Friday, August 27, 2010

Yong Vui Kong and Death Penalty

Referring to Yong Vui Kong's plea for clemency to the Singaporean President, here's my opinion. According to Buddhism, human life is very precious and must be allowed to live on until its natural death. And what I say is true regardless of our nationality or the nationality of the criminal. So, it does not matter if Yong is not a Malaysian. My opinion would still be the same. There are other ways to deal with crime and convicts than imposing the death penalty right away. I think the death penalty should only be considered as a last resort instrument to control hardened and repeat criminals/offenders that would pose serious harm to the lives of many others should he not be put to death.

If you need to punish, give him a public caning and that will give people the fear of pain. Should consider even showing it on TV. Vui Kong may fear death but other criminals may not. Look at so many suicide bombers. They are so willing to die. So, for these people, death penalty may not be always the answer. However, punishing a person for their crime is one thing, but we also need to give people a chance or space to repent if it is sincere. We must not be so inflexible until there is no chance at all for anyone to repent and be allowed to turn a new leave. For Vui Kong’s case, of course he deserves punishment due to what he had done. But I think a life sentence and public caning will be sufficient to shame him for life. We must not be so obsessed with punishing a “criminal” until we forget to give him the opportunity to turn and transform him into useful persons.

In Buddhism, during the Buddha’s time, quite a few criminals were turned into good persons. For example, the notorious Angulimala. The Buddha converted him into a good person and taught him to do good deeds. He wasn’t obsessed with punishing evil people. But of course, in the end Angulimala still suffered his own karma, but that is after he got his chance to achieve liberation. He achieved Arahantship.

So let’s give Vui Kong a chance to transform the evil deeds that he had done first. Even a murderer like Angulimala got a chance from the Buddha. And even Milarepa, who is a murderer, got a chance to turn over and eventually he become an enlightened yogi of Tibet. By becoming a good person, it is actually a better way to repay the sins he had committed to others. It does not truly help by sending a person to the gallows. The criminal learned nothing and evil will not be reduced. In his next life (since there is rebirth in Buddhism), he might turn out to be evil again. So, evil will not be stopped until the person is positively transformed. Not hanged. Hence, only if he turns over a new leave, will evil be truly reduced. And with the right kin of transformation programme in prison, criminals in varying degrees of crime can truly changed positively from evil to good. By hanging Yong, this tranformation cannto be achieved. Only by converting his death sentence to life imprisonment can Yong truly have a chance in transformation.

If only there is a Buddhist jail for Buddhist prisoners.... where there is no death penalty but they need to show their sincerity, just like Milarepa had to work hard to carry those bricks up the hill to build the house. Once finished, to tear it down and take all those bricks down the valley. And to repeat the process many many times. People may regard that as punishment, but it is truly purification. Had Milarepa been sentenced to death, he would not have had the chance to purify his evil deeds. He would have been born in hell an suffer for aeons. So, the next time you support the death penalty, consider carefully where the person will be reborn into. If it is lower realm, it is better he/she stay alive to repent/purify. If it is higher realm, we have no worries whether he lives or dies. Of course, if they still show no remorse after giving them a chance (they must be monitored), they have themselves only to blame if the death sentence is impose as a final resort. But only as a final resort to hardened criminals. Is Vui Kong a hardened criminal? I don't think so. Is he a repeat offender? The answer is no. Hence, he still need to be given a chance. :)

So, please support Vui Kong’s clemency! If you are not sure what this is all about, just google "Yong Vui Kong" and you will know.

For further details, check out this link:

For goodness sake, the authorities should go after his former boss, i.e. the drug kingpin. If there's anybody that should be hanged, it's him! Vui Kong was only his sacrificial pawn. And one wonders how many other young boys who had been victimised by his former boss. Catch the real culprit. The drug kingpin is clearly unrepentant and hardened criminal, if there had been a history of him victimising young boys into drug trafficking. If such a hardened criminal is sent to hell with the death penalty, he will suffer more than any punishment or pain on Earth. If he can learn his lessons on Earth, he better learn it here, for the fire and torture in hell knows no mercy. But there is a clear need for hell as these people need to learn their lessons. If there is a clear need for hell, there will be similar need for the death penalty. But as I said, it need to be used only sparingly and only after evaluating that it is more compassionate to send him to hell to learn his lessons, after having failed to learn them after having been given a few chances and/or if life imprisonment fails to contain him/her. If such persons still pose a serious threat to many others, then the choice is clear. However, Yong Vui Kong clearly does not fall into this category of hardened criminals yet. Let's give him a chance!

