Supreme Efforts
by Ayya Khema

We can notice fairly easily what our mind does. It reflects and reacts and it often has fantasies and also moods. Anyone who doesn’t meditate will believe in all of that. Even those who do meditate might still believe in the reactions of their own mind to the outer stimuli or might believe the moods which come into the mind are to be taken seriously, that whatever the mind is doing is due to an outside occurrence and not to an inner reaction. This is easily seen if we watch our thinking process not only in meditation but in daily living.

The Buddha gave very exact instructions on how to counteract any unskillful mind states and produce skilful ones. They can briefly be expressed as “avoiding,” “overcoming,” “developing,” and “maintaining,” and are called the four supreme efforts, which have been briefly mentioned before. They are part of the 37 factors of enlightenment, so must be part of our practice. When perfected they are part of the enlightenment process.

You may have heard the expression “Nibbana and Samsara are both in the same place.” It is not a true saying, because there is no such “place.” But Nibbana, liberation, emancipation, enlightenment, and Samsara, the round of birth and death, how can they be together? In a way they can, because they are both in the mind, in everybody’s mind. Except that everyone is only aware of one of them, namely that which makes us continue in the round of birth and death; not only when this body disappears and it is called death or when a body reappears and it is called birth. But there is constant birth and death in our every moment of existence. There is the birth of skilful and unskillful thoughts and the dying away of them. There is the birth of feelings, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, and the dying away of them. There is the birth of the arising of this body and it’s dying away moment after moment, except that we are not mindful enough to become aware of that.

We can see this quite clearly when we look at a photo of ourselves taken 10 or 20 years ago. We look entirely different from what we see in the mirror now. But it doesn’t follow that a body takes a leap of 20 years and then changes itself suddenly. It has changed moment by moment until after a longer time span, it is finally noticeable to us. With more mindfulness, we could have known it all along, because there is constant birth and death in the body, the same as with thoughts and feelings. This is Samsara, the round of birth and death within us, due to our craving to keep or renew what we think is “me.” When there is liberation, that craving ceases, whatever dies is left to die.

Although we have the potential for liberation, our awareness is not able to reach it, because we are concerned with what we already know. We are habit-formed and habit-prone and every meditator becomes aware of the mind habits with their old and tried reactions to outside triggers. They have not necessarily been useful in the past, but they are still repeated out of habit. The same applies to our moods, which are arising and passing away and have no other significance than a cloud has in the sky, which only denotes the kind of weather there is, without any universal truth to that. Our moods only denote the kind of weather our mind is fabricating, if it believes the mood.

The four supreme efforts are, in the first place, the avoiding of unwholesome, unskillful thought processes. If we look at them as unskillful, we can accept the fact of learning a new skill more easily. Avoiding means we do not let certain thoughts arise, neither reactions to moods nor to outside triggers. If we find ourselves habitually reacting in the same way to the same kind of situation, we may be forced to avoid such situations, so that we can finally gain the insight which needs to be culled from it. While we are reacting to a situation or mood, we can’t assess it dispassionately, because our reactions overpower the mind.

Avoiding, in a Dhamma sense, means to avoid the unskillful thought; in a practical sense, we may have to avoid whatever arouses such mind states in us. That, however, must not go to the length of running away as the slightest provocation, which is a well known, yet unsuccessful method of getting out of unpleasant reactions. Habitually running away from situations, which create unwholesome reactions in us, will not bring about a peaceful mind. Only if there is one particular trigger, which arouses unskillful responses in us over and over again, we may have to move away from it without blaming anyone. We just realise that we have not yet been able to master ourselves under certain circumstances. Just as we don’t blame the unpleasant feeling anywhere in the body, but realise that we haven’t mastered our non-reaction to dukkha yet, and therefore must change our posture.

It amounts to exactly the same thing. One is a physical move, the other is a mental one. All it means is that we haven’t quite mastered a particular situation yet. It brings us to the realisation that there is still more to be learned about ourselves. Blaming anything in our outside of ourselves is useless, it only aggravates the situation and adds more unwholesome thinking to it.

In order to avoid unskillful reactions in the mind, we have to be attentive and know the way our mind works before we verbalise. We can learn about that in meditation. Awareness is the prime mover in meditation. It isn’t viable or useful to have calm and peaceful mind states without being completely aware of how we attained them, remained in them and came out of them. Having learned this through our meditative practice enables us to realise how our mind works in daily life before it says anything, such as possibly: “I can’t stand this situation” or “I hate this person.” When that happens, an unwholesome state has already been established.

Before the mind is allowed to fall into this trap, a dense and unpleasant feeling can be noticed, which acts as a warning that an unwholesome mind state is approaching, which can be dropped before it has even established itself. It is much easier to let go before the negativity has taken hold but it is harder to recognise. When we notice that a mind state is approaching which does not seem to be accompanied by peace and happiness, we can be sure it will be unwholesome. The more we train ourselves to be mindful of our mind states, the more we realise the unhappiness we cause ourselves and others through unskillful thinking.

When we have not been able to avoid an unwholesome mind, we have to practice to overcome it. Because of the difficulty of becoming aware in time to avoid negativities, we have to be very clear on how to overcome them. Dropping a thought is an action and not a passive reaction, yet it is difficult to do because the mind needs something to grasp. In meditation, we need a subject, such as the breath or the feelings/sensations to hold onto, before the mind can become calm and peaceful. When we want to overcome unskillful mind states, it is easier to substitute with wholesome thinking, than just trying to let go of unwholesomeness.

If we entertain the negative mind states for any length of time, they become more and more at home. As they make themselves comfortable, we are more and more inclined to believe them and finally come out with thoughts such as “I always hate people who don’t agree with me” or “I always get nervous about thunder.” These statements are designed to show one’s own unchanging character, giving our ego an extra boost. The only reason these states might have become ingrained in our character is that having entertained negativities for so long, one can no longer imagine to be without them. Yet these are nothing but unskillful mind states, which can and need to be changed. The quicker we substitute, the better it is for our own peace of mind.

If we have dislike or rejection concerning a person, we may remember something good about that person and be able to substitute the negative thought with something concretely positive. Everyone is endowed with both qualities, good and evil, and if we pick on the negative, then we will constantly be confronted with that aspect, rather than the opposite. With some people, this will be more difficult than with others. They are our tests, so to say. Nobody gets away in this life without such tests. Life is an adult education class with frequent examinations, which are being thrown at us at any time. We are not told in advance, what is in store for us, so we should be prepared all the time.

As we learn the skill of substitution and do it successfully once, we gain confidence in our own abilities. There is no reason when why we cannot repeat this whenever needed. The relief we feel is all the incentive we need for practice.

When we are confronted with situations which we find difficult to handle, we can remember that we are faced with a learning experience. Overcoming unwholesome mind states needs mind power, which we develop through our meditation practice. If we are not yet able to keep our attention in meditation where we want it to be, we will not be able yet to change our mind when we want to do so. The more skill we develop in meditation, the easier it will be for us to either “avoid” or “overcome.” By the same token, as we practice substitution in daily living, we assist our meditation. When we realise that our mind is not a solid entity which has to react in certain ways, but is a movable, changeable phenomenon, which can be clear and illuminated, then we will more and more try to protect it from unwholesomeness. It is often a revelation to a new meditator to find out that the mind is not a fixed and believable reactor, but can be influenced and changed at will.

To develop wholesome states of mind means that we try to cultivate these when they have not arisen yet. If the mind is neutrally engaged or has a tendency to weigh, judge and criticise, feel hurt or be ego-centred, we deliberately counteract these tendencies to develop skilful mind states. We acknowledge that all negative states are not conducive to our own happiness, peace and harmony. When we develop loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity, we experience that these states are conducive to our own inner well-being. Obviously, we will then try again and again to cultivate the mind states which result in personal contentment. Developing them from that understanding alone, that the wholesome states are good for us, is a powerful insight. When our mind is at peace, we realise that while there are innumerable unwholesome situations in the world, if we have an unwholesome reaction to them, that only doubles the dukkha. It will neither relieve the situation nor be helpful to anyone.

If we develop a capacity for seeing the positive and using whatever arises as a learning situation, trying to keep the four supreme emotions, mentioned above, in mind, then there remains only the last effort, namely to maintain skilful mind states. Anyone who has not reached full liberation from all underlying tendencies will not be able to maintain positive states at all times, but our mindfulness can be sharp enough to tell us when we are not succeeding. That is the awareness we need to effect changes. When we are not able to maintain wholesomeness, we can always try again. Should we start blaming ourselves or others, however, we are adding a second negative state of mind and are blocking our progress.

A skill can be learned. We have all learned many skills in this life. This is the sort of ability well worth cultivating, more important than proficiencies. This is not a character trait we either possess or lack. Everybody’s mind is capable of developing the wholesome and letting go of the unwholesome. But that also doesn’t mean that we find everything wonderful and beautiful from now on. That too is not realistic. That which can be practised is, that although there is unwholesomeness within and without, dislike is not an effective reaction to bring peace and happiness. The pinnacle of all emotional states is equanimity, even-mindedness, which is developed through our meditation practice and based on insight. It is our tool in daily living to develop and maintain wholesome mind states.

