Rev. Heng Sure is an American Buddhist monk, currently stationed in Queensland, Australia. Rev. Sure is a senior disciple of the late Chan Master Hsuan Hua, and is currently the director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, a branch monastery of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. He is best known for a Three Steps, One Bow pilgrimage, seeking for world peace, He and a monk companion traveled a distance of 800 miles, over two years and six months, from 1977–1979.

Rev. Heng Sure earned an MA degree in Oriental Languages from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1976 and a PhD in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, in 2003.


A1: No of course. You should be reasonable. If your parents want to go and you can’t take care of them at home because you have to work, then you should take them somewhere where they can receive the care that they deserved and you can work, knowing they are not in trouble at home or needing your help. Find a good nursing home that you trust and let them be with their friends there. Of course, there are differences in the quality of nursing homes and you have to investigate to make sure you are getting the services you’ll be paying for. This is the only way to cope in a time when our nuclear-extended family when our aunts and uncles and children have scattered, nursing homes and senior communities are a wholesome way to solve that problem.

A2: I think it is important to identify the purpose of reciting the Buddha’s names. Reciting the name of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Those methods were given by the  Buddha and Bodhisattva as a way to invoke the vows of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Their vows are to help. Guanyin Bodhisattva’s vows include vows to heal illness but understand that those vows work in invisible ways. When your sincerity of mind allows you to recite single-mindedly, and when your purity of conduct allows you to recite with virtue, so your mind is clear and you’re not plagued by doubts and obstacles and ignorance and afflictions, that’s called ‘jear lea’. The power of virtue that leads to ‘ting le’, the power of stillness and concentration. So the Buddha and Bodhisattvas names are largely designed to get you to live a pure spiritual lifestyle and to call on those vows to make that transformation possible. Those are the purposes of the practice of reciting Buddhas and Bodhisattvas names.

To take a medical illness based on imbalances of the four elements, by and large, based on bad karma and most often based upon poor diet- eating things that, caused cancer, can cause high blood pressure, can cause diabetes, can cause arteriosclerosis, can cause heart disease, largely comes from diet.  For someone to recite Buddha names and try to undo the effects of years and years of poor eating, years and years of bad health, either smoking or drinking or the things that contribute to cancer. This is simply unrealistic. So we shouldn’t tax the Buddha and Bodhisattvas with unrealistic expectations by hoping that reciting the Buddha’s name and invoking the vows to lead someone into Sila, Samadhi, or Prajna is somehow going to get involved in the stream of someone’s bad habits and transform those effects. You might say that’s real faith, you might say it’s also unrealistic.

So, not to say it can’t happen, certainly, such things do happen there can be miraculous intervention of spiritual power on physical illness. But I think it is unfair to the Buddha dharma to expect someone’s half-hearted recitation, at the very end of their life when the disease has already risen to somehow change the effects of all of that abuse of the body. So please be realistic. Don’t complain to Buddha when your hopes don’t bear fruition.

A4: If you are wealthy with Hong Kong dollars can you spend them in America? Possibly. It would depend upon whether you went to the bank and got a good exchange rate if they took foreign currency. By answering that way what I mean is, Why not recite the name of Earthstore Bodhisattvas for the purposes outlined in the Earthstore sutra? Then you can be sure of a 100% return.

When you want to be reborn in the Pureland there are multiple ways to get there:

  • You can recite the name of Amithaba.
  • can recite Guanyin Bodhisattva.
  • can recite according to the Great Strength Bodhisattva’s vow.
  • You can recite the After? Rebirth mantra.
  • You can follow Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s 10 practices and vows.

There are many ways to get to the Pureland. So to ask if you can use Earthstore Bodhisattva’s name to get to the Pureland it is certainly not impossible. But you still have to make a vow, have to believe, you have to want to be there, and then have to go and practice. That’s the high road to Pureland. So if you want to be rich in America you have to buy American dollars.

A5: Yes. Can buy CDs through i-tunes; through Apple i-tune, it’s available through Can also get it for a good deed for free (do a good deed) through Dharma radio. org.

