In and Out of Worldly Ways

Yutang Lin

Yutang Lin


Dharma clearly teaches that one should not grasp to appearances, but harmonize Blank Essence and phenomena. Therefore, we know that in and out of worldly ways are also relative distinctions, and that one should comprehend skillful means to match variations so as to harmonize everything. Propagating Dharma that is out of worldly ways in the worldly realms, and staying out of worldly realms to carry out activities that are in the worldly ways, these are beyond questions on what should or should not be done. It all depends on whether the mind is completely pure or impure.

Even though in theory one should comprehend thoroughly that ultimately all matters are harmonized in oneness, in deeds it is often the case that due to multiple complexities of the situations, as soon as one steps into harmonization of matters in and out of worldly ways, one is trapped helplessly into mires. Hence, it is necessary to provide a detail analysis on "in and out of worldly ways" so as to help safeguard good people who intend to save the world through Buddhist ideals and yet not realizing how would be proper to approach the task.

A. Not in Appearance

The distinction between matters in and out of worldly ways does not lie in appearance. With grasping in mind, even though one spends the whole life living in seclusion to engage in Dharma practices, one still can hardly transcend transmigration in the worldly realms, and hence it is still in worldly ways. Based on compassion, even though one manages businesses in society, one does not forget to build bridges to Dharma for suitable people encountered, then one may still accomplish conversion to Dharma. Entering into deep mountains to plant forests, the benefits cannot be seen by the concurrent world. Be tolerant with humiliation at present so as to be able to demonstrate one's capabilities in the future; how could a person aspired to offer services to the world be concerned with performance at one time. Be it in or out of worldly ways, to offer public services one should sustain a broad and open mind, remain constant throughout, and remain diligent in engaging in concrete deeds, so as to achieve beneficial results in the long run.

B. Need to Harmonize

To propagate practices that will lead to right enlightenment it is certainly suitable to first renounce worldly ways for devoted Dharma practices so as to attain enlightenment, and then spread Dharma teachings throughout the world to help all sentient beings equally; nevertheless, how could thorough enlightenment be accomplished without going through the testing of worldly matters? How could the propagation of Dharma throughout the world be accomplished by guidance based on being ignorant of the worldly matters? Therefore, enlightenment out of worldly ways must go through trials and trainings in worldly ways; the goal of practicing out-of-worldly ways is squarely aiming at entering the world to awaken the deluded multitude. Under the Bodhi tree Sakyamuni first passed the testing of devils before he attained full enlightenment; after his awakening he traveled to many places to spread the teachings instead of staying alone in seclusion in remote areas.

In order to sustain universal ideals, justice and peace in the world one needs to work on it constantly, day in and day out, and yet unless one possesses views and characters that transcend worldly considerations of profits and fames, how could one then keep one's conducts pure and free from worldly pollutions? Compassion as taught in Dharma is universal to all sentient beings, and looks after all beings equally, and in all Buddhist teachings thorough and complete freedom from attachment and greed is propounded; furthermore, as to lively application of Dharma in daily activities, it is taught that one should not be confined by formality. Cultivation according to Dharma is indeed the best path for people who try to render public services to the world.

If one grasps to the distinction between in and out of worldly ways, then one could not thoroughly attain the original state which is beyond duality, and it will also be difficult to convert beings to Dharma according to suitable timing and situations. Precisely due to the fact that one can reveal the essential significance of Dharma through worldly ways, and apply Dharma to increase peace and happiness in the world, that the great function of Dharma in harmonizing Blank Essence and phenomena, and in harmonizing worldly ways and transcendental ways, may be accomplished. Thus, it is clear that matters in and out of worldly ways need be harmonized.

