Seon Master Songdam

If the 10 Virtuous Precepts are observed, there would be no worries over environmental pollution


Today I will talk about the 10 Mahayana Virtuous Precepts and perform the ceremony of giving each one of you a hwadu  and Dharma name.

If you want to succeed in your Buddhist meditative practice, you must balance the Three Basic Essentials: Precepts (or Ethical Discipline), Samadhi (or Penetrating Concentration) and Wisdom. To explain this in metaphorical terms, a bowl (Precepts) must be a certain shape and size in order to hold water (Samadhi), and the water must be clear and still for the moon (Wisdom) to be reflected. The Buddha also emphasized the importance of the precepts as he stated that our mentor should be none other than our preceptor.

I’ll now talk about the 10 Mahayana Virtuous Precepts.
The First Precept is one mustn’t kill another living being. Since Buddhists who follow the Buddha Dharma have made the vow to guide all sentient beings with a compassionate heart, how can such a person kill another living being.

Second, don’t steal the property of others. The goal of Buddhists is to widely donate what we own to others, give relief to all sentient beings suffering from spiritual hunger and thirst, and to cast away the suffering of birth and death: So how on earth can you steal the property of others?

Third, one shouldn’t engage in sexual misconduct. If you kill another living being, you are ruining your compassionate seed, and if you steal, you lose the seed of fortune and virtue, and if you engage in lewd sexual conduct, you lose the seed of purity. You must have a compassionate heart, a heart filled with fortune and virtue, and a pure mind in order to succeed along the Path. Moreover, how can someone who is to guide vast numbers of sentient beings in the future commit gross sexual behavior?

Fourth, do not speak falsely, in other words do not lie. If you lie, you lose the seed of Truth. That one single state of mind of being truthful gives rise to beneficial karma along the Path, as well as becoming the driving force behind guiding the myriads of sentient beings. So how on earth do you expect to accomplish anything minus the truthful mind?

Fifth, don’t use foul language, which means do not use lewd or coarse language. If you use lewd or foul language, the practicing mind wavers, which then leads to the unraveling of the truthful mind. Flattery also falls under this category.

Sixth, do not set people against each other. While it is good to mediate and conciliate between two parties that dislike and are quarreling with each other, how can you dare say one thing to this person and then say something else to another, thereby causing a split in their relationship. Crimes such as the Five Felonies – for example, causing blood to spill from the Buddha’s body, killing an Arhat, and killing one’s parents – are exactly what cause disharmony among the people.

Seventh, do not speak evil words. Buddhists should always be compassionate and soft and speak kind words. But if you wantonly spit out words that are dirty and unfit for the mouth, how can that ever be fit for a Buddhist?

Eighth, do not give rise to the greedy and lustful mind. If you insatiably eye another’s property, and if you keep indulging the craving mind to no end, you’ll lose your own fortune and virtue. And endless craving leads, in the end, to the destruction of both oneself and one’s family.

Ninth, do not give rise to the angry mind. The average sentient being usually develops an angry mind if his or her greed is not fulfilled. If you develop an angry mind, then you lose all of the virtue that you’ve cumulated during that time in the blink of an eye.


Tenth, do not harbor foolish and wrong views. A foolish and wrong view means you do not believe in the laws and principles of retribution, and there is nothing more foolish than not believing in and denying a thoroughly scientific fact such as this. All results have, without a doubt, a sufficient cause, and that is why such a result occurs. But if you deny the principle of retribution and act with reckless abandon, you’ve crossed the line and the only place you have left to go (after death) is the Three Inferior Realms.

Killing another living being, stealing another’s property and engaging in sexual misconduct are crimes of the body; Speaking falsely, using foul language, causing people to turn against one another, and speaking evil words are crimes of the mouth; and giving rise to the greedy and lustful mind and wrong views are crimes of the mind.

As a Buddhist, you must ably observe and put into practice the 10 different Mahayana Virtuous Precepts explained above, liberate yourself from life and death, and make the great vow to guide all sentient beings. And in the end, you will ultimately realize this vow. Do you think you can ably observe these precepts?


If you’re able to observe the ten precepts – three precepts of the body, four of the mouth, and three of the mind – you are then observing the Ten Virtuous Precepts. If you don’t and act with reckless abandon, then on the contrary you’re committing the Ten Evils. If you observe the Ten Virtuous Precepts, then as a Buddhist you have the basics right in terms of the Path. On the other hand, if you don’t observe the Ten Precepts and commit the Ten Evils, then it’ll be difficult to enter the Door of the Way.

All of you have now received the Ten Mahayana Virtuous Precepts and the Incense-branding ceremony is complete. The meaning of incense-branding is about reflecting and repenting on all wrongdoings that one has committed – whether consciously or unconsciously – since innumerable kalpas. Reflecting on and repenting one’s past wrongdoings and swearing not to commit such evil acts again is done before the Buddha. We have cleanly wiped ourselves of all wrongdoings committed in the past through the merit of receiving these precepts and incense-branding. So now that we’ve made the decision not to commit again these evils acts, what must we do to accomplish this?

If you strain to perfectly observe each of the Ten Precepts one by one, then this is extremely difficult. But there is a way to observe the precepts naturally and efficiently, wherever and whenever. By this I mean meditation, which is the self searching for the self, and if you practice the method of meditating on the ‘living’ word – the highest form of practice – then without any effort you won’t kill another living being, you won’t steal, nor will you lie.


