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第四届世界佛教论坛之净心与净土——佛教公益论坛文集

2015年10月30日 10:23:00 点击:0

[美]常宽法师:心淨则国土淨

常宽法师

According to a report by the Geneva Tribune, the Buddhist Community was voted the “The Best Religion In the World" award by an International Coalition for the Advancement of Religion and Spirituality (ICARUS) . Let's put aside if or not this report is true, one thing for certain is that Buddhism has been widely recognized as one of most humanitarian religions. It is no accident that the Buddhist community was awarded the title of the world's best religion. Ever since the Buddha started his teaching, a community around him started to take shape. Buddhism has long advocated equality of all beings, peace in the world, and respect for the laws of nature (causes and effects).  By observing the law of karma nature and following the Five Precepts and the Ten Good Conducts, each individual is set up to self-improving and self-cleansing. You change yourself, change your mind, change your consciousness, and the world changes too.  So with joint force and the efforts of all of us, we can make the world a better, a more purified and peaceful land.  How do we change our mind? This is where Buddhism excels. Buddhism’s teachings for self-changing and self-realization fit our society the best, which is, in my humble opinion, what our human society needs urgently.

  The deterioration of the environment, global warming, and frequent natural disasters have been undoubtedly caused by human activities. We humans don't respect Mother Nature.  Powered by greed, anger and ignorance, we seek, fetch, and consume our limited natural resources carelessly. In order to change this degenerating situation, we all need to undergo self-changing and respect Mother Nature by applying basic Buddhist teachings.

  I.Buddhism: Purifying the mind

  Once a visitor in Thailand, seeing Buddhist temples at every corner, curiously asked locals why there were so many temples. The locals answered, ''One more temple, one less prison; one more monk, one less prisoner.” Speaking of which, it reminds me of a case in the Eastlake neighborhood in the city of Oakland, California. It was a pretty chaotic neighborhood, frequented by drug-dealing, robberies, burglaries, and a high crime rate.  In the year of 2009, a guy named Dan Stevenson, who was not a Buddhist follower or affiliated with any other organized religion, went to an ACE store and bought a 2-foot-high Buddha statue and installed it in a residential area in the neighborhood. What happened next was nothing short of stunning. Area residents began to leave offerings at the base of the Buddha: flowers, food, and candles.  A group of Vietnamese women in prayer robes began to gather at the statue to pray. And the neighborhood changed. People stopped dumping garbage. They stopped vandalizing walls with graffiti. And the drug dealers stopped using that area to deal. The prostitutes went away. A year later, according to the local police's statistics, the crime rate had dropped by 82%.

  Learning from this case--a small gesture by a completely unknown man bringing tranquility to a neighborhood marred by crime--imagine how much positive impact it will make if everyone starts to do a little. Out of respect for the Buddha statue, people restrained their desires and unlawful behaviors. A small group's influence can spread to people around them. One by one, from smaller to bigger, slowly but surely, the land and the world around them has become less chaotic and more tranquil. We have to realize that we live in an interdependent world where anyone’s actions, however small, will affect everybody else and the planet as a whole.

  Coincidentally, in 2009, for better serving our community in the city of Flushing, we installed a Buddha statue by our temple's gate. Ever since then, residents have been flocking to pray with their hands folded.  I was told by some of them, “When I look at the Buddha statue, I find peace in my heart. When I feel upset, I come to just stand close by the statue, and the upset and tensions are gone.” It's not hard to conclude that a solemn and peaceful Buddha statue brings tremendous tranquility and harmony to our communities and neighborhoods.

  In America, Buddhist temples are increasingly popular. Just in Manhattan, there are dozens of places for studying Buddhism and for facilitating meditation, which helps to relieve stress and fatigue and promote physical and emotional stability. Fanyin Temple opens its doors to and welcomes believers of different ages. It hosts regular meditation retreats, which provide a peaceful ground for people to communicate, to relieve stress, to let out what is on their minds. The masters in the temple not only lead the studying, but also act as spiritual guides. Quite obviously, Buddhist temples at home and abroad provide a place for spiritual cultivation and a resort for spiritual refuge.

  II.Buddhism: Respecting life and nature

  Confucianism advocates respecting others. Confucius said, “Don't give others what you don't want for yourself.”  Do as you would be done by others should be a principle for everyone. Treat others the way you desire to be treated.  Be considerate, be mindful, be conscientious. The same principle also should be applied to how lives and the nature should be treated.

  A. Respecting lives and observing vegetarianism or veganism

  The Buddha declared all beings are equal. Each individual, male or female, poor or rich, old or young, white, black, or other races, are all equals. His or her life is not worth more than others just because he or she is richer. Life itself doesn't have a price tag.

  Not just we humans live in this universe.  There are so many animals and creatures sharing the world with us. They all have the right to live and coexist with the human race. When we say respecting others, please remember it includes respecting all living beings. Kindness and compassion is a basic practice of Buddhism; no killing is the first one of The Five precepts. No killing is the fundamental respect toward others and all forms of life on this planet.

