人生看得几清明
文|东篱下

宋代大文学家苏东坡诗云:“梨花淡白柳深青,柳絮飞时花满城。惆怅东栏一树雪,人生看得几清明。”想那苏大学士清明踏青,看到郊外雪染的梨花,回味自己的身世,面对磨难中所见到的大自然中的旖旎风光,心中由衷的发出了如此感慨。

诗人的一生可谓起起落落、坎坷颇多。但是,无论时逢不意,还是遭遇小人;无论“乌台诗案”还是一谪再贬之后,他总能以“一蓑烟雨任平生”的姿态笑傲尘世,总能以一种达观的心态面对现实,在坎坷的路途中迈出铿锵的步履,吟啸而前行。诗的最后一句中“清明”语意双关,既指时令,也指政治、社会和人心的清平明正。

而我之所以看到这诗而起共鸣,原是着意“惆怅”一词,心有戚戚。想是自己在生活的道路上追求太多,缺了知足常乐的心,成天把自己沉浸在无谓的忙碌里,把自己浸渍于一种世俗而无聊的氛围里,人际关系多了复杂,少了简单;脚步之间多了匆忙,少了从容;感叹世态炎凉,却不能够跳出三界外。思无清净,心灯蒙上尘垢。

其实仔细的想想,生活中,有许多的事情,原本都是非常简单的,只是我们人为把它复杂化、扩大化 了,如此往往会变简为繁,避实就虚。这个所谓的人为作用,说到底还是我们的心在作怪,看不到事实的真相,在是与非的混沌下失去清明的判断能力。

月船禅师是一位善于绘画的高手,可是他每次作画前,必坚持购买者先行付款,否则决不动笔,这种作风,给社会人士经常有微词批评。有一天,一位女士请月船禅师帮她作一幅画,月船禅师问:“你能付多少酬劳?”“你要多少就付多少!”那女子回答道:“但我要你到我家去当众挥毫。”

月船禅师允诺跟着前去。原来那女子家中正在宴客,月船禅师以上好的笔为她作画,画成之后,拿了酬劳正想离开。那女士就对宴桌上的客人说道:“这位画家只知要钱,他的画虽画得很好,但心地肮脏;金钱污染了它的善美。出于这种污秽心灵的作品是不宜挂在客厅的,它只能装饰我的一条裙子。”说着便将自己穿的一条裙子脱下,要月船禅师在它后面作画。月船禅师问道:“你出多少钱?”女士答道:“随便你要多少。”月船禅师便开了一个特别昂贵的价格,然后依照那位女士要求画了一幅画,画毕立即离开。

很多人怀疑,为什么只要有钱就好?受到任何侮辱都无所谓的月船禅师,心里是何想法?原来,在月船禅师居住的地方常发生灾荒,富人不肯出钱救助穷人,因此他建了一座仓库,贮存稻谷以供赈济之需。又因他的师父生前发愿建寺一座,但不幸其志未成而身亡,月船禅师要完成其志愿。

当月船禅师完成其愿望后,立即抛弃画笔,退隐山林,从此不复再画。他只说了这样的话:“画虎画皮难画骨,画人画面难画心。”钱,是丑陋的;心,是清明的。

有禅心的人,不计人间毁誉,像月船禅师,以自己的艺术素养,求取净财救人救世,他的画不能以一般画来论,应该称为禅画了。因为他不是贪财,他是舍财,可是世间人有多少人能懂得这种清明的禅心呢?

《菜根谭》云:“人生只为欲字所累,便如马如牛,听人羁络;为鹰为犬,任物鞭笞。如果一念清明,淡然无欲,天地也不能转动我,鬼神也不能役使我,况一切区区事物乎!”

假如人自己不为物欲情欲所困扰,自己能看开名利,又怎能不见梨花、杨柳那样的清明美景呢?同理,世间本来没什么苦乐分别,这一切皆由人心的贪图和执著而产主。好名之人必为虚名所苦,重利之人必为贪利所困。所谓的苦海固然有物累,但人心的蒙昧则是堕入苦海的主要原因。

现代人的精神生活普遍呈现着紧张、焦虑、空虚和不安。一般而言,人们的物质生活是丰裕的,但在心灵上却显得赤贫。不知道每天都在忙些什么,夜深人静时又常常觉得怅然若失。许多人为了避免这种空虚,开始一头栽进电视节目、整晚打麻将,或者置身灯红酒绿、吸毒麻醉或步入淫色之乡。事实告诉我们,许多精神上的困扰源自心灵的空虚与迷茫。它使一个人看不出生命的意义和光明面,从而堕落迷失。

佛教认为:一切烦恼皆由心生,心中欲望过盛, 便只能在虚幻中漂泊。欲求愈多,匮乏愈甚,人愈贫穷。唯有抛弃杂念,无欲无求,方可找回真实的自我。因此禅宗思想提倡“万法尽在自心中,顿见真如本性”,即为迷途世人指引明道,还内心一片清明。

我们学禅,其实是在寻找自己真正的自我,自己迷失的心灵。禅的智慧让我们可以清醒的生活,觉察生命的喜悦,以及清净无染的光明。让我们透过心灵的安定和净化,从执著与对立的思考中解脱出来,不再只是生活在成见和限定性思考之中,不再只是用防卫的态度生活,而能跃入一个宽广的心灵世界,并发现真正的自己。这时,努力去生活,去实现人生,但没有执著和不安。

当我们从各种成见、偏见、私心和自我中心的系缚中解脱出来时,理性变得清明,心灵世界里的智慧得到苏醒。思考和觉察力必然现前,于是思想便可以解脱种种限定性思考,而入于智慧的直观,从而展开宽阔的心灵生活和视野,得到满足、喜悦和自在。这时,回过头来思考生活中的事务,就变得清朗又有思路,我们也就会清醒的生活与工作。

释迦牟尼佛正觉后说的第一句话是:“大地众生皆有如来德性,只因妄想,无明不能证得。”其意是指所有的人本性都是觉者,都有佛性,只是一般人的杂念太多,本性污染,不明缘起因果的道理,所以不 断的在沉沦,不能正觉本性。

马祖道一禅师上堂说法亦云:道不用修,但莫污染。何为污染?但有生死心,造作趋向皆是污染。

这一段语录,不妨用另一位庆福圆满禅师的话来解释:何为污染,即今所说,种种言辞,岂不是污 染,说心说性,亦是污染,说玄说妙,亦是污染,坐禅息定,亦是污染,著意思惟,亦是污染,只今恁么形书纸笔,亦是特地污染。除此之外,且如何是洁白无染处?良久云:金刚宝剑当头截,莫管人间是与非。

如此嘉言,亦如划破黑暗,敲碎昏昧的钟声,让万物清明,以本来面目呈现。

试问诸君:人生,看得几清明?

