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  1. The Disadvantage of Anger
  2. The story of a janitor
  3. The Honorable Purna
  4. Red Lotus Growing Out Of The Violent Flames
  5. Conversion of a Prince
  6. Indulging In Desires Is The Same As Keeping Vipers

The Disadvantage of Anger

By Ven. Jueh Ming

It's said that, "Dharma is around one, one needn't to seek it afar; to search for it far, is like to seek horns on a rabbit."

Dharma actually exists in our daily lives, even the eyes' blinking is dominated by the law of cause and effect as well as time's sequence. Since long time ago, man has been bound by ignorance and thus committed innumerable sins that spring from the three poisonous factors: greed, anger and ignorance. Especially the anger makes the untold sentient beings transmigrate into the bad realms.

"A thought of anger burns up the good merits," as the sutra goes. Anger will burn up everything, no matter how great it is. The following is a story about Sariputra, which will show us how disadvantageous it is to lose the temper. So, we should keep our cool, no matter how the burning wheels running over us.

Everyone knows that among the ten chief disciples of Buddha, Maudgalyayana masters the supernatural power; Sariputra, the outstanding wisdom. That they become Buddha's right-hand men is attributed to their significant relationship with Buddha in the past and especially to their everlasting and diligent cultivation.

This story is merely about Sariputra's cultivation in one of his past incarnation.

Once Sariputra was a diligent cultivator, he vowed to develop himself to be a Bodhisattva and to practice the charitable doing as possible as he could. It was learned by the Lord of devas who wanted to test his resolution.

One day while Sariputra was in meditation, he heard a weeping sound from a distance. Later on, there came a wailing youth with head lowered. Sariputra inquired him kindly.

The youth looked up at Sariputra with a face full of sorrow and then shook his head weakly, saying, "Nobody can solve my problem."

Sariputra replied, "Maybe I can't solve your problem but at least let me share your sorrow."

Overcome by his sincerity, the youth said sadly, "Master, to be frank with you, my mother is dying, and her doctor insists that only the living human's eye could cure her…But, where can I find one who is willing to donate his eyes."

Hearing his words, Sariputra dug out his own right eye at once, and handed it to the youth.

The youth examined it with amazement and cried, "No! No! Not the right one. Doctor insists the left one," then he wept again.

Sariputra mumbled to himself: "All right, I'll end you satisfied." Then he dug out the left one and handed it to the youth.

The youth took it and smelt it but rebuked immediately, "What a filthy rubbish it is. With it my mother may die right away." And fiercely he threw it on the ground and tramped over it angrily.

For the pain and grievance, Sariputra failed to keep his promise and let anger overtake him. He grumbled to himself that he might as well give up his vow to become a Bodhisattva endeavoring to help people, instead he would rather cultivate for his own good.

Afterwards, Sariputra met some troubles and kicked himself. As soon as he died, he fell into the bad realm as a snake.

From this story, we learn that how terrible the effect of anger could be. He who endures the provocation of anger is bound to gain perpetual peace. Anger lies as a step stone as well as a acid test to cultivators.

The story of a janitor

One morning, when we finished the morning chanting, one of my fellow student asked me to accompany her to the store. I had been in Taipei for almost two months and haven't had any chance to see much of this city in the early morning, so gladly I agreed.

Slowly we walked down the red-brick pavement with Bodhi trees along both sides, breathing the fresh air and enjoying a touch of ease and tranquility. What a precious moment in noisy Taipei! Then we saw a figure in a bright yellow color moving up and down and happily greeting early risers as well as the world. Since I did not wear glasses and could not make out what that yellow figure was doing, I asked my companion, "On such an early morning, what exercise is that figure in yellow doing?"

My companion was puzzled by my question but then she smiled and said, "Right! You are just right, he is doing an exercise, a kind of you-litter-I-pick exercise. The fellow in yellow cloth will keep doing this exercise as long as the habit of littering exist."

While we were talking on this topic, we approached the man who was picking up a juice can and about to throw it into his basket. On spotting us, he smiled warmly and said, "Good morning! Masters, where are you going?"

Hearing the merry greeting, we felt happy too, and answered, "Amitabha! We are going to a store!"

