Buddha’s Light Verse: A Guide to the Bodhisattva Path (2)

Speaker: Venerable Zhi Yue

Fo Guang Shan Institute of Humanistic Buddhism

I. Introduction

Auspicious blessings to our viewers around the world! Welcome to the second segment of the talk on the Buddha’s Light Verse. Last week, we covered: the significance of four-line verses in Buddhism, the origin of the Buddha’s Light Verse, and the meaning and practice of the first two lines of the Buddha’s Light Verse. If you haven’t joined us for segment one, we highly recommend watching the video by clicking the link in the description. This week, we will cover the final two lines of the Buddha’s Light Verse and its application as a Dedication of Merit.

To recap the first segment:

“May kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity pervade all worlds” Refers to the Four Immeasurables, we are the qualities and intentions of a bodhisattva. In other words, this is the attitude we should have towards our practice.

“May we cherish and build affinities to benefit all beings” Refers to the perfection of giving, the first of the Six Paramitas. The verse teaches us that giving as two aspects: (1) to cherish our blessings; and (2) to build affinities with others. We can put it into practice by the Four Givings.

II. Third Line: May Chan, Pure Land, and Precepts inspire equality and patience

Today, let us continue with the third line of the Buddha’s Light Verse: “May Chan, Pure Land, and Precepts inspire equality and patience.” This line tells about how we should train ourselves on the bodhisattva path and encompasses the spirit of the Threefold Training as taught by the Buddha—which are precepts, meditative concentration, and wisdom.

The Threefold Training can be said to be an outline of the three different areas of cultivation that we should develop within our practice.

i. Chan, Pure Land, and Precepts

So, let us begin by discussing the start of this line: “Chan, Pure Land, and Precepts.”

Of the eight schools of Chinese Buddhism, Chan and Pure Land school are the two main ways in which people practice Buddhism today. As compared to the other schools, Chan and Pure Land are unique in that they place a greater emphasis on practice than theory. The Chan school emphasizes meditative practice, while the Pure Land school emphasizes chanting and contemplation of Amitabha Buddha’s name.

Chan, or meditation, is something which many English-speaking Buddhists are familiar with. However, in this section of the Buddha’s Light Verse, Venerable Master reminds us that meditation is not the only Buddhist practice—Chan and Pure Land should be practiced together. And that the aim of both practices is to help us purify our mind by guarding our thoughts from greed, hatred, and ignorance, as well as to develop our meditative focus.

This is particularly powerful when we consider that Venerable Master comes from the Linji tradition of the Chan school, and yet does not boast of his own lineage. This serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t attach to only one particular method of practice and think it above the rest. According to Venerable Master, both practices are equally important and can be likened to the two wings of a bird.

This line in the Buddha’s Light Verse also reminds us to practice with a Chan mind and work towards a Pure Land in this world. That is, to be mindful in our daily lives, and to purify our hearts in our practice.

Nonetheless, no matter what we cultivate, it must be based upon upholding of precepts. Namely, they are the Five Precepts of (1) refraining from killing, (2) refraining from stealing, (3) refraining from sexual misconduct, (4) refraining from lying, and (5) refraining from taking intoxicants.

No matter which set of precepts, its essence is not to violate others and not be a source of harm.  The spirit of the precepts can be summed up by the following “Verse of the Seven Ancient Buddhas”:

Do nothing that is unwholesome,
Do all that is wholesome,
Purify the mind.
This is the teaching of all buddhas.

ii. Equality

Through our practice of Chan, Pure Land, and Precepts, we hope to develop “equality and patience,” the next two words in this verse. In other words, it means to give rise to equality and patience within ourselves. In Buddhism, these two go hand in hand and are practiced together.

Let’s start by exploring what Buddhism means by equality.

We can illustrate this concept by reflecting on the people that we interact with on a daily basis. We see that people have different physical appearances, different strengths and weaknesses, different personalities. We come from different countries, different social classes, different upbringings, different cultures, and different religions just to name a few.

And yet, Buddhism teaches us that although people may appear different on the outside, we are actually not all that different on the inside—the basic wish of all beings to be happy and free from suffering. No matter where we come from, what we look like, or what language we speak—we all want to be happy and not suffer. This is something that is universal to all of us.

