After attaining enlightenment, Shakyamuni Buddha preached for forty-nine years, holding over three hundred assemblies and widely saving sentient beings. However, due to differences in the capacities of sentient beings, if only one vehicle were taught, those with shallow roots and wisdom would not be able to receive the benefit of the teachings. Therefore, various skillful means were taught according to the different capacities of sentient beings. The Buddha, like a great physician, applied various methods and remedies to cure the different ailments of sentient beings.
This resulted in various different teachings in Buddhism for the worldly and transcendent realms, which can be summarized as the Five Vehicles of Buddhism:
The Human Vehicle, which relies on the observance of the Five Precepts to be reborn as humans.
The Celestial Vehicle, which relies on the practice of the Ten Virtuous Deeds to ascend to celestial realms.
The Shravaka Vehicle, which relies on the realization of the Four Noble Truths to attain the Four Fruits of a Shravaka.
The Pratyekabuddha Vehicle, which relies on the realization of the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination to attain the Fruit of a Pratyekabuddha.
The Bodhisattva Vehicle, which relies on the practice of the Six Paramitas to attain Buddhahood.
The first two vehicles are worldly teachings, while the last three are transcendent teachings. Among the transcendent teachings, the Shravaka and Pratyekabuddha vehicles are considered Small Vehicles, while the Bodhisattva Vehicle is the Great Vehicle.
Regarding the Four Noble Truths and Twelve Links of Dependent Origination practiced by the Shravaka and Pratyekabuddha vehicles, they have been introduced in this text previously. Practicing the Four Noble Truths and realizing them leads to the Four Fruits of a Shravaka. A Shravaka is one who has personally heard the Buddha’s teachings, awakened to the truth of the Four Noble Truths, gradually eradicated the two obscurations of afflictive and cognitive ignorance, and thus liberated themselves from the cycle of birth and death. The Four Fruits of a Shravaka are Stream-enterer, Once-returner, Non-returner, and Arhat.
To cultivate the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination and attain the fruition of Buddhahood is to cultivate the understanding of Pratityasamutpada or self-dependent origination, also known as the doctrine of causality. Those who awaken to this truth upon hearing the Buddha’s teaching are called those who cultivate the understanding of Pratityasamutpada. In a world without the Buddha’s teachings, sentient beings can still awaken to the impermanence of all phenomena by observing the ever-changing nature of the world, such as the falling of flowers and leaves. These individuals who attain enlightenment through their own realization are called those who attain the understanding of self-dependent origination.
The Two Vehicles of the Arhats and those who cultivate the understanding of Pratityasamutpada are transcendental paths. In addition, the Buddha, out of compassion for all sentient beings, taught the path of the Two Vehicles of human beings and heavenly beings, which are not ultimate paths. However, they are expedient methods to help sentient beings avoid falling into the lower realms and experiencing severe suffering, by maintaining human existence and attaining the path to heaven.
Cultivate the Five Precepts to maintain human existence.
All sentient beings are subject to the cycle of birth and death, wandering through the six realms of existence: heavenly beings, humans, asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings. The realms of animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings are known as the Three Evil Realms, where suffering prevails without any happiness. The realm of heavenly beings is more pleasant than suffering, while the realm of asuras is characterized by anger and hatred. The human realm, however, is suitable for spiritual practice. The Buddhist sutras often emphasize that obtaining a human body is rare and difficult to attain. It is the result of the accumulation of good karma and merits from past lives. Whether we can obtain a human body in our next life is determined by our good and bad karma and merits accumulated in this life. For those who practice Buddhism, if they can maintain a human body in this life, even if they do not achieve enlightenment, they can still continue to cultivate in their next life. However, once we lose the human body, it is difficult to predict when we will be able to escape the cycle of suffering. Therefore, the Buddha taught the Five Precepts as an expedient method for maintaining human existence.
To maintain human existence in the next life, we must follow a few conditions in this life, which are the Five Precepts of Buddhism. The Five Precepts are: 1) not to kill, 2) not to steal, 3) not to engage in sexual misconduct, 4) not to lie, and 5) not to consume alcohol. These Five Precepts are the basic precepts that all Buddhist disciples, whether lay or ordained, should observe.
