Chapter 5 - On The Sense of Self

1. Most people are prone to criticize others and sing their own praises. Compliments bring them delight; criticism anger and distress. This is because they make a clear distinction between "self and others". If you enter practice without relinquishing this kind of distinction, your mind can never be settled. Because when you cling to the sense of "self", you are bound to see everything only in "your own way", and value only your own ideas. The discriminative and calculating mind thus arose would in turn hamper your practice, increase your vexations, and keep you from eradicating your karmic obstructions.

2. Most people like to "listen" so as to gather information and find out whether anyone speaks ill of them. They also like to "discern" the mood of others and act upon it. All these are habitual patterns of common people, i.e. they are easily distracted by events that do not concern them and they have a strong desire to please others for personal gains. This type of conduct will have an adverse effect on their practice.

3. Learn not to differentiate or discriminate so as to relinquish your attachment to the sense of "self", then wisdom will unfold. If you continue to cling to the sense of "self", you cannot expect to attain any level in your practice.

4. All vexations in this world are caused by constant conflicts between self and others. We should see whether our practice could obliterate the distinction between self and others and also eliminate discrimination and calculation. The first step is to practice "forbearance", which is also the foundation of our practice. Do not insist that you are always right, for such assertion only indicates that you haven't acquired right mindfulness thereby act more like an ordinary person than a practitioner.

5. In order to eliminate attachments to the sense and form of self, you can begin by lessening your cravings for tasty food and lavish clothing. After a while, your sensual passions will be greatly reduced. You will then become less discriminating and will gradually enter the path of liberation that makes no distinctions among the forms of self, others, sentient beings, and life.

6. Don't always keep your eyes on the faults of others. Instead, reflect more on whether you yourself have made mistakes or are in the wrong so that you will not deviate from the path.

7. Most of those who like to show off their talents or want to gain advantage over others end up in failure. Therefore, don't turn your back on other people's advice simply because you feel you are better educated, better informed, or more capable. Otherwise, your education and intelligence will only foster arrogance, hamper your practice, and make it more difficult for you to be in accord with Buddhadharma. There is an old saying: "Humility gains; arrogance losses". The more talented and capable you are, the more humble you should be. Such is a reflection of true wisdom.

8. Everyday when beating the evening drum, we ought to recite the following stanza in our minds: "Get public work done, public work be done. Put public work before private affairs". This recitation is to remind us that we should not let others do public duties while we ourselves concentrate only on our own practice (whether reciting the Buddha's name or the sutras, or performing prostration, they are all private affairs). If a practitioner focuses only on private affairs instead of vowing to work for the benefit of others, he/she is still clinging tightly to the sense of "self" and can never attain liberation. On the other hand, if a practitioner is dedicated to the monastery, is compassionate to all beings while providing them with expedient guidance for practice, he/she will be filled with dharmic joy. Thus, in practicing altruism, you can unfold the wisdom immanent in your mind and accumulate merits along the way. This is called the dual practice toward gaining both merit and wisdom.

9. Do not keep on clinging to the sense of "self". Otherwise, you will continue to drift within the five kasaya periods of impurity and among the six divisions of rebirth, with no hope of escaping.

10. If you succumb to your physical desires and insist on having good food and lavish clothing, all these attachments are reflections of your greediness.

11. We practitioners should not plan on being venerated. If we do, we are greedy and are still attached to the "form of self". Be humble and courteous so that we can eliminate our attachment to the "form of self". If we walk the path according to the wisdom of ordinariness, we are practicing to attain "sila, samadhi, and prajna (precepts, perfect absorption, and wisdom)".

12. More often than not, we are unaware of our own attachments. The results of such attachments will naturally surface when conditions are ripe. These results are our "karmic obstructions". Over the eons, all of us have accumulated immeasurable and illimitable negative karma. If we do not gradually reduce them through diligent practice, they will appear at our deathbed. So, at that crucial moment, whatever you crave for or are attached to will come forth to distract you. Without adequate self-control, you will be swayed easily by these distractions and remain fluctuating in the cycle of birth and death. If you crave for even a blade of grass in this world, you will be reborn into it and remain in samsara. A blade of grass symbolizes an idea, and an idea stands for one cycle of birth and death. So you see, the power of our minds is immeasurable. Without the guidance of right mindfulness, we will follow the fluctuation of our own karma without even realizing it. Thus, many that appear to be practicing solemnly are in fact mostly absorbed in their illusive and erroneous thoughts.

13. The purpose of listening to the sermons is to practice the methods expounded in order to rectify misconduct and eradicate karma. Don't continue to follow illusive ideas and clutch on to your own "egotistic views". Neither should you keep making distinctions between "self and others", nor hold on to your habitual tendencies of gossiping and making judgments. Remember to recite the name of the Buddha as often as possible!

14. You can neither deliver sentient beings by words nor preach the Dharma by offerings. What you should do is to practice diligently and attain a stage where you can impress and convert others without deliberate efforts. Only by then will you be able to deliver other beings.