The Three Essentials In Practising the Teaching of the Buddha -Yin Shun


Chapter 4 The Three Essentials In Practising the Teaching of the Buddha from Selected Translations of Miao Yun ,Book 1
(Master Yin Shun’s English translations)

The Three Essentials In Practising the Teaching of the Buddha

1. Faith and Determination, Loving Kindness and Compassion, Wisdom

The philosophy expounded by the Buddha is very profound and broad. It is so broad and profound that sometimes ordinary people have difficulties in finding a right entrance into it. They do not know where to start. However, this does not imply that the Buddha’s Teachings are confusing or disorganised. On the contrary, Buddhism has very logical, well-reasoned and practical principles.

Wise men in the past commented that all the methods taught by the Buddha, whether the expedient or ultimate paths, serve the sole purpose of leading one to Buddhahood. Whether it is the path that leads one away from evil, and towards the right aspirations (the principle of the Five Vehicles) or the path that leads to disentanglement from worldly desires and to freedom (the principle of the Three Vehicles); or the path that turns one away from the practice of the Sravaka and Pratyeka-buddhas and redirects one to Mahayana thought (the principle of the one Vehicle);

the Buddha explained the paths to enlightenment in all these various ways for the benefit of sentient beings in all their corresponding variety. It is for this great reason that the Buddha appeared in this world.

From the stand point of one who wants to learn about Buddhism, it is important to understand that all the methods taught by the Buddha are in fact processes in the Bodhisattva’s practice. They are the Bodhi paths that lead to Buddhahood. Due to the differing conditions, causes, times and places into which we were born, the best ways towards Bodhi (Enlightenment) may differ for each of us. But if we try to seek the truth of nature through the various methods we will realise that there are no great differences in the teachings of the Buddha. Three themes characterize all the teachings and encompass them as one coherent whole. These themes are as applicable to the practice of “One Vehicle” as they are to the “Three vehicles” and “Five vehicles”. Thus, we call these themes the “The Three Essentials in Practising the Teaching of the Buddha”.

1.1 The Three Essentials of Practice Defined

What are these Three Essentials? As stated in the Sutra of Great Prajna they are; “To maintain mindfulness of supreme Bodhi (the mind of enlightenment), to centre oneself on compassion, and to learn the skilful means of emptiness (the wisdom of non-grasping or subtle intangibility)”.

The Great Prajna Sutra emphasizes the all-inclusive practice of a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva must learn all methods of practice, (which are in fact nothing more than the ways of cultivating goodness and wisdom). All these methods should comply with the Three Essentials, which are their foundation. The ultimate aim of all practices is to attain perfection in these three virtues.

Thus, these themes are in fact the heart of practising the Bodhisattva way. As the ancients said, “If we did not find the right direction of practice we would be wandering blindly around the eight thousand methods and teachings taught by the Buddha, just like walking in the darkness. If we could find the right direction of practice, the twelve divisions of the Mahayana Canon, would be as clear as ordinary simple conversation to us.”

a) Mindfulness of the heart of wisdom, or the Supreme Bodhi (wisdom of the Buddha), as the ground of faith and determination.

This is the perfect and ultimate merit of the Buddha that was attained through His enlightenment. Practitioners should contemplate always the wisdom of the Supreme Bodhi. One should have faith that the Buddha has attained the Supreme Bodhi and that the Supreme Bodhi may bring us the vision of splendour and boundless merits. Belief in the merits of the Supreme Bodhi arouses our determination and joy for it, and further inspires us to seek it out. In other words, appreciation of the wisdom of Supreme Bodhi meaningfully translates into our determination to attain perfect enlightenment.

b) Great Compassion.

Great Compassion may refer to sympathy or loving kindness and compassion in general, in a wider sense, it refers to loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. To be compassionate is to have the mind intent upon relieving living beings from their miseries. To have loving kindness is to be intent upon giving living beings enjoyment and happiness.

All the practices of the Bodhisattva begin with the mind of loving kindness and compassion. The mind of loving kindness and compassion is always first and foremost. As stated in the Sutra, “The status of a Bodhisattva is attainable through the mind of compassion, it is not attainable by merely meritorious deeds”. Without loving kindness and compassion, all virtues and wisdom will not comply with the practice of a Bodhisattva. Thus, the great mind of loving kindness and compassion is indeed the heart of the Bodhisattva’s practice.

c) Emptiness (The wisdom of non-grasping or subtle intangibility) as the wisdom of Prajna.

This is the wisdom of non-attachment and supreme emptiness. The wisdom of emptiness that was cultivated under the guidance of the compassionate vow (i.e. the Bodhisattva vow) will not be just a dull emptiness and still silence. It is a great skilful characteristic. By possessing this wisdom, the practice of loving kindness and compassion can be successful and hence lead us to the attainment of the fruit of Bodhi. Thus, these three themes, the Bodhi vow, the Great Compassion and the Wisdom of Emptiness are the real essences of the path of the Bodhisattva.

1.2 The Three Essentials in the Superior Practice of the Bodhisattva

The great Bodhi vow, the Great Compassion and the great wisdom of the Bodhisattva are an extension of the purest practices of all humans and devas as well as the Two vehicles. Summarising the merits of all teachings, in terms of aims, humans and devas practice to become saints or to be reborn in heaven. They look forward to the worldly reality, beauty and virtue. The practice of the Two Vehicles cultivates the mind to the extinction of worldly desire and Nirvana. It promotes the mind of leaving the deluded world. And the practice of the Bodhisattva emphasises the cultivation of the great Bodhi vow.

Loving kindness to living beings, in the practice of humans and devas, is aroused due to sympathy towards other living beings. In the practice of the two vehicles, it is the sense of universal altruism that gives rise to loving kindness. In the practice of the Bodhisattva, it is the wisdom of emptiness (the realisation of Dependent origination, non-self and non-attachment) that gives rise to loving kindness.

In terms of the cultivation of wisdom, in the practice of human and devas, wisdom refers to worldly knowledge. In the practice of the Two Vehicles, wisdom is one-sided dogma In the practice of the Bodhisattva, it is the wisdom of non-discrimination in all aspects.

The response of the mind to the external environment varies among the three realms of practice. The mental activities involved are basically the activities of faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion, and wisdom. The distinction among the three realms is that practitioners in each realm practise them at different levels. From the above analysis, it can be seen that the three main themes of the practice of the Bodhisattva are beyond all others, they encompass the practices of all virtues.

The Embodiment of Dharma: Faith and Determination; Loving Kindness and Compassion; Wisdom:

In Human and Devas Practice

To be a saint and to be reborn in heaven
Sympathy to living beings
Worldly knowledge

In Two Vehicle Practice

To leave the deluded world
Sense of universal altruism
one-sided dogma

In Bodhisattva Practice

The Bodhi vow
Mind of loving kindness and compassion
Wisdom of Prajna

As we begin practising the teachings of the Buddha, either as a lay person or as an ordained follower, we should learn the practice of the Bodhisattva as this is the only way to Buddhahood. The real merits of the Bodhisattva are within these three themes. We should always reflect on ourselves: “Have I practised? Have I put effort into the practice of these three themes?” If not, how can we call ourselves a Bodhisattva? We should always remind ourselves to practice and to look upon the Bodhisattvas as our example.

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