A6: I am unaware of this practice of copying sutras during a funeral. I would suggest it is much better to copy sutras before someone dies. If you’re really concerned about their welfare and you understand that copying sutras and mantras is good then don’t wait till somebody dies to create the merit by doing this. Do it today, do it while they are in good health. The idea of doing it somehow, that it is more efficacious after someone dies strikes me as not the best way to use your effort.

What do you do with all of the sutras you copy out? To burn them is not a good idea if you can avoid it. Why don’t you keep them at your Buddha altar? Wherever your Buddha image is at home, I am sure there is room in a box, beneath the Buddha image to store the sutras that you copied out. To write them out with the intention to burn them is second best. So in general, use common sense. The magic is not in the sutra but in the mind that copies them. Sutras are wonderful spiritual documents. They do have a sacred purpose. and do have efficacious energy around them but don’t subject them to superstitious use. If you want to copy them out, then store them reliably.

A8: Do you see a living being as existing outside your mind? Do you think that your mother-in-law is a living being? That is an example, If you know your nature is the same as a living beings. An example. Your mother-in-law and you all come from the same earth, air, fire, and water and nature is the same, you share a Buddha nature together. No difference. There is an example.

A9: Why does Maitreya go in the dining hall and not other Buddhas? Other Buddhas go in the dining hall as well. There has just been a custom growing of Maitreya Bodhisattva, not  Maitreya Buddha as being very happy, very fat because he is patient and is able to endure and not because he eats a lot of food. That’s the custom, he makes people very happy. He’s also very patient so that’s why he goes in the dining room more often. Other Buddhas go to the dining hall as well.

If you go to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas you will see in the dining hall, a large Shakyamuni Buddha, a Thousand Hands Guanyin, and a small Maitreya.

Venerable Dr. Heng Sure’s Dharma Lectures in Singapore, 19 Nov 2010 to 22 Nov 2010

Singapore Dharma Talks 2010 Questions and Answers

A1: Thank you very much. I’m glad you liked the songs. The slideshows are in Macintosh format and don’t convert well to PowerPoint. I may be able to post them on my blog later.

A2: The connection between your recitation and your emotional state may be there, and it may be unrelated. Have you considered that if you hadn’t recited perhaps the suicide wish might have succeeded? Because karma is invisible it is difficult to determine causation. You can’t say for certain that this result came about from this cause. Your conclusion that some invisible force is trying to keep you from practicing is not impossible; it is, however, improbable and should not be your first choice of cause. Buddha Dharma takes empathy and compassion as its basis; depression and suicide would be an unlikely and extreme reaction to reciting a mantra that is based on kindness and compassion. If we stick to common sense, then reciting a mantra should not trigger karmic obstacles that exert some sort of lethal force over you. If you are certain that there is a connection then I would suggest that you cultivate a method that doesn’t generate feelings of depression. The Buddha perfected both blessings and wisdom. You might try doing good deeds and increasing your blessings in this way. Mantras may not be the best method for you at the moment. I personally like bowing and find it a wonderful combination of relaxing yoga and also insightful contemplations. Master Hsuan Hua bowed to the Buddhas night and day for ten years. You might consider switching.

A3: Currently, following Master Hua’s instructions, we are not giving instructions in his 42 Hands and Eyes method. Psychic powers depend on great wisdom and compassion. They are the result of dedicated cultivation and require one to end all desire. To do so while living at home is possible but difficult simply because of the intense, single-minded focus you need to succeed.

A4: Probably yes. The Buddha was born into a culture dominated by Hinduism and Brahmanism, which both advocate a vegetarian diet. Prince Siddhartha ate no beef, certainly, because Hindus don’t kill cows.

A5: Thank you for your encouragement. Monks take precepts and the Ten Novice Precepts specifically prohibit playing musical instruments. Yet monks and nuns spend hours each day playing Dharma instruments. Obviously, the difference is the kind of music you are making, and your intent. If you are praising the Triple Jewel and your intent is to bring others to resolve to wake up, then making music creates merit, not offenses.

