Today, I would like to discuss with everyone two integral aspects of the spirit of DBS life education: precepts and kindness. To open this discussion, I want to first recount the episode of the “Goddess Strewing Flowers” from Chapter 7 “Regarding Sentient Beings” of the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa.
Within this chapter of the sūtra, after Vimalakīrti finishes his answers to a round of questions from Mañjuśrī with the conclusion: “all dharmas are established on a basis that is baseless,” a goddess suddenly appears, strewing celestial flowers and singing praises. Amusingly, these flowers would not stick to the bodies of the bodhisattvas, only to the bodies of the śrāvakas, who trying as they might could not manage to free themselves of the flowers, left awkward and embarrassed. In reply to the goddess’s question, “Why are you trying to get rid of the flowers?”, Śāriputra explains that flowers are improper for monks. The goddess then responds by underscoring the importance of non-discrimination, in accord with Vimalakīrti’s earlier statement of “all dharmas are established on a basis that is baseless.”
Now, let me address today’s topic by way of interpreting this story from a slightly different perspective.
Having been here at DBS for a week or two now, everyone should be aware that the DBS life-education component involves many chores and regulations. These chores and regulations can be regarded, in a broad sense, as "precepts".
The primary purpose of such precepts, or rules, is to ensure that in a collective living situation, everything operates smoothly and everyone can function harmoniously. Secondarily is to prevent misunderstanding on the part of others, otherwise how can we benefit beings if they hold us in contempt for not even being able to handle ourselves properly?These two above-mentioned purposes are externally oriented, but I myself feel precepts (rules) are even more compelling as a vessel for the internal process of spiritual development. Through group living, we continually undermine our previous, habitual self-centeredness, and we begin to consider benefiting others as our foremost priority. Thus, we grow in spiritual conviction, bringing both ourselves and others ever so slightly closer to liberation. So, the moral of the “Goddess Strewing Flowers” story is: focus on your own internal cultivation; do not just treat rules or discipline as being externally imposed.
Understandably, there will of course be times when the precepts inconvenience and irritate you; this is normal, since these precepts exist for you to change deep-seated habits, which is never easy. Please do your best not to entertain any excuses in your mind for giving up or giving in to your afflictive emotions.
At the same time, for this very reason, I want to ask our instructors and senior students already acquainted with the DBS life-education component to be benevolent to our new students or returning students with lingering resentments. If we have properly understood and accepted the deeper purpose and necessity of our established rules (precepts), we can choose to meet every task or challenge with enthusiasm as opportunities to learn, thereby strengthening our individual spiritual resolve.
Everyone understands from personal experience that
to go from getting up late to getting up early,
to turn laxity into thoroughness,
to go from being a bumbling kitchen newbie to a masterful adept of the wok,
to go from oblivious ignorance of the voluminous scriptures to intimate familiarity：all of this takes excruciating, dedicated effort.
So if you see our newer or less experienced peers struggling, instead of losing patience, please think how to skillfully lead others to success: this is kindness. Likewise, our newer or less experienced peers should not take advantage of others’ kindness and think only of their own convenience; instead, please consider how to develop your own virtuous character and eliminate moral unwholesomeness: that is precepts. If everyone collectively abides with discipline and kindness, this can gradually become transformative at the individual level: that is “all dharmas being established on a basis that is baseless.” Upon such a foundation, we may then begin to manifest a Buddhadharmic education actualizing the three trainings of precepts, concentration, and insight.
On a concluding note, precepts and kindness, taken together, precisely mirror the FGU motto formulated by Master Hsingyun: "Integrity and Benevolence."
Best wishes to everyone! May you all continue to grow in wisdom and merit, and may your spiritual resolve grow deeper with each passing day.