Introduction to Buddhist Sutras— Ten Paths to Happiness (4)

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. It is me again from San Diego, California. Thank you for joining me in the fourth session of the pursuit to Ten Paths to Happiness.

Before we look into the 6th and 7th paths to happiness, let us have a quick recap of the first five paths to happiness.

In the first path to happiness, Sumati asked: “How to attain an elegant, proper appearance?” This is a common question that many people are looking for answers. The Buddha gave a different approach for us, to start from inside—our mind—to have inner beauty. The Buddha recommended four methods:

  • First, we should not give rise to anger when dealing with unwholesome friends.
  • Second, we tranquilly abide by great loving-kindness.
  • Third, we take deep joy in the true Dharma.
  • Lastly, to make Buddha images.

On the second path to happiness, another common question that people would ask is how to attain wealth and nobility? As usual, the Buddha guides us in looking at wealth from a different angle, which is the inner wealth, where we will have when giving and sharing. There are four methods. 

  • First, we give timely gifts.
  • Second, we give without contempt or arrogance.
  • Third, we give joyfully.
  • Fourth, we give with no expectation of reward.

On the third path to happiness, after learning in getting proper appearance and wealth, then, the focus turns to family. How to protect one’s family from destruction and maintain harmony? The Buddha shared four methods.

  • First, we skillfully abandon divisive language.
  • Second, we persuade sentient beings marred by the wrong view to abide in the right view.
  • Third, we protect and ensure the continuation of the true Dharma.
  • Fourth, we teach all sentient beings to attain Buddhahood.

On the fourth path to happiness, after knowing how to ensure a harmonious family, how to be born in the presence of a Buddha and continue to be with a Buddha?

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

On the fifth path to happiness, to be with a Buddha, how are we going to travel from one Buddha land to another freely?

  • First, we 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.

From the first five paths to happiness, we continuously cultivate from our actions, words that we say, and our thoughts.

To continue our journey in pursuing the sixth and seventh paths to happiness, the Buddha shows us the ways that lead us to live blamelessly and being trustworthy.

II. The Sixth Path to Happiness

Looking at the sixth path to happiness, Sumati asked the question of how to live blamelessly when interacting with others? The Buddha suggested four methods. 

  • First, make good Dharma friends without flattery. 
  • Second, do not be jealous of others’ accomplishments.
  • Third, when others achieve fame, be happy for them.
  • Fourth, while cultivating bodhisattva practices, do not slight or slander others.”

Let us take a closer look at the two of the four suggested methods, to make good Dharma friends without flattery and do not slight or slander others.

1) Make Good Dharma Friends without Flattery

In this competitive world, there are many times people are vying for power or comparing social status with each other. People might utilize different ways of winning and getting what one wants. One of the unwholesome ways is flattery and it is one of the ten unwholesome deeds. How would we know one is a good Dharma friend, let along without flattery?

In the book Living Affinity, Venerable Master Hsing Yun shared with us four types of friends”

  • The first type is the friends who treat us like a flower. They will be delighted as long as their friends can fulfill certain needs of theirs, but when their friends outlive their usefulness, they toss them out like wilted flowers.
  • The second type is the friends who act like a scale. It is a kind of judging and comparing friendship.
  • The third type is the friends who are like the mountains and friends with full treasures and wonders. With these friends, we are constantly reminded of the beauty and diversity of life.
  • The fourth type is the friends who are like the earth that lets everything grow its rich soil. Such friends can help us grow in our wisdom and strengthen our character. Thus, we should make friends that are like mountains and the earth.

A good Dharma friend will guide us through our difficult times and overcome it together. On the other hand, when it comes to friends that treat us like a flower or a scale, some might be skilled flatterers as they might speak pleasantly, but what they say is untrue and deceitful or unfaithful. How can we identify when one is flattering?
In the Sigalovada Sutra, “The flatterer can be identified by four things: by supporting both bad and good behavior indiscriminately, praising you to your face, and putting you down behind your back.” One says what must be said and do what must be done. Do not flatter or seek to curry favor with those in power. When we praise others, we praise the truth of others, not making something up to make others feel good. This is what Ven. Master promotes on the Three Acts of Goodness, to speak good words.

Hence, “Living with utmost ease and happiness and with the maximum ability to benefit others depends on our ability and willingness to approach all relations with compassion, pure hearts and the proper frame of mind.” When it comes to friendships, it should be based on mutual affinity, not one-sided effort. Real friendships are an actual and resounding expression of true joy. Then, our affinity with others will be wholesome and without flattery.

2) Do not Slight or Slander Others

In this Saha world (endurable world) that we live in, people might be unhappy when they see others do good or excel in life. When we are righteous, others might criticize or slander us. We all know that slandering and bullying others diminishes one’s hidden virtue. Yet, many people criticize the right things we do or say. As part of our bodhisattva’s practice, we learn to be patient.