A6: If your question means “fated,” to achieve some purpose then Buddhism doesn’t include the notion of fate. Your destiny is in your own hands; common sense and hard work based on solid vows can create a brand-new purpose. All the same, if you quiet your mind using a Dharma method you will generally find your feet walking directly towards what you are supposed to be doing. Pay more attention to your feet than to your thoughts in terms of finding what you are supposed to do. Another method is to listen carefully to your heart. Most often our hearts are speaking loudly to us but we are so busy pursuing desires that we can’t hear the voice of our hearts.

A7: Your friend’s advice makes no sense to me. If you are traveling in order to benefit people then you are increasing blessings. If you stay at home and do selfish things, then even though you are not traveling you are still depleting your blessings. Your friend’s advice to practice the pure land method is good advice if you enjoy that method. But any practice that increases your afflictions and also increases your fear is not a wholesome method and should be abandoned. Also, since reciting Amitabha’s name happens in your mind, you can recite constantly whether you are traveling or safe in your own armchair. The practice is portable. Recite all the time!

A8: Traditionally there are three reasons why one might seek another teacher. The first is because one’s teacher has died; the second is because one’s teacher has gone far away; the third is because one’s teacher has disrobed or is no longer teaching. Under those circumstances and one feels an affinity, then one can seek another teacher and follow his or her instructions. If you have no teacher nearby then hold the precepts in your mind: don’t fight, don’t be greedy, don’t merely seek (without applying effort), don’t be selfish, don’t seek selfish advantages, and don’t lie. Those guidelines will keep your feet on the path at all times with or without a teacher nearby.

A10: The Buddha himself avoided philosophical speculation. Even if I knew with certainty the answer to the questions you ask, it would not help my cultivation at all; my ignorance and bad habits would not change. If you are bitten by a snake it doesn’t save your life to discuss the weather on the day you were bitten; you have to get the snake-bite poison out before you ask irrelevant questions. That being said, the Buddha taught that everything is made from the mind alone; our minds make the worlds we inhabit. Change your mind and you change the world.

A11: The religion is a set of beliefs and practices, often based on the teachings of a founder and leading towards well-being for the believers. Philosophy is a disciplined inquiry leading to assertions about humanity and the world. Buddhism contains both religious and philosophical elements; it uses the human mind as its laboratory and; in that way shares certain aspects with both religious philosophies. Buddhism has often been called a system of healing and a system of education. The Buddha has been called the great King of Physicians.

A12: Choice two is correct. Most important is to understand the nature of craving and to recognize that it cannot be satisfied. If you see craving as it is, like the flame that consumes everything it touches, then you will be less likely to want to pursue the craving and try to satisfy it. The Middle Way of moderation always works; the problem lies not with the object you crave but with the mind craving it.

A13: If Buddhists practice Buddhism ritualistically and don’t look into the mind, if we don’t apply the wisdom of the Dharma to our behavior and in fact behave in ways that do not reflect wisdom and compassion, then certainly any young person whose mind is awake will want to walk the other way. I would encourage them not to follow models like that. You become what you behold; the fault in this case lies with the adults who understand Buddhism shallowly or whose practice has become ritualized. To interest young people you have to talk to their minds and supply answers that make sense according to scientific logic and to common sense.

A14: Would you like to live next door to a casino? Would you like your children to go to school in the same neighborhood as a casino? Casinos increase greed, decrease well-being, attract people who want something for nothing, bring on heartbreak when the house takes all your money and encourages people to lax behavior and often intoxication which then can lead to criminal behavior and suffering. Who really gets the benefits of casinos? Do the profits trickle down to the community? Is there any evidence that casinos benefit local communities anywhere in the world? I will let you draw your own conclusions.

A15: I’m not sure I really understand your question. Are you suggesting that one must kill ants for some reason? To ask a Buddhist monk this question seems needless: you already know the answer. Ants were here before humans, they will probably outlast our species as well, so we should learn to coexist. Keep your sink clean. Ants only come when you feed them. If they’re seeking water provide water down on the floor. Keep your trash in a plastic liner inside the garbage can with a tight-fitting lid. Recite Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s name and be grateful that you have a mind that knows right from wrong. If you were an ant, wouldn’t you want your local humans to be kind?

