Friday, May 8, 2009

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

re-edited (about 12.15am, & again 9.20 am on Wesak Day, 11.05pm 10 May '09) You are advised to read it again from time to time. I am changing the title from "Happy Wesak, Happy Mother's Day" to "United we stand, Divided we fall".

I would like to take this opportunity on the coming blessed Wesak Day as well as Mother’s Day to reflect on the Buddha’s teachings as well as think of sentient beings, who are all like our mothers – very kind.


Some anti-Mahayana persons had questioned the authenticity of Mahayana Buddhists texts, doubting that Nagarjuna or anyone else could actually go to the Naga realm, implying Mahayanists who follow vegetarianism is incorrect and are following Devadatta’s wrong teachings, etc etc. They are implying that, basically, the Mahayana Buddhism is a degenerate form of Buddhism. What these people do not realize is that the centralize message that forms the core of Mahayana is Bodhicitta. These groups of people can prove all they want about the falsity of the sutras and texts, but they have not been able to prove the falsity of the main message of Mahayana, i.e. the truth of Bodhicitta. They can prove the falsity of the “forms”, but never the "substance".

Pure meat?
To prove my point that these groups do not understand Bodhicitta, take the issue of “pure meat” for example. Those who buy supermarket meat think that they are partaking “pure meat” but they forgot that other sentient beings need to do the killing for them. So, while they eat “pure meat”, others have to suffer the bad karma for them. So, this is exactly meant by the lack of bodhicitta, if you eat the food without reflecting on the kindness of all sentient beings who were killed and/or involved in the producing of the food, then you lack bodhicitta. You justify your pure meat but lacks compassion for the butcher. In your heart, you only have this thought, “Who ask him to be a butcher/fisherman/etc?” So, you continue to eat your so-called “pure meat” without thinking of the karma that others are continually making. There is no effort at all to liberate these beings. Indeed, if you cannot forego meat, or the animal is already dead and chopped up for your meals, at least we must have the heart to think of their kindness and return their kindness by reciting mantras and dedicating to them the merits before we eat them.

Don't waste dead meat...bless it!
In the story of the Buddha counseling his sangha to eat the meat prepare by the Jain benefactor, that was exactly what the Buddha must be thinking. It is because the animal’s meat has already been chopped up and if the Buddha and his sangha do not eat it, the animal will not be able to benefit from it. By letting the monks eat them, especially Buddha, the animal that was killed will be reborn in the Heavens and be Emperors/Kings for many lifetimes. This is another perspective that some Buddhist groups do not realize. They only think “oh, the Buddha said that Meat is okay, meat is okay… so let’s eat!” But nowadays Theravadin monks donot regularly go on alms round anymore. They have regular cooks at their temple. And even if they do, generally the public knows that they DO eat meat. So, they may buy meat and cook especially for them. While this monks say they do not see and hear of the animal being killed, the poor butcher and the cook have to suffer the bad karma. These type of Buddhist do not think of these people at all if they donot know how to recite mantras and prayers back for these people.

It's not quite "dead"!
The other thing about meat is that when animals are cut up/ slaugthered, its consciousness do not necessarily leave its body immediately. It's just like us, human. Our consciousness takes a few hours to days to leave the body and then up to 49 days to take rebirth into the next body. So when you fry or deep fry fish for example, imagine the unspeakable pain it has to tolerate and yet nobody can hear it scream in pain (since its body is already physically dead). It is said that if you have true bodhicitta in your heart, you could almost hear the screams of pain of all the sentient beings around you. Could the anti-Mahayana critics hear those sub-conscious screams? Obviously not. To them, its "pure meat".

Vegetarianism - better good/lesser evil
Yes, vegetarianism may be killing the insects and earth worms, etc but

- it is only indirectly killing, and
- it is the vegetables that is eaten, not the worms, insects that got killed. This is compared to eating meat of the animal directly by killing it.

