Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ven. Boon Keng's Teachings

A dharma teaching by Ven. Boon Keng yesterday was very timely and I think it very appropriate I share it here. He touched on many subjects, among which are 2012, end of the world, the terrorist threat on places of worship and most importantly daily dharma application stuff.

He viewed with deep concern the reported terrorist threat to various places of worship in Malaysia. He advised that it is a sign of dharma ending age when religion fights against religion. Hence, we must not to condemn and seek to destroy their concept of Creator God. The extremists in other religions, on the other hand, seek to destroy our places of worship. The over-zealous also seek to convert Buddhists. He said that the way to live harmoniously is to learn how to accommodate each others' beliefs. In line with Venerable's advice, they must accommodate and not destroy our places of worship, and not seek to convert us. And we must accommodate their concept of Creator God.

Ven. Boon Keng adviced that the other thing about living in harmony is not to fight over who's right and who's wrong. That's the first step to argument and fighting and creating disharmony. I think that we can point out what's wrong but if people are not listening, then that's it, stop there, because we have done our duty. But don't fight if people don't believe you. I then realised that people do have the right to choose the wrong path. We cannot force others.

The other thing he said is that many people choose to practice this teachings and that teachings but forget that at the end of the day, it is still about coping and reducing our greed, hatred and delusions. For example, people can go far away for retreats or doing so much animal liberation. And yet, cannot "liberate" themselves when they get caught in daily situations. Venerable gave an example. There was a devote Buddhist, who spent much in doing animal liberation, but one day she came to Venerable and she complaint that her colleagues "stole" her credits and project which she had completed about 80%. Venerable then asked her to liberate herself first. She can spent thousands of ringgit on animal liberation but cannot let go of the few hundred ringgit in commission. She get caught up in her own "animal rebirth" and cannot liberate her own self. Another example was that we can donate to our guru and temples generously but when it comes to our parents, brothers, sisters and colleagues, we become stingy. There are so many family feuds over property. And many of these cases even go to court and drag on for umpteen years. And yet, we think we are such a generous Buddhist. We are not even aware we are living a dichotomous life.

When I think over what Venerable said, I think it is very true. Some of us are very eager to practice highest yoga tantra, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, Zen, etc but when it come to everyday situations, especially when things are not going smoothly, we cannot control our emotions and we often get caught up. A few days ago I was just thinking that we cannot meditate or chant away our anger, our greed and our other emotional entanglements. Not just by meditation or chanting alone. We got to deal with it face to face as it comes and apply the dharma techniques. Contemplating the Lam Rim until we obtain the Lam Rim realisations are usually not done by a lot of Tibetan Buddhists nowadays. Most people think Lam Rim are "kid's stuff" and no need to contemplate. They think they already know Lam Rim in-and-out, but from their daily actions, sometimes it is evident they have not gained the realisation of even the precious human rebirth, which is one of the basic Lam Rim realisations to obtain. Most importantly, it has always been advised by the Tibetan lamas that we must have gained a good grounding of the mind of renunciation, bodhicitta and a good understanding of emptiness before we undertake tantric practices. This is important because there will come a time when these 3 principle aspects are the only things that differentiate between a true tantric practitioner and a mad man, who thinks he is Heruka.

Kyopa Jigten Sumgon reminded people who practice deity yoga to be especially careful especially if they have strong greed/desires, anger/temper and delusions. He warned that people who practice deity yoga who have anger are hell-beings, those that have desires-attachments are hungry ghosts and those that have delusions are animals. That's why Buddhists must generally do their preliminary practices first before engaging in any of these high tantric practices. When people cannot even do a simple Sakyamuni Buddha visualisation, yet they want to do complex deity yoga visualisations with many legs and heads. What are these people thinking? Ven. Boon Keng said the same thing. He said that when people are angry, then have taken rebirth as a "hell-being". And the sad thing is people donot even realised that. And he reminded again and again the phrase "anger burns up merits high as Mt Meru". I think that to aspire to liberate others is good, but we must know that ultimately any practices we do has to deal with cutting down on our greed, anger/hatred and delusions in everyday situations. I think that we must do things step by step and not skip the important preliminary processes and go ahead to undertake the higher practices.

From what Ven. Boon Keng said, it is evident that life everyday situations will be enough to give us an indication whether we are ready or not for these higher practices. If we can reduce our greed, anger and delusions at home and in the office, then we are ready for these higher practices. Some of use are blessed with a smoother life than others. But Ven. Boon Keng reminded that we must be able to reduce our greed, anger and delusions in all situations , that is when life is smooth, not smooth and neutral. If life had been going smoothly for us, and yet we donot reduce our greed, we get agitated at the slightest discomfort, or we remain as ignorant as ever, or we are greedy for more and more profit, then it means we are not dealing with our greed, anger and delusions.