Buddhism also teaches us that all sentient beings have the buddha nature, which means that all of us have the potential to awaken from our ignorance and become buddhas. This is where we might think, how do we know that all beings really have the buddha nature?

Well, to see if this is true, we need to first observe whether all beings possess the qualities of wisdom and compassion. Because these are the two qualities that are the requisites of becoming a buddha. If we are observant enough, we see that all beings possess more or less some degree of compassion and wisdom.

Every living being, however evil or unwholesome they may be, has a minimal amount of kindness and compassion, even if it’s only towards themselves or for one other being. In Buddhism, it is said that a person with the tiniest, most minute amount of wisdom and compassion, still has the possibility of developing it into its fullest potential, which is buddhahood—not saying it’s easy, but it’s possible!

In Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s book, Politics, Human Rights, and What the Buddha Said About Life, he writes: 

“The only distinction that exists in Buddhism is between those who come to realization first and those who do so later, what simply amounts to the difference between more advanced learners and novice learners. But in terms of their ability and the dignity of their personhood, everyone is equal.”

So, as part of our bodhisattva practice, we cultivate ourselves to look beyond our external differences and to see the inherent similarities within us. In this way, we practice extending our compassion to not only people who are visibly similar to us, but to all forms of life. It means not to be selective about whom we show kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity towards.

To put it another way, equality in Buddhism does not imply that everyone should be exactly the same in appearance and form. Instead, equality means that the essence of all life is the same, and that all beings are equally deserving of our respect and compassion.

iii. Patience

Next, let’s talk about patience. In our practice of benefiting all beings with the intention of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, we are bound to encounter some challenges or setbacks along the way—whether that be from the environment, from other people, or from our own mental states. These are the crucial moments for us to see the world with eyes of equality and to develop transcendental patience.

There is a quote from the Avatamsaka Sutra which says, “Always enjoy the practice of gentleness and patience; find your repose in the Four Immeasurables of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

So how do we develop patience? In Buddhism, patience can be said to have three different levels.

On the first and most basic level is “patience towards life.” It means to be patient with things that are part of our daily routine. For example, getting up for work or school, going through things like traffic jams, and bearing with the weather changes. We also need to be patient in our relationship with others, including our family, our friends, our co-workers, and even everyone we interact with.

And perhaps even harder, we need to be patient in the face of prejudice, adversity, and injustice. Being patient is not an act of cowardice, but because ideologies are hard to change immediately, we must first acknowledge the issues, be patient towards working to resolve them, and not give up hope despite the challenges. This first level, “patience towards life,” is the endurance we need to survive in this world and is something that most people already practice.

However, this first level of patience can only take us so far. This is because we still see things as being unequal. If we endure only by bearing the brunt of things and pushing our emotions away, we are likely to explode after we hit a threshold, or we may never have gotten over it. For example, we can endure someone’s hurtful words when it happens and not lash out in anger. But deep down inside, we may still be holding a grudge after several years.

Therefore, Buddhism teaches us to develop this kind of ordinary patience into the next level of patience, which is one that comes from understanding the world that we live in. It is called “patience based on an understanding of phenomena” and is developed through the contemplation of causes and conditions, and that all things—whether good or bad—are impermanent. This kind of patience comes from the understanding that all phenomena arise and cease, which even includes human emotions! Not just in others, but whenever we see greed, aversion, or ignorance arises within us, we should recognize that these emotions are impermanent and are dependent in nature, that they too arise and cease. By doing so, we don’t have to act out on our impulses, and we are not overly attached to our afflictions. In this way, we see the world in a more objective manner, and are able to handle changes as they come.

There is a story of a teacher and a disciple walking near the river one day. The teacher asked the disciple to get him some drinking water. So this disciple took out a water bottle and filled it with the water from the river.

The disciple, seeing that the water was still muddy, said to his teacher, “This water is very muddy. How can it be fit to drink?”

The teacher just told him to wait.

After a few minutes, this disciple asked again, “The water is still very muddy. How can it be fit to drink?”

And teacher asked him to wait again.

After several minutes, the muddy water sank to the bottom of the bottle, and the water became clear to drink.

