• By Nhat Quan
    Like a pedestrian, if you keep walking without direction, you will get lost. The same goes for practitioners, if you don't have an understanding of what you do or study, your life's effort will be wasted. Therefore, to be considered a Buddhist, you must understand thoroughly so that your practice, prayer, or offerings will have the desired results.
    In the world of Buddhist studies, there are many different concepts, but in general, you need to know about the concept of two classes:
    - Popular and intellectual
    A- Popular class
    Most ordinary people have a very comfortable outlook, they perceive Buddha as a god who only sees blessings and disasters as the Buddha's business. Therefore, people do not hesitate to worship Buddha when they meet, to bow to gods, to pray when they encounter ghosts. Because in their position to bless and bring disaster, they do not distinguish between what should be done and what should not be done, as long as whoever brings them what they want is sacred, if it is not, it will not be sacred. This situation often occurs because there are no conditions to learn the Dharma, or lack of guidance and learning the Dharma, so one cannot distinguish between Buddhism and Paganism. Meanwhile, Buddha is diverse, like a multi-faceted prism, whoever looks at any aspect finds himself completely in that aspect, like a blind man touching an elephant. Furthermore, Buddhism has a profound teaching foundation, so practitioners must be thoughtful and contemplative to be able to understand it. Meanwhile, ordinary people, with simple souls, cannot comprehend the transcendent principles of Buddha's teachings. Therefore, it is common for them to misunderstand information.
    Talking about the common people, some people come to Buddhism with a lot of emphasis on ritual form. Taking refuge means that when needed, you can ask the monks and nuns to pray for peace or to pray for salvation. When there is trouble in the family, they run to invite the monks and nuns to come home to pray for peace. Or if a relative has a funeral, the monks and nuns are invited home to recite sutras all night long. When you enter the temple, at any Buddha altar or spirit altar, you all worship and make prayers. Believe that the more you bow, the greater your blessings. Go to the pagoda on full moon days, the twenty-ninth or thirtieth days to pay respects and worship, other than that you don't need to know anything else. They have a very simple concept of practice. There is nothing wrong with such a simple concept and practice, but it does not follow the meaning of cultivating and practicing the true path of liberation.
    Although there is nothing wrong with such simple thoughts for beginners, please keep them in mind. Among the common people, most people come to Buddha to seek blessings, protection, and support rather than to seek enlightenment. Everyone thinks:
    - If there is an accident, pray to Buddha and Buddha will save you.
    Therefore, normally they do not need to go to the temple. Only when they need to pray for something do they bring incense and lamps to the temple to pray. These common people consider Buddha as a deity with the right to bless and bring disaster. Because of thinking like that, they do not distinguish between what should be done and what should not be done. As long as whoever brings good results to prayers, they consider it sacred. If their expectations are not met, they consider it not sacred. If they are not inspired, they will no longer follow, even though Buddha is the same. Therefore, in folklore, bad teachers and fortune tellers still exist... Because of bad teachers, fortune tellers informed them of upcoming disasters and gave them charms to stick in their homes to make their descendants happy, strong, good business, and prosperous. Such belief in Buddha is easy for them to believe but also very easy to give up, if a wish is fulfilled or not. The reason is only because people who come to Buddha do not understand the Buddha's teachings but thanks to bad teachers, and fortune tellers telling them that they must take refuge in Buddha to avoid accidents, they immediately go to the temple to ask for refuge. Or there are people whose hexagram fortune-telling tells them to follow Buddha or worship Buddha so that everything will be peaceful..., they immediately vow to take refuge in Buddha.
    B- Intellectual class
    As I just stated, these are civilians. As for the number of people who consider themselves intellectuals, that is, some people who find sublime philosophies in the Tripitaka, they seem interested. But seeing the form of worship and rituals in temples, they strongly oppose it, because they consider it a deviation from Buddha's teachings. The intellectual class relies on what religious practitioners call a means to complain, saying that those who believe in Buddhism through prayer, offerings, almsgiving... only cause more confusion. In superstition, Buddhism does not admit that. Because of the above comment, intellectuals strongly oppose making offerings and praying..., believing that such actions are against the Dharma and are being exploited by groups of practitioners.
    Some people still follow the teachings of the Sutras such as:
    - No one can make anyone liberated if that person does not truly eliminate ego attachment. People who do not try to destroy their ego, but after death, their relatives invite Monks, and Nun to pray for salvation, hoping to be liberated is truly unreasonable.