Benefitting all regardless of meat or vegetables
And regardless of eating meat or vegetables, Mahayanists are supposed to have the heart to rescue all beings from samsara by making short mantras and prayers to benefit them before eating it. This is especially true for Vajrayanists who recite the meat mantra or Medicine Buddha mantra to bless the animal that had been taken its meat as food. Of course, you do not kill it purposely for the food. But if it is already dead, you might as well benefit the animals and other sentient beings that got involved in the food.

Vajrayana position
But there is such a thing as “pure meat” and this is the minimum level that the Buddha sets for his doctrine of compassion and non-killing. In the alms round, the food is not chosen, but given by the offerer. So, that is pure meat. It is not so pure if you have to buy the meat and cook it yourself. It is also not so pure meat, if you purposely go to the Seafood restaurant and order meat-based food especially if it is exotic food like Lobster, Fish head Curry, etc. Nevertheless, if you are a Vajrayanist, you can still take anything into your path and transform it into your practice. For example, they can recite mantras to benefit the animals as was mentioned. But even for Vajrayanist, ordering exotic seafood is a bit too much, I think. And Buddhists of other traditions should be aware that different Vajrayana groups have different emphasis. Due to this some Tibetan lineages emphasise more vegetarianism than others.

Bodhicitta in action
Let me share a true incident. There was once when we ate dinner at a vegetarian restaurant with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The time it took to finish the prayer and dedication was even longer than the eating time. The food became cold already when we finished dedicating to all sentient beings. Inconceivable compassion! That was bodhicitta in action, even for vegetarian food! I was there, so I know this for a fact. Is this degenerate Buddhism? Far from it.

Inclusive Religion
This minimum level of pure meat was set by the Buddha, and not vegetarianism so that more sentient beings are able to be included in the Buddhist path. It proves that Buddhism is an inclusive religion and not exclusive. The Buddha’s great wisdom knows that not all sentient beings can be vegetarian, whereas it was possible at least for even animals (at the zoo for example) to be given meat that the animal did not have to kill for food (although most carnivorous animals in the wild have to kill for food). However, in certain limited ways, it was still possible for humans and others to have pure meat as food. And anything better than that, such as being vegetarians is a plus point. And the levels that we can go are limitless, i.e. from eating pure meat, to being meatless, to abstaining meat and eggs and dairy products as well, to total vegans (including not using animal products such as leather bags, etc). There is also the way of the Jainism where they close their mouth for fear of breathing in small bugs and killing them in the process. And they also make it a point to look at their seats if there are any small insects before they sit. Some people may think this is extreme but actually these are the whole spectrum of practice that we can adopt. It depends on how you use it together with bodhicitta. So, Buddhism can be practice by anyone from the lowest level to the highest level. Imagine if the Buddha had set vegetarianism in the Vinaya, the Buddhadharma would not have been able to “reach” sentient beings as effectively as if it were not. That was the wisdom of the Buddha in rejecting Devadatta’s proposals, not because the latter’s proposals were of themselves bad ideas.

In the entire spectrum of Buddhism, there is something suitable for every sentient being.

Some people may wonder why the Lotus Sutra actually regarded Devadatta in a much better light than what he was. After all, in the Buddha's time, he did attempted to kill the Buddha many times. He did this not for one or two years but many many years. And to make matters worse, he was related to the Buddha. He was a constant thorn in the flesh, so to speak. So, why did the Lotus Sutra regarded him in such a positive manner? That was to demonstrate the Mahayana principle of regarding even our worst enemy as being most kind to us. The Buddha was actually teaching us how to handle similar situations in our life. After all, he had to bear with Devadatta too. The Tibetan Buddhist masters such as Geshe Chekawa, Langri Tangpa and others picked up this principle and taught us very effectively on this important point. It's the teachings inside the Sutras that are important to us, not so much who wrote it or where it originated.

Hence the Buddha taught us bodhicitta by how he handled Devadatta and other beings. In fact, all of the teachings in Mahayana are based on some principles found in Sakyamuni Buddha's life or his teachings.