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If you are able, through your development of wisdom and skillful means, to unite the teachings with your life, then true results will be achieved.

— Gyatrul Rinpoche

Peace and Impermanence
by His Holiness Sakya Trizin

The world in which we live today is complicated and turbulent, and if we are to live well in it, we need to find a way to tackle the problems that afflict it. There are many different systems, philosophies and religions that attempt to solve these problems, and they all share one basic belief: that everyone wishes to be free from suffering and everyone wishes to be happy. It seems to me that the Buddhadharma is a very effective way to attain these goals.

Most of our efforts are dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. In this endeavour, we have made tremendous progress in the fields of science and technology; and due to this progress, we have been able to solve many issues and to greatly benefit mankind.

But although valuable, this material progress cannot bring us true peace and happiness. If we are to find true peace and happiness, it is absolutely essential that we achieve inner spiritual progress. In order to do so, we need to study the Buddhadharma, follow its advice and put it into action in our daily life.

It is my belief that the basic principles of the world’s major religions are similar in their essence, although each religion has its own ways of expressing them and methods of applying them. As I am a Buddhist, it is according the Lord Buddha’s teachings that I will try to explain how spiritual life can bring us genuine peace and happiness. The Buddha’s teachings are based principally on the fact that every living being, not only human beings but every living being, possesses Buddha nature.

Buddha nature means that the true nature of our mind is pure, right from the beginning, and has been since beginningless time. It is not itself stained by obscurations, but it is completely covered by them and so we cannot see it. But by practising the spiritual path, we can discover its nature.

Buddha nature is like a seed that we have inside us that, if allowed to grow, will ripen into enlightenment. The main reason why we can reach enlightenment is that we have this seed inside us. If we didn’t have it, then there would be no possibility of attaining enlightenment.

This seed has actually been inside us right from the beginning. But until now, we haven’t met with the right conditions for it to grow. For a normal seed to grow, we need to create the right conditions, such as placing it in fertile soil with the right amount of moisture, the right temperature, and so forth. Similarly, in order to allow the seed of our Buddha nature to grow, we must create the right conditions. Without the right conditions, it will not grow.

Although every living being has Buddha nature, human beings have the most potential to discover it. Because human life offers the best foundation to practise the Dharma, the teachings say that it is paramount to obtain the precious human birth, especially one that is free from all unfavourable conditions.

A human life that is endowed with all the favourable conditions is in fact very difficult to obtain. But by the same token, it is of enormous benefit, as it can be a vehicle to Enlightenment. So when we have obtained this precious human life and with it the opportunity to become enlightened, it is crucial that we fully realise its potential, and that we make optimal use of it. There is no greater loss than that of missing the opportunity for enlightenment that human life brings us. So the first important thing to do is to realise how precious human life this. Once we fully realise this, then we cannot remain without striving to make the best of it.

The second thing we need to do is to ponder on impermanence and death. The Lord Buddha said that everything that is created by causes and conditions is impermanent. This applies in particular to human life. We have no possibility of knowing how long our life will be. Our only certainty is that one day we will die. Furthermore, death could occur at any moment.

There are many, many causes that can shorten our life. Just as a breeze can extinguish a lamp in a single moment, even though it has enough oil to burn for many more hours, in the same way our lives can suddenly be cut short by unexpected circumstances, even if we are strong and healthy.

Every single moment that we live is deducted from our lifespan and there is nothing more that we can add to it. Something that is constantly being depleted while not being replenished is bound to run out. Through the centuries there have been many great spiritual masters, as well as many great historical figures, and great historical moments, but today they are all gone. People can read about them and remember them, but not one of them is still in existence.

Similarly today, we are all leading our normal lives, but the time will come when all of us will also become history. And so it is very important that we make the most of this life. Impermanence is actually a great thing, because if we realise impermanence, we naturally lose our attachment to ordinary things and we enter the spiritual path. If we have already entered it, meditating on impermanence will speed up our practice, and if we are already at an advanced level, it will help us to realise ultimate truth.

Lord Buddha said that anyone who thinks about impermanence is making an offering to the Buddha. One who can think about impermanence is one who has received the prophecy of the Buddha.

As ordinary persons, we have many perceptions, but the best perception we can have is that of impermanence. Through remembering impermanence, we can be released from all forms of suffering. The main source of our suffering is attachment, and by remembering impermanence, we lose this attachment and become free from suffering.

The life we are living now is short, and so we have to make the best of it. Just to pass through this life in an ordinary way, even animals can do. But we human beings are blessed with intelligence and wisdom, and so we must do all we can to get the most out of this precious human life. The best way to do this is to practise the spiritual path.

If we are to embark on the spiritual path, we must begin by pondering on the difficulty of obtaining a precious human birth, and on impermanence and death. This is the best way to get rid of our attachment to this life.

Although this life is important, it is only temporary. Very few people can live beyond a hundred years. So even at its longest, a human life can last little more than a hundred years. And when our time comes, when we leave this world, no matter how many possessions we have, how much wealth and power we have, no matter how talented or learned we are, nothing can help us. We leave everything behind, not only our relatives, our friends and our possessions, but even our precious body.

From the moment that we are conceived in our mother’s womb, this precious body and our consciousness are inseparable. But when we pass away, even this precious body, for which we care so much, has to stay behind. Many people believe that our consciousness dies along with our body, like a candle blowing out. But it isn’t so. Our body and our consciousness are two separate things.

Our body is a life form that we inherited from our parents, that grew and developed, and that will eventually disappear. The body is a visible and solid organism, which we can apprehend with our senses.

The mind, however, is something completely different. It is not a solid entity, and so, when we die, it cannot be disposed of in the way our bodies are. It continues in another form of life and when it does, nothing of its present life goes with it. What does follow it is karma, the result of the actions that we perform in this life, and which will determine the kind of life form that we will be embodying in the future.

It is written in the Sutras: “When the time comes and the king dies, none of his possessions, none of his friends, none of his relatives can follow him, however numerous these may be. His consciousness has to travel all alone to an unknown destination.”

The same applies to us. When our time comes, the only thing that follows us is our karma, the result of the actions that we have performed. This will follow us, just as our shadow follows us wherever we go. For this same reason, the life that we are living now doesn’t come out of the void. Nothing appears out of empty space; what’s more, nothing appears due to the wrong causes and nothing appears due to incomplete causes.

For example, each and every grain has to have its own seed. Wheat will not grow from a rice seed. In order for wheat to grow, we need to plant a wheat seed. Not only this, but the right causes and conditions must be present, such as a fertile soil, moisture and a suitable temperature.

So when all the causes and conditions come together, then the result is bound to appear. Similarly, the experiences that we have in this life do not appear out of nowhere, or from the wrong causes, or from incomplete causes. Each and every experience that we have now has to have its own causes. These causes do not come from outside forces, but they are the results of our own actions. Everything positive that we experience such as good health, long life, prosperity and so forth, all of this is the product of our own positive actions. The same applies to our negative experiences, such as a short life span, illness, poverty and so forth. No outside force created them. They are all the result of our own negative actions.

