Sunday, August 31, 2008

Enlightened Beings "wear special lenses"

Recently I learned from a Christian - yes, a Christian - and he told me that enlightened beings such as Bodhisattvas wear special eye lenses. That was the first time I heard of it being explained that way, so I shall share it here. Even though some of his key concepts of Buddhism is wrong and mixed-up, I do admit some of it is correct. And it shows he has deeper understanding of Budhism than even some Buddhists themselves. And here you are, I am actually learning something from a non-Buddhist.

It is said that when the student is "mentally" ready, the guru will guide us in all sorts of ways (including through other persons). It is not just our own karma that enabled us to meet our guru. There is also the element of blessings from the guru or Buddha that enabled us to meet him. When the Buddha achieved enlightenment, he surveyed the world for those with "little dusts in their eyes". The intention was so that he could go to these persons to teach them the dharma. That was the Buddha's vow to teach to all sentient beings. So, whoever said that it is due to our own karma 100% that we are able to meet with our guru (or gurus) is definitely not correct. No matter how good our karma is, we will not meet with our guru if not for the kindness of the Buddha. The Buddha manifests throughout the six realms as gurus to teach sentient beings. What I have learned is that there are many factors that come into play before we are able to meet people who can teach us the dharma - not only any good karma, but specifically creating good karma in relation to meeting the right teacher, and the Buddha is of course, kind to everyone without biasness. But still there is the element of kindness of the Buddha that comes into play. Not just our good karma.

Back to the Christian. While a guru-student relationship is not established with this Christian, nevertheless his explanation of the "special eye lenses" has upped one level my understanding of the dharma. When he mentioned it, suddenly something just "clicked". With those lenses, it will enable the enlightened being to view the ultimate nature of all things and phenomena. And it will also enable him to view its conventional reality. Another way of explaining - the lens to view emptiness, as well as to view forms, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. Or, lens to view Nirvana, at the same time, to view Samsara. So, with this example of "special lenses", we can understand the Prajna Paramita Sutra at least theoritically. In the Sutra, there is mentioned of the Buddha saving sentient beings, but on the other, he doesnot save anyone. Hopefully you will understand this Sutra better with the example of the "special lense".

And this "special lense" does not result in a dichotomous , dual perception. There is no-dualistic views for enlightened beings, but they understand the way things are. They have cut off all dualistic views. Yet, the "special lense" eliminates the conceptualisations of "both" samsara and nirvana and "neither" samsara nor nirvana as separate concepts. It also eliminates the concept of both samsara and nirvana as combined concept.

Now, ...does England Optical make such special lenses? :)

The real "merdeka"

This year our beloved nation celebrates her 51st year of independence. Yet, my body and mind donot feel the slightest liberation at all. Maybe this is due to my interpretation of the word "liberation". In my personal opinion, the real "merdeka" that I am going to have is the time I achieve freedom from samsara. Yeah! That will be the day someone can shout "Malaysia Boleh!". Do I get a Datukship for achieving that? Heeheehee... I am just kidding, I won't achieve it anyway, if I still crave for such titles....I am so bad.... :)

Anyway, who is the person that inhibits us from achieving our spiritual freedom? Well, before he achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, the Buddha got a shock when he saw for the first time who his "inhibitor" or "colonialist" was. This person "looked exactly like him, smell like him, walked like him, talked like him" but he didnot think he was this person he saw. This "colonialist" conquers the five aggregates and subjected him and us to all kinds of delusions and karma.

But when the Buddha realised that this "person" who "looked like him, smell like him, walked like him and talked like him" was but only a projection and a label he had imputed, the "colonialist" disappeared. And he realised his SPIRITUAL LIBERATION. This reminds me of the analogy of the rope in the darkness, that a person had mistakenly thought of as a snake. Actually the snake was not even there. So, similarly, this person that we thought is ourselves that "looked like me, smell like me, walk like me, and talk like me" is similar to the imaginary "snake", we will be able to see through our distorted concepts of ourselves as empty, we will achieve the real spiritual MERDEKA.

