Liberation with No Notion of Self

After Fifth Patriarch Hongren passed on the robe and alms bowl to Huineng, he knew that for awhile no one in the monastic community would understand why he suddenly made Huineng his successor, nor would they be able to accept him. So he had Huineng leave the monastery in the middle of the night. Hongren escorted Huineng to a dock at Jiujiang and offered to row Huineng across the river. As Hongren was manning the oars, Huineng said, “Venerable Master, please be seated. Your disciple should row.”

Hongren replied by saying, “It is only fitting that I ferry you across.”

In Chinese the word du (渡) means both “ferry” as well as “liberate.” Hongren’s words meant that, since he was Huineng’s teacher, he saw it as his responsibility to be the one to “ferry” him to liberation.

Huineng replied, “When I was deluded, my teacher ferried me across. Upon awakening, I ferry myself.”


What Huineng means by “ferrying himself” or “liberating himself” is that it is up to us to accumulate merit, make positive karmic connections, and cultivate wisdom. In Buddhism it is commonly said that we should “cultivate both merit and wisdom,” as well as “emphasize both practice and understanding.” This is precisely the process of self-liberation. Helping others is the root of happiness, and in accumulating merit we should serve others as we are inclined and as our circumstances allow. Examples include building bridges, paving roads, aiding in disaster relief, and assisting the poor.

To truly learn Buddhism, we must connect with others. Spiritual practice cannot be an excuse for selfishness or indolence, nor can it be an excuse to escape or distance oneself from the community. Our practice should create broad karmic connections that can help to build a positive future and to foster limitless merit and virtue. The meaning of a human life comes from the karmic seeds we are able to plant and witness them bear fruit in our field of merit before our lives come to an end.

We gain merit from joyfully giving out of kindness. During his many lifetimes of practice, the Buddha once cut off a piece of his own flesh to feed an eagle, and in another lifetime sacrificed his body to provide food for a tiger, as well as being born as the king of deer and the king of fish. The Buddha was able to broadly and universally give aid without distinguishing between friend or foe, self or other, whenever living beings were in need or facing difficulty. This did not happen on just one or two occasions, for the Buddha spent three great kalpas perfecting his virtue and wisdom such to become a Buddha, and one hundred small kalpas perfecting the major and minor physical characteristics of a Buddha.

If a person spends his entire life in this world only concerned with himself, with the “I,” and working and toiling just to feed that one mouth and belly, that is a meaningless, wasted life. A person who does not understand prajna wisdom will desperately try to seek knowledge outside of himself, or he may parade around with his knowledge and abilities trying to show off how smart he is. Such a person may come to feel superior, like he is somehow more intelligent or handsome than most other people. The “I” appears to rise above the mass of common people to be in a class by itself. He becomes convinced that this “I” is not like all the others; it is the most beautiful lotus growing out of the mud. When someone thinks this way he has become attached to the notion of self.

Physically a human body is nothing more than a smelly bag of skin, something that has arisen from a combination of causes and conditions. All day long people only think about how they can dress themselves in fine clothes and eat good food, or how they can rise to some new and better position of power. But people who only live for themselves will find that, when their lives draw to a close and it’s time to go, everything is merely a dream, an illusion, a bubble, or a shadow. It does not matter how they dressed themselves in elegant, name-brand finery, what positions of power they enjoyed, or how refined their meals were—it all vanishes into thin air.

Everybody has Buddha nature. It is just ignorance that makes one a sentient being and enlightenment that makes one a Buddha. And the difference between ignorance and enlightenment can lie in a single thought.

With all the hustle and bustle of human life, we should ensure that the mind and body have a place where they can find safety and security, and then allow others to find security as well. Some ways we can find security are:

  1. Find security in the four immeasurables: loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

  2. Find security by generating the aspiration for enlightenment and making a vow to liberate all living beings.

  3. Find security in prajna wisdom.

  4. Find security in meditative concentration and morality.

  5. Find security in pure thoughts and reverence.

  6. Find security in simplicity and humility.

  7. Find security in letting go and being carefree.

  8. Find security in learning and contentment.

Where Is the Self?

The Diamond Sutra says that we should have “no notion of self, no notion of others, no notion of sentient beings, and no notion of longevity.”

Buddhism often speaks of the doctrine of “non-self,” the lack of an inherent self-identity, and equates it with emptiness. “Non-self” means that all things arise from causes and conditions, and have no independent self-nature.

