Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Importance of Financial Governance in Buddhist Institutions


Referring to the above link, I have always advocated that even in monasteries and Buddhist centres/associations, there is a need to have some kind of financial and commercial governance to deter fraud, money laundering and criminal breach of trust from happening in these Buddhist institutions. In the corporate world, we call it "corporate governance". In Buddhist institutions, it may not be appropriate to call it by the same name, although one could argue that some large Buddhist groups do function almost like a corporation. An example: FPMT. However, I would refer it as just financial and other commercial governance, to emphasise the need for internal controls in at least some aspects of the actitvities of our Buddhist institutions. And I would advice the governance activities be centered in key areas such as financial and other commercial activities. The latter would include purchasing and selling actitvities. These activities require some governance and over-sight because the financial and other commercial risks for these activities are the same whether it is in a typical multinational corporation or a monastery that collects donations from the public.

Many Buddhist institutions function largely on trust, especially in its financial and accounting aspects. They depend on only one or two persons with no check-and-balance. Sometimes the majority of a temple comprised of largely people from the same family or their close associates. When the donation box is opened, there is no requirement for witnesses and the key is held by only one person without any rotation or if this is not possible, other check-and-balance measures. In the eyes of governance and transparency, the lack of internal controls in Buddhist institutions is hardly acceptable. I do not know whether this is because we think Buddhists are incapable of cheating or that we just simply are ignorant on instituting these financial and other commercial governance internal controls. It is time to change such a mentality. The onus is on the ordained Sangha to insist on such internal controls and risk management being instituted into their monasteries and temples. Buddhist associations and centres headed by lay people could very well lead the way by having internal auditors do more work to assess the overall control and risk environment for the entire centre/association. They should come out with an annual audit plan and produce a report after each audit assignment just like in the corporate sector. Larger temples and monasteries with larger pockets could very well engage the services of a paid internal auditor, while smaller ones may ahve to depend on voluntery or only partially-paid auditors. But whether you pay for the services of an internal auditor or not, the reality is that not all check-and-balance or internal controls come with a huge price tag.  In some cases, you do not even need an internal auditor to check. Without an internal auditor, the internal controls present in any environment should be self-sustaining to prevent risks. You do not depend on an internal auditor. That's the measure of a good internal control. An internal auditor is merely an additional over-sight responsibility. For example, having another person to witness the opening of the donation box or requiring two signatories for a cheque issuance. These small measures do not cost much and could go a long way to prevent frauds.

Due to the commercialization of the world, where almost everything depends on financial sustainability, even temples and monasteries cannot escape from instituting some measures to have some sort of check-and-balance in its spiritual setting. It need not be a large scale check-and-balance but at the least, there should be some controls in key aspects.   

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Khen Rinpoche 22 Jan 2011

Received this video taken in Singapore's ABC. Latest news is that the Singapore doctors said that the cancer had spread to the liver, hence any operations or chemotherapy would not be able to help. Is that an indirct way of saying there is no more hope a far as western medicine is concerned? Anyway, Khenrinpoche is now going back to Kopan monastery to seek Tibetan medicine. That's suppsoed to be the advice by the higher lamas. But with modern medicine unable to help, what else is there to do? Realistically, there is not much alternative. What we can do is to help recite the Golden Light Sutra, Amitabha Long Life Sutra, Guru Rinpoche's mantra or the latest advice from Lama Zopa Rinpoche is for us to recite the Diamond Cutter Sutra. The total to be accumulated is 20,000 worldwide. I have so far contributed two. Other than that, I have personally dedicated recently one of the deeds I have done to reduce road accidents to the long life of all my gurus. I hope that he is able to live longer. Really really longer.

Latest update by FPMT (subsequent to the above video)
Dear Friends,

Lama Zopa Rinpoche just checked and advised that we can stop reciting the Diamond Cutter Sutra specifically for Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup’s health.

In Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s observation it seems there is now no need to do more recitations as some big pujas which were offered for Lama Lhundrup seem to have helped the situation a lot.