So this unique teaching of the Buddha, the law of karma, means that we are the authors of our own reality. And so, if we truly wish to have happiness, and we truly wish to be free from suffering, then we must work on the causes of happiness. Without working on the causes, we cannot expect to produce the result.

For example, in order to cure ourselves from a disease, we must avoid what aggravates it and we must use the right therapy to cure it. So similarly, in order to eliminate suffering, we must eliminate the causes of suffering. And in order to experience happiness, we must create the causes of happiness. So what are these causes?

According to the Buddha’s teachings, the main cause of samsara, or the cycle of existence, is not knowing the true nature of the mind. And so the source of all suffering is ignorance. Ignorance, in the sense of not seeing the true nature of the mind. Instead, without a logical reason, we cling to the concept of a self.

The Buddha’s teachings state that there is no self. If there were a self, it would have to be our name, or our body, or our mind. But our name is empty, in the sense that it’s just a label that our parents gave us. Any name can be given to anybody, at any time.

As for our body, if we try to examine our physical body, from head to toe, we won’t find anything that we can call the self. Even in our ordinary use of language, we don’t consider the body as being ourselves. We make a connection between the self and the body. We say “my hand” in the same way as we say “my house”, or “my possessions”. So when, for example, we say ‘my house’, it is obvious that the house is not the self, it just belongs to us. The same applies when we say “my body”, the body belongs to us but the body is not the self.

With regards to the mind, when we divide the mind into past, present and future, the past mind is something that is already gone, and the future mind has yet to appear. So neither of these two can be the self. As for the present mind, it is actually changing from moment to moment, and something that is constantly changing cannot be our self. Our mind, our consciousness, is the same continuity, but it always varies.

For example, once we were babies, and now we’re adults. Two very different minds. But at the same time, it is the same mind continuum, it is unbroken, it carries on uninterruptedly. This is why we can remember things from our childhood. The stream, the mind flow, is the same but the actual mind is changing every single moment. Something that is continuously changing cannot be the self either. So in reality, there is no self, there is no logical reason that can prove that there is a self.

But we have a very strong tendency from the very beginning, from beginningless time, to think that the body and the mind together form a self, and this clinging to the self is the source of all our faults. And it is the source of all our suffering. Because when there is the self, then, in juxtaposition to this, there are others. And when there is the notion of self and others, there is attachment to one’s own side and hatred for the others’. This gives rise to the three root poisons, which are ignorance, desire and hatred.

With these three defilements, all the other impurities arise in the mind. And as a result of this, we take negative action – physical action, verbal action and mental action. And when we take negative action, we do something akin to planting a bad seed in fertile soil. Due to these impure causes, the harvest will be rotten. In the same way, these actions will make our life rotten.

Physical, verbal and mental actions that arise from these defilements are called non-virtuous deeds, and they are what creates all our disturbances and suffering.

No outside enemy can create major sufferings. No outside enemy can create as much disturbance as our own defilements can. So our worst enemy is not outside, our worst enemy is actually within our own mind.

The person who feels hatred cannot possibly experience peace or happiness. Not only that, but this hatred also affects everybody and everything around him or her. All the disturbances and all the calamities, man-made calamities, that we face today come from human beings’ hatred. Hatred is the worst enemy that anyone can have. It destroys one’s own peace as well as that of others.

It is easy to say that the defilements are the source of all suffering and that they are negative. But it is quite another thing to actually realise it and to correct ourselves, because our mind has been associated with defilements since beginningless time. The concept of beginningless time is something difficult to comprehend.

We pointed out earlier that although our present body came from our parents, our consciousness cannot have come from them. It is not that our consciousness arises from nowhere, or due the wrong causes, but rather it has its own continuity. And so our present consciousness needs to have had this same continuity before we took our present life. In this way, we can see how there has been a life before this present life. And a life before that one, and another before, so that one could never establish where this continuity began.

There is no such time as the beginning of a person’s consciousness. The nature of life is such that it has no beginning, it has been the same continuum from beginningless time. So as oneself wishes to be free from suffering and as oneself wishes to experience happiness, every sentient being has the same feeling. It is wrong to thrive to obtain only our own happiness and get rid of our own suffering, we have to think of all the other beings surrounding us.

All through our life, we were taken care of with love and compassion. When we were first born into
this world, if our mother had not looked after us out of loving kindness and compassion, we would not have survived. But thanks to our mother’s love and compassion, we survived. When we turned from a baby into a child, and later into a teenager, and then into an adult, all through our life we were cared for and looked after with compassion and loving kindness.

Even when we are healthy and do not face any major problems, no matter who we are, whether we are great or small, we all long for loving kindness and compassion. Especially when we face suffering, when we are in pain, or we have to face old age, we have to depend on other people’s loving kindness and compassion. During our whole life, from beginning to end, we have survived through the loving kindness and compassion of others. It is very wrong if we, as adult persons, do not reciprocate these feelings. If we don’t bring happiness to others, we cannot achieve our own. So we must make every effort to develop loving kindness and compassion.

All the positive things that we experience now are the product of the positive actions that we have performed in the past. Likewise, our present positive actions bring about our happiness in the future. Therefore, as we are longing for happiness, it is important that we work on the causes of happiness. Without working on the causes, we cannot expect the result.

Positive actions that are free from the defilements, such as ignorance, hatred and desire, but rather are performed out of loving kindness and compassion, are called virtuous deeds. They are the source of all happiness and qualities. We must make every effort to create these. No outside force, including our closest friend, can bestow us real happiness. Happiness has to come from our own actions. If we are really longing for happiness, we have to create the causes of happiness. In this way, we must work on the law of karma.

Generally speaking, Lord Buddha’s teachings say that the whole of samsara is nothing but suffering. The teachings describe three kinds of suffering. The first is called the suffering of suffering. This means the suffering that we as normal people tangibly feel, such as physical pain and mental anxiety.

The second is called the suffering of change. As we mentioned earlier, everything that is created by causes and conditions is impermanent and everything that is impermanent is suffering. It is a fact of life that powerful people can easily fall from power, wealthy ones can easily lose all they have, famous people can become unknown, and healthy people can become ill.

Things that we normally crave for, such as possessions, position and fame, are not worthy of any attachment. Sooner or later, we are bound to lose them and when we do, this will cause us great suffering. The suffering of change means that what we ordinarily consider to be happy feelings, is in reality suffering. What we experience as happy feelings is really only so in comparison to their opposites: when we are ill and then recover, we feel very happy. But good health is not really happiness, because it is impermanent. We can again fall ill at any moment. Anything that is impermanent is suffering. What we consider happiness is only so in appearance.