A16: I recommend the Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra, available from the Buddhist text translation society, ( I began by reading this text and it is free of jargon and very inspiring. Any of Master Hua’s Talks on Dharma are also good places to begin. I have a book called News From True Cultivators, which also introduces Buddhist practice for beginners.

A17: “Sick” is a relative term. From the Buddhist point of view, having a body that gets old and dies is the greatest and most universal sickness. All Buddhist practice takes as its starting point curing this basic sickness. So if you accept this idea then all Buddhist practice is done while we’re sick.

As for your question, depending on the illness that you have, you can practice in many different ways. One way might be to recite the Buddha’s name on behalf of other people who share your illness. There are certainly people who are suffering illnesses more serious even than yours; you can recite on their behalf as well. Don’t forget to transfer merit when you’re done. One suggestion is to “count your blessings,” that is to say appreciate and feel grateful for the opportunity to cultivate in any way. Many people find illness a great catalyst for practice. When we are well and healthy we don’t think to cultivate because the body seems like it will stay healthy forever. Only when illness shows us the reality of our fragile “bag of skin,” do we recognize the urgent need to address the very same questions Prince Siddhartha faced. Please accept my blessings and best wishes for your quick and complete recovery.

A18: Depression is a generic term that includes many forms of mental illness. No single treatment will work in every case. Depression includes manic depression, bipolar depression, mood swings, and many other varieties of emotional and mental disorders. Anti-depression medicines have come into widespread use in the last several decades; taking medication may alter symptoms and make one’s illness more manageable but medication does not address the fundamental problems. Depression is such a complex issue and so little is understood that doctors often prescribe medication as the first resort. Anti-depression medicines are increasingly prescribed for even borderline symptoms. It would be irresponsible for me to casually recommend this or that practice as a solution for depression. Depression was not a syndrome during the Buddha’s time thus there are no specific practices prescribed for depression. However depression is a mental illness, therefore it is also an affliction, and the Buddha Dharma is here to transform affliction. There are pilot programs in meditation-based therapy centers around the world. Because so many people experience some form of depression psychiatrists and mental health professionals are hoping that meditation therapy can produce results that they can measure. Even while experiencing the symptoms of depression if you can find a way to serve others and contribute your effort, even in small ways, as a volunteer, your blessings will grow steadily and you will be creating a bank account of goodness for a future free of depression.

A20: There is a story that Earth Store Bodhisattva can appear in the Hells to shake his six-ringed pewter staff and when he does, the suffering in the Hells comes to an end instantly. As soon as he moves on, however, all of the suffering starts up again. This is because the karma of living beings is so heavy that despite Earth Store’s great power he can only wipe out past karma. The karma that we are making right now even Earth Store can’t keep up with.

A21: All mind is “inner mind,” there is no outer mind. The method called “returning the hearing to listen to the self-nature” is the method Manjushri Bodhisattva recommends as the best one for us to practice in this day and age. You can find out the details in the Shurangama Sutra’s chapter known as “The Twenty-five Sages Chapter.” Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s method is the last one of the twenty-five, and Manjushri Bodhisattva tells the Buddha that this is the best method for realizing “Perfect Understanding.” It requires one to make the mind very still and quiet and has long been a favorite of Chan meditators.

A22: The Buddha said that the “eighth consciousness” is the thing that carries all the seeds of our past and present actions with body, speech, and mind into our next rebirth. That eighth consciousness is said to be the last thing that leaves the body at death and is the first thing that arrives in our new mother’s womb before our next rebirth. When one cultivates until all negative karmic seeds are sprouted and gone, then that karmic matrix that carries our illusory self is gone. One then realizes the liberation known as “same body, Great Compassion.”

A23: I didn’t walk, I bowed for two and a half years, and then for six months more. The purpose was two-fold; one, to work for a more peaceful world, and two, to find a way to effectively repay my parent’s kindness in raising me. I learned that my speech karma is very mixed because I have habitually told lies in order to get people to like me more. I kept silent for six years around the pilgrimage in order to recognize my speech habits and learn to control them.

A24: I don’t agree with your premise. People come to my monastery in order to figure out a solution to their troubles and confusion. Cultivating for samadhi is precisely the reason people come to monasteries.

