Frankly, it is not easy to read the books of Master Nan Huai Jin. For he is extremely knowledgeable, who is familiar with both the western and eastern cultures, ancient and modern histories, and even futuristic stuff concerning humanity, physics and astrology. When he expounds a sutra, he will draw from many sources in order to illustrate a point. He could be telling you about 9999 more trees in order to explain to you about one tree. In most cases, we will find ourselves lost in his lengthy explanations and forget about the original point of discussion. He will not tell you the exact answer but will leave it to you to find your own answer. Most people will just miss the original point of discussion during his lengthy explanation. But the scholarly type loves his style. It is a big challenge to read his books because they are highly intellectual.
I can finish reading Grand Master’s books in half an hour to one hour each, because Grand Master tends to repeat himself. His childhood stories are familiar to us, so we can read them very fast. The most difficult parts of his books are those touching on Zen Buddhism. The stories about his supernatural power and his past lives are the easiest. When Grand Master mentioned Zen Buddhism, he drew from the ancient parables of Zen Masters, in classical Chinese language which is very difficult to read and comprehend. He would then share something based on his present day experience and told you that that was the answer. He asked if you understand what he meant, but he would not tell you the answer directly either. Most of the readers cannot understand his teachings, for Zen Buddhism is something very abstract and difficult for one to grasp the essence of its teachings. One will not know the answer if he does not understand the essence of the teaching.
I have been encouraging you to read and to learn from the different exposures. I have told you in the past that you will not attain enlightenment through mere reading. Enlightenment does not come from a book. However, one must train on the path to enlightenment through reading. You will not attain enlightenment through reading a single book; that is impossible! If this was possible, those who read a sutra e.g. Diamond Sutra, Lotus Sutra or Shurangama Sutra etc, would have attained enlightenment. Why had they not attained enlightenment after reading the sutra? So, enlightenment cannot be found in the books or sutras. Nevertheless, you will still need to rely on them to attain enlightenment eventually.
If you only talk about enlightenment and nothing else during the exposition of a sutra, you could only persuade a few to walk the path to enlightenment. Some people are fond of history, some are fond of philosophy, and some are fond of science; if your knowledge is wide and you are able touch on many subjects during your discourse, you will be able to engage and help more people. Especially the Gelug students who are very scholarly in their study, who will expect you to know what Middle Way, Mind Only and Tathagarbha are, for you to convince them that you have the right qualifications.
Grand Master seldom talks about Middle Way, Mind Only and Tathagarbha, because he said they are too profound and few can comprehend. However, in Tibetan Buddhism, if you are not familiar with these teachings and claim yourself to be a tulku (a re-incarnated master), no one will believe you. To them, a tulku must understand the teachings of the Middle Way, Mind Only and Tathagathagarbha. However, they tend to spend too much time on the study and have actually fallen into another extreme situation. They usually spend 30 to 50 years on studying the teachings intellectually. How many 30 or 50 years can we afford in a single lifetime? They spend their whole life studying these teachings full-time! We simply can’t afford the time! When they finally understand the teachings, they would have already become too old and weak to start their true practice. So, they wasted too much time in their life trying to understand these teachings intellectually.
Recently, I read a book written by Tan Xi Yong. I realized that people like him are too academic, like a professor in a university. They seem to be talking about the studies at an academic level but not teaching you how to actually attain the true state of Buddhahood. These teachings are meant for the Master Degree or PhD holders. You will, at most, become a top PhD scholar but not a practitioner. They wrote so many books just to help one understand the teachings academically, which it is still far from the true practice. When they have finally understood the teachings academically, they would have become too old and weak to embark on the daily spiritual practice (sadhana).
So, we must know what to choose and what to abandon. We must marry both the intellectual study and the daily sadhana in one. It is wrong to not read at all or read too much. Reading too much will become a mere research activity and you will end up being confused by all the buzz words like “self-nature”, “absence of self-nature” etc. Some people become entrapped forever. So, spiritual practice is just not an easy task!
How do we do our reading while trying to understand the teachings intellectually, and at the same time applying them in our practice in order to attain enlightenment? It is not an easy task. It requires great skill. I hope you will think it through. It will be impossible for you to attain enlightenment if you choose not to read and not to think it through. Unless you choose the Pureland School and merely recite the name of Amitabha Buddha until you achieve a spiritual response with Him and you will be reborn in the Western Blissful Pureland after this life. However, when you are finally reborn before Amitabha Buddha in the Blissul Pureland, He will still open up a sutra right in front of you and say this to you, “Come, let’s study the Middle Way…” He will still talk to you about such thing. You will then need to learn the teaching before returning to this world to put it into practice. In the end, you still need to understand the teachings! So, it is good that we learn more about it during our present lifetime, never mind that you cannot understand the full teachings at this stage. You can study those parts that you do not understand now in the Pureland later.
Grand Master also said that we will not truly understand such teachings even though he teaches them now. He would rather suggest that we learn these teachings when we are reborn in the Blissful Pureland, by then He (Amitabha Buddha) would teach us those teachings. He said he does give the teachings elsewhere, in other realms albeit not on earth. Generally, the people in this world will not understand such teachings, especially during this era of degeneration age where people are too overwhelmed by monetary possessions.
The whole world is in a chaos now. A colleague of mine just came back from England. He stayed there for 2 years. He said England is in a bad shape now, with the people generally out of job and money. He heard news about a few million people who would be retrenched soon. So, some people resorted to robbery for survival! Greece is facing an impending default; EU is facing their own problems; USA is in huge debt; the global financial system is on the verge of collapsing but no one dares to let it collapse due to the huge repercussion. So, all parties are trying to support and sustain it. How long can this last? No one knows. Not to mention the big calamities hitting the world like floods, earthquakes, tornados etc. The world is thrown into a non-ending series of disasters - these are the signs of a degeneration age.
What can we do? We can only live by one belief: lit the world with our little brightness of enlightenment, no matter how small it is; help more people the best we can. We hope to write and publish more books to share the teachings of the Buddha, letting more people know of the precious teachings of the Buddha which can help us attain the ultimate state of liberation. That’s good enough. We only need to practice well personally before trying to help others. This is our mission of this lifetime.
A discourse by Acho Rinpoche.