Buddha’s Teachings – told by Ven. Beopryun Chapter 11. Buddha’s Birthday.
Four Acts of Blessing – It’s a pleasure to meet you
– It’s a pleasure to meet you, too, Ven. Beopryun Tomorrow is a holiday commemorating Buddha’s birthday In commemoration of Buddha’s birthday, we should think back on why Buddha came into this world If we are to know why Buddha came into the world, we can think back on how he was and what he said at the dying moment as well as how he was when he was born When Buddha was about to enter nirvāṇa between two pairs of Sal trees in Kushinagar He declared, “Nirvāṇa I will enter in the evening.” Ananda, one of the great disciples, who had attended to him for long 25 years felt great sorrow Upon listening to him, he left him and walked about the forest, weeping He thought about many things and became worried, ‘How should disciplinants like me who have renounced the world live without him?’ ‘What should we rely on and what should we be thinking about?’ He came back to Buddha and asked many things in order to be prepared for his not being with him One of the questions was about an offering presented to him Ananda asked Buddha, “We present offerings to you, which leads us to practice laudable deeds. If you are not with us, how can we practice such a laudable deed as we do to you?” Buddha answered his question, “Don’t worry, Ananda. Where there is no Tathāgata (Buddha), there are four laudable deeds you can practice, just like the deeds you do to Tathāgata.” “The first is to save the starving people by giving food.” This means that to give food to and save starving people without food is to present offerings to Buddha “The second is to give various medicines to and save people who are dying of diseases. It is also the same laudable deed as you do to me.” The third is to help and comfort people who are poor and lonely.” Poor people need to be helped and lonely people need to be comforted, don’t they? To help the poor and comfort the lonely is to present offerings to Buddha The fourth is to properly protect, from outside, disciplinants who are purely practicing the path of enlightenment To properly protect, from outside as a married Buddhist, disciplinants who obey the teachings of the Buddha and practice the path is to present offerings to Buddha These are the four virtuous offerings which can assure you a better life in the next world Today, we present offerings to Buddha, that is, the Images of Buddha As Buddha is no longer with us, we present offerings to a statue or a picture that portrays Buddha, thinking that he is with us and wish that it assures us a better life in the next world However, if we consider on the basis of the teachings of Buddha, that is, the Dharma, we would rather follow the supreme truth of the Buddha’s teachings when presenting offerings as a work of merit than ask for blessing by presenting offerings to such an image or an altar portrait of Buddha How to follow the supreme truth of the Buddha’s teachings when presenting offerings as a work of merit? It is to have the starving people eat their full, in other words, to give things to eat to the hungry Today, on the Earth, there are a number of people who starve to death or who suffer from malnutrition even if left alive There are 6.2 billion people around the globe And, about one fourth of them, i.e., 1.2 billion people earn less than $1 a day when they work outside In other words, those who should make ends meet with daily earnings of less than $1 account for about 25% of world population They live hand to mouth. Even if they can afford food, they can’t afford medical expenses And, even if they don’t suffer from diseases, they can’t send their kids to school They are the poorest To give food to them so that they won’t starve to death is, in a way, to release the captured wildlife as a work of merit In fact, they suffer from a disease which can be prevented by vaccination or whose treatment costs a few bucks, unlike the disease we suffer because it is incurable or its treatment costs tens of thousands of dollars For example, it costs less than $100 to cure tuberculosis However, there are many who are moneyless and hopeless because they have to face death if they have TB According to our research, almost three million people died from continued starvation in North Korea a few years ago How tormenting it is for a man to see his parents or kids dying of hunger right in front of him, let alone the suffering of the dying! Where people die from a mild disease, like paratyphoid, which costs only a few bucks to cure, like a rotten branch giving way, there we experience enormous sufferings together To save these people is to present offerings to Buddha as a work of merit However, today, we do not follow the Dharma, i.e., the teachings of Buddha and practice such a laudable deed, in other words, we do not become a Buddhist who makes much of and saves the dying, which causes the result of being blessed Indeed, we do practice certain deeds, expecting blessings in return, out of greed -deeds manipulated as a laudable deed for blessing For example, we intentionally capture a living fish, write something on its back, and release it in the hope that it will bring good luck to us or we serve delicacies to the Statue of Buddha and pray for blessing. To do these can’t be deemed to follow the Dharma These can be part of our cultures-religious cultures But, these are not, at least, the path to follow the Dharma, what Buddha taught Therefore, we should follow the Dharma when praying for blessings To pray for blessing is not to ask for it but to do a laudable deed that will certainly bring it Some say that Christians often engage in social services like helping vulnerable members of society but Buddhists rarely do Buddhists reiterate enlightenment but seldom talk about sharing Christians say Buddhists only tell people, “Be enlightened! Be enlightened! Be enlightened!” and do not tell people to share with neighbors who are suffering and poor However, it is merely what you think Buddhism is today, what you see in Buddhism today, and what has probably changed from the original Buddhism while being passed down through history It is not the first Buddhism-the Buddhism that a man of noble character, Buddha, taught As you can see in his dying instructions, that is, in his last teachings left as a will, he said that to present offerings to Buddha as a work of merit is to give food to the hungry, to save the sick with medicine, to help the poor, to comfort the lonely, and to properly protect, from outside, disciplinants who are purely practicing the path of enlightenment I should say that these teachings, if properly followed, are better guideline than any other guidelines for Buddhist social welfare services However, we’ve never seen or heard of these teachings of Buddha or a sūtra that says these Indeed, we are negligent in taking practical actions that are required when you take refuge in the Buddha for attaining enlightenment such as listening to, understanding, and carrying out the teachings of Buddha, only to increase happiness, although we say we are Buddhists We always do say, “I take refuge in the Dharma,” but, we should rethink, ‘Do I truly and heartily take refuge in the Dharma?’ How have I turned his teachings into a barometer in life?’ ‘Have I learned a lesson from his teachings?’ ‘Have I found hope in despair after listening to his teachings?’ ‘Did I find a new way-a way like a light at dark night-while suffering from ignorance, after listening to his teachings?’ If you can answer yes, you can say you have taken refuge in the Dharma When people get to know what the JTS (Jungto Society) does, many of them question, “How come Buddhists are involved in such a service?” They find such a Buddhist service surprising However, Buddhists should ask themselves back, “How come Buddhists are not engaged in such an activity?” Buddha certainly left his last instructions, saying, “Fill the hungry with a meal, treat the sick, help the poor, and comfort the lonely. And, these are how you can serve Buddha.” For this reason, the JTS tells people, ‘He who is starving shall eat.’ ‘He who is sick shall be treated.’ and ‘Children shall learn at the right age.’ and these are what the JTS aims at Where do you think these three phrases are from? These are right from a sūtra without any changes. However, these days, some have changed The criterion of the poor is vague, isn’t it? The poorest will be those who starve to death or die from a disease, of course However, there are still a number of poor people. Who would be the next poorest? They would be those who can’t send their kids even to elementary school. How poor of them to be unable to send school! When I visited a refugee camp in Afghanistan, I asked, “Do you send your kids to school?” They answered, “No.” I asked, “Why?” and they said, “There is no school.” I asked again, “Why don’t you build a house?” and they told me, “Who would build it?” They said they didn’t have enough food and couldn’t have their diseases treated What they needed were food first, then water, and medicine They didn’t even mention about a school. I just thought they had no interest in it But, I was wrong about them They then were so hungry that they asked for food; so thirsty, for water; so sick, for medicine They said school education was a luxury to them I asked, “Don’t you need a school?” and they said, “Yes, we do need” They said, “No parents would not want to educate their kids.” “No parents would want their kids to lead the same life as they had.” “However, as you can see, we can’t even dream of it now.” I saw tears in their eyes, while talking, and tears welled up in my eyes, too They said, “We are not neglecting our own children. Although we do our best, we just can’t take care of our own kids.” Is it their fault alone? No. All men should take responsibility for it As far as Buddhists are concerned, it is the Buddhists’ responsibility Kṣitigarbha wished to give aid even to hell-beings who had been punished according to their sins Why not give aid to these children who haven’t sinned? They are merely being punished for being born there The same is true of young children born in North Korea Those young children have neither made missiles, nor made nuclear weapons, nor supported the Kim Jong-un’s regime, nor been a communist They were merely born there For one reason only: they were born there, we are indifferent to them even if they starve to death, die from a disease, and become a kotjebi who wanders about, searching for food and shelter Why? Because they are neither our own children nor the people in our country We shouldn’t think this way All men should be responsible for it In this sense, the JTS built a tent school and made a recommendation to the government for them Why? Because they had never experienced a school system All they asked for were food, medicine, tents, and clothes They didn’t even think about asking for a school They just had no idea since they had never went to school So, in place of children and their parents, we told to the government, “We will set up a tent school. Please, send us a teacher.” They said they couldn’t. So, we asked again, “Then, we will find a learned man in town for a teacher and run it for one year. We suggest that you run it after one year. And, we need you to approve a teacher first. We need his rights to be guaranteed as a teacher and need him to be trained, if necessary.” This was how we built four schools People like them are the next poorest In addition to food to the hungry and medicine to the sick, the third important thing to do for the poor is to have children learn at the right age It is also important to protect, from outside, disciplinants who are purely practicing the path of enlightenment However, today, in South Korea, there are no monks who can’t practice the path due to lack of food and clothes, are there? I think there are, if any, a few As long as they are determined to do, they can practice the path anywhere Although it is good to protect them from outside, we chose above-mentioned three aims for this reason In this sense, if we find good ideas in a sūtra, we can be involved in the most advanced activities in this day and age We can come up with the most advanced policy. We don’t necessarily have to go to the U.S. or Japan and learn to do all these We don’t have to be engaged in other religions to learn In a sūtra, the teachings of Buddha, are all these We just don’t read it. Even if we read it, we fail to find a pearl of wisdom in it Even if we do find it, we fail to newly adapt it so that it can permeate our modern society As today is Buddha’s birthday, I’d like to say that to celebrate Buddha’s coming into the world is certainly to follow what he wished to do In May, the weather is fine and there is Children’s Day in South Korea Children in South Korea seem to be well cared for But, on the other side of the world, a number of children are abandoned because they can’t be cared for even by their parents I should say that to make up our mind to help these children is what we should do on Buddha’s birthday On Christmas day at the end of every year, we do lots of charity work, don’t we? As today is Buddha’s birthday, I should say Buddhists should help poor neighbors, help those who are suffering somewhere beyond eyeshot, and follow the last instructions of Buddha in commemoration of Buddha’s coming into the world Why do we light up? Becuase it is dark ‘Nirvāṇa (Kr. 열반)’ is the light that breaks sufferings (Skt. duḥkha, Kr. 고) We shouldn’t be sharing the joy of Buddha’s birthday just between us We should shed this glorious light on those who groan under darkness, too I should say this is why we light up a paper lantern I wish we can light a paper lantern not only for ourselves but also for the poor, and each temple spends the proceeds from the selling of a paper lantern not only for the temple but also for those who suffer in darkness so that a part of the light can be shared with them