It is neither useful to suppress nor to pretend by thinking “I ought to be” or “I should be.” Only awareness of what is happening in our mind and learning the skill of changing our mind is called for. Eventually, our mind will be a finely tuned instrument, the only one in the whole of the universe that can liberate us from all dukkha. All of us have that instrument and the guidelines of the Buddha teach us the skill to use this instrument to the best advantage; not to believe its moods and reactions to outer stimuli, but to watch and protect it and realise its potential for complete liberation.

If we want a good tool, we need to look after it in the best possible manner. This means not letting any dirt particles accumulate, but to clean it up as quickly as possible. The same criterion applies to our minds. This is probably the hardest skill to learn, which is the reason so few people do it. but a meditator is on the right path towards just that, by realising that the mind cannot be believed implicitly, being much too fanciful and fleeting.

The four supreme efforts are called “supreme,” not only because they are supremely difficult, but also supremely beneficial. A serious meditator wants to transcend the human realm while still in human form and these efforts are our challenge. They are so well explained by the Buddha that we can clearly see the difficulties we are faced with and the reasons why we are still roaming about in Samsara. But we don’t have to continue that unendingly. Knowing the path and the way to tread upon it, we have the opportunity to become free of all fetters.

Ayya Khema 20.

Brahmaviharas – Equanimity (Part 2)
by Gil Fronsdal

Equanimity is a form of care for others, an attitude of caregiving, kindness, and goodwill for others. Equanimity is when our goodwill is equanimous, and not reactive, or agitated. It is when our goodwill is not influenced by any kind of pursuit of desire or wanting something, and not caught up in repulsion or pushing away.

This comes into play particularly when it’s hard to have goodwill for people. It comes into play when it’s hard to have pure love or kindness for people, because of the circumstances they’re in. One circumstance is when people make choices for themselves that in the end are not for their own benefit. We want to have equanimity for people who make choices that are harming themselves. It’s their choice, and it’s their agency. It’s their choice in a sense, even if the choices they’re making are unconscious. The choices are their own. And so how our goodwill comes into play when people are making poor choices is part of the domain of this brahmavihara of equanimity.

Certainly, we can feel compassion for people. But wanting and trying to help, when they’re making choices that are going in the opposite direction, is kind of exhausting for the person who’s being compassionate. And it may be pointless to have appreciative joy when we know they’re making bad choices. When we know that suffering is coming, it can be challenging for the person who’s wise and can see what’s going on. The wise person witnesses this person making choices which are unfortunate choices. They’re going in a poor direction, but I still keep my heart open to them. I still have this goodwill and care for them.

But I harm myself if I get all agitated and contracted by it, or if I keep pushing to be compassionate and try everything I can to help the person. Or if I go along and celebrate with them, when what they’re doing is actually quite harmful, even though they have a kind of joy. And so how not to harm ourselves with our goodwill is in the domain of equanimity.

The word ‘equanimity’ in Pali is ‘upekkha’. It comes from the root verb ‘to see’, ‘to view’ and ‘to observe’. The etymology of the word means to have an overview of the situation. It is like having a bird’s eye view. To not be lost in the details of everything, but to have an overview of everything. So we can see it with wisdom. We (learn to) see the bigger picture, and we’re not caught in the details.

For example, there are times when people will do you a favour. You come to work and a colleague says, “I had a really difficult night last night. It was very hard. I have family who has COVID-19. People are dying.” Or, “My child was up all night, throwing up and having a fever.” They come to work and they say, “It’s a hard time, and I’m really irritable.” And you say, “Thank you for telling me.” And then, if you find that they’re expressing some irritability, you’re much more forgiving of them. You say, “They’re having a hard time.” You have an overview of why they are the way they are. So you have more space for them to be that way. They’ve been kind enough to warn you, and so you get out of their way. “Okay. That’s just today that they’re that way.” And you feel for them. You have compassion for them. You’re equanimous about how they may say a mean thing or cut you off going to the bathroom – whatever it might be. In that sense, there’s an overview of the situation, a bigger picture. And so you’re more equanimous and at ease with what to do.

Upekkha is a wisdom factor. Our understanding of a situation is really useful for having equanimity. To simply hold ourselves in an equanimous way is probably not so helpful. Because holding and assuming something, which is not really true for ourselves, can be exhausting and harmful to ourselves. So, how do we have that bigger picture? How do we have the understanding of circumstances and other people, so that when we have goodwill for them, it’s appropriate. We have equanimity, meaning we don’t get agitated. We don’t get restless, upset, or contracted.

One of the classic Buddhist teachings is that everyone has their actions as their own – no one else makes up for your actions. They are your own actions, no matter your circumstances, or where you find yourself in life. There are a lot of unfortunate things that happen to people. We get sick in all kinds of ways. We end up living in a war zone. We have some accidents. A car drives into us – we’re doing nothing wrong – but someone else maybe is not paying attention. They run into us, and we’re injured. These things that can happen are not our choices. But, we do have a choice in how we respond – how we choose to live our lives. We’re always at a moment of choice. And when we are practising mindfulness, we start seeing more and more the places of choice. More and more, we notice that there are actually a lot of choices, moment by moment. If we’re not mindful, then we’re just on auto-pilot mode. We don’t see that we have choices about how we stand, and how we look at people. We have choices in how we speak, or when we don’t speak. We have choices in how much food we eat, or don’t eat. When we are on auto-pilot, habits come into play. Craving or aversion comes into play. And it’s (auto-pilot) driving the boat – we are not in charge.

When we see the place of choice – because it’s clear in the quiet, open, mindful mind – the consequences are up to us when we exercise that choice. So, if I see a thorn sticking up out of the ground, and I choose to step on it, and I cut my foot, that was my choice because I chose to step on it. That’s kind of a dramatic example. But if you don’t see you have a choice about what you’re going to say, and you feel angry and use a swear word with someone, and the person gets angry back, that’s partly a consequence of your choice. Or that person doesn’t want to talk to you and walks away, that’s also partly a consequence of your choice. If you do see that choice, then you can say, “Well, wait a minute, I have a choice here. What choice do I want to live by? What is my deepest choice? What are the deepest values I want to live by here? What’s most important for me?” And to pause, and look, and choose what that is. And so, when we want to make our own choices, we see that other people have choices as well. We can’t be in charge of the choices other people make. We might help and advise them. There are all kinds of things we might do. But ultimately, people make their own choices. And when they make choices that are not wise for themselves, it’s their consequences that they’re going to have to live with. If those consequences are unfortunate, it’s heart-breaking sometimes.

But we don’t let our goodwill or love for them get tied up and dependent on the choices they make. We don’t exhaust ourselves with our compassion. We don’t regret the ways in which we celebrated with them. We have goodwill with this overview of seeing clearly. When people whom I love and care for, are making choices, and those choices are not wise. I have to allow them a certain generosity – to give them the autonomy and dignity of making their own choices and then they have to live with the consequences. I’ll try to be supportive, but I’m not going to be responsible for all the consequences of their poor choices. They’re going to have to live with that themselves. Exactly to what degree we’re involved or not involved has a lot to do with the consequences we think will come about by offering our support. If we think we can actually turn the boat – turn them in a new direction, or help support them to come to a new way of living – maybe it’s great to offer a lot to them.

But we have to be very careful we don’t harm ourselves in that process. This is why mindfulness is so important – to really track ourselves and see what’s going on inside of ourselves. We have choices. We make choices as well. Can we choose the peaceful choices? It doesn’t mean the passive choices. It doesn’t mean the uninvolved choices. It means, whatever choice we make, can we do so without the negative alternatives to equanimity? Can we do it without chasing or wanting something, or without getting caught up in the need for something to happen? Can we do it without contraction, aversion, closing down (shutting off), or pulling away in horror? Can we do it without being restless or agitated? Can we do it with a mind at ease? If the mind is at ease, then the goodwill as equanimity becomes the equanimity brahmavihara.

I’ll read you a very famous passage, used liturgically in Theravada Buddhism. I see it as supporting our understanding and appreciation of people’s place of choice: ‘Beings have actions. They have actions as their refuge, actions as their heritage, and actions as their one closest relative.’ Actions and choices are closely related. Be careful with the choices you make – not to be hamstrung, not to be inhibited or passive in some kind of negative way. Use your choices, so that whatever you do in the world, you do without hurting yourself. You stay peaceful, at ease, and equanimous in a way that allows the best qualities of who you are to be shared with the world.

Lotus 302.

In the Spirit of Chan
by Venerable Sheng Yen

Perhaps some of you have heard the sayings “Chan is not established on words and language” and “Chan is a transmission outside conventional teachings.” But if Chan does not rely on words, why would anyone want to read a Chan book? Isn’t that a contradiction? Although Chan is not established on words, it has, among the many sects of Buddhism in China, left behind the most writing. The primary goal of these writings, however, is to show you or teach you that “Chan is not established on words and language” and that “Chan is a transmission outside the conventional teachings.” So there is a reason for you to read such a book.

