Spoken by Supreme Master Ching Hai, Hsihu, Formosa
August 5-7, 1991 (Originally in Chinese)
The One-dollar Offering
There was a very stingy person who never practiced spiritually. Since he also never gave charity, he was very much afraid of monks coming to beg for alms. His wife had strong faith in Buddha, however, and liked chanting the Buddha's name and practicing spiritually, which the man abhorred. One day the man's mother passed away and his wife suggested, "Let's make a pilgrimage to the Ganges, where we can perform a ritual to ask for the Buddha's blessing so that our mother will be elevated." The man replied, "OK! But let's not take such a long trip for it will be very expensive! We can go somewhere nearby."
Halfway on their pilgrimage, they decided to visit a certain temple. However, they were worried that there might be some monks around when they arrived and they would have to make the customary offering to the monks. So, they went there when all the monks were asleep. Indeed, when they entered the temple, there was no one in sight, only a few statues of the Buddha and the Quan Yin Bodhisattva.
Detecting the man's stinginess, the Quan Yin Bodhisattva manifested as a monk and sat there. After paying respects to the Buddha statues, the man was astounded to see a monk! The monk, who was the manifestation of the Quan Yin Bodhisattva, said to him, "You've earned infinite merit by paying respect to the Buddha and offering incense. Would you like me to perform a ritual of elevation for you?" The man replied, "No! It's not necessary! I can do it myself." But the monk insisted, "It's all right. I can do it for you. You don't have to make an offering to me now; you can pay later. Just let me know how much of an offering you want to make." It's a common practice for worshippers to make offerings at temples.
Then the man thought, "It's all right for me to promise him now. Later, I'll just leave, and he won't be able to find me." So, the man said, "OK! I'll make an offering of one dollar." And the monk said, "Fine! One dollar is enough, as long as you're sincere." Then the monk went on to chant many scriptures for him. After the ritual of elevation was over, the man told his wife, "Now that the ritual has been done, we've made the pilgrimage and paid respect to the Buddha, and a monk has chanted the scriptures for us, we can go home tomorrow."
A few days after they got home, the monk suddenly appeared at their house. The wife went inside and told her husband, "The monk from the temple is waiting outside. You promised to offer him one dollar. Now he's come to collect it." The man was terrified and said, "Good grief! I don't want to give him a dollar. Go and tell him that I'm seriously ill, and can't entertain any guests now. Ask him to leave." Of course, the wife knew very well how stingy her husband was. She could only go out and tell the monk, "I'm very sorry, but my husband is very ill and can't entertain you. Will you please return to your temple?"
The monk said, "So he's sick! Then it's even more proper that I should fulfill my obligation. (Laughter) I'll chant the Buddha's name for him, hoping he'll recover soon.' The wife went inside again to report to her husband and the man said, "No! No! Tell him that I'm dead (laughter) and ask him to leave." The wife had no other alternative but to go out and tell the monk, "I'm sorry. My husband has just passed away. I think you had better leave." But the monk was eager to offer his services. Not only did he refuse to leave, but he also insisted, "If this is true, then I definitely must go in to chant the scriptures for his elevation."
Now that the man was "dead" he couldn't object any more (laughter) and his wife couldn't stop the monk from entering the house to chant the scriptures, recite the Buddha's name, and perform a lot of rituals. Finally, the man was placed in a coffin and sent to a crematory. But just as he was about to be cremated, he jumped out of the coffin, shouting, "Hey! Don't burn me! I'm still alive."
At that time, the monk resumed his original form of the Quan Yin Bodhisattva and said to the man, "I'm delighted to see you make so much effort and express so much sincerity in making the pilgrimage. Now I'll grant you a wish, which I'll realize for you." Then the man knelt down and cried, and do you know what his wish was? He said, "Please forgive me, Quan Yin Bodhisattva, and please waive the one dollar that I promised to offer!" (Laughter) Hearing his words, the Quan Yin Bodhisattva shook Her head and left. This is how sentient beings behave. It's useless even when Buddhas descend to save them.
One Who Worshipped Wooden Buddha Statues
A person practiced austerely under a spiritual master, who gave him a statue of the Earth Store Bodhisattva and taught him to recite the Incarnation Mantra. He also instructed him to bow to the statue of the Earth Store Bodhisattva several thousand times each day, and repeat the mantra tens of thousands of times. His master told him that he definitely would progress by following these instructions.
The disciple practiced diligently for a year, but did not feel anything. So, he complained to his master, saying, "Master, I beg you please! Will you teach me another mantra and give me another Buddha statue that's more powerful and merciful. I'm giving up the Earth Store Bodhisattva. I've worshipped Him for a year and chanted the mantra until my throat was dry, yet He never gave me any blessing or response. I don't want to worship Him anymore. Will you please give me a better Buddha statue?" So his master said, "OK! Now I'll teach you the Amitabha Buddha mantra, and you may worship the Amitabha Buddha. The Amitabha Buddha is very compassionate. He made grand vows, and has great affinity with sentient beings. You'll definitely progress by worshipping Him."