  1. Vegetarianism , veganism, and health

  Early Buddhism strictly observed veganism. In modern society, more and more people have become vegans. Even Mr. President Obama's household has publicly supported vegetarian and vegan meals campaign.  According to scientists, human physiology is between herbivores (plant eaters) and carnivores (meat eaters), but closer to plant eaters. The carnivore's digestive tract is short, because meats rot fast, and should not stay in the system for too long, or they cause harm to the physical body. In contrast, herbivores have longer digestive tracts because it takes a long time to absorb nutrients from the plant material which they eat. They also have a large caecum which helps, along with enzymes, to break down the plant material and cellulose. It shows human physiology is more suitable for vegetarian or vegan meals, which has become a new trend in today's world.

  Many studies have shown that vegetarian diets can reduce cholesterol levels and reduce the chance of high blood sugar, heart disease, or other cardiovascular diseases. Nutrient-packed vegetarian/vegan meals consist of carbohydrates, fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Plant fatty acids can reduce the body's good cholesterol and are beneficial to health. In addition, vegetarian and vegan meals are beneficial to the prevention and treatment of cancers and many other diseases. Consuming animal meats, on the contrary, will cause many health problems.

  2. Vegetarianism, veganism, and compassion

  The reason that the vegetarian lifestyle seems to go hand in hand with Buddhism is Buddhism encourages compassion and prohibits killing. All animals and creatures are living beings, and they have the instinct to survive. Deprivation of human and animal life is also a lack of respect for life. We advocate cutting our consumption of meats, moreover to completely cut it off. We can protect more lives from being taken.  Similarly, to encourage people to consume less or even refuse to use animal products, such as animal fur and ivory handicrafts, is also protecting animals and respecting lives. Where is demand, there is supply. If people want to buy animal products, there will be the slaughter of animals.  If we humans are defending our basic rights, including survival, then why shouldn’t we consider the animals?  Why shouldn’t we respect and care for their lives?  Their existence is not for the service of the human race. They also have their own meaning of existence.  They are also the members of the Earth. When these lives are threatened, our planet is threatened.  With the ecosystem broken, our planet is going be broken. Animal husbandry is a major force of the forests' destruction.  The consumption of animal meats and products has become an indirect killing factor of the earth. Livestock excreta also causes environmental pollution. It is our responsibility and obligation to protect other organisms and have respect for other lives.  Inarguably, encouraging vegetarian and vegan meal consumption is a wise practice to maintain the ecological balance and reduce the world's carnage.

  3. Vegetarianism, veganism, and the purifying of the mind

  Undoubtedly observing a vegetarian lifestyle brings peace to your mind and heart, no matter if you are a Buddhist follower or if you are simply being health-conscious. It was said NASA used to incorporate two Buddhist practices into their astronauts' training. First step, to eat only vegetarian meals, which helps to reduce anxiety, to be calmer and more patient.  Second step, to practice meditation, which develops focus and dedication.  This is because in a very limited space station, without patience and concentration, staying in there for a long time is not an easy task.

  Several years ago, a boy named Gregory Robert Smith in Virginia, according to major US news outlets, at the age of 13, had finished undergraduate classes and got his bachelor's degree. He planned to get 4 doctorate degrees by the age of 18. Unlike any other genius youngsters, Greg was a vegetarian. He believed that practicing vegetarianism had helped him to stay physically healthy and mentally sharp and alert. No wonder he has already received the nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize five times.

  B. Respecting nature and improving our environment

  Humans need to have fear and awe for Mother Nature. We must apply self -discipline and consciousness.  In the English dictionary, there is a word “conscientious,” which in Chinese means being responsible, with good conscience.  We have to respect other people and also respect nature and the natural environment. We do not impose on others things we don't want for ourselves. Likewise, we cannot treat the environment the way we don't want to be treated.

  With rapid social and economic development, more and more environmental issues have started to come back at us. Earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, frequent occurrence of natural disasters indiscriminately have taken away tens of thousands of lives. Heavy smog, sandstorms, and acid rain have not only caused a lot of inconvenience in our daily lives, but have also seriously affected people's health. So many awful things we have been doing to our environment: our sewage plants have discharged sewage into our rivers; our manufacturing plants and automobiles have discharged poisonous emissions into the air; our cities have dumped non biodegradable waste into our landfills; our tree farms have made forests disappear.  We humans have taken so much from nature, but we haven’t given back very much other than waste and pollution.

  Speaking of respect for nature, we must learn to and apply care for our environment as we care for ourselves: no discharge of sewage into rivers, no emissions to the air, no deforestation.  To protect the natural habitats of plants and animals is to protect the home of the human race.

  In fact, to respect our planet and protect our environment is not only the human races' responsibility.  It is also the representation and application of compassion in Buddhism: it manifests the interaction and interrelation of causes and effects (karmic retribution).  Only when we have respect for nature and protect nature will we humans get shelter from nature. By expanding tree planting and forestry and by stopping pollution into the air, water and soil, we will once again see green mountains and clean blue skies.

  No matter how great human intelligence is, it is insignificant in the face of Mother Nature. No matter how one may live a wonderful life, life is fragile. Therefore, we must maintain a mindset of equality, respect for life, and respect for nature.  We must harvest inner peace. To keep a pure land for nature is to keep a pure land in your heart.

 

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