    - Buddhism's perspective is very clear, especially focusing on self-reliance, each person must save themselves, do not rely on anyone. Even the Buddha cannot save you if you do not practice.
    Based on these arguments, some people say:
    - Since it is self-cultivation and self-transcendence, there is no way that by reciting sutras one can save souls. If people advocate reciting sutras to pray for salvation and save ghosts, that is an Evil Path, not Buddhism.
    Based on the above doctrinal points, intellectuals studying Buddhism are very dissatisfied with the practice of current followers and monks. Thinking that blind followers were going astray, the monks took advantage of it to have enough food and clothes.
    As I have stated, the practices of both genders, ordinary people and intellectuals, are also extreme attitudes:
    - One side is heavy on beliefs, favoring prayer and worship, forgetting self-cultivation, and refusing to learn the teachings.
    - One side is more philosophical, focusing on philosophy, and ignoring beliefs.
    Buddhism still exists today because it encompasses both philosophy and belief. If one of the two parts is missing, Buddhism is no longer Buddhism. Therefore, those who are extremely stubborn in the above two attitudes are both wrong.
    Buddhist practitioners must have the mental strength to change wrong thoughts, behaviors, and language into righteous ones. Just like when you stand with your hands clasped and chant sutras or pay respects to Buddha, you also see this meaningfully expressed. Buddhists stand in front of the Buddha's temple with their hands clasped in the shape of a lotus bud, called the Lotus Seal, placed right in the middle of the chest, right at the heart, expressing pure thoughts. Eyes look down to reflect and observe your mind. The body is upright and dignified, the mouth chants sutras and Buddha's name, to demonstrate a pure body, mouth, and pure speech.
    Remember, that form of ritual does not mean praying or relying on the Buddha, but the main point is to keep the three karma: Body, mouth, and mind pure. Because of the lack of a solemn setting, it is very difficult for you to keep your body and mind pure, so the ritual form is a means to help you do that. Don't mistake that Buddha gives you purity. Because Buddha himself taught:
    - Evil is done because of you, but pollution is also because of you,
    Doing good is because of you and being pure is also because of you.
    Pure or impure depends on you,
    No one can make anyone pure.
    (Dhammapada Sutra, lesson 165, translated by Venerable Tri Duc)
    Whether you do good or evil depends on you, Buddha cannot bless you or bring disaster to you. Therefore, the concept of Buddha as a god is truly wrong. Buddhists must aim more at self-reliance. The Dhammapada says:
    - You make your shelter,
    Don't rely on others, you can't rely on them.
    (Dhammapada, lesson 160)
    As a Buddhist, you still have to know how to make offerings and worship Buddha, but making offerings to Buddha is to develop a good mind, worshiping Buddha is to express your desire for liberation and enlightenment, not to make offerings to Buddha to ask Buddha for his favor or to worship Buddha. Worship Buddha and ask him to forgive your sins. Even paying homage to Buddha does not mean asking for forgiveness. That's just asking Buddha to be the object for you to repent and feel ashamed of yourself. You know that only when you repent will your sins be gone. Therefore, both ordinary people and intellectuals should consider the Buddha as a Teacher, a guide who shows you the right and wrong things to do and to give up. Knowing that, you must also practice in the spirit of Buddhism:
    - Self-transcendence, and others-transcendence.
    And never consider Buddha as having all the power to bless and bring disaster to you. You should also not rely on Him or entrust your whole life to His power. If you still have the spirit of dependence, you are betraying the Buddha and not being a Buddhist.
    As for the class of people who think of themselves as intellectuals, if you are inclined towards philosophy, you should not consider worship, offerings, and prayers as being outdated. You should also not think of worship and repentance as looking outward and only relying on other people's power. To put it this way, just like Buddhism only teaches one way, meaning that only people with full will and strong will can practice, while those who lack the will and weak will cannot practice Buddhism. That's not right. Because people with full will and energy are very rare in this society. This is an extreme concept that makes Buddhism dry and lonely.
    Meanwhile, you should know that each of you has two parts, emotional and rational:
    - If you are purely emotional, without reason, you will be immersed in a sea of love and enchantment.
    - On the contrary, if you focus on reason, then without emotions, you will be dry and lonely.
    You should know that people are like plants planted in the ground, emotions are like water, and reason is like sunlight. Without one of these two things, the tree will not grow and must wither. In religion, too, philosophy and belief are indispensable. If one is missing, that religion will die. Therefore, the intellectuals' extreme philosophy is also a disaster for Buddhism.