The word “Chan” can mean enlightenment, and enlightenment can be understood to mean realising “the first meaning,” or “the ultimate truth.” In Chan, there is also what is called “secondary meaning,” or “conventional truth.” Conventional truth can be expressed in words and concepts, but the primary or ultimate, truth of Chan cannot be expressed in words. In the Chan tradition, sometimes the ultimate truth is compared to the moon, and the conventional truth is compared to a finger pointing at the moon. No one would mistake the finger for the moon. Words, language, ideas, and concepts are like the finger and can express just the conventional truth. These words and concepts only point to the ultimate truth. The ultimate truth can be called mind, original nature, or Buddha-nature It is something everyone must experience for himself or herself. It can never be fully described.

What is the source of Chan? According to the Chan lore, the monk Bodhidharma brought Chan from India to China in about 500 C.E., more than a thousand years after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death. But Indian history contains few records of the interim period, so we know relatively little about the origins of Chan practice.

We do know stories and legends that describe the origins of Chan. Most famous is the account of the transmission of the Dharma to Mahakashyapa, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, who became the First Patriarch in the Chan lineage. The story is this: one day during a sermon at Vulture Peak, Shakyamuni Buddha held a flower in his hand in front of the assembly and did not speak. No one seemed to know what this gesture meant, but Mahakashyapa smiled. The Buddha said, “The Treasure of the Eye of the True Dharma, the Wondrous Mind of Nirvana; only Mahakashyapa understands.” This event marks the beginning of the Chan lineage and the master-to–disciple transmission that continues to this day. This story was unknown to Buddhist history until the tenth-century Song dynasty. But the literal truth of the story is not as important as the message it contains about the nature of Chan.

Shakyamuni Buddha had two other disciples, one very bright and the other quite dull. The first disciple, Ananda, had a powerful mind and a fabulous memory. However, he never attained enlightenment during Shakyamuni’s lifetime. Ananda thought that Buddha would reward his intelligence with enlightenment. It never happened. After Buddha entered nirvana, Ananda hoped Mahakashyapa would help him.

After Buddha’s passing, Mahakashyapa tried to gather 500 enlightened disciples together in order to collect and record the Buddha’s teachings. He could find only 499. Some suggested that he invite Ananda, but Mahakashyapa said that Ananda was not enlightened and therefore was unqualified for the assembly. He said that he would rather not have the gathering at all than allow Ananda’s attendance.

But Ananda persisted. Three times he was turned away by Mahakashyapa. Ananda said, “Buddha has entered nirvana. Now only you can help me reach enlightenment!” Mahakashyapa said, “I’m very busy. I cannot be of help. Only you can help yourself.” At last, Ananda realised that he had to rely on his own efforts if he wished to attain enlightenment. He went off to a solitary and secluded place. As he was about to sit down, he attained enlightenment! Why? At that moment he relied on no one and dropped all of his attachments.

Another story describes the dim-witted disciple named Suddhipanthaka, or Small Path. All except Small Path could remember Buddha’s teachings. If he tried to remember the first word of a phrase, he forgot the second, and vice versa. Buddha gave him the job of sweeping the ground since he didn’t seem fit to do anything else.

After he had swept the ground for a very long time, Small Path asked, “The ground is clean, but is my mind-ground clean?” At that moment everything dropped from his mind. He went to see the Buddha, who was very pleased with his accomplishment and affirmed that Small Path had become enlightened.

These are recorded in the early texts as true stories, but their meaning goes beyond their original context. The first story illustrates that in practice, knowledge and intelligence do not necessarily guarantee enlightenment and the second story shows that even a slow person can attain enlightenment. Although Shakyamuni Buddha, Mahakashyapa, and Shariputra were people of great learning, Chan has less to do with great learning than with the problem of the mind that is filled with attachments. Enlightenment can be reached only when one’s mind is rid of attachments.

It is said that twenty-eight generations of transmissions occurred from the time of Mahakashyapa to the time of Bodhidharma, who is considered the First Patriarch of Chinese Chan. His teachings were transmitted through a single line for five generations until the time of the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng (638-713), whose many disciples established many branches, some of which still survive today. I am the 62nd lineage holder of Chan from Huineng and the 57th generation in the Linji (810-866) tradition. In the Caodong lineage, I am the 50th generation descendant of the co-founder, Master Dongshan (807-869).

Chan is not precisely the Buddhism brought by Bodhidharma from India, but Bodhidharma brought certain insights to China, and the Chan tradition is related to these. He taught that everything comes from the mind, that the nature of the mind is Buddha-nature, that Buddha-nature is inherent in every sentient being, and that the essential method for realizing this original nature is beholding the mind. These ideas were controversial when they were first presented in China because they seemed to contradict the more complicated philosophies and practices of other Buddhist schools, but they are really just basic Buddhism, stripped to its essence.

There is a famous story about the enlightenment of Bodhidharma’s disciple Huike that illustrates the bare-bones nature of Bodhidharma’s Chan. Huike went to Bodhidharma and said, “Master, could you calm my mind for me?” Bodhidharma said, “Hand over your mind and I will calm it for you!” Huike searched within and then told Bodhidharma that he could not find his mind. Bodhidharma then said, “There, I have already calmed your mind for you.” This is the account of Huike’s enlightenment. Those of you who have been on retreat and suffered a lot of pain in your legs from sitting meditation apparently need not have done so. Unfortunately, you did not meet Bodhidharma.

There is an important work attributed to Bodhidharma called The Two Entries and Four Practices, in which he details more explicitly what sentient beings must do to realise their true nature. The “two entries” are entry through principle and entry through practice. Entry through principle means directly seeing the first principle, or original nature, without relying on words, descriptions, concepts, experience, or any thinking process. Entry through practice refers to the gradual training of the mind.

Bodhidharma describes entry through principle as follows: “Leaving behind the false, return to the true; make no discriminations between self and others. In contemplation, one’s mind should be stable and unmoving, like a wall.” This may sound like the direct, easy path to enlightenment, but it is in fact the most difficult. If we think of Bodhidharma’s own enlightenment as an entry through principle, then we would have to say that it only came after a lifetime of practice, culminating in his nine years of meditation facing a wall in a cave on Mount Song. Actually, the method used to accomplish entry through principle is precisely this phrase, “One’s mind should be stable and unmoving, like a wall.” This does not mean that the mind is blank; on the contrary; it is alert and clear, illuminating everything with awareness and responding with compassion. This is ideal, and it is the state of mind referred to in entry through principle.

The second entry to attain realisation is through practice. Bodhidharma discusses four specific methods: accepting karmic retribution, adapting to conditions, no seeking, and union with the Dharma. Each practice is progressively more advanced, and therefore, they should be followed in order.

Accepting karmic retribution involves recognising the effects of karma and cause and consequence. Karma is a Sanskrit term that translates literally as “action.” When we carry out an action, a karmic force remains that leads to a consequence in the future, whether in the present existence or in a future one. The karmic effect of a particular action is not permanently fixed, because the continual performance of new actions modifies the karmic force accordingly, but in all cases, there is a cause-and-consequence relationship, and the consequence will be similar in nature to the cause. Therefore, when we face adversity, we should understand that we are receiving the karmic retribution from countless previous actions in countless previous lives. When we pay back some of our debt, we should feel happy that we have the capacity to do so. If we have this perspective, then when misfortunes arise, we will be tranquil and without resentment. We will not suffer from disturbing emotions or be discouraged or depressed. This is an important practice.

Karma, or cause and consequence, has to be understood and applied in conjunction with the Buddhist concept of causes and conditions. Causes and conditions describe the fact that things happen because of many conditions coming together. We cannot and should not run away from our responsibilities and the retribution caused by our karma. But we should try to improve our conditions and karma. If things can be improved, we must try to make them better. If they can’t be changed, then we should accept them with equanimity as karmic retribution.

It might be easy to confuse the principle of causes and conditions with that of cause and consequence. In fact, the two principles are intimately connected with each other, and it is difficult to talk about one without mentioning the other. From the standpoint of cause and consequence, we can say that the earlier event is the cause and the later event is the consequence. One event leads to the next. A cause, however, cannot lead to a consequence by itself. Something else must occur, must come together with the cause, to lead to a consequence. This coming together of events and factors is referred to as causes and conditions. A man and woman together do not automatically lead to children. Other factors must come together in order for the cause (parents) to lead to the consequence (children). Parents, children, and the other factors involved are all considered causes and conditions.

Furthermore, the condition (one dharma) that intersects with a cause (another dharma) must have itself been caused by something else, and so on and so on, infinitely in all directions throughout space and time. All phenomena arise because of causes and conditions. Any phenomenon that arises is itself a consequence of a previous cause and arose because of the coming together of causes and conditions. This leads to the concept of conditioned arising, also known as dependent origination, which means that all phenomena, or dharmas, no matter when or where they occur, are interconnected.

