Spiritual Evolution - the first 3 steps
Good morning everyone, this is your daily Dharma Espresso.
Yesterday, we were talking about studying Buddhism, which means learning how to evolve. To study and practice the Dharma is to continue transforming our perspective so we can see everything further and deeper. We elevate our level of vision and expand our scope of vision. Which Buddhist sutra reflects this vision?
I don’t want you to think that it was my idea. This is the most important program in the Avatamsaka Sutra. This Sutra taught us that each step is important in growth and transformation. That is why the Avatamsaka Sutra came up with levels for us to rely on and cultivate: The Ten Abodes, then the Ten Practices, then the Ten Merit Transferences, the Ten Grounds, then Absolute Universal Enlightenment which is also divided in to ten stages such as Ten Levels of Patience, Ten Wonderful Worlds, etc. before attaining Buddhahood.
At each stage of cultivation, we change our view and perspective and we also change our life style. If we only look at the Ten Abodes, we can see very important changes in our perspective.
1. Abode of Initial Resolve: How to open our heart and mind.
We open our heart so we no longer view things like living beings. We understand that we have an important mission in this life. What is this mission? In our daily life, whatever we do will always reflect these 6 tasks: giving, letting go, comforting others, untying knots, lifting someone up, and fulfilling other people’s wishes.
Bringing forth the resolve for the Bodhi mind is another life and another view, very different from before. Previously, we could give when necessary, but when people really suffered, we would avoid them instead of trying to comfort them. Oftentimes, instead of letting things go, we would go shopping for more. Instead of lifting up others’ spirit, we would bring them down because of jealousy. Instead of untying knots, we would tie more knots, causing more suffering to others. Finally, instead of making living beings happier, or helping others to fulfill their wishes, we would be jealous and compete against them, not wanting anyone to succeed.
Therefore, the transformation from this abode is a huge shift in thinking, because we resolve
2. Abode of Taming the Ground: The transformation will follow with our heart being open.
Following the act of giving, letting go, comforting … our heart needs to open wide enough for us to stand below and lift up others. That is why the 2nd stage is called Abode of Taming the Ground, which is a transformation of different viewpoints.
Our heart needs to be open as wide as the Earth. This is very special. When we give, comfort, let go, untie knots, lift someone up, and fulfill their wishes, we might think that we are at a very high level of cultivation, or some kind of bodhisattva … but no, we need to think of ourselves as the boundless earth. Why? To nurture, to see all living beings and human beings as trees and plants. Therefore, when we give, now that we are the earth, we give energy for all trees and plants to live. When we comfort them, we make it possible for the new seeds of burnt trees to grow. As you can see, this thinking is very deep.
In other words, when we are in the stage of bringing forth the resolve for the Bodhi mind, we no longer have selfish views. When we reach the 2nd stage (Abode of Taming the Ground), our mind is as vast as the surface of the Earth. That’s why we have to cultivate the Jewel Bowl so our heart can expand like the earth. At the Abode of Taming the Ground, we need to learn how to manage our spiritual ground.
3. Abode of Personal Cultivation:
After living with someone for a period, we will see “Oh! We did this, we did all that, but we still don’t have the knowledge and wisdom of the Buddha or the Bodhisattva”. We live with other people and with human beings’ value memes, we still have not instilled the Buddha’s culture into our daily life. We still think like a mundane human being. We need to think and act like the Buddha, like a Bodhisattva.
Therefore the 3rd level, the Abode of Personal Cultivation, is a very special stage. We need to go into seclusion, read the Sutras and books, learn the Sutras by heart, or know the mantras by heart, and keep reciting them over and over until you enter the realm of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas. Entering in seclusion is an important stage to study and practice.
A great tradition of our lineage, passed down from the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua to us, is that each monk has to enter into personal seclusion from 2 days, 3 days, 7 days to 2 or 3 months. Sometimes it can last 1 year, 2 years, or 3 years etc. From long ago till now, all the great wise men have spent time to self-cultivate. They closed the doors and cultivated. This period is very mysterious. Even the Buddha did the same thing. When he entered into seclusion for 6 years, he subjected himself to tough ascetic disciplines. The 49-day period when he sits in meditation before becoming enlightened is also a type of seclusion, a kind of solitary retreat. He practiced to enter into his own true mind.
- Abode of Initial Resolve is when we go beyond human beings’ worldly knowledge, beyond selfishness, open our heart and mind, and have a mission.
- Abode of Taming the Ground is when that mission really develops a generous heart. Being generously open with people is called Engaging with the World.
- Abode of Personal Cultivation is entering the path of serenity, settling down the mind. Entering into seclusion is called Transcending Worldliness.
This is a wonderful path, going one step at a time. Today, I only want to talk about these 3 steps because of time limits.
When you enter into seclusion, what will you practice?
You practice the Jewel Vase, so you need to have one. The Jewel Vase will transform everything in our Alaya consciousness. That is why in the tradition of our lineage, we all need to enter into seclusion.
In California, we have Tao Hien Son Trang, which is a beautiful place, ideal for seclusion. It is bordered with 300 or 400 year-old oaks. This is a sacred place, very mystical. Tao Hien Son Trang is very beautiful, with many rooms, very ideal for us to use for seclusion. I really hope that all of you who follow our Avatamsaka lineage will arrange to go into seclusion in Tao Hien Son Trang for 3 days, 4 days, 7 days, or 1 or 2 weeks. You have to go there for practice so you can deeply transform your sub-consciousness. In the Abode of Taming the Ground we transform, but not deep enough. When we practice the Dharma of the Jewel Vase while in seclusion, the transformation can be unbelievable. We need to transform our Alaya Consciousness for it to be pure and serene.
Practice one step at a time. First, bring forth the Bodhi mind to change our view and our mission. Next, we open our mind widely to engage in the world immediately. Then, we can leave this mundane life to enter the peaceful and serene path of the Dwelling of Practices.
Thank you for listening. I hope that you all will bring forth your Bodhi mind and practice my Dharma method. You have to spend time to go into seclusion. Tao Hien Son Trang is always open to welcome you all.
I wish you a beautiful day. Enjoy this fresh cup of Dharma Espresso, and be happy and alert.
Dharma Master Heng Chang
(Translated and transcribed by Compassionate Service Society)