If what we think brings us happiness is a real cause of happiness, then the more we have, the happier we should be. But it is also a fact of life that this is not so. If we take for example a person living in very poor conditions being offered to live in a luxurious home. At the beginning, this person will be very happy, enjoying his new opulence and comfort. If these new conditions were a real cause of happiness, the person should become happier with every day that goes by. But it doesn’t happen this way. He will eventually tire of his new situation and will feel in need of a change. And so, what we normally consider to be happiness, is in fact suffering. This is called the suffering of change.

The third kind of suffering is called ‘the suffering of the conditional nature of all appearances’. This means that the feelings we normally consider to be neutral are also in reality suffering. However hard we try, we fail to find satisfaction. Wherever we go, whomever we associate with, nothing brings us satisfaction. We always have something to complain about. This shows how the nature of life is suffering. Just as the nature of fire is heat, whether it is a small fire or a big fire, the nature of life, or cyclic existence, is suffering, whether it is light suffering or acute suffering.

In the same way that food that is mixed with poison is harmful whether it is delicious or foul tasting, the whole of cyclic existence is suffering, whether it is in the higher realms or the lower realms. Keeping in mind the law of karma and the suffering of samsara, we should give up attachment to the whole cycle of existence. But first, we need to give up attachment to this life. Once we have done this, then we can give up attachment to the whole cycle of existence.

The third thing that we need to do is to embark on the true Mahayana path by developing loving kindness and compassion. We mentioned earlier how much we long for love and compassion. We need to remember that every other sentient being feels the same way. Moreover, if we consider the continuity of life from beginningless time until now, we see that we are caught up in this cycle of existence, taking innumerable births in different forms of life, and that there is no sentient being who has not become our very dear parent and our very dear friend.

It is wrong to only think of oneself. If, for example, one of our beloved family members is going through a difficult time, and we ourselves are in a safe place, we don’t feel happy; we’d rather be there with him or her and share his or her suffering. In the same way, if every sentient being has been our very dear parent or relative in past lives, we should feel the same way towards them.

And so, we should not work exclusively for our own wellbeing and ignore all the other living beings, who are actually our very dear parents. Every time they have become our parents, they have given us all their love and compassion, as our present parents have in this life. Therefore, instead of working for ourselves, we have to think of all other living beings. Besides, if we only think of ourselves, we’re only thinking of one person, whereas if we think of others, we’re thinking of countless beings. And between the one and the many, the many is evidently more important than the one. We must make every effort to develop loving kindness.

Loving kindness means the wish that other sentient beings be happy and have the causes of happiness. Loving kindness toward all sentient beings without exception, including our worst enemy, is the basis for the enlightenment thought. Once we have cultivated loving kindness, we can begin to develop the feeling of compassion.

Compassion means focusing on sentient beings that are experiencing suffering, wishing for these beings to be free from suffering and the causes of their suffering. The two, loving kindness and compassion, should not merely be understood intellectually. Rather, by contemplating and meditating on them, we should develop a deep inner feeling that our mind is immersed in the nature of loving kindness and compassion. Once we have attained this, there arises what is called the enlightenment thought.

Enlightenment thought means the wish to attain perfect enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. In this way, by practising loving kindness, compassion and the enlightenment thought, we give up the third attachment, which is the attachment to our self. Every spiritual practice that we do is totally devoted to the benefit of other living beings. This aspect of spiritual practice belongs to the method side.

The method side alone is a great help in eliminating our faults, but it is not sufficient. It has to be combined with wisdom. Without wisdom, one cannot succeed. So now, we need to analyse what is wisdom.

Wisdom also has two paths. The first, its base, is concentration. Concentration in the sense that, through meditational techniques, we must bring our mind to a stable level. Our present mind is caught up in its stream of thoughts, and such a busy mind cannot be the base for wisdom. So we must practise concentration to bring the mind into singlepointedness. With our mind under control, we can meditate on wisdom. Wisdom sees the ultimate nature of all phenomena.

What is the ultimate nature of all phenomena? Different schools have different ideas on this. According to the highest Mahayana philosophy, known as the Middle Way, the true nature of all phenomena is away from all descriptions. If you describe anything, if you cling to anything, then you cannot have the proper view. The proper view is away from all descriptions. Through these two, concentration and wisdom together, we can eliminate our clinging to this life as real.

In order to travel on a road, we need eyes and we need feet. If we do not have eyes, we cannot see. If we do not have feet, we cannot walk. But with eyes and feet together, we can travel on the road. Similarly, wisdom is like our eyes, it allows us to see reality, while concentration is like our feet, it serves us as a vehicle. So, with the two together, we can succeed in attaining enlightenment.

I pray that all beings may be able to fulfill their wishes, temporal as well as spiritual.

Genuine compassion is egoless. It is the inherent essence expressed, inseparable from awareness. This natural essence, which is genuine compassion, does not need to be formulated or even expressed as something like “compassion.” We see this exemplified in our great teachers. Their genuine compassion does not require phrases and expressions or even actions. Just their presence, who they are, is nothing other than the quintessence of compassion. We, in contrast, have to invent and demonstrate compassion. Our contaminated compassion still requires effort and deliberation. That is conventional or general compassion. The good thing about the use of deliberate or conventional compassion is that it matures the mind so that ego-grasping diminishes. It definitely has that effect and is therefore a skillful method for developing awareness compassion.

— Khandro Rinpoche

从人到成佛之路
印顺法师

一. 学佛即向佛学习

关于从人到成佛的路,先得认识自己是人。由人来学佛,应该学些什么?要怎样学?现在只能讲一些重要的,浅显的初步,使大家知道从人到成佛的关要。

佛法应从两方面去了解:一方面是究竟理想,最高目的 ── 成佛。另方面,因人的程度参差不齐,所以有种种方便法门,不同的修行方法,但最后终归是成佛。这好像我们所走的路,有的平坦,有的高低不平,有的迂曲,有的直截了当。但如认清最后目标,还是「条条大路通长安」。今天所要讲的,是从人到佛的路,直捷平坦的路;依此行去,不但稳当,又容易到达。学佛,就是向佛学习,以佛为我们的模范而学。佛是怎样修学而成的,我们也这样照着学。所以真正的学佛,是:

一、不但为后世的福乐而学:修行布施等功德,希望来生能比现在更好。这在佛法中,名为以「增进心」而学,目的在求来生的福乐果报,如生天国等。这只是佛法的方便法门,不是以佛为理想而学。这并不是说,学佛的不求来生的增进;在没有成佛以前,当然希望能生于人天中,但这不是学佛的目的。大家要以成佛为目的,如真能依法做去,一定能得到的,只要我们有高超远大的理想。与切实地遵行。