In order for something to rightly be called a “self,” it must possess the following four conditions: autonomy, permanency, universality, and freedom. However, if the self is formed through causes and conditions related to the four great elements of earth, water, fire, and wind, it could not exist apart from them and is thus not autonomous. The self also exists only temporarily through the process of dependent origination, so it is not permanent. The self is obstructed everywhere, so it is not universal, and because the self is subject to the karmic effects of suffering, it is not free. The existence of the “self” is like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow, or like dew and lightning. It is merely a temporary self, formed by the combination of the five aggregates, which has no truly real nature. However, we must make use of this temporary self in order to find the true self of prajna.

By advocating “no notion of self, no notion of others, no notion of sentient beings, and no notion of longevity,” the Diamond Sutra is actively building a world that is permanent, blissful, pure, and that has an independent self through the process of negation. Only when there is no self, no duality, no disputes, no suffering, and no barriers, can the permanent “true self” manifest.

“All great bodhisattvas should subdue their minds in the following manner: Of all sentient beings, be they born of eggs, wombs, moisture, or transformation, or whether they have form, or not form, or whether they are able to perceive, or do not perceive, or are neither able to perceive or not perceive, I cause them to enter nirvana without remainder, liberating them. Thus by liberating infinite, immeasurable, limitless sentient beings, in reality, no sentient beings are liberated.”

“And why is this? Subhuti, if a bodhisattva has the notion of a self, the notion of others, the notion of sentient beings, or the notion of longevity, then he is not a bodhisattva.”

Diamond Sutra Chapter 3

When we give while attached to notions, we cannot gain great merit, just as when we attempt to liberate others while attached to the notion of self, we cannot develop compassion for those we liberate. Only when we develop great compassion that is unattached to the notion of self does it become possible to broadly liberate all living beings. There are many varieties of living beings, infinite varieties in fact. We should have no thought of discrimination when it comes to liberating living beings. We should generate an expansive aspiration to completely liberate all living beings.

“Subhuti, suppose a bodhisattva gave a quantity of the seven treasures capable of filling as many worlds as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River; if a bodhisattva knows that all phenomena are without self and thereby attains patience the virtue he attains is superior. Subhuti, this is because all bodhisattvas do not receive this merit.”

Subhuti said to the Buddha, “World-honored One, why is it that bodhisattvas do not receive merit?”

“Subhuti, the merit of a bodhisattva should not be attached to. That is why it is said that they do not receive merit.”

Diamond Sutra Chapter 28

In the sutras the Buddha sometimes refers to this world as the “Saha World,” or suopo (娑婆) in Chinese, meaning “endurance.” This world is called “endurance” because it is filled with affliction and suffering that we must endure in order to accomplish anything. In this instance, “endurance” also means patience: being patient with both the circumstances which support us and oppose us while remaining free from anger and abiding securely in the truth without being perturbed. Patience can be divided into three kinds: patience for life, patience for phenomena, and patience for the non-arising of phenomena. The phrase “attains patience” that appears in the above passage from the Diamond Sutra refers to patience for the non-arising of phenomena.

What is patience? Patience is recognition and acceptance. Patience is engaging in, dealing with, clearing up, and dissolving away. One example is when a father returns home and his son makes a fuss and says, “Dad, kneel down for me so I can play horsey!” and the father then really does kneel down to let his son ride on his back and play horsey. Not only is the father not offended, but he even laughs heartily because he loves his son; otherwise, he might have even given him a few slaps in the face.

Patience for life is recognizing the bitterness and sweetness of all life’s experiences and the vagaries of interpersonal relationships, then taking responsibility for them and reconciling the affliction of past grievances. We must have patience for life if we hope to be able to sustain our lives and live freely. For example, if you have a job you may need to get up early in the morning to catch the bus, deal with the pain and exhaustion of sitting in traffic, put up with cold and hot weather, and endure lack of sleep. Once you get to work there may even be differences of opinion, favoritism, and grudges among your coworkers. Patience is the power of wisdom.

Patience for phenomena is coming to terms with the greed, hatred, delusion, and preconceptions in one’s own mind by realizing that birth, old age, sickness, death, sorrow, pain, wealth and position, as well as transient human sentiment all arise and cease due to causes and conditions. The mind can find repose in this truth and no longer be affected by the arising and ceasing of those phenomena. Only by gaining insight into the inherent emptiness of dependent origination, is one able to gain the prajna wisdom that comprehends the principles behind phenomena and the nature of human emotion. For example, if someone curses me and calls me a bastard, I can laugh and think, “Ha ha, so I’m a bastard” or “Amitofo, thanks!” and not take offense. Then again, do I really become a bastard just because someone calls me that? Certainly not! This is transcending names and labels. By not stooping down to their level the person who utters the abuse becomes the bastard and not me. It is just as the Sutra in Forty-two Sections states:

For the wicked to harm the virtuous would be like raising one’s head and spitting at the sky; the spittle does not reach the sky, but falls back upon oneself. Or it is like throwing dust against the wind; the dust does not go someplace else, but collects upon oneself instead.