(1)The Precept of Not Killing: The fundamental concept in Buddhism is the equality of all sentient beings. The Buddha said that all beings possess Buddha-nature and can become enlightened. Beings referred to by the Buddha include not only humans, but also all types of life, including those born from eggs, wombs, moisture, and transformation. Therefore, the Precept of Not Killing is not limited to refraining from harming human life, but also includes refraining from harming the lives of animals, insects, and ants. This precept not only prohibits direct killing but also indirect forms of killing, such as those who sell fishing and hunting equipment, which contribute to the killing of animals.
The Buddha stated in the Ten Good Deeds Sutra that observing the Precept of Not Killing has ten benefits: First, it gives fearlessness to all beings. Second, it promotes a great compassion for all beings. Third, it eliminates all hatred and anger. Fourth, it leads to a healthy body. Fifth, it leads to a long life. Sixth, it is protected by non-human beings. Seventh, it leads to peaceful sleep without nightmares. Eighth, it eliminates all enemies and conflicts. Ninth, it avoids the fear of falling into the three lower realms. Tenth, it leads to a rebirth in the heavenly realm.
Some may argue that the Buddhist precepts forbid killing, and thus, in the face of a rebellion or invasion, one must simply accept death. However, this is not the case. The Buddhist precepts prohibit taking life for personal desires, while defending one’s country with weapons is an expression of compassion, courage, and bravery. The Dharma Drum Sutra states, “For example, when the King of Persia went to war with the enemy, those soldiers who received pay but lacked courage were not considered men.” Thus, the Buddhist precepts do not prevent one from defending one’s country.
(2)The Precept of Theft: In society, theft can be direct or indirect, tangible or intangible. For example, stealing by a thief or robbery by a bandit is direct theft, while embezzlement and fraud by corrupt officials is indirect theft. Extortion, fraud, and debt evasion are tangible theft, while embezzlement and shirking responsibilities are intangible theft. In short, any property obtained through improper means or taken without permission is considered theft.
The Buddha taught that refraining from theft has ten benefits: 1) accumulating wealth and assets that are not subject to loss due to disasters or thieves, and can be used for the benefit of others; 2) gaining the trust and admiration of many people; 3) avoiding being bullied or taken advantage of by others; 4) receiving praise and admiration from all directions; 5) being free from worries and harm; 6) being known for one’s good deeds and reputation; 7) feeling safe and fearless among people; 8) enjoying wealth, life, and sensual pleasures without fear of losing them; 9) always having the intention to give and share; 10) ascending to heaven when one’s life ends.
(3) The Precept of Sexual Misconduct: In Buddhism, there are two types of disciples: monastic and lay practitioners. Monastics must observe the root precept of abstaining from all sexual activity, while lay practitioners must observe the precept of refraining from sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct refers to sexual activity outside of marriage or sexual activity that takes place at inappropriate times or places. Other activities that may lead to sexual misconduct, such as frequenting brothels or engaging with prostitutes, are also prohibited.
The Buddha taught that refraining from sexual misconduct has several benefits, including: 1) harmonizing one’s senses and emotions; 2) being free from distractions and noise; 3) being praised and admired by the world; 4) being protected from the harm of one’s spouse.
(4) The Precept of False Speech: False speech includes lying, exaggerating, boasting, and insincere flattery. False speech not only deceives others, but also deceives oneself.
The Buddha taught that refraining from false speech has several benefits, including: 1) having a clear and pure voice that is pleasing to others, like a flower vase filled with nectar; 2) being trusted and relied upon by others; 3) being able to speak with authority and conviction, and earning the respect of both humans and heavenly beings; 4) comforting and consoling all sentient beings with kind and loving words; 5) achieving joy and happiness through victorious action and pure karma; 6) having a clear and happy mind, without any worries or doubts; 7) being respected and obeyed by both humans and heavenly beings; 8) possessing superior wisdom that cannot be overcome by any obstacle.