The teacher said, “The mind is just like the muddy water. Sometimes, it is difficult for us to see past our afflictions and emotions. It is difficult to see a situation objectively. However, if we are patient enough, then eventually, the mud of our afflictions will settle and we can see things with greater clarity.

There is a third and even higher level of patience, which is “patience based on the realization of the non-arising of phenomena.” This is what we call true equality and patience. It means to be patient, without even having the notion of patience! This is the patience of bodhisattvas who have transcended samsara, but stay within samsara to liberate sentient beings. Bodhisattvas live among others, interact and help others, but bodhisattvas do so without being afflicted and they do not attach to any notion that they are actually helping anyone. Moreover, Bodhisattvas treat everyone with equal compassion, [Slide 76] as they see the buddha nature of all beings—which is something that neither arises nor ceases. They see the true essence of all phenomena as equal, hence, there is nothing to be patient or impatient with! Everything is just as it is.

So, to recap, there are three levels in patience: (1) patience towards life, or ordinary patience; (2) patience based on an understanding of phenomena, which is the patience of sravakas and pratyekabuddhas; and (3) patience based on the realization of the non-arising of phenomena, which is the patience of bodhisattvas.

True equality and patience comes from the development of wisdom and observation. Together with the practice of precepts, as well as meditative concentration that arise from the dual cultivation of Chan and Pure Land, this third line of the Buddha’s Light Verse outlines the Threefold Training, which is something we should abide in our practice.

III. Fourth Line: May our humility and gratitude give rise to great vows

The fourth line is: “May our humility and gratitude give rise to great vows.” Why is humility and gratitude in the last line of the verse?

i. Humility and Gratitude

On our journey on the bodhisattva path, we are bound to make mistakes along the way. When it happens, we should not beat ourselves over it. It’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay not to be perfect. We should not think of ourselves as perfect human beings who are not allowed to make mistakes, because when we do make mistakes, we will then feel the need to hide and cover them up. Or maybe we act out and push the blame onto others.

So, instead of fearing mistakes, what we should fear is not having a sense of humility and remorse. This line reminds us that as bodhisattva practitioners, if we act in an unwholesome or unskillful way, we have the courage to face ourselves and feel a sense of remorse in our actions. Facing others, we should also have the courage to acknowledge our shortcomings and feel a sense of humility. Only in this way can we truly have the awareness to acknowledge our mistakes and to correct them.

This line also reminds us that no matter how accomplished in our practice, to not have an inflated ego.  It tells us that instead of feeling arrogant about our achievements, to see the good qualities in other people and learn from them. When we take others as our teacher, we see the room for growth and improvement within ourselves.

The verse also reminds us to have a sense of gratitude towards our family, our society, and our teachers. No matter how successful we are, it would not have been possible without the kindness of others. To be specific: the kindness our family in nurturing us, the kindness of our society for providing our livelihood, the kindness of our teachers for giving us the skills and wisdom. Moreover, the sutras teach us to have a sense of gratitude towards all sentient beings, because only through our interactions with them can we practice the bodhisattva path and refine ourselves.

The Buddha did not regard himself as being above others. He saw himself as an enlightened sentient being, and sentient beings as unenlightened buddhas. He saw that the intrinsic nature of sentient beings was the same as the buddhas’. The two are not apart from one another. Therefore, taking the Buddha as our example, we can remind ourselves not to attach to how much we’ve done to help others, and to continuously develop our qualities of humility and gratitude.

ii. Great Vows

The verse makes a full circle with the final words of “giving rise to great vows,” it is a reminder to always reflect upon our intentions for practice: are we practicing with kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity? In this way, we are continuously clarifying our vows as a bodhisattva and renewing our dedication of working towards benefiting all beings. In Buddhism, it is said that the extent of a practitioner’s vow will reflect the depth of one’s cultivation.

In Buddha-Dharma: Pure and Simple, Venerable Master says:

“The more magnanimous one’s mind, the greater the achievement. The firmer one’s vow, the greater the power. Making vows is like studying as one needs to keep improving. Initially, a small vow is made but needs to be gradually expanded so that the power of one’s vow is continuously sublimated.”

This means for us to always be expanding our hearts. What is the extent of our kindness and compassion? Do we only apply it to our family and friends? Or do we apply it in our community? Or perhaps we can go a bit further and ask: do we apply it to everyone in our nation? Are we able to apply it to the rest of the world—to all of humanity? And lastly, can we apply it to all beings?

