In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha said that there are Six Perfection: Giving, Keeping the precepts, Tolerance, Diligence, Meditation, then Wisdom. What is giving? Giving money, giving effort, giving mental support, and giving spirituality. The Buddha said that giving spirituality is the best giving. In the Medicine Buddha Sutra, it said: When the Medicine Buddha still practiced the Bodhisattva way, He gave whatever anyone asked of Him, every material thing. After they ate and felt satisfied and healthy, He would teach them the Supreme Method so that they could escape from the circle of birth and death.
The temple is not a place for us to come and ask for favors. It’s for us to open our wisdom. We should not always ask Quan Yin Bodhisattva or Tathagata Buddha for favors. We have to be a Quan Yin Bodhisattva instead. We should always try to be a Quan Yin Bodhisattva, try our best to attain sainthood in order to deliver beings from suffering. Otherwise, Quan Yin Bodhisattva is alone with countless sentient beings who keep praying to Her, then isn’t that very pitiful? As disciples, why don’t we have compassion? Just Her alone, how pitiful! She has to shoulder people from Âu Lạc, China, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, all kinds of people. Everyone from Buddhist countries prays to Quan Yin Bodhisattva. But no one wants to practice to become a Quan Yin Bodhisattva or to reach Her attainment in order to share with Her the karmic burdens and Her work.
So if you say you truly go to temple, you must study. If you truly go to church, you must try to find the priest and ask them thoroughly. That’s the meaning of going to temple or to church. Temples or churches were originally built for people to come and study the Truth and meditate in peace. Because the outside world is chaotic, so sometimes people can’t meditate peacefully. A temple should be a place for meditation, a meditation center. Nowadays, temples are usually just a place for young people to come, dressing up and looking nice. Just burning a few incense sticks, offering a few fruits. That’s all and say, “I went to the temple!” And then go home. They don’t learn anything more before and after going to the temple. So what’s the use? They don’t even know whether the Buddha on that altar will grant them what they wish for. They just pray. He answers or not, it doesn’t matter. They just go home. When you wish for something, you have to wait for the answer, no? He hasn’t answered, then why do you run home? That’s a waste of your fruits, really.
Now I suggest every time you go to the temple to worship the Buddha, wait for Him to open His mouth first before you go home. But you make offerings just for the sake of it. Inside, you know He doesn’t receive any of it. Otherwise, you’d faint. If he opens his mouth and eats your apples, you’d faint and run screaming, “Ghost! Ghost! Ghost! A ghost has possessed the wooden Buddha!” You know too well that it is not effective, but you still make offerings. But that’s alright. The wooden Buddha doesn’t talk, so you have to go find the living teachers, the monks, and ask them. So that they have an opportunity to perform their duties, and expand their knowledge. That’s the real meaning of going to the temple. Otherwise, temples are just a way to adorn a country, but not as the so-called "shelter for people’s heart and soul" and cannot be called "the eternal lifestyle of our ancestors." The lifestyle of our ancestors was different from ours these days. Our ancestors were Zen masters. The ancient ancestor of Buddhism was a living Buddha. But our lifestyle is now no longer “the eternal lifestyle of our ancestors.” Yet people keep saying that all the time. “The temple shelters people’s heart and soul; it is the eternal lifestyle of our ancestors.”
Can it shelter people’s heart and soul? Can you bring a temple from Âu Lạc here to protect your soul? No. It stays where it is. If there is a war, it’s finished. The temple may become an office, a place for government officials to work. It’ll be worse than before even. Because we don’t study Buddhism properly to protect the tradition of our eternal ancestors. Ancestors in Buddhism were the great Zen Masters. You can go home and read the “Vietnamese Zen Master” by Zen Buddhist Monk Thích Thanh Từ. You’ll know how the Aulacese in the old time practiced spiritually, how the great Zen Masters were, how the enlightened Saints were? You read Buddhism history, Buddhist stories, you’ll know what Shakyamuni Buddha did. That’s what we called “the eternal lifestyle”.
Now we eat meat and drink wine, don’t know much about Buddhism. When we go to the temple, we don’t ask anything. When we leave, we also ask nothing. Buddhism exists or perishes, we also don’t know. Then how can you call that “eternal lifestyle of our ancestors”? We are not following the lifestyle of our ancestors.
I am very sorry to offend you. I also want to say everyday that you’re good, you’re clever, you’re great, you’re intelligent, you’re good Buddhists, so that you will love me. But that’s like the salemen in the market trying to please customers for your own benefit, not for them, or to benefit yourself a lot, and just little for them, so that you can sell more. That’s why many people don’t like me. I don’t blame them, because “honest advice may not be pleasant to the ears”. But we’re educated people and courageous gentlemen, so we would never let those honest words undermine our wisdom and obstruct our path of evolution. We must know that honest words come from good friends who don’t mind to disappoint us for our own benefit. They point out these things because it’s good for us. Otherwise, in the outside world, everyone talks sweetly. As long as you have money, everyone will be sweet to you.