Since all dharmas are the consequences of causes and conditions, their arising is conditional. This includes not only arising and appearing but also perishing and disappearing. A person being born is a phenomenon and a person dying is a phenomenon; a bubble forming is a phenomenon, and a bubble bursting is a phenomenon; a thought appearing is a phenomenon, and a thought disappearing is a phenomenon. All dharmas arise and perish because of causes and conditions.

Let me make a distinction between dharma and Dharma. Dharma with a lowercase “d” refers to any phenomenon. Dharma with an uppercase “D” refers to Buddhadharma, or the teachings of the Buddha, the methods of practice and the principles and concepts that underlie the practice. But remember, even the teachings of the Buddha and the methods of practice are themselves phenomena or dharmas.

The second of the four practices recommended by Bodhidharma is “adapting to conditions.” It also requires an understanding of causes and conditions. Adapting to conditions means that we should do our best within the constraints of our environment. If our circumstances are fortunate for something good to happen to us, we should not get overly excited. Good fortune, like bad, is the result of karmic retribution. Why should we feel excited when we are only enjoying the fruits of our own labour? It is like withdrawing money from our own bank accounts. By the same token, we should not be overly proud, because good fortune, like bad, is the result of many causes and conditions coming together. How can we rake credit for our accomplishments, when they depend so much on the goodwill of others, on the sacrifices of our parents, on the circumstances of history? The practise of adapting to conditions means that you accept your karma, or cause and consequence, without being overly joyful or self-satisfied or disappointed.

Accepting karmic retribution and adapting to conditions are very helpful practices in daily life. They allow us to improve our conditions and karma and maintain a positive attitude toward life. They help us enjoy equanimity in the face of changing circumstances, improve our behaviour, and keep our relationships harmonious. These teachings of Bodhidharma are not hard to understand, and any ordinary person can make use of them. If we can apply them in daily circumstances, we will fulfil our responsibilities and we will make the best of our opportunities. In this way, life will be more meaningful.

The third of Bodhidharma’s four practices is the practice of “no seeking.” There is a Chinese saying that “people raise children to help them in old age, and people accumulate food in case of famine.” Today, people in the West may not raise children just to support them in old age, but people probably still accumulate food, or wealth, in case of hardship. This attitude is not the attitude of no seeking. In the practice of no seeking, we continually, diligently engage in useful activity, yet we have no thought that this activity is for our personal gain now or in the future. We do not look for personal benefits. This is not easy, and it is a higher level of practice than the second practice. In fact, in order to completely avoid self-centred activity, we must make the difficult step of realising that the self does not exist.

What we commonly think of as the self is an illusion. It is nothing in itself at all but a name we give to our continuous interaction with the environment. We constantly see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think, and it is this cascade of sensations, perceptions, and judgments, thought afterthought, that we identify as the self.

To say that the self is an illusion, however, is not to say that the self is a hallucination. The self is not a mirage. We say that the self is illusory because it is not a stable entity but, rather, a series of events that are forever changing in response to a constantly changing environment. The self is not a thing that stays the same, and as such, we say that the self is an illusion. For the same reason, all phenomena are considered illusions; that is, all phenomena are selfless. All things change from moment to moment, evolving and transforming into something else. The self, therefore, is a false existence ceaselessly interacting with a false environment.

The practise of no seeking is an advanced practice because it is the practice of no-self. While it is normal for people to begin to learn and practice Buddhism for their own benefit, eventually, through practice, their self-centeredness falls away. They find themselves busy because others need their help, and they provide what is needed. Such a person no longer even thinks about attaining enlightenment.

When you have ceased to be concerned about your own attainment, then you are enlightened. Otherwise, there will always be subtle, wandering thoughts and attachments to the desire to do something for yourself. If you want to free yourself from all worldly vexations and suffering and if you desire liberation, you are still attached to yourself. It is only when you have no concern about your own enlightenment that you can truly be enlightened. The practise of no seeking is the practice of this enlightened state.

The fourth of Bodhidharma’s practices, “union with the Dharma,” is a basic tenet of Buddhism that all phenomena are impermanent and do not have an intrinsic self. In the practice of union with the Dharma, we try to personally experience this impermanence and selflessness through direct contemplation of emptiness. This is the highest practise of Chan, and it leads to the highest attainment. It is the practice that allows us to reach the point of “entry through principle” that we talked about earlier.

But where does a practitioner begin? Different Buddhist sects employ many methods of practice that can be used by beginners, such as reading the scriptures, making vows, doing prostrations, mindfulness of the Buddha, and counting the breath. These methods all help us to go from a scattered mind, which is confused, emotional, and unstable, to a mental state that is tranquil and in harmony with our environment. The very first thing we should do is relax the body and mind. If we can relax, we will be healthier and more stable and will relate to others more harmoniously.

There is a Buddhist householder who comes to the Chan Centre who is very nervous. His nervousness makes other people feel nervous. When he talks to you, his body is tense, as if he is about to attack you or defend himself. People react to this kind of behaviour; it disturbs them. When I told him to relax his body, he responded in a tense, forced voice, “I am already relaxed!” He is constantly fearful and insecure, and because of the problems these feelings cause, he came to the Chan Centre seeking help. He wanted to learn meditation, so I taught him to gradually relax his body and then his mind. If we cannot relax, there is no way we can meditate; and if we cannot meditate, the practise of no seeking is completely impossible. This man was impatient and thought that if he got enlightened all his problems would disappear. He said to me, “Master, I do not want anything; I just want the method to get enlightened quickly. Give me the method as soon as possible.” I answered, “Such a method has not been invented. If I could invent a guaranteed, speedy method of enlightenment, I could probably sell it for quite a lot of money.”

Now I have invented the following method, and I offer it free of charge to whoever wishes to learn. The method is to relax your body and mind. It is easy and simple. Do not ask whether it can lead you to enlightenment. First, you should be able to relax, and later we can talk about enlightenment. Close your eyes, lean back in your chair, and relax your muscles. Completely relax your eyes. It is very important that your eyelids be relaxed and do not move. There should not be any tension around your eyeballs. Do not apply any force or tension anywhere. Relax your facial muscles, shoulders, and arms. Relax your abdomen and put your hands in your lap. If you feel the weight of your body, it should be in your seat. Do not think of anything. If thoughts come, recognise them and pay attention to the inhaling and exhaling of your breath through your nostrils. Ignore what other people are doing. Concentrate on your practice, forget about your body, and relax. Do not entertain doubts about whether what you are doing is useful.

The principle of this method is to relax–to be natural and clear. Keep each session short, but practice frequently; each session should be no longer than three to ten minutes. If you do it longer, you will probably feel restless or fall asleep. You can use this method a few times a day; it will refresh your body and mind and eliminate some of the confusion in your daily life. Gradually you will gain the stability of body and mind that makes it possible to, eventually, enter the gate of Chan.

Chan is often referred to as the “gateless gate.” The “gate” is both a method of practice and a path to liberation; this gate is “gateless,” however, in that Chan does not rely on any specific method to help a practitioner achieve liberation. The methodless method is the highest method. So long as the practitioner can drop the self-centred mind, the gateway into Chan will open naturally.

The primary obstacle to attaining wisdom is attachment to the self. When you face people, things, and situations, the notion of “I” arises immediately within you. When you attach to this “I,” you categorise and judge everything else accordingly: “This is mine; that is not. This is good for me; that is not. I like this; I hate that.” Attachment to the idea of self makes true clarity impossible.

But how might we define non-attachment? According to Chan, non-attachment means that when you face circumstances and deal with other people, there is no “I” in relation to whatever may appear in front of you. Things are as they are, vivid and clear. You can respond appropriately and give whatever is needed. Clear awareness of things as they are, in this state of selflessness, is what Chan calls wisdom. Giving whatever others may need with no thought of the self is what Chan calls compassion. Wisdom and compassion describe the awareness and function of the enlightened mind. In Chan, these two cannot be separated, and both depend on putting down the attachment to self.

As the Chan school evolved, two forms of practice developed, which correspond roughly to Bodhidharma’s two entries, the one through principle and the other through practice. The method of silent illumination is the specialty of the Caodong tradition, while the Linji tradition advocates the method of gongan and huatou. Both approaches can lead to enlightenment, the realisation of no-self.

The term Silent Illumination, or Mozhao, is associated with the Song dynasty master Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157), although the practice itself can be traced back at least as far as Bodhidharma and his concept of entry through principle. Five generations later, the great master Yongjia (665-713) wrote about “clarity and quiescence” in his Song of Enlightenment. Quiescence refers to the practice of silencing the mind, and clarity refers to contemplation, illuminating the mind with the light of awareness.

Hongzhi himself described the “silent sitting” as thus: “your body sits silently; your mind is quiescent, unmoving. This is a genuine effort in practice. Body and mind are at complete rest. The mouth is so still that moss grows around it. Grass sprouts from the tongue. Do this without ceasing, cleansing the mind until it gains the clarity of an autumn pool, bright as the moon illuminating the evening sky.”

