Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ganden Gompa - Tibet

I pray I may have the fortune and blessings to visit Ganden soon!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Benefitting the Living and The Dead!

If you think the topic sounds familiar, it is probably you have read chapter 7 of the Ksitigarbha Sutra. No, I will not be touching on the sutra here but the gist of the meesage I will be conveying will be consistent with the spirit as embodied in that sutra, i.e. benefitting both the living and the dead.

Impermanence is one of the central themes in Buddhist teachings. Everyone knows death occurs to everyone. And in fact, in the Lam Rim teachings, we are told to have it imprinted strongly in our minds. Even some Zen masters had advocated that if anyone wanted to seriously gain liberation, all he/she had to do was to remember two words at every single moment. The 2 words are "birth" and "death". It means the same thing, i.e. impermanence.

Because of this, there are some Buddhists who donot react to death at all and appears "cool" even when there is death in the family. And these Buddhists do not understand why there is so much big deal in trying to help the dead and dying. I remember, though, there is this Tibetan Master (forgotten who) who said that if we have true understanding, we will understand impermanence but yet will react naturally when death occurs in the family or friends. Yes, it means we still can cry. And that's appropriate for that situation.

However, we must know when to cry and when to stop crying and help the family member or friend to cross over. Most of us have forgotten how is it like to cross over, even though we have been dead and had been crossing over for infinite times. For many people, it is indeed a vey frightening process. If we have any wisdom and compassion for sentient beings, we will be able to feel this fear in people. Then we should help dying persons as much as we can to give them some confidence. I remember when my aunt was on the brink of death and as she stared blankly into space, I put my hand on top her head and whispered some words of confidence to her softly. I told her not to be afraid and to go over confidently. That's giving of fearlessness in people.

If helping dead people in the bardo state was not such an important process, the late Venerable Master Hsuan Hua would not have given me the advice to recite a certain mantra to help those people crossing over in the bardo. That was in a dream I had last year. He also said in every second, there are innumerable beings crossing over. The next day, a nun from Master's monastery said basically the same thing in her dharma teachings. Coincidence? No, it just authenticate the dream advice I had. So, basically, Masters advice is to help the dead people cross over to a better rebirth by reciting mantras, sutras and other prayers. If we know a person had committed many negative karma and not done any good deeds, then it is better that we help the person prolong his existing life as a human being. You know why? Because if he is dead, he will go to rebirth in the lower realms and suffer for aeons. This is I think how we should think. An example of this case is the man who had splashed acid on his wife and daughter and caused the wife to die and daughter go blind. Therefore, I think if there is a Buddhist lawyer, help him to get a life sentence instead of hang to death. If he gets life sentence, at least there is a small chance for him to do purification and repentance practices. Perhaps his karma will lighten a little, even if it will not exonerate completely what he did.

Hence, yes, impermanence is a fact of life and death is a common thing, but that does not mean we become passive beings. If we have strong bodhicitta, we must not let even a single sentient being go to the lower realms. It is precisely because of impermanence that we should actively help both the living and the dead! Help people when they are alive. Help them when they are dying. Help them when they have died and are in the bardo states. Continuously help sentient beings after that, wherever they are. Thats what I understand from the teachings of the Buddha. That's the message I got from the late Ven. Master Hsuan Hua who asked me to visualise the mantra lights radiating not only to all beings in the six realms but also beings "travelling" in between these realms (i.e. bardo beings). And I would urge you to consider doing that too in your daily prayers and meditations. I am merely conveying a message from the venerable master.

