Thursday, December 11, 2008

What is “Buddha”? - by Chan Master Empty Cloud

The Sanskrit word “Buddha” means “Enlightened One.” The word “enlightened” embodies three different aspects: Self-enlightenment, the Enlightenment of Others and Perfect Enlightenment.

Self-enlightenment means one has realized that the wholesome and the unwholesome, and pleasure and pain are all created by the functioning of cause and effect. If we are able to clearly understand and completely realize this truth, it will enable us to resolve the Four Marks (birth, aging, sickness, death). This means one is enlightened.

The Enlightenment of Others means that every sentient being, whether it was born from a fetus, egg, moisture or transformation, whether it flies in the air or squirms in the ground, has Buddha-nature. It is only because they are not yet enlightened that the Ancients called these beings “lost.” We should respect and love ourselves in line with the Buddha’s principle of mercifully delivering all beings from suffering We should use our knowledge of the truth to teach others, and rescue all the living beings mired in the sea of suffering. If we come to truly realize these words spoken in the Surangama Sutra, “All men are my father, all women are my mother,” we will naturally develop feelings of respect and love in our innermost heart towards others, especially towards widows, widowers, orphans and the childless - those without anyone to support or help them. We will be able to treat them with even greater respect and tender affection. By helping these suffering beings through donations and compassionate action, we can bring them to enlightenment. Only in this way, can we finally attain our goal of equanimity and impartiality to all beings.

A Perfectly Enlightened One refers to someone who has taken the Buddhist precepts as his or her practice, even all the way to the highest summit of consummate enlightenment. After the Buddha entered Nirvana, he left behind the Sutras, the Vinaya and the Commentaries, the Three Baskets. These act as our raft to cross over the ocean of pain and sorrow, so we should conscientiously follow all the instructions and vows found therein. When we have practiced them all the way to complete fulfillment, then that is called Perfect Enlightenment. So, the Buddha is Enlightened, normal beings are lost. Lost or enlightened is the only difference between normal beings and a Buddha. Leaving behind confusion for enlightenment, leaving behind deluded thoughts for one’s original nature, this is the meaning of enlightenment, and this is the meaning of Buddha.

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