The Class on Summary of Faith & Practice

TEXT: “… how deficient we are by comparison”

The sense of 'deficiency' is an important basis for rigour in spiritual practice as well as being a foundation for faith in the saving grace. These two aspects of the spiritual life work together and provide the dynamic. They are like the blades of a scissor. With this scissor we cut out the clothes of a bodhisattva and a shravaka. Sometimes we wear one, sometimes the other.

One notices deficiency, both in oneself and in the human race. Einstein made a priceless discoverery about the nature of the universe. Within a generation, it had been used to construct the most dreadful weapon ever seen and had obliterated two Japanese cities and all their inhabitants. The people who laboured to build those bombs are not so different from ourselves. Humans are deficient. Thre is a difference between human nature and Buddha nature.

There is a popular idea that all people have Buddha nature, but here I am using the term in the more restricted sense of the nature of those who are actually enlightened. To be Buddhist is to believe that there have been, are and will be Buddhas and that Buddhas are not ordinary beings. They have a different nature. As Buddha's are not ordinary beings, ordinary beings are deficient by comparison. Buddhas dedicate themselves to saving all sentient beings by creating pure lands, domains of benign conditions where all shall become enlightened. Therefore, Buddhas are always trying to help us. However, we only receive that help when we turn toward it and we only do so when we feel in need. A Buddha might build a pure land and nobody go there because they would rather spend their time shopping or watching soap opera. Or, even if they are more 'spiritual' than that, they may still not go because they believe that all necessary power is to be found already within themselves and all they have to do is manifest their own inner nature.

Yet if we look soberly at our inner nature we see that we are animals descended from animals that were even more dominated by voracious instincts than we are. We have savagery within us. Greed, hate and delusion is what Freud called the id. It does not go away. The best that can be done with it is to sublimate it. This means using the same energy for more sublime purposes. However, doing so always involves struggle. I am not so much talking about the kind of struggle of the old Christian ascetics trying by will power to suppress their sexuality. I am talking about the struggle that is involved in any creative activity. To produce his famous statues Rodin had to apply himself with great dedication. Likewise all the great creative people in history. Art provides many great examples, but they are also to be found in many spheres of life.

We should not think that because we shall receive help from Buddha we do not need to do anything with out life. Rather the reverse. Because we receive help we can do more and we can take the brakes off. If we have faith in Buddha we want to make the most of this life. Our efforts may be meagre, but they should be the best we can do. Doing as well as we can we shall gradually do better. This, in itself, will not make us enlightened, but the more enlightened we are the more we shall apply ourselves because we shall want to.

It has been commonly thought that 'positive thinking' will get things done, but often such artificial positivity only leads to smugness and complacency. Our modern society is well endowed in material ways and this tends to mke us complacent in any case. We do not need spiritual complacency heaped upon material indulgence. This is merely to go to one of the extremes that Buddha condemned. A deeper awareness of our bombu nature is a solace in adversity, but it is also a spur in opportunity.

The deficiency specifically referred to here is that we notice how far short we fall in preceptual performance. The Buddhist precepts point out a virtuous life. We take a precept such as 'not to take what is not freely given', for instance, and examine our day's activity. This is a precept to deeply respect others. How well did one do? Or, to 'practise right speech', which means not to disparage, exaggerate, gossip, say things that are untrue and so on, in fact, only to speak Dharma. How well has one done? Practising nei quan and reviewing one's day, one may become rather fed up with oneself for poor performance, but then one reflects that even this sense of being 'fed up' has a core of pride in it. We are 'deluded within delusion' and even our best efforts are subverted by subtle corruptions. We simply do not have the pure, clear mind that we call Buddha and although we can use this knowledge to make some improvements in our life, we also need to acknowledge that we are not going to arrive at perfection by such efforts.


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