Sarvam mangalam!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Meditation during Sleep

Yesterday (Friday 22/1/10) was weird. When I woke up it was as though I had not slept throughout the night. The dream state and waking state have become indistinguishable, but yet I remembered what happened. It was the first time I had meditated during the sleeping state. Or maybe, it was a state where I was neither fully awake (in the normal sense) nor completely in a deep sleep state. What happened was that I had done only 5 sessions of my guru yoga. And there is one more to go. And I thought I could do it one more time after I did my Vajrasattva long mantras 30 times. I usually recite those mantras lying down as my consciousness slowly go to sleep (the purpose being to purify everything as I enter sleep). But somehow, I ended up sleeping. Maybe, subconsciously I knew I had one more meditation session to go and it just slipped into the meditation mode even though physically I may be sleeping. I could say that because I remembered I did all the meditation and the visualisations were clear, because I was not fully in a deep sleep state, I also knew I was sleeping physically. If you don't understand what I am saying, I don't blame you. It's weird to say the least... it was weirder than the 2 times (I think) when I woke up and found out that I was still reciting the mantra I was reciting at the time when I slept. But I am happy least, it's an indication it shows that the imprint from doing the guru yoga meditation is getting stronger. It must be strong enough so that I can do it even in the bardo state. Eventually I hope to be able to do dream yoga.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Simple ways for the Buddhist Youths to increase their blessings

After the death of the Chung Ling High School boys and teacher, it occurs to me that todays’ youth are smart, intelligent and good in extra-co-curricular activities. However, they are short of spiritual blessings and affinities. Here I attempt to list several simple ways that a school student can do to increase his/her blessings. You can be sure that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are very keen on young people who are interested in the dharma. If you are sincere in seeking the dharma, you can be sure the dharma will protect you. The thing is, if you want to avert a tragedy, you must plant good causes and conditions, and do lots and lots of offerings and purification practices. Those heavy dark karma from our past lives are more difficult to purify/avert but we must start with simple practices first. As you practice more and learn more about Buddhism, you will probably learn more techniques to purify even those dark heavy ones. The key ingredient is always SINCERITY.

1. Make daily (or at least weekly) offerings to the Buddha or Kuan Yin (being the 2 most popular Buddhist deity among Chinese Buddhists). You can offer fruits or joss-sticks or flowers. If possible, use your own savings from your pocket money to buy those offerings.

2. When using joss-sticks, treat each stick as an offering; not as an instrument of prayer/instrument for making requests.

3. Recite the Buddhist sutras. When I was in secondary school, I recited a lot of the Mangala Sutta and Ratana Sutta and Jayamangala Gatta. These are simple suttas of the Theravadin tradition that anyone can obtain from temples such as Mahindarama temple. Or, if you are in the Chinese Mahayana tradition, you can learn how to recite the Heart Sutra or Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra – the Gateway to Everywehere. These are the Mahayana Sutras I recite a lot too. Or, you can learn by heart how to recite the Great Compassion Dharani (called Ta Pei Chou in mandarin) as taught by Ven. Master Hsuan Hua. Or, even simpler to recite is Na Mo O Mi Tuo Fwo and Na Mo Kuan Shih Yin Pu Sa. Recite these many many times.

4. Recite mantras if you are more keen on the Vajrayana tradition. Simple mantras such as Om Mani Padme Hum (the mantra of Kuan Yin) will do wonders to increase one’s blessings. Do not underestimate its potential. Another simple mantra is Om Tare Tutare Ture Svaha, the mantra of Goddess Tara. Even when in school, I had the initiative to give myself to certain number of accumulations of the mantra to achieve. So, I recited it everyday to achieve my target. Nobody had to tell me what to do.

5. Just before sleeping, everyday I will go to my bedroom and recite the Namo Tassa Bhagavato… and the Three Refuge (Buddham Saranam Gacchami…) and the five precepts. I also recite the Praises to the Triple Gem (Iti pi so bhagava…). Again I gave myself some sort of Buddhist daily prayers to do. These are Buddhist daily prayers any student can do, and can obtain these prayers in most Theravadin temples. If anyone has a problem getting it, drop me a comment.

