The Meaning of
“Repaying Kindness Seven Day Buddha Name Retreat"

Recently, I received a letter from a French professor who thought that I must be physically robust and very energetic, being so busy and yet still able to write and publish many books. In my reply, I wrote that, to the contrary, I have been susceptible to illness since childhood, hardly going a day without being sick. I have dragged on with this feeble body to repay my “straw sandals money”, only because of my gratitude for the kindness of the Three Jewels. The socalled “straw sandals money” refers to all the help I’ve received from others, as well as the blessings I’ve received from the Three Jewels throughout the journey of my dharma practice. I just do my best for the sake of returning these favors, which is none other than repaying kindness.

As long as we have received even one small bit of benefit from Buddhadharma, we ought to repay its kindness. Because the benefits from Buddhadharma are ever more precious than any knowledge, learning, or material wealth of the world, we must make good use of our time to practice dharma for the sake of repaying the kindness of the Three Jewels.

How does our dharma practice repay the kindness we’ve received? Through practicing, the uplifting power of our mind can be expanded to include every sentient being. If we don’t practice, our minds develop affinity with the greed, anger, and ignorance of the Three Lower Realms. If, on the other hand, we engage in dharma practice wholeheartedly, our minds will move toward the ethical precepts, meditative, and wisdom of Buddhadharma. One side is brightness, while the other side is darkness. As long as there is even one being in this world who appreciates the preciousness of the ThreeJewels – Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha-- and who does indeed practice, then there is light and brightness in this world. This is to say nothing of the fact that we now have many people here engaging in the seven-day intensive practice, and not just one individual!

In Buddhism, we talk about four kinds of kindness that we need to repay: first is the kindness of the Three Jewels; second, kindness of our nations; third, the kindness of our parents; and fourth, the kindness of sentient beings.

First is the kindness of the Three Jewels. Actually, the kindness of the Three Jewels is beyond repaying, and the Three Jewels themselves do not require any repayment from us. We only use the principle of repaying kindness to set goals for our dharma practice.

The second is the kindness of the nations. Because of our country’s collective efforts, we could have a safe and prospering livelihood here. Without a stable country, how would we be able to enjoy a peaceful life? Therefore, as citizens of a given country, we don’t want to commit crimes or create disturbances, and we certainly don’t want suppression or invasion from other countries. We hope to have capable and ethical leaders for our governments, healthy people, and a stable society. We could pray for all these hopes in our practice, as well as pray for the absence of natural disasters and the peace and safety of the people. This is one way we can reciprocate the benevolence of our country.

The third is the kindness of our parents. Our parents include not just the parents in this life but also our parents who had passed away. However, in this life, even though some of us are orphans, we are all born by our parents, and brought up by someone. We all need to repay the kindness of our parents.

Many people regret not spending enough time with their parents, only after they have passed away. Very few have the right thinking to realize the limit of time, and to care for and spend time with their parents when they are still alive and well. In the Ching Ming Repaying Kindness Seven-Day Retreat, we shall pray both for the health of our parents who are still alive, and the transcendence of those who have passed away . We pray using both the power of the Three Jewels and that of collective practice. This is attainable.

When we practice by ourselves individually, it is like a singular thread, easily broken. If we practice together, it is like combining many threads into a thick rope; it is much stronger. And each individual in the whole will benefit from the combined power. Therefore, to repay the kindness of our parents, it is most auspicious to practice together as a group.

The fourth is the kindness of sentient beings: Who are “sentient beings”? They may be your children, your family and friends, your subordinates, other people, or even your adversaries. They include anyone who has had a helpful impact to our life one way or another. We sometimes hear people say, soandso met “a noble patron”. In fact, however, our “noble patrons” usually are ordinary people; that is, anyone who has solved problems for us, inspired us, or in some way changed us, is our noble patron. To repay the kindness of sentient beings, we must view everyone we encounter as having done favors to us.

Think about it: we have all received numerous favors from numerous people from childhood up to and including the present day. The Buddhadharma teaches that “(Things are) born out of the coming together of many conditions.” Every accomplishment requires the contribution of many people. What can be achieved by an individual is indeed very limited. Therefore, every time we finish a meal in a temple, we would always thank all donors and pray for the fulfillment of their wishes.

Finally, I want to expound on the meaning of the seven-day Buddha name recitation retreat. Why is the time frame stated as “seven days”? This has to do with the coming and going of cosmic or celestial bodies. Since ancient times, either in the East or the West, seven days is regarded as one of the major cosmic cycles. Therefore, it is appropriate to practice in the cycle of seven days. It is like using the small cosmic system of our body and mind in conjunction with the vast cosmic system beyond the earth, to practice the method of Buddha name recitation. If the time period of seven days is not enough, we could increase it to fourteen days, twenty-one days, or even forty-nine days.

Those participating in the intensive group practice will spend the whole seven days here to practice. Those who participate ad hoc may be here for a day or two, just one session or a few. Regardless of the length of time, attending group practice is still considered better than practicing at home alone. According to the buddhadharma, all life is suffering. “Without the heavy karma, one is not born in the saha world. If not for the weight of the karmic obstructions, one would not be an ordinary being.” We seldom feel the heaviness of our karma in everyday life; only when we practice does the sharp sense of suffering arise, and we feel deeply the suffering of life. Only in recognizing that life is unsatisfactory does the mind of pursuing the Path truly arise. Since there is already so much suffering as a human being, it must be even more painful in the three lower realms. Because we recognize suffering, we therefore want to practice earnestly to “remove suffering and attain happiness”. Because we recognize our suffering, we have true sympathy for those who suffer even more. Therefore, to cultivate the compassionate mind, we have to bear suffering ourselves. Only when bearing suffering, knowing suffering, and practicing in earnest can true compassion arise.

(This talk was given during the Ching Ming Seven Day Repaying Kindness Buddha Name Retreat, April second, 1985, and compiled by Chen Ming Xia.)

Written by: Master Sheng Yen
Translation: Yeh, Shujen (葉姝蓁) (Chicago)
Editor: Keith Brown (Toronto)

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“Repaying Kindness Seven Day Buddha Name Retreat"