The Sutras Are a Path; This Path Is a Road to Walk On


In his teachings, the Buddha spoke of the sutras, stating, “The sutras are a path. This path is a road to walk on.” This path is a road, but we have long since lost our way. When we are lost, it is easy to take a wrong step. There is a saying that goes, “A single misstep leads to a lifetime of regret.” Dharma masters teach the sutras so that we can learn to walk this path with ease and reach our destination. People who have lost their way do not know the direction of this path.

Some people have told me, “Master, I really want to learn the Buddha Dharma, but I do not know how to read that many characters. Learning how to recite the sutra is so difficult!” I always reply, “The Buddha’s sutras do not teach us to treat his teachings like a dictionary or to recite them emptily. Instead, we should treat them as a path to follow. The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on. When the Buddha taught the sutras, he was really teaching a path, pointing us toward a road that we can traverse. We follow this path diligently, for only then can we truly put the Buddha’s teachings into action; only then can we truly learn the Buddha Dharma.”

I tell everyone who comes to take refuge with me to take the Buddha’s heart as their own and take my mission as their own. As Buddhist practitioners, we must be single-minded in our devotion. We all share the same mission, so we all share in the same achievements.

Today is our commissioners’ gathering. Why am I speaking of this instead of lecturing on the sutras? If everyone can put these words into practice, these are the sutras, and this is the path. I am telling you all how to walk this path. This path is a road; this road is paved by the sutras.

“The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” A commissioner must walk the path in this way. I hope everyone will be cautious, for a slight deviation can take us far off course. “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” The continuity of our direction all rests upon a single thought. A single misguided thought can lead us toward a deviation that will take countless kalpas for us to rectify. We must join hands together to shoulder the mission of Tzu Chi. The mission of Tzu Chi is the Bodhisattva Path; this is the path of Tzu Chi.

I often say, “The sutras are a path; the path is a road to walk on.” The sutras are meant to be put into action, not merely recited. If we do recite them, it is only to help us understand their principles so that we will know how to act. This is the purpose of the sutras. People today often forget the purpose of chanting the sutras. They think that when someone passes away, you need to ask people to come chant, or hire someone to do it. In truth, they are just deceiving themselves. Spiritual practice is our own responsibility, and reciting the sutras increases our wisdom as individuals. How could it be possible to dedicate these merits to others?

A mother and son are close relatives, connected by blood. If the son attends university and earns his doctorate while his mother has never gone to school and remains illiterate, the son cannot give some of his knowledge to her to suddenly enable his mother to read.

Master De Ru brought a woman interested in engaging in spiritual cultivation at the Jing Si Abode to see me. I cautioned her that at the Abode, we abide by certain principles in life, such as, “The workplace is our spiritual training ground,” and, “A day without work is a day without meals.” There is not much time left to study the sutras; rather, we must make the most of our time to put them into action, as “the sutras are a path, and this path is a road to walk on.” Only by putting the principles into action in life can we truly begin to comprehend the essence of these principles.

To comprehend the true principles of life, we must become more dedicated in our work to benefit others. We must devote ourselves to going among people to help them, for only then will we realize the Four Noble Truths, and only then will we enter deeply into the heart of these truths. If we do not do this, if all we do is emptily recite the sutras, chanting, “Thus have I heard” about the Four Noble Truths, the Twelve Links of Interdependent Origination, and the myriad practices of the Six Paramitas, without ever engaging with the world, then how can we ever experience their truth?

Chanting the sutras is not as good as practicing the sutras. The path of the sutras lies beneath our feet; “The sutras are a path, and this path is a road to walk on.” So, we must devote ourselves to the Bodhisattva Path, for only then will we realize the ease and peace of being bodhisattvas playing effortlessly in the world. Once we devote ourselves to helping others, we will gain a deeper sense of peace and freedom; this will enable us to devote ourselves even more.

Blessings do not come from prayers. We cannot receive blessings by going to pray at a church or temple. This is not the case! We have to go out and create blessings. It is only by creating blessings that can we attain blessings. For over thirty years, I have constantly emphasized that we must bring the Buddhist teachings into our lives. I do not focus much on reciting or teaching the sutras. I have always said, “The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” This road was given to us so that we would follow it. This is the path that the sages paved for us, and so we must follow it. We must put the sutras into action, so I hope more people are able to perform more good deeds.

“I take refuge in the Dharma. May all sentient beings delve deeply into the sutra treasury and have wisdom as vast as the ocean.” Are the sutras part of a library and nothing more? Do we need to bury ourselves in the sutra library? Buddhism has now gone digital; we have uploaded all the teachings onto the computer, so the bookshelves storing sutras are no longer as useful to us as they once were. You are all lay practitioners. The Buddha does not encourage you to bury yourselves among the bookshelves with sutras; he hopes that you will put his teachings into action. “The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” We must deeply enter this path and put the teachings into practice. There is a saying that goes, “Without experience, we cannot grow in wisdom.” Only by engaging with the world can we grow in wisdom.

