After coming to the United States, H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III gave many discourses to His disciples. In 2000 He gave two very important dharma discourses over a two-day period explaining that “It will be fruitless if one does not listen to discourses in accordance with the dharma expounded in these discourses.” After explaining the many sources of discourses and warning the students to be careful that some dharma lessons are Mara’s teachings and some slander the Buddhas and may lead to devolvement and not accomplishment, His Holiness offered criteria on how to distinguish between the different types and what should be listened to and what should be avoided. His Holiness also offered the following instructions known as the “Seven Dharmas” on how disciples should listen, stressing that once, even several times, are not enough:
- The first time you should listen attentively to get the basic concepts.
- The second time is to see what you missed the first time and listen to the questions raised by fellow students. You should know the names of the people asking the questions and what questions were raised.
- Only after the third time you should grab a notebook and take notes and record some of what you hear. The students who cannot understand the original Chinese may start taking notes the first time they hear a translation. This dispensation is because it is very difficult for them to even hear a translation once and even then the translation may not be complete or entirely correct. By having notes they can then ask the translator what they did not hear correctly or understand and often the translator will remember more of what the Buddha spoke and explain the meaning of certain obscure Chinese terms, idioms, and historical stories that are not common knowledge to non-Chinese people. However, the translator is not allowed to explain the meaning of the dharma, unless his/her level of realization is very high and he/she has been so certified by the United International World Buddhism Association Headquarters (UIWBAH). In fact, only those translators who have provided approved statements as to their qualifications and limitations are allowed to provide translations or even read the written translations of others. This is very important. During this step both Chinese and non-Chinese speakers should grasp the theme of the discourse in detail. An alternative method is to listen to a reading of preliminary translations of these discourses, but the same caveats apply as the translation is probably not completely correct.
- The fourth time (second for non-Chinese speakers), you check your notes and correct what is incorrect and augment them with what you missed.
- The fifth time you discuss your notes with your fellow students, noting who attended the discussion. You may not distribute your notes to other students, but you use them and your discussion to prepare several questions about the content of the discourse. Your questions may be based on items you think you understand or on items you do not know the answer to.
- You debate with other students using your questions. You must write a summary of what you learned from this discourse. It is essential that you put your understanding into writing. Steps five and six may be reversed depending on circumstances.
- You take what you learned from the debate and listening to the discourses and prepare your own “talk” in your own words on what you would say to propagate the teachings of this discourse to others. Whether you actually do this will depend on your level of realization and if you have the authority to teach as determined by the examination process monitored by the United International World Buddhism Association Headquarters (UIWBAH). This last requirement was not part of the dharma discourse given by His Holiness in 2000, but is true now. We can and should talk about our experiences with the dharma and how it perfumes our lives and enables us to help other living beings.
The Buddha Master stated that it is not correctly “listening to the dharma” unless you follow all these seven steps and you may need to listen many more times to complete all seven steps. For some it should be a Twenty-one or more Dharma, not Seven Dharma system. This system enables the disciple to “mine” the dharma discourse in detail for all of its principles, concepts, and sometimes subtle meanings.
The Xuanfa Five Vidya University as part of its Seminary Program sponsors Seminars or retreats from time to time to enable non-Chinese students to hear multiple on the spot translations or readings from preliminary translations. These classes are usually part of a meditation retreat and are open to both Chinese and English speakers. Those Chinese speakers who prefer to not listen to the simultaneous English translations, listen in one room while the English-speakers and bi-lingual students listen in another. They take notes, revise their notes, and prepare a list of questions. They come together for the debate and discussion that follows.
If the participants choose to take this seminar for credit they will need to follow up with recording each week in a journal how they applied the principles they learned from the discourse(s) in their daily life and cultivation. At the end of the ten or five week course, the students will submit their summaries of what they learned (revised to include their journal experiences, if appropriate) and their written discourse on how they would teach what they learned to others. They will also be asked to take a final exam writing short essays on several questions selected from those asked by the students in steps five or six. They may pick the questions that they themselves asked or others. This process cannot be perfect until we have approved transcripts in both Chinese and English of the discourses and course facilitators with a high enough level of accomplishment to evaluate and grade them. However, until those karmic conditions exist, this is still a worthwhile exercise to gain a better understanding of the principles and concepts that the Buddha teaches and is consistent with the Buddha Master’s teachings.
Those who have participated to date have been most enthusiastic about what they have learned. Until you can explain what you know to others, you don’t really know it.
To date the following Seminars have been offered or are scheduled:
XFVU I-001 Correct Way to Listen to Dharma Discourses
XFVU I-002 Opening the Crown, Impermanence, Karmic Affinity, and Dharma
XFVU I-003 Sickness & Death
XFVU I-004 Differences between Esoteric and Exoteric Buddhism
XFVU I-005 Supernormal Powers
XFVU I-012 Learning from Buddha
XFVU I-017 Initiation & Empowerment
XFVU I-022 Buddhist Concepts & Principles