A Brief Introduction to BuddhismAs a Buddhist one must know what Buddhism is and which of the three doors body, speech or mind - to emphasize in your practice. Which door requires main attention and how should we practice? While you need not understand everything in great detail, lacking a fundamental knowledge of Buddhism could lead to your practice resulting in fruitless hardship. This is why one should become familiar with the basic principles. A sutra of the Buddha states:
Be you a monk or a scholar,
Examine my teachings thoroughly;
As gold is refined by burning, cutting and polishing.
Do not accept them out of faith and respect for me.
In this way, Lord Buddha clearly encouraged his disciples to investigate the dharma deeply before beginning to practice. A clear definition of Buddhism and Buddhist practice was presented in another sutra:
Avoid all evil deeds;
Leave no noble action undone;
Tame your own mind and
Do not disturb the minds of others with delusion.
This is the teaching of the Buddha.
Since Buddha himself presented this stanza as an introduction to Buddhism, it will be explained below.
Avoid all evil deeds
Overall, those who aspire to the dharma should avoid any action and intention brought on by hatred, cruelty or similar states of mind. Killing and theft are among the major misdeeds that everyone must shun. Generally, all misdeeds can be toughly categorized according to the ten-fold non-virtues, which themselves are designated as misdeeds of the three non-virtues of body. Lying, slander, harsh words and idle gossip are the four non virtues of speech. Coveting other people's wealth, intending to inflict harm on others, and holding perverted views, such as disbelief in the law of cause and effect, are the three non-virtues of mind. True dharma practitioners should by all means exert themselves to completely avoid these negative actions. Engaging in them brings only disaster in this and future lives.
Murder, theft, sexual misconduct, lying and the like lead only to the life of a social outcast and definitively prevent one's dreams from coming true. Nothing beneficial is achieved and one is called a killer, a thief, or another disrespectful name. Killing shortens one's life span and leads to generations of untimely death. Likewise, theft leads to loss of wealth and rebirth among the hungry ghosts. Those who cheat others are never trusted during this life and will be reborn in one of the lower realms. Since the ten non-virtues result only in endless suffering, all who aspire to eternal happiness should avoid even the smallest evil action.
Moreover, practitioners who are ordained must properly observe all seven vows of individual liberation. A dharma practitioner who observes the bodhisattva vow must avoid any act that is opposed to the bodhisattva ideal. Tantric adepts need to observe the samayas, the vows, of the vehicle of Mantrayana, the tantric vehicle, and abandon all activity that violates them.
Leave no noble action undone
All dharma practitioners, in addition to refraining from killing, should seek to save the lives of beings and to protect them from the fear of untimely death. Likewise, abstaining from theft includes being as generous as possible, and avoiding sexual misconduct means knowing the proper limitations to put upon sexual intercourse. These constitute the three virtues related to body.
Avoiding lies involves always speaking the truth; moreover, in addition to abandoning slander one should use words that are conducive to harmony. Never uttering abusive words means to talk in a pleasant manner; by giving up gossip one's speech should be meaningful and beneficial to everyone. These are the four virtues of speech.
The three virtues related to mind include replacing any covetous desire with contentment, harmful thoughts with loving compassion, and perverted views with faith in the law of cause and effect. In these ways practitioners should ensure that their three doors are always endowed with the complete virtues of body, speech and mind.
The ordained should cultivate the virtue that accords with the three aspects of discipline that relate to the seven vows of individual emancipation. One who observes the bodhisattva vow must act according to the principles of aspiration and engagement, or the three disciplines of a bodhisattva. Tantric adepts must cultivate all noble actions in accord with the development and completion stages as explained in tantric treatises. Thus, practitioners observing different vows must act in different ways to accomplish the virtues that accord with their level of vows.
In brief, Lord Buddha taught that the foremost consideration for any action we undertake is a strong motivation based upon wholesome thoughts. Violation the teachings only takes us farther away from the path of dharma practice.
Tame your own mind
As mentioned above, ort of the ten non-virtues, three concern body, four speech and three mind. Other than the three mental non-virtues, the others can be committed in exceptional cases. All such actions must be motivated by the altruistic desire to benefit others both in their present and future lives. We can for instance, read about the great compassionate ship captain who killed Minag Dungthung chen (the black man who held a spear) after learning that he planned to murder all his fellow passengers who were Bodhisattvas, and of the ordained Karma, a virtuous brahmin budhisattva who had sexual relations with the daughter of a merchant after she convinced him she would kill herself if he refused. These men committed those normally evil deeds with a total lack of selfish desire and the utmost compassion for others. Therefore, their actions resulted in no bad karma, but instead increased their virtue several-fold, bringing an accumulation of merit that would otherwise have taken many eons to achieve.
The reason for not exempting the three non-virtues of mind is that Buddhist practice rests principally on the mind, the crucial point of Buddhism being to achieve mastery of one's own deluded mind. Those who physically appear as dharma practitioners while mentally harboring covetous desire, evil intentions, or perverted views are recognized as anti-dharma elements by both sutras and tantras. Negative actions committed intentionally thus carry the heaviest karmic burden.
Nagarjuna presents the same position when he states:
Actions generated from the three poisons of
Desire, anger, and ignorance are non-virtues!
Actions generated from non-attachment,
Patience and awakened mind are virtues!
Accordingly, all actions of body and speech that are mingled with the three poisons or with unwholesome intentions will become non-virtuous. Actions of body and speech that are motivated by wholesome intentions are unequivocally virtuous. Therefore, understand that the root of all virtue and non-virtue is nothing but the mind.
Generating the noble intention of helping other beings as much as one can is indispensable for a Buddhist who strives to attain liberation. Since virtue depends entirely on the mind, the mind alone can maximize or minimize the quality of virtue. Our main practice therefore is to gain mastery over our minds; in other words, to abandon desire, hatred, ignorance, pride, jealousy and the other afflictive emotions rather than over-emphasizing the practices of body and speech.
Understanding that mind is the most important, doubt may arise as to whether we can act as we wish with body and speech. The answer is definitely no; in order to defend the mind from negativity, we must heed right speech and right action as the means to protect it.
Guru Padmasambhava reiterated this point:
If the outer conduct accords with the sutra section
There is the advantage of knowing the karmic
effects of adopting and abandoning.
The greater out experience and realization, the more refined our qualities of adopting and abandoning will become.
Guru Rinpoche further stated:
one's realization may be higher than the sky
But one's actions should be finer than wheat flour.
The entire body of Buddhist teaching is basically meant to tame the mind. An untamed mind is like an intoxicated elephant, but when controlled by the hood of mindfulness, negative emotions will never arise in one's mind, whether one is surrounded by highly attractive people or is residing among the uncivilized.
Shantideva, speaking to monks, taught on this point:
If one remains mindful in all situations,
Even in the midst of uncivilized people
Or of beautiful women,
The precepts of a noble and diligent observer will never deteriorate.
Taming one's own mind is thus fundamental to dharma practice.
Do not disturb the minds of others with delusion
More than simply guarding against one's personal delusion, one should also avoid creating confusion in the minds of others. As long as one is on the path of the dharma, whether as a monk or lay practitioner, one must not cause other people to lose their faith or to become disturbed in their minds by the sight of misbehavior related to body and speech. Instead, manifest faith and respect toward the dharma generated in others as they notice your verbal and physical character.
This is the teaching of Lord Buddha!
Neither commit evil deeds nor fail to carry out noble actions. Tame your mind according to the dharma and let no one be confused by watching your behavior. This is the gist of the teachings of our mentor, the great Lord Buddha Shakyamuni.