“Reading the sutras without mindfulness is like never reading them at all.” If we read the sutras without being mindful and never put them to use afterwards, it is as if we have never read them at all. If all we do is emptily recite the principles, we will never be able to create a path for ourselves. We must put the sutras into practice, thereby opening up a path. In our spiritual practice, we must enter the path by way of the sutras. Thus, “The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” We must absolutely put the sutras into action.

Our spiritual practice must not be extreme; we must keep to the Middle Way. As we bring our bodies and minds into perfect harmony, we must never grow lax in our practice. Since ancient times, the path to Buddhahood has always emphasized concrete practice; as spiritual practitioners, we must go out and practice the teachings through concrete actions. Buddhahood is the path of enlightenment. If we do not walk the path, we will never be able to experience the beautiful scenery along the way. So, we must personally actualize the teachings.

Some people say, “Master, when we engage in spiritual practice, we ought to listen to the sutras, recite them, and prostrate to them. This alone is true spiritual practice.” To this I reply, “If we merely listen to, recite, and prostrate to the sutras, this is like walking in place all day. We can recite the sutras every day, saying, ‘Thus have I heard,’ and still not comprehend the essence of the sutras.”

“The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” Teaching the sutras is teaching the path. Teaching the path is showing people how to walk it. There is a saying that goes, “A slight deviation may take us far off course.” When we take the wrong road, we end up walking in circles, and although we keep asking for directions, we grow more and more lost. We ought to turn ourselves around and seek out “the path of our hearts.” The Buddha spoke of the Three Treasures of our intrinsic nature; in each person’s heart is a buddha, each person’s heart is replete with the Dharma of wisdom, and each person has a pure sutra. This pure sutra results from abiding by the precepts.

Do not mistakenly think that I am discouraging people from prostrating to the sutras. Don’t we do this every morning? You also must not think that I discourage people from listening to the Dharma. Aren’t I lecturing on a sutra right now? What I want to say is that we must make the most of our time. “The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” This path is meant to be traveled, so we must follow the path of the sutras. The Buddha spoke of great loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Yet, when I speak of these things, you have already walked this path. You already understand them and can say, “Master, there is no need to speak of these things again; I know them already.” This is following the path of the sutras.

The mind, the Buddha, and sentient beings are no different in their nature. Each morning, when we prostrate to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, we must actually reflect upon our own nature. This ritual is nothing but a dialogue with oneself.

Through this, we awaken our pure intrinsic nature and emerge from our habitual tendencies as unenlightened beings to enter a dialogue with the Buddha’s enlightened nature. So, each morning when we practice, we need to enter into a dialogue with the Buddha and bodhisattvas.

As we read the sutras, we are seeking the path to enlightenment practiced by buddhas and bodhisattvas; this is the Bodhi Path to awakening. The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on. Buddhas and bodhisattvas opened up this path, so Buddhist practitioners must seek it out. We must follow in the footsteps of Bodhisattvas. We must move forward diligently to seek our intrinsic nature. Where will we find it? We must look deep within ourselves.

“The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” Reading the sutras is like watching the road. Looking back, we ask ourselves if we have lost our way. Walking forward, we must be very cautious as we advance along the path. If we go in the wrong direction, we must quickly correct ourselves. If our direction is correct, we must then continue onward mindfully and cautiously. This is the purpose of reading the sutras.

“I take refuge in the Dharma. May all sentient beings delve deep into the sutra treasury and have wisdom as vast as the ocean.” The Dharma is not merely found through reading the sutras. “The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” We must engage in spiritual practice, and we must mindfully seek to understand each individual. Everyone is creating their own living sutra. If we delve into the sutra within each of our students and their families, then we can awaken our wisdom. This is what it means to delve into the sutra treasury.

The songs of Tzu Chi are just like sutras, and when we sing them, it is like reciting the sutras. “The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” These songs are a road for Tzu Chi volunteers to walk upon. When we turn the sutras into songs, the verses become deeply familiar. Because we have paved this path for ourselves, we will walk in line with the principles. But if all we do is emptily recite these words that the Buddha said over 2,000 years ago, we will fail to understand them and put them into action. What Tzu Chi volunteers are doing today, however, is very closely aligned with the principles and the sutras.

A life of faith will be proactive, for when we know that life is full of suffering and is impermanent, we will immediately perform good deeds without hesitation. Tzu Chi’s Da Ai TV does not teach people to recite the sutras; rather, it teaches them to walk the path. “The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” Tzu Chi’s sutra is a path; we must open this path so others can follow it, and so we must uphold the vows and follow the path. By upholding our vows and walking upon this path, everyone will come to understand what the Buddha meant when he said, “Life is impermanent, and the earth is perilously fragile. We must refrain from all that is evil and practice all that is good.”

The Tzu Chi School of Buddhism has already been established. Some people may ask, “How can you say that there is a Tzu Chi School?” In truth, the goal of our school of Buddhism is to work “for Buddha’s teaching, for sentient beings.

For example, there was a group from Hong Kong who came early one morning to visit the Abode.
I spoke with them. Among them was a Buddhist scholar who said he had been a Buddhist practitioner for a long time, and he had also read the teachings about humanistic Buddhism by my teacher, Venerable Yin Shun. He felt that humanistic Buddhism was a great thing, but he was uncertain about what it was and how to engage in it.

