Questions and Answers From A Dharma Talk
Given At Buddha Root Farm, Oregon, U.S.A.
Student: Well, then, how does one justify taking life in order to remain alive in this world?
Venerable Master: If you were to be very strict in your interpretation, then even eating vegetarian food is killing. But it's a bit less serious. If you did not eat, you could not stay alive. "Killing" vegetables is less offensive to one's compassionate sensibilities than wantonly killing animals for food. Killing animals creates thoughts of hatred, not of compassion. Your compassion grows lighter while your hatred increases.
Since plants have no blood or breath how can we prove that they have "life?" Ginseng, for example, after 1500 years can turn into a human being. It can transform into a child and run around. These transformations are called "spirit immortals."
Student: Yes, but if you look at it another way, when you eat one bowl of rice, you take the life of all the grains of rice, whereas eating meat you take only one animal's life.
Venerable Master: On the body of one single animal are a hundred thousand, in fact several million little organisms. These organisms are fragments of what was once an animal. The soul of a human being at death may split up to become many animals. One person can become about ten animals. That's why animals are so stupid. The soul of an animal can split up and become, in its smallest division, an organism or plant. The feelings which plants have, then, are what separated from the animal's soul when it split up at death. Although the life force of a large number of plants may appear sizeable, it is not as great as that of a single animal or a single mouthful of meat. Take, for example, rice: Tens of billions of grains of rice do not contain as much life force as a single piece of meat. If you open your five eyes you can know this at a glance. If you haven't opened your eyes, no matter how one tries to explain it to you, you won't understand. No matter how it's explained, you won't believe it, because you haven't been a plant!
Another example is the mosquitoes. The millions of mosquitoes on this mountain may be simply the soul of one person which has transformed into all those bugs. It's not the case that a single human soul turns into a single mosquito. One person can turn into limitless, boundless numbers of mosquitoes.
At death, the nature changes, the soul scatters, and its smallest fragments become plants. Thus, there is a difference between eating plants and eating animals. What is more, plants have very short lifespans. The grass, for example, is born in the spring and dies within months. Animals live a long time. If you don't kill them, they'll live for many years. Rice, regardless of the conditions, will only live a short time. So, if you really look into it, there are many factors to consider, and even science hasn't got it straight.
Student: Do Buddhists have some way of counteracting the effects of eating meat on a karmic level?
Venerable Master: The Buddha ate meat. But he did not kill the animals he ate. He condoned three kinds of pure meat which could be eaten by Bhikshus and lay people. What are the three kinds of pure meat?
If you didn't see the animal killed or hear its screams as it died, and if the animal wasn't killed just for you to eat, in that case, if your body is weak, you can eat it. In the Buddha's day, the monks went out begging for food and they ate whatever they were given. It wasn't that they wanted to eat a particular thing and so they cooked it. They just ate whatever was offered to them. If they were offered meat, they were allowed to eat it.
But why is it that cultivators of the Way should not eat meat? It's because eating meat increases people's sexual desire. Cultivators should have no sexual desire, and so they should consume food and drink which do not stimulate desire. That's the most important reason, really, for practicing vegetarianism. Cultivators must be pure and undefiled. That is the most important reason for not eating meat.
Questions and Answers from Other Dharma Talks
Question:What should I do if people slander me when I am working for the public?
Venerable Master: If you are working for the public and are slandered, you should want to do it even more. If you quit because people slander you, you are not really being true.
Question: Why do Buddhists of the present fail to understand the Proper Dharma, and instead do everything they can to obtain spiritual powers? Why are most of today's Buddhists even more in love with money?
