18. THE AIM AND SIGNIFICANCE OF CULTIVATION
18.1 The Aim of Cultivation
The Buddhist methods of self-cultivation such as sutra-reading, ritual worship, abundant offering and charitable practices, strict observance of the Canons of Discipline, Name-reciting, Ch'an Meditation, taking a journey to visit venerable monks living in secluded places, and so forth are numerous and diversified. Now one may ask, what induces those enthusiastic learners to cultivate Buddhism? It is vitally important for us to know the correct answer to this fundamental question, for if we do not understand the object of cultivation, most likely our cultivation would be perfunctory and careless, and even long hard cultivation would be perfunctory and careless, and even long hard practice would be fruitless and wasteful. In short, without understanding the true aim of cultivation, no matter how hard we may practise, our cultivation would be hardly productive.
In Lotus Sutra, it specifies the fundamental mission of the Buddha in this world:
What is Buddha-Wisdom? It is Enlightenment that is immanent in every one. Broad, extensive, all-embracing, illuminating, eternal and immutable - this is the substance of Enlightenment; pure, still, tranquil and omnipresent in terms of item and space - this is the phenomenon of Enlightenment; responding spontaneously to concurrent conditions and illuminating freely and unobstrusively everywhere - this is the functioning of Enlightenment. Because it reflects the true form of everything, it is called Reality; because it is also the absolute nature of all things, it is called Dharma-nature. Owing to the fact that it has been made obscured by our deep-rooted habits of prejudice and subjective thinking, not only it is not easily known and detected by us, but also the truth as expounded by Buddhism, that it is immanent in all of us, is considered to be incredible. In delusion, we are unable to see the reality of everything before us, consequently ignorance causes suffering. In coping with this situation, it is absolutely necessary for us to go the Buddhist Way so that we may know how to open Buddha-Wisdom and how to enter into Buddha-Wisdom ourselves. The fundamental goal, of all kinds of cultivation is to understand the mind and the self-nature and then, with this understanding, we come to realize the mind and self-nature by self-experiencing. It is only by understanding the mind and the self-nature that we shall not be blind to the causes and effects of all the phenomena around us, that we shall be able to overcome our passions and habits, and then we may advance more and more in the quest of Enlightenment until the highest development of Buddhahood is attained. But if we do not understand the mind and the self-nature, we can never be free from the evil influence of our habits and passions and also we can never be free from suffering at all, and in that event, all our effort of cultivation would come to nothing and would be as inefficient and ineffective as the attempt to put things in order in a dark room.
The Avatamaska Sutra says:
The Sandinirmocana Sutra also says:
According to the Vairocana Sutra,
From this, it may be clearly seen that to practise Buddhism, we should cultivate self-awareness; by developing awareness, we can also develop concentration and wisdom to understand the mind and the self-nature, so that we may wipe out our various habits and realize the Truth of Life by self-experiencing; so that we may turn subjective thinking into objective awareness and look deeply into things before us from their phenomena to their substance, liberate ourselves from the suffering of birth and death in this world and then attain the supreme and perfect Enlightenment - this is practically the gist of Buddhism, and mind you, it is also the fundamental objective of Buddhism!
Some of us may say that to realize the mind and the self-nature is too high a goal for the ordinary people to understand. But we should not forget for a moment that Buddhism has turned out a variety of methods of cultivation to meet the needs of all people of varying root and mentality, and that is why, besides the One Vehicle, the Buddha also talked of the Two Vehicles and the Three Vehicles, which are but expedient means to help learners to proceed to the path of Enlightenment by different ways; although the Dharma are infinite in number, nevertheless, they are all derived from the root of the One Vehicle, as the Lotus Sutra says: Only the One Vehicle is Truth, but the other two (The Two Vehicles and the Three Vehicles) are not. Furthermore, we should also understand that the so-called root, great or small, is by no means fixed, as a popular Buddhist saying tells us, Mind makes karma; mind can also change karma. This being true, therefore logically it follows that the higher we aspire to the goal, the quicker we would turn our karma toward that end, and this is the reason why we should strive for the development of Buddhahood confidently. On the other hand, while practising Buddhism, if we think lowly of ourselves and do not go by the One Vehicle, it is utterly impossible for us to attain the fruit of Buddhahood out of a poor casual ground, for the simple reason that never can we reap what we do not sow. In reality, if we practise cultivation according to this fundamental Doctrine, we shall attain Right Knowledge and Right Understanding of Buddhism, and the seeds of wisdom, once they are sown, will bear fruit in due time and thereby we shall be liberated from delusion, karma and suffering.