I said, “You know the Buddha Dharma, but you have only knowledge; you do not have a path. Without a path, then there is no road open to you. Without a road open to you, then there is no way for you to move forward. If all we have is knowledge, then we have yet to step onto the path. ‘The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.’ Teaching the sutra is teaching the principles, and the principles are the path. Teaching the Buddha Dharma and the principles sounds wonderful, but if we do not know where the door to the path is, how can we even begin to pave the path?”

Tzu Chi has been paving this path for over forty years. We are constantly paving; we pave the path wherever we go. We need a path to take us from the state of unenlightened beings to the state of bodhisattvas. Only by passing through the state of bodhisattvas can we reach the state of buddhahood. We open the path by walking it. Wherever we open and pave the path, that is where we go. We are the pavers of this path.

When I was young, I paid my respects to the sutra in a small wooden cabin, prostrating to every word of the Lotus Sutra. Now, during our morning recitation, we recite each of the following words: “We wholeheartedly prostrate to the Wondrous Lotus Flower Sutra and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at the Lotus Dharma-assembly.” Every letter of the Lotus Sutra is a gem, every word, a treasure. We can take each of these words to heart. They deserve our most reverent prostrations. The sutra is a path, and this path is a road to walk on, so we ought to prostrate before the sutra with the utmost sincerity. We ought to worship the sutra as if we were walking to the Dharma assembly on Vulture Peak. By reciting and prostrating to each word, we are diligently advancing step by step to approach the Vulture Peak assembly.

When we read the sutras, we read to grasp their spirit, for “the sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” The sutras and the Dharma are the methods of spiritual practice given to us. We must adopt these methods and use them in our lives. The sutras have remained unchanged throughout the ages. Although times change, the Buddha’s principles can adapt to the changing times. The Sutra of Infinite Meanings and the Lotus Sutra are methods of spiritual practice to be employed in our modern times. Our spiritual training ground is the Jing Si Dharma Lineage; I hope that everyone engages in spiritual practice within the Jing Si Dharma Lineage, for we must diligently walk this path.

After the big earthquake in Haiti, countless humanitarian groups went there to provide aid. However, there were crowds pushing everywhere, creating chaos and requiring UN Peacekeepers to maintain order. When Tzu Chi volunteers went there, they established humanistic principles for giving and receiving aid. When Tzu Chi volunteers were not present, the local residents took responsibility for the distribution, maintaining order throughout the whole process. When receiving aid, they expressed their gratitude from the bottom of their hearts, and once they received it, they thought of ways to give back to their communities.

In coming here to receive the teachings of the sutras, it is not only through listening to my words that you are receiving these teachings. When we speak of the aid distribution in Haiti, of giving material resources, bringing peace to the survivors’ hearts, and leading them in the proper ways of giving and receiving, this is also a sutra. Such a sutra is something I have not practiced myself, but only something I have spoken of. However, our volunteers in Haiti have practiced this sutra. The sutras were never meant to be merely chanted, but to be put into action. “The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” This is the road that Tzu Chi volunteers walk.

“The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” The sutras point to the Bodhi Path. Bodhi means awakening, so this is a path to awakening. If we do not practice the Bodhi Path but emptily chant, “This is the path! This is the path!” we will never get anywhere. The path will not be right below our feet; we must pave our way to the Bodhi Path with love.

“The sutras are a path; this path is a road to walk on.” The Lotus Sutra is a sutra, but it is also a path, a road for us to walk upon. We are already walking through the world on this road in accordance with the path laid out in this sutra. Now we can see the power of love everywhere; we widely serve in all kinds of places, in different countries, among different people with different religions, united by our common mindset, which is love.

Teaching the Earth Treasury Sutra at the Jing Si Abode
January 10, 1988
Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering
May 27, 1989
Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering
November 28, 1991
Morning Dharma Talk
July 31, 1994
Talk with Tzu Chi Commissioners
June 19, 1996
Teaching for Hsinchu Faith Corps Members and Commissioners
October 7, 1999
Talk with Mr. Faisal Hu, a Taiwanese businessman living in Turkey
December 29, 1999
Talk with the Tzu Chi Mother-Sister Association
September 6, 2000
Morning Dharma Talk
May 14, 2001
Global Tzu Chi Operations Report
May 15, 2001
Tzu Chi Global Leadership Training
June 29, 2002
Volunteer Morning Assembly
August 8, 2003
Morning Dharma Talk
November 16, 2003
Malaysia and Indonesia Tzu Chi Teachers’ Association Jing Si Aphorism Retreat
January 6, 2005
Taichung Faith Corps and Commissioners Certification Ceremony and Year-end Blessing
March 29, 2006
Talk with Tom Tang, Soon-to-be Director of Da Ai TV
February 14, 2007
Lecture to Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangdong Tzu Chi Volunteers
March 15, 2008
Morning Dharma Talk
July 21, 2008
Morning Dharma Talk
June 23, 2010
Global Tzu Chi 4-in-1 Leadership Retreat
November 23, 2013
Conversation with Yunlin and Chiayi Leadership
August 12, 2016
Morning Volunteer Assembly