Spoken by Supreme Master Ching Hai,
Hsihu, Formosa, April 29, 1989 (originally in Chinese)
The Ego Arises from Habits
Where does the ego come from? We can say the ego is a kind of personality, a personal mental attitude. Where does the personality come from? The personality is nothing great; it's not our original Self; nor is it our enlightened God Nature. It's just our personality, born from habits that are continuously accumulated. Every time we're born, whether as a human, a wild animal, a Heavenly being, a hell being, a domestic animal or a demon, we possess certain habits. Each kind of being has its own particular habits and they are all learned.
For example, if we were tigers, of course, we'd be fierce. Every day we'd hunt for food and kill animals. This is how we'd live in that lifetime. Then if we were immediately reborn as a human after dying as a tiger, traces of our vicious animal nature would remain. We'd have a violent temper, love to devour meat and be very vicious. We wouldn't be easily compatible with others or forgiving, and we'd enjoy squabbling and always overdoing in trivial matters.
If after our life as a tiger was over we were reborn as another kind of animal, perhaps a more benign one like a lamb, of course, we'd "baah" our way through life and be very benign. Even if the tiger's qualities were still in the animal that we had become, it would have little chance to manifest. We'd gradually forget them and then this vicious nature would diminish. We'd stop killing and eating meat. Our animal qualities and killing instinct would diminish. If, after we left the body of the lamb we were reborn as another lamb, we'd become even more benign and "baah" our way sweetly through another life.
If we were reborn as a human being after our life as a lamb had ended, of course we'd look rather sheepish. We'd be very benign, and we wouldn't look very awful. We'd be docile and easily controlled and we wouldn get along with others! Our palate would be easily satisfied. We might prefer to eat weeds, and go looking for leafy or wild vegetables. Thus we can see that each person has his own distinct personality since each collects different habits.
During our incarnations as animals, should we die as a tiger and be reborn repeatedly as another tiger or as some other fierce beast such as a wolf or snake before we were finally reborn as a human, our qualities would not be much different than that of a demon. That's why we find that some people are very fierce for no reason, and communication with them is almost impossible. It's because they've just transitioned from the life of an animal and taken on a new body. They've been reborn repeatedly as an animal, and very often, as a fierce beast. This isn't coincidental. Otherwise, why isn't everyone reborn as an animal, while continuing to be reborn as a fierce beast? It's probably because before they took the animal form, they had incurred lots of bad karma, having taken too many lives or been forced into the situation by destiny and letting violence overtake them.
For instance, we know that some criminals are imprisoned. The government's original intention in doing so was to teach them a lesson and give them a chance to repent, rectify their lives and become benevolent. However, they get worse in prison. Out of wrath, some try to escape and seek revenge when they succeed. They commit more crimes and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to pull themselves out of the situation. They may encounter unpleasant situations in prison and may misinterpret other people's good intentions. Sometimes their inferiority complex may mislead them into believing that they've been ill-treated though the police treat everyone equally. This feeling may intensify in their heart and they may seek vengeance when they get out by commit more serious crimes, thus end up receiving a harsher punishment. This harsh punishment in turn evokes greater hatred in them, which causes them to fall further until they finally become truly difficult or impossible to reform.
When we're fierce beasts, we're steeped in karma. Should we fall into such a situation, if we fail to reform or repent and continue to commit more vicious acts, we'll remain permanently at the animal level and have much difficulty rising to the human level again. Even if we wanted to become humans, it would take many, many lifetimes before we could succeed.
When we're tigers, we collect a tiger's qualities, vicious actions and habits. Our magnetic field becomes a vicious aura. And when we become human, this magnetic field is registered in our so-called Alaya consciousness, where the good and bad thoughts and deeds of our past lives are recorded. With its massive recordings, it reacts spontaneously to similar situations. This means that if a person or situation stimulates us, that quality immediately emerges because we forget that we're now humans, not tigers.