A25: There are said to be a myriad (84,000) ways to do this. Pick a method and apply it until you get results. Then do it some more on behalf of others. Then pick another method and start over again. No mystery, no shortcuts.

A26: Why not say these prayers: “I am the father/mother of my child and I pray that I will never do anything greedy in the presence of my child. I promise to be a living model of generosity and kindness at all times. Further, I pray that I will never use my temper in the presence of my child. When I feel anger arise I will use patience and kindness instead of anger to deal with every situation. Further, I pray that when I am confused and tempted to act in ways that I know contradict the Buddha’s wisdom, I will pause and laugh at my own foolishness; I will refuse to behave unwisely, instead, I will drop my macho pose and admit that there is something I don’t know. I will show my child that I am a human, and humans have a soft side. I will demonstrate to my child a wish to keep my mind awake and alive, I will ask questions and listen to the answers and happily change when the road ahead is uncertain. I pray that I have the wisdom to hug my child and show him or her unconditional love and acceptance of their humanity. May my wish be granted and may the Bodhisattvas protect and guide all living beings who were children not so long ago.

A27: Why is there so much food in the world? Isn’t rice enough? Why do we need potatoes and corn and bread? Why are there so many languages in the world? Isn’t English or Chinese enough? Cultivate a method that you like and do it sincerely. Cultivation of the path to awakening is a privilege, not a burden. All methods are expedient means; each one is suited to a particular person, so there are no “second-best” methods.

A28: Selfishness is a wrong view; the “me” that results from seeing myself as the center of the world results in lots of troubles. To support the “me,” I cling to material possessions and attitudes that I call “mine,” and even more troubles result. “Selfishness” and “self-benefit” are Master Hua’s names for the habitual views of “me” and “mine,” two wrong views that cause conflict in the world.

A29: You have asked three questions; I suggested one question per page per person. You can love others unconditionally when you have their interests in your heart. If I genuinely want all beings, not just humans, to end their sufferings, and if I identify their well-being with my own, then I can approach a state of unconditional great compassion. (Love is a problematic word in English; I will substitute the Buddhist word “Great Compassion.”) Obviously, everybody has things they love and hate, so our compassion is very conditional. Nonetheless, we can take a Bodhisattva’s Great Compassion and unconditional kindness as goals and gradually learn to imitate them.

A30: These terms are used uncritically; you can’t compare things that you don’t identify clearly. Do you know what Zen Awakening is? Do you understand Theravada Buddhism? Both Mahayana and Theravada talk about the Dhyanas; that would be a starting place to look if you wanted to compare states, but I don’t recommend it. I think you would be better off working hard on the foundation of your own awakening, which is your virtuous character. There you have some chance of clarity and control. Any attainment you gain is your own realization and not a theoretical idea.

A31: Your question implies that there are dishonest followers of Jesus, and I won’t debate that notion today. An honest follower of a theistic religion must look outside him or herself for the source of authority and also for salvation. God’s grace is the means of salvation, not works, merit, or insight and it comes from outside of oneself, from God. Buddhism looks within for liberation. One’s salvation comes entirely through one’s own effort, not through divine grace. For this reason, the two paths are different. However, followers of Jesus are free to apply any Buddhist method they choose in their cultivation without having to affiliate with Buddhism; but the two traditions move in opposite directions when it comes time to seek liberation.

A32: I suggest you teach by example. Show her in your kindness and in your patience and in your vigorous cultivation of how real Buddhists behave. Struggling and arguing about which religion is true or false will only demonstrate that your cultivation of the Dharma hasn’t brought you any real wisdom or benefits. Buddhists want to be different in these ways: we don’t fight with other religions, we yield truth claims to others; we aren’t greedy for things the world offers; we don’t seek, instead we are content with what comes from our own efforts; we aren’t selfish, we like to be public-spirited and community-oriented; we don’t grab all the benefits for ourselves, we share the good stuff with others, and we don’t lie. If we can focus on this behavior and refuse to talk badly about other religions, then even if a family member moves into another religion, before long they will come back to the Dharma when they discover that the other religion’s answers fail to explain their real life in concrete ways.