But it is not that easy, is it? So, here's wishing every one, every sentient beings - May ALL be able to see through their own projections and conceptualisations and realised the real MERDEKA!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Long Life Prayer for Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen

Using the meaning of his names ("Khenchen" = Great Preceptor; "Konchog" = Three Jewels; "Gyaltsen" = Victory Banner; "Rinpoche" = Precious One) as some of the forummers in e-sangha have translated to me earlier, and using the titles of his books (Prayer Flags, In Search of Stainless Ambrosia, Garland of Mahamudra, Great Kagyu Masters) this is a long life prayer which I have composed today for Khenchen Rinpoche. I hope it will be of some help to make him happy! But I apologise if the prayer is not properly composed. It's just a simple one, nothing fancy. I sincerely offer it to him. I hope he likes it.

In the village of Tsari, prayer flags are flown and victory banners raised,

Searching for the stainless ambrosia for sentient beings,

You honour the great kagyu masters with a garland of mahamudra,

Great Preceptor, You who is equal to the three jewels, please live long for eons and eons!

composed on 26.8.2008 (10.45pm) which is 25th day of the Tibetan calendar, meaning it's Guru Puja day. I didnot purposely choose this day to write it, so it was so auspicious to make one of the greatest offering to a Guru (even though I didnot go for the puja).

One close friend of mine of many years described this longlife prayer I composed as simply "Beautiful!"

Link to Khenchen's biography:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Benefitting our living and departed ones

Today I really feel like Dzambala, the Tibetan protector that grants wealth or Chai Sin, the Chinese God of Properity ... well, at least to my mother... hahahaha! She has always been lucky with my numbers. Every year she would strike my numbers at least once a year, if I am not mistaken. Today my numbers came out first price in the Pan Malaysian pool 4 digit game and she won a little bit of money. So, I feel like I am Dzambala to her. And I am happy to be able to do that as I know she loves me very much. Actually that is the duty of true bodhisattvas - making people happy and granting wishes to others. Yes, you start by helping or making one person happy, and then two persons, and then three, and it increases until you are able to help all sentient beings.

Actually I think she won the numbers because my wife and I had donated to the Zhu Lin Si temple to do the Avatamsaka Sutra Chanting and Yen Kou Prayers. They do this to transfer the merits to our departed ones. On the last day, when they burnt the "papers" on which they wrote our dedications, I visualised the smoke that comes out of the burnt pile as offerings and that my "ancestors" have actually received them. I then think strongly that they actually felt happy and are "liberated" from their whatever miserable conditions they may be in. It doesnot matter if they had been reborn as Gods in heaven; it's still samsara! I remember that one Buddhist Master once said that when people transfer merits during these kind of religious prayers, if the descendent is sincere, the ancestor will actually benefit from it wherever he/she may be reborn. If reborned as a human, he/she will suddenly get a boon (such as strike numbers).

The next day, actually yesterday, I got a call from my in-laws telling me my numbers came out first price. As I don't buy numbers, I didnot win anything at all. But my mother did. Well, it could possibly be that her previous lives' descendent had transfered merits to her. And it's not necessarily me. You get what I mean? But it could also possibly due to the act of doing the transference of merits, that my parents in this life get the benefit too as she is the living one representing my non-living ancestors. Does my words make any sense? Ignore me if it doesnot. Hahaha... !

But does it have anything to do with the transference of merits from the prayers to my ancestors and the power of puja? Who knows?! Whatever it is, I am happy to be able to repay her kindness in this way, even though it is as yet inadequate for her immeasureable kindness to me. So, do you now believe in transference of merits? You better!

:) Cheers!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Crashing Plane

There are 2 kinds of death – i) slow death & ii) sudden or quick death. In the first case, time is on our side. If we know we are dying soon, and our doctor had given us 6 more months to live, then at least, we have that much time to settle whatever “unfinished business” we have. But, in the case of sudden death, there will be no time to finish “unfinished business”. In the case of heart attack, death comes in a matter of seconds. If we are in a plane that is going to crash, we may have a few minutes to a few hours, depending what caused the plane to unable to function.