(5)The Precept Against Drinking Alcohol: Some people may think that drinking alcohol obtained through pure means and without harming others is not a problem, so why is it included as a precept? They fail to realize that alcohol can lead to sexual misconduct and many other evils in the world. The Vinaya (Buddhist monastic code) lists ten faults and thirty-six misdemeanors related to drinking alcohol, such as impairing one’s appearance, losing dignity, damaging reputation, losing wisdom, causing illness, wasting money, being shameless, lacking respect, falling off a vehicle, and drowning. Wise people can see the dangers of alcohol, which can lead to more than one negative consequence.
The Five Precepts in Buddhism are similar in meaning to the Five Constant Virtues of Confucianism in China, namely benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness. Among the Five Precepts, refraining from killing is similar to benevolence, not stealing is similar to righteousness, avoiding sexual misconduct is similar to propriety, not lying is similar to trustworthiness, and abstaining from alcohol is similar to wisdom. Confucianism uses the Five Constant Virtues as the standard for being a good person, while Buddhism sees the Five Precepts as the necessary conditions for obtaining a human rebirth in the future. However, merely keeping the Five Precepts is not the ultimate goal of Buddhism. It is necessary to encourage people to do good deeds positively.
“修乘十善以升天道” means to practice ten virtuous acts in order to ascend to the path of heaven. Among the six realms of existence, human realm is superior to the three evil realms of animals, hungry ghosts, and hells, but human life is full of sufferings. In comparison, the path of heaven is characterized by more joy and less suffering. Therefore, Shakyamuni Buddha said that practicing the ten virtuous acts is the way to attain the path of heaven.
The Sanskrit name for heaven is Tavatimsa, which conveys the meanings of brightness, naturalness, purity, and exquisite height. According to Buddhist scriptures, there are twenty-eight levels of heaven, divided into three realms of desire, form, and formlessness. The realm of desire has six heavens, the realm of form has eighteen heavens, and the realm of formlessness has four heavens.
The heavenly beings in the realm of desire have desires for food, drink, and enjoyment of palaces and gardens, hence the name “realm of desire.” The heavenly beings in the realm of form dwell in bodies that are free from the desires for food, drink, and sex, but still possess bodily forms and palaces, hence the name “realm of form.” The heavenly beings in the realm of formlessness have no form or substance, no bodily forms or palaces, but they reside in deep meditative states of consciousness, hence the name “realm of formlessness.”
The heavens are characterized by brightness, purity, and joy, which is why many people hope to be reborn in heaven. Even non-Buddhist religions advocate for rebirth in heaven. However, there are conditions for being reborn in heaven, which is to practice the ten virtuous acts.
The Ten Virtues are to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, divisive speech, harsh speech, idle chatter, greed, anger, and ignorance. Refraining from killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct is considered as the purification of bodily conduct. Refraining from false speech, divisive speech, harsh speech, and idle chatter is the purification of verbal conduct. Refraining from greed, anger, and ignorance is the purification of mental conduct. When all three types of conduct are pure, it is called the path of the Ten Virtuous Actions.
The first four actions, namely, refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and false speech, have already been discussed in the Five Precepts, and need not be repeated. The remaining three actions, namely, divisive speech, harsh speech, and idle chatter, are extensions of the principle of refraining from false speech.
As for greed, anger, and ignorance, these are considered the three poisons in Buddhism, and are the roots of all unwholesome actions. When the mind is free from these poisons, one’s speech will not be harsh or false, and one’s conduct will not involve killing, stealing, or sexual misconduct.
The Ten Unwholesome Actions, which include killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, harsh speech, divisive speech, idle chatter, greed, anger, and ignorance, are to be avoided. By refraining from these ten actions, one is practicing the Ten Virtues. Further refinement of the Ten Virtues involves the practice of saving lives, giving to others, and cultivating purity in one’s conduct. This is the purification of bodily conduct. One should also practice speaking truthfully, speaking kindly, speaking gently, and speaking meaningfully. This is the purification of verbal conduct. Lastly, one should cultivate right view, compassion, and insight into the nature of causality. This is the purification of mental conduct. Only when all three types of conduct are purified can the Ten Virtues be considered complete.
