By Susan S.H. Kong

Translated by T.T. Kwan and H.F.Jang


Lecture Two


At the last lecture, we discussed how the thousand knots in our heart can be untangled through studying Buddhism. The effort is mainly exerted inside our heart. As Buddhist students, we must focus our attention on the activities of our innermost being and give it a proper guidance so that our will, perceptions, feelings, emotions, and thinking follow the teachings of Buddhism.

I.   Functions of our mind:

Before we can guide our heart on the right track, we must first understand the impact of our mind's functions on our daily life. In general, our mind has different functions as follows:

1. Cumulative:

Our mind can retain and cumulate the impressions left behind from our past. This could initiate a response at any time. For example, knowledge acquired, events experienced, and opinions of others will all produce impressions in our mind. If we happen to come across similar events or people, our cumulated impressions, either good or bad, would appear instantly in our mind. Moreover, the new impression could deepen or alter the old one. Others will also record impressions of your actions and words in their minds like a video camera. Therefore, our mind accumulates countless good and bad impressions. The strong ones will merge into a force that determines the direction of our wheel of transmigration, known as samsara. This is the function of our cumulative mind. It gives us a false perception that this cumulative mind will continue without end, leading us to variety of destinies. This function is called the 8th consciousness in the Yogacara Sect (consciousness-only school).

2. Reflective:

The cycle seems to go on without end, keeping the impressions intact and allowing experiences to be memorized. While life continues and our body grows from young to maturity and then from maturity to old, an erroneous "self-centered" view emerges. This is a result of ignorance of the Law of Dependent Origination, and of the fact that nothing has permanence. By attaching greater importance to our own interests than to those of others, we tend to allow our own profits and losses, or likes and dislikes influence our thoughts and deeds. Our selfish mind becomes impregnable. This is the reflective function of our mind. This is called the 7th consciousness in the Yogacara Sect.

3. Discriminative:

Through contacts with the external world, we can not avoid activities such as cognition and discrimination. These can be classified into internal and external functions. The internal functions include thinking, imagining, composing essays, problem solving, conceiving theories, and planning work. Even if the internal thoughts are never put into action, these thinking processes have already left impressions in our mind for future functions. Sometimes, they influence a realm during meditation, or an image during a dream. External thinking activities serve to assist the first five perceptions developed through the use of the five sensory organs that contact the five environmental objects. When conditions are ripe, the five perceptions arise. However, the five perceptions are only capable of intuitive sensing, and are incapable of discrimination. The conscious mind is needed in order to achieve cognitive function. These internal and external discriminating minds are known as the 6th consciousness.

4. Intuitive:

Through the five sensory organs: the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body, we contact the five environmental objects: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, resulting in intuitive sensing. These functions are called the first five perceptions.

II.   Basic rules for Buddhist students:

Now that you understand all these mind functions. We should start to learn how to guide our mind and heart. Many people say that we don't have to believe in any religion as long as we follow our own conscience. Let it be known that our human mind is fickle. Sometimes it is noble; sometimes it is wicked. We are so self-righteous that we always indulge ourselves in what we enjoy, without being able to distinguish good from bad. That is why we must set for ourselves a model to learn from and to believe in. Once we understand how our mind works, we follow the teachings of Buddhism to cultivate our mind. In fact, the fundamental principle in learning Buddhism can be summarized in two words "mind cultivation". Here is a list of basic rules to be observed:

1. Accumulate favorable impressions:

The first and foremost thing is to become Buddhist, and always to bear in mind that we are followers of Buddhism. In our daily life we come across many situations and different people, we should always look from a positive perspective and accept them. We must realize that all phenomena are manifestations of our mind. If we are not satisfied, we must first ask ourselves whether we are in a bad mood. We must always remind ourselves of the principle of causality. We must remember that once bad impressions are made in others' minds, it takes many more good impressions to displace the bad ones. Once the bad causes are sown, we will definitely suffer the consequences sooner or later. Wise men and women are prudent with what they sow, knowing that all our behaviors and actions will leave impressions in ours and others' mind in the form of karma. Therefore, we must accumulate good impressions in ours and others' mind.

2. Expose ourselves to good influences:

We should follow Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), and hear honest words and teachings. Our personalities, which are mainly influenced by our impressions, are very complex. They can be good and evil, depending strongly on the environment in which we live. Following the teaching of the Buddha and understanding the meaning of causality, we will do good deeds. We must follow Sanghas (Buddhist monks) so that we have easy access to inspiring teachings, and receive constant guidance. We must visit Buddhist temples frequently, and acquaint closely with worthy friends to be mutually influenced and encouraged. This way, we can be immune from bad influences. The first important nutrient in studying Buddhism is to cultivate our hearing sense with Dharma. The newly acquired good seeds reinforce existing good ones so that our 8th consciousness is endowed with roots of virtue. These will develop into favorable phenomena either in the present or in the future. The Dharma-Flower classic has said, "With one incantation of Nnamah Amitabha, we all attain Buddhahood". Although to become the Buddha is not that simple, we believe in the saying that "once incantation is heard, the seed of Buddhahood is sown forever". Even if the result is not immediate, it will surely affect us in the future.

3. Reduce selfishness:

Differentiating ourselves from others, we become selfish. Selfishness gives rise to partiality, which in turn generates subjectivity, egotism, and self-righteousness. This prevents us from objectively accepting others' views and behaviors. We become arrogant and immodest. We vie with one another for positions and interest. Failing to tolerate and understand one another, we bring on endless frustration and misery. If we understand that the "self" view is based on an erroneous interpretation of our minds' function, our brief and impermanent lives arise as a result of the force of causality. Our life is similar to that of an actor on a stage; when the curtain is closed, our role will be ended. Why should we bring misery to others and to ourselves? Because we know that misinterpretation of the 7th consciousness will affect the direction of the 6th consciousness, we must control the 7th consciousness in order to expand our mind capacity, and reduce our self-centeredness.