It is this latter example of a plane that is going to crash in a matter of minutes that one Christian “friend” of mine made a particular comment to me last week. We were not exactly discussing religion but our discussion diverted to talking about Christianity and Buddhism. He was doing more of the talking. I kept quiet most of the time as I do not know anything, but I am very surprised that he knows more about Buddhism than many Buddhists do. Ultimately, however, what kept him as a Christian are his wrong concepts of Buddhism, in particular that Buddhism is unable to help in life and death situation. He said that in Buddhism we have many doctrines such as karma, Noble Eightfold Path, Bodhisattva Path, Four Noble Truths, Emptiness, etc. He said that if you are in a plane that is going to crash, all these aforementioned teachings would not be able to save you. At that moment, he said, only “the divine” such as God can help. He said all our Buddhist knowledge would not be able to save us if we are in that plane that is fast going down. In that panic situation, most people will just pray to God. He said that in that desperate situation to continue living, only God can save us. If we imagine ourselves in that situation constantly, he said, ultimately all the Buddhist doctrines will remain as doctrines – incapable of Divine Grace like God’s. But he did not explain to me his concept of God because even within Christianity (according to different denominations or church), there is a wide range of what this word “God” means. [note: “God” is not only referring to Brahma or Jade Emperor as Buddhists would like to believe. As much as Christians have a misconception of the Buddha, I think that Buddhists themselves have a misconception of “God”]

It occurs to me now that different Buddhist will react differently in that plane. Assuming there are one Theravadin, one Mahayana Pure Lander and one Tibetan Buddhist. All three persons will react differently. If the Theravadin is skilled in mindfulness meditation, he will attempt to go into a meditative state and dwell on being mindfulness, such as on his breath. The Pure Land Buddhist will pray to Amitabha Buddha or Kuan Yin and pray to be reborn in Sukhavati Pure Land . Actually this is the equivalent to “the Christians praying to God” in that plane. And the Tibetan Buddhists will pray to his/her Guru and recite some mantras and hope for some miracle blessings from his/her Guru. Don’t you think this is similar to Christians hoping for God’s miracle (except that you are not praying to God)?

I was thinking how to give a proper response to his comment to restore the dignity of Buddhism without going into details into the different schools or traditions of Buddhism. Without going into an argument with him, surely I have to correct some misconceptions he has. So I told him, as far as I know, if a practicing Buddhist were to face a desperate life or death situation in that plane that is going to crash in a matter of minutes, he will know that there is no escaping from karma. And if he had lived his life properly, he will have nothing to fear. What he can do is to make one final refuge prayer, one final confession of all his negative actions done, one final dedication of merits and aspire the Bodhisattva vows to enable all sentient beings to achieve complete enlightenment, and then, die fearlessly. I told him there’s no need to yell to God or whoever: "Save me ! Save me!"

For a moment he was stumped, speechless. He did not see that coming. Then he slowly conceded to my point and said, “…arrrh, but how many Buddhist can do that?” To that, I agreed and we both ended our “discussion” having mutual respect for each other.

My point? We can try whatever means to save our precious body, and try we must, if not for ourselves, for the sake of our loved ones. But if there’s nothing else we can do, we have to acknowledge the situation.

To side-track a little, someone shared with me a story of a monk who was about to die. He had a dream in which someone showed him a “video” image of his master burning in hell. He was shocked because he knew his master was a respectable Buddhist, constantly teaching the dharma. He was told by this “Official of Hell” that his master went to hell because he did not believe in Christ. Upon waking up, he converted to Christianity. You can study and practice Buddhism for 20 or 30 years or more, but does not mean you have tasted the dharma. If you have not tasted the dharma, all your Buddhist knowledge remains superficial. When Prince Siddharta saw the old man, sick man and dead man, he had the first taste of dharma – i.e. the first noble truth. It is a powerful feeling and you will feel like as if you had been sleeping all the while, and suddenly you wake up. That kind of powerful encounter, when you experience that what the Buddha had taught is genuine and not false. It means that you have followed the advice of the Buddha (as per the Kalama Sutta) to check his teachings for yourself, and not just believe him out of devotion. If it had been just pure faith, it would have been no different from the Christians or others.

And if we have not tasted the dharma by experiencing it, then such things as what happened to that monk may happen to us. But, converting to Christianity is not necessarily a bad thing. If it was not possible for you to reach London by direct flight, it does not matter if you take a longer route. Moreover, if the Christians realize that when Christ died on the cross, it means to give up self-grasping for the benefit of all sentient beings, then the Christians will equally reach “Omniscience” too, like the Buddhists. If we have tasted the dharma, we can tell this “Official of Hell” that even if he shows you that the “Buddha” is burning in hell, it won’t matter, because you have realized for yourself the truth. Once you say that to him, the Buddha, hell and official will all disappear. And then, you will realize it’s a test every Buddhist will have to take one time or another. Mara will test you. Your Guru will also test you. But most of the time, we don’t realize it’s a test. And thus, we fail in our tests.

