Recently a prominent celebrity declared that, in terms of morality, he was beyond reproach—faultless. This stimulated much public discussion. My thought was that this kind of declaration can be viewed from various perspectives. There is no need to doubt the statement that this person has not done anything illegal in his life and need not feel guilt toward others. He seems to have a clear conscience. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with saying that he has no faults. However, from the Chan perspective, everyone has faults. There is no need to be afraid of having faults, because knowing we have them can help us to improve. If you considered yourself perfect, would you still want to meditate and cultivate your practice? Therefore, from the perspective of practice, to hope to have no faults is to realize that you do have faults, and that in itself is to be faultless. Not being aware of your own faults is the greatest fault. But if you are aware and make adjustments immediately, you can then be faultless at all times and everywhere.
It is rare to have no regrets throughout the course of one’s life, from youth to old age, bur the greatest regret is to feel remorse, yet fail to repent. If one has no regrets and no need to repent, then one is a natural-born sage; but in our world of samsara, there are probably few such sages. Out of religious faith, the followers of Jesus and Shakyamuni Buddha perceive them as being faultless; otherwise they would not be considered great saints. However, in terms of mental concepts and actions, were Jesus and Shakyamuni without fault since birth? That depends on one’s perspective.
From youth to buddhahood, Shakyamuni progressed through practice from an ordinary person to a buddha. When Shakyamuni sat under the Bodhi tree prior to his enlightenment, he encountered many obstacles. Even before he left home to practice the path, he encountered difficulties. From the viewpoint of faith, these were only manifestations of his being a bodhisattva rather than real difficulties. However, from the standpoint of practice, I believe he really did have some difficulties.
During an international conference, Master Cheng Yi from Taiwan met the Panchen Lama, and he asked the lama, “People refer to you as a living buddha. Are you a buddha?” The Panchen Lama said, “People may consider me a living buddha, but I am the same as everyone else.” Is there any contradiction in the Panchen Lama’s response? The fact is that from their perspective as believers, people see the Panchen Lama as a living buddha.
Buddhism believes that every human being, and in fact all sentient beings, have buddhanature; this means we can all become buddhas. This is Buddhist faith and Buddhist belief. But if you tell someone who isn’t a Buddhist that even cats, dogs, mosquitoes, and flies have buddhanature, would they believe you? Certainly not! If you tell them, “You have the nature of a buddha and will become a buddha,” would they believe that? They will probably shake their head and say, “Don’t joke with me. I’m only an ordinary person; I’m not interested in becoming a buddha.” However, after learning Buddhism, one knows that this is faith, and believes one has buddhanature and can become a buddha.
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