Please critic the Madhyamika, not the Naga realms!
It is not how the Sutras came about that is important, compared to the message that it contains. And these people who criticize the originality of the Mahayana scriptures have never been able to effectively demonstrate the same level of Bodhicitta as those they are criticizing. Indeed, they do not even comprehend what is Bodhicitta. They think it is similar to compassion. It is not just compassion. There is more to it.

Also, although they contended that Nagarjuna never went to the Naga realm to obtain the Prajna Paramita Sutras, but they fail to effectively prove the Madhyamika concept of Emptiness as incorrect. Why attack the form, instead of the substance of the matter? If they have any ability, they should refute the theories of Madhyamika and back in black and white the arguments with supporting facts. And publish it for all to see.

Deriving benefit from "forms"
There was an occasion during a Wesak Day Procession that I attended during my schooling days. A close friend of mine showed me a bodhi tree leaf. He said to me that it was from the actual Buddha's Bodhi Tree at Bodhigaya. I immediately became excited and believed in it instantly. And then later, he told me the truth. It was taken from a local "bodhi" tree. My heart sank and I told my friend how stupid I was. But he said something about the mind being the forerunner of all things and that if there is faith, there will be blessings. So he told me about the story about the son who brought back a dog bone and told his mother that it was the Buddha's relic. I am sure you have heard of this story, so I won't repeat it. In the end, due to the faith of his mother, the dog bone eventually turned into genuine relic.

Similarly, some of the stories told in the Mahayana scriptures may seem too incredible or too incredulous. But if you have the faith, it is possible to derive much blessings. And even then, very often the stories does point to an inner meaning. You can take it that not everything you read was meant to be taken literarily. This is the way to derive benefit from the "forms" even though the "substance" is more important between the two.

Effectiveness of Mahayana teachings
So, what I am saying here is that the key messages of Mahayana have never been proven as incorrect by any non-Mahayana Buddhists. And at the end of the day, what proves a teaching as genuine is that there are people who have tasted the fruits of the Mahayana path as taught therein. Not necessarily talking of achieving enlightenment here, but could be something simple as experiencing the effectiveness of mantras, blessings by deities, etc etc etc. There is also the fact that in Mahayana and its sub-tradition of Vajrayana have many tools to help sentient beings such as mantras, dharanis, myriad of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, their pujas, and other such tools. Although these tools are not of themselves important, these tools are necessary to those who practise bodhicitta. These tools are often referred to as "skillful means". If you are not equipped with these skillful means, how are you going to help the myriad types of sentient beings - each being with a unique situation?

Objective of this article
I am writing this not to convert anyone into Mahayana, rather it is meant to restore anyone's faith who might have been affected recently by comments in the internet about the status of Mahayana sutras and other related issues. I took quite a few days to think and write this article actually, drafting it over and over using my knowledge and experience in all 3 schools of Buddhism. And throughout it all, I sought the blessings and guidance from Sakyamuni Buddha to guide me at all times so that I don't write the wrong things. However, if there is anything wrong, I stand to be corrected.

Harmony among Buddhists
I am not sure if what I wrote make any sense, but in learning Buddhism, we must try to focus more on the substance of the teachings and not so much the outward forms of it, even though the "forms" part does have a role to play. After all, bodhicitta is in the attitude. It is in the way we talk, act and think. Looking at the confusion of many people in trying to learn Buddhism, I was really lucky in having learned but not get caught in the confusion. To be fair, there was some in the beginning, but I was very open-minded. I was not overly critical when I was learning the different schools. I was also fortunate to have good virtuous teachers and friends to guide me. I always advise people to stick to learning one particular form of Buddhism if you think you'll get confuse by all the various forms. And once you have decided on one, do not criticise the others.
After all, we all believe in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha and we all strive to end Samsaric existence. So, we should be harmonise as Buddhists and respect one another.

