Ritualism does not suffice for us to prove we are true Buddhists. Why? It is because Buddha never indicated: “if you so often prostrate to me, I will bless or support you.” By contrast, He said: “You should understand what all humans ought to do in their lifetime and to find out what their true nature is.” Practice His exhortations and He will guide and support you.
Take your pure belief to worship Buddha and take your genuineity to act accordingly to Buddha’s exhortations.
If you bring your belief erroneously into a religious worship, this will hurt your lives badly. As such you just prove a superstitious person (though your religion is a legitimate one).
In this sense, Belief and Genuineity must always go in pair. If you have Belief (Belief in spiritual power) without Genuineity, you are prone to evil spirits’ temptation and self-serving monks’ deceit. It is because they often contrive ritualism for penitence or force us to perform so complex rituals that our minds become more and more obscure.
If you have genuineity without belief in your charitable activity, it will often corrode. Thus, belief must coexist with genuineity and always go in pair.
Once equipped with belief and genuineity, we should use acumen to assess the religion we are or will be learning by finding out those objectives, in which case we can avoid fallacies cheating our belief and genuineity to offer to an inferior location or master.
The religious learner who wants to improve their acumen must find methods to eradicate vô-minh (avidyā: misconception). To eradicate it, first increase your mental power so that you can yourself establish a clear, unique path of religion you are learning, which you develop into tenets to dispel prejudices, obstinance, proscrastination, desires, haughtiness, envy, denigration, fawning, selfishness, truculency, lust, and anxiety, which all are conducive to mental disturbance. Remove them and your acumen shall grow.
Those being kind-hearted without cultivating acumen tend to be prone to deception. The sharp-witted who are not kind-hearted tend to be devious.
Thus, the religious learner must seek to develop both kind-heartedness and acumen: use kind-heartedness to master all things, and apply acumen to all things before letting kind-heartedness master them, Doing so, we are certain that we will soon achieve their enlightenment from our learning.
Don’t hastily join a religion which you see has a big following but, at that time, you haven’t yet understood what its teachings are.
Don’t see others worshipping Buddha and hastily you set up a Buddha altar without having understood who Buddha is and why you have to worship. If you worship Buddha like this, the more you practice and worship, the more superstitious you prove yourself to others. This is also the target for heretics to disparage and slander, and you will waste your worshipping performance.
In order to avoid this, before initiating to a certain religion or a master, you must think them over and over again until you clearly understand, only then you will practice that religion. Otherwise, though your religion or master are good, they should not benefit you at all.
The primary task of the practicer is to improve their thoughts and to substitute harmonious and ethical attitudes for bad ones.
by Hoa Hao
Bac Lieu, 1943
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