In another place, Hongzhi said, “In the silent sitting, whatever realm may appear, the mind is very clear to all the details, yet everything is where it originally is, in its own place. The mind stays on one thought for ten thousand years, yet does not dwell on any form, inside or outside.”

To understand Silent Illumination C’han, it is important to understand that while there are no thoughts, the mind is still very clear, very aware. Both the silence and the illumination must be there. According to Hongzhi, when there is nothing going on in one’s mind, one is aware that nothing is happening. If one is not aware, this is just Chan sickness, not the state of Chan. So in this state, the mind is transparent. In a sense, it is not completely accurate to say that there is nothing present, because the transparent mind is there. But it is accurate in the sense that nothing can become an attachment or obstruction. In this state, the mind is without form or feature. Power is present, but its function is to fill the mind with illumination, like the sun shining everywhere. Hence, silent illumination is the practice in which there is nothing moving, but the mind is bright and illuminating.

A gongan is a story of an incident between a master and one or more disciples that involves an understanding or experience of the enlightened mind. The incident usually, but not always, involves dialogue. When the incident is remembered and recorded, it becomes a “public case,” which is the literal meaning of the term. Often what makes the incident worth recording is that, as the result of the interchange, a disciple had an awakening, an experience of enlightenment.

Master Zhaozhou was asked by a monk, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” The master replied, “Wu,” meaning nothing. This is a basic gongan, possibly the most famous on record. Here is another gongan, also involving Zhaozhou. Zhaozhou had a disciple who met an old woman and asked her, “how do I get to Mt. Tai?” She said, “Just keep going!” As the monk started off, he heard the old woman remark, “He really went!” Afterwards, the disciple mentioned this to Zhaozhou, who said, “I think I will go over there and see for myself” When he met the old woman, Zhaozhou asked the same question and she gave the same response: “Just keep going!” As Zhaozhou started off he heard the old lady said as she had last time, “He really went!” When Zhaozhou returned, he said to the assembly, “I have seen through that old woman!” What did Zhaozhou find out about that old woman? What is the meaning of this lengthy and obscure gongan?

Around the time of the Song dynasty (960-1276), Chan Masters began using recorded gongans as a subject of meditation for their disciples. The practitioner was required to investigate the meaning of the historical gongan. To penetrate the meaning of the gongan, the student has to abandon knowledge, experience, and reasoning, since the answer is not accessible by these methods. The student must find the answer by can (pronounced:tsan) gongan, or “investigating the gongan.” This requires sweeping from consciousness everything but the gongan, eventually generating the “doubt sensation,” which is a strong sensation of wonder and an intense desire to know the meaning of the gongan.

Closely related, but not identical to, the gongan is the huatou. A huatou–literally, “head of a spoken word”–is a question that a practitioner asks himself or herself. “What is Wu?” and “Who am I?” are commonly used huatous. In the huatou practice, one devotes one full attention to repeating the question incessantly. The gong an and the huatou methods are similar in that the practitioner tries to arouse the great doubt sensation in order to eventually shatter it and awaken to enlightenment.

Chan Master Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163), one of the greatest advocates of huatou practice, maintained that sitting meditation is necessary to settle the wandering mind before a student can effectively use a gong an or huatou. A scattered mind lacks the focus or energy necessary to generate the great doubt, so in training my students, I first give them a method to unify the scattered mind. Once the student’s mind is stable and concentrated, the application of gongan or huatou may cause the great doubt to rise. This doubt is not the ordinary doubt of questioning the truth of an assertion. It is the fundamental uncertainty, the existential dilemma, that underlies all of our experiences–the question of who we are and the meaning of life and death. Because the question inherent in the gongan or huatou cannot be resolved by logic, the practitioner must continually return to the question, nurturing the “doubt mass” until it is like a “hot ball of iron stuck in his throat.” If the practitioner can persist and keep the energy from dissipating, the doubt mass will eventually disappear in an explosion that can wipe away all doubt from the mind, leaving nothing but the mind’s original nature, or enlightenment.

It is also possible, and perhaps more likely, that the explosion will lack sufficient energy to completely cleanse the mind of attachment. Even as great a master as Dahui did not penetrate sufficiently in his first explosive experience. His teacher Yuanwu (1063-1135) told him, “You have died, but you have come back to life.” His enlightenment was confirmed on his second experience.

Therefore, it is very important to have a reliable Shifu, or teacher, guiding one through all stages of practice. At the outset, attempting to generate the great doubt before the mind is sufficiently stable would, at best, be useless and, at worst, give rise to a lot of anxiety. And finally, any experience one has as a result of the practice must be confirmed by an adept master. Only a genuine master will know the difference between a true and a false enlightenment.

The practice of gongan and huatou is an aggressive, explosive approach toward enlightenment; the practice of silent illumination is a more peaceful way. Both, however, require the same foundation: a stable and unified mind. And both have the same purpose: the realisation of the nature of mind, which is the nature of emptiness, Buddha-nature, wisdom and enlightenment.

Ven Sheng Yen 104.

I remember when I was at the side of my guru, the Wish-fulfilling Jewel Thupga Rinpoche (Khenchen Thubten Chopel), practitioners with extraordinary wisdom and pure precepts were as numerous as the stars in heaven. However, quite a few of them have since fallen into a disgraceful state. On the contrary, those who had impure precepts and simpler intellect have since become great and meritorious masters.

As I reflect on these changes over time, it became apparent that even if we possess wisdom and merits in the present, they are not permanent and we should not feel a sense of superiority and dismiss others because of our achievements.

— His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche

Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche (法王如意宝晋美彭措) 52.

佛教依业轮回说
演培法师

众生生命不断在世界舞台出现,而且每一现实生命,都是秉承过去生命继续而来,绝对没有那个生命是突然出现的,所以佛教特别说明轮回这一事实。不承认有过去的现实论者,经常提出这样的质疑:你们为什么确信有过去的生命?解答这问题是很简单:佛教的教主释迦牟尼,所以确信现实生命是由过去生命而来,并不是如一般的推论得知,而是凭着他的透视力、超常力、纯净力、澈见众生从这生存界结束其生命,而在另一生存界又有他的新生命出现;同时清楚的看到各个生命,不论是卑下的,或是尊贵的,不论是丑陋的,或是端严的,不论是受伤的,或是喜乐的,不论是聪敏的,或是愚蠢的,都是依照他们各自的行为而来,并不是由什么大力者为之安排,所以佛说依业而有生命的轮回。

佛是一位圣中的大圣,不提出一个论题来谈便罢,如提出什么论题来谈,那必然是真实可靠的,决不会说谎欺骗世人。不但佛陀有超常力,对事实看得很清楚,就是从佛学习的佛子,依佛指示的如法实践,也会得到如佛所有的超常智力,深深的发现确有过去世,坚信每个现在的生命,都由过去的生命而来,亲自所经验到的事实,别人尽管可以存疑,自己不能对之不信,又不能不说轮回是有,所以轮回说,在佛法中是确信无疑的,而且唯有深信轮回,才能成为真正佛子,如对轮回信不过去,难成一个具有正见的佛子!

进一步说,不但大圣佛陀及其弟子,具有这种超常透视力,就是其他的宗教学者,甚至不论什么人,只要稍为具有一些定力,就可具有这种超常力。佛经中所介绍的印度仙人,很多是具有这种精神力的,实际在佛还未出现人间前,印度早就有了这种突出的人,佛从来没有说只有我一人具有这种能力。其他还有智慧较高的人,虽不具有超常透视力,不能亲眼见到这些事实,但是依于联想的法则,亦能显露过去生中的记忆,并清楚的记得前生所有的生活片段。这从世界各国的新闻报导,已经得到证实,过去本来不信的,现在对于轮回已有了深信。

现实生命是由过去生命而来,不论从那方面说,都是不可不信的,原因每个生命的本身,创造各种不同的业力,在没有感果或对治以前,必然有种潜在的功能保留下来。保留下来的潜在功能,有股力量推动吾人,继续感受新的生命,所以人类以及其他各类有情,绝对不是这个生命结束,而就什么都没有了,必然还有新的生命继续而来。可见有情在未解脱以前,从过去到现在,由现在往未来,其生命总是不断在相续的。原因就是在每个生命历程中,有情的身心总是在活动着的,以此活动所造成的或善或恶的业力,为开拓未来新生命的动因!

