Understanding Buddhism (認識佛教): Part 3

This is the third post in a three-part series summarizing Understanding Buddhism (認識佛教) by Buddhist monk teacher Master Chin Kung. Here are parts one and two.

Samantabhadra Bodhisattvas’s Ten Great Vows (普賢十大願)

After practicing the Three Conditions of Meritorious Acts, Six Harmonies, Three Learnings, and Six Perfections in daily life, the next level is practicing Samantabhadra Bodhisattvas’s Ten Great Vows.

The first of these vows is to respect all Buddhas (禮敬諸佛). This includes respecting all beings because all beings innately possess the Buddha nature. It also means respecting all physical things and matters. For example, keeping one’s things tidy is a way of respecting things.

The second vow is to praise Buddhas (稱讚如來). The difference between this and the first vow is that one respects all beings no matter whether they do good or evil, following correct teachings, or incorrect teachings. But one must not praise those who do evil or follow incorrect teachings; one only praises those who do good and follow correct teachings.

The third vow is to make abundant offerings (廣修供養). This signifies an infinitely large heart. Offerings are made not only to Buddhas but to all sentient and non-sentient beings. Of all types of offerings, sharing the Dharma (Buddhist teachings) is best. Monks in old China agreed that the Avatamsaka Sutra was the number one sutra, but the end of it leads readers to the Infinite Life Sutra, so actually the Infinite Life Sutra is the number one sutra. It teaches the merits of the name of Amitabha Buddha and how to be reborn to the Pure Land through Buddha name chanting.

The name of Amitabha Buddha (阿彌陀佛) has infinite meanings and is powerful. Chanting this name has the ability to eliminate natural disasters and sickness. The entire Infinite Life Sutra is like an annotation to this name. The Avatamsaka Sutra is like an annotation to Infinite Life Sutra, and all of the other Buddhist sutras are like an annotation to the Avatamsaka Sutra. It was said by a famous monk in China that the main reason the Buddha incarnated on Earth was to preach the Infinite Life Sutra, all the other sutras were a way of leading people to this sutra and the name of Amitabha Buddha. The reason there are so many sutras is to cater to different beings, but to ultimately lead them to the same place.

The fourth vow is to eliminate karmic obstacles through repentance (懺悔業障). Whenever we have a thought, we are creating karma. This causes us to be disconnected from our true nature, which has infinite wisdom and supernal abilities. It is said that all beings are of the same mind as Buddhas’, but because of wandering thoughts, affliction, and attachment, we cannot realize it. So the Buddhas’ teachings are meant to eliminate these barriers to let us connect with our true nature. The name of Amitabha Buddha is best for eliminating karmic obstacles. The way to chant it is to do so with a mind, understanding, vows, and actions that are the same as Amitabha Buddha’s. To do this, one must practice what is taught in the Infinite Life Sutra.

The fifth vow is to rejoice at others’ good deeds (隨喜功德). This is done to counteract jealously in ourselves, which is a big barrier to cultivation. Although it’s good to rejoice in others’ successes, it is better to encourage them and help them to be successful. In the end, helping others is helping yourself.

The sixth vow is to turning the Dharma wheel (請轉法輪). This means asking those monks, nuns and others who teach the Dharma to come and teach, so as to continue the propagate the teachings to all beings.

The seventh vow is to ask good Dharma teachers to stay and teach (請佛住世). When the Buddha was alive, many people became enlightened. After he died, few people became enlightened. The Buddha’s presence helped people to become enlightened. So Buddhists ask good Dharma teachers to stay in their city or town to teach in order to help more people.

The eighth vow is to learn from the Buddha (常隨佛學). Although the Buddha is gone, what he preached still exists in books for us to learn from.

The ninth vow is to benefit all beings (恆順眾生). This means waiting for the opportune moment to help them, guiding them to do good and stop doing bad, and helping them to awaken and stop being deluded.

The tenth vow is to transfer one’s merit to others (普皆迴向). This means to use the benefits one gains through cultivation to help others.

The Sequence of Practice

The order one follows when learning Buddhism is belief, understanding, action, and demonstration (信解行證). Belief means that one is able to accept the teachings of Buddhism so as to begin to learn it; one must believe one has the innate Buddha nature. Understanding means to understand the reality of life and the universe. Demonstration means to take what one believes in, one’s understanding, and correct actions, and apply them in daily life.

The best way to do the above is to live close to a teacher, like at a temple, and obey their rules. When done correctly, in one or two years, one may can cut off affliction, increase in wisdom, and awaken.