Patience for the non-arising of phenomena is the understanding that, fundamentally, nothing arises or ceases, for nothing inherently exists. Since all phenomena do not arise, in essence there is no need to be patient. This is the patience of non-patience. This is why bodhisattvas are not limited by the notion of merit, because bodhisattvas benefit living beings based on the aspiration for enlightenment rather than craving merit that may benefit themselves. Thus their generosity is free of attachment to notions. A noble bodhisattva who has attained patience and whose mind does not abide in phenomena will retain his virtue and it will not flow away, while a bodhisattva who is only concerned with giving treasures will have his merit flow away.

In the above passage the Buddha depicts several stages along the bodhisattva path. If a bodhisattva gives “a quantity of the seven treasures capable of filling as many worlds as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River,” it is impossible to calculate the merit of such a gift. Bodhisattvas at this level know that external phenomena are not real, but they have yet to attain the patience of the non-arising of phenomena, because subtle traces of delusion still remain in their minds. Thus they give while attached to notions, and still lack the understanding of the doctrine of non-self.

However, a bodhisattva who understands that all phenomena lack an independent self, but instead are empty and arise out of causes and conditions, will be free from greed and have no need to acquire external things, nor will he be perturbed by the outside world. This is how the bodhisattva attains the patience of the non-arising of phenomena. By internally “abiding in the mind of non-abiding,” the bodhisattva can then expand the Buddha’s mission by liberating living beings with no notion of people, and attain Buddhahood with no notion of self.

After fully understanding “non-self” a bodhisattva no longer receives merit or yearns for nirvana, and is thus is said to be free from desire. When we say that they do not “receive merit” it does not mean that bodhisattvas reject the idea of cause and effect, but rather that they do not crave merit and are free from the type of delusion and discrimination which takes a calculating attitude towards accruing merit. A bodhisattva who has attained patience for the non-arising of phenomena means he is without a “self” and without notions. He is not attached to a sense of self, nor is he attached to the notion of giving or the notion of merit. This is what it really means to understand “all phenomena are without self.”

One day a devotee came to see Chan Master Ikkyu and poured out his troubles:

“Master, I can’t go on living,” he said, “I’m going to kill myself!”

“Your life was going well, why would you want to commit suicide?”

“Oh master, ever since my business failed the debts have been piling up. My creditors are making it impossible for me to go on. Only death will put an end to it.”

Chan Master Ikkyu replied, “Are you really telling me that there is no other way out except death?”

The devotee painfully said, “There isn’t. I have nothing left except my young daughter. I have reached the end of my rope.”

Chan Master Ikkyu had a sudden inspiration.

“Ah, I have an idea: you can marry your daughter to someone. Find a handsome, well-off son-in-law and he can help pay off your debts.”

The devotee shook his head and said, “But master, my daughter is only eight years old. How can she marry anyone?”

“Then let me marry your daughter! I’ll be your son-in-law and help you pay off your debts.”

The devotee was shocked, “You…you simply must be joking! I revere you as my teacher, how can you become my son-in-law?”

But Chan Master Ikkyu had a plan. He waved the devotee off and said, “It will be alright. Nothing more needs be said: go home right now and announce the marriage. When the time comes to receive the bride, I will come to your house and become your son-in-law. Now hurry along.”

This businessman-cum-disciple had confidence in the Chan master’s wisdom, so he returned home and made the announcement at once: on such and such a date, Chan Master Ikkyu would be coming to his home to marry his daughter. As the news spread, it became a sensation throughout the city.

Finally the day to receive the bride came, and the area surrounding the home was packed so tightly with curious on-lookers that they could hardly move. Upon arriving at the scene, Chan Master Ikkyu gave the order that a table be placed in front of the gate with a writing brush, paper, an ink stick, and an ink stone. With a crowd in front of him, the Chan master wielded the writing brush, and as everyone marveled at how wonderful the master’s calligraphy was, they jostled with one another to get a better view and buy his works. The crowd seemingly forgot all about why they had come in the first place. The upshot of all of this was that the money from people buying the calligraphy filled several baskets.