众生“在不断的身心活动中,有无数的业力增长或消灭。这些业力,由于性质不同,成为一系一系的,一系一系中又是一类一类的。如五趣果报,即有人业、天业、地狱业、畜生业、饿鬼业。而每一趣业中,又有种种差别”。是以有情出现在任何一趣中,其生命的苦乐怎样,完全是由业力之所左右。以人类生命说:吾人今生所遭遇的是祸是福,固由自己所创造的业力而得的结果,至未来新生命所感受的是苦是乐,同样是由自己现在身心活动所创造的业力而来,于其中间绝对没有一个什么掌握极为无上权柄的大力者,以为吾人生命作这样那样的安排。

有情生命确是常常在相续的,但相续而来的各个生命,是不是同在一舞台上出现?不!出现的舞台有天、人、饿鬼、畜生、地狱的五类,究在那个舞台出现,要看各个生命所造的业力如何加以决定。且就人类说:吾人生命结束后,究到那一趣中受生,不是什么人或神,可以为你决定的,而是随你自己所造的业力,趣向于所要趣的某个舞台。如你所造的是善业,那就趣向于人天趣中受生,如你所造的是恶业,那就趣向于三恶趣中受生。证知有情的生命果报体,完全是由各自所造的业力所感。“所谓轮回五趣,不是按着一定的层次,今生生命出现在这儿,来生生命出现在那儿,而是显示生命的上升或下降,转来转去的,不出这范围。有时连续的来这人间,有时经常的处在地狱,没有一定的”。正因如此,所以劝导人向上向善,免得将来出生到不理想不美满的恶趣中去。

众生的生命出现在好坏不同的舞台上,因而有时出现在人间舞台,有时出现在地狱舞台,乃至出现在其他的天趣舞台等,不能决定出现在那个舞台,原因在于自己不能作主,而是全凭自己所造业力之所指挥的,业力指挥你来这现实人间舞台,你就得到这人间舞台表演为人的角色,业力指挥你登上畜生的舞台,你就得到畜生舞台表演各种不同畜生的角色。当你在人间舞台表演以后,指挥你的业力继续指挥你到天堂的舞台,表演像帝王那样的高贵角色,你也得同样的去表演一个长时期。生命就是这样生了又死、死了又生的转换各个不同的舞台,表演各种不同的角色。如是不同生命的角色,在各个不同舞台的表演,是不一不异,不断不常的,因而使诸众生感到生命非常的奥秘,不能明见自己究是怎样的一个角色,只好随生命的表演而表演,直至生命达到解放为止!

世人对生命在各舞台不断上演各个不同角色,有感到怀疑的,有予以否定的,认为我们所知道的,只有这个现实生命,那里还有生命以新的姿态上演?所以对佛*轮回说,总是不肯予以信受,理由就是不信者不能见到,你们也不能拿出事实给我们看,要我们如何信受得了?当然,人与畜生是明白可见的,无人可以怀疑,至于鬼,中国向说“人死为鬼”,或者有人碰到过鬼,或者鬼屋中有鬼作祟,或有梦到死去的亲人,所以对鬼也还可以信得过去,至于天堂与地狱,虽是苦乐两极的地方,但毕竟没有人看到过,是不是真的有地狱与天堂,那就很难令人生信。为此,不知阻碍了多少人进入佛门。

关于天堂与地狱的问题,印顺大师在“六道轮回的说明”一文中说:“经常有人问我:地狱到底有没有?天堂究竟在那里?天堂与地狱,一般人限于知识与能力,总多少抱着将信将疑的态度。其实,这可说是宗教界,甚至一般人的共同看法”。接着对于地狱的说明:“如果你们问我:‘地狱有没?’我敢肯定的说:‘是有的。’‘在那里?’‘地狱在地层下,也就是地球的中心。’原来,堕地狱的方式有二种:一是活生生的陷身地狱;一是死了以后才堕地狱。死后堕地狱的情形,我们的肉眼不能明白看到;可是现生落地狱的,大家都会知道的。我想举两个事实来证明:一、佛经说:佛有一个弟子,名叫提婆达多。他叛教害佛,结果,地面裂开,火从地中冒出,他就头下脚上的,遭到现身堕地狱的苦报。二、基督教的旧约里说:摩西所领导的以色列人,其中有个因为‘藐视耶和华’、‘他们脚下的地就开了口’,‘都活活的堕落阴间’。这与佛教所说的,岂不同一情形?’宗教界特别是佛教,肯定地狱是有,怎能因一般人不见而予否定?”

其次所谓天堂,印顺大师在文中说:“天,这是六道中最优胜的一类。佛分天道为三界二十八天,依所修的功德浅深,而生天的也就有高低。生天的,不管是身相、寿命、快乐、禅定,都是极胜妙的。有帝国形态的,最高的是大梵天(耶和华上帝),成为独一无二的主。比他更高超的,还有十九天。但无论怎样的高妙,总是逃不了堕落又升进,升进又堕落的轮回。”佛教与基督教以及其他宗教,虽同样的说有天堂,但一般宗教以为天堂已经究竟圆满,但佛教说天堂,只是五趣或六道之一,到了业力穷尽时,仍要堕落到受苦的环境中去。古德说:“纵饶生入非非想,不免轮回六趣来。”所以天堂不是最极理想的地方,而佛法不鼓励人们求生天堂!

或说理论上虽然讲得很不错,但事实上不能给我人看到,要我们相信是很难的!不错,我们现在拿不出事实给大家看,但如前说,且有超常透视力的佛陀,以及其他同样得到这个透视力的,确是有所见而这样主张的,并不是想当然的作如此说。我们如能依于佛法所说而行,得到如佛等所得到的超常透视力,同样会看到各个不同的生命,本于各自不同的业力,在各个不同的舞台,扮演各种不同的角色。到了这个时候,要你不信轮回,你也不会不信,因为这是亲眼所见的,不信这个还信什么?

生命在各个不同舞台继续出现,只是以理论说明,在不信者听来,不但难以了解其中的意趣,而且同样不肯接受轮回说。经说:“诸有智者要以譬喻而得开解。”现在不妨举“薪尽火相传”譬喻显示,使诸不信者不得不接受这一事实的说明。我在“成佛之道偈颂讲记”中说:“此喻由庄子所说的‘薪传也,不知其尽也’的话而来。如堆积一捆柴薪在那儿燃烧,我们明显看到的现象;当这枝柴薪在燃烧发光时,其他的柴薪似还没有烧到,但当燃烧着的一枝柴薪快要烧完,而火也快要熄灭时,立刻就又燃烧另枝柴薪,使火复大起来而发光。像这样一薪接着一薪的燃烧,是我们所看到的事实。虽说‘前薪不是后薪,后火也不是前火,而后火不能不说由于前薪的火而来’。在以柴薪作为燃料的时代,相信任何人都曾见过这一事实,自然会认为此说是对的。”

以喻合法说:当这一生命在此舞台上表演,到了支持它的力量(业)穷尽决定停演时,潜在的其他业力,经过爱水的滋润,开始构成另一新的生命,到不同的舞台继续表演,看来“后一新的生命不是前一旧的生命,前后两生命似有不同的组织,因而一般以为它们没有什么关系,殊不知后一生命是依前一生命所潜在业力而来,不能说是完全无关”。具有情识活动的生命,就是这样一生接着一生的,展转于各个不同的舞台,表演自己所当担任的角色,从来没有停止过演员的身分,不过,有时扮演主要的角色,有时只是做做丑角而已。

印顺大师在“成佛之道”长行中说:“现在再以薪火相传来比喻:火烧物时,发为熊熊的火光,这如生命的显现活动。等到烧完了,发光的火焰没有了;这等于一期生命的结束,死亡。火熄了,热灰也似乎冷了,如遇到易燃的物件,加上微风的吹拂,又会‘死灰复燃’起来,又重新发出熊熊的火光;这等于因缘和合时,过去的业力,又会引发一新的生命。死灰复燃的火光,不是前火,而与前火有着不可分离的关系;这如后生不是前生,而后生与前生的行业有关。从前火到后火,时间上可以有一间隔;这如后生与前生间,时间与空间,都不妨有距离的。不过,这到底是比喻而已。如约佛法来说,过去了的业力,在如幻的法性空中,本不可说有时空的间隔,只要因缘和合(如人生,要有父精母血的和合等),就能在另一时间,另一空间,忽然的引发一新生命——身心活动的又一新开始。”本此比喻的说明,能够仍不相信轮回这一事实吗?佛教徒固当相信轮回,一般世人亦应相信轮回真实不虚!果能坚信依业而有轮回,对于人生,不但不会悲观,亦不会过分乐观,因在业光芒中,使人清楚的看到:人生毕竟是不永恒、不美满、不自由、不究竟,自然不会造诸恶业,避免未来感受极大的苦果。对业及依业而有的轮回,如能真实的认识正确,不但不会再为自己创造陷阱,而且逐渐的悟达人生的真谛,战胜愚昧与业感,发现涅槃界的光辉,向涅槃的光辉迈进!