So, returning to the plane that is going to crash in 5 minutes time… by having strong faith in the Guru-Triple Gem, faith in the workings of karma, as well as understanding that ultimately birth and death is but an illusion, let us prepare to die fearlessly… all the time!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Judgement day - how did it turn out?

Today was a judgement day of some sort for me. I have been resting for slightly more than a month, and not quite ready to end it. The anxiety just adds on without dissipating no matter what I tried. The longer I waited the worse it became. The last one month was terrible. If only you knew how I felt.

But I felt relieved that it is finally over. Good or bad, I have to face it. And thank goodness, when I "faced" it today, there was someone to help me. Thank goodness....

O-ya, I went back to Ang Hock See to thank Ven. Boon Keng. Yesterday when I arrived at his temple, he straightaway saw me and called out to me. He asked about it and I told me I woudl start today. He said in hokkien, "Hor-lah!". That's his way of blessing me. And when i told him I didnot feel so confident to meet people, he said never mind and advised me to recite more Kuan Yin". He meant Kuan Yin's name or mantra. He said courage can be instilled slowly in a person.

I really like the view from where I will be sitting. I will need to withhold some facts and tell more details what this is about later... hehehe, my little secret.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Chee Cheong Fun Seller

Last week when EL and I were in KL, we met with an old couple, selling Chee Cheong Fun just outside of the YMCA compound in Brickfields, KL. Actually it is not just Chee Cheong Fun, it is Chee Cheong Fun AND Yong Tau Foo together. You mix and eat the Yong Tau Foo together with the Chee Cheong Fun. There is no option to eat it with rice. This is something special here and not available at my home town. Haha, maybe I will start one.

The old couple that sells them are quite pitiful in a way. They come at about 9pm and sell until 4am the next day. I donot know why they sell at night, but I can only speculate they do so to avoid having to pay the DBKL hawker licence. Or maybe the night licence is cheaper. I don't know. And I estimate they are both over 70 years of age and yet they have to travel to and from Cheras where they live. They travel by motorbike daily and open their makeshift stall on the motorbike. I think they bring a big bottle of clean water for the soup but the water for washing the dishes are obtained from the water pipes nearby at the place where they are selling.

The old man is the main person selling the food and his old wife helps around getting the water, washing the dishes, getting more ingredients for the Yong Tau Foo, and other miscellaneous tasks. At times, when there are a lot of customers, the old man will feel the stress and start scolding his wife if she doesnot get the money for change correct. The wife doesnot understand Malay and the husband will sometimes say in Malay for some of the Indian customers. Or, sometimes she will misheard, probably due to hard of hearing, and then the impatient husband
will start scolding her infront of the customers. But she took it all patiently in her stride and never once scold him back or grumble. At first, EL wondered which worker in the world would be able to stand all the scoldings. Then it occured that perhaps they are husband and wife. And it turned out to be true.

I guess she has accepted the scoldings as part and parcel of her life. After all, they have been together for years. Like a majority of other people, suffering has been accepted as an inevitable part of life. I donot think she has any idea that there is an end to suffering. People just accept that we inevitably have to grow old, become sick and suffer from this and that, until we eventually die. Majority of people are like them - work, work, work till they retire or unable to. And then, they will have no more purpose in life. In the end, what do they achieve? Even if you accumulated lots of wealth, was there any real happiness in your life? What are your achievements?

The wife talked and smiled to me on the first day but I am not sure what she said as she spoke in cantonese. I took pity on her too for getting so much scolding and I tried to smile to her more. EL liked the food so much that the next day we went back to the couple again. This time we spoke to them and found out the old man can speak hokkien. We told them where we were from and they told us they were from Cheras. When we finsihed eating, EL said goodbye to the wife in cantonese and she was obviously delighted. I suppose that's the small little spats of happiness she gets in her life. But it gives her the joy to continue living, otherwise, it would be nothing but all hard work an suffering.

