THE VESSEL OF DHAMMA
Messengers and servants of the Dhamma:
You have assembled here from around the world to deepen your understanding of how to spread the Dhamma so that more and more people may come into contact with it and benefit from it. Whatever you discuss or plan here in the coming days, keep firmly in your minds the basic message imparted by the greatest messenger of Dhamma twenty-five centuries ago. That message explains not only what Dhamma is but also how it should be distributed. Every word of it is valuable to remember. It is a message of eternal relevance to all Dhamma messengers in all ages.
What ultimately is the volition with which to spread the Dhamma? What is the underlying purpose? Is it the wish to convert people to Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity or any other organized religion? On the contrary, that great messenger made clear the volition required. The Dhamma is to be spread bahujana-hitāya, bahujana-sukhāya—for the good and benefit of many, as many people as one is capable of serving!
And how is this service to be given? Again,
the same message gives us the answer: lokānukampāya—with compassion for people, with selfless love and goodwill in one’s heart.
All servants and messengers of Dhamma must keep examining themselves to check that their service accords with this message, for egotism may make its onslaught in any person at any time. When it does, the recognition one gets and the prominence one is granted seem more important than the service rendered. This attitude is nothing but madness, all the more dangerous because it can be so subtle. For this reason one must constantly be on guard against its approach.
Of course personal material gain is out of the question, but certain forms of Dhamma service may sometimes lead to name and fame. Be careful not to let this become the attraction. Remember that you must work without expecting anything in return, with compassion for those whom you serve. They are most important, not those who give the service. The weaker your egotism and the greater your goodwill, the better you are fit to serve.
And what precisely is the service that you must seek to give? Again the master Teacher has explained: desetha Dhammaṃ—give the people Dhamma, nothing but Dhamma. Not the Dhamma of any organized religion, be it Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Jain, but the Universal Law applicable to one and all.
One characteristic of the genuine Dhamma is that it confers benefits at every stage to those who practise it. As the Teacher said, it is ādikalyāṇaṃ, majjhekalyāṇaṃ, pariyosana-kalyāṇaṃ—beneficial in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end. The first steps on the path yield positive results at once, and these increase as one goes further. When the final goal is reached, the benefits are limitless. Thus every step of the practice produces good. This is one important feature by which to recognize the true Dhamma.
Another characteristic is that the Dhamma is complete. Nothing need be added to it or removed from it to render it effective; it is kevalaṃ paripuṇṇaṃ, kevalaṃ parisuddhaṃ. The Dhamma is like a brimming vessel: Nothing more is required to fill it, and any addition will be at the sacrifice of what the vessel already contains. Often the urge to add may be well-intentioned, in the hope of making the Dhamma more attractive to people of various backgrounds. "What harm is there in adding something which is itself good?" someone may ask. Understand: The harm is that the Dhamma will eventually be relegated to the background and forgotten. Additions may offer mundane benefits, but the goal of Dhamma is supra-mundane: liberation from suffering. Something may be harmless in itself but it becomes most dangerous if it causes us to lose sight of this goal.
Equally insidious are moves to abridge the Dhamma in any way. Again the intention may be good: to avoid offence to people who might find aspects of the teaching hard to accept. Against such urging we must recall that the Dhamma was not devised to suit any particular set of views; it is the Law of Nature rediscovered by the master Teacher 2,500 years ago. Every part of it is needed to lead on to the final goal.
Omitting an aspect that some find controversial—whether sīla, samādhi, or paññā— may be a way to curry favour, but what is that worth if the efficacy of the Teaching is lost? We seek not popularity but liberation for ourselves and others.
Given a bowl of nectar, someone cries, "It is too sour!" Another says, "It would be sweeter with a little sugar." Very well, mix a little sugar with it; there is no harm in doing so. But if the next time the bowl is offered, more sugar is added, and more every time, eventually the taste of nectar will be lost. Then people will mix together sugar and water, and drink that mixture calling it nectar, and wonder why their thirst is not slaked. So with the nectar of the Dhamma: Imbibe it in its pure form, without any alteration, in order truly to benefit from it.
Words are only words; to attract others to the Dhamma, far more useful is the example you set by your way of life. Therefore the great Teacher said brahmacariyaṃ pakāsetha—be a shining example of the Dhamma by applying it yourself. This is the best way to encourage others to practise it.
Suppose you point with your finger in a particular direction and say, "This is the right path that all must follow to reach liberation. This is the direct way to happiness." Before examining the path, people will first look at your finger. If it is stained with dirt or blood, what confidence can they have in the way to which you point? Develop purity in yourself if you wish to encourage others to follow the path of purification. The teaching is extraordinary in its simplicity: A certain cause will produce a certain effect; to remove the effect, eliminate the cause. Reacting with craving to pleasant sensations or with aversion to unpleasant ones will immediately give rise to suffering. If, instead of reacting, one smilingly observes and understands the impermanence of the experience, then no suffering will arise. This is Dhamma, the Universal Law, applicable to all regardless of religion, sex, social group or nationality. It is this essence of Dhamma that we seek to offer to others in its pristine purity. Keep to these fundamental principles of the Dhamma, and all the details of how to distribute it will naturally become clear.
As love and compassion are the proper bases for spreading the Dhamma, they must form the base for all your discussions during this meeting. When making a suggestion, be careful to present it humbly, without any attachment to your view. See that you speak with all the wisdom that you have. You may put forward a proposal up to three times, but if others still do not accept it, smile and drop it. Recognize that the Dhamma will take the course that is best for it, not necessarily the one that you with your limited understanding think is best.
Remember that an empty vessel has nothing to offer others. Therefore fill yourself with the Dhamma. Discover real peace and harmony within yourself, and naturally these will overflow to benefit others.
May you keep walking on the path for the good, happiness and liberation of many. May you be successful in your attempts to spread Dhamma, to spread peace and harmony.
Bhavatu sabba maṅgalaṃ