How to Apply Dharma in Daily Life

A talk given by Guru Yutang Lin
Columbia, South Carolina
April 25, 2014

Reviewed and Revised by Guru Lin
Transcribed by Disciple Ji Hu


Tonight's topic is on "How to apply Dharma in Daily Life." So, of course, first of all, we need to mention, you know, what are the essential principles of the Buddhist teaching called "Dharma"? "Dharma" means the right teaching. And then, we think about how to apply it in our daily life. And the most fundamental part of the teaching is that, first you observe life and find that it's full of sufferings, but fortunately we understand that the sufferings are caused by causes. And when we try to reach the root of all the sufferings, Buddha taught us that the main problem is because we are limited by the concept of a "self." That is inevitable because we were born under certain conditions, in certain societies, certain cultures, and so we become conditioned by our upbringing, by our culture, by our experiences in life, and then we have our own view of life, and of course each one would like to have a better life.  But, since everyone wants a better life for himself/herself, there inevitably are conflicts in life. So, under such circumstances, and if you look longer in life, you see that eventually the senility due to old age, and throughout life you may encounter all kinds of illness, unexpected accidents, or becomes disabled, and in the end there is death inevitable.

So, if you look at it only like this, it seems that how could it be possible for us to have any peace and happiness in life? But Buddha says, if you can find out the root of all these problems, that is, that we, each one of us is confined by the concept of a "self," and by his own preferences and inclinations, and as a result, you know, you are not handling your life with the right perspective. You are biased in some way, and that's the main cause of all the suffering and unhappiness in life. But, then how can one escape from oneself? One doesn't really even know what "oneself" is; why? Because there are aspects of yourself that you can recognize only when certain situation comes up, and then you reacted in some way, and then you realize, oh, I am actually like that. Because it is beyond you to see exactly who you are, you know, in that sense. And, fortunately Buddha said, you know, there are—because He has become liberated from this limitation by his own self, so he designed some ways to help us. Through this kind of practices, you gradually loosen the grip of your own "self" on yourself. And eventually if you live long enough and you practice diligently enough, it is possible that you become free from this personal limitations, and that's what we called "Enlightenment."

But, how can we reach this? Since the root of the problem is limitation by your own "self," so, the solution isah, he pointed out, when you look beyond this little "self," you see what? The whole picture is that everyone has the same problem, you know. And, instead of fighting for the better of just oneself, we need to be compassionate to others, help each other, in order for all of us to have a better life. And he also pointed out that to realize enlightenment ultimately, you have to go beyond all limitations—all limitations that are basically set by concepts. But this is not an easy task; anyway, still, it's possible and someone has actually gone through the process of "self transformation" from a limited person to a boundless enlightened being.

So, he designed practices that can help us gradually come out, and what is essential to all these Buddhist practices is that, through repetition or some simple acts, then you gradually loosen the grip of concept, because usually we act out based on the concept of "I am like this," "I am in this position," "I want this," "I don't like that," and then from that you act it out. But now you keep doing, for example, the repetition of the name of the Buddha, then through so many repetitions, when you act, it's a natural act of just saying that sound. You are free from the limitation of personal concept. That's how we, you know, gradually return to the original state of being free from any conceptual limitation. Because as soon as you have certain concept, then there is duality, to separate, you know, you set the limitation conceptually. In your experience the whole thing is one totality. There is no—not even the distinction of sound and colors in your experience; they all come together. But, with the concept you separate it as, oh, this part is called "sound," this part is called "color." But actually when you—right now when you experience, where is the distinction? Where is the separation? Those are mental separation and distinction. So, through repetition of simple activities, and one more thing is that, the Buddha's name is unrelated to our daily life, unrelated to worldly matters. So, it can help you to become free from your conceptual net that you are so well accustomed to.

And—but, the other kind of simple practice that you can do is prostration to Buddha. Why do we make prostration? On the one hand, it's physical exercise, good for your health. On the other hand, when you do it for so many times, it becomes a routine; when you do it, you do it without thinking, you see. And in this way, furthermore, because Buddhas, they are beings beyond limitations, so they can help you. But, in order for them to really help you, you have to loosen your own "self," you know. The limitation you set yourself, you have to loosen it, so their help can really reach you.