The Five Precepts are a negative restraint on unwholesome behavior, while the Ten Virtues are a positive cultivation of wholesome behavior. Although the practice of the Five Precepts and the Ten Virtues can prevent one from falling into the Three Evil Realms, it is not enough to attain ultimate liberation from samsara. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to attain liberation from the cycle of birth and death, and to transcend the Three Realms. The Five Precepts and the Ten Virtues are merely provisional teachings, while the ultimate teaching is to transcend them altogether.
The transcendent path of Buddhism involves three main vehicles: the Śrāvaka vehicle, which focuses on the Four Noble Truths; the Pratyekabuddha vehicle, which focuses on the Twelve Nidānas; and the Mahāyāna vehicle, which focuses on the Six Pāramitās.
While the Śrāvaka and Pratyekabuddha vehicles lead to liberation from the cycle of birth and death, their goal is primarily self-liberation, and they are often criticized by the Buddha for neglecting the suffering of others. The ultimate goal of Buddhism, therefore, is the Mahāyāna path of the Bodhisattva, which involves the cultivation of the Six Pāramitās or perfections, and the dedication of oneself to the liberation of all sentient beings.
In summary, the Śrāvaka and Pratyekabuddha vehicles are considered “defective seeds” that only seek personal liberation, while the Mahāyāna vehicle is the true path to ultimate liberation, which involves the cultivation of the Six Pāramitās and selfless dedication to the welfare of all sentient beings.
Generating Bodhicitta and the Four Immeasurables:
The Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism, Master Huineng, once said in a verse: “Buddhism is in the world, yet not of it; to seek enlightenment apart from the world is like searching for a hare’s horn.”
Buddhism is both transcendent and immanent, combining the spirit of transcendence with the practice of worldly activities. Transcendence aims at liberating oneself, while immanence aims at liberating others. Transcendence is also immanence, and immanence is also transcendence. The ultimate meaning of Buddhism lies in generating bodhicitta, taking the Four Immeasurables vows, and practicing the Six Paramitas of the Mahayana path.
The term “bodhisattva” is a short form of the Sanskrit term “bodhisattva-sattva”, meaning “one whose essence is enlightenment”. “Bodhi” refers to awakening, while “sattva” refers to sentient beings. The bodhisattva is one who is both self-awakened and awakened to the suffering of all sentient beings. The bodhisattva seeks to attain buddhahood for the sake of liberating all sentient beings.
To walk the path of the bodhisattva, one must first generate bodhicitta. The first requirement for generating bodhicitta is to let go of the ego. The second requirement is to cultivate compassion. Walking the path of compassion without grasping the ego is the true spirit of Mahayana Buddhism.
The Buddha taught compassion, but not love. Compassion gives happiness to others, while relieving them of their suffering. Love, on the other hand, is an emotional attachment that leads to partiality and discrimination. Love creates a sense of “I” and “you”, which creates a sense of difference. Because of this, the Buddha did not encourage love, which he believed to be one of the roots of delusion and karmic action. The essence of compassion in the bodhisattva path is non-discriminatory compassion and non-dualistic wisdom, which is the foundation of liberating all sentient beings. Compassion is not centered on the self, but rather on the foundation of “no-self” and “all sentient beings are equal and interconnected”. The bodhisattva sees themselves as part of all sentient beings and works to liberate others as a way of liberating themselves. This is the true meaning of compassion.
Sentient beings in the world are deluded and attached, lost in their own thoughts, and trapped in ignorance. They create karma and suffer from the consequences of their actions. Without great compassion and wisdom, there is no way to liberate them. Therefore, as the Bodhisattva Sutra says: “The bodhisattva sees all sentient beings caught in the darkness of ignorance and karmic action, suffering greatly in the long night. They are lost in the wrong way, unable to find the correct path. It is for this reason that they generate great compassion, aspiring to attain the supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood, like a person extinguishing a head of fire. They vow to liberate all sentient beings from suffering, leaving no one behind.”