As of this moment in time you have reported 3911 recitations – many many thanks to all who recited.

I’m sure we all strongly rejoice in all the merit created through these recitations and the pujas, which have been of such benefit.

Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup has returned to Kopan Monastery.

Love Claire

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Be Careful of our Thoughts!

I thought this teaching is wonderful because it relates how thoughts can lead on to create our environment through karmic causes and conditions. He also said that's why in Vajrayana Buddhism the functions of thoughts, action and speech are separated. And he also explained why post-meditation pure view of our environment and people are important to reduce our negative thoughts which can eventually lead to negative environment via negative results (karma).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Please Pray for Khenrinpoche's Good Health!!

Note: Some news of concern about the Abbot of Kopan Monastery, the main FPMT monastery in Nepal. On 15 Jan, 2011, we did the 2nd round of the Golden Light Sutra recitation. I pray he gets well! If you can do one of the practices as advised below, that will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

1. Announcement by Losang Dragpa Centre (Jan. 14, 2011)

Dear LDC members and friends,

Our precious and much beloved Guru, Khenrinpoche Lama Lhundrup manifested signs of illness recently. Khenrinpoche was invited to Singapore to seek medical treatment. After extensive tests and examinations by specialists, Khenrinpoche is diagnosed stomach cancer.

As mentioned in the previous announcements, our most respected guru Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche advised us to recite Golden Light Sutra as soon as possible and to dedicate to our most compassionate guru, Kyabje Khenrinpoche Lama Lundrup Rigsel. According to Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, if there is a group of at least 55 people reciting the Golden Light Sutra at the same time, this would confer the best result. 

We received this message on Wednesday early in the morning and LDC has immediately arranged for the group recitation. There were 50 people participated in the group recitation and 8 people reported that they will do the recitation from home. 

As all are aware, Kyabje Khenrinpoche has been visiting Malaysia for the past few years to spread the teachings of the Buddha and in particular the 1K offerings events. Due to the kindness and compassion of Kyabje Khenrinpoche, we are able to receive the most precious gift on earth, being the teachings of the Buddha. We have received the commentary on Tantric Grounds and Paths, Teaching on Special Insight, Teaching on Mind Transformation, Teaching on Samantha, Teachings on How to remove problems in life Kyabje Khenrinpoche taught us to be compassionate, practice bodhicitta, generosity, ethics patience, enthusiastic, perseverance, concentration and wisdom through Khen Rinpoche's actual life practice. During his recent visit, he has performed the Medicine Buddha Initiation, White Tara Initiation, Fire Pujas, Jangwa, Chabtu Puja and etc. Due to his kindness and compassion in performing the pujas, initiations and oral transmissions, our friends, family members, ourselves and the deceased received immense of benefits. 

The Chabtu Puja which is a powerful Dorje Namjolma Healing Puja for purifying any obstacles to health, to receive protection from sickness and to have long, healthy and happy life are being performed by our beloved and compassionate Kyabje Khenrinpoche. It is very rare to have a high and qualified lama to agree to perform this puja. Due to his kindness and compassion, our beloved Khenrinpoche has been performing the said puja for the past few years. Kyabje Khenrinpoche has inspired many members and friends to practice dharma, to apply the holy dharma in our daily lifes, Kyabje Khenrinpoche provided us with the skills to solve our daily problems. Kyabje Khenrinpoche has also held our children's hands and join all of them together to practice and preserve the holy dharma. The children from the 16TLB and Maitrey Choir are the best examples. 

For Kyabje Khenrinpoche's speedy recovery, this is just a small request from Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche. This request by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche for the recitation of the Golden Light Sutra, to recite once by a group of at least 55 people was only directed to us in Malaysia. If the recitation could be performed by any 55 people Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche could have requested the monasteries and nunneries, where there are easily thousands of people to recite not once by many times. We trust Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche must have his reason for such request to LDC. 

