Introduction to Buddhist Sutras— Ten Paths to Happiness (3)

Speaker: Venerable Miaozang

FGS Hsi Fang Temple, San Diego

I. Introduction

Auspicious greetings to all Dharma friends around the world. Thank you for tuning in to a new series of Fo Guang Shan English Dharma Services. My name is Miaozang, from Fo Guang Shan Hsi Fang Temple, San Diego, California. Thank you for joining me again for the third session in the pursuit of Ten Paths to Happiness. 
In the previous session, we learned the ways on how to have perfect wealth—to give and share with others promptly, and without arrogance. We also learned that to maintain harmony, we must abandon the divisive language and have the right views.

On our journey in pursuing the fourth and fifth paths to happiness, the Buddha shows us the ways to be born in the presence of a Buddha and traveling freely.

II. The Fourth Path to Happiness

Many of us exclaimed that we have not had the opportunity to be born when the Buddha was around and learn from the Buddha personally. However, we know that there are infinite Buddhas in the different Buddha realmsHow should we cultivate to be born there?

The Buddha said, “Once again, Sumati, bodhisattvas use four methods to be born by transformation in the presence of a Buddha, atop a lotus throne. What are the four?

  • First, offer flowers, fruits, and powdered incense at Tathagata stupas and temples. 
  • Second, never bring harm upon others, 
  • Third, make Tathagata images and place them upon lotus thrones. 
  • Fourth, develop a pure faith in the enlightenment of all Buddhas.”

1) Offering Our Sincerity and Respect to the Buddha

First of all, one of the common questions that people ask is why do Buddhists offer flowers, fruits, and powdered incense to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at the Tathagata stupas and temples? What is the significance of these offerings? When the Buddha was still around, people could make offerings to the Buddha directly. After the Buddha’s parinirvana, what can we do? We would visit Buddhist temples to do offerings to the Triple Gem. It shows our respect to our teacher—the Buddha and our devout faith in the teachings. It is also a skillful practice for us in the perfection of giving.

This reminds me of Sakyamuni Buddha, when he was still practicing Bodhisattva’s path, he was known as a Brahman named Sumedha. One day, he learned that Dipankara Buddha was coming to the village. By just hearing the word Buddha, Sumedha was overjoyed. When Dipankara Buddha was walking down the street, there was a puddle of mud in the middle of the street. Without hesitation, Sumedha laid down his long hair and covered the puddle. Dipankara Buddha walked by without having soiled his feet. On another occasion, bodhisattva also offered seven long stem lotus to Dipankara Buddha. These sincere and respectful offerings to the Buddha contributed to one of the merits of bodhisattva ending of future rebirths and enlightened as Sakyamuni Buddha. Thus, by offering to the Buddha, we practice humbleness and the bodhisattva’s practice in giving. In our daily living, we can offer compassion, joy, loving-kindness, respect, and a helping hand to the future Buddhas around us.

2) Never Bring Harm Upon Others—Precepts

What is the practice in offering loving-kindness and compassion to others? In the first session, we have learned the basic practice of loving-kindness and compassion. However, at times, it might not be that easy to practice loving-kindness and compassion, especially when it comes to people we have less affinity with. Nonetheless, another way which has a similar effect is when we remind ourselves to at least not harm others. It is through respect and upholding precepts that we can avoid harming others.
When we uphold precepts, we make good affinities with others. Our faith in the Buddha’s teachings grows stronger and we will be more virtues. We will be more aware of our three karmas, bodily actions, speech, and thoughts. With the precepts, we can attune ourselves to others, such that we live in harmony with the group. Eventually, we will cultivate more wisdom and less affliction.
It is just like during the Buddha’s time when the Sangha was first established, the Buddha did not lay down any precepts. When the Sangha grew bigger, there was a need to have precepts to ensure the harmony of the community. Precepts help the preservation of Buddha’s Teachings. Without precepts, it will be impossible to have the Sangha. Without the Sangha, there will not be Dharma. Precepts act like a discipline master within our minds. Thus, there is a Buddhist saying “Where precepts abide, the Sangha abides; where the Sangha abides, the Dharma abides.”

In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha said, “The Dharma and precepts will be your teacher after my passing.” With the guidance of the Buddha’s Teachings and precepts, we are not alone in this path in discovering our Buddha Nature. Have deep faith in the Dharma and it will just be like in the presence of the Buddha.

III. The Fifth Path to Happiness

After learning the methods in cultivating the merit to be born in the presence of the Buddha, how can we travel from one Buddha land to another?

Once again, the Buddha said, “Sumati, bodhisattvas use four methods to travel from one Buddha land to another. What are the four?

  • First, do not hinder or become angry at the sight of other cultivating wholesomeness.
  • Second, do not impede others from speaking the Dharma.
  • Third, light lamp offerings at Tathagata stupas.
  • Fourth, continuously cultivate all varieties of meditative concentration.”

