The Importance of Cultivation

In three Treasuries also called the Tripitaka (the Sutra, Vinaya and Sastra) and the Twelve Divisions of Mahayana Canons, is Buddhism most comprehensively embodied and treated. In the main, these Buddhist Classics are classified under four Headings namely, Doctrine, Principle, Cultivation and Fruition. The first category covers all the Teachings of Buddha, the second expounds all the principles and precepts of Buddhism, the third includes the various methods of cultivation and the fourth deals with development of Buddhahood by cultivation leading to the attainment of Enlightenment.

Apparently, the first two categories fall within the scope of theory, pure and simple. And the last two are concerned with the practical aspects of Buddhism. As a matter of fact, all the theories of Buddhism come from self-experience and self-realization, therefore, all of them are practical and practicable.

In other words, in Buddhism there is no doctrine that is merely theoretical and impractical, and also there is no cultivation that is blindly accepted and not based on some working principle. Thus these four aspects of Buddhism Doctrine, Principle, Cultivation, and Fruition, are interrelated and complementary to one another, individually, they are separate by themselves, yet collectively they are integrated as a whole.

From this it may be clearly seen that objective of Buddhism not only calls for understanding its Doctrine but also for translating understanding into action, The necessity of cultivation cannot be too strongly stressed; to what extent we maybe benefited by Buddhism entirely depends on how intensive is our effort of cultivation.

It is only by practicing Buddhism wholeheartedly and by self-experiencing that we may realize the theory of Buddhism is complete, perfect and absolutely impartial. It is only by persistent and vigorous cultivation that we may wipe out illusions and attachments gradually, that we may experience by self realization the objective reality of the True Nature to be in harmony with the reality of the phenomena of the universe.

It is only by cultivation that we may attain right understanding of Buddhism, and the more the practice, the better the understanding; it is because the theoretical and practical aspects of Buddhism are mutually complementary with each other and mutually influencing each other that understanding and experiencing, principle and practice, are integrated into one complete whole.

The Aim of Cultivation

The Buddhist methods of self-cultivation such as sutra-reading, ritual worship, abundant offering and charitable practices, strict observance of Canons of Discipline, Name-reciting, Ch’an (zen) 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 practice would be fruitless and wasteful. In short, without understanding the true aim of cultivation, no matter how hard we may practice, our cultivation would be hardly productive.

“It is for the Fundamental Matter, that Great Cause;” says the Lotus Sutra ” that the Buddha appears in this world.” That Fundamental Matter, that Great Cause, is this: “In order that sentient beings may open the sight of Buddha-Wisdom to attain purity, the Buddha Appears in this world; in order to show them the sight of Buddha-Wisdom, “he” appears in this world: in order to awaken them to the sight of Buddha-Wisdom, “he” appears in this world; in order that they may enter themselves into the sight of Buddha-Wisdom, “he” appears in this world.”

The fact is noteworthy that since the propagation of Buddhism in this world for over two thousand years, all the Dharma aim at accomplishing this fundamental mission: to open, to show, to awaken and to enter Buddha-Wisdom.

What is Buddha-Wisdom?

It is Enlightenment; pure, still, tranquil and omnipresent in terms of time and space- this is the phenomenon of Enlightenment; responding spontaneously to concurrent conditions and illuminating freely and unobtrusively 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 Way of Buddhism so that we may know ow to open Buddha-Wisdom, how to reveal Buddha-Wisdom, how to awaken to Buddha-Wisdom and how to enter into Buddha-Wisdom ourselves. Though carrying out these four-some steps may involve different working processes, in the main, all of them work for the fundamental goal, this is, to understand the mind and the self-nature and then, with this understanding, we come to realize 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 in 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 Avatamsaka Sutra says: “If one does not understand one’s own mind, how can they know the Right Way? It is because of the perverted mind that one only increases their evil deeds.” According to the Vairocana Sutra, “Bodhi means understanding the reality of self-mind.” From this, it may be clearly seen that to practice 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 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 practicing 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 practice 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.

Accordantly, 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.

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. 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 Dharma 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. In the mental aspect there is the phenomenal and in the phenomenal aspect there is 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 is 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 Triple Studies are the basic tenet for learning and cultivation 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. 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.


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