Good morning everyone! This is today's Dharma Espresso.
During the Sui Dynasty in China (581-618), there was no clear system for Buddhism. Many other religions including Taoism were also in chaos, and so were books and writings. This period was 500 years A.D., or about 1,000 years after the start of Buddhism in India. During this period of confusion, there was a very special person named Zhiyi. He was a monk with an unusually clear and organized mind. He was not content with Buddhist teachings being scattered, loosely organized, and confused with different interpretations, so he gathered together different practice methods from different sources and translations. His main focus was not on translation but on how to cultivate seriously with teaching documents. Later on, he became a great Zen master and founded the Tiantai School. Tiantai School doctrines were very complete. Although Zen Buddhism in China became very strong later and denied Tiantai's contributions, the Tiantai School was great at that time. To this day, a descendant or a branch of the Tiantai School called Tendai still exists in Japan.
Master Zhiyi was an outstanding Zen master of his time. His meditation was very deep. He wrote a book about Prajna Paramita with annotations and footnotes to teach people how to meditate. That was my bedside book. I remember when I was very young, in my twenties, I really enjoyed reading it because it taught me Zen meditation methods and explained Dharma word meanings as well as different altered states while meditating.
It was very significant that Master Zhiyi founded the Tiantai's classification of Dharma teachings in which he wrote most interestingly about the Buddha's life, not his legendary life but his very important evolvements.
1. The Period of Avatamsaka - 21 days: After his enlightenment, the Buddha immediately entered into deep concentration for 21 days. He went up to the heavenly realms to teach the Dharma, not by words coming out of his mouth, but by emitting light. Thus, it's called the Period of Avatamsaka,
2. The Deer Park Period - 12 years: Next, the Buddha opened his eyes and went to Deer Park to teach the five Kaundinya brothers. He taught the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path continuously for 12 years. We see clearly that he went from the highest realm to the lowest realm, being close to all humans. The world reality is full of sufferings. To understand this is to be free. We know that the true motive for cultivation is to liberate ourselves from suffering, and we should always keep that in mind. The definition for liberation may change, but we must remember that our main motive for cultivation is to be free from suffering, and to enter Nirvana. We will talk about how to do that later.
3. The Vaipulya (Broad and Equal) Period - 8 years: After 12 years of teaching sentient beings how to be free from suffering, the Buddha said that people needed to open their hearts and minds. Hence, he delivered the very important Vaipulya teachings. In Deer Park, his teachings talked about suffering and facts of life, reflecting each cultural aspect, and about our fear of birth and death. During the Vaipulya Period, he did not mention fear for 8 years. Instead, he said, "You see, there are so many people suffering. You are not the only ones. When you suffer, you feel and become aware of your suffering, and then you realize that others suffer even more than you. So you should open your heart and help them. Help them to cultivate so they can reduce their pain." Thus, the Buddha taught us how to open up and spread out our loving kindness and compassion. Hence, that period was called the Vaipulya Period.
4. The Prajna (Wisdom) Period - 22 years: After teaching us to open our hearts and minds, which is the culture of openness and compassion, the Buddha moved to a much higher culture called the Prajna culture. He taught this culture for 22 years. During these years, he continuously explained the Non-Dualistic Nature of all things and about Emptiness. That was why it took him 22 years instead of just a few days.
5. The Lotus and Nirvana Period - 7 years: After talking about Prajna and the empty nature of all things, the Buddha said, "Everyone has Buddha nature and they can become enlightened right here and now. Nirvana is not far away." He taught the Lotus and Nirvana teachings for 7 continuous years. His mission was to enlighten living beings, to help them open the path of self-awakening. Our responsibility is to be aware of our true nature, or the Buddha nature. We don't need to go anywhere to look for it, since it is inherent within us, but we can't recognize it yet due to our ignorance. Once we do, we are in Nirvana. Therefore, the Lotus Dharma and Nirvana go together.
After this teaching, the Buddha entered Nirvana. So you can see that the Dharma teachings have evolved. What does evolve mean? It means changing from one level to another, from one stage to another. This shows us that our life also needs to change. We should often ask ourselves whether we have changed our views about something. Some things or events happened 10 or 20 years ago but we haven't changed our views about them, about some people. We thought they stayed the same. Maybe. But why don't we change ourselves and look at them from the viewpoint of a bodhisattva instead of a sentient being? Our viewpoint is very important.
Therefore, the level of vision should be constantly raised in a cultivator's inner life. We should have the kind of vision that won't make us get stuck. From seeing everyone as an enemy to seeing everyone as a friend, then as a teacher following Lao Tzu's wisdom, we should finally see everyone as equal. Everyone gives us opportunities to become enlightened and to enlighten them. Thus, our viewpoint should change with time, with different stages in our life. In summary, from the Buddha's teachings through the 5 periods above, we also should constantly change our level of vision instead of being obstinate. Oftentimes, our views are very inflexible.
Here's an interesting story. Eight or nine years ago, one disciple told me, "Cutting my hair off for home leaving is very weird. My husband won't let me." That was her reasoning eight years ago. Eight years later, she still said the same thing, never changing her perspective about her hair and always afraid of her husband. She made us think that her husband is a bad guy, even if he's a really nice person. Oftentimes, people never change their thinking or their viewpoint, making it very difficult for them to understand the Dharma.
What is the Dharma? It's the method of changing our vision so we can constantly evolve and improve ourselves. The more we learn Buddhism, the wider, higher, and deeper our vision becomes. A person will be different after 10 years of practicing the Buddha's teachings.
Thus, how do we study Buddhism? We constantly improve our views, elevate our level of vision, broaden our scope of vision, and always evolve ourselves.
Thank you for listening to today's Dharma Espresso. I hope you enjoyed it to have a happy and awakening day.
Dharma Master Heng Chang(Translated and transcribed by Compassionate Service Society)