Some Guidelines to Success
in Your Cultivation
If you want to be good, your past offenses
will seek you out.
If you want to become a Buddha, you must first
grapple with the demons.
If you don't intend to seek the good, then the ghosts seeking revenge for offenses don't come to find you. But the more you want to be good, the more they come looking for you to get their revenge. This results from the karma you have created from limitless kalpas until now. Although you can't really say that there's any noticeable amount of good within our past actions, there's certainly a whole lot of bad karma that we have created. Where good and bad karma are mixed together, if one tries to cultivate the Way, then all of one's creditors will come and demand repayment. It's like someone who was originally very poor and who borrowed a lot of money that he hasn't managed to pay back. When he was poor and had no way of paying them back, his creditors didn't demand payment. But then that person strikes it rich, and his creditors show up at his door waiting for repayment. Why is that? It's because he now has the money to settle accounts, and his creditors know there's no better time to ask.
Therefore, when you cultivate the Way and run into some kind of adverse state, you should progress forward with greater vigor and courage. Never retreat from your resolve for Bodhi. And you should certainly repay all of the creditors who arrive demanding repayment.
How are you going to repay them? You can take all of the merit and virtue that you are creating and transfer it to those seeking revenge. When they receive that merit and virtue, they will escape from suffering and attain bliss, escape from birth and cast off death. You can't try to declare bankruptcy to avoid paying back what you owe. And so it is said that when you want to be a good person, your creditors will seek revenge. All those creditors are people to whom you owe something. Life afterlife, time after time, this process of creating debts has been going on, brought about by a variety of causes and conditions. You have no way of knowing for sure how much wrong you have done in the past. Disregarding past lives, just look into your present life— how many lives of other beings have you taken in this very lifetime, and how many unjust things have you done? You may say, "I haven't done any major killing." Well, maybe you haven't done any killing to speak of, but still, each and every person could easily have killed without being aware of it. If you haven't done any killing, you still must have taken many small lives. And even if you haven't done any large scale killing, you still have thoughts of killing in your mind. Large lives would include cows, horses, pigs, dogs, chickens, and the like. Then there are smaller living creatures, like frogs, mice, mosquitoes, ants, gnats—can you say that you have never killed any such little creatures?
Even if you took life without realizing what you were doing at the time, so your offense was unintentional, still you have harmed living creatures and robbed them of their lives. Therefore, as soon as you decide to cultivate the Way, it's very possible that they will come and demand repayment. And there aren't just one or two debts like that—there's no way of knowing how many there are. They have mounted up day after day, month after month, accumulating lifetime after lifetime for limitless kalpas until now. It's impossible to describe them—they are so many. But you can't be unfair about it and say, "Well I am cultivating, and I just won't recognize all those creditors who are seeking repayment for all the wrong I have done in the past." If you think that way, you will never be able to accomplish the Way. You have not yet established a sense of justice within your own heart. How can one establish justice in one's heart? By recognizing that one has debts that must be repaid. If you recognize what you owe, then you will understand and repay those debts; when all your debts are repaid, the account will close. And so it is said,
If you want to learn to be good,
The resentful enemies from your past offenses will seek you out.
That is because now you are a "fat cat," and so all your poor friends are going to look you up; they all want to gain advantage from you.
If you want to become a Buddha,
You must first undergo the demons.
Who helps Buddhas become Buddhas? Demons help them. If there weren't any demons, there wouldn't be any Buddhas. And it's just because there are demons that there are Buddhas. The purpose of demons is to help Buddhas become Buddhas. They come to test you. They help you to progress and take another step forward. Because, as it's said,
If you wish to see for another thousand miles,
Then go up another flight of stairs.
They come to see if you are really up to it— whether you've got true spirit. If you've got it, then in the face of a hundred hardships you won't retreat from your Bodhi resolve. The harder and more difficult it gets, the more determined you will be to cultivate. Then, no matter what difficulty or opposition comes your way, you'11 get through it with ease. You'll never feel there's anything unfair about your predicament; you'll never curse heaven and blame people—you'll never find fault with heaven or blame others. If you can be that way, then whether things go your way or not, you will be developing your skill in the Paramita of Patience. And if you perfect your skill in patience, then whatever demonic obstacles come along, you will own up to them, accept, and recognize them. You won't have enmity towards the demons. You will feel that if you yourself undergo a little bitterness, it won't matter. You will even make the vow to rescue the demons, so that they too will take refuge with the Triple Jewel and set their minds on Bodhi.
Never think that anything or anyone is an enemy. Don't harbor the least bit of vengeance in your thoughts. Then you can
Change lances and spears into jade and cloth.
That is, change enmity and hatred into kindness and compassion. Look for the good side of everything, and don't just consider yourself as all-important. Don't always be arguing in your own defense, saying, "Look at who I am. You are being so impolite to me!" We shouldn't have that kind of thought. If your affairs aren't going right, you should examine yourself and understand that the problem lies within yourself. Always look for your own mistakes, not other's wrongs.
Truly recognize your own faults
And don't discuss the faults of others.
Other's faults are just my own—
Being one with everyone is called Great Compassion.
Being one with everyone includes all living beings, not just Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or Sound Hearers and Those Enlightened by Conditions. It also includes demons. It means being of the same substance with demons, too.
