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  • Writer's pictureSFYAD

The expedient means to cultivation

There are many means to cultivation. As stated in the sutras, there are 84,000 doors to cultivation. Of course, 84,000 is just a way of saying that there are numerous methods you can choose to cultivate. It does not literally mean that there are 84,000 dharma doors (法门). There could be more, there could be less.

Why are there so many means to cultivation? It is because there are numerous sufferings, that the Buddha taught various Dharmas for various problems. For example, just for desire for the opposite gender, there are already numerous methods to turn that desire into wisdom. In the Shurangama Sutra (楞嚴經), Ucchusma (除穢金剛) said that the Buddha called King of Emptiness taught him to contemplate on the coolness and warmth throughout his entire body whenever he has desire. Similarly, Matangi’s daughter loved Ananda and wanted to marry him. When Manjusri Bodhisattva (文殊師利菩薩) brought Matangi’s daughter and Ananda back to the Buddha, the Buddha taught Matangi’s daughter about causes and conditions of a human body, and thus put out Matangi’s daughter's desire. She then attained the fruition of Anagamin (阿那含).

After all, even for the same affliction, the causes and conditions for that affliction is different for every person, and therefore the Buddha spoke in response to the causes and conditions for that affliction. In that sense, we should not differentiate between methods of cultivation. Some people might like meditation, Buddha name recitation, mantra recitation, investigating the sutras, prostration, or six paramitas. Some may choose Chan, Pureland, Vajrayana, Tian Tai, Yogachara, or Madhyamaka as their primary practice. Even within those branches, there are specific practices. All these different practices are expedient means for us to understand the one thing that the Buddha wants to tell us, that we already have the inherent Buddha nature; and it is because of so many afflictions, delusions, and attachments that we cannot see it. That is why the Buddha spoke of so many different ways for us to practice. We already have so many attachments, and delusions, so why must we differentiate between different practices? Just like the Chan school will ask the Pure Land school "Whose name do you recite before Amitabha?" and Pure Land school will attack Chan School "You don't even know that you are Amitabha!".

If we investigate carefully, Chan or Pure Land, Pure Land or Chan, they are just convenient means to enter the door to understand the Dharma. Once we have entered the door, we will naturally put down "Chan" or "Pure Land". Why? Because they are just expedient means for us to grasp temporarily. In the Diamond Sutra (金剛經), it is mentioned that even dharmas have to be forsaken! Furthermore, the Buddha mentioned that what he taught is just like a raft. Once you have crossed the river, you have to let go of the raft, because it is of no use to you anymore.

The Buddha said in the Diamond Sutra, that the Diamond Sutra is the king of all sutras. Similarly, the Buddha also said that the Lotus Sutra (法華經) is also the king of all sutras. He said the same thing for the Shurangama Sutra, Avatamsaka Sutra, the Ksitigarbha Sutra (地藏菩薩本願經). Why so? It is because if it works for you and allows you to enter the Dharma door, it is the best Sutra for you. All Dharmas are equal and unsurpassed. There is no one Dharma door that is better or worse than the other.

Therefore, we should not discriminate between schools of thought or practices. We should not say "Oh, this is Chan!" or "Oh, this monastery practice Pure Land", or "this is Mahayana", "that school practice mantras". If we have that few seconds to distinguish between schools, we should reflect whether this thought is of any use for our own cultivation. If it does not help us in any way, we should make more wholesome thoughts instead.

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