We hope to return back to the good food another time.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Immutable Being

I had a very strange dream last night (waking up on 2 Aug). In the dream, I was told to be like the immutable vajra. I donot know who told me, or maybe it just came to me... I don't know. Or, it's a secret message from my guru? Maybe, but it came at the right time when I felt that my afflictions and emotions are higher than normal. I don't know, but it could be caused by the double eclipses this month. The eclipse of the sun had happened yesterday on 1 August and the lunar eclipse is scheduled to happen on 15 August. This is the first time double eclipses had happened twice in this year. According to a local newpaper, as per an astrologer, this is a negative sign of turbulent times. I do agree somewhat with this view. Moreover, there are many studies and even in other religions that indicate that our emotions and weird behavioural aspects are somehow heightened during lunar and sun eclipses. I guess that's why I felt that my attachments and afflictions were especially high on 1 Aug. And it's going to continue on a turbulent ride throughout this month as it was in February this year whent he same double eclipse happened. I also noticed this higher than normal afflictions in the people closer to me. One person said to me that she felt somewhat dissatisfied and uneasy but donot know why.

That's why it's said that both good and bad karma are multiplied 100 million times. It should not be taken literarily as if you can count merits - 1 time, 2 times, 3 times, etc. Actually how many times it multiples also depends on the state of our mind. If it is in a proper state, our good actions, does indeed have the potential to multiply by that many times. Similarly, our bad actions. Merits are like water, how much of it we get depends on the "container" or "vessel". Your container could be smaller or bigger than mine. So, it doesnot mean, that even if our actions are the same, it will result in the same merits. And if your container is small, if you multiply it 10 times, it will not be the same amount of merit as another person who has a bigger container, but only multiply twice.

So, is it only me who noticed it or do you guys also felt a higher than usual emotional ride these days?

So, back to the "Vajra" advice.... it was a timely advice since to be like the Vajra means, to be stable mentally, physically, and spiritually in terms of practice just like the vajra. It means not to be easily shaken by things happening around you, not to let your afflictions rise easily, to be able to control our emotions (rather than response on impulse or emotionally)... You get what I mean? It doesnot mean ignoring what people say, but rather, view it critically and responding with kindness and compassion and in an appropriate way that doesnot result in more afflictions spreading.

It also means, if we are following the life of dharma properly, we have nothing to fear. Hence we should journey on in our life fearlessly.

From this simple dream, an important realisation dawned on me that Vajrasattva is the embodiment of this pure immutable being. Once we are able to realise the immutable nature of ourselves we become Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva becomes manifest in us once we realise our nature is just like the immutable substance of the vajra, i.e. indestructible, immutable. And the reason we are able to purify our negative karma is precisely because of the nature of the immutable vajra. Vajrasattva just means the Immutable Being.

With this advice, my vajrasattva mantras will take on a whole new perspective of developing this vajrabeing within. I think I will appreciate more of Vajrasattva practices and intent on taking a Vajrasattva initiation sometime in the future. I also think that I can appreciate why Lama Yeshe combined Vajrasattva practice with Heruka to become Heruka Vajrasattva. When I saw Lama Yeshe's Becoming Vajrasattva 2 weeks ago in Kikokuniya, I didnot have the urge to buy it. Now I will try get this book. Hehehehe...

This "Vajra" advice also reminded me of an advice that a friend gave me some years back. It's actually a Ch'an Buddhist saying. He adviced me to be like the mountain, big and strong, and unshaken by the blowing wind. In chinese the saying is "Ru Lai, Ru Qu, Ru Ru Bu Dong". Translated it means: "Thus Come, Thus Go; Thus Thus Unmoving". I will try to keep this advice in mind, but it is not going to be easy.

FGS Dong Zen's Sakyamuni Buddha Relic

There is a relic of Sakyamuni Buddha enshrined in a mini pagoda/stupa in a small shine room at Dong Zen temple, Jenjarom, Selangor. The door is mostly closed, except when there are visitors or prayers. It is lighted in a beautiful way but unfortunately, I feel the place is not properly ventilated. It felt really stuffy. Moreover, they donot provide a proper place for people to circumambulate it nor view it directly. Also, if you are not wearing socks, you are required to buy a pair at the counter outside the relic room. However, once inside, you are only allowed to view a picture of it placed in front of the stupa. I thought this was ridiculous. You might as well place the picture outside of the relic room. The only reason of entering the relic room if we are nto allowed to see it, would be to respect and offer prayers to it. Relics should always be viewed directly to obtain the most impact and blessings. Not in this manner by Dong Zen temple.

It's okay. No problem, but they really should make the relic room more ventilated. Even dharma protectors donot like to stay in a congested and stuffy room.