The fall of Buddhism in India
According to "The Story of Tibet- Conversations with the Dalai Lama" written by Thomas Laird in which His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was interviewed, he was asked about the decline of Buddhism in the original land of its birth, i.e. India. According to His Holiness, he had read a study of what happened and there were generally 3 causes.

i) the patrons of the monasteries were themselves attracted to non-Buddhist traditions.
ii) the incursion of invaders of another faith
iii) and the point most emphasised by His Holiness is that the Buddhists monks did not adhere to the precepts but engage in drinking and sex. The indisclipline among the Sangha had caused the public to also lose their respect for the Sangha. The lack of unity and respect for one another had caused external factors to hasten the disappearance of dharma in India. The Buddha was spot-on when he predicted about the decline of the dharma as pointed out in the Sutta Nipata. Hence, there are definite lessons to be learned from history on the need for Buddhists of all major traditions to be united. (Note: Cults are, however, a different thing altogether).

United we stand, divided we fall
It is in this light that Venerable Boon Kean advised that if we are too critical of the other schools of Buddhism, it only fuels our own pride. He said that we should self-introspect and put our energy instead attaining the fruits of Enlightenment. He pointed out that all schools of Buddhism is similar in that they recognise these as the teachings of all Buddhas:

"Avoid evil, Do all good, Purify the Mind"

He said that we must purify our own mind first, instead of criticising the other schools of Buddhism. He reminded Buddhists with this universal advice: "UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL." I agree totally with Venerable Boon Kean and all Buddhists should take heed.

Concluding Remarks
I take this opportunity to urge all to think of the kindness of all sentient beings on this Mother's Day and Wesak Day 2009. We can start this with the food we eat. Transform every moment into the Buddha’s path. I wish every one well and happy!

I shall end this with a verse that came to my mind:-

"Wielding the Vajra pestle,
Banishing hordes of demons,
The false returns to the true.
No Vajrayana,
No Mahayana,
No Theravada,
Only the Buddha vehicle. "


- written by: Mahabodhiyana
Note: this is the name I adopted when I took the oath of Bodhicitta in front of the Buddha together with some friends many years back. There was an interesting story to this event but I won't go into it for now.


Me said...

Got this comment from someone via email:

"truly a masterpiece....this is the best explanation in the entire discussion of vegetarianism recently. i bet you spent hours drafting this."

Yes, I actually took a while to draft it and re-draft.

Me said...

Another comment I received via email:

"Thanks for sharing this well written article. It shows the wisdom of your learning and credits to all your teachers. It also reminded me that my spiritual development needs to get started again, somewhere and somehow, I
am not sure. Take care."

chakma sudip said...

Subject : An earnest prayer for Financial Support for construction of Shanti
Niketan Bouddha Vihara at Tuichawng Village, Lunglei District,
Mizoram, India.

In inviting the subject cited above, I, on behalf of the Buddhist Community of Tuichawng beg to state that, Shanti Niketan Bouddha Vihara was established in the year 1968 by a local Managing Committee with a very temporary structure. The village Tuichawng is located in south west corner of Mizoram India near Indo-Bangladesh Border. Most of the villagers are CHAKMA in tribe and BUDDHIST by religion. About 480 families live at Tuichawng and surrounding villages. The total population is around 3500 who live on shifting cultivation. Due to inavailability of fertile land in the locality, they can not produce enough crops for their livelihood. So, they live a miserable life just hand to mouth. Being poor, our people can not contribute fund to develop the Buddhist monastery. During last twenty five years, it was anyhow constructed with sown timber structure with GCI sheet roofing in 1996. Now it has become very old. The villagers are trying to re-build it with concrete structure. An small amount has already been gathered which is not enough. It has become very difficult to gather more fund. 
Therefore, I on behalf of the helpless Buddhist Community of this village would like to request your generous end to have a look into the matter sympathically to provide us financial support for the construction of Shanti Niketan Bouddha Vihara of this village. For which the act of your kindness, I shall remain ever grateful.

With a lot of Metta and regards,
Encl: Estimated Budget of the Building.
Dated Tuichawng, Yours in Dhamma,