A33: The world is full of all kinds of living beings. I try my best to root out negative tendencies in my mind first and work hard at using kindness toward others.

A34: There are many ways to meditate. Traditionally the Chan school in China emphasized full lotus posture. The teaching is that a full lotus posture is the best way to enter samadhi. Full lotus puts your body in a triangular position, like a pyramid. It’s stable and balanced. The mind easily falls quiet in full lotus. If one is unable to sit that way then half lotus is the next best. Failing that, there are many ways to meditate. The point of sitting in a lotus posture is to still the body. The point of stilling the body is to calm the mind. With body and mind both calm then one can see thoughts rising. Ultimately the point of any meditation is to quiet the mind. But if the body is restless, the mind will not be quiet. If one can make the body completely quiet in some other method then that’s the best way to meditate. What I am describing is the Chan method. There are many methods, including contemplations, that the Buddha recommended for people of various dispositions.

A35: The answer to your question depends on who you consider a Buddhist. Some people who only read books about Buddhism and have positive feelings towards the religion but who never practice, still call themselves Buddhists. Other people meditate but know nothing about the Dharma and still consider themselves Buddhist. In the Mahayana tradition, you’re not really a Buddhist until you take refuge with the Triple Jewel. It’s much easier to count people who have committed to taking refuge, yet the people who have taken refuge in America are very few indeed. Our census at present doesn’t ask us to identify which religion we are so census figures don’t give us a number. Thus it is hard to answer your question

accurately. In general, there are between two and ten million Buddhists in the US. Buddhism is the fourth largest religious group in America.

A36: I think you should go where you want to go, and I hope you get a chance. But don’t wait until the last minute to decide you want to go to the Pure Land. Many people wait to recite Amitabha’s name, thinking that they will recite it when they are old. But how many people are in a coma when they fall sick and can’t recite? How many suffer from dementia and can’t recite? How many get depressed or cynical and don’t want to recite? Master Hsuan Hua praised Amitabha Buddha – – “His name means Limitless Light! Recite Amitabha’s name!”

A37: If you are specializing in the Dharma door of Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva, you can recite the “Universal Door Chapter” of the Lotus Sutra, or the Great Compassion Mantra. You can recite the Six Syllable Mantra of Great Light (Om Mani Padme Hum), or you can recite the Amitabha Sutra. The Amitabha Sutra takes you to Amitabha is the Pure Land if you recite it sincerely.

A38: Thank you very much. I hope to come more often.

A39: How do you stay healthy on a meat diet? Meat and dairy are the most unhealthy things you can put in your body after drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. I could turn your question around: how can you possibly stay healthy by eating meat? Clearly, the typical American diet is killing people. The meat and dairy industry tries to convince you otherwise.

A40: The Buddha is very democratic. He is also very compassionate. All of the Dharma methods he taught are there to help us overcome our bad habits and to transform afflictions. Some people prefer one method at a time; others, like myself, keep several practices going at once. Ultimately a Bodhisattva masters every method of practice, just not all at once. Practice complementary methods, methods that work together. For instance, you can both recite and bow, or you can meditate and bow, you can hold the precepts and do deeds of service. You can study a sutra and also recite mantras. It’s no problem to practice more than one as long as you do it consistently. Master Hua told us the most important thing to do in cultivation, no matter what practices we observed, was to change our bad habits and faults. But that’s not popular! It requires us to get dirty as we clean out the messy closets of our minds. But this is the most direct path to awakening!

A41: If I understand your question correctly, you are referring to a monastic who leaves home and becomes a Sangha member. Every time somebody leaves home there is a separation and separations are painful. However, if you leave home for the right motives, ie, to cultivate the Dharma and to benefit living beings, then you have the potential to repeat the Buddha’s Mahabodhi or Great Awakening. One who wakes up transforms selfishness and can truly repay his parent’s kindness. This is a filial act. Monks and nuns serve their communities in a profound and valuable way; in a way that a householder cannot. So there are compensations for disrupting the stability of the individual home.

