Observe the Way through Living Simply

Venerable Master Hsing Yun

In the early days of Buddhism, how did monastics observe the Way and live their lives? As the daily lives of these monastics were not one of material things, emotional ties, or sensory pleasures, they led a lives of few material things and cool emotional ties.

The world within their heart was pure and their spiritual life was forever lasting.

In more concrete terms, their personal belongings were limited to three garments and one bowl. They only ate one meal a day, and they often slept under trees, along river banks, or even by burial grounds. Then there was the method of “discipline cultivation,” which involved an enormous amount of solitude.

The goal of discipline cultivation was to become unperturbed by the trials of life through discipline or even ascetic practices. They were not after present enjoyment and thus worldly temptation did not have a hold on them. They often shunned crowded and noisy places and were most keen on attaining the eternal peace of nirvana. Unfortunately, some people today just want to copy the lifestyle of these arhats in appearance, but not in practice. They want to remove themselves from communities and yet long to live in worldly comfort. This later lifestyle is not what we mean by cultivation.

The elder Mahakasyapa was one of the foremost disciples of the Buddha. He was most diligent in his practice of discipline cultivation. Through a life of frugality, he wanted to purify his body and mind, to free himself from the shackles of worldly worries, and to attain the ultimate Buddha-wisdom.

One day, the Buddha happened to notice Mahakasyapa was well advanced in years and advised him, “You really need not live such an ascetic life. You can return to the Jetavana Monastery and be the head monastic.There, you can lead the assembly in practice. This way, you can still achieve your goal of purifying your mind of worldly cares and desires.”

Mahakasyapa replied to the Buddha, “Lord Buddha, I really cannot do as you have suggested. I am here to practice discipline cultivation, and I want to set an example for generations of Buddhists. I want them to know that ascetic practices can help us sharpen our will, strengthen our faith, and boost our spirit. We need to find our hearts and minds and be masters of them. This way, we will be in the company of all Buddhas.”

Worldly living measures happiness by how much one owns; transcendental living builds happiness on the freeness of not possessing.

Possession is like a piece of baggage; it can be burdensome. Not possessing is boundless and limitless. Though these enlightened individuals did not possess much, they had the whole world to enjoy.

The material life of the sangha was limited to the basics. When the Buddha’s aunt offered the Buddha two garments that she herself had made, the Buddha only took one and asked her to offer the other one to a bhiksu. The life of the sangha emphasized self-reliance and mutual support. When older bhiksus could not see well, the Buddha helped them thread needles and mend clothes. When some of them fell ill, the Buddha prepared medicine for them and helped them bathe. The life of the sangha was demanding and called for self-motivation.

The Buddha often encouraged his disciples to travel as much as thirty miles to receive an offering. The sangha sometimes traveled many miles to teach the Dharma. From our standpoint, such a life may seem harsh, but these enlightened individuals were not the least bothered by the meager conditions they lived in. Regardless how trying the circumstance, it was a means to observe the Way. The arhats did not make the distinction of possessing and not possessing, far and near, or hardships and comfort. They looked at each of these qualities with equanimity.

Now, it is different with lay people. Everyday, you have to think about what you should wear for the day. If you want to wear red, you may even have to think about which shade of red looks good on you. All those decisions! Tomorrow, when you come to attend the lecture, you may want to wear a color other than red. Which color? Green, maybe.

Let me give you another example. In the kindergarten school that we have opened, we just hired a few young ladies to be school teachers. Their salary was three thousand dollars a month. In the school, there are also a few monastics working as teachers. As monastics, they are only paid a hundred dollars a month. Strangely enough, I once heard a salaried teacher asking a loan from a monastic. What is enough? Is three thousand dollars enough? Is a hundred dollars enough? To make a lot of money does not necessarily mean happiness; to make a mini amount is not necessarily bad either.

To enlightened individuals who have renounced their attachments, all the happenings in the world seem like fleeting smoke or floating clouds, leaving not a trace in their minds.

They remain unperturbed by worldly phenomena and are not slaves to desires. They look at relationships coolly, and everyday they live their lives simply, peacefully, freely, and harmoniously.

To live transcendentally does not mean we have to live apart from people. When we live and function in our homes and society, we can practice transcendental living by remembering four things.

First, we cannot let wealth and fame dictate what we do.

Second, our love for others should not be possessive and demanding in nature.

Third, we should not become attached to power and position.

Fourth, we should not focus on self versus others, or what we like versus what we dislike.

If we can live in this world in accordance with these four points, then we will taste the joys of a transcendental life.

More Featured Articles

Lessen desire and be without any wishes and the body and mind will be at ease.When our desires are balanced and reasonable, we can be content. The Buddha taught that deep wisdom can be found only by following a “middle way” between dualistic extremes. The middle way can always be Read more
When there is hope, there is a future. The worst tragedy in life is to live without hope for the future. When there is hope, there is a future. One of the mottoes of the Buddha's Light International Association is "to give others hope." That is the highest act of benevolence. Read more
Most people regard the Buddhist religion as conservative and passive. Many think that Buddhism only teaches people to meditate, recite mantras and be vegetarians. They do not associate the religion with active and progressive ideas such as environmental protection. In truth, Buddhism is a religion that embodies the spirit of Read more
When someone benefits us even a little,we should repay them with all our hearts.Even if someone is angry with us,we should always treat them well.— Upasakasila Sutra Gratitude Is Fundamental to BuddhismA natural outgrowth of heartfelt gratitude is the desire to repay others for the kind things they have done for Read more
Everyone in this world wants to have wealth and live a carefree life. They also want a good rebirth. Richness in this life and pleasure in the next are the hallmarks of a successful life.In the Sumati Sutra, the Buddha defined a "successful life" to be wealth in this life and happiness Read more
The analysis of the mind in Buddhism is both multifaceted and sophisticated. As a spiritual practice, Buddhism contains numerous descriptions of the nature and function of the mind and instructions on how to search for, abide with, and refine it. In this regard, Buddhist psychology has much to offer, as Read more
Within the faith of Humanistic Buddhism, there is no opposition between time and space, nor is there any worry about life and death. What we seek to attain in passive terms is the absence of fear, confusion, and degradation, as well as the inability to become broken; in active terms, Read more
To "commit" is to give assurance to others and to make a conscientious effort to deliver a promise. To instill credibility and trustworthiness, we must honor our words. Confucius once said, "One without credibility is like a large vehicle without a brake pedal, or a small carriage without axles. How Read more
The Forty-Eight Vows of Amitabha Buddha as recorded in the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life.  [1] If I should attain Buddhahood, yet there would be hell beings, hungry ghosts, or animals in my land, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.[2] If I should attain Buddhahood, yet humans and heavenly beings Read more
We should always try to see the good in others, not the bad. On the samsaric level of this saha world alone, back-biting and faultfinding are known by most people to be totally counter-productive. Not only does faultfinding produce nothing but anger and mistrust, but the effects of negative speech Read more
The Sumati Sutra discusses fulfilling both worldly and supramundane needs. Sumati’s first three questions are regarding obtaining an elegant appearance, obtaining wealth, and keeping a harmonious family life—all of these are concerned with success in this life. Being satisfied in this way ensures that a bodhisattva will not be hindered, Read more
Anger is distinguished from greed in that anger is a form of revulsion created by something we do not like while greed is a form of attraction brought on by something we do like. In this limited sense, and in this sense only, greed can be said to be “better Read more