THE MEANING OF PRACTICE
By Venerable Guren Martin
The Four Wisdoms --Offering, Tenderness (Kind Speech), Benevolence, and Sympathy (Identification) --are the ways that we can help others, and these are the practices of a bodhisattva.
Offering means not to covet. Although it is true that, in essence, nothing belongs to self, this does not prevent us from giving offerings. The size of the offering is of no concern, it is the sincerity with which it is given that is important. Therefore, one should be willing to share even a phrase or a verse of the teaching, for this becomes a seed of good in both this life and the next. Similarly, the offering of a single coin or a blade of grass can cause the arising of good, for the teaching itself is the treasure, and the true treasure is the teaching. There have been people who, willingly gave their help to others seeking no reward. Supplying a ferry and building a bridge are both acts of offering. And all forms of industry are offerings if they benefit others.
To behold all beings with the eye of compassion, and to speak to them kindly is the meaning of tenderness. If one would understand tenderness, one must speak to others thinking that all living beings are one's own children. By praising people who are virtuous, and feeling sorry for people who are not virtuous, our enemies become our friends. And people who are our friends have their friendship strengthened. This is all through the power of tenderness. Whenever one speaks kindly to another, their face brightens and their heart is warmed. An even deeper impression is made when hearing kind words spoken about oneself in one's absence. Tenderness can have a revolutionary impact on others.
Benevolence means to devise ways of benefiting others, no matter what their social position. Those who aided the helpless tortoise or the injured sparrow did not expect any reward for their assistance. They simply acted out of their feelings of benevolence. Foolish people believe that their own interests will suffer if they put the benefit of others first. But this is untrue. Benevolence is all-encompassing, equally benefiting oneself and others.
Sympathy (Identification) means non-differentiation, to make no distinction between self and others. Take for example, the fact that the Buddha appeared in the human world in the form of a human being. Sympathy does not distinguish between self and others. Sympathy is like the sea in that it never refuses water from whatever source it may come, all waters may gather and form the sea. Quietly reflect on the fact that these teachings are the practices of a Bodhisattva. Do not treat them lightly. Venerate and respect their merit, which is able to save all beings, enabling them to cross over to the other shore.1
There are the words, "Each and every person is abundantly endowed with the Dharma (Truth). However, without practice it will not be manifested. Without enlightenment it will not be obtained." These are the words of Zen Master Eihei Dogen. Each and every person, that is self and others, are abundantly endowed with the Truth. Earnestly practising the Way, this can be clarified. Self and others abundantly endowed with Truth, this can be realized.
The Way has been explained as the Way of Wisdom. This is to learn from one's life. Being careful and sincere in one's daily life. Learning from one's daily life and endeavouring not to make the same mistake twice. It is also to try and live each year without regret.
The Way of Diligent Progress. This is to be diligent in our life, making effort in a right direction. It is to use time. We life in a world of cause and effect. Cause, condition, and effect. Past cause has created our present result, our present condition. Present cause will create our future result, our future condition. Accordingly, we should be diligent, living wisely in the present, carefully, quietly, and not wasting time. We have to make our life.
The Way of Forbearance. Quite often in life things do not turn out just as we would like them to. Apart from our own ideas, different from our own opinions. These are the terms of the world that we live in. Things as they are. So, it is necessary that we be flexible in mind, resilient, and that we have our feet firmly planted in the Way of Forbearance. It is said that forbearance is the root of existence.
The Way of Concentration of Mind, or Meditation. This is when we are working, we sincerely work. Being one with the activity. Sincerely, carefully, and quietly living our life. And in times of quiet, to be one with the quiet. It has also been explained as quietly thinking.
The Way of Offering. To give oneself in service, in our work, in our daily life. Earnestly doing our best. Concerning doing our best, there is a case of a monk named Banzan. Banzan once went to the market-place, to the butcher's shop. The butcher was asked for some good meat, his best meat. The butcher replied, "It is all good meat." All the meat was good meat. All the meat was his best meat. This case is pointing to doing one's best. Always doing one's best. Whether we are an adult earnestly making a living, or if we are a student whole-heartedly studying.
The Way of Precepts. We live in this world with other people. There are conventions in society, and there are laws and regulations so that people can live together peacefully, and which prevent selfishness or selfish behaviour. We should not unnecessarily cause disturbance or cause trouble for other people. In Zen we have precepts. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not engage in improper sexual conduct. Do not lie. Do not indulge in intoxicating substances. Do not speak ill of others. Do not be proud of yourself and devalue others. Do not covet. Do not give way to anger. Do not defame the Three Treasures.
