Chapter 11 - On a Simple Life

1. Nowadays, everybody, either living at home or in the monastery, enjoys a very comfortable life. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily a blessing as it can easily lead to a degenerated and disorganized lifestyle and bring about calamity. If you further indulge yourself in the pursuit of sensual passions hence spoil this body of yours, you are also more likely to suffer from all sorts of disease.

2. In order to practice, you have to relinquish your attachments to physical gratification and live a simple life. If you enjoy and are contented with plain food and clothing, you will be happy all the time. On the other hand, if you pay too much attention to the qualities of food, clothing, and housing, etc., then you will be no different from a lay person. Only be relinquishing all your attachments to physical satisfaction can you expect yo eliminate your greed, anger and ignorance. As you know, a lavish lifestyle will inevitably induce more desire and arouse greediness in you. In due course, the five skandhas (form, sensation, perception, volition and consciousness) will have a firm grip of both your body and your mind. And as you immerse yourself in these impurities, you can never be free. Thus, "relinquishing attachments to the body" should begin by simplifying your clothing, food, and living conditions.

3. Practice should begin with consuming only "plain food and clothing." Unfortunately, people nowadays (practitioners included) tend to pay a great deal of attention to what they eat or wear and often preoccupy themselves all day long for such pursuits. As a result, practitioners not only cannot reduce their negative karma, but their merits and wisdom accumulated in previous lives will be drained. Then their karmic obstructions will naturally come forth.

4. What is the essence of "simple food and clothing?" It certainly doesn't mean that you should give up food or clothes. Rather, just feed yourself without craving the taste and keep yourself warm without pursuing a lavish style. Also, you should get enough sleep so as to be energetic, but do not oversleep lest you feel slumberous. If you insist on the extremes of no food or sleep thereby spoiling your health and feeling even less at ease in the monastery, it will also spoil your efforts of leaving home for practice.

5. People are often driven blindly by their sensual desires. For example, some people are willing to kill just to satisfy their palate, not knowing they might be eating the flesh of their relatives from previous lives. Besides, according to the law of karma, you have to repay in full everything you do. Though you have acquired human existence in this life, you are still confined to the vicious cycle of demanding and repaying the debts from previous lives. If you do not practice diligently in search for a way out, you will be forever imprisoned in this cycle of rebirths.

6. Do not crave for more than you actually need. All you require is enough to sustain your life. If you eat more just because there is plenty available, it only reflects the greediness of your mind. However, don't deliberately eat less and starve yourself, for this is also a form of attachment. How much you should eat depends on how much you need. Have enough food, but make no distinction of taste.

7. Eat only to sustain your life. If you indulge yourself in the pursuit of satisfying your palate, you are enslaved by your mouth. It not only will increase the burden of your digestive system, but also will increase your sense of illusion, dispersion, and attachment. Life should be simple: eat so that you won't starve and wear so that you can cover yourself and keep warm; that's sufficient.

8. If you are used to living lavishly and being waited on, you can easily become arrogant. Also, the smarter you are, the stronger your sense of "self" will be. Without using Buddhadharma as an antidote to reflect on yourself thereby learn to repent and be humble, it will be very difficult for you to break out of the confinement of the form of "self".

9. Food, clothing, and housing are necessary to sustain our lives, but avoid consuming more than the basics. If you pursue a lavish lifestyle instead of restraining your sensual passions, you not only will be unable to reduce your negative karma, but will add more to it thus generate bitter fruits for yourself.

10. While eating, ponder gratefully, "Where does the food come from and how does it get here?" Introspect: "Have I practiced diligently to deserve this food?" Without a sense of appreciation, even a casual comment such as "the food tastes awful" will cost you some merit.

11. If, instead of enduring hardships and relinquishing your desires, you insist on eating well and living comfortably, why bother leaving home for practice? What differences are there between you and any layman? We monastic practitioners should not pay too much attention on satisfying our sensual desires. As long as the food is edible and sufficient, do not insist on good flavor. Only through such practice can we expect to relinquish our desires and unfold our wisdom.

12. Working in the kitchen of the monastery is following the path of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. In fact, many great bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara and Manjusri have practiced asceticism through working in the kitchen. The kitchen is a place where you can easily either amass or waste away your merits. Do not casually throw away edible food or leftovers lest you should bear the consequences, such as to be reborn as a chicken, duck, pig, or dog and all you can eat are leftovers or spoiled food.

13. Recite silently before each meal: "I vow to annihilate all the vice, to practice all the virtue, and to deliver all sentient beings." To annihilate all the "vice" means eradicating all sinister thoughts at their incipience. For example, picking the better part from a dish reflects clearly a sense of "discrimination" and "covetousness." Thoughts of this nature are sinister and should be eliminated.

14. Once we leave home for practice, the world is our home. We should be able to practice anywhere we are, so why look for any particular place? What matters is our resolve, not a specific type of monastery that caters to our wish. With resolve, we can feel at home and make progress in our practice even only residing in a bamboo shelter in the woods. Our minds will be stable as long as we have the resolve to overcome any and all obstacles. With determination and an unwavering mind, we can practice wherever we are.

15. Before plunging into any type of ascetic practice such as never lying down to sleep, one has to start with relinquishing the pursuit of physical gratification. After you are free of sensual passions as well as of the defilement of greed, anger, and ignorance, your illusive ideas will naturally diminish. At that stage, you can venture into the more advanced steps in Zen practice.

16. This world is nothing but our temporary residence. Everything in this world is like a phantasm or a magical delusion, as unreal as things in our dream or in a drama. Do not mistake the seeming for the being thereby long for anything in this world. Relinquish all attachments, practice reciting the name of the Buddha, and vow to be reborn in the Pure Land. Only Amitabha Buddha is our ultimate refuge and the Pure Land our true homeland.