"In such an early morning, you have been busy with cleaning the garbage for the community. Good Amitabha!" said my companion.

While he stood straight, we could have a good look at him. He was bearing a bamboo basket on his back and holding a pair of long tongs. We were deeply impressed with his easy-going manner, but then noted in surprise that he was a handicap. After a minute's chat, my companion asked in sympathy. "How is your life so far?"

"Everything is all right. Thanks Amitabha. You are so different from other people, and you don't seem to be bothered by my dirty appearance. You are kind and sympathetic about my being crippled and concerned whether I can make my living well. To be frank with you, master. I own a grocery store and it runs well. I always believe that in our short life, the most important thing is to have good health and a pleasant state of mind. So I don't ask welfare from the society; instead I want to contribute to the society. I'm busy with my work and can hardly find time exercise for my health. And I believe that my being handicapped in this life is caused by my misdemeanor in a previous incarnation. I'd better be beneficial to society as much as possible to compensate for what I did in the past while I am still able to. That's why I take up sweeping the street in the early morning," he said in a cheerful mood.

"I wake up and start my sweeping work at about four o'clock in the morning. While cleaning the street, I can breathe the fresh air and exercise my body at the same time while earning a monthly salary. Honestly speaking, it seems that being a janitor has broadened my life. Besides, there is always a joyful moment for me when the littered streets are cleaned up after my bit-by-bit work. Most people consider the work laborious and filthy, but to me, it's an enjoyable job."

"You are really a man of virtue." We could not help feeling happy for him and admiring him.

He was a little bit puzzled, as if he did not quite follow the words. But he figured that we're praising him, so he smiled and said humbly, "It's nothing at all. By cleaning the street, I not only can keep up with my health but also do something for society. As for the term of 'Virtue', I can't quite catch what you mean and do you mind explaining it for me?

Happily my companion explained the meaning for him, "My master always advises us to be a man of virtue, not to be burdensome or unethical. Virtue means being beneficial to both oneself and others, while unvirtuous means being either harmful to others or oneself, or both. Now, as a janitor, you clean up not only the dirty street but also your mind; this is a virtuous deed serving both others and yourself. When people are on their way to the office or school in the morning, the clean streets give them a cheerful mood. For your part, you exercise your body and earn the salary to help your family. So what you do benefits both yourself and other people. That's why we call you a man of virtue."

The janitor listened attentively and his honest face radiated with delight. Then he put his palms together and prayed, "Ah! Amitabha! Amitabha!" For fear of delaying his working, we also put palms together and happily greeted Amitabha as good-bye to him.

Having come back to our monastic abode, I looked at the Buddha's statue, which reminded me of a similar story in Buddha's time.

During the period of the Buddha's life, in Savatthi City there was a poor and lonely girl yet with high morals. She would rather be a street sweeper to clean the dirty street than be a beggar. She was so poor and busy that she looked shabby and dirty. Whenever she came out, people would turn away from her immediately. Moreover, some of them would even call her "Filthy Girl."

Despite being treated this way, she worked even harder in cleaning up the streets to compensate for her misconduct in the past and hoped a good ending for herself.

At that time, Buddha was practicing and teaching in the forest outside the town. He knew that because of her ignorance of Dharma, even with all the service she performed, she would still remain in the transmigration of the six realms* like a traveler lost in the dark. Buddha wanted to show her the ultimate Dharma, so he sent a Sramanera to bring the poor girl to him.

The Filthy Girl was surprised and embarrassed by being summoned by Buddha. The clever Sramanera read her mind and said, "Good girl! Don't worry about your dirty appearance, pure heart is most important. Buddha will not be bothered by your filth. Just follow me, please."

Then the poor girl went joyfully after him to the forest. On seeing the Buddha, she prostrated herself before him, and listened to his teaching. Instantly, she grasped the subtle meaning of pureness and departed from the sorrows. Then she left with delight after having saluted Buddha.

As the news that Buddha himself preached for the Filthy Girl spread through the town, every townsman felt curious and doubted that the girl could comprehend the noble teaching. Some of them came to the forest to find out what had happened. They ran into the poor girl who had reached the state of being enlightened with her face overflowing with the radiance of joy. She smiled when she passed them. None of the people recognized the poor girl but thought she was an illuminating descended angel. As they visited the Buddha, Buddha stated peacefully before they opened their mouths, "On your way here, did you see a girl leaving?"