6. Go to a wise Buddhist Master and request him to give you the refuge vows and a Buddhist name. The power of taking refuge for youths is often under-estimated. Venerable Boon Kean of Ang Hock See temple in Perak Road is a monk you can trust in giving these three refuges to you.

These are just 6 simple ways to increase one’s blessings for children (actually applicable for adults too). Start with these and slowly you can do more, like maybe prostrations and recite longer sutras. While doing these does not guarantee a long life or tragedy free, at the very least, if something unexpected happens to you, you will die taking with you loads of positive karmic merits...and of course, the invaluable affinity with Buddha and his teachings in your next life. What Buddhists want to avoid is not death itself, but to avoid being reborn in the lower realms, i.e. as a ghost, as an animal or as a hell-being. Remember to seek guidance from the Buddha at all times. Silently talk to him in your heart if you need to, Think of him all the time.

I hope what I wrote above is useful to Buddhist youths and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Farewell to Brendon Yeoh & Others!

There was this dharma brother in Penang , whom I think is active in the Buddhist circles. There are people who have seen him quite a few times at various teachings. Recently he was seen listening to His Eminence Ling Rinpoche’s teachings as well as Choden Rinpoche’s. During the Medicine Buddha initiation, he brought his son along. He proudly said that that was the first time he had brought his son to a teaching and meet a lama. It was his first initiation. His son smiled happily. His face radiates innocence and simplicity. He was a young fine man. I told him I hope to see him going to more teachings and start on the Buddhist path of practice.

However, little did I know that that would be his last teachings and initiation (although I am not sure if he met any other lama between Choden Rinpoche’s visit and the tragedy). Also probably his first and last meeting with a Lama. But yet, what a great Lama he met. He met a Buddha – i.e. Choden Rinpoche! It was good that at least we bumped into each other and established a small connection. I took this small connection and went to his funeral this morning. I mentally told him that in the absence of Choden Rinpoche, through whatever pure aspiration and practices that I have, may Choden Rinpoche’s blesings flow in abundance towards him through me. I felt sad and my tears were welling inside me. I felt sad because a fine young man’s life had just ended before he could even start discovering about the Buddhadharma. I felt sad because I had so much opportunity with the Buddha dharma and this young man (and probably many others too) had none. I tried my best to comfort the mother, although I know it is in vain when you are in such a situation. I said that it was good that at the very least he made a connection with Choden Rinpoche and received his blessings. Receiving his blessings and the Medicine Buddha initiation blessings through Rinpoche will NEVER be in vain. I hope his family will trust this and the karmic imprint he had obtained from the blessings and connection will flower in his future life or lives. Since he also has a tiny connection with me, I aspire that it will also not go in vain. Whatever my merits and virtue I have, I transfer to his good rebirth.

Do you know who I am talking about? I am talking about Brendon Yeoh, one of the 6 victims in the dragon boat tragedy. He was only 17 years old. If you regularly attend Buddhist teachings in Penang, you might have probably seen his dad too.

So, to the dad - Mr Yeoh – I would like to convey my condolences to you and your family. I pray that you stay mentally strong and trust your refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. You did the right thing to bring your boy to receive Choden Rinpoche’s blessings. That was only a few weeks ago. Life is seriously impermanent. If it is any consolation to you, I told your wife that some people live up to 80 or 90 years old, but failed to meet a great Lama and receive his blessings. But Brendon did at a young age, even though his life is short. And he is taking that positive karmic imprint with him to his next life. Even though I am sad and I have tears in my eyes as I am writing this, I know it is even more heart wrenching for you and your family. If there is any help I can render, do write me a personal email. But stay faithful to the Buddha dharma. I know your situation because I am only waiting for my turn. Stay Strong, dear Brother Yeoh and … to Brendon Yeoh Yuen Khye (pic above), May Medicine Buddha guide you to his Pure Land. May the others who perish with him also be reborn in Medicine Buddha's Pure Land!

Om Benkhaze Benkhaze Mahabenkhaze Benkhaze Raja Samugate Svaha.

