Intro to Buddhism: Bright Pearl Covered in Dust

Speaker: Ven. You Lin

Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple, the Philippines

I. Introduction

Auspicious Greetings to All!

A common metaphor used in Buddhist writing is to describe Our Buddha nature as a “bright pearl covered in dust.”  What does it mean?

Once, there was a traveler who was being chased by a crazed elephant. The traveler was finally able to escape by climbing down a vine into an old well, but as he descended into the well, four poisonous snakes appeared and began climbing up the vine, towards the traveler, ready to bite him. Just when he was about to climb back out again, there appeared above him two mice, one black and one white, who began gnawing away at the vine. The traveler was trapped from above and below, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Suddenly, from the top of the well, five drops of honey dripped into his mouth. At that moment, the traveler forgot all about the things that were threatening him, the crazed elephant and the poisonous snakes, for he had become intoxicated with the sweetness of the honey.

What do these five drops of honey symbolize? How could they have possibly made the traveler forget about the dangers he was facing? In the story, the drops of honey are symbols for the five desires of wealth, sensual pleasure, fame, food and drink, and sleep.

II. The Five Desires

1. Wealth

As the saying goes “Money may not be possible, no money is absolutely impossible.” In today’s materialistic society, everything costs money. Therefore, most of the people are busy earning and chasing for the wealth, they might think only money can fulfill their dreams, like to own a luxury house, car, branded clothes, handbags and etc. Many people end up becoming slaves to the assets they owned. Actually, being rich is not everything, money can buy a luxury bed but it cannot buy a good sleep; money can buy a villa, but it cannot buy a harmonious family; money can buy a pair of branded shoes, but it cannot buy the comfort, money can buy a book, but it cannot buy wisdom. There are also people who die over riches; the tragedies spawned by wealth are too many to count. If we know how to spend our money wisely, like helping the society in our culture, education and charity, then it is not just for the benefit of others, but it is for self-benefits too. 

2. Sensual Pleasure

Passionate feelings can sink sentient beings into an ocean of desire and lead them to commit great wrongs. People can create unwholesome deeds due to the attachment or jealousy in their relationships. I encountered ladies who were very happy to be in a relationship with their boyfriends- but after few months, they become teary-eyed, because they couldn’t get hold of their boyfriends after they got pregnant. Please be responsible with your action, or else your sweet “desserts” moment can become your “stressed” moment. As what we can see from the slide, desserts is stressed spelled backwards.

3. Fame

Fame itself is not bad—it is scrambling  for fame and status that can lead one to casually destroy friendships and make enemies. Some people do not realize they become arrogant when they have achieved a certain status or when they reach the fame they wanted.

4. Food and Drink

Humans cannot live without food, but craving fine delicacies or gourmet meals will lead to disorders of the stomach and intestines, while the fondness for fine delicacies will poison the body and lead to death. I still remember, I even drove few hours with friends just because we were craving for food. What if I realized that food and drink are part of the five desires, then I could spend my time wisely to do something meaningful instead of spending long hours just to drive for food.

5. Sleep

Scientific research makes clear that- sleep is essential at any age. Sleep powers the mind, restores the body, and fortifies virtually every system in the body. Too much craving for sleep will make one sluggish and lethargic the whole day through. National Sleep Foundation- recommended for healthy individuals- with normal sleep is 7 to 9 hours for adults. So, how many hours do you sleep daily?

III. Bright Pearl Covered in Dust

What does Our Buddha nature as a “bright pearl covered in dust” mean?
It means the five desires and six dusts taint our Buddha nature

Sentient beings will become distracted and enamored by some temporary pleasures and become slaves to the five desires, so that they are unable to free themselves from the suffering. For human beings, the five desires are like honey on the blade of a knife: trying to lick up the sweetness will cut our tongues. Only by having few desires and knowing contentment can one follow the path to peace and happiness.

IV. Six Dusts

We just discussed about the five desires, let us see what the six dusts are? Six dusts or six sense objects refer to those objects which are cognizable by the six sense organs: the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. When the six sense organs contact the six sense objects, they give rise to the six kinds of consciousness.

1. Sight

Sight is everything the eyes can see, including colors, objects, physical features and etc. The “color” (sight) is not charming, people are fascinated by themselves. That means the beauty and ugliness, the pros and cons of various forms are not absolute. If you live only by “sight”, it is easy to produce biased opinions and behaviors.