为什么生人生天不够呢?因为不彻底、不究竟。生人间,财富、金钱、寿命、地位、人事,都在变化无常中,不彻底、不圆满。说生天吧,就是帝释天(近于玉皇大帝)、大梵天(近于希伯来的耶和华),也还是不圆满,还是在变化中,还是会堕落的。相信耶和华上帝的,一定不同意这个见解,其实耶和华是不彻底的。以大梵天王为例吧,他说:万物与人类,是他创造,从他而生的。我们要问:天地未创造以前是否有天地?人类未生以前是否有人类?假使是没有,那为什么要创出天地与人类呢?婆罗门教就有一种解说:「为了戏乐」。这是说,为了表示自我的自在(自由)、自我的满足,所以从此而引生一切。这像一所新房子空洞而没有什么,觉得空虚而不满意,就得买家具花瓶等等来装饰一下。所以,如说神能创生人类万物,这只是表示他的「不甘寂寞」,显示他内心的空虚,内心还有问题,不能无事。如人在繁忙的时侯,会感觉到麻烦,希望能独自地安安静静休息。可是真的给他幽静的安息,又会感到空虚,又要出来眺望,静极思动。为了自我的自由与满足,要天地男女万物,弄到无边苦痛,真是自找麻烦。所以,凡是内心有不足而有所要求的,就表示内心有问题,不彻底。学佛的说到修行了生死,不但要在万人喧嚣处安住而无所不足,还要能于无人处自静其心,做到名符其实的「无事道人」。神教所想象的神,还有要求,不能心安,便是要堕落的主要理由,所以我们不能以此为正确的路子。

二、不但为自身解脱而学:人间、天上,一切都不是彻底的,所以要了生死,超出人天三界。但这还只是为自己解脱而学佛,是狭小的路,是迂曲的路。佛法当然要了生死,但应注意到自利利他。小乘的了脱生死,好像吃酒的,一时沈醉而以为完成了。又如行路的,跑了一段,急急在路旁休息一下。这种急于达到目的,而实际上更慢。好像龟兔赛跑,兔子跑得快,而急于睡觉休息,结果兔子不免落后。学佛如急于了生死,离苦得乐,只为自己而学,还是歪曲迂回的路子。

三、为佛之大菩提而学:所以真正的学佛,应为佛之大菩提而学,这才是达到正等正觉的正确的路,直捷的路。说起大菩提内容,可说是信愿、智慧、慈悲的一切完满。但在初学者,可能有所偏重。A、重信愿,求菩提。 众生根机不同,多少有差别。如初学而着重在信愿,相信佛有无上功德,最究竟圆满;有最上智慧,最大慈悲。 对佛发生信仰心,以佛为理想而立愿上求菩提。B、重智慧,向法界。另有一类人,以佛的圆满菩提为对象而重在智慧。参究宇宙万有真理,宇宙究竟是什么?人生真理是什么?只有佛才是最圆满究竟,最洞明一切。所以学佛的大智慧,从智慧的增长中,到达佛的地步。C、重慈悲,救众生。 也有赞仰佛的大慈悲,想到人类众生的苦痛,没有彻底救济的方法。普通所说的提倡道德文化,增加经济等等来救济,其实都不彻底,只有佛的大慈大悲,才是圆满究竟,所以就学习慈悲心行,向佛菩提。

学佛的路很多,如念阿弥陀佛的是重信愿,为了解佛理而诵习研究的是重智慧,着重在救济慈善事业的是重慈悲。这几种功德都要学,无论从那方面入手都可以。不过真正学佛的,必然三类都渐渐学习,以大菩提为目标而学。

二. 唯人为能学佛

一、人类的特胜:一般来说,人虽自尊心极强,却都看轻自己,觉得自己太渺小,不肯担当大事,为最高理想而努力。这是顶错误的,其实人是顶有意义的。佛法说,在六道众生中,地狱太苦,饿鬼饥饿不堪,那里会发心学佛?畜生也大多是愚昧,不能了解学佛。阿修罗猜疑心大,不能坚信佛所说的话,又加上瞋恨心强,喜欢斗争。天国,享福都来不及,更没有心学佛。所以「三苦八难」中,长寿天便是八难之一。因此,佛经说「人身难得」、「佛法难闻」,只有人最为难得,才能学佛。

有人问:神教与佛教有什么不同?我说:神教说人间不如天上,佛教说人间更好。既得人身,不要错过他,应该尊重人身,发挥人的特性而努力向上,这是佛教的一大特色。

人有什么好呢?经说人有三特胜,天上也不及我们。大梵天、上帝,虽然高贵,但都不及人的伟大。因人有三种特胜,所以佛特地在人世成佛,教化人类,向佛学习。三种特胜是:A、忆念──「人」,在印度话中,是「忆念」的意思。人的忆念,比什么都强,小时的事情都记得,几千年来的历史,千百年来的经验,都能保存而传下来。这在牛羊猪狗,甚至天神,都不及我们。人的智慧最强,一切文化,科学发明,都是依着过去经验的忆念、累积,而后能日渐进步,日渐发明。 由于忆念而来的智力,是一切所不及的。B、梵行 ── 克制情欲的冲动,为了他人的利益,能营为道德的行为,宁可牺牲自己,利益他人。这种由于梵(清净)行而来的道德,是人类的一大特色。 C、勇猛 ── 人生存在这娑婆世界,什么苦都可以忍受,无论怎样困难都可以克服。这种一定达到的决心与毅力,也是人的特胜,在天上是没有的。这三种特胜,如用以努力作恶,滥用聪明,也会造成大坏事,使人类的苦痛加深。不过种种好事,也是从这里面发展出来。用以向善,就等于中国所说的大智、大仁、大勇。

大家都知道,一切众生皆有佛性,都能成佛。经说佛性有四种功德,就是智慧、慈悲、信乐、三昧。德行通于慈悲,信乐必有精进,所以人的三特胜,也就是佛性四德中的三德,在人身中特别发达。也就因此,人身容易修学成就,人类容易学佛。唐朝宰相裴休说过:一切众生都可成佛,但六道中真能发菩提心而修菩萨行的,唯有人。佛性功德。人身最为发达,所以人才能学佛成佛。

二、从人道直趣佛道:在学佛的方便中,如生天,得小乘果,多是弯曲而迂回的。如修天法而生长寿天,为八难之一,障碍了学佛。有以为,学小乘法,证阿罗汉,了生死后再说。小乘如中途醉眠,不彻底也不迅速。所以我们应该走直截了当的路,就是从人的地位,求生人间,一直到佛的地步。不求生天,不求证小乘果。依人身,求人身,不离人身而向佛道,都得从不离人事做起。有的人自以为修学佛乘,而信修天帝的神秘法门;或不重慧而专重禅,实是天法。有的没有大悲心,虽究大乘理,而等于走着小乘之路。天法与小乘法,终究也可转成佛道,但到底是迂曲了。特别是在这个时代,应该先修人法 ── 不离家国的人间正行,从人直向佛道,以免世人的误会。现代众生的根性不同,尤其是中国人,重人伦,所以中国佛教徒,更应该从人伦道德做起。人间正行修集增长,佛道因行的功德,也一天天增长,会渐近成佛的境界。我们不要糟蹋自己,应该利用这人生短短的时间,向这个目标而努力行去。