Because we have lived through innumerable kalpas and that which we have familiarized ourselves with remains as karmic habits, we end up committing such evil acts unconsciously. However, when you see an evil thought rearing its ugly head but in that moment quickly grab hold of the hwadu “What is this?” instead, then you’ll be able to stop yourself from committing that evil act beforehand.


If you always remember the hwadu and grab hold of it while seeking your True Self, then you’ll unconsciously follow the precepts. How could a meditating individual kill another living being, or steal or commit sexual misconduct? That’s why you mustn’t let go of the question “What is this?”, what is this thing that drags this body around all over the place?


When you feel hurt, or bad; or when you’re feeling anger, lonely or sad; or when you hold a grudge against someone; whatever the feeling, as soon as that thought rears its ugly head, take a long and soothing deep breath, breathe out, and then re-focus on “What is this?” When there’s no more air to expel, then again breathe in and breathe out and take hold of “What is this?” If you practice in this way, the once raging heart will become deflated and you’ll honor the precepts without even trying. Add to this the practice of searching for your True Self and this is the best and highest method.


 With summer now behind us, fall is upon us. Even fall is already in its latter stages. With the ripened five types of grains and white cucumbers spread out here and there along the fields of the mountain, this is a landscape of true beauty. Unfortunately, these days we can’t afford to just sit back and admire this beauty. The valleys of the beautiful mountains are being polluted by mountain-goers, and the toxic chemicals churned out by factories and daily urban living poison the Han River, Geum River, Yeongsan River and Nakdong River. When this river water reaches the ocean, red tide forms, discoloring and polluting the ocean waters with a blood-like redness and killing marine products and ocean fish.


This is not a natural calamity. It is because of the acts of foolish humans who cannot see even one iota past their self-interests and lack any discretion that the beautiful mountains, serenely flowing rivers, and the clear waters of clashing waves amidst the broad expanse of the ocean have become polluted. And naturally, if the mountains, rivers, and ocean are polluted, humans cannot survive in the end. It is basically because of one poisonous substance that we all become infected.


The fall sky of Korea is world-famous but the sky here is no longer clear blue. There are always charcoal black clouds hovering over. It is because of the smoke and dust coming from the auto factories that our clear blue skies have disappeared. We can’t breathe fresh air, drink fresh water, eat ocean seafood without worrying, nor can we eat grains without worrying because farmers have recklessly sprayed them with poisonous pesticides. But then again, we also can’t afford not to eat these foods, and that is why we see all kinds of diseases appearing that were rare a long time ago – and which are killing our families and relatives.


If we had even just a little bit of wisdom the mountains would not have eroded and the rivers and ocean waters would not have dirtied as they are now. We are basically leaving our posterity with land that was once occupied by beautiful mountains and rivers, passed down to us intact by our ancestors, but which are now in worse condition than hell itself. 


Voices urging the public to protect the environment are growing louder these days. It is important to strictly establish laws concerning the environment, thoroughly keep an eye out for environment-polluting activities, and establish a central structure to organize nationwide environmental movements. But there’s something that must be done even before this.


This something doesn’t even require money or time. What this is, is fixing our destructive tendencies. Making a land of ultimate bliss in which our bodies and the world could live on forever begins with the fixing of our destructive tendencies.


In order to fix destructive tendencies, we must observe the Ten Virtuous Precepts that we have received today. To know whether we have placed our minds in the right or wrong direction, we need only to look at our behavior via our bodies, our words via our mouths, and the tendencies of our thoughts.


We must link the practice of meditating on “What is this?” to our words, our actions and the workings of our minds. Whether you’re sitting, standing, walking or working, you should grab hold of “What is this?” at all times and places in the midst of daily life.


Our meditative practice and regular lives should not be separate activities; This is where the old Korean adage “Body and land are not separate” comes from. This basically means “Let us not eat foreign farm products but homegrown food.” How can people make light of such a deep saying as this? “Body and land are not separate” means that our minds and bodies, our bodies and the world are not separate. So we must fix our destructive tendencies, retain healthy bodies and make our surrounding environment beautiful. This is the true meaning of “Body and land are not separate.”


Through the merit of attending today’s service and receiving the Ten Mahayana Virtuous Precepts, a hwadu and Dharma name, you will for legions and legions of time not fall into the trap of the Three Evils and we will come to meet once again at another Dharma Talk.


You have received the hwadu of “What is this?” While at first this practice may feel boring and bland, if you keep listening to Dharma Talks often and diligently look within by investigating “What is this?”, then slowly but surely there will come a time when all of you will waver no longer.


If you don’t let delusions and frivolous thoughts get to you and, simply leaving such thoughts alone, always manage to retain “What is this?”, delusions eventually disappear of their own accord since they originally have no foundation, and the hwadu remains pure and intact.


When all of a sudden you nip your doubt in the bud and something bursts in your head – like water bursting through a hole punctured at the bottom of a barrel – you must go find a Seon master-teacher at this time to confirm your awakening. If you’ve attained a thorough, bright and great awakening, then you must receive guidance for continuing with your practice from here on in. And if you find out your awakening is not a true awakening, then you must begin your practice anew with a fresh mind.

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