A42: Everywhere Buddhism has gone throughout history it has changed the new culture it meets and has also been changed by it. In Singapore, where Chinese culture is well-established, there is no need for the establishment to change the style of chanting. But the younger generation is never satisfied with the established ways. The change you seek is a generational change, not a cultural change.

I’m glad you like my songs. My contribution to Buddhist music so far, with a few exceptions, is songs, not liturgy or chanting. Liturgy combines uplifting music, profound lyrics, and a feeling of transcendence. Further, people have to be able to chant it easily. The music can’t be too difficult or nobody will be able to learn it. We need a gifted composer who knows Western music but who also understands Buddha Dharma, to come forth and create a liturgy that has all three components.

A43: Sexual misconduct means adultery if one is married, and promiscuity if one is single. In a more strict interpretation, it means purity until one is married. In general, it means that somebody who takes this precept promises to not use selfish sexual desire to harm others. If somebody is in a committed relationship with a partner and does not cheat on his or her promises, then one is holding the precept. As for gay or lesbian relationships between two individuals who love each other, the same standards apply.

A44: I agree completely. The problem is not limited to ceremonies, the problem is also not limited to Buddhism. Christianity succeeds in bringing people in because it offers a warm community, fun activities, and open smiles. Of course, young people are drawn into the churches. Why are Buddhists so cold? If a young person watches Buddhists shake incense at a golden image and then bow and mumble with beads and doesn’t learn anything else about the faith, of course, the young person with a questioning intelligence is going to walk away and look for something more rewarding. The problem is not with Buddhism, it’s with the Buddhists. Unquestioning, self-satisfied Buddhists who haven’t taken the time to investigate the Dharma themselves are unable to respond to the questions that young people have about the world, their lives, and relationships. Religion is a buyer’s market; if the Buddhist “product” seems inferior, of course, young people who are trained to be consumers will look elsewhere. Buddhist parents and teachers need to step up to the challenge and create a community that welcomes young people and invites their questions without judgement. The most important element for holding the interest of young people is for the adult to hold an open mind that continues to be curious and interested in the world and its complexity. Personally, I left Methodist Christianity at age sixteen because I was told by my Sunday School teacher that I couldn’t ask the questions I was asking about the Tao and the mind. He forbid me to think, which violated my trust and pushed me away. I could not accept a fence around my curiosity. I had a burning need to understand the world and my place in it. If we do the same to our Buddhist youth if we only give them the Pure Land, ceremonies, and a list of “don’ts” we’ve lost them. Further, if we as adults behave unethically when it comes to making money and doing business for profit unethically, then we convince the youth that Buddhism is not worth practicing.

A45: Watch thoughts of greed rise in the mind and counter them with thoughts of generosity. Refuse to follow thoughts of greed. If you can stop them in your own mind, you model that self-control for the world. Trying to change the world without changing my own mind is hypocritical. Nobody will agree with you. Live simply, with gratitude, and take delight in the things you have. Advertising can only hook you if you are seeking and not content with what you have.

A46: I can’t tell you how, sorry. I didn’t tell you to doubt and fear, you learned those traits of mind yourself. How can I tell you to get rid of them? The only answer is to consider the alternative to the Buddha’s teaching: ignorance. Is there any value in ignorance? Should you trust it? If the answer is no, then you should pick up the Dharma and cultivate it with all your might. You wouldn’t bet on a losing horse in a race, so why do you question whether the Dharma works? A compass points to North; if there are clouds or smoke in the way, it makes no difference; North is still North. Don’t let afflictions confuse you, they are not your trustworthy friends.

A47: The she in the title of the song “She Carries Me” is Guan Yin Bodhisattva. The song was written by Jennifer Berezan, a Canadian-American songwriter living in Berkeley, California. (

A48: Transforming the ego is not just an idea, you actually have to go and change habitual behaviors that reinforce the notion of a separated individual ego. This is a big job; it took the Buddha six years of hard work in the forest to completely transform the selfish view. In the meanwhile, we can replace selfish thoughts, one by one, with selfless service for others. Simply replace the “I’m the center of the world,” view with thoughts that include others. Start with your family and expand to include neighbors, co-workers, classmates, etc.