The Universal Worthy Bodhisattva’s Conduct and Vows chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra provides a clearer explanation for the development of bodhicitta. The sutra says, “If bodhisattvas can follow and serve sentient beings, they are serving all buddhas by following and serving them. If they respect and serve sentient beings, they are respecting and serving the Tathagatas. If they make sentient beings happy, they make all buddhas happy. Why is this so? Because all buddhas are characterized by great compassion. Through compassion for sentient beings, they attain great compassion. Through great compassion, they develop bodhicitta. Through bodhicitta, they attain supreme enlightenment. This is like a great tree in a barren wilderness. If the roots have water, the branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits will all flourish. Similarly, the bodhi tree in the wilderness of birth and death also grows like this. All sentient beings are like the roots of the tree, and all buddhas and bodhisattvas are like the flowers and fruits. By irrigating sentient beings with the water of great compassion, they are able to attain the wisdom and fruits of all buddhas and bodhisattvas. Why is this so? Because if bodhisattvas irrigate sentient beings with the water of great compassion, they are able to attain supreme enlightenment. Therefore, buddhahood belongs to sentient beings. If there were no sentient beings, all bodhisattvas could never attain supreme enlightenment. Good man, you should understand this principle. By treating all sentient beings equally, you will be able to attain complete great compassion. By following sentient beings with great compassion, you will be able to serve the Tathagatas. If bodhisattvas follow sentient beings like this, from the realm of emptiness to the realm of sentient beings, from the realm of sentient beings to the realm of karma, and from the realm of karma to the realm of afflictions, their following will be endless and continuous, without any interruption. Their body, speech, and mind will not become tired or weary.”
After generating bodhicitta, one should also generate the Four Great Vows: “Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to liberate them all. Afflictions are endless; I vow to end them all. Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to master them all. The Buddha way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.” The Four Great Vows are made in accordance with the Four Noble Truths of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation.
Generating bodhicitta and making the Four Great Vows is only the first step. It is essential to put them into practice in order to achieve the ultimate goal of benefiting oneself and others. Therefore, the first step in making vows is to practice the Six Paramitas and the Four Applications of Mindfulness.
Sixth Paramitas and Four Practices
The three practices of morality, meditation, and wisdom are the essential ways for practitioners in Buddhism. Moreover, Mahayana Buddhism adds generosity, patience, and diligence to the three practices, collectively known as the six paramitas, also known as the six paramitas of the Mahayana.
Paramita is a Sanskrit term that means “to reach the other shore.” People who are in transition need to cross the river by boat or raft to reach the other shore, and those who practice Buddhism need to pass through the troubled waters of samsara on this shore and reach the other shore of Nirvana’s tranquility. The six paramitas are like a boat or raft that can help practitioners cross the sea of samsara and reach the other shore of liberation. The six paramitas are:
As shown above, the six paramitas are further described as follows:
1.Dana-paramita (generosity): Dana means giving, and giving is not limited to money or property. When Shakyamuni Buddha practiced in the past, he once gave his body to feed a tiger and cut his flesh to feed an eagle. This is a highly generous act. Giving one’s brain, limbs, and other body parts is called internal giving, while giving one’s wife, children, property, and other external things is called external giving.
Generosity is divided into three types: giving material things, giving teachings, and giving fearlessness. Giving one’s own material possessions to others is called material giving (including internal and external wealth). Teaching the Dharma to sentient beings and helping them attain liberation is called Dharma-giving. Helping sentient beings who are suffering and giving them spiritual comfort to make them free from terror is called fearlessness giving.
Generosity is not difficult, but it is challenging to reach the state of emptiness of the three bodies. The three bodies of emptiness refer to the absence of the giver, the recipient, and the gift. This is what the Diamond Sutra calls “Bodhisattva should dwell in the Dharma without attachment, and practice charity.” As mentioned in the previous section, “Practice compassion without clinging to the concept of self, and know that there is no self and still practice compassion.” The highest level of generosity is to pray for compassion to flourish and not hold any expectation of reward or have any notion of being able to give.
2.Sila-paramita (morality): Sila means morality and has the meaning of stopping evil and cultivating good. Practicing the Bodhisattva path of the Mahayana is not only about abstaining from evil but also actively doing good deeds. By purifying one’s body, speech, and mind through maintaining moral precepts, one can gradually reveal the true nature of Buddha-nature and avoid being bound by delusions.