He said that we all strive to make things as perfect as possible for ourselves. We want things always to be as smooth as possible. This, he said, comes from our subtle greed and attachment as well. He asked the audience why people are not able to sit still for even a minute? The moment we sit still, we will scrath our face, touch our nose, scratch our head, etc. He asked how many times we touch our body within one minute of sitting and doing nothing. He humbly gave himself as an example. He said that he had this habit of touching his nose. Every now and then, he will touch and scratch his nose. Even during meditation, he will scratch here and there thinking that there are mosquitoes. He advised that the real "mosquitoes" are in the heart. So, he said he developed the determination to rid himself of this habit and attachment by gradually reducing his urge to scratch his nose. From one minute 3 times, to one minute 2 times, and then one time. Then 2 minute once, and gradually decreasing it until it is no longer a habit. By extension of Venerable's example, we may have deep or subtle attachments that we may not be aware of such as habit of smoking, visiting pubs, drinking alchoholic drinks, addiction to sex, masturbation, and others. Even things in the office or at home like having the habit of micro-managing your staffs, or your children or scolding them for every little bit of mistakes. We can also gradually reduce these attachments and greed that is more based on ego than anything else. These are also practice areas that most of us do not see. I think we only see "practice" as doing meditation, chanting, reciting sutras, doing pujas, donations, sadhana practice and other external aspects but the internal ones we failed to apply our "practice". Hence, many Buddhists "chase" after these external practices such as chasing after initiations or higher empowerments or higher meditation practices, without any reduction in greed, hatred and delusions at all. I think we must be careful not to merely suppress these 3 root vices (as they are referred to in Buddhism) but actually eliminate them. If you are merely supressing them, one day they will come out bursting and you will blame it on your meditation practice. You will mistakenly thought that meditation practice makes you more sensitive. And then you will stop meditation and even any Buddhist practice altogether. You would have become disillusioned to Buddhism. I personally know of at least one person who have become like that. So, be careful!

About the end of the world, Venerable Boon Keng said that the world will not end in 2012. Still a long time to go before it ends, he said. But he warned that the 9 suns as predicted in the scriptures are not necessarily external suns, but the anger in our hearts. When tempers flare easily and people cannot control their anger, and when there are wide-spread violence, that's when the world will end. When people no longer respect their parents on a wide-scale basis, that's when the world up to the Brahmaloka will be destroyed. When we respect our parents, we plant causes for rebirth in the Brahma planes. So, consequently, when there are no longer any respect for parents, there will not be any Brahma planes either. Ven. Boon Keng warned that nowadays we already hear of many cases of children killing parents, and vice-versa parents killing their children. In the scriptures, we are also told the water of the world will rise up to the heavens and drown everyone. Again the "rising of water" does have a significance. It's referring to our internal greed/desires and delusions. Hence, if we listen to Venerable's advice, and if we donot want the world to end so soon, we must have more respect for our parents and live in harmony with others and reduce our greed, anger and delusions. Religions must not fight against religions. If everyone can do this, ie. reduce greed, hatred, delusions and follow the Buddha's advice in "Always do good, Avoid all evil, Purify the mind", then we would be using our time usefully. Time is precious, he advised. And that in fact was the topic of the dharma talk "Every Moment is Precious".

In order to make every moment precious, if we are fathers, we must be good fathers. If we are mothers, we must be good mothers. If sons/daughters, then good sons/daughters. Same for all roles we are in. If we are bosses, we must strive to be good bosses. If we are employees, we must be good employees. If we are leaders, we must be good leaders and learn to give and take. And leaders must learn to accommodate others, not always giving instructions and expect everybody to do only your wishes. He said that even he as abbot of his temple must accommodate the wishes of his disciples many many times. Otherwise his disciples will not be happy and it will create disharmony in his temple. I hope we take note of this important advice.

One thing about Venerable Boon Keng and why I respect him is because the subjects he dealt with are everyday stuffs. Not some high lofty practices that people often crave for. He reminded us time and again that he is already over 70 years old and he is considering retiring from his hectic dharma schedule. Some people take this as a hinting that he is preparing to leave the world for Amitabha Pure Land. I pray not because he is one of the few local monk we have ever produced that is a genuine dharma master and whom I respect greatly. In this dharma talk, it was the first time I heard he was being referred to as "Chang Lau" instead of the usual "Fa Shi". It means he has been promoted to an "Elder Master". That's good. I am happy that he has gained that respect.

I'll end this with a long life verse by me dedicated to him: -

Approachable and unpretentious,
This monk teaches nothing fanciful,
Just daily dharma and reminding that
The Buddha's Path is nothing apart from daily life.
With his simplicity and harmonious conduct,
He brings many beings to the dharma.
To the Abbot of Ang Hock See temple,
I bow and wish you aeons of healthy life!

- verse written on June 20, 2010.


s said...

very good teaching... and i feel the same way too... thanks for sharing...

hope we can all conquer our aggression, desire and ignorance.

Explorer said...

The 2012 issue is NOT about the end of the world. It is about the disasters that the world will experience when the present cycle ends and before the next cycle begins , according to the Mayan calender. It is NOT about the end of all cycles - that would be the end of the world. You could say it's about the end of our present civilization, but NOT the complete destruction of planet Earth.

Mahabodhiyana said...

At the end of the kalpa, it is stated in the budhist scriptures that the planet earth as well as other world systems including the heavens, up to a certain level of heaven, will be destroyed. And then a new cycle will begin and a new planet earth will be re-created again, just as it did many billions of years ago.

As for what is the 2012 issue about, it's better to ask the mayans. But I am interpreting it from the Buddhist context.

Mahabodhiyana said...

Explorer, I got your last msg. Thanks. But whatever it is, remember Ven. Boon Keng's advice, "The real mosquitoes are in the heart". If we are still in samsara, no matter what happens to the world, we will still be in samsara. Our samsaric karma re-creates the world. Cheers!