If you are not sure what this is all about, refer this link:

Dear friends & fans of my blog,
I would suggest that if you know of any visiting Lamas or Rinpoches or Bhikkus/ Bhikkunis (monks/nuns) of any lineage, be it Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana, do request them to pray for all of the victims. Thank you. Sarvam Mangalam.

Smart answers do not liberate!

There was this guy who wrote the below in response to various emails from others in a Buddhist forum group.

The "ultimate" face of Karmapa never change but the relative face of Karmapa always change.
The "ultimate" face of a dog never change but the relative face of a dog always change.
So, "ultimtely" Karmapa is no different from a dog but relatively they are.
Karmapa's relative face is unafflicted at all but a dog's relative face is afflicted by the 5 poisons.

And he wrote this in response to a message about the dragon boat victims.

If you must cry, please cry.
Nothing to be afraid and shy,
To see IMPERMANANCE deeply though it hurts very much,
Is more worthy than having the whole universe in material wealth.
After seeing impermanence, one must truly appreciate IT,
He who sees impermanence sees the true Dharma.
He who sees the true Dharma sees the Buddha's True Face.
Have faith and summon strength to carry on,
Never waiver in your pure aspirations.
Remember this for the sake of your loved ones and all,
Treading the path of Loving Kindness and Compassion
No matter how long the journey will be.

He got this response:
Smart understanding does not liberate one from samsara. In one of my Q&As with Master Seung Sahn, I also gave smart answers. But the master could see it right away. There was no way to hide from him. He said frankly that there was still thinking in my answers. In other words, there was still much intellect, and not innate wisdom. So, he sends me back to work on my mind...and still working on it. I am not sure your comments are your innate wisdom or more intellectual garbage (like my answers to the Zen Master were). Only you will know.

Wisdom shown through our actions is much better than wisdom through talking. Take a certain friend I know, for example. He had gathered around 5 Rinpoches to recite and pray for the victims. I am sure no one instructed him to do it. It is just his own demonstration of bodhicitta. Understanding impermanence does not mean we become a piece of dead wood. "Letting go" does not mean becoming emotionless and doing nothing. “Tragedy, tragedy-lar!”, “Die, die-lar!”, “why make this into a big deal”…these kind of attitude is incorrect. Instead we SHOULD actively benefit sentient beings, dead or alive, own self and others!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Only We Can Protect Ourselves

My wife’s employer is sending her to KL for a one and a half day training session. And she is going there alone for the first time. I am just worried, especially during the night time and when returning from Subang airport. There are no other colleagues going to Subang airport. And I can’t take 2 days leave…I have to give 7 days notice before applying for any leave. Anyway, it does not make sense for me to do that. Ultimately, it is her company that should arrange to ensure her safety. How can they let a young lady go to KL alone?

Having said that, even if I can take leave, and I am willing to do that, but I also realize I can’t be following her everywhere forever. When it is time for us to die, we go alone too. It is, perhaps, time that she learns to protect herself. Yes, we have to learn to protect ourselves. With my affinity with many Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and deities, I have slightly less problem in invoking their help to protect me wherever I go. I know how to make offerings to them and invoke blessings and merits for myself. I also know how to do self-purification and do repentance practices. However, my wife and many people like her, as well as many of today’s youth and school students, nowadays do not know how to protect themselves with spiritual practices, other than going to a temple and putting three pieces of joss-sticks on the urn. Or, they will be given some “Ang Kong hoo” (blessed paper talisman) to take. Or, they will be asked to see a medium who thinks he is possessed by a god, but actually possessed by a spirit/ghost instead. The lay persons will be given all sorts of advice that ultimately give very little protection, if at all any.