We sincerely appreciate all the precious gifts that we received from Kyabje Khenrinpoche. This is a great opportunity for us to repay Kyabje Khen Rinpoche's kindness. We trust Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche fully and sincerely hope we could fulfill our guru's holy advise for the speedy recovery of Kyabje Khen Rinpoche. 

2. Announcement by FPMT (Jan. 14, 2011)

Dear Friends,
Recently Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup has been having health problems, and about one week ago Lama Zopa Rinpoche advised Lama Lhundrup to be treated in hospital.

In the meantime Rinpoche has advised pujas and practices to be done at Kopan, as well as the reading of the Golden Light Sutra in Malaysia.

For others who would like to do prayers for Khen Rinpoche’s health to improve, Rinpoche is advising these practices. There is no particular number to be done - Rinpoche just said that for those students who would like to do, these are the practices that come out best for Lama Lhundrup’s health:

1)      Read Long life sutra
3)      Tong Len practice

We will keep you informed as we know more.


3. There is also an announcement by Singapore's Amitabha Buddhist Centre. The members will do recitation of the Long Life Sutra and Guru Rinpoche's prayer to eliminate obstacles on 16th Jan. in the afternoon about 2pm. So, for those of you in Singapore, do support the session.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mae Chee Kaew - the female Arahant in modern times

Yesterday I was introduced to Mae Chee Kaew through a book I stumbled upon by accident. Today I read it a litle bit and would like to share with you. She was sadi to be a female Arahant who lived in Thailand from 1901 to 1991. She was a student of Phra Ajhan Mun, a well-known Arahant in Thailand. When he passed away, she studied under Ajahn Maha Boowa, another master said to be an Arahant. The book detailed the strange circumstances in which she met Ajahn Maha Boowa starting from a dream she had of falling moon and stars.

The beginning of their relationship was not good at all. That was because at that time, Mae Chee Kaew had already reached a stage of meditation where she developed the ability to see ghosts, devas, and even go to other realms such as heavens and hells. She could even see the past lives of these beings. But she was stucked up into these external phenomenas. These abilities alone could not liberate her from samsara. She kept sharing these phenomena with Ajahn Maha Boowa who then understood why the late Ajahn Mun had prevented her from doing meditation whenever he was not around. It was only when Ajahn Mun passed away that she continued her meditation. So, Ajahn Maha Boowa tried to give her some advice to focus her meditation within her own mind and body, instead of later her mind outwards to external phenomena such as gong to other realms and looking at these unseen beings (that normal human eyes cannot see). She could not take his master's advice and insisted on continuing her own way of meditation. Ajahn Maha Boowa tried again and again to counsel her not to continue the way she had done it. He even tried to raise his voice against her but to no avail. Then Ajahn Maha Boowa had no choice but to do it the "wrathful" way. In front of other nuns and others, he stopped her discussions with him mid-way and scolded her and then told her to leave the cave temple where they were. She was told to pack up. It was after leaving her master that she soon realised her folly. And she tried the meditation technique his master had been telling her all the while. She focued on the single word "buddho" and achieved single pointed concentration. Very soon she achieved samadhi and her body "vanished". Then her mind became clearer and clearer.

At one stage she saw a vision of her master who held a knife and chopped off her body until only a pile of blood, flesh and sinews remained. It was a bloody mess on the floor. Then her master basically asked her "which of these parts is desirable?", "which one is a man?", "which one is a woman?", "which piece is a person?". I interprete these questions as trying to ask her to probe "which one is you?" I feel that this is similar to those Ch'an probing hua-tous or those Vajrayana vipasyana analytical meditation on the emptiness of the "I". Very soon only a subtle awareness remained.

Later her master confirmed her attainment and when she died, many shariras (relics) remained and were in the shape of pearls and crystals. Many of these were colourful. A stupa was built to commemorate her. In her dying years, she suffered much. She became down with many ailments and her eye sight failed, she could not walked nor eat. But fortunately at that time she was already an Arahant. We need not worry about her pain. Her mind was already at ease. Those around her probably suffered more looking at her ailment than she was herself. of course, there was pain and she felt it even as an Arahant. But it didnot have any impact on her mind anymore. She was not going to come back to samsara, after all. During her funeral, her master - Ajahn Maha Boowa said there was no need to do any funeral chanting for her because as an Arahant, there was nothing more we humans could possibly add for her. That is true, and she left behind many wonderful relics as mentioned.

