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LEARNING TAO AND CULTIVATING TAO

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LEARNING TAO AND CULTIVATING TAO
       I. Introduction

       Learning and cultivating Tao is often clouded in mystery. It is mistakenly thought to be something separate from an individual's life. As a matter of fact, learning Tao can actually provide a profound insight into the true value of our lives, so that we can develop the right attitude toward our lives. The purpose of cultivation is to rectify our deviant thoughts and behavior. Since bad thoughts cause sorrow and bad behavior causes crime, cultivating Tao can help us rectify every arising thought and consequently improve our behavior. It brings out our clear conscience and leads to a peaceful, carefree, harmonious, and joyful life.

       In the process of learning and cultivating Tao, we start with self-understanding. Then we constantly improve ourselves, cultivate for better temperament, and learn to face and break through the trials and tribulations in life. The ultimate goal is to make our short lives eternal.

       ll. How to Learn Tao and Cultivate Tao
       The following are some ways of learning and cultivating Tao for your reference.

       1. Attend Tao study classes: 
       The Tao cultivation society provides a series of classes for beginners. These classes are:

       (1) Ming-De class: Generally held once a week for two hours. The class is designed to systemically introduce the basic knowledge of Tao. For more information you can contact the Temple to which you belong.

       (2) Xian Jin class (or the class for reviewing the Three Treasures): The class duration is half a day. The class focuses on topics like: "The Advantages of Receiving Tao," "Reviewing the Three Treasures," "Ritual Practices," and "The Cause of the Tao Seminar," etc. These classes are oriented to make the participants further understand about Tao and Tao seminar.

       (3) Tao Seminar: Tao seminar is also named "the Course of True-Nature Practice", normally takes two or three days to complete. During the Tao seminar, Dian-Chuan-Shi (Tao Transmitting Masters) and lecturers who have a profound understanding of Tao and cultivation, will be invited to lecture on topics ranging from the philosophy of life to the preciousness of Tao. Their vivid, humorous, and inspiring, insightful speeches always hold the participants' attention, and guide their reflections on the issues. Additionally, Buddhas, using the bodies of San-Cai (the Holy Medium) to inspire the participants' wisdom. Everyone will feel radically changed after the Tao seminar. They will have new hope and confidence.

       (4) After the Tao seminar, there are classes like Xin-Min class (being a new person), Zhi-Shan class (attaining perfection), Pei-De class (cultivating virtues), Xing-De class (practicing virtues), and Chung-De class (worship virtues). 

       Each meeting lasts approximately two hours; the courses include those from the very basic to the advanced ๏ผ the teachings of the five major religious saints. The goal is to purify one's heart and mind and to teach people how to practice Tao in their daily lives. Through these classes, every Tao relative can become a sincere and pious cultivator.

       2. Study Tao scriptures:
After we receive Tao, we should start to study Tao scriptures to enrich our knowledge, inspire our wisdom, and familiarize us with the cultivation process of the past saints and sages, which can be reference as we personally cultivate. Some suggested readings: the biographies of cultivators who have achieved Buddhahood, discussions of the scriptures, Holy Revelations or the oracles, Ten Commandments of Huang-Mu (Heavenly Mother), and Answers to the True-Nature and the Principles, and so on.

       3. Visit the Temples frequently.
Temples are great places for us to learn Tao; resorting to the Temples can immerse us in Buddhist light and help us to purify our hearts and souls, free us from worries and bad karma, and grant us opportunities to learn etiquette rules and manners and the chance to learn from the Tao seniors.

       4. Join Tao activities.
Temples may hold different activities ๏ผ development camps, hiking, mountain climbing, excursions, outings, picnics, parties, tea parties, reunions, etc. By joining these activities, we can exchange cultivation experiences, maintain our friendships with the Tao relatives, and strengthen our faith in Tao.

       5. Arrange assignment/plan for self-cultivation.
Our Holy Teacher once said, "Knowing without acting, one cannot claim to be a cultivator." Without putting into practice what we learn about Tao, we cannot feel the real joy of cultivation. It would be a great pity for us to receive this great Truth and not cultivate it. Therefore, we should make a plan for self-cultivation. The plan includes required and selective courses, which will be stated in the following:

       (1) Required courses: As mentioned above, these are courses every cultivator needs to do in his or her daily life.

       A. Self-evaluation and repentance. Cultivation requires self-evaluation and constant repentance. The former points out the faults and errors we make, and the latter arouses our determination to rectify and make a change. They are both sides of a coin indispensable to our cultivation.

       (a) Before sleeping, calmly hold the Holy Hand Sign in front of your chest. You can be either kneeling or lying on a bed.

       (b) Picture the most respectable Buddha in your mind.

       (c) Say a prayer to the Buddha, "My name is . I am now sincerely reflecting on my errors and repenting. Buddha , please bless me with guidance and protection."

       (d) Reflect on the wrongdoing committed that day. Ask yourself, "Were all my actions appropriate? Was I taking advantage of others? Was I righteous in my words, my thoughts, and my actions? Was I greedy or unsatisfied?" 