One starts learning Buddhism by focusing on one sutra. One should read it over and over, the more you read it the better. One need not understand it, so don’t try scrutinizing every line. At the beginning you still have afflictions, so your understanding will be incorrect anyway. The goal of this kind of reading is to lessen afflictions over time and give rise to wisdom and cultivate a pure mind.

By first cultivating meditative concentration and wisdom, when one finally starts to read other books and reconnects with society, one will truly understand them. This is because they will be able to really focus.

A feature of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism is that learning Confucianism and Daoism replaces Theravada Buddhism as the foundation for learning Mahayana Buddhism. This is because Chinese culture already had this foundation that is very similar to Theravada Buddhism.

The Importance of Specialization

When Master Chin Kung studied with his teacher Li Bing Nan, he told Chin Kung that he would only accept him as his student under three conditions: 1.) You can only listen to me teach Buddhism and not others. 2.) You can only read books that I permit you to read. 3.) Everything you have learned up until now doesn’t count, you will begin to learn anew with me.

While these conditions seemed strict, they served a very important purpose: by having less inputs, afflictions lessened and wisdom grew. After ten years of this, Chin Kung was permitted to read and listen to any teachings, because he now had the ability to distinguish true from false and correct from wrong. This way of teaching had been passed down from ancient China.

If one can’t meet a great teacher to study with, one can study the teachings of one of the ancients, just like how Mencius studied Confucius after he had already died. Master Chin Kung recommends learning from Amitabha Buddha by studying the Infinite Life Sutra. After studying it for five years, one can then read other sutras.

The more teachers one has, the more methods there will be to practice, making it difficult to choose which one to follow. By choosing one teacher and one method (一門深入), one can become enlightened (開悟). Learning Buddhism can be likened to a growing tree. At the beginning you learn from only one person and book, then later as you grow in wisdom you can branch out and learn from other books without any limits. So there is a saying in China: once you have mastered one sutra, you will have mastered all sutras (一經通,一切經通).

Buddhist Instruction and Arts

In ancient times, in China, Buddhist monasteries were like today’s universities, they were places people went to learn Buddhism. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. The reason Buddhism has waned is because people don’t learn it anymore.

There are many different statues of Buddhas and bodhisattvas at temples and in various places because they all represent different aspects of one’s nature. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha from our time, his name means compassion and purity, Amitabha Buddha’s name means infinite life, infinite light, and infinite everything, Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) bodhisattva represents great compassion, Mahasthamaprapta bodhisattva represents chanting the Buddha’s name with single-minded focus, and Maitreya bodhisattva (the laughing buddha with a fat belly), represents great tolerance and happiness—two critical things for studying Buddhism.

The four Dharma protectors present in Buddhist temples represent responsibility for one’s family and job or one’s country in the case of a president, making steady progress, study and reading, and traveling and observing. Each Dharma protector holds an object in his hand, representing something else. One is a pipa (Chinese lute), which represents moderation in activity. Another is a sword, which represents wisdom since it cuts off all affliction. Another holds a snake or dragon, which represents life’s constant changes. The last holds an umbrella, which symbolizes blocking contamination and maintaining purity.

So these statues do not represent gods, and lighting incense and praying to them is misguided. In the end, all of these statues and symbols are meant to teach us.

The various objects used as offerings at temples also represent aspects of the Dharma. Water represents purity and a peaceful mind, flowers represent cause while fruit represents effect—reminding us that if we want a certain result we must plant the corresponding cause. Lamps represent the light of wisdom and incense represents precepts, meditative concentration, and wisdom.


Buddhism uses true wisdom and unlimited enlightenment to help all beings obtain benefits, true happiness, and end suffering.

We are now in the period where Buddhism is waning and beings’ karmic obstacles are heavy. Therefore the Buddha name chanting method to cultivation is particularly effective because of its simplicity. By Master Chin Kung’s estimates, there have been 500 people in the last 40 years who have attained rebirth in the Pure Land using this method, which is amazing as these people are well on their way to Buddhahood.

So rebirth in the Pure Land is indeed possible through eliminating karmic obstacles and bad habits by chanting Amitabha Buddha’s name according to the sutras. When one’s cultivation has reached a high enough level, which can be achieved in three years, one will be truly at ease and will be able to be reborn to the Pure Land whenever one wants; one can stay in this world several more years, or leave for the Pure Land.

There are no limits to the form that helping others may take. It could even be hitting and scolding, like in Zen; if it is done correctly, it is true compassion. Wandering thoughts, emotions, delusion, and attachment are not Buddhism and should be left in order to see through delusion, awaken, leave suffering, and obtain joy (破迷開悟,離苦得樂).

Go back and read parts one and two.


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