Ignorance causes karma and karma causes suffering. If we understand this fundamental truth, then we can readily see the importance and necessity of understanding the mind and the self-nature. But if we are ignorant of this, most likely we would cultivate Buddhism in the same way as the lay people and the heterodoxists do their own cultivation, by seeking Dharma outside the mind, that is to say, to seek and rely on external help instead of seeking to understand the mind, and this can only have the adverse effect of turning us round and round in samsara and transmigration consequently. From the saying that mind, Buddha and sentient beings are not different from one another it may be seen that for us to attain the highest development of Buddhahood by cultivation is but a natural aspiration and there is nothing mysterious and extraordinary about it. All sufferings arise from ignorance and there is no happiness greater than understanding the mind, thus one who can carry out his aspiration for Buddhahood sincerely and conscientiously is a true Buddhist indeed!
18.2 The Significance of Cultivation
If someone argues against cultivation, consequently he would be unaware of his own greed, hatred, stupidity, passions, prejudices and subjective thoughts, and also ignorant of the objective reality of those phenomena, in that event, he would be as foolish as a patient in serious condition refusing to take medical treatment.
To practise Buddhism is called "Hsiu Hsing" in Chinese. "Hsiu" means to repair; when the perfect true nature of the mind, which is fundamentally pure and clean, is obscured and defiled by habits and passions, it is important that its purity should be restored: "Hsing" is to act persistently and continuously. In short, cultivating Buddhism calls for intensive and incessant practice. It is only by cultivating more and more that one may advance nearer and nearer toward the goal of Enlightenment.
All human activities generally are included in the three aspects of the body, mouth and mind, and although the mind is the dominant factor of all, yet only through the body and the mouth can its activities be manifested, thus all the three aspects are indivisible and inseparable from one another. Furthermore, when the self-nature turns from truth to illusion, it manifests consciousness; in other words, illusion is not separate from truth, same as wave is not separate from water and itself is also water. In reality, all activities, cultivating Buddhism included, are the manifestation of the True Nature, this is to say, every cultivation implies the cultivation of the whole aspect of the Self-Nature; inversely speaking, it is also true to say that all Dharmas of cultivation have to do with cultivation of the Self-Nature exclusively. Hence, the more cultivation, the more manifestation of the True Nature and the more benefits of the cultivation.
Cultivation may be classified into two aspects; the phenomenal aspect of cultivation such as sutra-reading, ceremonial worship etc. And so forth refers to visible outward cultivation, and the mental aspect of cultivation is subtle intangible inward cultivation such as self-introspection and looking into the mind. Since the body and the mind are correlated and inseparable from each other, and the cultivation of the one aspect necessarily involves that of the other, so in the mental aspect there is the phenomenal and in the phenomenal aspect there is the mental, thus the better we understand the principle of cultivation, the more serious would be our cultivation, and inversely speaking, the more serious our cultivation, the better our understanding of the principle. From this it may be seen that principle and practice should go together and there should be no leaning to the one to the neglect of the other. As long as we can integrate the two aspects of cultivation harmoniously and are always mindful of the Law of Karma operating the process of cause and effect at all times, there is no question that we can understand the mind and the self-nature at last.
When the self-nature is pure and stainless, it is Discipline; when it is calm and still, it is Concentration; when it illuminates unobtrusively and freely, it is Wisdom. After all, Discipline, Concentration and Wisdom are but the triple functions inherent in the self-nature; in other words, they are but three aspects of the one and same thing. By evoking these functions, the fundamental objective of cultivation is to revert the mind to the self-nature. In Buddhism there is no cultivation without discipline, concentration and wisdom and also there is no Dharma without discipline, concentration and wisdom, in short, positively, the Threefold Studies are the basic tenet for learning and cultivating Buddhism. It is only by cultivating Buddhism in accordance with this fundamental principle that the beneficial effects of turning the mind from defilement into purity, from chaos into stability, and from delusion into understanding may be achieved; and then one may realize that there is neither purity nor impurity, neither motion nor stillness, neither wisdom nor attainment of any sort, this is the Fundamental Face of the Self-Nature indeed.