       (e) Repent. Pray to the Buddhas, "Due to my greediness, anger and indulgences, I have made such sins, misconducts, and mistakes. But now, I am begging your forgiveness and please testify to my resolution never to do that again."

       (f) Concentrate on your Gate while sleeping. Concentrating on the Gate helps us rid ourselves of deviant thoughts. If we are aware of every arising thought, we can select for the positives. In addition, we may formally burn a document to God in the Temple to show our repentance.

       B. Discipline and propriety. Mencius, a Chinese saint, once said, "It is the rules and compasses that make a perfect square and circle." In the Temple, there are etiquette rules and manners originated by the saints and sages. They serve as guidelines for our personal cultivation. If you are a Tao junior, here is a simple principle for you: 
       "Never do things that make you feel too embarrassed to tell others."
       "Never even think of things that you should not do." 

       When we feel uneasy and ashamed of doing something, we should stop immediately, never ever think about it. Otherwise, although we may not be punished, our conscience will be polluted๏ผ›it is a strong setback in our personal cultivation.

       (2) Selective courses. The selective courses vary with our respective interest and time management.

       A. Read Tao scriptures or Holy Revelations half an hour to one hour per day.

       B. Chant sutras. You can set aside a period of time to chant sutras every day. For long sutra, divide it into two parts and chant in the morning and in the evening. For shorter sutra, read them over several times. The key to chanting is that one should be sincere and attentive.

       Enunciation and concentration are both important. Several sutras are suggested: Da-Xue (The Book of Great Learning), Zhong-Yong (The Doctrine of the Means), Heart Sutra, Ching Jing Jing (The Sutra of Tranquility), Mi-Le True Sutra (The Sutra of Maitreya Buddha), Tao-Yuan-Ming-Sheng Sutra (The Sutra of Law Buddha), Diamond Sutra, Di-Zang Bodhisattva's Great Vow Sutra, Da-Bei Mantra (The Mantra of Great Mercy), etc.

       C. Kou shou, or bowing with the Holy Hand Sign. While bowing with our Holy Hand Sign, after tens or hundreds of times, modesty and respect will automatically surface. We do this to rest our deviant thoughts, keep from arrogance, and nurture the great virtue of modesty.

       D. Concentrate on our Gate. Please refer to chapter 6 in this book.

       E. Meditate. Before sleeping, concentrate on our Gate. Keep calm for ten minutes and silently chant the Holy Password or the Heart Sutra in our mind.

       F. Sing the holy songs. The holy songs created by the saints and Buddhas can inspire our wisdom. They can create a gentle and pleasant atmosphere wherever we go. So, singing them benefits us a lot. 

       6. Accumulate merits and cultivate virtues

       A Chinese proverb says, "The worldly saints must be loyal and filial, and the heavenly saints must have merits and virtues." In order to cleanse ourselves of bad karma, to avoid disasters, and to advance our cultivation, internally we must cultivate virtues; externally we must be altruistic and accumulate merits. Below are some suggestions:

       A. Assist Tao affairs:
       Temples are important places for Tao relatives to learn, so everyone needs to help maintain them. We can help in a variety of ways- clean the Temple, mop the floor, shine the Holy Lamps, or dust the shrine. You can also manage the stationery, direct the traffic before and after class time, or give Tao relatives a ride.These are direct help to holy affairs and by doing so, you are building up countless merits.

       B. Bring people to receive Tao:
       According to the proverb, "Saving a person's life is better than building a seven-floor treasure tower to Heaven." So when we introduce a person to receive Tao, we not only save his physical life, but we also save his spiritual life from suffering. He/She will escape from the pains of reincarnation; their ancestors can benefit too. Such a merit is insurmountable. Now that you understand the preciousness of receiving Tao, do not hesitate to bring in your family, relatives and friends to receive Tao. They can all share the joy of receiving Tao.

       C. Help circulate the Tao scriptures.
       The circulation of the Tao scriptures can help the propagation of Tao. People will be inspired and willing to rectify their wrongdoings. A healthier society is the result. Such a merit is also tremendous.

       D. Do charity work.
       All Tao cultivators help accomplish holy affairs. Additionally, we foster mercy and compassion in our community. In our Tao cultivation field, social welfare services are emphasized; for example, the Ren-Ai Home for the homeless, the Xin-Yi Orphanage, etc. 

       III. Conclusion
       As a contemporary scholar said, "When a swallow flies away, it will come back again. When a willow tree withers, it will grow green leaves again. However, can any one of you tell me why our time passes and never returns?" life is a well-established formula๏ผ›it never comes back. Therefore, my dear friends, when you are busy with your career, please spare some time to care for your spiritual/eternal life. Do not wait until your time is finished to realize that your life was a waste. That would be too late!

       Please cherish your great affinity of receiving Tao, and we sincerely hope we can all achieve eternal life, fulfill our qualifications, ascend into Heaven, and be enrolled in the name list of Buddhas.

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