The Chan master turned and asked his devotee, “Is this enough money to pay off your debts?”

The devotee was so happy that he knelt down and bowed his head to the ground again and again, “Master, you are truly a miracle worker to have made so much money appear all of a sudden!”

Chan Master Ikkyu gave a sweep of his long, billowy sleeves and said, “Problem solved. I won’t be your son-in-law after all, so I better remain your teacher. Goodbye.”

Chan Master Ikkyu did not cling to the appearance of his own self-image, and for that reason alone he was able to liberate the devotee without attachment to the notion of self by applying skillful wisdom.

A Single Compassionate Thought

Once upon a time there was a man named Kandatta. He was a villainous person who was capable of all manner of terrible things. One day Kandatta was walking somewhere when he saw something black under his foot. He was just about to put his foot down, and crush what turned out to be a spider, but instead he experienced a moment of compassion.

“Why bother crushing it to death?” Kandatta thought. So he lifted his foot and stepped over it, saving the spider’s life.

Kandatta was a remorseless criminal who did anything wicked, so upon his death he was condemned to Avici hell to experience unmitigated torment. But amidst his suffering a shiny, silver thread of spider’s silk, as thin as steel wire, came floating down from the sky. Kandatta was like a man drowning in the ocean who had caught sight of a lifeboat, so he quickly grabbed hold of the spider thread and began to climb with all his might, wishing to be free from the uninterrupted pain of hell.

But once he looked down, he saw that the many other denizens of hell were climbing up behind him. Kandatta thought to himself: “How can such a thin spider’s thread bear the weight of so many people? If the spider’s thread were to break, then I will be trapped here for thousands of kalpas without any hope of being released.”

So he thrust out his leg and started kicking those climbing up from behind off the thread one by one. Just then, the spider’s thread snapped somewhere up above, and Kandatta along with the other denizens of hell all fell back into the bottomless blackness of hell to suffer its endless knife cuts and burning flames. With their physical eyes and desiring minds, living beings only see their own suffering and only think about their own liberation.

The story of the spider’s thread is a very skillful teaching on the power of a single compassionate thought. Kandatta had a single thought of compassion towards a spider; however, while he was trying to save himself from Avici hell a single thought of selfishness doomed him to fall back into its hell’s maw. A single dark thought is Avici hell, while a single compassionate thought to benefit oneself and others brings great good fortune. We exist in a relationship of oneness and coexistence, for all the world is one, and all things are interconnected through causes and conditions.

There Are None Who Cannot Be Liberated

I often like to say that any place can be a temple of enlightenment, and there is no one who cannot be liberated.

During the 1950s when I was teaching at Leiyin Temple in Ilan, Taiwan, there were always groups of people outside the hall laughing, talking loudly, and in many ways disturbing the people inside. One time I turned off all the lights, leaving only the glow of the burning incense in front of the Buddha statue. The noisy crowd outside was startled by the sudden and unexpected darkness and instantly fell silent.

Humanistic Buddhism is truly based upon liberating living beings without attachment to the notion of self. When teaching the Dharma, one cannot become attached to oneself or what is traditional. Once someone becomes attached to the Dharma, that person becomes rigid, formalistic, and cannot judge how the Dharma should be adapted to suit people’s needs.

Once the Buddha gave the metaphor of practice being like tuning a musical instrument to one of his disciples who was formerly a musician, stating that he should not “tune” his mind too tightly or too loosely. The Buddha gave the metaphor of tending cows as similar to taming this restless body and mind to a devotee who was a cowherd. As a teacher, what the Buddha excelled at most was adapting his message to his students without clinging to notions, thus ensuring through skillful means that the wondrous Dharma connects with the minds of his listeners.

I have also tried to emulate the practice of adapting the Dharma to the needs of the people. For example, early on in Ilan I established the “Amitabha Buddha Recitation Society” to give illiterate people the chance to pick up the Buddhist sutras and recite for themselves, word by word, sentence by sentence. Next, in Ilan, I established Taiwan’s first Buddhist choir. I wrote the lyrics to the songs, and I asked Yang Yungpo, a teacher at Ilan High School, to write the music. I then established a Chinese composition class for correcting students’ compositions. At that same time I instituted after-school study sessions for underprivileged children and asked my followers who were teachers to volunteer their time as tutors in subjects like English, mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

In 1954 I stepped outside the temple by organizing a group to tour the island to publicize the recent printing of the Buddhist Tripitaka, the collection of canonical Buddhist texts, in Taiwan. I led my followers on a forty-four-day campaign all around Taiwan that taught the importance of the Buddhist Tripitaka. The campaign even reached as far as the distant island of Jibei in the Penghu Archipelago.

