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Buddhism in Essence: Heated Debate Between a Monk & a Taoist

July 3, 2018

 

Q: In essence, what does Buddhism teach?

 

A: In ancient China there was a monk named “Birdʼs Nest” who always sat and meditated in a tree. One day Bai Juyi (772–846), the famous Taoist poet, passed under the tree and decided to have some fun at the meditating monkʼs expense. 

 

“Hey up there! Isnʼt it dangerous to sit in a tree with your eyes closed?” 

 

Birdʼs Nest shot back, “You who say so are in greater danger.” 

 

Realizing from this rejoinder that the monk might be someone to reckon with, Bai Juyi said, “I am Bai Juyi, a nameless Confucian. May I inquire your name, good sir?” 


“I am a nameless monk called Birdʼs Nest.” 

 

Bai Juyi was startled. So this was the distinguished Zen master! Long curious about Buddhism, Bai Juyi bowed politely and said, “I am happy to make your acquaintance. Tell me, in essence, what does Buddhism teach?” 

 

 

The monkʼs reply was instant. “Refrain from all forms of evil and do good. That is what Buddhism teaches.” 

 

Bai Juyi was taken aback. “Even a child of three knows that,” he said sardonically. 

 

“Even a child of three knows it, but not even a man of eighty can do it!” thundered the monk. Knowing something without putting it into practice is the same as not knowing it. 

 

The law of cause and effect runs through Buddhism. Good seeds yield good fruit, bad seeds yield bad fruit, oneʼs own seeds yield oneʼs own fruit: these truths are unchanging in the three temporal worlds and the ten directions, or all of time and space. Because it is rooted in the law of cause and effect, Buddhism naturally exhorts us to refrain from evil and do good. 

 

 Any misfortune and disasters that you experience are the result of your own past actions, Buddhism teaches. If you wish to avoid unhappiness, abstain from evil actions. Likewise, any good fortune that comes your way is the fruit of your own past actions, so if you wish to become happy, do good deeds. 

Everyone in the world despises unhappiness and seeks happiness, so the message of Buddhism to refrain from evil and do good is for all people. 

 

Then what is good, and what kind of action is evil? Buddhism contains detailed teachings on this matter, classifying the good and evil acts that humans commit into ten types. The ten evils are greed, anger, ignorance, lying, harsh speech, slander, gossip, killing, stealing, and sexual impurity. The ten good acts are the avoidance of these. 

 

We must begin by listening carefully to Buddhist teachings.

 

Petals of Shinran, The Cherry volume Chapter 22

 

By Kentetsu Takamori

 

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #16 | 2012, Buddhism in Essence: Heated Debate Between a Monk & a Taoist

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