liberating living beings

A Buddhist practice of rescuing animals, birds, fish and so forth that are destined for slaughter or that are permanently caged. They are released to a new physical and spiritual life. The practice exemplifies the fundamental Buddhist teaching of compassion for all living beings.

A disciple of the Buddha must maintain a mind of kindness and cultivate the practice of liberating beings. He should reflect thus: 'All male beings have been my father and all females have been my mother. There is not a single being who has not given birth to me during my previous lives, hence all beings of the Six Destinies are my parents. Therefore, when a person kills and eats any of these beings, he thereby slaughters my parents. Furthermore, he kills a body that was once my own, for all elemental earth and water previously served as part of my body and all elemental fire and wind have served as my basic substance. Therefore, I shall always cultivate the practice of liberating beings and in every life be reborn in the eternally-abiding Dharma and teach others to liberate beings as well.'

Whenever a Bodhisattva sees a person preparing to kill an animal, he should devise a skilful method to rescue and protect it, freeing it from its suffering and difficulties... (BNS I 162)

In China this practice was made popular by the Venerable Jr-Yi (see entry) and has continued to the present day.

Developing our Compassion by Liberating Living Beings

"Once a month at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, we liberate animals destined for slaughter. We purchase them from the wholesalers, bring them to some appropriate place, and let them go free. We recite mantras, sutras, and praises on their behalf, so that they can hear them, and so that the merit of our recitation can be transferred to them. This traditional Buddhist practice, called 'liberating living beings', has always been praised and honored by the sages and high masters.

"By liberating living beings, we also nurture compassion in our hearts. By not killing, we cultivate compassion. In letting living creatures go, we also cultivate compassion. The compassion in our hearts grows greater every day until it becomes as great as that of the greatly compassionate Bodhisattva Observer of the World's Sounds (Avalokiteshvara).

"Bodhisattva Observer of the World's Sounds did not kill living beings; she always liberated them, and so she has a greatly compassionate heart. We should imitate the great kindness and compassion of Bodhisattva Observer of the World's Sounds and liberate living beings. The principle is very logical: if you liberate life, you increase your compassion. Liberating living beings is just liberating ourselves.. Why? Because we and all living beings are basically of one substance. We should think this way: 'If someone put me in a cage, wouldn't I be uncomfortable? Wouldn't I wish that someone would let me go? If I were put in jail, I would not want to stay there. Likewise, I don't like to see birds put in cages. This is because living beings and I are of one substance. Since I feel this way, I want to liberate living beings.

"What is more, you don't know which living being was related to you in a past life. One might have been your father, or your brother, or your sister. You can't know for sure. Perhaps they were your children, or your friends. Right now you haven't gained the use of the Heavenly Eye or the Penetration of Past Lives, and so you don't know what kinds of causes and effects belong to each animal; and yet, when you see these creatures, you feel uncomfortable and want to set them free. Setting them free isn't a stupid thing to do by any means, as some people might think. It is an aspect of cultivation. There isn't just one way to cultivate. There are eighty-four thousand Dharma-doors in cultivation, and every single door leads to the realization of supreme enlightenment. Liberating living beings is one of them. We must be careful not to think of it as 'stupid'. If we have that kind of attitude, we will obstruct our own cultivation.

"I just said that we wouldn't want to be locked in jail. I will tell you the truth. This is not an analogy. Your own body is, in fact, a cage! You are stuck in your own body and you are not yet able to get out of it. Until we have gained a very high level of spiritual practice and wisdom, we will remain stuck in the cages that are our bodies. Only then will we have liberated our own lives. That's the real liberation of the living. If we want to liberate our own lives, we must first liberate the lives of those little creatures. The one kind of liberating the living helps the other kind.

