Foremost Wisdom Bodhisattva wishes to know how to cultivate pure conduct.
Manjushri Bodhisattva says,
If all Bodhisattvas can skillfully use their minds, they will attain all supreme and wonderful merit and virtue.
Manjushri Bodhisattva further expounds verses to elucidate how a Bodhisattva cultivates pure karma.
The first verse says,
A Bodhisattva of the lay life,
Should vow that living beings
Will realize the empty nature of the household,
And avoid oppression from it.
Another verse says,
When I serve my parents in filiality,
I vow that living beings
Will serve the Buddhas skillfully,
And protect and nourish everything.
Manjushri Bodhisattva points right to the cause of all our limitless problems, afflictions, and offenses because ‘Everything is made from the mind alone.’
Before we do anything, we first strike up a thought regarding it in our minds. We think of something and then act on our thoughts. If we can be aware of every single thought, we can control our actions, we can restrain ourselves. If we can master our minds, we will always be in control. If we know how to use our minds, we can attain unsurpassed merit and virtue. If we don’t know how to use the mind, we can commit limitless offenses and create bad karma. Milton said,
‘The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.’
The mind is the forerunner of all things. Thus, the Buddha says,
I know of no other single thing so conducive to misery as this uncultivated, untrained mind.
I know of no other single thing so conducive to well-being as this cultivated and well-trained mind.
It is said that people are the most efficacious of all living beings. Humans are basically very intelligent. But, if they have not mastered their minds, they can still outsmart themselves and do a lot of foolish things. Someone says,
Man is the only creature smart enough to build the Empire State building and stupid enough to jump off it.
Manjushri Bodhisattva spoke many verses to show how a lay Bodhisattva and a Sanghan Bodhisattva should cultivate. A lay Bodhisattva should vow that living beings will realize the unsatisfactoriness of the householder’s life and not be chained up by the situation they are in. A layperson’s home is known as a house of afflictions. For that reason, the Buddha says,
It is inconceivable for a layperson to arouse the aspiration for enlightenment. And why? Lay people are bound by more unfavorable conditions.
Couples who get along fine and treat each other like honored guests and cherished friends may not agree or realize that a householder’s life is a home of afflictions and suffering. Sundari and Nanda were a very loving couple and they could not bear to be apart. Nevertheless, they were both just planting the seeds of suffering because they were still very confused by emotional love. So, even if they did not commit any bad deeds and tried to perform good deeds, they could only attain the reward of being born in the heavens. However, the heaven is a very dangerous place to be born in because no matter how long one’s life span is, no matter how comfortable the heavens are, when a heavenly being’s blessings is exhausted, the heavenly being can still fall. Buddhists who do not wake up to this fact will be planting the causes for being born in the heavens.
Bertrand Russell says,
‘It is a dangerous thing to allow one’s affections to center too much in one person; for affection is always liable to be thwarted, and life itself is frail.’
‘What union does there exist which has not its end in separation.’
Kahlil Gibran says,
“Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.”
When Prince Siddhartha renounced his kingdom and rode off, he told Chandaka to convey a message to his father, King Shuddhodana. Part of that message says,
‘….Some day in any case all unions must come to an end, however long they may have lasted. It is just because we must reckon with perpetual separation that I am determined to win salvation.. There is no reason to grieve for me who has left for the homeless life so as to quit all grief. Rather should one grieve over those who greedily cling to those sensuous passions in which all grief is rooted…
‘This very day therefore I will begin to strive for the highest good—that is my firm resolve! Death confronts me all the time—how do I know how much of life is still at my disposal?
‘Even if affection should prevent me from leaving my kinsfolk just now of my own accord, in due course death would tear us apart, and in that we would have no say..
‘Birds settle on a tree for awhile, and then go their separate ways again. The meeting of all living beings must likewise inevitably end in their parting.
‘…This world passes away, and disappoints all hopes of everlasting attachment. It is therefore unwise to have a sense of ownership for people who are united with us as in a dream—for a short while only, and not in fact.’