There are differences in the moral precepts maintained by laypeople and monastics. Laypeople observe three refuges and five precepts, novice monks observe ten precepts, fully ordained monks observe 250 precepts, and fully ordained nuns observe 348 precepts. However, Bodhisattvas observe ten major and forty-eight minor precepts, without distinction between laypeople and monastics. The precepts maintained vary according to their status. However, lay Bodhisattvas also maintain six major and twenty-eight minor precepts.
3.Endurance can overcome anger. Endurance is the ability to bear with the situation, while humiliation is the object of endurance. The most difficult thing to endure in emotions is insult. If one can endure humiliation, then other kinds of endurance will also become easy.
Endurance means not only enduring the insults and harm that others give, but also enduring the situations we encounter ourselves. In times of poverty, illness, and adversity, one must endure to prevent feelings of despair and degradation from arising. In times of prosperity, success, and adversity, one must endure to prevent feelings of arrogance and complacency from arising. In the midst of the ever-changing circumstances of life, one must endure to prevent the mind from becoming attached to any particular situation.
Endurance not only refers to enduring the psychological insults and violations of various situations, but also to enduring physical suffering such as hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and pain. Endurance is fighting against the thief of afflictions within oneself. Afflictions always lurk in the mind, waiting for the opportunity to stir. If one cannot endure, afflictions will occupy a place in the mind.
4. Diligence can overcome laziness. “Pure and free from impurities” is the meaning of diligence, while “boldly advancing” is the meaning of diligence. A diligent person can quickly develop good thoughts that have not yet arisen, and can increase the growth of good thoughts that have already arisen. A diligent person can prevent evil thoughts that have not yet arisen, and can quickly eliminate evil thoughts that have already arisen. In the practice of the bodhisattva way, which seeks to attain enlightenment, transform sentient beings, and save all beings, one must have a mind of purity and diligence, abandon delusions, and let go of attachments, revealing the wondrous mind of the true nature. One must help oneself and others without backsliding.
5. Meditation can overcome distraction. Meditation, in Sanskrit “dhyana,” means quiet contemplation, which is to overcome distraction. Meditation can be divided into two types: “samatha” and “vipassana.” Samatha meditation relies on the mind to focus on the object. Vipassana meditation, as explained in the Mahayana’s Awakening of Faith, involves dwelling in a peaceful state, sitting upright with proper intention, not relying on breath, form, or emptiness, and even not relying on the four elements of earth, water, fire, and wind, nor relying on seeing, hearing, touching, or knowing. All thoughts are eliminated, including the thought of eliminating thoughts. All phenomena are originally without characteristics, and thoughts do not arise or cease. One does not follow external thoughts with one’s mind, but eliminates thoughts with one’s mind. If the mind becomes scattered, one should gather it back and dwell in proper mindfulness. In short, meditation is a type of concentration that allows the mind to generate wisdom. In meditation practice, one must guard the six senses and avoid evil sights and sounds, as the Confucians suggest, “Do not look at evil sights or listen to evil sounds.” Lao Tzu also said that the five colors blind the eyes, and the five sounds deafen the ears, which expresses a similar idea.
6.Wisdom: Wisdom is the measure of ignorance and delusion, which is attained through meditation, known as “from precepts arises concentration, from concentration arises wisdom.” However, this wisdom is not the worldly, leaky knowledge gained from extensive learning, but rather the all-encompassing and unobstructed right wisdom. This wisdom can penetrate all defilements and afflictions and reveal the true nature of things. Therefore, cultivating the Six Perfections is to eliminate afflictions and attain wisdom. Wisdom is also known as Prajna, which is equivalent to Buddha-nature. If we can attain wisdom, we will see our true face.
To cultivate the Six Perfections, we must practice them together and not neglect any of them. If we have wisdom but lack concentration, we cannot benefit from it. If we have concentration but lack wisdom, we may get stuck. If we practice both concentration and wisdom but neglect precepts, we will be hindered by our habits. If we have all three but do not practice generosity, we cannot convert sentient beings. If we practice generosity but not the other three, we will only plant the seeds of heavenly and human blessings. If we observe precepts but cannot endure humiliation, we will have difficulty in taming our anger. If we have diligence but lack self-control, we will be fruitless. If we practice all the perfections but lack diligence, we will be initially diligent but ultimately slack. Therefore, it is essential to practice all six perfections together to achieve the dual benefits of Mahayana Bodhisattva practice.