"Liberating living beings is a very important aspect of Buddhist practice. But if one hasn't understood this yet, one might think it a very ordinary affair. If we don't cultivate the one kind of liberating the living, we won't be able to obtain the other kind. There are many changes and transformations, and so don't look upon this lightly. Liberating the living brings returns on one's own efforts." (Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, PDS, May, 1985)

"Why do we liberate . . . [living creatures]? It is because if we ransom creatures that were destined to be slaughtered for food and then set them free, then they can live out their natural lifespans. This in turn enables the people who liberate the living to enjoy a long life.

"Why are there wars in the world? It is because our collective killing karma is so heavy. If in this life I kill you, in the next life, you'll kill me, and in the life after that I'll come back to kill you. This cycle of killing continues forever. People kill animals and in their next life they become animals. The animals which they once killed now return as people to claim revenge. This goes on and on. There is endless killing and bloodshed. When incidents of slaughter multiply until the resentment can no longer be contained, they explode into massive world wars, with the resultant huge massacres and horrendous destruction. On the battlefield, people are propelled by resentment and enmity that has accumulated during many lifetimes, and they go absolutely berserk, lashing out at one another like savages. 'You kill one person? I'll kill ten!' They take revenge on one another like that. Wars are the painful results of killing karma created in our past lives.

"Therefore, we liberate the living to diminish our killing karma. The more people engage in liberating the living, the less killing they will do. Wars will proportionately decrease. We who cultivate these compassionate practices do not oppose war: we just don't go to war. We don't kill but instead we set living creatures free. This is the true and ultimate way to eliminate war. It is also a gateway to long life and health and to the eradication of disasters and illnesses. The merit and virtue that one accumulates from liberating animals is boundless. It enables you to cause living beings to live out the full extent of their natural lifespans. In addition, you benefit personally because illnesses are averted. As a result you enjoy good health and are able to peacefully cultivate the Way.

"The purpose of liberating the living is to protect the lives of creatures. It is a Dharma-door that exemplifies the Buddha's compassion. Everyone should protect living creatures and not abuse or slaughter them." (FAS Ch8 76-77)

"In liberating the living
You yourself will live long.
Health, riches and blessings
Will descend upon you, never-ending."
(CL II 15)


1) Ch. fang sheng , 2) Skt. , 3) Pali , 4) Alternate Translations:

See also: living beings.

BTTS References: Sutra of Cause and Effect, pp. ?; DFS IX 1601-2; CL II 15, 59 (= BNS 20th minor); BNS I 162-5; FAS Ch8 76-77; RH 186-198; Hsuan Hua (Ven. Master), "Developing our Compassion by Liberating Living Beings," PDS, May, 1985; "To Atone for Killing Karma Liberate the Living Instead," VBS #147, Aug. 1982, pp. 13-17.


Lineage refers to the unbroken chains of enlightened masters stretching back to the Buddha Shakyamuni. These masters are the real foundation of the living tradition of Buddhist teaching and practice. True lineage insures that the Buddha's original message is preserved undistorted and in its essentials.

The most well-known, as perhaps the most important, of all Buddhist lineages are the Chan lineages (see Chan School), which begin with the transmission of the Mind Seal from the Buddha

Shakyamuni to the First Patriarch Mahakashyapa.

For further information, see Dharma-transmission.


1) Ch. dzung , fa-mai , 2) Skt. , 3) Pali , 4) Alternate Translations

See also: Chan School, Dharma-transmission.

living beings

Living beings refer to all creatures which possess life-force. Each individual living being comes into being as the resultant matrix of a variety of different causes and conditions.