If we humans want to avoid such situations, we should check for the animal-like qualities that we possess. And then we'll know that we have very heavy karma. But what is karma? In the past we collected many habits. As we transmigrate, we collect and record far too many vicious actions, just as on a recording tape. When the button is pressed, it plays back. And what's this button? It's the opportunities or occasions we encounter that turn the recordings on automatically.
So sometimes we're very fierce to people, but we don't know why. It's because the button has been pressed. A particular person happens to say something that we'd heard in the past when those words upset us. Now when we hear something similar, we immediately get upset. Or perhaps in previous lives when we were humans or animals, someone set traps for us. Now, whenever we see something that resembles such traps, just in appearance, we become afraid. We have no idea why a particular kind of box terrifies us. Some boxes look similar to the traps that we encountered in our past lives so we dread and abhor them. That's why some people prefer round furniture, or hate square furniture or like triangular furniture. This is all related to past life impressions.
The conditions that we like, dislike, abhor or love constitute what's called the ego. "I" only like it this way; this suits "my" taste- this is called "ego." The "ego" means the personality. Such and such is "my" habit; this is what "I" think; "I" can't change; "I" don't want to change, or this is what "I" am and "I" can't change! This is called the ego, but in fact, the ego is the personality; it's nothing mysterious or incomprehensible.
Only the Vibration of Sound Meditation Can Cleanse Karma
To stop ourselves from getting more steeped in karma, we have to avoid our habits and prevent them from emerging. If a habit emerges, it will grow stronger, and we'll become even more irascible. For instance, in past lives, we may have been wrongly accused of committing crimes that we didn't commit. And we may have been beaten and painfully hurt, or persecuted by those in power. Then in our current life, we might meet someone who persecutes or hurts us for justifiable reasons. In fact, we're in the wrong, and it's right for him or her to persecute us. However, someone had wrongly accused and persecuted us in our past lives and we hated it. And when we encounter a similar situation again, we can't tolerate it and attempt to take revenge or counteractions. Thus, we deepen the animosity in our heart and let the malicious atmosphere grow denser and stronger. In the end, it forms our spiteful personality. So if we want to avoid this situation, whenever we want to take revenge on people, we should immediately tell ourselves: "Will tit for tat ever end?"
Each time we perform an action or learn a new idea, a new channel is created in our brains for storing the new material. This is for storing animosity, that's for love, this is for jealousy, and that's for fame and profit. Each spot is taken up by a different quality. The more habits we have, the more boxes or channels fill our brains.
Originally, these boxes or channels can disintegrate by themselves. It's very simple. If there's nothing inside, they'll fuse together and be reduced to nothing. However, there's a substance called "gray matter" in our brains that fills these channels or boxes. All new ideas and actions are registered in the gray matter, which fills up the empty channels in the brain, much like a computer that maintains records exclusively.
We can never erase the things or qualities that we've newly learned. So we have to practice the Quan Yin Method to flush away the bad habits inside. There's no other way to cleanse them! You've often heard about brainwashing a person, but brainwashing with words is not thorough enough. Our brains are very small, yet they can record everything, in infinite volumes. That's the trouble. Having recorded too much, it can't be erased quickly enough. We have distracting thoughts every day, all because we record too many things.
Therefore, if I'm now brainwashing you with words, I'm merely adding more channels and boxes. It's futile! You're already filled with old preconceptions and ideas. If I add more new ones, they'll simply mingle with the old, and it will be useless. The old ones will continue to function while new ones develop, and it only becomes more complicated.
That's why I say, "Truly, spiritual cultivation requires no language!" So during transmission of the Quan Yin Method, I don't speak and make no new additions. I'm chatting with you now only because there are knots and problems within you so I have to explain a little to solve your inner conflicts. Otherwise, I don't speak. Why do I have to talk so much? You already know more than enough. For instance, if you're not Buddhists and know nothing about the Nirvana Sutra or Diamond Sutra, you will not ask me questions about the scriptures, and I too will not need to speak so much to explain things to you. I speak a lot because you speak a lot. You've gathered too much garbage so I have to use many ways to remove and incinerate it.