Why are there demons, anyway? They are part of one's own nature. Because, we have demons in our own nature, then other demons come from the outside as well. What are the demons of our own nature? Greed, hatred, and stupidity—the three poisons. These poisons invite the demons from the outside to come in. So there's a popular expression,
If you don't set out a dish of cat food,
You won't attract flies.
Demons are like that, too. They will congregate if they detect that you have some scummy water which they can stir up to catch some fish. They'll figure they can get something from you. They want to show off their abilities, display their spiritual penetrations—all of this exists right within your own nature.
And so, in our every move, in our every word and thought, we must be honest and extremely careful. It is said,
One's words must be credible,
And one's conduct must be respectful.
One must live up to what one says. What you say must be true and genuine. You should not tell lies. Don't be afraid to admit your own mistakes. Don't cover up your mistakes and gloss over your own shortcomings. You have to be very frank, open, and forthright. Have a big and generous mind and have a righteous spirit. And when you do things, they must be based on truth,.virtue in the Way, and a good heart. And if there are some things that are not in accord with the Way, virtue, and goodness of heart, then you absolutely should not go ahead and do them. It doesn’t matter how great the advantage would be for yourself from doing it; anything that is not in accord with Way virtue and goodness absolutely cannot be done! Anyone who cultivates the Way must be endowed with true and actual wisdom, and that means one should never praise oneself and denigrate others—all day long thinking, "Look at me, I'm tops! I'm better than all of them. They are all so inferior; I'm the only one who's pure and lofty."
People who praise themselves that way have spoiled their own futures. Even though such people may still be alive physically, they are in fact already dead. Why is that? Because in thinking that way they are violating their own Way virtue and good heart. They look down on other people and only know that they themselves exist. Such people displease the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas the most. If you wish all the Buddhas of the ten directions to be pleased with you and protect you, then your words must match up with your actions and your actions must live up to your words. You should never contradict each other. You should not say, "Oh, I will do this good thing and that good.thing," and than as soon as you're called upon to do those things you. Make excuses for yourself. You can't think, "I'm not greedy. I'm not greedy." And as soon as you see money, you forget everything.
For example, we had a monk here who didn't care about anybody. He would not acknowledge his father, and he wouldn’t acknowledge his own mother. If a letter came from his father or his mother, he wouldn't read it. He wouldn't read their letters because he knew there was no money in them. Eventually his father got desperate, so he started writing his letters on the backs of checks. Then the cultivator would look at the letters, but only because they were written on the backs of checks. How do I know this? He told me himself. A person like that is eventually going to fall.
Cultivators of the Way here, most of all, must not be selfish or seek for self benefit. Benefit others; do not harm others to benefit yourself. This is extremely important. And don’t always look down on other people, being discontent with what others are doing and feeling that only you yourself are right. Many people here in the past were like that, people who had that very fault. They didn't make it. Their failures can act as a mirror for us all. Each of us should examine ourselves. Take a look at our past, at what we are doing right now, and consider the future. If we can be mindful in this way and never forget our good heart, and virtue in the Way, then over time, very naturally our good roots will increase. And if our good roots increase, then our resolve for the Way will deepen. And if we make a big resolve for the Way, we will be able to practice the Bodhisattva Way and benefit all living beings. It is all connected.
You need not fear demons. When a demonic obstacle comes along, you shouldn't give up and retreat, saying, "I have been a left home person for so many years and have been cultivating for so long, and I have accumulated so much merit and virtue—how can I still have demonic obstacles?" You can't say that. Demonic obstacles are your tests.
When you start going to school, you feel it's very difficult. First you attend elementary school. You study slowly and eventually you can read the books and do the lessons. Then you go on to junior high and high school, and you feel that they are pretty tough, too. But after some study, the courses in junior high and high school don't seem so hard to you after all. Then you advance to college, and at first you feel that college courses are quite difficult. However, as it's said,
If they didn't endure the bitter cold of winter,
How could the plum blossoms smell so sweet?
This kind of blossom is particularly fragrant. It's also said,
Passing ten years of bitter suffering by the cold window,
And then in a fell swoop, one becomes a famous official
known throughout the land.
But when you are cultivating, don't be concerned with getting famous. It's essential after leaving home to avoid seeking fame and self-benefit. Instead, set your feet squarely on solid ground and cultivate—nurture blessings and wisdom. To cultivate blessings, be helpful and beneficial toward others. To cultivate wisdom, study and investigate the Sutras. A thorough investigation of the Sutras will nurture your wisdom; and by constantly benefiting other people, your blessings and virtue will naturally increase.
You may ask, "How can I help other people? Does this mean I have to use money or do some particularly good deed for them?"
No. It doesn't mean that. All you need to do is not have any thoughts of killing in your mind. And not having thoughts of stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants; those are all ways of nurturing blessings. As it's said,
With a mouth that is kind and compassionate,
And a tactful tongue,
Whether rich or poor,
One can create virtue.
For example, when you talk, if you don't say a lot of crude and cruel things that hurt other people, that's nurturing merit and virtue. In each situation and in every way you should be careful to cultivate virtue, blessings, and wisdom. Cultivation of blessings isn't accomplished by any single act, rather it's a way of being that you sustain at all times, from morning to night, in'every single thought, month after month, year after year You shouldn’t "set it out in the sun for one day, and stick it into the freezer for ten." You can't do things that way and expect to ever make any progress. There is an absolutely essential requirement for anyone who is cultivating the Way: hold to the true and unwavering principle of being courageously vigorous and never retreat.