Couples who are as incompatible as water and fire should wake up even sooner.
A lay Bodhisattva who realizes this truth thereby,
‘Vows that living beings will realize the empty nature of the household, and avoid oppression from it.’
In Buddhism, one avoids using force to teach living beings. So, a lay Bodhisattva, even though he knows that the householder’s life is basically suffering and that the homes are burning with the fire of lust, afflictions, impermanence and so forth, still, he cannot march into their homes and drag them out by force. Therefore, he makes a vow on their behalf. He uses a compassionate and gentle approach to take them across. He makes a vow that they will realize the fundamental truth about suffering, and quickly resolve their minds on transcending the burning house / world of afflictions and sensual desires.
An ancient writer wrote a poem that says,
If one doesn’t seek the Great Way and get off the confused path,
One will fall short of being a great hero, even if one has a lot of talent.
A hundred years are like a spark struck from a piece of flint.
An entire lifetime is like a bubble floating on the water.
Put down this wealth. It doesn’t really belong to one.
But one’s offense karma follows right after one.
It’s hard to cheat yourself.
One’s gold and silver might be piled high as a mountain,
But could one possibly use it to buy off the Ghost of Impermanence?
In another verse, Manjushri Bodhisattva speaks of being filial towards one’s parents and the Buddha. In the modern and post-modern world, the practice of filiality is becoming increasingly obsolete. In certain parts of the world, this wonderful practice and virtue of repaying one’s parents’ kindness is almost unheard of . Hence, many parents are neglected or left in an Old Folks’ Home. Although there is a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, but many (aged) parents in the world are uncared for, and are abandoned by their children. In the present age, the divorce rates are high. Hence, many youngsters have only one parent, a part-time parent, or no parents at all. In order to change the current situation, the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua announced in 1992 that a Celebration in Honor of the Elderly will be held every year. He also promoted the observance of a Cherishing the Youth Day every year. Here is an extract from the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua’s talk:
‘We would like to change and conduct celebrations for respecting the elderly and cherishing the youth so that people can create abundant virtue and achieve a world of great unity… Then, even the seniors who have no children, will receive the respect of young people, and children who have no parents, will also receive the care of grown-ups. In that way, everyone respects and cherishes one another… Every young person should respect his parents as much as he can. It shouldn’t be that after they have raised us, we throw them into the garbage can and forget about them.’
Among the worldly kinds of love, the greatest is that of the mother’s love for her child because parents love their children unconditionally. Most people are not aware of how deeply their parents care for them until they become parents themselves.
Prince Ajatasattu committed very evil deeds. Under the instigation of Devadatta, Prince Ajatasattu attempted to kill his own father King Bimbisara. His wicked plan failed. Later, he put his father in prison to starve him to death. But his mother the queen secretly carried food to the king. The Prince stopped his mother from visiting his father and eventually, he ordered his barber to go and kill his father, King Bimbisara. On the day that King Bimbisara was to be killed in a most inhuman way, a son was born unto Ajatasattu. At that time, Ajatasattu was overwhelmed by the paternal love he cherished towards his new born son. Ajatasattu rushed to his mother to ask her whether his father had loved him when he was a child. His mother described how deeply his father had cared for him. Thereupon, Ajatasattu cried out, ‘Run and release my beloved father quickly!’ But, it was already too late. King Bimbisara was dead.
The superior person turns his attention to the roots.
When the roots are established, the Way comes forth.
Filiality and fraternity are the roots of being human.
It is said,
Of all the kinds of good practices
Filial piety is the first.
Of all the myriad evils,
Licentiousness is the worst.
A truly filial child can move the heaven. Our parents are said to be living Buddhas at home. The Buddha spoke a Sutra on the Deep Kindness of Parents and of the Difficulty in Repaying it. When the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua was young, he bowed to his parents every morning and evening, and he was known as Filial Son Bai.
The Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua says,
“If you want to be a person, the very first thing you should know is that compared to the sea, your parents’ kindness is deeper; compared to the sky, your parents’ kindness is higher… If you plan to repay them, you must first learn to have virtue and to teach living beings to cultivate the Way. It is said, ‘If one child obtains the Way, nine generations will leap over birth and death.’”
There are five kinds of filial piety:
- Limited Filial Piety - Within one’s own family only.
- Extensive Filial Piety - Treating all elders as one’s own.
- Contemporary Filial Piety - To emulate present-day exemplars of filial piety.
- Classical Filial Piety - Filial to all the myriad creatures.
- Ultimate Filial Piety - To leave the home-life like Shakyamuni Buddha
Seven days after the birth of Prince Siddhartha, his mother the Lady Maya passed away and ascended to the Trayastrimsha Heaven. Therefore, before the Buddha entered Nirvana, he went to the Trayastrimsha Heaven to speak Dharma for his mother. That is known as ultimate filiality. When the Buddha’s father was sick, the World Honored One visited him. After his father passed away, the Buddha himself was one of the pallbearers who carried his father’s coffin.
I will give a personal example of why our parents’ kindness is deeper than the ocean and higher than the sky. I had the good fortune of living with my parents for three decades.
My mother was my parent, my nurse, my teacher, and my friend. I am very ashamed to say that she was also my cook and helper. She was always giving away her time, her energy, and her kindness. She lived and toiled for her family and friends. My brother described her as,
‘A most remarkable woman, kind and good-hearted. Illiterate and uneducated, she has the simplicity and innocence that is most precious. She is loved by all the neighbors who know she has a heart of gold. It is no wonder her health is frail: She has raised ten children with the love and devotion that should move the heavens. The debt of blood and love the children owe her is incalculable…’
My mother often said,
‘As a person, be more yielding, you aren’t taking a loss.’
I realized further the profound wisdom behind her words when I read the Dharma talks given by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua. He said,
‘To take a loss is to gain an advantage. If you gain advantages by forcing it, you are actually taking a loss.’
Among the countless instances of my mother’s gentle-kindness and sacrifices, there is one that I can never forget. Before I woke up on the morning of February 26, 1990, my mother was in great pain. But, she told my father not to wake me up. Even though she was undergoing intense suffering, yet she did not want to disturb me. That is the kind of person she was, considerate and thoughtful to the utmost.
On that same day, around noon, she passed away in the hospital while waiting with me to see the doctor. Her face was extremely peaceful-looking as she laid in the coffin for several days in the house. Her very serene countenance was so comforting to me.
In the Sutra of the past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, there is a very moving story about an extremely filial daughter named Bright Eyes who very earnestly performed meritorious deeds to try to rescue her departed mother and pull her out of the hells. She also made supremely far-reaching vast vows for the sake of saving her mother. I have often wished that Bright Eyes had been my mother’s daughter. If Bright Eyes is my mother’s child, then both my parents will most certainly be greatly benefited. I do not have the least bit of virtue to benefit my mother who has perished. In my case, the roles are reversed. My mother is the holy woman while I am the wretched one who is laden with heavy bad karma.
It is indeed hard to repay our parents’ deep kindness. But, it is even more difficult to repay the Supreme Great Kindness of the Buddhas because the World Honored Ones are the transcendental parents of our Wisdom Life. Thus, the verse says,
‘When I serve my parents in filiality,
I vow that living beings
Will serve the Buddhas skillfully,
And protect and nourish everything.’
Filiality begins at home. One who knows how to be filial towards one’s parents will also be filial towards the Buddha.The Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua says,
No teaching can be apart from Filiality. Apart from filiality, there is no teaching. When the limitless lessons under the sky are summarized, it is just this one lesson. This one lesson encompasses limitless learning. Study this lesson to perfection and other lessons will also be completed.
© 2000 Soo Hoong Liung. All Rights Reserved.