We Leave the Home-life in Order to End Birth and Death

Buddhism is just beginning in the West. Let’s not turn this age into the Dharma-ending Age. We must perpetuate the proper Dharma.

We who study Buddhism shouldn’t become attached to our attainments. We shouldn’t become arrogant and conceited and forget to be humble and diligent. In general, we should cultivate with vigor at all times.

In the past, in China, some people left the home-life in order to obtain food and shelter so that they could survive. Others left the home-life because they were sick. Hardly ever did people leave home genuinely wishing to liberate themselves from birth and death.

I’m not slandering the monks and nuns of the past; most of them really were lazy gluttons. I hope that those of you who have left home with me will enrich your learning, cultivate virtue, and be genuine Sangha members.

Some people pass themselves off as Buddhists. Mingling with Buddhists, they rely on Buddhism for clothing and food, but don’t do any real work for Buddhism. I have seen this myself, and now I’m telling you because I want you to know that Sangha members should work hard to save the world, not be lazy bums who only know how to eat.

In the past, there were approximately one million left-home people in China, and most of them were illiterate. Since they had never been to school, they could not gain a deep understanding of the Sutras. They recited Sutras every day, but since they didn’t understand what they were reciting, it was basically a waste of time.

Buddhism is on the decline because most of the left-home people are greedy for food and sleep and don’t do any work. This is the general situation. If they don’t change this trend, Buddhism will have a very bleak future.

To my knowledge, there are several million left-home and lay Buddhists in China, and the majority of them simply stay in the monasteries and consume the goods they have hoarded up. They don’t work or produce anything themselves. Greedy for fame, benefit and offerings, they have no wish to study the teachings or practice Chan meditation. They aren’t serious about cultivation. What a pity!

Christian priests and ministers receive a high level of education in seminaries before they assume their clerical and ministerial duties.

In Buddhism, we talk about cultivating, but what kind of people have we cultivated ourselves into? Lazy gluttons. In the past, left-home people spent their days scouting out the monasteries that served the best vegetarian food or gave the biggest allowances. They had no idea of how to propagate the Buddhadharma, explain the Sutras, or speak the Dharma. Such monks were called “mute sheep.”  All they cared about was eating porridge with sesame oil for breakfast and rice with sesame oil for dinner. Their top priority was getting food and profit, not ending birth and death. That’s why Buddhism is in such a sorrowful plight.

In order to raise the standards of the Sangha, I will permit people to enter the monastic life only after they have graduated from college or from the three-year Sangha Training Program at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. People who have earned Master’s or doctoral degrees are even more welcome. After leaving home, they should memorize the Shurangama Mantra, the Shurangama Sutra, the Brahma Net Sutra [Bodhisattva precepts], and the Four Division Vinaya [Bhikshu and Bhikshuni precepts]. They should devote themselves to studying the Avatamsaka Sutra and Lotus Sutra, accord with the City’s tradition of vigorous cultivation.

Buddhism is just beginning in the West. Let’s not turn this age into the Dharma-ending Age. We must perpetuate the Proper Dharma and the Buddha’s wisdom. How can we do this? We must learn more about Buddhism and understand the principles in the Sutras better. Therefore, at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, in everything we say and do, we are learning. We are getting to know ourselves better, developing our characters, and cultivating our precepts.

Only heroic people can enter the monastic life. It takes courage and determination to leave home. After doing so, you must cultivate and uphold the precepts seriously. Don’t become lax and mindlessly follow the routine. If you feel that the monastic life is too bitter, you can return to lay life any time. I’m not trying to encourage you to do that, but Buddhism doesn’t need people who pretend to be what they’re not. I don’t want the reputation of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to be ruined on account of one person. These are my rules. I’m not trying to be different, I’m just following the regulations passed down by the Buddha.

A talk given on October 21, 1983