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Respect All as Buddha

General Dharma Lecture, 29th Day of the 5th Lunar Month, 1982, Haeinsa


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Revere your enemies as you revere your parents.
―The Perfect Enlightenment Sutra

Sentient beings have not achieved enlightenment because of their myriad delusions, often referred to as the 84,000 delusions. And what are the most basic of these delusions? The Buddha said that love and hate were the greatest delusions of them all. Also, the Third Patriarch of Ch'an, Seng-ts'an, in his On Believing in Mind, said that if you rid yourself of hate and love, everything would be perfectly self-illuminating.
And in fact, if you can rid yourself of hate completely, then you can easily achieve pure Mind, the Supreme Enlightenment. But before then, hate continues to arise in the mind, and hate is indeed a disease that is hard to cure.
As Buddhists who set our standards by the Teachings of the Buddha, we must do our best to eliminate hate from our lives, from our actions, from our hearts. It is difficult to practice the advice of the Buddha to treat even the bitterest of enemies as our parents. But we must try.
Nowadays we hear a lot about "forgive evil" and "love your enemy"; but only the Buddha could have made such a statement as, "Revere your enemies as you revere your parents."
You should understand that in Buddhism there is no such thing as "forgiveness." To forgive implies that you are right and the other person is wrong. So to say that you will "forgive" somebody is a tremendous insult to that person. And you are not assuming any responsibility for what has happened to you.
Buddhism teaches that all sentient beings have the same Buddha nature. An enlightened Buddha sitting high on a lotus pedestal and those beings writhing in the torments of a hell are, in fundamental reality, the same. So no matter how wicked a person has been, no matter how much you dislike or criticize a person, you cannot, at least according to Buddhist thought, "forgive" him for something he did to you.
Well, then, what are you supposed to do?
No matter what a person has done, you should respect him like a Buddha. This is the very essence of Buddhism. The Buddha's cousin Devadattaa harassed the Buddha throughout his life. And finally Devadatta was put through a living hell. He was put through this as an expedient to protect other people from his wiles. But How was the Buddha supposed to treat Devadatta, his own cousin but his greatest of enemies? He rewarded him with Supreme Enlightenment.
In Buddhism, we say that the entire universe is filled with the brilliance of evil and goodness. You may not understand this at first. One gentle deed lights up the entire universe which I think you'll find acceptable even if you don't understand it. But can you understand and accept that an evil act done by sentient beings in hell also lights up the entire universe?
Usually we think of the Buddha as the gentlest of the gentle, and devils as wicked. We conceive the Buddha and devils as different as day and night, as different as heaven and earth. But actually the devils and the Buddha are of the same body, they are one, and they differ only in name. They are all Buddha.
A person may do something utterly horrible, but that person's basic nature, his original face remains the same. And So it is with someone who has become enlightened―his fundamental nature remains the same. Every sentient being is of the same Buddha nature, the same body. We are all just different manifestations of the same thing.
Devadatta was evil, and wicked, and scheming. But because his basic nature was exactly the same as the Buddhas, the Buddha repaid Devadatta's wicked deeds with future enlightenment. He did this so that Devadatta would lead sentient beings rather than harm them. It is this type of response that is basic to Buddhist thought.
This very important quote―"Revere your enemies as you revere your parents―should be the basis of your daily life, your actions and your study. Your first basic guide to life as a Buddhist is to respect all forms of life as the Buddha and to revere them as your teachers. All forms of life―the gentle and the wicked, cows, pigs, and beasts of all kinds―have the exact same Buddha nature, so you should respect them just as you respect the Buddha. And each one has something to teach you if you look closely enough. So don't judge a person by his clothing or appearance. You should look beyond those things to the person and his Buddha nature.
Centuries ago there was a national celebration, and all the senior monks in Korea were invited. Among the monks was one who lived an exceedingly frugal life. When he showed up at the palace gates in his tattered robes and wom-out shoes, the guards wouldn't let him in, and shooed him away. So the monk went somewhere nearby, borrowed some fancy new robes and returned. The guards started kowtowing left and right, and ushered him to the most honored seat in the room.
While the other monks were busy gorging themselves on all kinds of delicacies, this monk kept smearing the food onto his clothes. The other monks, startled, asked him why he was doing so. He replied, "Because the food is for the clothes, not for me," and he kept it up until his robes were covered completely.
The point is, of course, that you shouldn't treat people according to their appearance, according to what you see on the outside. There may be some of you here who are thinking to yourselves, "Well, that's easy for him to say, and something that only the Buddha could do; but we have to live with people who expect to be treated according to their 'packaging.'" That, however, is not necessarily the case.
There's a story about the aristocratic Kwak clan from Hyonp'ung in Kyongsang Province. One of the Kwak's got married, but his new brides behavior was less than becoming to the family's social status. She dressed sloppily, she wasn't particularly polite to his parents, and she talked disrespectfully. The family tried everything they could to get her to behave properly, but nothing worked.
One day, the groom was reading the Confucian classics and he came across the quote that said that people were inherently gentle and good, even though they may not always behave that way. This changed the groom's attitude completely. He realized that his brides behavior was probably all his fault, so he made up his mind to treat his wife more respectfully because, as a human, her basic nature was gentle and good.
In the old days, aristocrats began the day by going to the study and bowing to their ancestors. The next morning, after the husband had performed this ritual in full dress, he turned and bowed to his wife. At first she thought that he had gone mad. The same person who cursed her and beat her was now bowing before her!
He said to her, simply, "I sincerely respect you," and bowed again. Flustered by all of this, she tried to make him leave, but he kept on bowing. Then he said, "Human nature is basically gentle and good. You are gentle and good. But because I was busy mistreating you, I didn't see that. From now on I will look only at the good in you, and respect you."
It didn't take long before the bride completely changed her behavior but she continued to implore her husband.
"I won't misbehave any more, so please stop your bowing!"
"You are so gentle, I can't help but bow to you."
"No, no, no. You are the one who is really good and gentle," she replied. From then on they bowed to each other every morning, and spent the rest of their lives in mutual admiration, respect and happiness. So you see, the Buddha wasn't the only one who was capable of respecting everyone. It's something anyone can do, and something all Buddhists should do. And it has great results.
When the Chinese monk I-ching1 traveled to India, he observed that the monks at every temple recited Matrcheta's Hymn in One-Hundred Fifty Verses at both morning and evening services. We find in the records of his travels to the south sea2 quotes from these verses:

We have become enemies by betraying his infinite grace;
But Buddha sees this as the greatest benevolence of all.

In other words, even if you treat someone better than your own parents and better than you would treat the Buddha, and this person in turn hurts you or betrays you, you should revere him even more. The verses continue:

If enemies harm the Buddha, he still only reveres them. The enemies look only at his faults; yet the Buddha treats them with benevolence.

So if you treat someone really well and this person only harms you in return, you should still revere this person. And you should revere most the person who harms you the most. This is a basic Teaching, and a basic attitude in Buddhism.
As I may have mentioned once before, when Christians come to see me I have them perform 3,000 prostrations just like everyone else. But I set the condition that as they do their prostrations, they must pray that those who refute their God and those who curse Jesus will be the first ones to go to their heaven. Think of that in our terms now: we should pray that those who curse Buddha and attack the monks be the first to go to paradise.
The Buddha said that only by revering all enemies will delusions and poiso ns of the mind disappear. If these all disappear, then we will all become Buddhas, we will all attain enlightenment. And just as we Buddhists set enlightenment as our goal, we should live a life practicing what we have been taught by the Buddha. But you cannot do this as long as your reactions are based on your fleeting emotions.
Some of you may be wondering about how to respond to the challenge Christianity has presented to Buddhism in Korea in recent years. You may think that if we don't respond, eventually Buddhism will be wiped out. You think that if someone screams at you once, you should respond with ten screams and then he'll run away. You want to do something about it.
It's easy to think that way, but that is not right. The greater this challenge becomes, the more you should bow for and pray for these people. That is the Buddhist way, and that is how you should live. And if you do so, others will be impressed by your example, and they will be impressed by Buddhism.
If one person shouts, the other should be silent. If one person raises his fist, the other should not. If one person sets a fire, should you set a fire, too? Then you will only burn together. If one person brings a torch, no matter how big, all you have to do is to use water wisely. There is no way that fire can conquer water. Fighting fire with fire results only in more scorched earth.
So the basic attitude you must adopt in all facets of your life is to treat your enemies with the reverence and respect that you afford your own parents.
Buddha nature is pure, spotless. It knows neither form nor formlessness, and it is complete enlightenment. No matter how tattered a persons clothing is, the person is sacred. His real nature is Buddha nature. Revere the precious and the lowly, the old and the young as you revere the Buddha, and revere even the greatest of criminals for his Buddha nature. Treat all, including your greatest enemy, with reverence. And the greater the enemy, the greater the respect and reverence you should have. This is the Buddhist way, and it should be your standard for all behavior. Then, and only then are you really qualified to enter the Buddha Hall.

About the Author

Toeong Seongcheol (1912~1993)

Master Seongcheol, standing as one of the most influential Seon Masters in the history of modern Korean Buddhism, through his exhaustive Seon spirit and his easily understood dharma lectures, led the common people to a deeper, broader understanding of Seon Buddhism.