1) Creating Positive Causes and Conditions

One of the methods suggested by the Buddha in traveling freely to the Buddha land is creating positive causes and conditions for others. When we see others perform good deeds, we should be joyful and praise their efforts. We should not be jealous of others’ successes nor hindering others from succeeding. Sometimes, it is not easy because of our poor habit of not acknowledging the merit of others and hoping the worst befalls them.
It is just like Devadatta, the Buddha’s cousin. When he started his journey in practicing as a monk, his mind was clear and pure. However, when he encountered fame and the desire to lead the Sangha himself, his path was sidetracked. Eventually, his mind was blinded by greed and hatred. He was jealous of how everyone takes refuge under the Buddha. Devadatta tried unwholesome ways to criticized and harm the Buddha. Nevertheless, the Buddha was being very compassionate and never gave up on him, giving him positive causes and conditions.

In Buddhism, there is a saying, “If we cannot stand to see others benefit, how can we claim to wish for their Buddhahood?” Thus, we should keep the practice of encouraging, praising, and appreciating others to reverse the habit of jealousy. It is just like in the Buddha land, whenever a a Buddha is being born, all the Buddhas joyfully support the birth of that Buddha. When we all practice in this way, everyone will be closer and closer to the Buddha land in this world.

2) Do Not Impede Others from Speaking the Dharma

Another method that the Buddha recommended is not to impede others from speaking the Dharma. We should not be in a way of others or obstructing one from sharing the Buddha’s Teachings.

There was one occasion where the ascetics were trying to impede the Buddha from speaking the Dharma. When the Buddha and his disciples were at Sravasti, many people went regularly to listen to the Teachings and to offer to the Sangha. However, not all the people of Sravasti were followers of the Buddha. There were many ascetics in the area who believed that their teachings were superior and they were very jealous when they saw more and more people going to the Buddha. Soon, overcome by jealousy, they decided to do something about it. They told Sundari, a female wandering ascetic, about this and asked for her help to check on the Sangha regularly. She did not know the real purpose of the ascetics. After some time, the ascetics were certain that many people had seen Sundari going regularly to the Jeta’s Grove. They killed her and buried her in a nearby ditch. They then went to King Pasenadi of Kosala and reported that Sundari was missing and was last seen with the Buddha.

The king said, “Then you must go immediately to search for her there.”

The ascetics pretended to search for Sundari and they went to the spot where they had buried her. They dug up her body and place the corpse on a stretcher. They then carried it back to Sravasti. Along the way they shouted angrily at the top of their voices, “See the work of these monks who call themselves holy people. They are shameless and wicked liars. See what they have done. They have committed sexual misconduct with poor Sundari and then they have killed her to hide their crimes.”

The Buddha’s disciples became frightened by these accusations and did not know what to do. Nevertheless, the Buddha remained calm. Within seven days, the shouting and accusations were subsided. After some time, the king discovered that the very ascetics who had warned of the evil deeds had committed the crime. When they were brought before the king, they confessed their crimes in public and were punished accordingly. Reflecting on this story, even though the ascetics were trying to impede the Buddha from speaking the Dharma in Sravasti, the true Dharma will always stand.

A similar experience happened to Venerable Master Hsing Yun when he first stepped foot in Taiwan, Buddhism was still new and not popular. He encountered many occasions where the police officers were trying to stop him from giving a Dharma lecture. Nonetheless, Ven. Master responded to such obstacles with a calm mind to enable him to continue and complete his lectures. Eventually, Ven. Master established Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) in 1992, giving many lay Buddhists platforms in sharing the Dharma and reaching out to the local communities to introduce Buddhist education and charitable activities. Ven. Master always encourages everyone that “I am a Buddha” to give confidence and hope to everyone in this path to Buddhahood. At the same time, it is also a skillful means to discipline ourselves in making sure our body, speech, and mind are aligned with the righteous practice and ethical conduct.

Lastly, to be born in the presence of a Buddha, we should offer our sincerity and respect to the Buddha so that we develop a pure faith in the enlightenment of all Buddhas and never bring harm to others. To travel freely, we must create positive causes and conditions for others and not impede others from speaking the Dharma. With sufficient wholesome merit and a mind without distortion, we will be able to travel there.

IV. Conclusion

Next week, we will be discussing on the sixth and seventh paths to happiness on how to live blamelessly and being trustworthy. If you are interested in reading more on the Ten Paths to Happiness, you may get a copy from our Buddha’s Light Publications.

Let us conclude this lecture by joining our palms, and dedicating the merits from this session to our family, our friends, our society, and all beings. Last but not least, thank you for joining us in today’s session. If you find this lecture series helpful to your practice, please subscribe to the FGS English Dharma Services Youtube Channel and share it with your friends. See you next week. Omituofo.

Ten Paths to Happiness: A Commentary of the Sumati Sutra

By: Venerable Master Hsing Yun

Published by: Buddha’s Light Publications

We all want to be happy. Twenty-six hundred years ago a young girl named Sumati asked the Buddha ten earnest questions on how to live happily in this life and beyond, with the Buddha’s detailed responses revealing that happiness can only be attained when we understand the nature of the world and practice for the benefit of others. In Ten Paths to Happiness, Venerable master Hsing Yun explicates these precious teachings and presents the path to lasting happiness to all who wish for peace, harmony, equality, and liberation from suffering in this life.

Click here for more information.