So the Quan Yin Method isn't words; it's the vibrations, the electric current, the God-power that cleanses our distracting thoughts and wrong ideas. It doesn't add any channels or boxes inside us. That's because, if we want to use a certain thought to eliminate another thought, there will be resistance. It doesn't mean the old thought is cleansed! No, we're simply adding another one. Consequently, it becomes more crowded and we become more agitated. Therefore, all great spiritual Masters say, "The more learned and knowledgeable one is, the more difficult it is for one to attain the Truth." We simply heap things within us, squeezing them together until nothing can develop. Good and bad things mingle together. The good things cannot develop, and the bad things cannot be cleansed; it becomes heavily congested. Now you understand why the more learned one is, the more difficult it is to become enlightened!
So only the Quan Yin Method is logical for it's not Zen riddles or some kind of chant, which will only add more to our brains. Instead, we cleanse it. That's why I tell you that, although I've instructed you to recite the Holy Names and meditate on the Light, it's not effective if you don't practice "Sound meditation." This is so because chanting the Holy Names and meditating on the Light also add extra things; although these additives can control other things and make us forget worldly vexations. Suppose we're angry with someone and want to get even or scold him. Now when we recite the Holy Names, we forget the hostility. It means that we can use these benevolent Holy Names to control our distracting thoughts and stop them from troubling us. It doesn't mean that they've vanished, or been cleansed by chanting the Holy Names or Amitabha Buddha. No! We add tens of thousands of repetitions of the Holy Names every day, to control the distracting thoughts. After that, we should use the "Sound meditation" to erase them, including the Holy Names! (Applause) I'm very glad that you understand.
That's why I say, if someone doesn't practice Sound meditation every day and yet claims that he's been completely enlightened or become a Buddha, he's lying. Some people also say that when one becomes a Buddha, meditation becomes unnecessary. It means not doing the ordinary kind of meditation, where we tax our brains chanting the Holy Names, just reciting two names and forgetting the rest, or reciting one and forgetting the other four, or reciting the first and forgetting the fifth, or struggling with distracting thoughts. "Good grief! I have so many distracting thoughts. My God! I hate that person. My God! Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha Buddha. Good grief! That person is really disgusting. Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha Buddha.... Oh! I'll surely get even with him tomorrow. Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha Buddha...." Oh! What a painful struggle it is. This is called meditation because we're training our minds and suppressing our distracting thoughts, hatred and habits.
Buddhas Are in Constant Meditation
It's not true that a person doesn't meditate after becoming a Buddha, but he meditates without struggling. He still meditates without having to sit in meditation so we say he doesn't meditate. Now, when we meditate, we know that we're meditating. A Buddha doesn't know that he's meditating; he meditates effortlessly. This is what Lao Tze meant by "doing without doing." He didn't mean that we should sit the whole day long, remaining oblivious to the world, not managing the country, not taking care of the family, not bathing our body or doing the laundry and not even eating. This isn't "doing without doing"; it's being insane. (Laughter) Thus, when some people say that once we become a Buddha we don't need to meditate anymore and instead we just enjoy gambling and singing karaoke all day long, this is becoming the devil. This is becoming a negative Buddha instead of a Buddha like the Amitabha Buddha.
So when you notice that someone isn't meditating or reciting the Holy Names, you know he's ignorant. This is only befitting for the lowest Astral realm; he's been deceived! A Buddha (Enlightened Master) doesn't meditate, yet he does meditate. Why? He has to bless the world; he has to bless his disciples. If even we ordinary humans can derive such great merit from meditation, imagine what happens when a Buddha meditates. He can't shirk his responsibility. If a Buddha comes here and doesn't meditate, then what does he want to do? Besides, he also needs to replenish his inner spirit and vitality. Don't we feel physically comfortable and mentally happy when we meditate? Though we don't have a desire for inner levels, we attain them all the same!
