The Three Conditions – The First Condition

To be a virtuous person, it is necessary to first follow the Three Conditions. In sutras, we often see the phrase “good men and good women.” What are the requirements for being good? Meeting each of the eleven principles contained in the three conditions. Thus, we will see that the requirements are stringent. Good men and good women in the heaven and human realms need only meet the First Condition. Theravada sutras only require practitioners to fulfill the First and Second Conditions. But for Mahayana practitioners, good men and good women must meet all three. As we see in Mahayana sutras such as the Earth Treasure Sutra and the Infinite Life Sutra, it is to live our lives in accordance with the 11 principles.

Failure to satisfy any one of the principles would prohibit a person from being considered good. Regardless of what the Buddha taught, the methods of learning and cultivation or the true reality of life and the universe, all accord with the Great Perfection. The 11 principles of the Three Conditions are likewise perfect in every word.

The First Condition: The Good Fortune Required to be a Human or Heavenly Being.

The First Conditions includes:

  1. Being filial to our parents,
  2. Being respectful to our teachers and elders,
  3. Being compassionate and not killing any living beings and
  4. Follow the Ten Good Conducts

Consider the first and second principles of being filial to our parents and respectful to our teachers and elders. The Chinese character for filial piety, “Xiao”, is comprised of two parts. The top part “old” means the previous generations and the bottom part “children” means the future generations. This demonstrates that the previous generations are actually one entity. They are ONE rather than TWO. In our modern world, the existence of the generation gap had resulted in parents and children being TWO instead of ONE. This gap contradicts the principle of filial piety, which has no generation gap.

The past had its own past; the future will have its own future. The past had no beginning and the future will have no end. They are one. Filial Piety reaches beyond time and extends throughout the universe. In other words, it encompasses the entire universe. Who can practice the principle of filial piety to perfection? Only a Buddha can do do. without having attained Buddhahood, we cannot achieve the Great Perfection in practicing filial piety.

Filial piety has profound meaning in Buddhism. It means to take care of parents physically, mentally and to fulfill their wishes. To further extend and enhance our respect and care for our parents, we have compassion for all beings in this world. As stated in a precept sutra, “All men are my father; all women are my mother”. This is the broadening of our mind of filial piety so that it encompasses all beings in the universe, in the past, present and future.

Mahayana teachings are based in the principle of filial piety for without it there would no principle of respecting teachers. It is illogical that we are not filial to our parents, yet respectful to our teachers. We could have ulterior intentions, for example, flattering the teacher to obtain a better grade. Filial piety and respect go together. At the same time that we are filial to out parents, we also elevate that filial piety to being respectful to our teachers. Only when we realize this truth will we truly appreciate the value of the principle of filial piety. The Earth Treasure Sutra is the Buddha’s teachings of filial piety for only when we treat our parents with such respect can we uncover the infinite treasures within our own self-nature.

Being filial towards our parents is a virtue of our self-nature. Only virtuous acts can uncover our self-nature. It is the first and most fundamental principle of the Three Conditions. The Chinese respect ancestors even though they are distant from them by hundreds, even thousands of years. They memorialize them on important festivals. Why? Their ancestors and they are one entity. There is no gap between them. Sincerely memorializing our ancestors corresponds with our self-nature. If we remember and respect our ancestors, we will certainly be filial to our parents. When we are filial toward our parents, it naturally follows that we will respect our teachers.

When we disappoint our parents by not respecting teachers, not following their instructions and not studying hard, we violate the principle of filial piety. Also, siblings would do well to live in harmony. Not getting along with brothers and sisters will cause parents to worry thus also violating the principle of filial piety. By getting along with others at work, meeting responsibilities and abiding by laws, we will not cause our parents to worry, thus we accord with the principle of filial piety. By getting along with others at work, meeting responsibilities and abiding by laws, we will not cause our parents to worry, thus we accord with the principle of filial piety. These are a true perfection of virtue. Buddha Shakyamuni taught us to begin our learning from here. He is our original teacher from 3000 years ago. If we respect a teacher from this far in the past, how would we not respect our current teacher?

When we pay respect to an image of the Buddha, we are not worshipping him. We respect the image as a representation of our Original Teacher and therefore we pay our debt of gratitude to him. This is why the followers of the Buddha respect the Buddha’s images as well as memorial tablets of ancestors. This practice has a far-reaching and wide-spread educational significance, for at the sight of them, we will remember our obligation of caring for and respecting our parents, teachers and elders.

The Earth Treasure Sutra tells us about compassion after explaining the Great Perfection. Compassion is the third principle of the First Condition. Compassion is also a virtue of self-nature and crucial to our practice. When the virtue of filial piety and respect for teachers and parents is expanded, it become compassion. Compassion includes not killing any living being. This statement has profound meanings. Without a through comprehension of the Earth Treasure Sutra, we cannot understand the true meaning behind not killing any living being.

Of all bad karmas, that resulting from killing is most serious. Why? All living beings have the natural instinct of fearing and evading death. Although killing is the direct retribution of the victim who killed the present killer in a previous lifetime, the current victim does not know this. He or she would not think, “I killed this person so now this person is killing me”. If only the victim could understand this, there would be no anger at the retribution. Instead, the present victim will think, “You are killing me now. I will kill you next”. This vengeance will be repeated in the endless cycle of birth and death and the mutual hatred will grow stronger and stronger.