Nowadays, many people also resort to buying numbers made of jewellery to wear. This is the latest craze and these jeweled numbers are seriously not cheap. And many people have stories to tell of how it has worked. These jewellery are much more expensive than wearing something from the World of Feng Shui shop. Most of the things that Lillian Too recommends to wear are holy objects, either they contain mantras or have something to do with Buddhist symbols. Wearing blessed objects do create blessings and that’s how they work. However, how does wearing numbers and diamonds alone work to create more blessings? I really do not know. Numbers and precious stones, of and by itself, do not have any inherent blessings that they can emit to anyone wearing them. But there are some rumours that perhaps these jewellery sold by them are blessed by their secret deity before passing them to customers. The rumours arise because it seems the wearers are told to visualize and make offerings to it daily before making your wish. Does anyone make offerings to numbers and stones? Surely not. We only make offerings to deities and spirits, and God or gods, as far as I know. Not to inanimate objects. Hence, arises the rumour that anyone wearing it is actually protected by this deity, and not the stone and numbers. But who this deity is, we do not know, if at all it is true. I do not wish to speculate whether it is true or not.

Anyway, I prefer to stick to my religion’s ways of protection. And I would urge everyone to find ways to increase your own and your families’ blessings. You will never know when tragedy will strike and life is taken away all too soon…like the recent dragon boat tragedy. 5 young boys and a young teacher were killed in a dragon boat tragedy last Sunday in Penang. For Buddhists, there are many ways to increase our blessings, and one simple way is to make offerings of fruits on the altar to the Buddha. If you have a true heart to seek enlightenment for all beings (i.e. bodhicitta) then, that is the surest way of protection you can ever give yourself. Having said that, please protect her (you know who I mean), dear Protector!

Take care and May all be well!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Funds for Building Temples/ Hospitals?

Apologise for the long interval…it’s due to my internet connection problems. I wrote this in response to a comment someone made regarding Kek Lok Si temple, i.e. that it was a grandiose project, the funds could have gone to aid humanity, etc. And it so happened that HH the Dalai Lama was also quoted to have said that it is better to build hospitals than Buddha statues. Well, my response to this is that it depends. First, you have to know the audience to whom the Dalai Lama was speaking to. Second, as the Buddha of Compassion and an international Nobel laureate, he cannot possibly glorify himself and said that building Buddha statues is more important, can he?

I think it depends. If the society needs more hospitals, then it is appropriate to build more hospitals. Whether it is big, small or grand, is another issue. Similarly, if the society lacks spiritual values, in the long term, it will be better to have more temples and places of worship built. Whether the temple is big, or small or grand, its grandness, or smallness is not an issue by itself. It’s how much benefit it’s able to provide to sentient beings that will decide whether it was worth channeling the funds to it or not (i.e. if at all it can be valued, knowing that many spiritual benefits cannot be valued in a true sense).

About Kek Lok Si temple, while it may be true that it is better to have strong sangha and more faithfuls than grand temples, unfortunately the history of Buddhism in India and Pakistan/Iran had shown that grand structures sometimes do last longer than the Buddhist sasana. Generally Buddhism has disappeared from those places but statues like the giant Bamiyan Buddhas lasted much longer than the sanghas there (until recently in 2001, when the giant statues were destroyed too by the talibans). Is it better to channel the funds to aid humanity than structures like these? My answer is Yes and No. We need to have a balance of both. There is no such thing as it is forever better to contribute to building temples than funds for humanity, or vice-versa. If you are in a situation like Haiti now, where funds are needed on an urgent basis, then contributing to such funds would be more appropriate. Like I said before, it depends on the needs of the society. Funds for temples are more for long term spiritual needs. If the temple or statue does benefit its society/community in terms of supporting Buddhists who actually do practice and strive for enlightenment, or supporting its community in other spiritual ways, then it is definitely good. It is when the monks/nuns and lay-persons that the temple houses do not practice and do not benefit its local community in other spiritual sense, then yes, the funds could have been better used by channeling it to other more urgent needs.