Friday, August 20, 2010

An Open Message to the Nagas

Dear Honorable Nagas,

I have no smoke puja nor any golden treasure vases to offer you all. But I humble hope that you all will consider to forgive the people in the region of Pakistan and China who had been faced with huge disastrous flood problems. It's time to stop.

Despite you live deep in the ocean depths or in rivers, in waterfalls, etc, I know you have the power to read computer messages. I am not sure what I have to offer you in order for the victims not to suffer such sorrow... except my sincerity. Anyway, please consider my sincere request. I pray that in turn you will be blessed to have a vision of a Lama with a golden hat, which not many people nor nagas have seen before! If you hope to be his disciple and protectors in the future when he emerges, you need to stop the destruction and harm, and help spread the Buddha dharma instead! If he does not emerge, you just help him till he does emerge.

In the dharma,

Message to humans:
Don't forget to help in whatever way you can, even if it is just a compasisonate thought/prayer for the victims. If you are doing naga puja, forget about your own requests to cure cancers and just think of the victims in Pakistan. With such compassionate self-less thought, that is the best naga puja you can ever offer to the nagas. And for all you know, that may just cure your illness too. Who knows? And if it doesn't, it won't matter to you if you are truely compassionate, right? You may not have been cured, but you have been healed! Hahaha... I learn this "phrase" from one Professor. :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Must Not Act Impulsively

On Monday 16th August 2010, after reading an online article on meditation, especially the critical 4th stage Jhana, I realised that I must not again be following my roller-coaster emotions and tempers anymore. Otherwise it will have serious consequences on my meditation. Negative states or obstacles may manifest. Even if these does not arise, it is good to control one's emotions and not re-act impulsively. I am control. I must. There is some serious message in this realisation now. If I don't take heed, it may be too late for me when I suudenly act impulsively. Who knows what will happen and who will it affect? I hate to imagine the sorrow and regret that will ensure thereafter.

Today Tuesday 17 Aug, was a disastrous day...I didnot control my emotions properly and let it go wild. Must do a better job tomorrow. I hope you too would do that.

Today Wed, 18 Aug, I did a better job in controlling my emotions and did not re-act impulsively. I am happy. Hope to continue this on and on. This is the way!

Some people experienced it earlier and some later, but generally it is at the 4th stage that becomes critical. It's when the line between our normal world (the so-called "real" world) and another world where we can see other beings which we don't see previously. So, which is real and which is false? Moreover, if we have a problem controlling our greed and anger, the risk of misusing any super normal powers that manifest (or we think it manifested when actually there is none) is pretty high. And you know very well that HELL awaits you later should you misuse the powers to hurt anyone or to gain any advantage or indulge in sensual pleasures. There could also be great possibility of physical damage to your body should the winds in your bodily channels be uncontrollable. Some of this damage could be permanent. It's called "lung" in Tibetan. So, one who is serious in high attainments must make sure one does not carry these negative karmic baggage or harbour any subtle potential for these obstacles to arise. So, that's why the Buddha adviced that Sila (morality) starts before Samadhi (concentration) and Panna (wisdom). That's also a reason why one must not underestimate the power of doing purification and preliminary practices. These can greatly prevent or help when such states manifest. That's why I believe that before we can become a Buddha, first we must be a proper human being. If one is currently a ghost, be a proper ghost. Same for other types of beings.

I also must not let myself sink into depressive moods but deal with it, for example, listening to up-lifting songs, watch TV or movies, etc. One of the medtation side-effects it seems is something to do with mood swings between periods of bliss and depression. Even in my article on "experiencing the Lam Rim" can also result in depression and normal mood swings. But at that stage, we must lt the depression sink in a little bit so that we can use it to fuel our disgust for samsara. But not too much until it goes out of hand and you end up suffering from severe depression. There is no fixed formula for everyone, I think. You need to use your own judgement and wisdom to balance and deal with it. However, at the Jhana stage, any depressive mood is to be dealt with swiftly. You cannot let it linger on. Similarly I think I have read that we should not be attached to blissful states that arise. Just let go. Actually it is easy to say but doing it is another. That's why I am advocating meditators to prepare from now. Don't let bad habits of being a slave to your own feelings/emotions sink inside you. I tell myself must start to be able to control.

