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Vital Essence

“诸法从缘起,如来说是因,彼法因缘尽,是大沙门说。诸恶莫作,众善奉行,自净其意,是诸佛教。”

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.

一切显宗的精要均可囊括于此偈中。作为修行人,若能时常念诵,回向放生生灵或施主,加持于人或为人宣说,功德很大。

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.

“诸恶莫作”,包含了小乘的一切法要,也就是独善其身,不能作恼害众生之事;“众善奉行”,则包含了菩萨乘的所有要旨,也就是要兼济天下,广行利众,救人之难、济人之急、悯人之孤、容人之过;“自净其意”,则是要净除自心的污垢,铲除一切恶念。作为佛弟子,若能依教奉行,则“永无恶曜加临,常有吉神拥护”、“百福骈臻,千祥云集”。一切所求之除生死、断烦恼、得菩提之大愿,皆唾手可得。

“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.

白居易曾问鸟巢禅师:“禅师,何为佛法之要旨?”“诸恶莫作,众善奉行。”“此话三岁孩童也解得啊!”“三岁孩童可解,八十岁老翁不可行啊!”

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.”

世上的事向来如此,说着容易做着难。要想依照此偈行持,非得花一番寒彻骨的功夫不可。

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.

在世尊的诸传记中,时常有佛陀及诸比丘在接受供养后,念诵此偈为施主回向的记载;往昔藏地的僧众在接受供养后,也常常念诵此偈为施主回向;99年我去泰国时,发现当地的僧众也是念诵此偈为施主回向。但不知为何如今此风并不盛行,很多僧众在接受供养后,往往一擦嘴,最多说声谢谢,就算了事。这种由佛陀时代一脉相传,沿袭下来的良好风气,不应该断送在我们这一代的手里,我们应重拾此传家宝,使之不致丢失。

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.

壬午年五月二十日  
2002年6月29日  

20th of May, Year of RenWu
June 29, 2002


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