Present living beings are our parents from past lives, and future Buddhas. If you get angry at living beings, this amounts to getting angry at your parents and the Buddhas. Thus you become a great rebel and are unfilial.
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists have different dates for the Buddha’s birthday. Since there are no fixed dharmas, it doesn’t matter which day it is; as long as we celebrate with sincerity and worship in a dignified manner, any day can be the Buddha’s birthday. If we spent time investigating these matters, we would just tire ourselves out until our hair turned gray and our eyes became blurred, we would still not be able to get a definite result. We would only waste a lot of precious time, and that would be a shame.
In Buddhism, people have their own attachment. Some people are attached to Indian Buddhism, some to Sri Lankan Buddhism, some to Chinese Buddhism, some to Japanese Buddhism, and so forth. Having various attachments and views draws boundaries within Buddhism, and thus divides it. Actually Buddhism is boundless and has no limits. I always advocate not drawing boundaries within Buddhism. We should be united and view the world as one family.
I often say, “The Buddhism I talk about is not Indian or Chinese Buddhism, but a Buddhism that pervades empty space and the Dharma Realm.” Moreover, within this Buddhism there are no nationalities, no racial differences, no you or me. Not only are people who believe in Buddhism Buddhist, but people who don’t believe in Buddhism Buddhist as well. Why is this so? Because Shakyamuni Buddha once said, “All living beings have the Buddha nature, all can become Buddhas.” This confirms that Buddhist are living beings, and non- Buddhists are also living beings.
Someone may insists, “I’m not a living being.” If you’re not a living being, then what are you? Someone may say, “My name is Heaven. I am Heaven.” Don’t you know that Heaven is also a living being? Someone may say, “My name is Earth. I am Earth.” Don’t you realize that Earth is also a living being and is not beyond the scope of living beings?
Living beings dwell in places throughout empty space and the Dharma Realm. Of the ten Dharma Realms, only the Buddha realm is beyond the scope of living beings. Beings in the other nine realms-those of Bodhisattvas, Condition Enlightened ones, Hearers, gods, humans, asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings - are all within the scope of living beings, and so they are called living beings.
Since we are all living beings, isn’t it fair for me to include non- Buddhist in Buddhism? Such is the big picture of Buddhism. The Buddha said, “All living beings can become Buddhas.” Whether you believe in Buddhism or not, you will all become Buddhas in the future, because you are not beyond the scope of living beings. If you don’t believe in Buddhism now, you will in the future. If you don’t believe in Buddhism in this life, you will in the next one. Eventually you will believe in Buddhism. Therefore I regard all living beings as Buddhist.
Some religions assert that there is only one god who created and rules this world or who controls the universe. They maintain that human beings can’t become gods; that people can only be god’s workers, dominated by him. This theory is the opposite of Buddhist principles.
According to Buddhist principles, everyone can become a Buddha. Present living beings are our parents from past lives as well as future Buddhas. If you get angry at living beings, this amounts to getting mad at your parents and the Buddhas. Thus you become a great rebel and are unfilial. We should be compassionate and respectful towards living beings. We should also treat each other with sincerity, help each other out, and not obstruct or be jealous of one another. This is the greatest aspect of Buddhism.
You have come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas today to attend the celebration of the Buddha’s birthday. Regardless of whether or not you believe in Buddhism, and whether or not you have come to bathe the Buddha, I consider all of you Buddhists. If you are Catholic, you’re a Buddhist; if you are a Protestant, you’re also a Buddhist. Even if you are a Jew, a Muslin, or a follower of some other religion, you are still a Buddhist. I will not exclude you from Buddhism. We are all one family. There is no distinction between you and I. See how great Buddhism is! We don’t have the notion of excluding other religions.
A talk given on May 9,1983