On Giving Dharma Talks
A Collection of the Venerable Masterís Rules:
We shouldnít yell at people when we are giving a Dharma talk. The stage is no place for yelling at people, criticisms or judgments. Instead, we should be calm and magnanimous as well as have resolve for the Way. You shouldnít become really upset because of your ignorance. If so, you shouldnít be talking on stage, or anywhere for that matter. Every one of you must pay attention to this point.
You may discuss anything done correctly or incorrectly by the supervisors of the monastery, but you shouldnít talk about them on stage. If you do that, you violate one of the rules for giving a Dharma talk. The place for giving a Dharma talk is no place for critiques of individuals. People who are mentally ill should be kept away from the stage; they should at least respect themselves if they donít know to cherish themselves. People who are mentally ill keep everyone from cultivating, which already excludes them from being members of the community in residence. Since everyone is forgiving of you, you should have some self-respect. You cannot run up on stage to say this is right and that is wrong. You are basically committing murder, particularly if you give a Dharma talk out of anger. Since you harbor this intent to kill, it is the same as if you have violated the precept against killing a human being. Everyone listening to the Dharma should recognize this. The audience has to have the ability to select the right Dharma and be able to distinguish right from wrong.
The Ten Kinds of Fearlessness that we talked about earlier make good sense. Cultivators who study Buddhism should consider them warnings. If you have these Ten Kinds of Fearlessness, such as not being afraid of hardship and disadvantage, then you will connect with the Way. Hence, anyone who listens to Dharma talks must have the ability to select the right Dharma. Thatís most important. If you have such an ability, you will know which Dharma is correct and which Dharma is incorrect, what is the Way and what isnít the Way, and know to advance if it is the Way and retreat if it is not the Way. We must learn it if it is the Dharma; we must forget it if it is not the Dharma. This is a critical point for people who are studying Buddhism.
In addition, itís okay to have two people or four people on either side of the stage. You can just bring out a small table though, you donít need to use such large tables. We must try to keep everything simple here in the temple. We try to save. Although we try to adorn the Buddhaland, excessive adornment becomes ornate extravagance. Thatís why we try to be straightforward and honest, keeping everything plain and simple. We donít go overboard with anything or waste anything. Two little tables for both sides will do. I have told you this several times, but you still havenít made the changes. This does not accord with the Dharma.
Typically, there is only one Dharma Master at the podium when youíre lecturing elsewhere. There are no other seats on the side. Since I have to have a translator and want to train people to give Dharma talks, I have two seats next to me. The simpler these seats are, the better. You donít need to waste any item, any money, or any space. There are a number of things wrong with having such a large setup. You take up so much space that it becomes inconvenient to walk even. This is also considered a waste. People who sit on the sides must get there early every day, regardless of whether the Dharma Master giving the main talk has arrived or not.
People who go up to give a Dharma talk must know how, and must be able to translate. Not everyone can come up. Those people who donít know how to talk and donít understand cultivation canít come up on stage to talk gibberish. Everyone ought to have common sense. The womenís side must pay attention to this in particular. People who are insane and crazy cannot just run up on stage to chatter on about nonsense. That would be a violation of the rules. What kind of management do you women have that youíre so casual? You should be sitting there waiting for the Dharma speaker, rather than to have the Dharma speaker sit there and wait for the rest of you. When you are off by an inch at the start, you miss wide of the mark at the end. People studying Buddhism must first learn this rule. If you donít even understand the rules of propriety, you canít possible learn Buddhism.
By Venerable Master Hua
VBS November 2000