Conscience and the Buddha-Mind

Master Jingzong; English translation by Foxin, edited by Jingtu

An honest man speaks from his conscience. An Amitabha-reciter, though, speaks not only from conscience but from his Buddha-mind. In either case, it is not easy and requires courage; it may even offend people. This is because the consciences of worldly people are askew and their Buddha-minds are muddled. They are not accustomed to words spoken conscientiously, from the Buddha-mind.

Conscience by nature is moral and just. When two individuals are arguing, both may be offended by honest remarks. People in general are opportunistic. They side with the one who dominates the narrative, clinging to the powerful to oppress the weak. There are others who speak up for the feeble simply for the sake of supporting the weak. Sometimes, this may not be fair either.

A conscionable person does not necessarily choose sides but stands her moral ground. She may thus please neither side, an inevitable consequence of following her conscience. Rarely will one not conform to and flatter the majority. Shakyamuni Buddha advises us to follow the middle path and avoid extremes. Conscience is the middle path, but it is only human to be attached to one extreme or the other. No wonder there are few takers for ethical and forthright utterances from the conscience.

It’s even more difficult to speak from the Buddha-mind. When we urge our old, ailing parents to accept the deliverance of Amitabha Buddha by reciting his name, we are often misunderstood as wishing them an early death. It makes them unhappy and gets us reprimanded. If a son cannot speak honestly from his Buddha-mind to someone as close as his father, what can we expect from others?

All sentient beings harbor deluded views, so it is exceedingly difficult to communicate to them words of the Buddha-mind, which directly pierce their deluded thoughts. Such people are not just a few. When they form a great majority, the power of delusion can silence those who understand the mind and words of the Buddha. Under such circumstances, the latter may choose to be worldly wise and stay silent, like cicadas in wintry weather.

It is imperative, whether we speak from conscience or the Buddha-mind, to have the courage to retain our original, conscientious mind.

Words of conscience are effective only on those who do so. Those who have lost their original conscience would simply be annoyed. Words spoken from the Buddha-mind are beneficial only to those whose Buddha-minds are awakened. The deluded and confused hear nothing. In most instances, we can only stay silent. It is said that sages speak little, as they are hard put to find receptive audiences.

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