When I read this kind of biography, I am always touched by their sincerity in putting much effort to gain enlightenment. Unless many of us still indulging in samsaric pleasures. I feel guilty about myself everytime I know of someone attaining enlightenment, while I feel happy that he/she had achieved the spiritual goal. Someday, if I visit Thailand, I hope to visit her stupa and pay my respects. She deserved my utmost respect. At her funeral eulogy, Ajahn Maha Boowa said that whether we are a man or a woman, we are equally capable of attaining enlighthenment. That is evident by Mae Chee Kaew's spiritual attainment of Arahantship. So, no matter what lineage or tradition we are practising, do practice it well. And do seek guidance from a good eminent master just like Mae Chee Kaew. Had Ajahn Maha Boowa not been a spiritually enlightened guru himself, he would not have been able to help Mae Chee Kaew in her meditation.

Hence, it pays to find a really enlightened master, and not just someone whom you believed to be enlightened. It does make a huge difference, even though ultimately it is also how much effort you put in. A worse case, is being under thte tutelage of a deviant or spirtually misleading gurus, which there are many nowadays. I find that many people nowadays like to seek the status of a "guru" without the necessary genuine attainments. It's even more sad to see many innocent people being fooled by these "gurus". If you get into problems during meditation, only genuine gurus who had been through it could possibly help you. Fake ones would not be able to help you at all. In fact, it is possibly detrimental. From this story of Mae Chee Kaew, you can see that even in Theravada Buddhism, the concept of getting guidance from the right guru and devoting yourself to him is important. And the kind of devotion is not the kind of tripod-Buddhism that we see happening in many Vajrayana circles. Tripod-Buddhism is not guru devotion.

If you wish to read more about the Arahant Mae Chee Kaew, you only need to google. Remember that women need not underestimate the power of their spiritual potential. Same for men. Same for gay men/women. A lot of us go about our daily lives doing really really supid, ridiculous things. We gets tuck up in endless emotional topsy-turvy. We are wasting a lot of meaningful time. Time that we could have spent developing our spiritual attainments to eventually be able to help all sentient beings. And Mae Chee Kaew proved to all of us that attaining Arahantship is not at all impossible even in these modern times.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fire Safety Aspects for Buddhist Temples, Monasteries and Centres

The following questions should be regarded as a general checklist and by no means is it exhaustive in nature. You can add to the list. The answers to these questions may be indicative of a fire risk and should be discussed at the temple/monastery/centre committee meetings for deliberation. It can potentially help save precious life.

i. Are the exits clearly marked?

ii. Is there a floor plan displayed showing exit routes or emergency doors/staircases?

iii. Are the “risky spots” identified, especially those areas in the altar where devotees offer lit candles or butter/oil lamps or places with highly flammable material (such as incense, oil, candles, etc)?

iv. Are there water sprinklers installed at those risky spots? (or, at least smoke detectors or other early warning equipment. However, take note that water sprinklers can put out fire whereas smoke detectors only give early warnings)

v. Do you have a valid fire insurance policy?

vi. Do you conduct mock fire drills at your temples/monasteries/centres?

vii. Are the doors fire resistant?

viii. Is everyone (including ordained Sanghas) educated as to fire safety prevention and what-to-do in case of a fire? Is this education being reviewed from time to time to all members?

ix. Do you have fire extinguishers at strategic spots?

x. Do you have enough water sources within or nearby to put out the fire?

note: The above should be a meaningful post to start the year. After all, saving lives is an important post, right? I feel that there have not been enough attention on fire safety aspects and measures at houses of worship. Many are potential fire hazards and fire traps in the event of fire. Do not take this lightly.