While giving lectures on the Platform Sutra in 1995, I invited the Taipei Chinese Classical Orchestra to perform in conjunction with my presentation. The orchestra played more than twenty pieces of music, including the “Buddhist Great Compassion Repentance Chant,” the “Amitabha Buddha Recitation Suite,” and “Buddhist Hymn with Bells,” to lead the audience in singing verses from the Platform Sutra. In this way I was able to make the profound meaning of this sutra more accessible to modern people.

In 2002, I presided over a lecture series on Buddhist hymnal music at the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei. These lectures combined narratives from Dunhuang literature,1 Buddhist music, and liturgical chanting to meld literature and music. During the lecture series literature and art came together to act as an instrument for the Dharma to liberate living beings.

We cannot allow the Dharma to become fixed, nor should we rigidly adhere to our own set ways of teaching. For as the Lotus Sutra says:

Sentient beings have their various capacities:

keen or dull, diligent or indolent;

And [the Tathagata] teaches the Dharma to them

According to their abilities.

The Lotus Sutra also mentions in its famous Universal Gate chapter:

…If there are living beings in this land who should be liberated by someone in the form of a Buddha, then Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva will manifest in the form of a Buddha and teach the Dharma to them…. For those who should be liberated by someone in the form of a lesser king, then he will manifest in the form of a lesser king and teach the Dharma to them…. For those who should be liberated by someone in the form of a young boy or young girl, then he will manifest in the form of a young boy or young girl and teach the Dharma to them.

In the same way, whenever artists come to Fo Guang Shan, I talk with them about the cave murals at Dunhuang. When athletes come, I talk about Shaolin gongfu. When farmers come, I talk about how Buddhist monastics were the ones to first import certain fruits and vegetables from central Asia. When soldiers come, I speak of how defending our country is like defending the mind. When young students come, I talk about their future prospects. When children come, I talk about what the sutras call the “four small things not to be taken lightly”: that a great fire can be caused by a single spark, that the earth is nourished through single drops of water, that little boys can grow up to be Dharma kings, and that little girls can grow up to be Dharma queens. With members of the National Science Committee, I can discuss the scientific qualities of Buddhism. With members of the Ministry of Economics, I can discuss the Buddhist view on wealth. With civil engineers, I can discuss Buddhist architecture.

Since I am convinced that there is no one in the world who cannot be liberated, I make a vow to do so, and then there is nothing that cannot be accomplished.

Generating an Aspiration

Liberating living beings without attachment to the notion of self does not mean taking charge of another person’s life or doing everything for someone else. It means helping another person to assume sole responsibility for his or her own life, career, and spiritual practice, even in the process of liberating living beings. To do this we must be able to supply for the various needs of living beings.

Having the aspiration to liberate living beings means more than giving them food when they are hungry and giving them clothing when they have nothing to wear. Such material exchanges and emotional interactions are bound to certain notions and are not long-lasting. To truly liberate living beings means to enable them all to enter nirvana without remainder, so that they can reach the state beyond birth and death. In order to liberate so many living beings and lead them to nirvana we must have an aspiration that is without duality. This is the only way to truly liberate living beings.

This skill is not one that can be mastered through learning, but can only be mastered through doing. Once we have generated the aspiration to liberate living beings we have limitless potential.

The Encouragement for Generating the Aspiration for Enlightenment by the Venerable Xing’an states:

I once heard that generating aspiration heads the list of essential practices for entering the Buddhist path, while making a vow comes first among the urgent tasks for spiritual cultivation. When the aspiration is generated, then the Buddhist path can be accomplished; and when the vow is made, then living beings can be liberated.

The Dharma places value on what is practical. The secret to success is to have the will to get things done combined with responsibility and practicality. In order to have great aspirations we must have no notion of self. The less we involve our own “self,” the greater the number of people we can contribute to, the less we feel our own attachments, and the more tolerant of others we become.

The early years at Fo Guang Shan were truly a difficult time, and manpower was in short supply. Even so, I had no qualms about my decision to send Tzu Hui, Tzu Jung, Tzu Chia, Tzu Yi, and Tzu Chuang to Japan to pursue advanced studies. Many people at the time would say to me, “If they go and make a life for themselves abroad and don’t come back, you would be losing such talent, and would have wasted all your time and effort on them. But even if they do return, how could you lead such superior intellectuals?”