"Even the smallest of ants is also a living being. The tiniest mosquito, too, is a living being. Even all the tiny germs and so forth are all living beings. Since this is the case, we should not look outwardly in our search to save living beings. Countless living beings for us to save can be found right within our own natures. Inside our own bodies there are countless living beings. Recent progress in the science of medicine gives proof to the fact that human beings are all like big bugs and within our bodies live countless smaller bugs. How many? No scientific method can be used to count them accurately. Why? Because they are countless! Who knows how many living beings are inside our blood, our flesh, and our internal organs? Why are there so many living beings? Some people even eat living beings! They eat the flesh of pigs, cows, sheep, fish, chickens, and ducks. When you eat the flesh of living beings, inside it are hidden the germs particular to that living being. When you eat it, that kind of living being's organisms go into you. Whichever kind of meat you eat the most of, you have a majority of that kind of living being's germs. That makes it very easy to become a member of the family of that kind of living being. You turn into one of his clansmen; because you have causal conditions with him that are just too deep, you can't get away from him. If you eat mostly pork, you have an opportunity to turn into a pig. If you eat mostly beef, you may turn into a cow.

"'I eat rice. Will I turn into a plant?' you ask.

"No, because rice is not generally considered sentient in the way that animals are. If you eat sentient beings, you can turn into that kind of living being. If you eat insentient things, you will not turn into plants or grasses or the like, but you will be truly helping the wisdom-life of your Dharma-body. And so don't worry about turning into a rice-plant if you eat rice.

"Sentient beings have blood and breath, and when you eat them, you turn into that kind of living being. You could even say that by not eating a particular kind of living being, you are saving that living being. If you do not eat beef, you are saving cows. If you do not eat mutton, you are saving sheep. By not eating pork, you are saving pigs. . . ."

There are various categories of living beings, including lists of four, ten, and twelve kinds. The Four Kinds of Living beings are those born from: 1) wombs, 2) eggs, 3) moisture, and 4) transformation.


1) Ch. jung sheng (you ching) , 2) Skt. sattva, 3) Pali satta, vavatthana, 4) Alternate Translations: being, creature.

See also: liberating living beings, Ten Dharma-Realms.

BTTS References: EDR V 136-7; VS 40-41; SS IV 36-38; SS VI 165-180; UW 7-8; FAS-VP 60-61; DFS IV 789-790.

lotus posture

When sitting in the full-lotus posture,
I vow that living beings
will have solid good roots
And attain the Unmoving Ground.
(FAS Ch11 127)

"When you sit down (to meditate), you take your left leg and put it on top of your right thigh, and then take your right leg and put it on top of your left thigh. That's the full lotus posture. It is also called the jewelled vajra sitting position. It is also called the Bodhi position. Although there are many names, they all refer to this one position. If you sit in this position it is easy to enter samadhi. It is also easier not to doze off. On the other hand, you can also sleep in this position. However, if you don't want to sleep, you don't have to. Why? It is because everything is made from the mind alone.

"When you sit, your body should be held upright. Don't lean back with your neck cocked backwards. Don't lean backwards or forwards or slouch to the right or left. Sit straight but not stiff as a board. Don't sit so stiffly that it seems you are hemmed in on all sides by stiff boards or iron bars. I say this because I know there are certain people who, when they sit, immediately sit up as stiff as boards. They pose like wooden statues. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to maintain yourself like that. That is not the way to subdue your body and mind. Subduing the body and mind should be very natural. Don't display some special style. . . . When meditation is done naturally, there is not any force at all about it. You just sit there very relaxed, and you feel quite comfortable. . . .

"When you are sitting, you want to make your breath even. For instance, you don't want to make a point of taking very deep breaths . . . like a cow. . . . On the other hand you shouldn't breathe like a mosquito--so shallowly that its barely audible.... You breathe in when you need to breathe in, and you breathe out when you need to breathe out. It's very natural and you make your mind pure and don't have any false thinking.

"Put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. That way the saliva in your mouth will flow directly into your stomach. That is why it is best for people who meditate to refrain from smoking, drinking, and taking other intoxicants. Don't rely on external conditions to aid you. If you don't smoke and you don't drink, then your saliva won't be scorched and bitter, and you will be able to swallow it into your stomach, where the saliva helps in harmonizing the energy and the blood.

"When you are sitting, don't be afraid of the pain. Perhaps you can sit for half an hour before the pain starts, but when it does begin you should be patient. It is at that point when patience is of the utmost importance. The more it hurts, the more you are patient, just as if you were raising a child. You should say, "Come on, child, don't cry. Wait a bit and I will give you some candy." You can tell your legs, "Don't lose your temper; don't get angry. Wait a bit until I've mastered this sitting, and then you won't hurt anymore. Then we will have ended birth and death." Tell your legs that the very best thing to do would be to go to sleep and not get angry. . . . When your legs hurt, you should bear it, and then pretty soon you will be able to sit for an hour, two hours, three hours. You will sit there in a state of unmoving suchness, and there in that unmoving state several hours will pass very quickly. That means you have experienced a little bit of 'light ease', and you should continue with your cultivation. If you continue with your cultivation, then you can obtain genuine samadhi power.

"Some people are really worried. . . . They say, 'Well I'd like to investigate Chan, but I can't sit in full lotus posture, so it is useless.' Don't worry; if you can't sit in full lotus you can sit in half lotus. That's putting your left leg on top of your right thigh. Why does the left leg go on the right leg? . . . The left leg is yang and the right leg is yin. The left leg represents heaven and the right leg represents earth. And so heaven is on top and the earth is on the bottom. You can sit that way. And if you can't manage half lotus, you can sit in any way that is comfortable. Subdue your body and mind. Cause the body and mind not to lose their tempers, so that no matter how long you sit there is no fear of pain, and they don't get angry. . . ." (TD 66)

To sit still for a single moment,
Is worth more than building as many pagodas of the seven gems
As there are grains of sand in the Ganges River.
(TD 67)

On Sitting in Full Lotus Posture--An Historical Account

"A long time ago in China, there was a monk who recited Sutras for dead people. He always recited Sutras for others' sake, but not for his own sake. He created merit and virtue for other people, but not for himself. One day he came back from creating merit and virtue for others. It was dark on his way back home. While he went through a village, a dog barked at him. It woke some people, and he heard a woman inside a house say, 'Do you hear the dog barking so loudly? Maybe there is a thief. We'd better take a look.' Her husband replied, 'It cannot be.' The dog then barked more fiercely, so he looked outside through the window.

"'Is that a thief?' his wife asked.

"'No, it's only a Sutra reciting ghost!'

"When the monk heard him call him a Sutra-reciting ghost instead of a Sutra-reciting god, he felt unhappy in his heart. 'Ha! What's the matter with reciting the Sutras? How dare you call me a Sutra-reciting ghost? If I were a real ghost, I'd give you a headache.' And so he had such thoughts as he passed through the village.

"As he was walking across a bridge it started to rain, so he quickly ran down under the bridge to get out of the rain. He had heard that if one sat in full-lotus posture the result was not bad, and so he tried it out. . . . Suddenly he saw two ghosts. They didn't bother him; instead they bowed to him.

"They said, 'This golden stupa (i.e. reliquary monument, pagoda) must contain the Buddha's sarira (i.e., relics). We should respect it and bow to it.'

"Because he sat in full-lotus position, he looked like a golden stupa in the eyes of those two ghosts. The monk saw the two ghosts bow to him. He probably also saw ghosts when he 'took across' dead people. . . . He was not afraid of them. After sitting in full-lotus position for a while, he felt pain. It became so intense that he could no longer endure it, even if he clenched his teeth. And so he put down the leg on top and sat in the half-lotus position instead. When the two ghosts raised their heads from bowing, they were surprised: 'Why has this golden stupa become a silver stupa?' The full-lotus position is a golden stupa, and the half-lotus position is a silver stupa, viewed from the eyes of ghosts.

"One ghost said, 'Inside a golden stupa or a silver stupa, there are still the Buddha's sarira, and so we should still keep on bowing to eradicate our karmic offenses.!' Therefore, they kept on bowing to him.

"Probably he overheard the conversation between these two ghosts. Yet after another hour he could no longer endure the pain from sitting in half-lotus position. Because he was used to reciting Sutras for dead people to make his living, he couldn't endure sitting in full-lotus for half an hour and then half-lotus for another hour. And so he put down his other leg and just sat casually.

"When the two ghosts stood up from bowing, they saw him and said, 'Now this is neither a golden stupa nor a silver stupa. It's only a pile of mud!' They wanted to hit him and kick him.

"The monk was so scared that he quickly went back to the full-lotus position. When the ghosts were just about to hit him, they saw the mud pile had become a golden stupa again! They said, 'This is certainly an inconceivable state; we had better quickly bow. And so the ghosts continued to bow.

"After this experience, the monk didn't dare put down his legs. No matter how painful his legs felt, he endured the pain. . . . He sat in meditation and recited the Buddha's name until the next morning. Then his two legs didn't hurt any more. He thought, 'I was called a Sutra-reciting ghost before, because I recited Sutras for others. But when I sat in full-lotus position, I was a golden stupa. And when I sat in half-lotus position, I was a silver stupa. But when I sat causally, I was just a pile of mud. When one sits in full-lotus position, even ghosts come to pay their respects. This is really inconceivable!'

"After this experience, he no longer dared merely to recite Sutras for others, but resolved to sit in full-lotus to help his own cultivation. After cultivating for a period of time, he got enlightened and was certified as such. After his enlightenment, he realized that the source of his enlightenment was the two ghosts who had forced him to resolve to cultivate. And so he gave up his former name and replaced it with a very strange one: 'Pressured-by-Ghosts'. Thereafter, everyone called him Meditation Master Pressured-by-Ghosts. . . ." (FAS Ch11 127-131)


1) Ch. lyan-hwa dzwo , shwang/jye jya-fu dzwo , 2) Skt. padma-asana, 3) Pali paduma-asana.

See also: meditation.

BTTS References: TD 63-67; FAS Ch11 127-131, 244-245; SS I 98-99; LY I 70-75; DFS IX 1716-17, 1722-1727.

Lotus Sutra

See Dharma Flower (Lotus) Sutra.


The single word 'love' can be used in many different ways. Buddhism teaches that it is extremely important to distinguish among its various meanings. 'Love' as craving or sexual desire is one of the major causes of our suffering and continued rebirth. On the other hand 'love' as totally selfless benevolence and compassion is one of the essential qualities of the minds of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. For further information on the latter, see the listing for compassion. The passages that follow speak of love as craving or sexual desire.

The Sutra in Forty-Two Sections says of love:

People who cherish love and desire do not see the Way. It is just as when you stir clear water with your hand; those who stand beside it cannot see their reflections. People who are immersed in love and desire have turbidity in their minds, and because of it they cannot see the Way . . . . When the filth of love and desire disappears, the Way can be seen. (S42 40)

. . . not satisfied with one delicious helping, [they] lick the honey off the blade of the knife, and so they cut their tongues. (S42 48)

Nine Analogies for Love

"1) Love is like an unpaid debt. . . .

2) Love is like a rakshasa-ghost woman. . . .

3) Love is like a wonderful lotus-flower whose roots are hiding a poisonous snake. . . .

4) Love is like a disagreeable food. . . .

5) Love is like a prostitute. . . .

6) Love is like a mleccha [i.e., 'barbarian']. . . .

7) Love is like an infected sore. . . .

8) Love is like a destructive wind. . . .

9) Love is like a comet. . . ." (FAS Ch9 32-33)


1) Ch. ai , tan ai , ai yu , 2) Skt. trsna, 3) Pali tanha, 4) Alternate Translations: thirsting, craving, sexual desire.

See also: compassion, Twelvefold Conditioned Arising--karmic activity, Five Desires--sex.

BTTS References: S42 40,48; FAS Ch9 32-34.