During our study of the Dharma, often we contemplate on the life of human beings. In examining human life, Buddhism does not present the Dharma layer by layer. Rather, it offers different methods in teaching practitioners at different levels. For different people, the values and meanings of life are not the same. The Dharma teaching begins with the stage of basic learning, helping settle oneself with common and general experience and then exploring something deeper. As understanding of the Dharma goes deeper, one discovers that the meaning of life actually gets deeper and broader.
If you can write down your reflections in every stage of your Dharma study, and encourage yourself to often read Dharma books and continue contemplating, maybe ten years from now, when you look back at your writings, you may have a feeling of “how naïve I was” in the past! Yet, at the time of writing, you can feel “Really, it is and should be so”. After all, we are all in the process of learning and growing; and in every phase, our experiences and perceptions will be different. We continue to cultivate, improve and elevate our mind towards purity and a wholesome state of mind.
We must accept this fact — Regardless of what method others use in Buddhist study, it is only based on the conditions of that person at that particular time. To that person, a certain method may be the best at that time. Do not think that you are at a “higher” level and therefore can measure others in comparison to your own “attainment”. We can help others by encouraging them not to stop studying but to do better and continuously improve.
We also need to have the aspiration to elevate and improve ourselves, not studying or practicing only in formality or on the surface. We must truly go deep within and cultivate and purify the mind. Actually the key in practice is the mind. Therefore, try with a sincere, straightforward, and pure mind in Dharma study. A straightforward mind means to follow the true teachings in our actions.
During the journey of study and practice, we ought to reflect constantly, practice what we learned with the most sincere and simplest mind. Very often we are unable to apply the teachings well, that is because our mind is covered by dust of deluded thinking! At the beginning, we may pay much attention to the practice on the external or surface. The Dharma is well taught, yet often we do not really follow it in our actions. Sometimes we do not like others to see that, so we try to cover it and pretend otherwise; or we are not doing so well but wish for others to think we are doing really well. This is the problem.
If we are not able yet to do very well and honestly let people know our limitations, we should accept that fact with peace of mind. By doing so, at least mentally, we have cleared out some of the coverings or unnecessary obstacles. As long we can honestly face our problems and take necessary steps in correcting and adjusting our behaviors, then the problem can be solved.
The straightforward or honest mind is the field of practice! Truly, only when we study and practice the teachings of the Dharma with the most sincere and purest mind, are we able to improve ourselves at the innermost level. Therefore, we must practice according to a more or less specific method and allow the purification and elevation of our mind to function. In making the effort, we should go deep within and look at our own mind, truly examine what our serious vexations are and which ones are critical, etc. We should not let the vexations act out, but also should not try to hide or cover them. Once we have accepted our own vexations, we can do our best to change and improve. When the most critical vexation is eliminated, it will become easier for us to apply the method of Chan practice.
Even if your understanding of the Dharma is deeper than others or you progress faster in practice than others, do not measure others by your own standards. We should encourage others to create more favorable conditions for learning, or help them find the reasons for their difficulties and allow them to improve according to their conditions. By the same token, we should also establish our practice based on our own conditions, continuously go deeper and reflect within, examine ourselves with sincere and pure mind to see through layers and layers of vexations, and cleanse them step by step to reach the purity of the mind and ultimately liberation.
(Teachings during retreat at Ipoh, Malaysia, Originally published in Chinese by Fa Lu Yuen Publications, 1998)