"Yes! Buddha, we saw a charming angel glowing with beauty," they uttered amazedly.

"She is exactly the same Filthy Girl whom you loathed," replied Buddha, and then he praised, "Filth can't stain a pure heart, only with a pure mind can one enter the pure land. Who can recognize the enlightened one covered with the jewels all over the body?"

Hearing Buddha's preaching, the townsmen knew they were wrong. They looked at each other shamefully and left after having saluted Buddha with remorse.

While pondering on this story, I had come to the balcony at the eighth floor. Then I leaned on the railing, looked down upon the streets where people and cars were crawling. And I knew garbage would stain the cleaned streets again. I could't help thinking of my master's compassionate vows: "I will always be a sweeper to clean people's mind and this world, until Maitreya Bodhisattva's coming to his enlightenment." Softly I sang his Song of Sweeping:

"Sweeping, sweeping, sweeping to purify my mind.

To the endless, throughout this universe, without any spot left.

Inside and out, benefit self and all.

Keep sweeping, to purify my mind."

The Honorable Purna

One day, the Honorable Purna sat in deep meditation and came to know that people in Suna country, where Buddha's preaching did not reach, were cruel in nature. Out of his great compassion, the Honorable Purna made up his mind to preach Dharma to the Suna people; so he walked to the Bhddha to request his permission.

To test his sincerity, Buddha asked. "Purna! It is said that the Suna people were rude and can easily turn into fight. If they do not follow your teaching, abuse and ridicule you, then how shall you approach them?"

"Buddha! I should be thankful that they are kind in nature and easily taught, and that they do not chase or beat me with sticks," said Purna.

"If they do beat and chase you with sticks, then what would you do?" asked the Buddha.

"If they do beat and chase me with sticks, I should be thankful that they are kind in nature and easily taught, and that they do not kill me with knives," answered Purna.

"If they do kill you with the knives, then what would you do?" asked the Buddha.

"I should be thankful that they are kind in nature and easily taught, and that they have realized that the body is the source of suffering just like a cage to keep us from reaching freedom. Now their killing me is just like setting me free from the cage. I couldn't be more grateful for this," replied Purna.

On seeing Purna's firm dedication in preaching Dharma, Buddha admired him, "Excellent Purna! Your tolerance in taking abuses is one of the Bodhisattva's requirements. You will promote teaching in Suna country and bring them peace and happiness."

Having obtained Buddha's approval, Purna retreated with pleasure after paying homage to Buddha. Then he traveled day and night, and preached on proper occasions on his way to Suna. When arriving at Suna, Purna propagated Dharma devotedly, and many people followed his teaching and took refuge in Buddha, Dharma and sangha. Besides, they built five hundred monasteries for sanghas to live in and promoted the teaching of Dharma. Under Dharma's guidance, soon the tumultuous country was turned into a peaceful and righteous place.

Red Lotus Growing Out Of The Violent Flames

One day when the master was giving lectures in a branch of Jen Chen Buddhism in Taipei, a student asked him, "Master! Why do I often meet obstacles when I intend to perform charity or offering to the Sangha?"

"It's a good question. On the way of becoming a Bodhisattva through cultivation, one will more or less encounter certain obstacles. Now, I shall tell you a story extracted from the sutra," said the master.

Before Buddha Sakyamuni came to the Enlightenment, he was once a compassionate and pious Buddhist as well as a generous merchant. Whenever he knew there were people suffering from poverty or difficulties, he would help them financially or offer medical treatments, and he had no reservation in welfare work. When monks came for alms, he would reverently offer them clothing and vegetarian dishes. Because of all his meritorious deeds, his property increased and he won respect from his townsmen. Besides, he was often called to the palace to preach the sublime Dharma to the King, and eventually they became close friends.

One day near lunchtime, there came a serene monk to the merchant's house begging for food. With joy in his heart, the merchant rushed back to the house, calling his wife to prepare vegetarian delicacies to offer to the monk.

