real giving. If you accept payment in return, then it is not giving. However, although a school teacher receives income for this work every month, if they teach in order to help students learn, then it is giving. If they teach to receive an income and get promoted, it is not giving. Spreading the Buddhist Dharma is also giving and includes giving books and preaching, both for free.

Giving of fearlessness means helping those who are worried or scared to feel better. It encompasses a wide range of things. When a country is under attack, those who serve in the army to protect the country are giving fearlessness to their country’s people. Being a vegetarian is also a form of giving fearlessness; when animals see you they will not be scared, because you will not hurt them.

The most perfect giving is when one let’s go, like letting go of worry and afflictions. If we let go of something little, we will get something little in return, if let go of something big we will get something big in return.

Observing Precepts (持戒)

Observing precepts includes following the precepts that Buddhists follow, like no killing, no stealing, etc., as well as following the rules of a nation, a community, and a household. This includes fathers acting like fathers and sons acting like sons, and even following the proper sequence in doing things. For example, when cooking you first wash the rice, then put the food in the pan to cook, and then adjust the temperature.

Patience (忍辱)

The Diamond Sutra says that all accomplishment comes from patience. In this sutra the Buddha also emphasizes giving and patience of the Six Perfections, meaning they are the most important for cultivation. There are three types of patience. The first is being able to be hurt and humiliated by others, this has the benefit of cultivating a pure heart and making it easier to attain meditative concentration. The second type is being able to bear natural changes, like changes in temperature, hunger, thirst, and natural disasters. The third type is patience in cultivation. When first learning Buddhism, it takes a long time and is difficult to reach the point where one becomes joyous. A good metaphor for this is when after a long time spent driving around in circles, one reaches the freeway where the driving is fast, smooth, and easy.

Diligence (精進)

The word for diligence is made up of two characters (精進), the first character 精 refers to “solely and purely,” the second character 進 refers to “daily progress.” One must focus on one method to have success in cultivation, whether it is chanting the Buddha’s name, sitting in meditation, reading mantras, or research. If one focuses on multiple methods, one won’t succeed in any of them. When a person is successful in one method, one will be able to master other methods quickly and easily. An example of true diligence in cultivation is below.

During the early years of the People’s Republic of China, there was a man who had lived a very poor life filled with suffering. One day, he asked his friend who was a monk, to let him become a monk. At first the friend did not want to let him become a monk because he was already forty or fifty and could not read, therefore he would not be able to study well or have success. But the man insisted and his friend relented and allowed him to become a monk as long as he followed his directions.

The friend arranged for him to live in a dilapidated, abandoned temple and be given two meals a day by a lay Buddhist woman. He was directed to chant the Buddha’s name until he was tired, then rest. After resting he was to continue chanting the Buddha’s name.

He did as instructed for three years without leaving the temple, until one day he left and journeyed into town to visit his friends and family. On his way, he told the woman who had been cooking for him not to bring him food the next day. She figured some friends had invited him to eat so he didn’t need to be fed that day.

The next day, the woman went to the temple to check on the man and found him just standing there. When she came closer, she saw that he was dead. He had died standing up, being reborn into the Pure Land! The man had known the hour of his rebirth ahead of time. To reach the goal of rebirth in the Pure Land in three years through Buddha name chanting is a true representation of what it means to be diligent in cultivation.

Meditative Concentration (禪定)

All forms of Buddhism involve some type of meditative concentration, the goal of which is to attain a state of one mind undisturbed (一心不亂). It is important for non-Buddhists to also attain such meditative concentration, for example, a researcher is able to make breakthroughs when absolutely focused. Meditative concentration means having a purpose and direction in life and to not be swayed by the outer world, attached to appearances, or give rise to thoughts.

One practices meditative concentration whether walking, standing, sitting, or laying down. Some high level practitioners go to lively places like the mall to practice this.

It is important to not be attached to appearances because appearances are illusion. Even one’s thoughts are illusion. When we don’t give rise to thoughts or attach to appearances, our true mind will be revealed.

Wisdom (智慧)

Once a person has recovered his or her true mind, their views and understanding will be the same as Buddhas’. This is true wisdom, that is, to clearly understanding everything. One can then use this wisdom to practice the previous five Perfections in daily life. One should learn the actions of Bodhisattvas, that is, to understand everything, master everything, be attached to nothing, and do one’s utmost to help all beings. In reality all beings throughout the universe are one, seeing them as separate is an illusion caused by our delusion. By helping others we are actually helping ourselves. There are no conditions on this kind of compassion.

Continue on to part three.


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