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This excerpt teaches us how to correct our wrong actions in daily life. There are many kinds of actions. Generally, they are grouped into three categories: physical, verbal, and mental. This passage teaches us that through body, speech, and mind, we correct our thoughts and behaviors.
“Rectify your mind.” “Your” shows that in the matter of cultivation, no one can do it for us—we need to make the effort to restrain ourselves in order to have any result.
“Mind” refers to mental karma, thoughts, and thinking. They are the sources of all evils. The Buddha taught us to cultivate from the root. The root is the mind. “Rectify” means to correct. When the mind is not proper, we should immediately correct it—be honorable and open. This is how we begin learning Buddhism.
From the aspect of phenomena, a true Buddhist practitioner should have a mind of the utmost virtuousness. There is nothing that this person does in this lifetime which he or she cannot tell others. Sima Guang in ancient China is a very good example. He was honest from childhood. Throughout his life, he did not do anything that he could not tell others. This was because his mind was proper, honorable, and open. He had nothing to hide.
But “rectify your mind” that the Buddha teaches here refers to a higher level state of mind. It refers to a pure mind. Evil pollutes the mind, but so does good. Both evil and good pollute the mind. Therefore, the good karmas lead to rebirth in the Three Good Paths and the evil karmas lead to rebirth in the Three Evil Paths. In other words, one cannot transcend the Six Paths. Only with a pure mind will one be able to transcend the Three Realms [Desire Realm, Form Realm, and Formless Realm. This also refers to the Six Paths.] With a pure mind in control, one’s thoughts, words and deeds will all be pure. When the mind is proper, the six sense organs will naturally be proper.
“Rectify your behavior. Rectify your ears, eyes, mouth, and nose.” This talks about bodily behavior, about someone’s demeanor. The mind of a beginning practitioner is easily affected by the external environment. This is why the Buddha taught beginners to start with observing the precepts and etiquette, and to gradually nurture a pure, sincere mind. When the mind is truly pure, the ears, eyes, mouth, and tongue, and body will naturally be set right.
“Behavior and mind should be pure and clean, and accord with virtuousness.” “Pure” describes the mind. “Clean” describes the body. The mind should be pure and the body should be clean. This is the key guiding principle. This sentence tells us the standard for cultivating one’s moral character. It teaches us to constantly examine ourselves when a thought arises and to ensure that the body and mind are clean and pure.
What kind of mind is a pure mind? When a mind has no wandering thoughts, it is pure. The standard for cultivating one’s moral character is purity, which means no filth or pollution.
“Virtuousness” here is not the good in good and bad. In our original nature, there is neither good nor bad. In a pure mind, there is also neither good nor bad. This is true virtuousness.
Confucianism says “Attain utmost virtuousness. Utmost virtuousness is the original nature. When the body and mind move away from relativity, one will attain great freedom—true purity and uprightness.
“Do not let your leisure pursuits or desires take control.” If we cannot let go of our outside interests and greed, no matter how well we clean the body, we are not considered pure.
“Do not commit any evil deed.” Simply put, evil deeds are the Ten Evil Karmas: the physical karmas of killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct; the verbal karmas of harsh speech, divisive speech, false speech, and enticing speech; and the mental karmas of greed, anger, and ignorance. Not committing evil deeds, cultivating the Ten Virtuous Karmas, and observing the Five Precepts—these accord with the Ten Virtuous Karmas.
“Speech and facial expressions should be gentle.” When we interact with others, our facial expressions and words should have a sense of conviviality. Analects says: “In practicing etiquette, harmony is paramount.” A Chinese proverb says, “When there is harmony in a family, all undertakings will be successful.” When there is harmony in a family, the family will definitely prosper. When there is harmony in a cultivation center, the proper teachings will be in this world. When there is harmony between the government and populace of a nation, the country will prosper. When all the people in the world get along harmoniously, the world will be at peace, in Great Harmony. Harmony is very important! Where do we start? We start with ourselves. Our speech should be gentle, so should our facial expressions.
“Cultivation should be focused.” This is particularly important. If we want to have any success, whether in worldly pursuits or in Buddhism, we should stay focused. When we learn many different things, our energy, strength, and time will be dispersed. This is why the six major guidelines of bodhisattvas’ practice tell us to be diligent [that is, making focused and diligent progress.] “Focused and diligent” means unadulterated. “Progress” means moving forward. Only when the learning is focused and unadulterated will we succeed.
“Body and eye movements should be calm and composed.” This is talking about one’s demeanor. “Calm” refers to one’s mind; one’s mind should be serene. “Composed” means steady. It also means being unhurried and not rash. We should learn this.
“Doing things in haste will result in failure and regret.” People today are in a hurry and are impatient. In the past, one would feel regret when one did not succeed in one’s studies, career, or cultivation. People today do not have regrets. They think that they have no faults. With no faults, they naturally will have no regrets.
We should calmly think about the Buddha’s teaching. From morning till night, from the first day till the last day of the year, is there a day we do not make mistakes? We are just not aware of them. Being aware of our mistakes and faults is awakening. Correcting our mistakes and faults is cultivation.