Aspiring Bodhisattvas must practice the Four Means of Conversion in addition to diligently cultivating the Six Perfections to deeply enter the human realm and universally convert sentient beings. The Four Means of Conversion are giving, kind speech, beneficial conduct, and identification with others.
- Giving (布施) and Teaching (摄) : In order to enlighten sentient beings, one must immerse oneself among the people and get close to those who need to be enlightened. By giving to those who value money and material possessions and teaching those who seek knowledge, one can gradually establish a deep relationship and achieve the goal of enlightening them.
- Kind Speech (爱语摄): According to the nature of sentient beings, using gentle and loving words to make them happy and feel close, so that they can be enlightened.
- Beneficial Action (利行摄): Those who practice the Bodhisattva path, use their body, speech, and mind to benefit others and influence sentient beings by putting themselves at a disadvantage while benefiting others, in order to cultivate the Buddhist path together and achieve the goal of enlightening them.
- Accompanying (同事摄): Those who practice the Bodhisattva path, should interact with people from all walks of life, become friends with them, and work with them, in order to establish a connection and enlighten them.
These four practices are only the behavior of enlightenment, while practicing the Four Immeasurables as the foundation is necessary in order to integrate them into one’s daily life. The Four Immeasurables are:
- Immeasurable Loving-kindness (慈无量心): having a mind of love and joy towards all sentient beings.
- Immeasurable Compassion (悲无量心): having a mind of empathy and compassion towards all sentient beings who suffer.
- Immeasurable Joy (喜无量心): feeling happy and joyful when seeing people practice good deeds and relieved from suffering.
- Immeasurable Equanimity (捨无量心): having the ability to let go of all bias and prejudice, and to treat all sentient beings equally.
When practicing the six perfections and the four methods of enlightenment, one should abide by the principle of emptiness and not cling to appearances. As the Diamond Sutra says, “Countless sentient beings have been liberated, yet not a single sentient being has been liberated.” It also says, “If a Bodhisattva holds onto the concepts of self, others, sentient beings, or life span, they are not truly a Bodhisattva.” The former means that all sentient beings have Buddha nature, and those who are liberated are only revealing their inherent Buddha nature. Therefore, there is no need to remember the person you have enlightened, as they are only revealing their inherent nature. The latter means that one should not cling to the notion of “I” who enlightens others, nor to the notion that those who are enlightened are superior or inferior to others in terms of wisdom.
Bodhisattvas and Buddhas
Those who seek great enlightenment and benefit all sentient beings while practicing the Six Paramitas and Ten Thousand Practices for self-benefit and the benefit of others are called Bodhisattvas. From the initial mind of enlightenment to the perfect realization of one’s own enlightenment, others’ enlightenment, and perfect practice, one attains the marvelous enlightenment of a Buddha. The fifty-one stages of enlightenment include the Ten Stages, Ten Faiths, Ten Practices, Ten Dedication of Merit, and Ten Grounds, culminating in the Marvelous Enlightenment Bodhisattva.
The Ten Stages refer to the stages of abiding in the Six Paramitas and Ten Thousand Practices, starting from the stage of initial mind to the stage of empowerment. The Ten Faiths refer to the ten kinds of faith cultivated in the stage of initial mind. The Ten Practices refer to the practice of benefiting others according to the Six Paramitas, starting from the practice of joy to the practice of truth. The Ten Dedication of Merit refers to the practice of transferring the merits one has accumulated to attain a higher realm of enlightenment, from saving sentient beings from the cycle of birth and death to the dedication of merit to the Dharma Realm and the immeasurable dedication of merit. The Ten Grounds refer to the grounds on which all things rely and grow, indicating that all practices and merits are cultivated based on them. The Ten Grounds range from the ground of utmost joy to the ground of the Dharma Cloud. The final stage is the Marvelous Enlightenment Bodhisattva.
Marvelous enlightenment refers to the perfect realization of one’s own enlightenment, others’ enlightenment, and perfect practice that is inconceivable. In other words, it is the supreme enlightenment of a Buddha. The Marvelous Enlightenment Bodhisattva is the Buddha-to-be.