These six Ways can be guiding principles for our lives. Some principles are necessary in life.
Making the Vow to Benefit Life (People)
A central teaching in Zen Buddhism is that all phenomena arise through causation, through causal condition. Causal condition has been explained using the example of a seed. A seed is planted, and through the agency of various causal conditions, the sun, the rain, the soil, the wind, the seed grows into a plant. The world we live in is a concurrence of causal conditions. A combination or coming together of causal conditions. And things are always changing. We should endeavour to be one with causal conditions. For example, in the morning when the alarm rings to wake us, being at one with this condition we wake up. Then we wash our face, we take our breakfast, and earnestly we perform our daily activities. A baker would earnestly bake bread, a student would earnestly study for a future occupation. Similarly, when there is illness, the condition of illness, being one with illness, we make effort to recover. And if we have a doubt, we can be one with doubt. If we have a problem, we can be one with the problem. Sincerely, carefully, and quietly be one with the problem. Problems can be the seeds of solutions. Cause and effect. It is not to be rash or careless. Living like this, all things will teach us. All things will enlighten us. All things are important.
There are the words, "All the earth is medicine. The universe is the highway, vast and wide." So, sincerely, carefully, and politely we should live our lives. And we should go straight ahead.1
And we should understand that in life there are seasons. There are cold times in life. That is, there are times of hardship, times of adversity in life. And they may continue for years. The important thing with adversity is not to lose to adversity. Fortunately, in Canada, I hear the words, "Winning formula." Formula for winning. We should not lose to adversity, and during times of hardship we should endeavour to keep in the right way and not go astray. Even if we have to grit our teeth each morning upon rising. Gritting our teeth each morning in order to continue, we should do our best each day and refrain from being negligent
There are the words in Zen, concerning our life, "To lose our most precious thing." It happens in life that people will lose their most precious thing. However, when losing one's most precious thing, we have to continue earnestly, doing the best that we can. We have to be shrewd and diligent to exist in this world. On the other hand, we also have to be able to laugh and be a bit of a fool when things do not go as we would like them to.
A monk named Bokushu once said, "The real universe will give you thirty blows." Thirty blows. In Zen monasteries, in order to encourage people in their practice, in their life, people may receive blows with the awakening stick, while sitting. Moderate blows with a light stick on the soft of the shoulder for encouragement. "The real universe will give you thirty blows." It is not an easy matter to exist in this world. We do things at the risk of our lives. Our lives depend upon what we do in each moment.
There is a poem concerning adversity. The poem is --
Here 'the rain' refers to adversity, hardship in life. 'The soil' refers to us, people. 'Becomes firm' means to mature, to develop. So, the poem is saying that through hardship people mature. It may not be easy to accept adversity, to accept years of hardship. But it is necessary to endure these difficult times in life, diligently doing our best, and working in a right direction. Even if we are in an impasse. A situation which we seemingly cannot get out of. An impasse. Some people may be familiar with this condition, with these circumstances, being in an impasse. In relation to being in an impasse, there are the words of Zen Master Engo. Master Engo said, "When you have not penetrated it, it is like silver mountains and iron cliffs. When you have penetrated it, you find that you yourself are the silver mountains and iron cliffs."2 This is interesting, silver mountains and iron cliffs. An impasse.
Meeting an impasse, it is necessary to be one with this condition. Being this difficult circumstance, and while forbearing, doing the best that we can, diligence. Like this we will learn and we will mature during a cold season in life. And, there may be mistakes. We may make mistakes. Although there may be small mistakes, we should be careful not to make big mistakes. We have to learn from our mistakes. And we should endeavour to maintain our integrity according to time, place, and our position, or function.
In this world we live in, there are both good things and bad things. Of course, we should refrain from doing bad things. However, if we think that all bad things or all bad conditions will disappear and only good things remain, this will not be possible. This may not be the case. There are both good things and bad things. Good conditions and bad conditions, and we should be able to learn from them both.
Finally, there is a poem by the Zen priest, Ryokan --
This poem is about our life. Whether we understand or do not understand. A baker earnestly baking bread. A bus-driver earnestly driving a bus. A student earnestly studying. Fulfilling the law of the universe.