三. 学佛所不可少的信解

要学佛道,有不可缺少的信仰与了解,这在圣典中,说有八事,现在简要的略为六类。

一、三宝威德 ── 三宝就是佛法僧。以佛僧来说吧!大乘法中佛菩萨(大乘僧)有高上的智慧慈悲,值得崇仰;更有难思的神力,能为一般所不能为的事。不但信佛菩萨的威德神通,还要信法,即成佛的法门,也确是有功德、有力量,依法修行,能使我们到达究竟成就。

二、诸法真实 ── 诸法即所有一切事物,我们所知的世间一切,都不是真实的。为什么呢?可用两点来说明:一、一切都在变化,人以至地球都不是永恒的,都是不彻底的。二、世间的一切,都是相对的,有善就有恶,有生就有死,有兴就有衰;有这个就有那个,有这家就有那家,有这国就有那国;同一个国家也有派别,党外有党,党内有派。世间就是这样相对差别,充满矛盾,所以都不是究竟的真相。世间的一切,是相对的变化的世间;所以存在这世间的人类,也不彻底。真正学佛的,要信解在变化无常、种种差别之中,有永恒的不变,平等无差别的真理。如以正当方法去理解,依着去修行,就能得到真理的体验。苦痛从此解消,佛菩萨也因此而成就。

三、清净因果 ── 一般人都懂得佛法,重视因果,但因果不一定清净的。不单是杀、盗、淫、妄 ── 恶因恶果不清净,就是一般的布施、礼佛、念经,也不一定是清净的。如布施功德,固然是善的,如心目中觉得我能行善;或我比其他人布施更多;或者为了使人服从,故施小惠。有自我的成份,有为未来得到善果报的意念,这便不清净 ── 不纯洁。所以,学佛的要相信有清净因果 ── 就是离烦恼,离自我见的无漏因果。纯洁的因行,能得到清净的成果。必须以佛为理想,对清净因果,生起坚定的信解。

四、能得菩提 ── 信解了以上三点,还不一定能学佛成佛。有人说我太愚笨了,或太忙碌了,自己不信任自己,那里能发心修学?所以要加强信心,一切人有佛性,我也决定能得大菩提。有一分力量,就尽一分力量。今天不成,还有明天;今生不成,还有来世。坚定信仰,一定能得菩提,只要肯发心修学下去。

五、得道方便 ── 一切众生皆有佛性,都可以成佛,可是佛是从修学得来的,依方法去学,人人都能得到;这修学方法,叫得道方便。如相信地下有水还不够,必须知道怎样去开掘,用怎样方法取水上来。如不这样,即使地下有水,我们还是没有水喝。要以方法去得到,所以说:没有天生弥勒,自然释迦。

六、如来圣教 ── 我们都不是佛,怎能知道成佛的道路呢?释尊成佛后,大慈大悲地把成佛的方法说了出来,记载在经典里面。相信经律论所说的,依之求了解,有了信心,才会增加学佛的力量。会看的看,不会看的听,里面开示我们种种成佛的方法。

四. 从十善菩萨学起

对佛有了充分的信解,就得从十善菩萨学起。很多人对菩萨的名义不了解,多有误会。菩萨是印度话,菩是菩提,是觉悟的意思;萨是萨埵,就是众生的意思。所以,菩萨是求大菩提的众生。菩萨的程度不一,高的高,低的低。在一般人的心目中,听见菩萨,就想到文殊、普贤、观音、地藏顶高的大菩萨,其实凡发心成佛的,就是菩萨。佛与菩萨的分别是:佛是至高至上究竟圆满,如读书毕业了;菩萨是向上修学的学生。开始学的,如幼稚园生是学生;在小学、中学、大学以至研究院,也还是学生,差别只在学问的高低,而在修学的过程中是一样的。菩萨也是一样,有初发心菩萨,初学的与我们凡夫相同,只是能发菩提心,立成佛的大志愿。慢慢修学,到顶高的地位,如文殊、观音等。不要只记着大菩萨,觉到我们不能学。在学校里,由幼稚园一直学到研究院;菩萨也是由初发心菩萨学到大菩萨。现在讲最初修学的初心菩萨,与我们凡夫心境相近,切实易学。

一、大悲为菩萨发心 ── 菩萨发心,当然包含了信愿、智慧,而重心在大悲心。有大悲心而后想成佛度众生的,就是菩萨。上面讲过,成佛,如没有慈悲心是不能达到的。就是能参究绝对真理,如没有大悲心,也还是落于小乘。所以菩萨的最要处,便是大悲心,见众生苦,好像是自己的苦痛,想方法去救度他们,才是菩萨心、佛种子。发心,是立志,时时起慈悲心,立下大志愿,不会忘失。 此心发起,坚决不退,便登菩萨位。修发大悲心,方法很多,佛法里有「自他相易」法,把自己想作别人,把别人想作自己,这么一下,大悲心自然会发生起来。试问大家:心里顶爱的是什么?你们一定回答是父母、夫妻、朋友、国家、民族。其实,佛说「爱莫过于己」。父母等,凡是没有损到自己利益的,当然能爱,否则就什么都不爱了。大家都以私心为爱自己而爱一切,假使能想到别人的苦痛,等于自己的苦;不但爱人如己,而且以自己为他人,不专从自己着想,那才是真爱、真慈悲。自身有苦,谁也巴不得马上去掉他。别人的苦等于自己,怎能不动悲心,设法解除众生苦痛呢!能有这种观念,大悲心自然生起来。大悲心发生,立愿成佛度众生,就是菩萨了。所以初学菩萨,并不一定有神通,或者身相庄严。但是单单立志发心,还不够,必须以正行去充实他。

二、十善为菩萨正行:菩萨与凡人的分别,是发菩提心,行菩萨道。以菩提心去行十善行,是初学的菩萨,叫十善菩萨。十善,就是对治十恶的十种善行。不杀生就是爱护生命。不偷盗是不要非法得财,进而能施舍。不邪淫是不要非礼。不妄语是不说谎。不两舌是不挑拨是非,破坏他人的和合。不恶口是不说粗话骂人讥讽人,说不对也得好好说,不可说尖酸刻薄话。绮语是说得好听,而能引起杀、盗、淫、妄种种罪恶,就是诲盗、诲杀、诲淫的邪说,或者毫无意义,浪费时间。不绮语,是要说那些对世道人心有好处的话。不贪是应得多少就得多少,知足、少欲,不是自己的,不要妄想据为己有。不瞋恨是有慈心,不斗争。不邪见是学佛的要有正见,要相信善恶因果,前生后世,生死轮回,圣人境界 ── 阿罗汉、菩萨、佛能了生死。不要起邪知邪见,以为人死了就完了。十善菩萨,是初心菩萨,发大悲为主的大菩提心,要成佛度众生,依这十种善行去修学,可说人人能学。如说不会做,那一定是自己看轻自己。佛法说:人,要有健全的人格,就得从五戒、十善做起,十善便是人生的正行。如有崇高道德,能行十善,缺少大悲心,还只是世间的圣人,人中的君子。佛法就不同了,十善正行,是以发大悲心为主的菩提心为引导的,所以即成为从人到成佛的第一步。