Try google "meditation effects" or "negative side-effects of meditation" or "meditation mental illness" and the article is there somewhere. I didnot exactly remember the article link. Anyway, you can read the Theravadian texts and commentaries about the various Jhanas and what to expect in each stage. I have not seen any detailed explanation on Jhana states by Tibetan masters, but know that the Theradian masters, especially Burmese "Sayadaws" are very good at this topic. You might want to explore more on these states from these sources. I think it is important to know what we are getting into and prepare ourselves so that we know how to deal with it when we are there at each state of meditation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Experiencing the Lam Rim

In the latest FPMT news highlight, it was mentioned that Lama Zopa Rinpoche said that FPMT students had studied a lot of Lam Rim and it is time they experience the Lam Rim. I totally welcome such advice by Rinpoche. And I am particularly intrique that he uses the word "experience". It is interesting that he used the word because traditionally the word used is realising the Lam Rim. However, from my own experience sharing and talking dharma with people in Buddhist forums especially, some Buddhists have a misunderstanding of the word "realisation". They mistaken this word for "attainment" and think that it is a level almost impossible for ordinary people to achieve, at least not without going through rigorous meditation retreats and other practices. Actually the two words are not the same, although in other contexts it could also mean "attainment". Therefore, I think that it demonstrates Rinpoche's vast wisdom to use the word "experience" instead.

For "realisation of Lam Rim" to happen or in order to experience the Lam Rim, you do not need such high levels of practices. You only need persistence and consistency in doing each step of the Graduated Path properly. If you only hurriedly go through the sentences in the Lam Rim long, medium or short vesions, then it will not result in experiencing the Lam Rim. Most Tibetan Buddhists of any Lam Rim tradition (note: whether one calls it "Lam Rim" or another name is besides the point) do not even know there is such thing as experiencing the Lam Rim, much less to even experience it. And without experiencing the Lam Rim, they have even gone on to practicing the higher Vajrayana tantric practices. Clearly this is already not following the advice in Lam Rim. But there are some masters who allow this to happen because in this degenerate age, if the strict rules are not relaxed (important pre-conditions of having Lam Rim experience before taking the tantric practices are not so emphasised nowadays), there may be many higher practices that will eventually not have a single practitioner at all. It will mean the tradition or lineage of that practice will be dead. Would you rather see the lineage practice dead (even though the texts might survice but if there are no expert gurus to teach it to you, you will unlikely to master it) or to disemminate the practice lineage properly according to traditional ways, without any relaxation of rules/steps? It is a case of choosing either the devil or the deep blue sea, if you ask me. I have no answer to this. But for me personally, I still have a choice. It's not like I don't. I can still experience the Lam Rim, at least a little bit, before embarking on the higher practices. For others, Lam Rim seems to be basic, boring stuff. They are more attraced to six yogas of Naropa, Vajrakilaya practices and they can't wait to start practicing Dzogchen, Mahamudra and even dakini practices. In actual fact. Lam Rim is the road map to Buddhahood itself, no matter what specialised practice you engage in later. You always must come back and refer to the road map to make sure you are still on-track and have not gone down the wrong road. In fact the advice by the Gelug masters before practising tantra is to have the experience of the three principle aspects of the path, i.e. renunciation, bodhicitta and emptiness. Remember, all you need is the experience of these three, not the attainment of emptiness. For example, when you see the faults of samsara in a direct profound way and consistently seek to liberate from it, then you have achieved the experience of renunciation. Even a little bit of it is good before embarking on the basic Kriya tantric practice. And a more stabilised experience of these three is preferable before embarking on the highest yoga tantra.

But what does it mean to experience the Lam Rim? As far as I know, in the beginning stages of Lam Rim, experiencing the Lam Rim can make a person feel very down and also it could be a frightening experience. Once you have experienced it, in the beginning it comes to you from time to time in flashes while awake as well as in dreams while asleep. If it is frightening experience, especially when experiencing the tortures of hell, you will wake up screaming and in cold sweat! This is not a joke. When you experience the impermanence of the human life, you will have a deep feeling that everything you do is unimportant anymore because you are going to die soon. Sometimes this will lead you to just sit and do nothing, or it will spur you to be more determined to do your dharma practices. These Lam Rim experiences could affect your daily emotions. So, be careful and deal with it by swifting your focus to experience the bodhicitta for all sentient beings! , swift your attention to focus on empiness. That's another reason why we need all three principle aspects fo the path. You need to experience it to know what I am talking about. I know about it because I have read it somewhere. :)

Even though these experiences could be scary and affect our emotions, but these are the important stages for us who are treading the Lam Rim path to go through. If you skip all these experiences, and embark straight to the high tantric yogas, you will not have the necessary basic grounding "protection" to avoid a possible downfall. I could be wrong but I personally regard these Lam Rim experiences as the true protectors in one's Buddhist practice (no matter what practice we do). There is less likelihood for one to go astray in the cultivation path if one has eperienced the Lam Rim. Even if without any attainments at the end of one's life, these Lam Rim expereinces (once stabilised in one's mind-stream), your life will not be wasted away in vain. Whatever Lam Rim you have experienced will be deeply embedded in the far-reaches of your consciousness. It will not disappear until you reach you goal of Buddhahood.

How do you gain Lam Rim realisations? As adviced in the Lam Rim texts, do the contemplative meditation for each step of the Lam Rim. I believe there are many books available on this and many gurus who will be willing to teach it to you and so I need not elaborate here. During the time of Pabongkha Rinpoche, he was asked by his guru to do contemplative meditation on a single topic for many months and only proceeded if he has some experience. That is how he became so good in the Lam Rim teachings. And that is also why I totally believed in his atttainments. Yes, now I am using the correct word "attainment". So let's work hard together to get some experience of Lam Rim, ok? Cheers and have a good day!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cloning the Buddha: A Buddhist Perspective

I just watched an old movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (spelling his name is quite challenging!) The title of the movie is The Sixth Day. For many religions this thing about cloning is a huge ethical issue. I think humans may be able to clone the human body, but can they clone the mind? Can any scientist clone the consciousness or reproduce it by machines or DNAs? I don't think so. So, what's all those debate and controversy about cloning? Can you clone the heavenly gods? or the asuras? or the hungry ghosts? Without the mind, the cloned body is just an inanimate object, just like a table and a chair. An empty shell, I would say. It will not be able to think and create fresh karma like other sentient beings.

When I wrote the above paragraph, I have not read about the cloning technology. Since then, I have read how the scientists have cloned some mammals and even thinking of dinosaurs (might be in some secret laboratory now still in progress), it occurs to me that scientists can indeed clone a duplicate embryo and when a wandering bardo being is attracted to this embryo, it will result in a fertilised embryo. Voila! Now you have a clone body with a mind! Scientists need not create a mind nor a soul (for other religions that believed in a soul), if the cloned embryo can attract a mind, it will potentially result in a clone.

In order for a clone to be produced, first you need a cell, which is made up of the fertilised sperm from the male and egg from the female. From this cell, the scientist will take out the original DNA of this cell and replace it with the DNA of the "creature" or "whatever being" that the scientist wants to clone. Taking out the original DNA and replacing it with the cloned DNA is not killing the cell, as the mind does not reside in the DNA itself. I say this because there are some concerns whether this process in cloning is killing or not. I don't think so. Then you put this cell or embryo into the womb of a surrogate mother, if we can call it that. The surrogate mother must be suitable to bear the cloned "being". Accoding to articles I have read, the "surrogate mother" must be as close as possible to the genes of the "being" you want to clone. This is one of the reasons why cloning a dinosaur is so difficult. You hardly can find a suitable "surrogate mother" because all dinosaurs are now extinct. And some scientists are thinking of using birds, such as the ostrict (the biggest bird on earth), to bear the "clone baby". But an ostrict is still small comparatively to dinosaurs. There is, however, a possibility of an "artificial laboratory womb".

Now, with this technology, there is huge potential in the field of medical science. There is even talk of possiblity of ending the process of aging to the human body. Cancer cells could potentially be replaced by new cloned cells from your own DNA. As such, you can potentially "cure" cancer with this cloning technology. The benefits in medical science is enormous. However, I do not agree with those that think with cloning technology, then humans can then be immortals. By hook or by crook, there will be new diseases and new ailments that will continue to affect humans and animals. There will also be more natural and human-made disasters that will wipe out many scores of people. So, what the Buddha taught us, i.e. the universal truth of impermanence, suffering and selflessness still stands despite or in spite of cloning. So, you can practically forget about achieving immortality through cloning.