As it turned out, they did, indeed, return and helped Buddhism accomplish many things. There is an old saying in Buddhism, “Learning the Way can happen sooner or later, but each person has their special excellence.” I have never felt that I was any smarter than my disciples. My hope has been that they will surpass me, just as the blue dye made from an indigo plant surpasses indigo in color.

In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha reminds Subhuti not to be attached to the thought that “living beings can be liberated.” This is because living beings are empty, and lack any real form. If we get caught up in thinking and assuming that living beings can be liberated, the we can become trapped by attachment to the notions of self, others, sentient beings, and longevity. This concept is explained in the following passage:

“Subhuti, what do you think? Do not say that the Tathagata has this thought: ‘I should liberate sentient beings’. Subhuti, do not have this thought. And why is this? In reality, there are no sentient beings for the Tathagata to liberate. If there were sentient beings for the Tathagata to liberate, then the Tathagata would have a notion of self, others, sentient beings, and longevity.”

“Subhuti, when the Tathagata speaks of a self, it is the same as no self, and yet all ordinary people take it as a self. Subhuti, the Tathagata says that ordinary people are not ordinary people, and that this is what is called ordinary people.”

Diamond Sutra Chapter 25

“No self” does not mean that we do not exist, but that we must not create a duality between ourselves and others. The Flower Adornment Sutra says that there is no difference between the mind, the Buddha, and living beings. There are three different ways of thinking about the self, which we will call the “soul,” the “transient self,” and the “true self.” The “soul” is the misleading view of a permanent self put forth by many non-Buddhist teachings. The “transient self” is the false sense of self that ordinary beings cling to. The “true self” is the freedom of self realized by the Buddha.2 The true self is the true nature of equality among all phenomena.

The Buddha sees no distinction among the mind, the Buddha, and living beings, for all ordinary beings are endowed with the Buddha’s wisdom. The designation “ordinary being” is but a temporary name, but what we call “ordinary beings” are just those who are attached to notions for a time and have not yet awakened. They have yet to gain realization into the cycle of birth and death. If, while liberating living beings, a Buddha were to generate the mental impurities of discrimination and partiality, then that Buddha would also become an ordinary person. When we are liberating living beings, we should do so without discrimination, and with a mind of equality, with no external perception that there are living beings to be liberated or any internal perception of a “self” that does that liberating.

It is ordinary beings with their sense of “self” that leads them to be attached to their own successes, and it is the fear that the successes of others will be higher than their own that creates discrimination and calculation. What such people do not realize is that a person’s intelligence, abilities, wisdom, and accomplishments all come about through the combination of causes and conditions, and are actually the accumulated efforts of many people. Since our success comes about by the contribution of others, we also need not keep patting ourselves on the back when we help other people.

My disciples should not pursue advanced degrees for their own sakes, nor should they do so to make Fo Guang Shan a success. People should pursue education for the sake of the oneness, harmony, and coexistence of this world’s living beings, and to be able to more effectively liberate sentient beings without attachment to the notion of self. This is why I let my disciples go abroad to pursue advanced degrees: so that they can broaden their minds, expand their vision, and give back to society what they have taken from it.

Now that I mention it, they are not even my disciples, nor are they the disciples of Fo Guang Shan. They are the disciples of Buddhism and of humanity. That is why, from the very founding of Fo Guang Shan, I established four “working principles” for our future endeavors. They are:

  1. Give people confidence.

  2. Give people joy.

  3. Give people hope.

  4. Render service to others.

Our hearts and minds are forever open to others and open to the world. By implementing these four working principles we can align ourselves with the Diamond Sutra’s entreaty to liberate living beings without attachment to the notion of self and realize the prajna of true reality.


1. Dunhuang literature encompasses a corpus of ancient Chinese manuscripts discovered during the turn of the twentieth century in a series of underground caves in Dunhuang Province, China. The majority of the manuscripts are Buddhist texts, many of which were newly discovered, and are of intense interest to Buddhist scholars. Ed.

2. The “eightfold unimpeded self” consists of eight abilities possessed by the Buddha to expand the self beyond its normal bounds: (1) manifesting many bodies, (2) manifesting an infinitely small body that fills the universe, (3) manifesting a gigantic body that is so lightweight it can fly, (4) manifesting many forms in the same place, (5) using any sense organ as any other, (6) attaining all phenomena without the perception of having attained phenomena, (7) expounding the meaning of a single verse for countless kalpas, and (8) pervading all places like space itself. Ed.