大家以佛为理想,发菩提心,修十善行。此外,如忏悔、发愿、礼佛、念佛以外,还要热心注重护法,把佛法当作自己的生命,不要以为我学佛就好了。如佛法受到损害,受到摧残,应为了自己的信仰,众生的慧命来护持。菩萨应行的甚多,现在不能广说。最后我希望大家,开始学这大乘的第一步,作一菩萨幼稚生,从发大悲心,修十善行学起。

From the same tree, some leaves may be carried to a cesspool by wind, while some may fall in a garden; the destination of each leaf seems accidental, but is in fact driven by their individual causes and conditions. Similarly, under the same circumstance, some people may make a sudden fortune, while some become destitute; it seems that various accidents keep happening in our life, but what is behind it is a profound force, which is called karma.

— Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche

Let’s Talk About Ourselves
by Venerable Yen Pei

1. SENTIENT BEINGS FORM THE BASIS OF THIS WORLD

Our world is very chaotic nowadays. We must propagate orthodox Buddhism and promote the development of Buddhism, to enable more people to benefit from learning and practising the Buddhist teachings. So, what exactly do the Buddhist teachings make clear? In other words, what is the basis of our world according to the Buddhist teachings?

The content of Buddhist teachings is multi-faceted, but all based upon sentient beings as the starting point. The diverse things in the world are countless. In the Buddhist teachings, these are categorised into two major groups, namely sentient beings of the biological realm and non-sentient beings of the natural realm. The former is called the sentient world, while the latter is called the non-sentient world.

Sentient beings form the basis of these two groups. This can be explained in terms of space and time. In terms of space, we know of this place and that place, here and there. Such cognisance arises due to the continual activities of sentient beings in space. In terms of time, we know of the past, present and future; we know of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Such cognisance arises due to perpetuation of sentient beings in time. Therefore, in the Buddhist teachings, sentient beings are regarded as the basis of our world.

When we discuss or propagate the Buddhist teachings, it has to be based upon sentient beings. Only then can we grasp the core of Buddhist teachings. Otherwise, no matter how profound or abstruse our talk is, we cannot penetrate the essence of the Buddhist teachings. Every doctrine and religion has its central thinking, which is the anchor point from which it offers an explanation of the world. If its explanation of the world is based on objective, external microscopic substances, it is founded upon materialism. If its explanation of the world is based on subjective, inner, mental activities, it is founded upon idealism. In the domain of philosophy, even though there are diverse schools of thought, these can be distinguished as two main factions — idealism and materialism.

Viewed from the Buddhist perspective, the doctrines that emphasise either matter or mind all cannot offer a complete solution to the problems of mankind. The Buddhist teachings explain everything with sentient existence as the starting point. A sentient being comprises a causal combination of matter and mind. It is neither purely matter nor purely mind. A Buddhist practitioner should grasp this point earnestly, in order to understand the truth of Buddhist teachings correctly.

The noun “sentient beings (Sanskrit sattva, Pali satta)” is often mentioned in Buddhist discourse and commentaries. What does “sentient” connote?

“Sentient” has two connotations, namely emotions and deluded consciousness.

In terms of emotions, “sentient” connotes craving, attachment and clinging. A sentient being with emotional activities has three main types of attachment:

1. Attachment to one’s body

Every sentient being, be it a complex lifeform or a simple lifeform, has deep love for its own body. Therefore, in the Five Precepts observed in Buddhism, the First Precept is to refrain from killing. We have deep attachment to our own bodies and we are not willing to let others end our lives. Putting ourselves in others’ shoes, we can understand that other people also have deep attachment to their own bodies and they certainly are not willing to let us end their lives. Therefore, every sentient being has very strong attachment to its body. Without completely overcoming the self-cherishing thought, none can be freed from this kind of attachment to one’s body.

2. Attachment to external conditions

Living in this world, we cannot survive if we are isolated entities. To sustain our lives, we need the support of external factors. Therefore, we become attached to external conditions that are related to our lives and cling on to them.

3. Craving for future lives

A sentient life will disintegrate after a certain period of time. No lifeform can endure forever. However, when this life ends, it does not mean that everything comes to an end. A second life will follow. Even though we cannot know in advance whether the ensuing life will be good or bad, or whether it will be filled with suffering or happiness, yet those who believe in an afterlife will invariably crave for the future life and hope to gain a good rebirth. This is called ‘craving for future lives.”

“Consciousness” connotes cognisance and discernment. Sentient beings race with their deluded consciousness in all direction incessantly, overflowing with enthusiasm and obscured cognisance, thus manifesting various activities. The philosophers of ancient India described the deluded consciousness of sentient beings as joyful, lively, brilliant and enthusiastic, which together mean that the vibrant life stream is constantly exuding warmth and enthusiasm in the world, being joyful active all the time.

Unenlightened worldings and enlightened bodhisattvas are the same in such “activeness”. The difference is that bodhisattvas transform their emotions with wisdom, so that their lives improve contiunually and they attain a state in which they do not get moved by worldly emotions, hence they are called “enlightened beings”. On the other hand, unenlightened worldlings lack wisdom to overcome their emotions. They only pursue sensual pleasures all day long and they are driven by their emotions in everything, so they are “unenlightened sentient beings”. Sentient beings thus have emotions and deluded consciousness. Our world is centred upon sentient beings. The Buddhist teachings are also taught with sentient beings as the starting point.

2. WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED BY SENTIENT BEINGS?

Our world is based upon sentient beings. Then, what are the problems sentient beings encounter in the world that required Buddha’s appearance in this world to resolve them?

To understand the problems encountered by sentient beings, we must first understand the sentient lifeform, which arises due to causal combination of mind and matter, so it has both mental aspects and material aspects. Such a lifeform experiences various internal and external restrictions; hence many problems arise due to lack of freedom in its activities. Amidst these diverse problems, what is the most fundamental and major problem then?

