March 07, 2020, Ksitigarbha Group Practice
As Spring draws near, the Sakura trees that line the streets around the Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple are starting to bloom. It’s a joy to see them everyday.
On one such joyful day, after the Ksitigarbha group practice on 7 March 2020, Grandmaster discoursed on the Principal Deity, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. Ksitigarbha’s vow, “Until hell is empty, I shall not become a buddha” is as compassionate as Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s. Grandmaster asked the audience to contemplate on the question, “Will hell be ever empty?”
He took the opportunity to teach everyone to think of the answer from the perspective of the highest stage [of achievement], because it is a little difficult to explain. Actually, the six realms of existence are Nirvana. Just like there is no difference between Buddha and Mara, there is no difference between Reincarnation and Nirvana.
The Dharma King also asked the audience, “Is there hell?” Actually, hell is not just in the netherworld. The human world has hell too.
In the netherworld, there exists the Naihe Bridge (literally, the 'Bridge of Helplessness')*. Ghosts float in the river under the bridge. Their heads are above the water, but as the water level continues to rise, the struggling ghosts' heads will eventually get submerged in the water. The ghosts experience the pain of 'dying by drowning'.
For those unfamiliar with the Bridge of Helplessness: Ghosts (villains who died) must pass under the 'Bridge of Helplessness' in order to continue their swim towards their final destinations.
However, the violent ebb and flow of the water causes many ghosts to experience 'drowning' when stuck under the bridge during the frequent and unpredictable high tides.
The symbolic purpose of the infamous bridge is therefore to incur helplessness and pain that must be overcome through learning from the ghosts’ past sins.]
Similarly, in the COVID-19 outbreak, the virus is known to affect the lungs such that breathing becomes so difficult that it is just like drowning in water. Death then ensues. This drowning can be likened to the scenario under the Bridge of Helplessness.
Also, the three evil realms can be observed in the human world. The Dharma King explained, in times of great hunger, there are deaths resulting from starvation. This is just like the realm of the Hungry Ghosts. The realm of the Animals is also everywhere – examples include cats, dogs, pigs, goats, chicken, ducks, and goose.
However, the Dharma King also taught the audience to look at things from the other side of the coin. The scenarios described earlier are non-existent if one has attained the stage of awakenment, a world of a higher level. Reincarnation and Nirvana are the same. At the highest level, the saha world and reincarnation are illusory.
The great spirit of a living buddha is such that he or she goes into the illusory world to save sentient beings trapped in the illusory world, with the objective to help sentient beings achieve attainment.
In fact, this spirit is the same as Ksitigarbha’s. Living buddhas get reborn again and again tirelessly, just like Ksitigarbha in the netherworld tirelessly continues to teach and save sentient beings. Ksitigarbha is not just present in the netherworld, he is also present in the six realms of existence. Hence, he is also called, “Six-realm Ksitigarbha”. Besides praising the spirit of Ksitigarbha, the Dharma King also admires the spirit of living buddhas (for instance, tulkus, rinpoches) who are always coming to the saha world, life after life, to save sentient beings.
The Dharma King then discoursed on the Lamdre. He explained the nature and appearance of the six kinds of hindrances to a practitioner. These hindrances are:
• Breaking the Samaye precept;
• Getting disturbed by demons and ghosts who plant mischiefs on the practitioner;
• Befriending people who break precepts;
• Consuming the wrong foods;
• Living in unclean abode; and,
• Touching dead bodies and getting toxins from them, including stale and lack-of-life qi from the corpses.
The six hindrances will cause obstructions to the body of the practitioner.
The Dharma King peppered his speech with jokes to make the dharma easy to understand for all. In particular, he likened human beings to "mixed-bloods of good and evil" -- good and evil are mixed together. Sometimes, a person can be very compassionate and kind-hearted. Sometimes, he or she can have evil thoughts.
All human beings are "mixed-bloods" if they do not have stability in spiritual cultivation and if they have not reached the state of complete purification.
When one is completely pure, one will be able to enter the higher heavenly worlds or the realm of cosmic space. One can even become a Buddha or Bodhisattva, in a state that is completely pure and clear; it is a completely stable [meditative] state. Otherwise one is a "mixed-blood" as one is not completely kind or completely evil.
After the discourse, the reverends at Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple led everyone in the chanting of the Buddha’s name and epithets. Grandmaster then bestowed the refuge-taking initiation on the new disciples. He also blessed the compassionate water and performed the consecration ritual on the Buddha statues and images.
The icing on the cake also came in the form of a book-signing event afterwards. The Dharma King personally autographed every copy of the latest book, entitled, “Notes from South Mountain Retreat.” The constant flow of dharma stream blessed everyone, and the event ended in auspiciousness.