Cultivation is part and parcel of our lives. That makes me think about ‘habits’. There are many kinds of habits: smoking, gambling, drinking etc. These are harmful habits. So, Sakyamuni Buddha invented the numerous precepts, in order to keep us away from those harmful habits. Because if we cannot resist the temptations of the harmful habits, they can become big hurdles in our cultivations.
Some people are extremely stingy and they have their great desire for money. There was a story about Shariputtra who became a thousand year-old snake in one of his previous lives. The snake lived amidst a pile of jewels, guarding them closely. Shariputtra was a very wealthy but stingy man before he became a snake in his next life. He fell very ill once but refused to see the doctor out of stinginess; money was even more important than his own life. Out of his extreme stinginess, he was reborn as a snake in his next life, continued to guard his wealth for a thousand year. One day, the snake heard the recitations of a novice monk, like the Sixth Patriach of Zen Buddhism who became enlightened upon hearing a recitation of a sentence in the Diamond Sutra, the snake suddenly realized that “This world is actually an illusion!” and let go of its attachment to the jewels it was guarding, and ended that episode of life.
The moment we were born, we already inherited the propensities ingrained in us through our own actions in our previous lives. We are the products of our parents, a physical body with bone and flesh will inevitably inherit some form of propensities. I believe that every one of us, including Sakyamuni Buddha, Grand Master and all of you including myself, will have to deal with such propensities in our practice. The only difference lies in the method through which we kick the negative ones. Habits (negative propensities) cannot be easily kicked as they are already deeply ingrained in our Eighth Consciousness (Alaya Consciousness).
When you practice with diligence, you will become mentally stronger to resist the negative propensities more effectively. When you don’t, you will succumb to them once again. Cultivation is like rowing your boat against the current of a river; when you remain still, you will be washed away by the current. The strong current will carry you away, if you do not persist and persevere in your practice. It is not an easy task! I can only say that it is just not easy! Although it is not easy, we must still persist and persevere in our practice. If we do not persist and persevere in our practice, we will succumb to the worldly temptations and fall.
There was a Zen Master who practiced well. He had only one problem – he liked his bowl too much and was too attached to it. Because of his attachment to that bowl, he could not attain enlightenment. He was reborn to protect that bowl in his next life. So, the moral of the story is that, a cultivator, no matter who you are, as long as you still have worldly attachment (negative propensities), you will be reborn repeatedly in the cyclic existence and keep walking the path of cultivation. If you want to end your cyclic existence, you must kick your negative propensities.
I can only say that it is not easy! But it is not impossible either! It is possible because I have succeeded doing so personally. It is possible but not easy. It is a question of will. If you keep telling yourself that “I am a commoner, my karma is heavy, I will not be able to achieve enlightenment in this life, I will take it slowly.” If you think likewise, you have given yourself an excuse to continue with your bad habits and you will never be able to kick them. So, you must develop a very strong sense of confidence and determination to deal with the problem - tell yourself that “I must kick it!” Then, you will kick it one day.
From my personal experience, no matter which habit, be it the greatest and the hardest in the world, it can be kicked. There is no habit that cannot be kicked. For there is Buddha Nature in every one of us and every one of us can attain enlightenment one day. When you aspire to practice diligently and develop a strong sense of renunciation, you will be able to kick your bad habits - all of them! There is no habit that cannot be kicked!