佛教轮回说特色

轮回这一个问题,虽为世界各国,各大宗教家,各派哲学家,甚至各个不同类别的学者,所一致谈论到,且被认为事实,但佛教轮回说,有它一大特色,与其他轮回说,确有不同地方。如前论到各个轮回说中,不是说有一个实在的灵魂,就是说有实在的我,或说为大力者所安排。而我实际就是固定性的灵魂,并不是两个不同的东西。且以奥义书所说为代表:他们认为生命在生死中轮回,是以我为主体的灵魂,死此生彼,轮回不息。当这个生命体存在时,我就寄存在这个生命体中,到了这个生命告一段落时,我就离开这个生命体,立刻又去附在另个生命体上。好像“尺蠖”这个小动物,其行先屈后伸,如人布手知尺之状,所以叫做“尺蠖”。当它行动时,从这一树枝的尖端,再去捕捉另一树枝的尖端,在两树枝的中间决不落空,往还两棵树枝,看来好像是有两个,实际就是一个“尺蠖”,如以为有两个,那是认识错误。我这东西也是如此,脱出了这个生命体,立即转到新生命体上,前后生命的形态,看来尽管有不同,但为轮回主体者,仍旧是这个我。他们所以非要说有一个前后一致的实在我,因在他们看来,没有这实在我,轮回无以建立,所以非要有个我为轮回的主体不可!

可是佛教虽也说有情生命的轮回,但根本不承认有个我或灵魂,在各个不同的舞台上转来转去,因为一般宗教及哲学所说的我,根本就没有的,怎可作为轮回的主体?然则有情生命怎样在轮回的?纯粹是依因果法则从业而受果的。由于前生的业,引生现在的果报,由于现在的业,招感未来的果报。只要业力一日存在,生命也就一日相继不断。业力有善恶的分别,果报也就有苦乐的差异。如此展开了生死轮回的思想。即不承认有个神我作轮回的主体,亦不承认有身心以外的大力者。

印顺大师在佛法概论对此说得非常好:“约发现的外表说,从一身心系而移转到另一身心系,约深隐的内在说,从一业系而移转到另一业系。如流水的波波相次、如灯柱的焰焰相续;诸行无常的生死流转,绝非外道的流转说可比!”因此,佛教的业感轮回说,决不承认有个固定的我,在生死舞台上转来转去,扮演各个不同的角色!

要知一般宗教及哲学所说的我,具有永恒性,根本不可在各个生命舞台上转动,怎可依之作为轮回的主体?佛法有轮回说,而不承认有实在的轮回主体,亦即否定永恒性的我与轮回有什么关联,这是执有实在自我的学者所最难以理解的。对此,不得不略为说明。阿含经说:“无作者而有果报”,明显的告诉我们,实有自体的作作者是没有的,但是业与果报,不但是有,而且丝毫不爽。维摩经也说:“无我无受无作者,善恶之业亦不亡。”这完全针对外道主张有个神我说的。因为佛陀用因缘生灭的无我学说,阐明业与轮回的关系,当然不需要有个我或灵魂。

世间一般宗教及各种哲学,认为生死轮回的建立,必要有个实在的神我或灵魂,为作作者,受受者始可,否则根本谈不上什么轮回。佛法是彻底主张无我的,不但不承认有作作者,亦不承认有个实有轮回的主体。轮回主体虽说没有,但业及果报不能说没有,如业及果报亦没有,那还谈什么轮回?众生为什么在生死中轮回?就是由于执着有个实有自我,依此虚妄的实有自我,生起种种不同的烦恼,造诸种种的有漏业,始在生死中生命相续,因果相续,无有穷尽的轮回不息。如欲扭转轮回趣向解脱,非得击破我执不可,所以佛法特别重视无我。是常是一的实有自我,固然不可说有,但假名的轮回,仍得要承认的。

在轮回中的业及果报,虽说是假名无实而幻有的,但业果的实自性,仍是不可得的,如以为业及果报是实有的,同样不能说明轮回,因为实有自体的东西,绝对是不可转动的,怎可在生死舞台上转来转去?不特实有的东西,不可能成立轮回,就是佛弟子中,或说诸行轮回流动,或说有情轮迥流转,亦为无自性空者所不承认,因为诸行或有情,如执有实在自性,不论说它是常,或者说它无常,皆不能成立生死轮回的往来。要知佛法虽主张空,虽说我不可得,但轮回是可建立的,而且唯有空无我,方能真正的建立轮回。因为一切虽是无自性空,生命内在的实我不可得,但缘起的业力并没有失去,到了因缘成熟时,就会感所应得果,所以可建立缘起如幻的生死轮回,亦即生死流转的生命之流,由业推动会滚滚不停的相续下去!

轮回的事实证明

生命在生死中轮回,尽管宗教家、哲学家、科学家,甚至其他的各类学者,都言之凿凿的说有这事实,不信者总以为是无稽之谈,认为这现实生命结束,就从这世界舞台消失,根本没有什么新的生命再来,又怎么可说轮回不息?因而与人谈到轮回,一般世俗人们,特别自以为新时代人物,或是断灭论的唯物论者,不是不信掉头而去,就是要你拿出事实。如诸唯物论者,他们大脑小脑装满了物质,不论谈什么论题,总是从唯物的立场去看,以致什么都会否定。如有唯物者说:所谓轮回因果,根本没有这么一回事,不过使无知的人民,或被压迫的大众,趣于消极的一种麻醉剂。这真是丧心病狂的颠倒错乱之说!

至于世人所以不信轮回,最大原因,就是自己对前生的事并不记得,假定这现实生命是由前生来的,我们对前生的事,为什么没有一点印象?或为什么完全不能记得?关于这问题,印顺大师在佛法概论第七章中说:“由于身心的一度崩溃,根身与情识相离而不再起,一般多不能记忆前生的经历,弄得生不知所来,死不知所去。所以三世业感说,每难以为一般所信受。然而不能记忆,并不即是没有。如蒙古及中亚细亚民族,他们的古代以及中古时代的政治情况,大多忘却。然从我国史籍所说,他们确曾有过怎样的经历。民族的延续,尚且会因一度没落而忘记得一干二净,何况身心的一度崩溃?何况死时曾陷于闷绝的情态?何况为另一业系所发展的新生?”虽多数人不记得自己前生的事,但有少数人对自己前生的事,还能记得清清楚楚,所以对于轮回,应该确信是有,不可少有怀疑!

有人要讲轮回者拿出事实来,其实这在世间有的是,世界各国学者,对此多有所说,问题仍在看你肯不肯信。如最重事实的科学家、举出轮回的事实很多,难道科学家也会欺骗世人吗?如我们经常遇到有些从未见过的人,看来心里老是觉得很相熟,好像在什么地方见过。有生在德国,长于瑞士的有名作家费孝克,是公元一七七一至一八四八年间的人。他说在磁希堡一个所熟悉的家庭中,与该家中做工的一个女裁缝,从来没有见过面,但是看来好像很相熟,而且还能记出他的一段秘密,人们听我说他秘密事情,不但用奇异的眼光看我,而且以为我与他是相识,决不相信我与他没有一面之缘。这种情形,除了说明他们的过去关系,还有什么更好的说明?轮回又怎能不信?

又如有人到从未到过的地方去观光,忽然感到这地方很熟悉,好像什么时候曾经来过。出生于公元一八一二至一八七○之间的狄更斯大文学家,曾经说有这样一个事实:一天太阳快要落山,所骑的马亦已休息,我一个人独自出外走走,看看这儿自然风景。当我走到一个狭窄的郊野,突然感到这里一切的一切,都是非常的熟悉,不论什么东西映入我的眼帘,都好像是在什么地方见过。如不远的一座小桥,桥上有几个农家少女,正在凭栏若有所思,而远处是个小小的山谷。这时暮色逐渐苍茫,黑暗开始吞食大地。像这样一个地方,在我来说太熟悉,于是我的血液奔腾,我的情绪更加激动!我的前生倘使曾经被人谋杀,那我相信没有比这块土地更为真实,于是我对此地,无论怎样不能忘怀!前生假定没有到过,现在为什么感到这样逼真?当知这都是轮回转生最好的证明,怎能不信轮回?.

有的叙述自己前生的事,如数家珍的说得逼真,听者最初当然不会相信,但是经过实地调查,知道确有这样的事,并不是虚构惑人的。如美国有位天才文学家,名叫冷熟,是一八七六至一九一六年间的人。他曾这样向人说:在我的一生中,常常觉得在过别的时代,和在别个地方。从未嗫嚅地说过自己曾经做过国王,但清楚记得确曾是个王子。不特如此,还记得我曾是个奴隶,又曾是个奴隶的儿子,颈上并且戴着铁枷。我在不断地成长,与所有人是一样的。成长的起点,不是从呱呱堕地开始,也不是从母亲怀孕开始。生长了几千几万年,在过去数不清的岁月中,就在不断地滋长、壮大。在已逝去的年光中,我可能曾经是个女人,也曾养育过自己的孩子。不特过去如此,就是未来我还会再次诞生到这人间来,而且不是一次,是一次又一次的重回人生,直至永远无有尽期!这与佛法所说的轮回,不是极为一致吗?佛法说众生在生死中流转,如投生到人间,有时为男子,有时为女人,在未获得生命解放以前,总是这样延续着,汝有终止的时期!