The disciple believed his master, carried a small statue of the Amitabha Buddha home and started reciting the mantra. He persisted in chanting the mantra and the holy name of Amitabha Buddha very sincerely. However, a year passed and he received no response. Again, he complained to his master, "Master, the Amitabha Buddha is not efficacious. He didn't make any response. Please don't test me any more! Please give me initiation and teach me a better method of spiritual practice. Otherwise, I can never make it on the spiritual path!"
Knowing that this disciple was very sincere, the master told him with a smile that he would definitely be enlightened this time. However, the disciple still had to practice and become enlightened himself. "I now give you this statue of the Quan Yin Bodhisattva to worship at home," said the master. "The Quan Yin Bodhisattva is very merciful. All of Her worshippers find Her very efficacious. You'll surely get a response through worshipping Her." This disciple had great faith in his master's words and was much delighted. He decided to worship the Quan Yin Bodhisattva piously at home and chant Her holy name day and night.
That day, upon reaching home, he immediately lit the best sandalwood incense before the statue of the Quan Yin Bodhisattva and worshipped piously. He placed the statues of the Earth Store Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha on the bookshelf and paid no more attention to them even when they were covered by dust. He thought that these two were not efficacious, so he didn't worship them any more, but let them rest on the bookshelf. He now worshipped only the Quan Yin Bodhisattva statue.
While worshipping, he noticed that the fumes of the sandalwood incense drifted towards the nose of the Amitabha Buddha statue and thought, "This isn't right! I'm only worshipping the Quan Yin Bodhisattva. This Buddha statue isn't efficacious at all, and so isn't worthy of enjoying my incense." (Laughter) Then he took the Amitabha Buddha statue and sealed its nose with plastic tape, so that it couldn't smell the fragrance. Suddenly, the wooden statue of the Amitabha Buddha vanished, and the original form of the Amitabha Buddha appeared right before his eyes. The disciple was frightened to death, and quickly fell on his knees to beg for forgiveness. So Amitabha Buddha said to him, "I'm impressed by your faith and sincerity in seeking the Truth. Now, whatever you ask for, I will realize for you." The man said, "I'm overjoyed to see You, and meanwhile I don't know what to ask for. However, will You please explain why You only appeared after I sealed Your nose? What does that mean?"
Amitabha Buddha said, "It's because previously you only regarded me as a Buddha statue, just a wooden statue. When you thought of worshipping me, you bowed to me. When you didn't feel like worshipping me, you pushed me aside. When you were fond of me, you bowed to me. When you didn't like me, you stopped offering any incense. Also, you didn't pay attention to me when you were busy. This is a wrong concept. Now your thinking has changed and you regard me as a real Buddha, which was why you wanted to seal my nose. Being worried that my nose would really be sealed by you, I had to appear quickly." (Master laughs)
Correct Concepts in Spiritual Practice
In spiritual practice, if we're sincere and our concepts are correct, even a wooden Buddha statue will turn into a real Buddha. If our spiritual cultivation is poor and our concepts are incorrect, however, even a living Buddha will become like a wooden statue. Therefore, how we see things is very important. If we don't have a correct concept about an Enlightened Master, it will be futile even if a real Enlightened Master descends here.
In the first story, the man knew that the real Buddha had come, but he didn't ask for liberation, Buddhahood, or great wisdom. All he asked for was the Buddha's pardon and waiving of a one-dollar offering. Can you imagine that? This is why Enlightened Masters can't deliver sentient beings. Sentient beings don't pray for great things. Instead, they're trapped by worldly habits, bound by secular habits and concepts every day. Every word they utter is about worldly things; every thought they have is about worldly things; every wish they make is about worldly things. Therefore, it's useless for Enlightened Masters to come down here!
In the second story, though the disciple treated the wooden Buddha statue rudely, his concept was more correct, which meant that he was relatively enlightened. He no longer treated the Buddha statue as a piece of wood. At that moment, he saw that everything was Buddha so he even regarded the wooden Buddha statue as a real Buddha. What I mean is that only the concept underlying the wooden statue is important. It's important that we worship the real Buddha, and not the wooden statue. When we have right concepts and are enlightened, whatever we do to the Buddha, He won't mind. When our concepts are wrong, even if the real Buddha appears before us, it's useless. When our concepts are correct, even a wooden Buddha statue will turn into a real Buddha, but when they're not right, even if we're in the company of a living Buddha, it will be as though we were with an ordinary human.
There is an ancient story that goes back to the times of Sakyamuni Buddha, when Sariputra built a huge ashram for Him. At that time, Sariputra found a giant ant beneath a tree. Pointing to the ant, he told the people around him, "This ant has been here for many lifetimes and has listened to the lectures of several Buddhas. However, it's still not enlightened because it continues to cling to the level of an ant."
Of course an Enlightened Master is capable of helping us to transcend the level of an ordinary human, but we ourselves must be willing. If we're unwilling, but love to stay at the childish level, the Enlightened Master can't force us. This is similar to a doctor treating a patient. He can prescribe medication for us, but if we refuse to take the medicine, and cling on to our illness instead, the doctor too can't force us to do otherwise.