And the possibility of cloning a previously dead person is much smaller than that of cloning dinosaurs. This is where the controversy lies. With all the Buddha relics around, it isn't that difficult to clone the Buddha. By Buddha, I meant Gautama Buddha, the historical Buddha. Not the Sambhokaya Buddhas such as Amitabha Buddha, whose DNA is definitely impossible to get, i.e. if he even has a DNA. By the way, do heavenly gods and ghost have DNAs? I supppose only if they have a material body, then they will have a DNA. Otherwise it will not be possible for the material (or tangible) to check on the immaterial (or intangible), right? But, who knows there might be intangible DNAs and the possibility will be even more enormous. Imagine creating a cloned Jade Emperor? Too far fetched? Okay, forget it. :) Let's stick to human or animal clones, the ones we can see and touch.

Many religions see this cloning of humans as a huge ethical and moral issue. I am not sure why other religions object to it, from a religious standpoint. Do they see cloning as a challenge to God's role. In Islam, as per Wikipedia, cloning are considered "haram". How does Buddhism regard cloning humans? Let's explore the issues. First, does Gautama Buddha's DNA genome includes the enlightened wisdom of the Tathagata? I don't think so. Remember the embryo will take in another mind from a sentient being with the karma to have the DNA of the previous historical Buddha. If he grows up into an adult clone, he will look like him and behave like the Buddha and be a peace figure (such as what most of us see in the 14th Dalai Lama today). Other than that, his mind will not inherit the enlightened mind of the Buddha. Unfortunately, he has to strive for his own enlightenment. However, with the DNA of the Buddha in him, I suppose it will not be that difficult for him to achieve enlightenment swiftly. So, it looks like cloning good humans does have its positive side. But still it is not as easy as Richard Heinberg imagined it in his dream of creating a race of enlightened beings. It can result in achieving enlightenment quickly. Of course, the reverse is also true. This cloning technology must never fall into the hands of irresponsible persons for fear that they may create more terrorists or Adolf Hitler clones. It will be very frightening to imagine even one Adolf Hitler. Now, do you see the concern here?

Other than cloning "bad hats", another potential issue is how to differentiate between the original being and the clone. It is said that every person has a unique thumb print and iris/eye pupil. If you have two persons with similar thumb print, imagine the chaos it will result in the world. The clone could withdraw all your money and own all your assets legally, unless there is a way to track each and every clone with a unique code (just like the thumb print). Perhaps this can be achieved by altering the genetic make-up of the DNA, so that the thumb prints will appear different but all other features stay the same. Perhaps there are other ways. but suffice it to say that there must be a way to differentiate a clone from the original. It will be disastrous if we cannot do that. The problem is human greed. Greedy scientists can potentially manipulate even the strictest control methods.

Hence, considering these issues, cloning does have it's negative impact. I think that Buddhism will not have any issue with it, in the sense of whether it goes against any precepts or teachings of the Buddha. So long as it is used for the right purpose and with the right motivation, just as it is for all other areas of science, then it is alright for scientists to pursue cloning. By itself, there is no right or wrong in cloning. Rather it is still human greed and other delusions mentioned by the Buddha that will turn something good into something most evil that are the real problems. And everyone (including clones) will suffer the karma /consequences for which we have created. When the clone body is eventually dead, the mind of that dead clone will take rebirth somewhere else according to his/her karma.

What the cloning scientists should do is to quickly form a world governing body and issue out a code of ethics. This body should also be responsible to issue licences to any scientist who wants to perform cloning. Otherwise, any such activity carried out will be regarded as illegal. Cloning activities should be thus heavily regulated. However, within the giverning body itself, there must be check and balance so that it is not heavily dominated by any one party, with potential self-interest. I believe if done properly, the cloning technology will greatly benefit many humans and animals on Earth. Thus we need not stifle its progress on concerns of its possible dangers/risks. What's important is there must be a proper governance process to mitigate those risks.

Lastly I leave you with these thoughts. Who do you like to clone if you are given a choice besides Gautama Buddha? What about cloned Atisa? Cloned Shantideva? Cloned Padmasambhava? Hmm... who do I like to see again? One of my favorites will be Venerable Ananda ....okay...two of my favorites....and Ven. Mahakassapa. The list is endless, but if I am forced to choose one, it has to be Lama Je Tsongkhapa. How about you?

Even though there are others who have written about this topic of "cloning the Buddha" before, the ones that I know of, I think the writers may not even be a Buddhist to really be able to talk and give the viewpoint of Buddhism objectively. So, I hope people will appreciate what I have written here and for whatever it is worth, I hope it does benefit someone out there.


edited on 11 & 12 Aug 2010.