This fourth and final line of the Buddha’s Light Verse is equal to the perfection of diligence from the Six Paramitas—which is to continuously correct our unwholesome actions and thoughts, and to develop what is wholesome. By being humble, grateful, and continuously making vows, we can diligently forge ahead in our bodhisattva practice.

VI. The Buddha’s Light Verse as a Dedication of Merit

To summarize:

“May kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity pervade all worlds” Refers to the qualities and intentions of a bodhisattva. When we practice kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, we open up our hearts and prepare ourselves for further advancement.

“May we cherish and build affinities to benefit all beings” Refers to the practice of giving. When we deeply appreciate our blessings and build affinities towards everyone, we fully connect with others and develop into the fullness of our buddha nature.

“May Chan, Pure Land, and Precepts inspire equality and patience” Refers to he Threefold Training of precepts, meditative concentration, and wisdom. It is a reminder to practice with a Chan mind and to work towards a Pure Land in this world while upholding the precepts. By doing so, we can experience the wisdom that arises from continuously working towards patience.

“May our humility and gratitude give rise to great vows” Refers to the attitude we should have toward our mistakes and accomplishments on the bodhisattva path. With humility and gratitude toward all things, we will have the foundation on which to diligently improve ourselves, expand our vows and bring them to fulfillment.

From this we can see that the Buddha’s Light Verse encompasses the Four Immeasurables and the Six Paramitas of a bodhisattva. When we chant the Buddha’s Light Verse at the end of each Dharma Service as a dedication of merit, it serves as our guide to the bodhisattva path and as a reminder for us that no matter what cultivation we do, our goal is to benefit all beings. It is our intention for our meritorious deeds to be shared with others and to bring them happiness.

Additionally, these four lines can also be useful throughout our day. For example, when we recite the Buddha’s Light Verse before taking our meals, it reminds us of the compassion and vows of a true Bodhisattva, as well as not to take our food for granted. When we conclude a meeting with this verse, we are reminded again to be patient and diligently work towards benefiting all beings.

By chanting the Buddha’s Light Verse, we are continuously reminding ourselves to expand our vows, share our blessings with others, to admit our mistakes, and to act with tolerance, sincerity, and forgiveness.

Therefore, the next time we encounter the Buddha’s Light Verse, let us contemplate the deeper meanings of the verse. Let us take the moment to reflect on the bodhisattva path and to integrate it into daily practice.

Last but not least, let us conclude this session by dedicating the merits to all beings by reciting the Buddha’s Light Verse.

May kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity pervade all worlds;
May we cherish and build affinities to benefit all beings;
May Chan, Pure Land, and Precepts inspire equality and patience;
May our humility and gratitude give rise to great vows.

Thank you for joining us in today’s Fo Guang Shan English Dharma Service. If this talk has been helpful to your practice, please be sure to subscribe and share this video with your friends. Also, please let us know how the Buddha’s Light Verse has inspired your cultivation by leaving a message in the comment section below.

Once again, thank you very much. See you next week. Omituofo!

FGS Publications Mentioned in this Dharma Talk:

Buddha-Dharma: Pure and Simple 1

In today’s Buddhist sphere, numerous claims have been made on what the Buddha has taught. However, were they truly spoken by the Buddha? The Buddha-Dharma: Pure and Simple series is an exploration of over 300 topics, where Venerable Master Hsing Yun clarifies the Buddha’s teachings in a way that is accessible and relevant to modern readers. Erroneous Buddhist views should be corrected, the true meaning of the Dharma must be preserved in order to hold true to the original intents of the Buddha.

Published by: Fo Guang Shan Institute of Humanistic Buddhism

Read it here

Politics, Human Rights, and What the Buddha Said About Life

In Life, Venerable Master Hsing Yun articulates the Buddhist view of the meaning, grandeur, and mystery of life, while applying those views in different arenas of contemporary society. Life flows effortlessly between Buddhist theory and practice, and between history and personal exposé, entering a deep exploration on such topics as human rights, education, politics and freedom.

Translated by: Robert Smitheram

Published by Buddha’s Light Publications

Click here for more information