4. Set our thoughts on the right track:

Our thoughts are the supreme commanders of our actions. If we want to behave and speak properly, we must first guide our minds on the right track. If we accept Buddha karma, and Buddhist monks, we should follow the instructions of the Buddhist sutra. First of all, we must have a correct understanding of ourselves, the material world and the events around us. We choose to act on the good ones only. Our consciousness and thought must be guarded. For our body karma, we must abstain from killing, stealing, and committing perversity and adultery. For our mouth karma, we must refrain from lying, double-speak, ill words and exaggeration. Our occupation, through which we earn our livelihood, should not involve any criminal act. We must always work hard so that our mind won't become unfocussed. Always remembering to minimize our greed, anger and ignorance, our devious thoughts will be naturally corrected. Understanding that the 6th consciousness commands our latent and external activities, we must pay special attention to its inclination.

5. Act and speak with caution:

The dynamics of the five sensory organs originate from the first five perceptions, which are influenced by our conscious mind (the 6th consciousness). While it is necessary to regulate our conscious mind, we also need some guidance for our behavior. We must obey at least the following five commandments: abstaining from killing, stealing, lying, committing adultery, and abusing intoxicating liquors. However, even if we comply with all five commandments, we could still commit serious wrong doings through our words - for example gossiping behind others' backs, distorting truths, and hurting others with harsh words. These could cause more damage than murdering someone with a sword. It can damage the harmony within an organization, break-up a family, disturb social order, or even instigate a war. It is said that "A single word can raise a nation, a single word can devastate a nation." Therefore, we must guard our words even more than we guard our actions. Although the five perceptions are passive, they still require our attention because our body and mouth karmas must pass through them. If we can obey the above five rules, we can consider ourselves as a Buddhist.

III.   Set the highest goal:

There are four stages, which Buddhists go through to attain Buddhahood: the first is human, the second heaven, the third Arhan, and the fourth Bodhisativa. If we give up part way through, we will never achieve our goal of being enlightened. There are four conditions to pursuing the highest goal.

1. Aim at Buddhahood:

If we are studying Buddhism, we, of course, want to become Buddha. We don't want to remain ignorant-seeking pleasure without cultivating ourselves. We don't wish to be born in heaven, where there is lots of joy but no Buddha Dharma can be heard. We don't wish to be an Arhan who seeks liberation for himself but not for others. We want to be a Bodhisativa with an enlightened and compassionate mind, returning to the sentient world to relieve the sufferings of the sentient beings in our future life.

2. Have Bodhisativa heart - a heart with loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and indifference.

  1. Loving-kindness: The loving-kindness of the Bodhisativa is different from human love. We always expect to get return even for our most generous love. Sometimes, even a small unhappiness can upset our relationships. Therefore, our love is imperfect. On the contrary, the Bodhisativa's love is unconditional, unilateral, always giving, and blessing all sentient beings with happiness and peace. No obstacle can diminish the Bodhisativa's love.

  2. Compassion: Compassion is sympathy. We are concerned with others' sufferings as if they were our own. We make every possible effort to enlighten others so that their minds won't suffer. We even try to bear suffering for others. If we posses this heart, we will do no harm to any living things.

  3. Joy: We must not take pleasure from others' misfortunes. We take joy in seeing others' charity. We should not only act lone in charity, but should also encourage charity in others. If we cannot do the same charitable deeds as others, we should be supportive and helpful, not jealous and grudging.

  4. Indifference: We neither count our good deeds, nor compare ours with others'. We are content with what we have done.

These are the four virtues of the Bodhisativa's heart: true belief without skepticism, and correct understanding without ignorance, greed, anger, or arrogance.

3. Follow Bodhisativa's deeds:

On the personal side:

  1. Give of what we have to those in need. We donate wealth if we are rich. We teach if we are knowledgeable. We perform physical work if we are strong.

  2. Help others with our knowledge and personal cultivation. We use soft words to correct those violent ones, easy and reassuring words to encourage those with no confidence and troubled minds, kind words for desperate ones, and eloquent words to guide those with confused minds or difficult questions.

On the community side:

  1. Work for the public interest, not just our own. We give higher priority to the public interest than our own. For the success of common interest, we sacrifice our own. We are always concerned with public interests before any body else's. If we can advance the public good, we should not care about our own reputation, even if we are vilified by others. After weathering many storms, we will show our firm determination. We are willing to take unlimited sufferings for the happiness of all living beings.

  2. Perform work that benefits the community. If the cooperative work fails, others should not be blamed. If it succeeds, no individual credit should be taken. We help and encourage each other, share successes and failures together. That way, we can be a role model and wins others' trust.

IV.   Attaining ultimate enlightenment:

To attain Buddhahood begins with conducting ourselves properly in life. We must be capable of sustaining many hardships and tests in many lives. The mind of bidhi may fall back and move forward again. However, if we persevere, we can grind an iron pole into a needle. To become Buddha takes more than a single lifetime. We may lack the determination, bravery, and wisdom in this life. However, we purpose to make progress in every lifetime. In each life, we wish to be human, staring out with the mind of bodhi, then encountering superior knowledge and hearing the correct Buddha Dharma until we attain ultimate enlightenment.