All phenomena arise from causes,
Those causes have been taught by the Tathagata.
And also that which puts a stop to these causes—
This too has been proclaimed by the Great Shramana.
Abandon evil doing.
Practice virtue well.
Master your mind.
This is the Buddha’s teaching.
This verse encompasses all the essential points in Sutrayana Buddhism. Practitioners will bring great benefit to all concerned by explaining its meanings to others, using this verse in dedicating merit to released live beings or sponsors, or for conferring blessings.
“Abandon evil-doing” surmises the core of Hinayana practices that one must maintain one’s own integrity and do nothing to harm other beings. “Practice virtue well” embodies the essence of the Bodhisattva path; that is, to embrace all beings in the world and practice beneficial activities—relieving beings from suffering, helping those in need, caring for the lonely, and being tolerant of others’ faults. “Master your mind” refers to purifying the mind’s obscurations and eliminating all harmful thoughts. To practice according to these Dharma teachings, beneficent gods will always protect the practitioners and no evil things will happen to them. Many happy and auspicious conditions will spontaneously come together. Our great aspirations—to pacify afflictive emotions, to escape the rounds of rebirth, and to attain enlightenment—become easily within reach.
Bai Juiyi once implored the Bird Nest Zen Master:
“Master, what is the essence of Buddhism?”
“Abandon evil-doing, practice virtue well.” the Master answered.
“That’s it? But even a 3-year-old knows this.”
“A 3-year-old might have known it, but an 80-year-old can’t really do it.”
That is how things usually go in the world: It is easier said than done. To put this teaching into daily practice, we need to redouble all of our efforts.
It has been described in the life stories of the Buddha that upon receiving offerings, Buddha and his disciples often recited this verse to dedicate merits to benefactors. In the past, it was customary for Tibetan monks to do the same. Thai monks also recite this verse to dedicate merit to donors, as I found out during my trip there in 1999. For some reason, such a tradition is falling out of fashion. Many monks will at the most say thanks, if nothing more than just wipe their faces, after partaking of food offerings. As this tradition has come down from the time of the Buddha, we should not let it die out in our hand. Let us restore this fine practice, to save it from becoming lost.
20th of May, Year of RenWu
June 29, 2002