A49: This is a complex issue and the debate continues. Euthanasia from the Buddhist perspective is problematic because killing is killing. Regardless of the intent of the individual who willfully administers the lethal agent, making a conscious decision and acting to end the life of the victim is killing and brings karmic retribution. So the choice to kill compassionately, from the point of view of karma, is no different from murdering with malice. Someone might say he or she is motivated by compassion to end suffering but on the other hand, suffering is built-in to the human condition. Some cultures in the world have instituted the practice of sending frail elders out alone to the mountain to die peacefully in Nature. Other cultures encourage elders to starve to death slowly and gracefully. Is there wisdom in this approach? The jury is still out.

A50: Sounds like you want a real bargain. Whatever you put in front of your eyes and ears is what you carry in your conscious awareness. We become what we behold. Why is Buddhahood so difficult to accomplish? Because even full-time cultivators, monks, and nuns who live in the tranquil wilderness find it hard to focus on single-minded concentration. The mind itself will distract you from concentration when you are trying to concentrate. Unless you are a master of samadhi, you will probably be distracted by the sights and sounds of the marketplace and find yourself unable to settle your mind. And if in the process of “succeeding in the marketplace” you compromise your ethical commitments then the samadhi you practice will reflect perfectly every step you take. Good luck.

A51: It’s not easy, is it? That’s why there are so few Buddhas in the world. Welcome to the club. The only alternative to Samsara is the Buddha’s Nirvana, the Pure Land, and the Bodhisattva path. To get your passport stamped for the Pure Land you have to work hard. The good news is that it’s possible. Don’t give up – affliction is certainly not going to save you. Impatience is the opposite of patience. Buddhism practice is for mature individuals. You can go look for a bargain and wait for Jesus to save you but can Jesus actually take on your karma for you? Cultivating forward, one day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time is the high road ahead. Your success is guaranteed.

A52: Do you find trouble coping with worldly life? Nothing is easy; there are no free lunches. I find monastic life to be uniquely liberating. I go to sleep at night grateful for the opportunity to serve the principles and practices of liberation. I am so glad that I don’t have to split my precious time between my heart and a Board of Directors, a boss, a profit-making corporation, a store, or worse, a dishonest lifestyle that harms my soul and obstructs my spiritual progress. This world is not a pleasant place for most living beings who share it with us. I don’t want my karma to stick me here unless I choose to stay.

A53: Memorizing sutras and mantras is not special or mysterious. You simply have to take the time and work at it, like growing a garden. Bringing flowers or fruit out of the ground takes work, skill, and patience. Putting the sounds of a mantra in your mind is no different. Work at it regularly and you will get results. Put the mantra before your eyes (by reading it), put it in your mouth (by reciting it), and put it in your mind, (by repeating it silently.) You can recite it in your car while walking, even when doing the mundane things of the day like brushing your teeth and drinking water. You will surely succeed. I recite the Shurangama Mantra once each morning in meditation, followed by 108 recitations of the mantra heart, the last few lines at the end of the mantra.

A54: Hold the precepts. Be a kind person. Refuse to overpower people with your temper or your quick intelligence. Appreciate the wonder of being alive in a human body. Do things that benefit others. Turn off all your gadgets that have a power switch and take a break from all electronic tools. Listen carefully to the words that people speak for your ears. Hold your tongue over and over. Go silent for a period each day or for a day each week. Go to your parents and spend quality time with them regularly. Volunteer at the local shelter or social service center. Make it your goal to identify one bad habit every day and refuse to follow it. These are the heart of cultivation, much more powerful than meditation in taking you directly towards Bodhi. Sages who embody the Dao don’t distinguish cultivation and non-cultivation because they have stopped seeking.

A55: Surely you have heard the story of Yuan Liaofan, right? He was predicted to die on a certain date and have no children. He met a monk who urged him to do good deeds and his lifespan extended and his family grew. Fate is not a Buddhist concept. Fate puts the control of your life in the hands of some faceless, external entity. Fate contradicts the truth; the truth is cause and effect determines our future. If you can take charge of your body, mouth, and mind so that you avoid all evil and do good, you direct your fate and become the architect of your future. True and not false!