By Susan S.H.
Translated by T.T. Kwan and H.F.Jang
HOW TO GUIDE OUR HEART AND MIND (I)
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
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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
- 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'
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.