We cannot remain physically healthy just by eating. Many people eat, yet their bodies are weak. For us, we only have to meditate for an hour or two, and we're happy in spirit, and can work tirelessly throughout the day. Therefore, even a Buddha needs to meditate to restore his power. Eating food alone cannot sustain his body. If he were only an ordinary person, then even if he ate a lot, he still wouldn't be able to take on the numerous responsibilities of a Buddha. Since a Buddha eats very little and has to shoulder so many responsibilities, how can he not meditate?
He does meditate, except that he doesn't struggle hard like we do or meditate with so much effort. A Buddha meditates in a very relaxed way. He enters samadhi soon after he begins to meditate and he's in samadhi even when he's not meditating! He's in samadhi twenty-four hours a day and he can meditate at any time. This is called meditating without meditating. Spiritual cultivation is not all about meditation. Even then, he still meditates to set an example for his disciples. Otherwise, everyone would think that he had become a Buddha and didn't need to meditate anymore, but just enjoyed worldly pleasures. In that case, everyone would be the same, and everyone could do it. Since there would be no need to meditate, lazy people could also claim that they had become Buddhas. What a wonderful excuse! No way!
Remember that after Shakyamuni Buddha became a Buddha, He meditated every day. That's why the scriptures mention that every time Shakyamuni Buddha came out of samadhi, He would begin to give a discourse to His disciples. They never mention Him giving a discourse after coming out of the washroom, or after enjoying karaoke, singing, dancing or gambling. Never! Therefore, reading the scriptures without really understanding them will bring us harm. Our spiritual practice will be impaired. We'll boast and thirst for fame and gain, and thus hurt ourselves.
Humility Is the Most Important Element in Spiritual Practice
So humility is the most important element in spiritual practice. Anyone who tests our patience is our teacher; people who beat and scold us are our teachers, training our tolerance and giving us a chance to reflect. This is also good. It's not bad unless such actions hurt the public, then we must try to stop them. If he's only testing us, then let him test us to the end; the harder it is, the better it is for us. Gold shines more radiantly when tempered in fire. Genuine gold fears no fire!
I'm not just telling you this; I practice what I say. I have to do it because I'm your example. So, don't ask me why I'm totally unmoved when people slander me. If I can't even tolerate that, then what can I tolerate? How can I teach people to be tolerant? Unless it causes harm to the public or other people, then I'll think of a way to stop it. If it hurts only me, it's all right!
Now you know what the ego is and how to eliminate it. Don't allow your ego to grow stronger and confine you like a wall. As such, you'll believe that you're this person and this is what you are. That's the ego. You'll just carry on and do the same wrong things, and subsequently, you'll become even worse. If no one stops it for you, you'll become worse. You'll think that it's fine and feel happy about it. Finally, it will become a habit, just like smoking and drinking. Though you know that it's bad for your body, you'll still become heavily addicted to the habit as you drink more and smoke more.
This is why we must learn to be humble. We shouldn't add more to the habits that we've accumulated through many lifetimes, and we shouldn't let them grow stronger until they become irreparable later. We already have a great many bad habits. If we don't minimize them but add more, how can we handle them? There's no way to minimize them even if we want to. When can we finish reducing them? We've collected so much. It's already difficult enough for us to avoid getting more, not to mention that we need to erase those firm habits, and even traditions, that we've gathered through many lifetimes! That's why we have to use this supra-worldly power, the vibrations of the Sound meditation, to cleanse them quickly. Ordinary brainwashing is useless. Only practicing the Sound meditation is the true "brainwashing."
You ask me how to avoid the ego. I advise you to do more Sound meditation. If you're aware, endeavor to check and control yourself. Don't add more to or repeat the habit. If you can avoid it, then stop. If we're not aware of our ego, then there's nothing we can do. That's even worse. We must do more Sound meditation! Do more Sound meditation! Do more Sound meditation! It cleanses us automatically; there's no other way. (Applause) Now you realize that the Quan Yin Method is truly great! Without it, we can never cleanse our myriad habits!