This is the most terrible of all the bad offenses and is why we need so urgently to practice compassion for all beings. There are infinite ways to practice compassion, but in the Three Conditions, the Buddha particularly stresses not killing any living being. In other words, killing is an ultimate act of being unfilial towards our parents and disrespectful towards our teachers and elders.

The Buddha taught the basic Five Precepts and the first of these is also the first of the Ten Good Conducts, do not kill. Continuing to kill is to completely disregard his teachings and is an ultimate act of disrespect. This disrespect is tantamount to being unfilial to our parents. Consequently, if we ignore these instructions and kill, we are neither compassionate not filial.

The Fourth principle is “Following the Ten Good Conducts” which are criteria for good behavior and are to be found in many culture and religions throughout the world. Buddha Shakyamuni told us that if we practice these good conducts, we would not fall into the three bad realms. Instead, we would likely to be born into the heaven realms if we practice these good conducts diligently. If we achieve the deep concentration along with the four immeasurable minds of loving kindness, compassion, joy and letting go, we will arise to an even higher level of the heavens, the Heaven of Form and the Heaven of formless.

The Buddha groups the Ten Good Conducts into three major categories: physical, verbal and mental. Physically, we are prohibited from killing, stealing and committing sexual misconduct. Regardless of their good deeds or their ability in deep concentration, those who have sexual desires can only rise as far as the Heaven of Desire. This Heaven has six levels; the higher we rise, the lighter these desires.

A person who sincerely cultivates and has thus attained even the lowest level of deep concentration would be able to suppress sexual desires. At this level the Five desires of wealth, lust, fame, food or drink would not arise. Although the desires are completely eradicated, they can be suppressed by deep concentration. Only the one, who can resist temptations of desire, can attain this state and thus be born into the heaven above the First Level Meditation Heaven. Understanding this explains why attainment throughout this process is so difficult. When we are attempting to practice,we can first ask ourselves, “Can I resist the Five Desires of wealth, lust, fame, food or drink, and sleep”? If we yield to temptation, we will not be able to rise to this level of heaven.

The second good conduct is not to steal. For instance, some people like to evade paying their income taxes. This is equivalent to stealing money from the country and the retribution from this is more serious than that from stealing private property. When we steal one person’s property, we only have a debt to that one person. But if we steal property of the country, we will have a hopelessly insurmountable debt because then we will have stolen from and thus every taxpayer. For example, the United States has a population of well over two hundred million.  Two hundred million creditors! Just imagine the consequences. Therefore, a sincere practitioner must be a law-abiding person devoted to meeting public responsibilities. One who does not violate the good deeds of no killing, stealing or sexual misconduct conducts themselves properly.

There are four verbal conducts; no lying, abusive language, bearing tales and seductive words. First, do not lie. To lie is to cheat deliberately, it is dishonesty. Second, do not make rude or abusive remarks. Those who have this bad habit speak with no sense of property; their words can be irritating or very harmful.

Third, do not talk about others behind their back for this sows discord among people. A person says to Sam, “Tom has said something bad about you.” And then this person says to Tom, “Sam has said something bad about you.” Whether this person does so deliberately or unintentionally, he is bearing tales and gossiping. In our society, many people do this unintentionally. At times, so many people participate in this that the subject become distorted beyond recognition. A well-meant message or remark may become just the opposite after everyone who passes it adds or omits something. This can cause serious consequences ranging from discord among individuals to wars among nations.

Fourth, do not use seductive words. These can sound very sweet and enticing but often conceal bad intentions. Just look at many of todays movies, singers and performers. They sound beautiful and look good but what they are teaching people to do? To lie, steal or kill. Fifth, do not commit sexual misconduct.

Finally, there are three mental good conducts; no greed, anger or ignorance. Greed includes being stingy, reluctant to give of our belongings, our knowledge to help others. This can become the greatest obstacle to overcome in our practice. The Buddha taught giving as a way to eradicate our greed. Some practitioners are able to resist any worldly temptations; however, they cannot resist the desire to learn many new methods of practice. So, they have not truly rid themselves of their greed.

The Buddha has taught us to let go of all desires and greed. He did not ask us to turn to new objects for our greed. In the past, we sought worldly joys, now we seek and attach to Buddhist knowledge. The mind of greed is still there. Therefore, whether for worldly life or for Buddhist knowledge, we would do well to not be greedy. Greed is the source of all misdeeds and wrongdoings.

Greed leads to resentment and anger. Why? We become resentful and angry when our greed is not satisfied and this brings about immense worries and afflictions. Greed is the cause of the karma that results in us being born in the hungry ghost realm. By failing to rid ourselves of the resentment and anger caused by greed, we can be born into the hell realm. Ignorance, having no wisdom, results in us being born into the animal realm. In both worldly teachings and in Buddhism there is truth and falsehood, justice and injustice, right and wrong, good and bad. An ignorant person cannot tell the difference between them. Intentional or unintentional, he or she often confuses false and truth, bad and good.

The Three Poisons are the biggest obstacles to our attainment of enlightenment. Buddhism, especially the Zen School, advocates starting our practice from the root, the mind. To start from this root, we need to sever our greed, anger and ignorance.

These three physical, four verbal and three mental deeds comprise the Ten Good Conducts. If we are filial to and care for our parents, respect and serve our teachers and elders, and are compassionate without any killing and practice the Ten Good Conducts, we will be regarded as good people by society. However, we still cannot be called “good men and good women” in the Buddhist sense because the criterion for this are higher than just these four principles. Thus, it is not easy for us to achieve even the basic standards.