Back in 2003, I first came across the original BTTS (Buddhist Text Translation Society) version of the Shurangama Sutra, which was available online. That sutra and its commentary had a profound effect on my view of the Dharma. In Master Hsuan Hua’s commentary, there were a few of his teachings that influenced me the most and that I became very attracted to. Two of them are part of his 6 Guiding Principles, which are upheld at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and recited everyday by the assembly.
The first is the principle of not seeking. The second is the principle of not pursuing personal advantage. The third is his teaching that we shouldn’t “climb on conditions.” To begin, I should explain what I am referring to when I use to term “seeking.” In the context of this post, seeking refers to a state of mind involved in trying to get something that one feels one’s presently lacking. First, one experiences a craving for something, and then one seeks after it. If one is involved in seeking, then that automatically implies that one’s mind is discontent. A mind that is completely content would have no reason to seek. Therefore, to practice not seeking is to cultivate inner contentment. In that way, practicing not seeking is a powerful way to counteract the first Noble Truth—dukkha or discontentment.
The third principle, “climbing on conditions,” also requires an explanation. In that particular BTTS version of the sutra, “climbing on conditions” was used as a literal translation of the original Chinese term, 攀緣 (pan yuán). After reading Master Hsuan Hua’s explanation of that term, I came to interpret “climbing on conditions” as meaning being opportunistic. As defined by Merriam-Webster, being opportunistic means: “exploiting opportunities with little regard to principle or consequences.”
I can still remember reading about these three principles back in 2003 and how strongly influenced I was at the time.
I can still remember reading about these three principles back in 2003 and how strongly influenced I was at the time. What was interesting for me, while reading about these principles, was that they revealed the ways in which I was most obstructed on the Path, and something of which I was totally unaware before that point. I had never looked at myself through those lenses. Rather, I had always looked at myself through the lens of our society. In society, we are taught that it is good to seek. Moreover, in this competitive world of ours, we are taught that the only way to succeed in life is by pursuing personal advantage. We also feel motivated to be opportunistic so that we may get ahead in life. Never had I considered that there could actually be a different way of thinking and behaving, a different way of viewing and interacting with the world.
When I was learning about these principles, I reflected on the life I had lived up until that point. I realized there had never been a single instant in time when I had not engaged in seeking, in pursuing personal advantage, and in being opportunistic. That was all I had ever known. I thought to myself: Is it even possible to NOT be like that? My entire personality has been built around seeking, pursuing personal advantage, and being opportunistic. Who would I be if I stopped doing those things? Moreover, what would there be to actually do if I stopped doing those things? Isn’t that all that there is in life? Is it really possible to live a life where you don’t do those things?
My interest in the mind not only led me to major in psychology, but it also led me to have a keen interest in Buddhism. I wanted to understand: “Why is there unhappiness?”
I never deeply understood why I was so attracted to these three teachings until I heard a Dharma talk by Reverend Heng Sure one day wherein he explained the reason. Through his talk, I came to realize that I was attracted to those three teachings because they are psychological. You see, I was a psychology major in college. I’ve always been interested in the mind and how it works. Most psychologists, ultimately, are interested in finding out how we can find happiness in our lives. For that reason, many psychologists today are very interested in Buddha Dharma. My interest in the mind not only led me to major in psychology, but it also led me to have a keen interest in Buddhism. I wanted to understand: “Why is there unhappiness?” When I learned the first two noble truths of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, I realized that he provided the ultimate answer to that question. The reason why we are unhappy is because our minds are full of desires and attachments in a world that’s impermanent. Because it’s impermanent, we can never be satisfied. Tanha (craving) leads to dukkha (discontentment). From a psychological perspective, one could even see the Buddha as the ultimate psychotherapist, truly knowing how to guide one to achieve happiness.
In the same way that the first two Noble Truths are psychological, the three principles taught by the Venerable Master—not seeking, not pursuing personal advantage, and not being opportunistic—are also psychological. When I came across these teachings, I was able to see very clearly how these activities of the mind are aspects of greed and how if I actually want to find true, lasting inner peace and happiness, I should work on changing these vices within myself.