If you aspire to virtue, your karmic obstacles will seek you out.
If you want to become a Buddha, you must first endure the demons.
If you don’t want to learn virtue, your karmic obstacles won’t come looking for you. The more you aspire to virtue, the more intensely your creditors will search you out in order to settle old accounts. From limitless eons past until now, in life after life, we have created both good and bad karma. Therefore, once we resolve to cultivate the Way, all our creditors show up to collect debts we owe. We can use the analogy of a person who has borrowed lots of money and hasn’t returned it. When he doesn’t strike it rich, his creditors don’t seek him out, because they know he has no money. Once he makes a fortune, however, his creditors line up at the door to demand their money. Why? Because he’s rich, and if they don’t demand their money now, they might not get another chance!
Therefore, when we encounter adverse states in the course of cultivation, we should work even harder and not retreat from our Bodhi resolve. When our creditors come to demand their money, we pay them. We dedicate our merit and virtue to our relatives, friends, enemies, and creditors, enabling them to attain bliss, end birth and death, and be free from suffering. We shouldn’t refuse to pay our debts.
In life after life for countless eons, due to various causes and conditions, we have committed innumerable misdeeds. If we carefully consider just this life, how many small creatures have we killed? How many unfair things have we done? Perhaps we haven’t killed any large creatures(such as lions, elephants, horses, sheep, cows, chickens, or dogs), but we probably have killed small living beings (such as frogs, mosquitoes, ants, or flies), or have harbored thoughts of killing in our minds.
For example, when we were small we may have killed numerous animals and insects because we didn’t know any better. Such offenses were committed out of ignorance. But if we want to cultivate the Way, we will have to pay our debts. The debts we owe are not just one or two, but countless. In life after life, these debts have accumulated, and we could never finish discussing them.
Therefore, we cannot be unreasonable and claim to cultivate while refusing to acknowledge our debts of karmic enmity. If you think like that, you will never attain the Way, because your heart is not just. If you were just, you would acknowledge your debts. After you pay them, there are no more problems. Hence it’s said, "If you aspire to virtue, your karmic obstacles will seek you out." You are like someone who has just come into wealth, and all your friends are beating a path to your door.
“If you want to become a Buddha, you must first endure the demons.” Demons helped the Buddha attain the Way. If there were no demons, there would be no Buddha, either. Demons come to test you, to make you take another step forward.
If you wish to see for a thousand miles, you must go up another floor.
Demons test to see how strong your cultivation is. If it’s strong enough, you won’t waver or retreat in the face of ten thousand demons, and you won’t lose your resolve for Bodhi. The greater the hardship, the more energetic you are. Even when surrounded by adversity, you remain calm. You don’t feel mistreated, and you don’t complain to heaven or blame others. You bear adversity and cultivate patience. That’s the kind of skill you ought to have. No matter what demonic obstacles you encounter, you give no opposition. You’re unafraid of suffering. You make a vow to cross over demons, and to influence them to take refuge in the Triple Jewel and bring forth the Bodhi resolve. You harbor no grudges. In this way, you can “beat swords into plowshares,” and transform hostility into peace.
Always look for good in what appears to be the opposite. “If you fail to achieve your goal, seek the reason within yourself.” Don’t be so defensive.
Truly recognize your faults.
Don’t discuss the faults of others.
Others’ faults are just my own.
Being one with everything is called, “Great Compassion.”
“Being one with everything” includes demons. Demons are also a part of our own natures. If we hold demons inside, they will be attracted from outside. If we are free of internal demons, external demons will not enter. What are the demons of our own natures? Greed, anger, and ignorance. “If the plate of cat food is not left out, the flies won’t be attracted.” Since demons feel they can get some cheap advantages off you, they come to stir up mischief and display their spiritual penetrations.
Therefore, in every word and deed, we must be true and honest. We must be trustworthy in speech, sincerely respectful in action, and not given to lying. One who always covers errors instead of admitting them cannot cultivate. We should be honest and up front about things, and work in an open and public-spirited way. We should cultivate righteousness and morality and do nothing that goes against our conscience.
Cultivators of the Way need genuine wisdom. Having genuine wisdom means not praising oneself and disparaging others, saying, “Look at me! I’m number one. I’m the purest and loftiest. Everyone else is common and lowly.” Those who praise themselves have no future. Even when alive, they are as good as dead, for they have gone against their own conscience and integrity. They look down on others and are completely wrapped up in themselves. Such people make the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas most unhappy. If you wish to make the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas happy and receive their protection, you must practice what you preach. Your words must match your actions, and your actions must accord with your words. There should be no discrepancy between them. Don’t boast about your own virtue, then make a mess of things.
Cultivators shouldn’t be selfish or seek to benefit themselves. They should benefit others. They should neither hurt nor look down upon others. They should reflect mindfully upon themselves in regard to the past and present, and then contemplate the future. If you can be mindful in thought after thought, and maintain your conscience and integrity in every moment, your good roots will naturally grow. Your Bodhi resolve will expand and you will be able to practice the Bodhisattva Path to benefit all living beings. These functions are all interrelated.
You should take care not to retreat from your Bodhi resolve out of fear of demons. Demonic obstacles are tests. By analogy, when a student first enters school, he may find the courses difficult. But after a while, they become easier. This happens in elementary school, high school, and college.
If the plum tree did not endure the winter’s freeze,
How could her blossoms smell so sweet?
For ten years, he studies by the window in the cold, and no one inquires of him.
When suddenly he rises to fame, the whole world comes calling.
When you cultivate, don’t try to get into the limelight. It’s totally wrong to seek fame and gain after you’ve left the home-life. After leaving home, you should apply yourselves seriously to cultivation with your feet planted on solid ground. You should foster blessings and wisdom. To cultivate blessings, you must benefit others. To cultivate wisdom, you must frequently investigate the Sutras. If you are always doing things to benefit others, your blessings and virtue will grow.
“How can I benefit others?” you ask. “Do I have to spend money to perform meritorious deeds?” No, that’s not necessary. All you have to do is free your mind of thoughts of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and lying, and refrain from taking intoxicants – these are all ways of fostering blessings.
With kind words and skillful speech, you can create merit whether or not you have money.
If you don’t scold or berate others, you create merit and virtue. We should cherish our blessings and cultivate wisdom at every opportunity. The cultivation of blessings and wisdom, however, cannot be accomplished in a single day. The effort must continue moment-by-moment, morning and evening, month after month and year after year. We cannot “sun it for one day and freeze it for ten.” If you do that, you’ll never make progress. Therefore, we must confidently set our goals, advance with vigor, and never retreat. These are the qualities that every cultivator should possess.
A talk given on June 19, 1982
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas