799: A Brief Description of the Merits Resulting from Building a Buddhist Temple, According to the Sutras

“Praise be unto His Eminence Vajra Guru Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche, His Holiness the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, Lineage Gurus, Dharma Protector Achi, the Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. Greetings, Dharma brothers and honored believers! Today I would like to share with everyone a description, based on what was recorded in the sutras, of the merits produced when constructing a Buddhist temple.

“The Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish contains a story about a person who, in a previous lifetime, had gone to a temple and seen a statue of a Buddha mounted on a huge elephant. Upon noticing a hole in the elephant statue, the man filled it with mud. Ever afterward, he was reincarnated again and again into households of great position and wealth, and was part of just such a prosperous family at the time of the Buddha’s birth. When the man was born, a large, golden elephant suddenly galloped over to his family’s storehouse, and its excrement was gold. The elephant constantly followed him wherever he went. The king at the time wanted this elephant very much, so one time he had it snatched and taken to his palace. To everyone’s surprise, the elephant quite naturally vanished from the palace and then reappeared at the man’s home. As it turned out, this elephant had been born of his causes, conditions, and good fortune, so no one could take it from him no matter how hard they tried. Later, he followed the Buddha, was ordained, and attained the fruition of an arhat. The elephant kept by his side, attracting the attention of a great many people, and grew to be an inconvenience. Then the Buddha taught him that if he were to tell the elephant, ‘I have attained the fruition of an arhat, so I don’t need you anymore; you may go,’ three times, then the elephant would naturally leave. Sure enough, no sooner had he finished saying those words than the elephant disappeared. After merely repairing a small hole in the mount of that Buddha statue, this had been his karmic effect. So, it goes without saying that the merits resulting from constructing an entire temple would be even greater.

“There is a story in the Miscellaneous Treasures Sutra about a person with supernatural powers who saw a monastic with only seven days left to live. He told the monastic, ‘In seven days, you are going to die.’ A week later, however, the monastic was still alive. Perplexed, the man with supernatural powers asked, ‘Did you do anything special?’ The monastic replied, ‘I didn’t do anything at all! I merely repaired some holes in the temple’s walls.’ After hearing this, the man shook his head and sighed in praise: ‘A temple truly is the most deeply rooted in the fields of fortune; it can even extend the lifespan of a monk who should have died.’

“The famous Dharma Protector Śakra, Great King of Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, was reborn there due to the merits produced by constructing a Buddhist temple. After Mahākāśyapa entered Nirvana, a woman aspired to build a temple as an offering to him, and thirty-two other people helped her complete it. The resulting merits caused her to become the Great King of Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, and her thirty-two helpers to become kings there, too. Thus, Trāyastriṃśa Heaven is ruled by thirty-three kings; hence why it is called the ‘Heaven of the Thirty-Three.’

“It is written in the Sutra of the Total Annihilation of the Dharma that in the future, when this world is burnt in the flames of the kalpa fires, everything on Earth will burn except the places of the Three Jewels in which temples have been constructed. Obviously, building a temple produces great merits.

“In the Sutra Foretelling the Consequences of Good and Evil Karma, it is written that building a temple or a shrine as an offering to the Buddha and the monastics can bring ten kinds of auspicious merits:

1. Peace and bliss in body and mind, for all time, and protection from unexpected horrors.

2. Frequent reception of the finest and softest of beds and bedclothes.

3. A pretty appearance with solemn, dignified clothes, as well as a body that is often clean, fragrant, and pure.

4. If born in the Human Realm, then being born as a king, a king’s minister, or into a prominent family, and enjoyment of success in all endeavors and a fulfillment of all wishes.

5. If reborn as a Chakravartin, free and unhindered rule of all under the Four Heavens.

6. If reborn in the Human or Heaven Realms, feeling at ease with the Five Desires.

7. Being reborn in the Heavens of Six Desires according to one’s aspirations.

8. Being reborn in the Heavens of Forms according to one’s aspirations.

9. Being reborn in the Heavens of Formlessness according to one’s aspirations.

10. Accomplishment in one’s aspiration to cultivate the Four Results, and even in attaining Buddhahood.

“Shakyamuni Buddha once said, ‘During the evil time of the Turbidities, I will appear in the forms of written words and Buddhist temples. People who read or see these words and temples should develop faith and respect as if they were paying obeisance to the Buddha. Building temples will enable countless sentient beings to be liberated from reincarnation; thus, making offerings to these written words and temples is tantamount to making offerings to me, and will result in an infinite wellspring of merits.’

“Furthermore, in the Sutra of Vast Precepts it is recorded that building a sutra hall or a temple produces the largest amount of genuine merits and good fortune. Erecting a temple can eliminate all karmic hindrances, because it is the true place on which the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind rely, as do the Three Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. It is also a place in which practitioners propagate the Right Dharma, thereby transmitting the pure, uninterrupted lineages of Buddhism which can help sentient beings to be liberated from the suffering sea of life and death. Establishing such a place brings countless merits. In the sutra it is written that the Buddhas and Tathagatas possess infinite auspicious merits, boundless great wisdom, and immeasurable Samadhi for liberation, so any sentient beings who aspire to construct a Buddha statue, pagoda, or temple, will likewise receive countless merits and even be able to attain Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi.

“The famous Diamond Sutra was spoken at Jetavana. You might not know the origin of this park. In Sravasti, during the time of the Buddha, there once lived a wealthy elder who was extremely kind and charitable. Because he so enjoyed helping people who were poverty-stricken and downtrodden, he was nicknamed Anathapindika, ‘the feeder of orphans and the helpless.’ When he heard Shakyamuni Buddha speak the Dharma in Magadha, he was aspired with joy, took refuge in the Buddha, and implored Him to journey to Sravasti to expound the Dharma. At the time Shakyamuni Buddha already had 1,200 disciples, so He told the elder, ‘Go back to Sravasti and find a pure park. If it is big enough to accommodate 1,200 people, then I will go there.’ Very happy to hear this, the elder returned to Sravasti and got to work trying to find just such a pure park to serve as a place in which people could listen to the Dharma. After searching for a long time, he finally found one that not only fit his needs, but was absolutely gorgeous, pure, and vast in size. He heard that this park belonged to Jetakumāra, Crown Prince of Sravasti, so the elder sought him out to ask if he could buy his land. First he praised the Buddha’s merits in front of the prince, and told him that he needed to purchase his park so that he could invite Shakyamuni Buddha to Sravasti to speak the Dharma. However, this park was Jetakumāra’s favorite, so the prince had no desire whatsoever to sell it to him. Nevertheless, because he knew this elder was quite well known and influential in his country, Jetakumāra felt uncomfortable refusing. He therefore thought of a way out of the awkward predicament, and said to the elder, ‘If you can pave the ground of the entire park with a 5-inch-thick floor made of gold, then I will sell the park to you.’ The prince thought that surely this elder would give up his desire to purchase the land after hearing its sale would come with such severe strings attached. Incredibly, the elder, who took it very seriously, was extremely happy to hear this, and immediately went home to open up his family’s storehouse. Using elephants, he hauled cart after cart of gold over to Jetakumāra’s park and began to pave it over in earnest. Piece by piece, the land was almost completely covered with gold. News of this astonished the prince, but he actually was profoundly moved by the elder’s sincerity. Jetakumāra thought to himself, Could I not rejoice in his merits with him? The prince then gave the park to the elder without accepting any gold in return. Because the park was established by both of them working together, it was named ‘Jetavana.’

“As quarters to house the monastics began to be built in Jetavana, the Buddha sent the Venerable Sariputta over to supervise the project. With his Divine Sight, Sariputta suddenly foresaw that because of the good fortune obtained by the elder for constructing this Dharma center, a palace in heaven had already been built for him. The Venerable Sariputta even lent his Divine Sight to the elder so that he could see how magnificent his well-deserved future palace would be. Later, in this very park, Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the words that were later written down in many important sutras, including the Amitabha Sutra, the Surangama Sutra, and the Diamond Sutra; all of those teachings were bestowed in Jetavana. Now, a few millennia later, we can still read and benefit from these very sutras. You can be sure that whenever any of us does this, the elder, Anathapindika, simultaneously receives his good fortune, too.

“After telling you all of this, it occurs to me that we all should feel very ashamed; the way we treat our guru pales in comparison to how highly those people revered theirs. Because of our lack of respect and failure to make offerings, His Eminence Vajra Guru Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche has had to work extremely hard. Perhaps not all of us possess financial resources of the same level as the elder’s, but at least we should try to emulate his sincerity, because it was only by way of his utter commitment and earnestness that he was able to move Jetakumāra into giving him his favorite park to serve as a Dharma center. Thus, this is the sort of utmost sincerity necessary to move and affect others, so that they will come together with us to carry out this great Buddhist construction project. After all, such an endeavor not only requires money and manpower, but the fulfilment of all sorts of other conditions as well; only then can such auspicious merits be produced to perfect completion. I pray that our future temple will be the same as Jetavana in its ability to benefit and influence countless generations of sentient beings. Thank you all for listening.”

Respectfully written by Huicheng Drolma, Group 1, on May 8th, 2016

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Updated on September 26, 2016