So, through these simple acts, and the way to gain the strength of these simple practices is by doing it daily, regularly. You set a certain time, at this time you definitely do only this, without doing anything else, and you set a certain number of times for yourself, so that you won't just do it for three, four days, and then you forget about it. You have to stick to it, be consistent, and do it regularly, and gradually you will sense the benefit. The benefits come; on the one hand, you will find that when certain situations occur, in the past you may be very emotional, agitated, angry, unease. But, after you have done the practices regularly for some time, you find that when the same situations arise, you know, you have more peace and calmness in you—you find spiritual strength in this way. And the other benefits that you can gradually sense is that as your inner peace reveals, you also feel that your physical body becomes more relax, not so tense, not so easily be angered, all this kind of benefits. And actually for me, because I have been very devoted for long time, you know, I have experienced many physical even transformation in me. For example, my hair; I used to have very little, and then, when I was in my forties—right now I am sixty-seven—oh, some baby hairs started to come out, without applying any medication, anything—Rob probably likes this. So, you see, those are unexpected benefits, because when your mind is peaceful, you are relaxed, then your physical condition is also better. So, as a result, the unexpected benefits come out.

And then, if you keep doing more, you know, then gradually you even find that when people have problems, your prayer can help them. That's something usually we don't know what to do, we hear—oh, this one—this person sick, this person passed away, this person run into an accident; what can you do? You at most can say sympathy or go offer them some help; that's all. But, when you have done spiritual practice for long time, when you pray, even though you don't know them at all, people just give me a name, and they are far away—overseas, still they can sense, suddenly, some sensed the help immediately, some find the situation change for better, like this kind of help, too. So, in the long run, you know, if you engage in spiritual practices, the Buddhist practices, it can benefit not only yourself, but many other people.

And one more important thing is—when you do all these practices, one essential key to the effectiveness of these practices is that you don't think, oh, I do this just for the benefit of myself, or for my family. Because when you have this kind of limitation set, then you cannot escape from what we are saying: the root of the problem is the self-set limitation. So, you have to think of all sentient beings, you realize that actually they are all like you—they also want happiness, they don't know how to get happiness, they are suffering inevitably in the end, repeating it. So, you pray for all of them. By this broadening of your mind, your efforts become not just efforts for yourself—you're doing a great thing for all beings. And, in the long run, the real benefits will come out. But this is the key—don't put a limitation on your motivation. It has to be for the ultimate benefit of all sentient beings—we want all of them to become fully enlightened; that's the key of your motivation. If you stick to this motivation, then you don't worry about the personal things because gradually Buddhas and protectors, they will take care of them for you without you knowing why. But so far what we have said is, how do you apply Dharma to life: on the one hand, we learn the teachings—we know life is impermanent, we cannot always just busy with the worldly things, we have to look ahead, and think of doing some spiritual practice, so in the long run, we will not be wasting our whole life on things eventually that's useless. We want to do the Buddhist practices, so we can benefit ourselves, and all others. But, there is—another aspect of how to apply Dharma to daily life is that, what if right now I am not doing any practice, and I am living my life in daily life, you know, and with your colleagues, with your friends, with your families, there are always some kind of problem. How do we act in those situations? That's another application of Dharma in life. And for this kind of guidance, we also look back at the fundamental teaching saying that, on the one hand, everything is changing, so, no need to be too upset, or too insistent. It's going to change, meaning don't take things too serious; take it easier, to yourself, and to others, too. That way everyone live easier. And, on the other hand is that, the basic teaching says when we can go beyond our conceptual limitation, actually all are one—all are in oneness. So, in this spirit you know, we try to help others, and be tolerant with others; why? Because sometimes you don't have time to explain all this; they need not accept all this, right? The only way to act out is, so that we don't increase the problem is that, we yield, we—be tolerant to others; that way—harmony will increase, peace will increase. That's the real practice, because in this way, you also reduce your self-centeredness, your self-insistence, your self-importance, all this kind of things. So, if our goal is to, you know, be free from "self," you first, need to let it become weaker; otherwise, you cannot become free from it. So, these are the essential points that I want to bring out.

And then, if you have some questions, you know, feel free to raise it, and after the questions and answers, we will do the ritual.


Auspicious completion


May 8, 2014
El Cerrito, California