Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Actively Shaping Our Destiny

We have reached the end of the year 2008 and I am sure you will agree with me a lot of things and events have happened to us over the past 12 months. If I may say, it was indeed, a very challenging year, me including. Even on a national as well as global level, 2008 has been a rather difficult year for almost everyone. We have seen major changes in our domestic front, both politically as well as economically. It is the same at the international level. Many people were out of job this year and more will be the next year. Even I myself had been affected by these job uncertainties. Through these uncertainties, I have learned that it is we ourselves that shape our own destinies. Our destinies are definitely not carved into our dates of birth or the stars and planets. These are only rough guidelines and we should rightfully be actively shaping our destinies. And not let these overwhelm us. It is important for me to say this because the forecasts in the horoscopes I have read for next year is not too good. If you read too much into horoscopes, you will not be able to sleep peacefully at night, because every year seems to be bad anyway… at least for me, it seems that way.

So, every new year, people would go for “Phor Oon”, or activities that increase blessings. Last year, I was in Thailand and I noticed that the Thai Buddhists make offerings to Sangha during new year (1st January). It is their way of ‘phor oon”. I think that is a very good practice, at least I think it’s better than making offerings for some paper figurines and paper money at a Chinese temple and the person (I’m not even sure if he is a monk or not) would just recite “Li Po Li Po Di, ….” (which I can also recite) a few times over your head and ring the bell and then give you some paper talisman to wear or burn to drink.

Anyway, I hope that people would not be negatively affected by the much doom and gloom forecasted for next year. Karma is not carved into solid steel. Even steel can be melt and re-shaped, right? We can actively create new karma and change our way of thinking and our negative behaviours or habits. Even if you were to go to the Buddha for blessings, it is useless if you do not change your negative actions, negative speech and negative thinking. If we are still remain greedy and still makes 50-100% profit during these economic bad times, don’t you think we are generating a lot of bad karma? When petrol prices increase, people justify increase in their prices due to increase in transportation and fuel prices. The chain effect causes overall prices to go up. However, why is it that the reverse chain effect does not happen when petrol prices go down? Transportation and fuel prices do not go down. The probable answer: human ignorance and greed to sustain their high prices. As a person who knows costing, I know the real cost for example, fried eggs at economy rice food stall. Eggs now cost about 35sen an egg. Add oil and gas and allocation of a fraction of stall rental, it will come to 50sen. They sell at 80sen to RM1.00. That means a 60% - 100% profit margin. This is just an example. You can calculate yourself why things are ridiculously way too expensive beyond their actual costs. I am not saying they should be making losses. No. In bad times, if you have the power to decide the prices of the goods that you are selling and you do not reduce them for the welfare of the people, then that will incur a lot of negative karma. Top management and directors of public-listed companies have even heavier negative karma if they have mismanaged and caused the loss of wealth of their public shareholders. So, be careful if you are selling products to the public or have a public fiduciary duty. If we are involved in the manufacture of un-substandard products intentionally, involved in bribery or corruption, willful mismanagement of the company and wasting shareholder’s funds, then the karma will be very heavy. We may escape punishment in this life but when this human life is over, such persons who have been irresponsible to the public in their duties will be hauled to the chambers of hell. In that place, there is no court of appeal or slick lawyers who can get away with nonsense such as “it looked like me, talked like me, sounded like me …but not me”. You can try that on King Yama and the officers of hell and see what you get! It’s far better to admit your fault while you still can, in this life as a human, and start repenting.

The reverse is also true as told to us in the classic story of Liao Fan. He managed to increase his blessings by very much (and by that, he changed his ‘destiny’ too) by reducing taxes on the citizens. Even reducing by 1% is able to affect so many people. So much happiness is generated. Actually it does not have to be taxes. Your raw materials may be more expensive now, but if you can absorb the higher costs and still make a profit, even though less than you used to, or by maintaining your prices instead of passing the higher costs to the consumers, then you will make huge blessings. In economics we study the chain effects of one price on another item. In Buddhism, this is like the working of dependent arising, where one factor causes another factor to arise. By this example that I give, we can see how our Buddhist teachings of Dependent Arising and Karma happen in our daily life as well as in all aspects of our life (such as economics). Many ordinary Buddhists do not understand this simple point on how to increase their blessings (or ‘phor oon’), and so I try to stress a little bit on this.

So, if you hope to change your destiny in the future, please consider what I have written here, which is just my 2 cents worth of opinion. Sometimes people wonder where they get all the bad karma from. Indeed, it does not necessarily have to be from their past life, which they cannot see. Sometimes it does seem like Buddhists are talking about something that cannot be verified, right? Wrong. Unless you are born with that defect or disease, in most cases, you can reflect on what you have done wrong in this life. And as I have explained, we can see the working of karma and dependent arising in all aspects of our life. And if you can see these as working in this life, then you can be assured that they do not stop working when you die. They continue to work into your next life and thereafter, until you attain release from samsara.

If you feel down and miserable, pick yourself up and have faith in the Triple Gem. Sakyamuni Buddha endured suffering for 3 great eons in order to perfect every single quality and virtue before becoming a Buddha. Because he is free from suffering, he is the only one who can truly help us. Others can merely assist. Therefore, have confidence in the Buddha.

So far I have said much about increasing blessings the Buddhist way, and also driving our own destiny, instead of being controlled by it, which I hope there will be at least one person who finds it useful. In closing this year, I take this opportunity to thank my Guru-Triple Gem for the excellent blessings, my dharma protectors who had done a wonderful job, and to wish everyone a Happy New Year and urge everyone to actively shape their karma for a better tomorrow!

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