Soon the Devil came to know this, and he wanted to stop the merchant. He turned himself into many hungry ghosts and presented various horrible illusions of hell in a blaze outside the merchant's house. While the wife joyfully brought the food to the door, she found no monk but burning flames rushing to her. Because her faith in Buddhism was not firm enough, she ran away in great panic at the terrible sight. The food was scattered on the ground.

The merchant heard his wife's cries and rushed to the front door to see what happened to her. He did not see the monk but the ugly ghosts yelling at him in violent burning flames. The Devil, thereby, in hungry ghost's images painfully uttered to the merchant, "Elder, stop your

almsgiving! Elder, stop your almsgiving! Now, just take a look at me, a disgusting and horrible body that results from my charities done in my previous incarnation. So, elder, stop your almsgiving, or you will receive the same retribution."

This merchant was wise and aware of the fact that it was the Devil who wanted to spoil his charitable giving. Calmly he replied, "If because of your charity, you are now suffering like a hungry ghost in flames as punishment, but what happened to the receivers whom you helped?"

The Devil said, "Those who received my alms ascended to heaven and are enjoying great happiness."

Hearing the Devil's words, the merchant became more compassionate and firmly said, "If the alms receivers ascend to heaven to enjoy the blessing, I will continue to be a alms-giver to help all the sentient beings ascend to heaven, and I myself can undertake all the misery." After these words, he went back to the kitchen, then brought the food to the door and jumped into the fierce flames.

Right at that moment, a giant red lotus sprouted out from the earth just beneath this merchant's feet, and the wild flames and the hells disappeared all of a sudden. Then the monk ascended in the air, manifesting many marvelous wonders to the merchant, announcing, "You, the almsgiver will gain boundless bliss. You, the almsgiver, will gain boundless bliss."

With great joy in his mind, the merchant paid homage to the monk, and held even firmer faith in Buddhism.

At this point the master stopped for a while, and then went on saying, "In the process of cultivation, one can't avoid meeting obstacles. Since the Devil hates to see one endeavoring in cultivation, he will, by all means and ways, frustrate one's cultivation, or even destroy one's faith down to the ground."

Having heard the master's preaching, I learned that it is very important to develop a firm faith in Buddhism. Otherwise, one will lose one's belief on facing a discouraging environment. When the heart is uplifted by the firm faith, there shall be no room for the Devil to disturb cultivation.

Conversion of a Prince

In one of the previous incarnations of the Buddha Sakyamuni, he was a son of a Brahmin family. He was wise, kind, and solemn, and mastered the Veda. Gradually, he had a thought of becoming a sangha at some time. After his father died, he took care of the family affairs and left his home to live in the forest and practiced Dharma sincerely. Because of his dedication, he obtained supernatural power and could transform into various forms.

One day he came to the town to ask for alms. When he came near the palace, it happened that the King was on an outing trip disguised in ordinary people's clothing with several attendants. The King noticed the sangha and was very attracted by his grace and peacefulness. So the king sent out an attendant to invite the sangha to preach Dharma in the court.

The sangha's teaching was sincere and appealing, thus he was treated with high respect. The King even built a shrine for him and dispatched servants to attend him.

However, the King had a peevish son who was spoiled and loathed by everyone. One evening, the prince lost his temper again and beat his servants badly. His mother advised him not to do so, which, however, enkindled his violent argument. The queen was deeply hurt and went to the King in weeping. Hearing the story, the King was very upset and sought the sangha's help.

One day after the lunch, the sangha was strolling in the garden while the prince came with his attendants. The sangha's serenity impressed the prince, who thus stopped to salute the sangha. Knowing the opportunity was right to preach to the prince, the sangha picked off a young leaf from the sprouting Wei-p'o tree which was beside the prince. He gave it to the prince, saying, "Your Highness, please have a taste of it."

The prince took it and put it into mouth, then spat it out, crying, "It's poisonous. It's poisonous. What is it? Who dares to plant a poisonous tree in the palace? Its poison is so strong in the bud, let alone when it grows up." Then he called a servant to uproot the tree.