Contemplating on what the Buddha said on being patient in the Forty-Two Sections Sutra, it states, “For the wicked to harm the virtuous would be like raising one’s head and spitting at the sky; the spittle does not reach the sky but falls back upon oneself. Or it is like throwing dust against the wind; the dust does not go someplace else, but collects upon oneself instead.” So, why would we want to argue with ignorant people? Treat it as an opportunity to reflect and to master our practice in being patient and tolerant. Thus, we will live blamelessly.

III. The Seventh Path to Happiness

Next, as we continue our search in the seventh path to happiness, how would we be trustworthy?

Trustworthy is being able to be relied on or provide what is needed or right. Trustworthiness is a person’s second life. If a person is dishonest, his credibility will be undermined and obstacles will arise everywhere. There is a saying: “Breaking someone’s trust is like crumpling up a perfect piece of paper. You can smooth it over but it is never going to be the same again.

Thus, the Buddha advises Sumati, “Once again, Sumati, bodhisattvas use four methods to ensure that people trust their every word. What are the four?

  • First, always be consistent in your words and practice.
  • Second, do not hide your wrongdoing from good Dharma friends.
  • Third, do not seek fault in the Dharma one hears.
  • Fourth, do not give rise to unwholesome thoughts towards those who speak the Dharma.”

Let us explore more on the methods on always be consistent in our words and practice and do not seek fault in the Dharma we hear.

3) Always Be Consistent in Our Words and Practice

In life, a person can be without money or status but not credibility or trust. If one were to lose one’s credibility, even money cannot buy it back. Trustworthiness is the virtue that upholds morality, maintaining the trust of others, and gaining others’ respect. Thus, we should always be consistent in our words and practice.

In Sedaka Sutra, the Buddha shared a story about an acrobat and his apprentice. The acrobat said to his apprentice, “You protect me, I will protect you…we get down safely. However, his apprentice replied, “You protect yourself, teacher, and I will protect myself. Thus, each self-guarded and self-protected…and we will get down safely.” By protecting oneself, one protects others is the cultivation of mindfulness; whereas by practicing patience, harmlessness, lovingkindness, and sympathy, protecting others one protects oneself.” When we are mindful and always being consistent in our words and practice, it is just like protecting ourselves; when we are being trustworthy to others, we are protecting others and not lying to others.

One great example of being trustworthy is the story of Ven. Master’s renunciation. When he was 12 years old, he promised a monk at Qi Xia temple, to become a monk and he keeps this promise until today. Keeping promises is another way of being consistent with what we said and what we do. Therefore, by being consistent in our words and practice, we are trustworthy.

4) Do not seek fault in the Dharma One Hears

For us to be able to live healthily, we cherish it. For us to be able to listen and learn the Dharma, it is an opportunity that is hard to encounter. There is a Buddhist saying, “It is rare to hear the Buddha’s teachings and rare to meet an excellent teacher. It is rare to attain a human body and rare to have all sense organs.” The Buddha is no longer around to teach us the Dharma personally, we rely on Dharma teacher to share the teachings. So, when we listen to a good Dharma teacher or friend in expounding the Dharma, be an empty clean cup to fill with Dharma water. We should not seek faults in the Dharma we hear. If our mind is filled with conceit, there will be no room for words of wisdom. If we already have a presumption in our mind, even the best truth cannot enter. It is just like adding clean water into a dirty vessel.

When Ven. Master started his monastic training at an early age, he endured 10 years of strict monastic training but he just held onto a positive belief: Whenever he was wronged, bullied, or met with adversity, he still took them to be just as they were. No matter how the teachers taught the Dharma, Ven. Master absorbed all the lectures like a sponge. He even observed the way the teachers taught and learned the good points and put a self-reminder for the things to be improved.

This reminds me of my training at the Buddhist College in Fo Guang Shan. Everything was new to me. The training ranged from classroom learning, self-learning, to living the life of a monastic. I learned how to put on the robes mindfully early in the morning in the dark, folding the comforter into tofu shape, doing chores, standing and walking in line… all these trainings were not easy but I took them to be just as they were. All the requirements from the teachers helped me to be more mindful, disciplined, and observant of my thoughts and the surroundings. When these trainings become a habit, I became more mindful and aware. When my mind is focus, I can contemplate and reflect the Dharma in our daily applications. When we had the Dharma classes, not only we had teachers in classrooms, we also had the opportunity to have online classes from professors from other universities. Because of small classroom setting, we got lots of chances to ask questions.
These questions were questions that helped us clarify the Teachings and without conceit nor with any thoughts of seeking faults. It is just like the Buddha’s parable on buying gold. The Buddha said: “Do not think that something is true and correct because I say it is. You should only continue the practice after validating it.” This is how we should learn the Dharma but with no intention of seeking faults in the Dharma one hears.

IV. Conclusion

To summarize today’s sharing, to live blamelessly, we should make good Dharma friends without flattery nor slander others.
For us to be trustworthybe consistent in our words and practice, and do not give rise to unwholesome thoughts in the Dharma we hear.

Next week, we will be discussing on the eighth and ninth paths to happiness on how to eliminate Dharma obstructions and avoid Mara. 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 of 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.