    Both of the above groups, regardless of their concept or understanding of Buddhism, are a matter of each individual and each group, but in the spirit of cause and effect:
    - If you do good, you will receive good fortune, if you cause trouble,  you will encounter disaster, you can not run away.
    Therefore, making offerings or praying for dedication is a tradition and a noble meaning, no matter where or at any time, it is not outdated. Therefore, as Buddhists, everyone needs to know about offerings, prayers, or the doctrine of non-self... is the foundation of Buddhism. Thus, making offerings to gain merit, praying, doing meritorious deeds, and dedicating things to those who have passed away is not a betrayal of cause and effect. Because the principle of cause and effect is very delicate, it cannot be simply that you do what you suffer, sometimes if you don't do it you will have to suffer karma, and that still doesn't violate the principle of cause and effect.
    Because cause and effect have the right cause, the supporting cause, the favorable cause, the opposing cause... Even though the right cause has been sown, if an adverse person encounters destruction, it cannot produce results, such as:
    - When you plant a rice seed in the ground, a rice plant will grow. But if a cricket bites you when it first germinates, it won't be able to give birth to the rice plant, so the grass will grow.
    - Like when you plant a sweet orange tree, when it grows up, someone secretly implants a lemon branch into it, and the result is not a sweet orange, but only a sour lemon.
    So in this interrelated life, you should not simply think:
    - You cause it, you get the result.
    That concept is very primitive and mechanical. Because the bond between you and society is extremely complicated. In a good society, you will also be influenced beautifully, in a bad society, you will also be influenced negatively. However, there are also a few people who escape the constraints of society, but those are the Saints.
    Therefore, chanting prayers for liberation does not mean relying only on other people's power, but also includes self-reliance. Similar to your being composed of two parts, spirit and matter. People with scattered souls are mentally weak and dominated by material things. Those who have a peaceful soul are extraordinarily strong in spirit and can master material things. An obvious proof is that when you are too happy about something, or too angry, you forget to be hungry. At that time, your mind only remembers being happy, or your mind only remembers being angry and forgets hunger. Therefore, many Zen masters focus on concentration for five or seven days without eating or drinking, which is a common occurrence in books.
    You also need to know clearly about prayer. By chanting prayers, monks and nuns do not have the power to save those people, but they use their mental power to focus and penetrate their thoughts with pure energy and peace, awakening them and turning their dark souls into bright, transforming evil souls into kindness. So save them from suffering. It is said that it is salvation, but in fact, it is done by them themselves, practitioners only provide external help. Thus, there is nothing contrary to the meaning of self-awareness and self-enlightenment in Buddhism.
    Therefore, Buddhist offerings and prayers do not have to completely rely on others like some other religions. You should know that making offerings and praying is aimed at generating your good thoughts and creating good conditions to turn the thoughts of others. If you make offerings and pray mechanically, it will not benefit you or others. But if your offerings and prayers are made with sincerity and good intentions, the results will be extremely good, as the Buddhist scriptures teach:
    - Whoever makes offerings to those worthy of offerings,
    Buddhas or disciples of Buddha,
    Those who are free from illusion,
    Beyond regret and anxiety,
    The merit of the person who made the offering
    For those pure and fearless ones,
    Impossible to measure.
    (Dhammapada, verses 195-196)
    Therefore, you cannot conclude that offerings and prayers are all made up of monks and nuns to take advantage of the superstition of believers. If you take the trouble to read all the Buddhist scriptures, you will see many sutras teaching like the above. However, currently, there are still a few people who take advantage of Buddha's teachings and encourage believers to specialize in making offerings and prayers so that they can make a living. Those are the kind of people who sell Buddha, not worth paying attention to.
    In short, the direction of Buddhists should not be limited to the common people, and even less should they fall into the state of considering themselves intellectuals, but must know how to harmonize understanding to suit the spirit of Buddhism. Don't look at a certain angle or understanding and you become short-sighted. You must integrate and thoroughly understand all aspects for your practice to reap perfect results, following the spirit of the middle path of Buddhism. Still stuck on one side, even if you study Buddhism and chant Buddhist sutras, you still belong to an evil path. You must be open-minded and wise to realize the spirit of Perfection and the Middle Way of Buddhism. Only then do you deserve to be a true Buddhist.
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