Buddha put forth “suffering” as the core of all problems. With birth, there will be suffering. We cannot possibly avoid suffering. It is human nature to be averse to suffering and seek happiness. Even though sentient beings live in constant aversion to suffering and quest for happiness, yet the more we loathe suffering and try to stay away from it, the more it gets near us. The more we hope to gain happiness, the further it goes away from us. Therefore, the problem never gets resolved. All doctrines and religions in the world have arisen for the purpose of resolving this big problem of suffering. In the absence of life, or absence of suffering in life, there would be no need for any religion or doctrine in our world.

Life is suffering. This is the reality of our world that none can deny. Then, what exactly is the internal and external suffering which sentient beings are afflicted with? According to the Buddhist texts, there is immeasurable suffering, but this can be summarised as three or eight types of suffering.

Now, I shall explain the eight types of suffering in three categories.

1. Suffering in the biological realm

This refers to the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death, which everyone experiences due to changes in the mind-body. Which sentient being can be an exception to this? Even though there is an enormous disparity of social class in the world, yet everyone is equal in having to experience old age, sickness and death. We will not be spared just because of high social status, high intelligence or great wealth. We absolutely cannot escape from old age, sickness and death, just by relying upon our authority or meritorious virtues. We must try to overcome such suffering. Most doctrines are intended to get rid of the suffering of mankind, but contemporary medical science, psychology and other disciplines can only help people reduce some suffering. They cannot root out all the suffering of mankind completely.

2. Suffering in the social realm

This refers to suffering due to separation from one’s loved ones and suffering due to association with people and things that one dislikes. One is absolutely not alone in this world, as one cannot avoid contact with people in society. Even if one lives in the deep mountains, one cannot isolate oneself from people completely. If one alienates oneself from others, one cannot survive at all. However, it is absolutely impossible for everyone in society to get along with one another in perfect harmony. One will certainly distinguish those who are on friendlier and closer terms, apart from those whom one bears grudge or enmity against.

For those whom we resent or hate, we hope that we will never meet them again. Yet, as the saying goes, “enemies are bound to meet on a narrow road”. We often meet people whom we have enmity or resentment against. We want to stay away from them but cannot do so. What an agony this is!

As for those with whom we are friendly and close, we hope that we will never be separated from them. Yet, it often turns out that it is our closest children and good friends who leave us. How distressful it is when we can neither see them nor meet up with them!

Politics, law and other secular doctrines are intended for the resolution of such suffering. Even though many human-inflicted suffering can thus be reduced, disputes still exist in society.

3. Suffering in the natural realm

This refers to suffering which arises when desires are not gratified. What are the prerequisites for survival in this world? Our clothing, food, accommodation and means of transport come from the natural world. As long as we have enough materials sustain our lives, we should be contented. However, we invariably hope to surpass others in enjoyment of life pleasures. With limitless desires, we seek to acquire material things which are limited. When we cannot get what we want, we experience suffering. Even if we gain what we want by chance, we need to do everything possible to preserve them. The suffering that we experience when we lose them is also a form of “suffering which arises when desires are not gratified”. Since everyone is seeking these materials for sustenance, disputes will arise if there is unequal distribution of these materials.

All secular theories and doctrines are intended to seek solutions for the three categories of suffering mentioned above, but they can only resolve human suffering partly, not completely. They can resolve the minor aspects, but not the root of the problem. Only Buddha’s teachings. which unifies practice with wisdom, can enable us to overcome suffering thoroughly at its root.

Buddha found the root source of suffering and eliminated it thoroughly, so He was able to overcome all pain and difficulties.

What is the root source of suffering? In other words, where does all suffering come from? All suffering arises in dependence upon the lifeform. Sentient life is a combination of the Five Aggregates, namely forms, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. The Five Aggregates flourish in sentient lives like a blazing fire, causing us to experience agony and pain. in the Buddhist texts, this is described as “suffering due to flourishing of the Five Aggregates”.

As long as one exists in a lifeform comprising the Five Aggregates, one cannot be freed from suffering. As it is said in Heart Discourse, one must be able to “gain penetrative insight into the emptiness of the Five Aggregates”, before one can truly “overcome all suffering and pain”. Buddha discovered that the root of the problems of sentient beings lies in themselves. He further guided sentient beings how to work on themselves, in order to overcome the problems of life, get liberated from suffering and attain happiness.

3. SENTIENT EXISTENCE IS CENTRED UPON HUMAN BEINGS

The term “sentient beings” refers to beings with the capacity for sensation and mental activities of the deluded consciousness, such as craving and clinging. In the Buddhist discourses and commentaries, it mentioned sentient beings in the “Five Destinations” and “Six Realms Of Rebirth”.

The “Five Destinations” refer to the realms of celestial beings, human beings, hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals. The “Six Realms of Rebirth” include an additional realm of demigods. In either classification, we belong to one type of sentient beings — human beings. Even though there are countless types of sentient beings, sentient existence is centred upon human beings. Therefore, we must not live this human life in vain.

Sentient existence is centred upon human beings, not only because the realm of human beings is in the midst of the Five Destinations but also because only human beings have the possibility of progressing towards Enlightenment. Celestial beings are in a higher state of rebirth than human beings, but celestial beings in the heavens in Realm of Forms and Realm of Formlessness indulge in the bliss of meditative concentration, so they cannot practise spiritual cultivation in accordance with Buddha’s teachings. The celestial beings in Realm of Desires are overwhelmed with sensual pleasures and they often forget the Buddhist teachings, so they cannot practise spiritual cultivation in accordance with the Buddhist teachings too. For instance, Sakra, the ruler of Trayatrimsa Heaven, once invited Buddha to expound His teachings. Buddha imparted His teaching on impermanence to Sakra, who was touched by the edification at that time. However, once Sakra returned to Trayatrimsa Heaven, he was preoccupied with enjoyment of sensual pleasures again, thus totally forgetting about impermanence and spiritual cultivation. It is clearly impossible to learn and practise the Buddhist teachings in the heavens.

Then, let us look at sentient beings which are inferior to human beings, namely animals, hungry ghost and hell beings. They are constantly threatened and distressed by diverse suffering. They have to endure all kinds of suffering and pain all the time, so would they have any time to learn and practise the Buddhist teachings at all?

According to the Buddhist teachings, there is more suffering than happiness in the human world. Some people may claim that human beings live in absolute suffering, yet sometimes we also enjoy some happiness. Some people may claim that human beings are absolutely happy, yet sometimes we are besieged with a lot of suffering. It is the presence of suffering that arouses renunciation in us, impelling us to learn and practise the Buddhist teachings, so as to transcend the mundane world.

Now that we have gained this precious human form, as well as heard the rare Buddhist teachings which enable us to be liberated from suffering and gain happiness, then how should we make good use of this human life without living in vain? It is only through earnest spiritual practice based on the Buddhist teachings that we will not waste this human life or live in vain in this human world.

When one has this human form, one may not treasure it, but once this human form is lost, it may be very difficult to regain the human form again in future lives. Therefore, as Buddhist practitioners, we must never forget that “this human form is rare and hard to come by”.