Venerable Master: This question is very important, because people nowadays have all been poisoned by money. There is a kind of cancerous poison on money, which is extremely toxic. Invisibly, the demons sprinkle this poison on the money, and so as soon as people come in contact with it, they forget everything. They forget even their parents, and the only thing they know is money. They regard money as their closest friend and create a lot of offenses for the sake of money. Even Buddhists will think of all kinds of schemes and will do anything to get it, including consulting geomancers and seeking secret dharmas. They are even greedier than ordinary people who don't understand the Buddhadharma—their greed is greater than the sky. This is known as the decline of the Dharma. The decline of the Dharma means that no one understands true principles. If we want to correct this problem, we have to uphold the Six Great Principles of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas—do not contend, do not be greedy, do not seek, do not be selfish, do not pursue personal benefit, and do not lie. These six requirements can reverse the deviant and evil trend of the Dharma-ending Age. You shouldn't think the Six Great Principles of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are that simple. Ordinary people are not only unprepared to study them, they are not even ready to hear them. It was for the cultivators of Three Steps One Bow (Heng Sure and Heng Chau) that I spoke these Six Great Principles. I saw how hard they were working and thought it'd be a pity if I didn't speak some true Dharma for them. These Six Great Principles are a demon-spotting mirror and a demon-subduing pestle for destroying deviant knowledge and views.
As for spiritual powers, they are gained not through seeking, but through cultivation. And even if you get them as a result of cultivation, you shouldn't think they are a big deal. Spiritual powers are not a big deal in Buddhism. They are just small skills, a kind of child's play, and cannot be considered something important. Students of Buddhism who are out to get spiritual powers have gone down the wrong road and are basically not Buddhists of proper faith.
Question: Why do people pay homage not to the Monk from Tang, Great Master Xuanzhuang, but rather to Sun Wukung (the monkey in Journey to the West)7 Also, is there really a Sun Wukung?
Venerable Master: Since Sun Wukung had the golden rod; knew how to perform somersaults, ascend to the heavens and enter the earth; and was skilled in everything, everyone adored him. Sun Wukung, Ju Bajie, Sha Seng, and so forth, actually existed, but they were invisible spirits. They aided and protected the Monk from Tang on his trip to India to obtain the sutras. They were not visible to the eyes of ordinary people. They didn't possess physical bodies like ordinary people; they were spirits. But Great Master Xuanzhuang was an honest, down-to-earth cultivator. He didn't know how to do flying somersaults, or cause a big uproar in the celestial palaces. He only knew how to hide his talent and truly cultivate the Way. Relying on the three qualities of determination, sincerity, and constancy, he single-mindedly went to obtain the sutras, and dedicated himself to benefiting living beings. As a result, Sun Wukung and the others were moved to guard and support him.
Question: Why don't demons have their own Dharma Realm?
Answer: They are like bandits or guerrillas, roaming in all directions, without a fixed location or a person in charge of them. Demons are just like the bandits in the human world. Bandits are people, but not every person is a bandit. Therefore, there is no Dharma Realm of bandits. It's the same for demons. There are demons in the heavens, and there are also demons among the asuras. The good individuals belong to whatever Dharma Realm they are in, while the bad individuals belong to the demon realm. Although demons are mostly found in the six Dharma Realms of ordinary beings, they can also transform them- selves to invade and cause trouble in the Four Dharma Realms of Sages.
Buddhas and demons are only a single thought apart. Buddhas are kind and compassionate, while demons are competitive. For example, Devadatta was strongly competitive. He competed with the Buddha to be number one, but the Buddha did not compete with him. Basically, he also had the Buddha-nature within his own nature, but he took a wrong turn, went too far, and could not turn around and come back. He was possessed by a demon. In the Mahayana doctrine, the Buddhas may manifest as demons in order to teach and transform the demons.
Since demons are found throughout the Six Common Dharma Realms, they do not have a separate Dharma Realm of their own. Yet, although they exist in the Six Common Dharma Realms, they are false and unreal. They are phonies, just like the bandits in the human realm who stake out a territory in the mountains and declare themselves kings. The bandits claim to be an army, but they go around murdering, setting fires, and harming people as they please. The demons are the same way.