"Your Highness, You are right! It's so harmful now as a sprout, not to mention when it grows up. And we'd better pull it out while it is still young, so it will not bring disasters to people in the future. Similarly, a young man who is cruel, arrogant and ill-advised in his youth, should be rid of his bad behavior completely or he would have to be expelled from his country to avoid any harm done to his country when he becomes an adult," the sangha replied thoughtfully.

The prince was wise and understood the sangha's intention immediately. He felt ashamed and was deeply touched by the sangha's instruction. From then on, he started to treat people kindly and generously and was dutiful to his parents, which won him great respect later on in his country.

Indulging In Desires Is The Same As Keeping Vipers

When I was a student, I often wondered why students in the same class had very different levels of intelligence. Then after having received Buddhism education, I realized that not only in schools, but also in the Sangha, all the members do not have the same level of accomplishment. The one who follows the teachers' good advice will eventually progress further independent of his initial quality. Here is a story in the age of Buddha Sakyamuni that can explain some of the reasons.

Among Buddha's disciples, there was a Bhiksu who often caused troubles in the Sangha. One day Buddha called him to the Abode of Jeta Grove.

"Bhiksu, do you know that your willfulness not only led to your grave in your previous incarnation, but also it troubles yourself as well as the sangha in this life. As a Bhiksu, you should learn from the good-natured bhiksu (a type of soft but enduring grass): carefully watch the willful mind, and let your behavior to be in harmony with others," explained Buddha.

Hearing Buddha's words, this Bhiksu was ashamed for his misbehavior. So he knelt on his right knee, with palms clasped, he said, "Buddha, please tell me about the cause and effect in my previous incarnation."

Buddha kindly stated, "In the past, there was a son of a wealthy man. After indulging himself in physical comforts and pleasures, he became aware that worldly passions are hopelessly painful and impermanent. So, he was eager to seek a simple way of life under cultivation with minimal luxuries, and to find out the real nature of life. One dusk, he was wandering at the seashore while the sky was magnificent with golden rays. A moment later, darkness fell upon the earth, and he could see nothing but hear the eternal sounds of the tides. Upon seeing the shortness of life and endless possibilities beyond the visible, he was enlightened and decided to leave home to seek the truth.

After receiving his family's permission, he departed home the next day for the forest where he started his cultivation. Through deep mediation, he obtained the supernatural power and then was followed by five hundred disciples.

One day the disciples went out for food. A little snake swam into one of their rooms and fell asleep on the cushion. When the disciples came back, one of them fell for the snake's loveliness and wanted to keep it as a pet. The disciple used a bamboo basket to make a home for the snake that he called "the Little Bamboo." The disciple loved the snake so much that he was even nicknamed as the Father Bamboo.

Soon the story was learnt by the master. He was deeply concerned that the disciple's foolishness would cause him to indulge deeper in the worldly desires and would obstruct his cultivation. To live with desires was just like sleeping with vipers. Sooner or later danger would come without a notice. And what's the difference between a body full of desires and a basket full of vipers? So the master sent for Father Bamboo and asked him, "Is it true that you are raising and treasuring a little snake as if it were a baby?"

"Yes, master, that's true. I do have a lovely snake," on speaking of his little snake, Father Bamboo was full of joy.

"Let it go, and break the bonds of worldly passions. One who raises a snake will be bitten by it in the end. Your willful mind is taking you too far away," the master warned him gravely.

"But master, Little Bamboo and I have gotten along very well with each other for such a long time. It will be awful for us to be separated." The disciple looked sober.

"But you must learn to let it go, and let everything go! Only then you will be free. You have so much attachment to even a little snake, yet a dangerous one." The master went off and left him alone, puzzled.

Afterwards, it was said that when Father Bamboo was feeding the hungry Little Bamboo, it snapped at his throat and killed him. The snake was upset because Father Bamboo had not fed it right away but played and tempted it with the food.

Finishing the story, Buddha showed this Bhiksu that Father Bamboo was actually his previous incarnation, and the master was Buddha himself. The Bhiksu pondered deeply on the misery caused by his giving free rein to his own will in the past, and on the troubles now brought to the sangha. Realizing how terribly he had conducted himself, he knelt down and repented of his misbehavior before Buddha. From then on, he abstained from his habits and willfulness, and became a respected Bhiksu later on.

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