上面略举欧美两三位学者所说的轮回事实,而且都是有知识学问的人所说,并不是愚夫愚妇的无稽之谈,而像这样说的学者还有很多,不想多所引述,现在转过头来,再举亚洲宗教学人所说轮回事实,以证轮回的真实不虚。

亚洲最信轮回说的,无过为宗教摇篮的印度。如一九二六年十月十二日,出生新德里的商蒂得伟,在她四岁时就能说出离新德里百余里路满特拉前世的事。经过是这样的:她的原来丈夫是个布商,所住的地方是黄色的。稍后她又告诉她的叔祖父,说她前生丈夫是克打斯萧卑。而她的叔祖父又将她的事,转告已退休的校长勒那,勒那访问她时,她清楚的说出前夫的住址。为了证实此事,勒那校长特地写信给她的前夫,问问是不是这么一回事。她的前夫竟然回信来,证实商蒂得伟所说的若干事实。同时其前夫,请住在新德里的表兄,专程往访这个女孩。女孩虽从来没有见过来访的人,但一眼就认出他是前夫的亲戚。不论他的表兄提出什么事情问她,她都能如实的一一予以答复,使得来问她的人,不能不信这是事实。后来她的前夫和现在妻子以及前妻十岁大的儿子,来到新德里看她,她立即认出他是前夫,问及前妻的一些私事,女孩都能一一的确答。到了这个时候,前夫不能不承认她曾是自己妻子。像这样时、地、人,都说得清清楚楚,对于轮回这一事实,还能不相信吗?还可说是迷信吗?

不特印度有此事实,位于东南亚中南半岛西部缅甸,也发生过有关轮回的事实:话说在缅甸某个小村庄里,有对双胞胎的兄弟出世,大的叫做毛义,小的叫做毛乃。当他们出生时,刚巧邻村有对夫妇,同时同刻神秘死亡,既不是自然的离开人世,亦不是发生什么意外,大家都在对这议论纷纷。可是最使人感到惊奇的,就是当一对夫妇死时,也就是双胞胎兄弟出生时。最初并没有什么人予以特别注意,但这对双胞胎兄弟,长到能够玩耍的时候,竟然互相称呼那对离奇去世的夫妇名字。这使得他们的父母,不得不觉得大吃一惊,进而追问他们兄弟是怎么回事。一对小兄弟毫无迟疑的说出前生是一对夫妇,并且仔细形容他们过去所住的新房子,又还说出有关亲戚是些什么人,最巧的就是他们所说出的村名,正是发生离奇去世夫妇所住的村庄。于是他们父母就带双胞兄弟到邻村去,看看究竟是怎么回事,结果,证实他们所说的全是事实,没有一丝一毫的差错。这不是他们父母故作无稽之谈,而是经过当地一位警察局长及一位英籍官员所证实的。

诸如此类的事实,发生在各地的很多,就以我们中国说,同样是有的。如春渚纪闻卷六中说:钱塘西湖寿星寺有位老僧说:苏东坡来此做官一百日,始与参寥子同登本寺丈室,就对参寥子说:我生平从来没有到过这个地方,可是今我来此所见,好像都是我素来所经历者,如从这儿上去忏堂还有九十二级。遣人去数一数,果如东坡所言。到此东坡又对参寥子说:我前身是此山中的僧人,现在寺中的出家人,都是我的法属。从东坡的自述,可知他在过去曾经做过出家人。这不是轮回是什么?是以,不能因为自己没有遇到过,或是事情没有在自己身上出现,就对轮回怀疑而不承认。当知世间没有那么多人,无事虚构事实以骗人的,所以我们应信他人所说,确信轮回是有。

生命在生死中不断轮回,不是单行道,人死仍然为人,猪马牛羊仍为猪马牛羊,而是展转在各舞台上出现的。因为人畜都不过是善道或恶道之一,有时畜类可以上生为人,有时人类亦会下堕为畜。由人而变为畜的固然很多;由畜而来此间做人的亦不少。现举佛在杂宝藏经所说为例,可以证知确为事实:

时南天竺有两个比丘,听说祗夜多有很大的威德,特到罽宾去参访他,快要到他所住的地方,看到一位比丘坐在树下,看来形体非常憔悴,蹲于灶前在那儿烧火。两个比丘向前请问他说:你认不认识祗夜多尊者?那个比丘回答说:我认识他,住在上面的第三窟中。两个比丘听后很欢喜的向山上走,走到第三窟处,所见到的比丘,就是刚才烧火的那位,不免感到相当的惊奇,心想难道这就是只夜多尊者?为了求得证实,就问那个比丘:“尊者有这样大的威德,为什么还要自己烧火?”尊者回答说:“我念过去受生死大苦时,我的头目手足,假使可以烧的,犹为众憎而用烧火,然后方才烧诸柴薪。”

时二比丘复又问言:“所说过去的生死大苦,其事究竟是怎样的,请尊者说给我们听,我们很乐意的听闻!”尊者坦白的这样答道:“我念过去五百世中,曾经生在狗中,常常困于饥渴,感到非常痛苦,只有在两个时辰中,可以得到饱吃一餐:一是遇到喝醉酒的人,将所食的吐在满地,我就可以获得一饱;一是遇到一对夫妇共同生活,丈夫到田中工作,妇就在家中作食,到妇人有事外出时,我就进屋盗用饭食。不意那个食器口小,头初虽已挤了进去,可是后来无法得出。虽然得到一饱,但是非常辛苦,直到其夫从田间工作回来,乃将我头剪断留于器中!”

二比丘听祗夜多说到过去生中的遭遇,于是深深厌恶生死而得须陀恒果。想想在生死中轮回,有那个没有做过畜生?又有那个没有在地狱中受过煎熬?或在天堂里享受过快乐?不说凡夫会在五趣中转来转去,就是佛在因中行菩萨道时,亦曾在畜类,或作六牙白象,或作金色鹿王,乃至其他飞禽走兽!

不特人死为狗,亦有人死受毒蛇身。如佛世时的王舍城,有位长者叫做贤面,家有不可计算财宝,但是悭贪嫉妒,从来没有施舍心,如有贫穷向他乞求,不特不给分文,而且恶口谩骂,因而命终以后,感受毒蛇之身,仍来守其财宝,如有人接近它,就会为其所害。为此,佛应频婆娑罗王请,感化毒蛇入佛钵中,蛇在钵中见诸人众,自觉非常惭愧,深厌此毒蛇身,命终生忉和天。享受天乐之余,心想怎会生天?即自运用天眼观察,发现原来是个蛇身,因为受到佛的感化,得生天上受诸快乐。由人而蛇,由蛇而生天,这不是轮回是什么?不信轮回如何解释此事?

不论从那方面说,轮回确实是有,吾人不可不信,切勿受进化论或唯物论的毒素思想所害,当知一个生命的受生,不是由什么大力者所主使,亦不是由什么进化而来,实由各自所造的业力所感。业是由心造的,形是由心转的。一个心肠极为恶毒的人,不说死后会变为蛇,就是现身变现亦有可能;一个心肠极为残暴的人,不说死后会变猛虎,就是现身变虎同样有其可能。是以生命究竟出现在怎样的舞台,完全是随业力的牵引。“是以佛说十二因缘,乃贯三世而论,前因必感后果,后果必有前因,善恶之报,祸福之临,乃属自作自受。”

后语

佛教依业而有的轮回说,有它的事实与理论的根据,不是任何人所能否定得了的,因为吾人的生命生存,并不只在这短短一期生命,依于业力的支持,无始无终的相续,如长江大河那样的延续不息!所以有情的生命,死后固不是没有,生前亦不是没有,前一生命刚刚结束,后一生命立即开始,所以像流水一样的成为生命之流!

佛教业感轮回说,要在说明生死流转因果内在的联系。在无限的生命流里,不论是处境的不同,或者是受用的不同,全是本于种种业的性质不同,是以有情的生命相续,实际就是业报的相续,所以业与生命轮回,有着极为密切的关系。因而业感轮回说的真正价值,在于自种业因,自收业果,涉于三世而成轮回,为最合理的因果规律。只要业力一日仍旧存在,生命现象就会一日不断。造业是感果的因,受报是造业的结果,所以吾人未来的苦痛或快乐,必须自己负起责任!

总之,佛法的轮回说,是以人为升沉的枢纽,一个取决于各人本身的行为,因而启示人们要自己掌握自己的命运,并且要人知道轮回是不理想的,一个有志学佛的人,应该立志扭转轮回,挣脱业力之网,截断生命之流,依于佛法正见,广修戒定慧行,完成生命解脱!像这样的理解轮回,不但不是消极忍受,而是积极的争取身心自由!最后我要向诸位说明的,就是佛法的轮回说,一方面说明这是不容忽视的事实,另方面说明当是业报定律不可免,但如能够依于佛陀的指示,经过一个相当时期的修持,必得获得生死大解脱,并不是完全无法挽救!愿诸位从崎岖黑暗的轮回路上,转过来走上光辉的解脱大道!

Ven Yen Pei (演培老和尚) 1.