Those who learn and practice Buddhism by observing the Five Precepts and practicing the Ten Good Deeds can only attain small worldly fruits in the human and celestial realms within the cycle of birth and death. Practicing the Four Noble Truths, the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, cutting off ignorance and attachment to self, and breaking through the hindrances of afflictions can lead to attaining the fruits of Arhatship and Pratyekabuddhahood. However, these are only small fruits of the Two Vehicles, knowing only self-realization and self-benefit, without knowing how to save sentient beings and the world. It is also not the highest fruit. If one goes further and cultivates the aspiration to become a Buddha while practicing generosity and benefiting others, the Six Paramitas, and the Four Applications of Mindfulness, and finally breaks through the hindrances of self and the Dharma, ignorance and afflictions, one can attain the status of a Bodhisattva, who realizes self-enlightenment and others’ enlightenment. When the Bodhisattva’s stage is full, and ignorance is completely broken, one has attained complete enlightenment and becomes a Buddha.
The Buddha’s teachings throughout his life focused on suffering, emptiness, impermanence, and non-self for those with shallow foundations and those who are practicing the Two Vehicles. But Buddhism aims to lead people from confusion to enlightenment, from suffering to happiness. Thus, the ultimate goal of learning Buddhism is the state where there is no suffering or emptiness, where there is permanence and self-existence, which is the state of the Four Virtues of Mahaparinirvana: permanence, bliss, self, and purity.
The term “大般涅槃” in Sanskrit is “摩诃般涅槃那” which can be translated as “great nirvana” or “great extinction.” According to the Mahayana teachings, Nirvana is called “extinction” because it is the cessation of defilements and the cycle of birth and death. It is also called “extinction” because it is the state of great tranquility and free from all form and phenomena. The term “那” refers to the ultimate cessation, which is the complete liberation from all suffering, afflictions, and all actions.
Those who have attained the fruit of enlightenment enter into Nirvana and possess the four virtues of “eternal bliss, self, purity, and true self.” “Eternal” refers to the nature of Nirvana, which is unchanging and without birth or death. It is also known as “eternal” because it functions in accordance with conditions without interruption. “Bliss” refers to the nature of Nirvana, which is peaceful and permanently free from all suffering. It is also known as “bliss” because it is in accordance with one’s own volition and therefore satisfying. “Self” refers to the ultimate reality that is immutable and unchangeable. “Purity” refers to the nature of Nirvana, which is completely free from all defilements and stains. It is also known as “purity” because it functions without contamination.
In Buddhism, the Buddha is one who is self-aware, aware of others, and who has perfected his conduct. The Buddha has ten names, which are Tathagata, Arhat, Samyak-Sambuddha, Vidyacaraṇasampanna, Sugata, Lokavid, Anuttarapurusa-damyasārathi, Sarvabuddha-daksha, Bhagavan, and Buddha.
Thus, the path from an ordinary being to one who has attained enlightenment is a long one, and the Buddha seems to be an unreachable ideal. However, when viewed from another perspective, the Buddha and sentient beings are not different, and the distinction between them only arises due to ignorance, delusion, and defilement. As an ancient master said, “The Buddha is an awakened sentient being, and sentient beings are unawakened Buddhas. The difference between delusion and enlightenment, confusion and awareness, lies only within one’s mind.”
Also known as Pratyekabuddha, is a person who attains liberation from the cycle of birth and death through their own self-realization and insight, without relying on a teacher or a Buddha. Before the emergence of Buddhism, some sentient beings who had the aspiration for enlightenment attained the state of Arhat through their own cultivation, relying on meditation, contemplation of the twelve links of dependent origination, and self-realization.
胎卵湿化 (Tāi luǎn shī huà)
In Buddhism, the reproduction of sentient beings is classified into four categories: womb-born, egg-born, moisture-born, and spontaneously-born.
阿耨多罗三藐三菩提 (Ān mó duō luó sān miǎo sān pú tí)
The Sanskrit term for Buddhahood, the highest state of awakening and enlightenment in Buddhism. The term is commonly translated as “Supreme Perfect Enlightenment” or “Complete and Perfect Awakening”, referring to the complete and perfect realization of all truths and the attainment of ultimate wisdom and compassion.