2. Sound

Sound is everything the ears hear. This encompasses pleasant sounds like chanting, music, song, and applause, and unpleasant sounds like sounds of crying, cursing, arguing, and other irritating noises, as well as natural sounds like the sound of wind rain, and thunder. Sound is impermanence. It’s like a teacher giving a lecture, and a word is passed without paying attention. Because you live too much on the sound and dust, a good word can certainly make you happy and uplifted; a bad word can also make you hateful and lose your will, and our hearts will be lost in the illusory sound and dust.

3. Smell

Smell is everything the nose can smell. This includes nice smell and bad smell. The smell of fragrance does not last long, and the smell of fragrance will go with the wind. If you like it too much or hate it, you will be influenced by the smell of fragrance, which will unavoidably produce the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Maybe we will get attracted and enjoy the scent of bread, and therefore we enter the bakery shop. We might also feel revolted by the bad smell of vomiting. 

4. Taste

Taste is everything that the tongue can taste. Most people have a preference for the taste of food. For example, I like to eat noodles, rice, cakes, donuts and all kinds of sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy foods. No matter what kind of food you like to eat, things cannot always be what people want. If we are greedy for the tastes of our likes and dislikes, we will be controlled by food.

5. Touch

Touch is everything that the body feels. This includes sensations such as firmness, dampness, softness, hardness, slipperiness, roughness and many more. Most of these feelings come from the comparison; if we are attached to the feelings, it will cause a lot of trouble. Just like some people like to sleep in soft beds, it is difficult to fall asleep if they sleep on a hard bed while on a business trip. When conditions do not allow, the unwilling attachment to the sense of touch will unavoidably affect our normal life.

6. Phenomena

“Phenomena,” or mental sensory data, is everything the mind thinks, which can include all the things in the universe. The various aspects of the five dusts, such as sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, such as scenery, nice music, fragrance, food, and the texture of silk clothing, are all called phenomena. When our six sense organs contact with six dusts, then it will turn into consciousness, and then you will understand and distinguish the object, people or the phenomena you get in touch with. For example: whether the scenery is beautiful or not, the music is good or not, whether you like or dislike the fragrance of flowers.

IV. Living in Clarity

Are our lives lived amidst the troubles caused by the five desires & six dusts?

Do you use cellphone everyday?

Let’s take a look at the boy who is lying down and playing with his cellphone, this involve the desires and dusts that we mentioned a while ago. He might have the desire to play the game from his cellphone, his eyes see, ears hear, hand touch the cellphone, body feel the comfort of the sofa, and his consciousness can recognize and manage the game. The boy will have trouble if he does not have time management, he might skip his meal or do not finish his assignment due to long hours with the game.

We have afflictions because our six sense organs are constantly seeking out the six sense objects and the five desires. The five sense organs want to eat the best, use the best, hear the best, and see the best; and our minds do not wish us to be unfavorable compared to others. Selfishness, attachment, and ignorance arise as a result. The six sense objects are just like dust that can pollute our Buddha nature, which is why they are also called the “six dusts.” The six dusts can generate the afflictions of greed, anger, and ignorance. We have to learn to understand the six dusts are impermanent, and if we do not live the dusts in our mind, then we will not have defilement.

V. Conclusion

Lastly, I would like to share the tips given by Venerable Master Hsing Yun on our cultivation on the six sense organs and six Dusts!

  • Use the eyes to see the world clearly, in order to know the reality of life.
  • Use our ears to listen to kind words, to let our mind understand.
  • Use our nose to explore fragrance, to experience life,
  • Use words to praise everyone, to achieve harmony, 
  • Use our body to embrace the world, to gain friendship,
  • Use our heart to accept others, to develop our character.

Thank you for listening, I hope that everyone is able to manage his or her “bright pearl” well. I am not asking you to stop all your desires or shut down all of your six sense of organs, but we should learn to manage them well. To turn the negative to positive; to learn to generate from our hearts selflessness from selfishness; to always remind ourselves that the six dusts are impermanent therefore we must learn not to attach to them. As what Venerable Master Hsing Yun reminds us, cultivation does not mean the complete and total eradication of external conditions, but rather, it should begin by not being distracted with the external world.

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