No matter what we think of the Kek Lok Si in terms of its grandiose, we much judge it by its spiritual impact. If you notice, and as mentioned in my previous blog on Kek Lok Si, there is the six syllable mantra on the eight-sided roof of the pavilion. You can see it from below. I do believe in the power of mantras and as Ven. Master Hsuan Hua and other Tibetan masters have said, every time the wind blows on the mantra and touches a sentient being, its impact is inconceivable. We may not see its immediate effect but its karmic imprint is definitely imbedded. The grand statue itself of Kuan Yin will generate faith in many people. Penangites have much faith in Kuan Yin and she provides them with sometimes the only hope they have. You can give aid to cancer funds, but we cannot guarantee a cure and we cannot guarantee the benefits beyond this lifetime. Funds for spiritual projects, however, go a long, long way into benefitting future lives. In this degenerate times when most people do not know how to practice and do not practice, these sort of projects are about the only things that will connect them to the Buddha’s blessings in the future lives.

If not for anything else than the Kuan Yin statue and the mantra, judging by its said long term spiritual benefits to sentient beings, I would say that it is beneficial in that sense. Of course, there are critics who say that it is too much commercialism, too grand, etc but still, we must be careful not to be deceived by mere appearances. I am not trying to take sides, but just to balance out the points of view.

At the end of the day, a project whether it is a temple or hospital (or whatever else) is only beneficial if it does not turn out to be a white elephant after the project had been completed. And clearly the Kek Lok Si is not a white elephant. Some projects supposedly for the aid to humanitarian funds or hospitals could also possibly be misused or misappropriated, can't it? It's the same for temples. But millions of visitors have gone to Kek Lok Si and many more will do that in the future. These visitors include non-Buddhsits, and what better way to make a connection with Buddhism generally and Kuan Yn specifically than visiting Kek Lok Si. At least, this way is not done in a manner seen as proselytising. In this way, the temple contribute to the continuation of the Buddha sasana. Therefore, think about it in this manner.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goodbye 2009, Welcome 2010!

Another year and decade has gone by and I am still not a Buddha, at least from my side. If others see me as one, I cannot control what others perceive. However, over the last one year, I believe I have had some spiritual progress. At least that’s what I think…hahaha!

Well, for one, I had started practicing Guru Yoga in 2009. With this practice, I get to reflect on bodhicitta at least six times a day (as advised by Lama Tsongkhapa). I also get to practice Mahamudra with this Guru Yoga meditation. And it's also a deity practice. Even though it is a short practice, it is packed with so many wonderful elements, I believe even I do not fully fathom its full potential. I have yet to gain any attainments, but with this practice, I have started on an important journey I had not started on this day last year. All this is due to blessings from the Guru. I did not expect the Guru to be teaching this Guru Yoga practice (nor did I have any expectations), but I made some efforts to go so far to see him. And as a result, I got far more than I could have imagined. Now I know why the guru is regarded as the root of all blessings.

Also, I have gone on a pilgrimage to Lumbini. With that, I have fulfilled going to 2 of the four Buddha’s sacred holy sites. I had been to Bodhgaya twice before. That leaves only 2 more.

In 2009, I have also been acquainted with a protector. He is an emanation of Vajrapani and is the same Vajraguard who had followed and protected the Buddha when he was around. He is commonly depicted in many Asian countries as two muscular protectors but he is also sometimes combined as one (sort of two-in-one image as mine is). I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for taking care of me in the last year and for protecting my home and following me on my pilgrimage trip recently. I know he had followed me there and had given me a hint that he was there. But I won’t say it here. I do not know what he sees in me but anyway, a BIG THANK YOU to him!

I am not sure what 2010 is in store for me, but I know it is not going to be easy. But I will do what I can as a sentient being. I am still subject to greed, anger and ignorance, so anything can happen. We will see how things go, ok? I pray that everything go smoothly in 2010 for all my readers, friends and all sentient beings! Take Care!