C. Looking after the Root

Even though in theory one need to harmonize matters in and out of worldly ways, nevertheless, in actual practices and activities it is never an easy task to lively harmonize them with one's character still remaining pure. If one is incapable of carefully reflecting on one's own intentions and thoughts, and sustaining steadfastly one's original purity, then the so-called "harmonization" will simply become an excuse for experienced worldling to play around so as to fool others. Therefore, we should understand clearly the root of the boundary between matters in and out of worldly ways, and then take looking after this root as the most urgent priority. One rather grasps to this root steadfastly to the extent that one is ridiculed as being incapable of harmonization than to be recognized as being able to practice harmonization and yet indeed have deteriorated into mixing with the polluted multitude to the extent of being unable to self-extract from the mire.

The fundamental distinction between matters in and out of worldly ways lies in whether one's intentions are beyond the limitations of space and time and are related to the ultimate liberation from transmigration and the attainment of right enlightenment for all sentient beings. Even though ordinary worldly endeavors may serve indirectly as helpful means toward this fundamental goal, nevertheless, once one is engaged in worldly endeavors it is often the case that one becomes entangled in a whirlpool that drags one down ever deeper, and eventually one will lose sight of the long-term grand goal but instead pay attention only to the gains and losses in front. In reality, in order to sustain the long-term goal and benefits of transcendental approaches, one couldn't help but avoid engagement in worldly matters lest one will lose a pure land and sunny sky of mind due to all sorts of entanglements in worldly matters.

After Sakyamuni attained enlightenment he did not return to his country to resume the throne so as to provide welfare to his subjects, and he also did not advocate social revolution to abolish the caste strata. Instead, he simply imparted Dharma teachings to all beings equally, and established the norm that Dharma transcends worldly customs. (Seniority in Buddhism is determined by the order in time of taking refuge, instead of by caste status.) Ven. Xuan Zhang repeatedly declined invitations from Emperor Tai Zong of Tang Dynasty to serve as prime minister for the government, but instead chose to devote his whole life to the propagation of Dharma. Jesus was not deluded by people with political ambitions; he did not engage in social revolution to establish a Jewish state even though he was recognized by the multitude as the Messiah. How could these ancient saints not be concerned with the temporal welfare of the multitude? Why did they, instead of providing worldly services, choose to save the world in out-of-worldly ways? If they did not have in mind the universal and everlasting salvation of all beings, how could they tolerate the contemporary sufferings of the multitude and not rush to provide temporary relief? Precisely because the entanglements of worldly affairs are too strong and deep for ordinary people to escape from, so we need to advocate renunciation of worldly engagements and devotion to Dharma practices so as to look after the root, to sustain Bodhi seeds, and to propagate teachings on right enlightenment in this world full of sorrows and hardships.

D. Carefully Staying within the Boundary

Problems in the world are ever recurring in all areas of human existence, and they certainly call for our participation and management to fix the contemporary problems so as to help all beings universally. However, the complexity and accumulated faults of our common karma cannot be rectified just by a few people's propagation of and criticism according to some ideal standards. Not to mention that there are people in the world who do not play by the rules, and hence there are also counter measures that are not by the rules, and hence no one can really regulate matters strictly by rules. In the long run the way of fundamental salvation still lies in propagation of Impermanence, Freedom from Grasping, Open-mindedness and Compassion as taught in the Dharma. Genuine safeguard of peace and justice can only be achieved by universal comprehension of their values. If we try to save the world through worldly ways, besides adding complexity to the situations, there are no guaranteed good results that will certainly come forth.

Sometimes we see people carrying clergy responsibilities publicize political opinions, and those views are either unrealistic ideals or based on personal philosophy or relations, and yet lacking relevance to solution of real problems in the society. People in different trades are as remote from one another as being separated by mountains; if they could carefully abide by the boundary of transcendental duties, wouldn't it be easier for them to concentrate on their religious services so as to help pacify people's minds?

At the juncture of having difficulty in harmonizing matters that are in and out of worldly ways, how should one conduct oneself? As a Buddhist one should follow the epitome as set by Sakyamuni Buddha and make a distinctive choice!

Written in Chinese on September 19, 1995
Translated on December 24, 2013
El Cerrito, California


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