Friday, March 25, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor - a human goddess

Today I join others to pray for a good rebirth for Dame Elizabeth Taylor, which I am sure she will. And to pay tribute to her too with these words:

"She probably was a goddess in her previous life. At present she is a human goddess. In her coming rebirth, she will very likely be born in the heavens where she belongs, that is as a goddess!"

She reminds me of Goddess Saraswati, the beautiful Hindu Goddess of wealth. Goddess Saraswati is also mentioned in the Golden Light Sutra. Could she be a manifestation of her? Hahahaha...! But no one can deny throughout her life she mostly looked like one! Even when she put on the most weight, she was still stunning! Despite her many illnesses, and failed marriages, she was admired by many, just like a goddess would be. She was also wealthy and used her wealth to support many good causes. That's what earned her a place in my blog. Overall, she has been a positive and wholesome celebrity. And she was my father's icon.

I wish her well, and I am sure she had accumulated much merits for her coming rebirth. I have no worries for her future. An entire Hollywood generation have come and gone. If there's any message from her death, it's impermanence and death.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

National karma

What is national karma? Is there such thing? Why are some nations more prosperous than others? Why are some countries facing more political unrest than others? Why are some countries almost always in war? Why is it that people in some countries do not have a chance to be vegetarians, their countries largely made up of sand and desert, unable to grow domestic vegetables?

National karma explains a lot of these differences and "fate" of their countries. National karma is made up of past and present karma and present decisions of everybody in the nation. Whereever you live in, you have a little of the national karma. It is actually individual karmas that are linked together, i.e. groups of people having the same karma. Let's explore the national karma of Malaysia.

Malaysia have generally very good karma. However, I feel that now we live in more and more precarious times. More so in the future. Malaysians have been living in a safe environment for many decades. Malaysia is surrounded by the Philippines and the Indonesian archipelago. These countries often shielding it from on-coming storms or tsunami, as happened in the 2004 tsunami. Malaysia is also free from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Malaysians only feel the tremors from earthquakes that happened in Sumatra or Jawa. Malaysian politics are also largely stable with no major political unrest since the 1969 racial riots. However the karma of Malaysians is slowly changing. There were news on small twisters happening in certain parts in Malaysia recently. It was largely unheard of in the past. Weather patterns have also changed. During Chinese new year, it is usually hot and dry. But in recent years, it was not so. And there were people saying the geological plates around Malaysia are slowly shifting, making the possibility of earthquakes happening much closer to our shores in the future. 

Also the government is now considering building a nuclear powered plant to generate future energy needs for the country. Even though I personally do not wish to have such plants in our country, I cannot deny that fossil fuel and other alternative methods to generate electricity such as using hydro, coal, oil, wind or solar energy are not viable nor is it sustainable on the long term. With the lack of suitable alternatives, it seems there is no other way than to turn to nuclear energy. But using nuclear energy comes with much risk as we can now see from what is happening now in Japan. 

So, if you combine the future possibility of earthquakes happening closer to Malaysia and the possibility of having a nuclear plant in the country, there will arise the risk of Malaysia facing a similar situation as the Japanese are now. Hence if that happens we will witness the deterioration of  the Malaysian karma. I will probably not be around anymore but the future generations will enjoy as well as suffer from decisions that are made today. 

The people then may be smarter and have a higher standard of living, with more technological advances, but I feel that they will also face new diseases and will be less healthy. The society then will be less harmonious and there may be more political unrest and turmoil. Religious intolerance will be high at that time. People will be more greedy and more selfish. According to Buddhism, how the society is depends on the karma of the people. If people are more greedy, loses temper more easily and are not able to think wisely, then their nation's karma will also change. The individual karma will affect the group karma and the group karma will affect the nation's karma. Similarly in order to change this direction that we seem to be heading now, we must cut our greed now. We must control our anger and hatred, and be more loving towards others. Be more tolerant to those we don't agree with, reduce our unwholesome actions. Also political leaders must realise that their actions and decisions do not only affect the present generation but also the future generations. Our support for our leaders in turn create national karma for everybody. That's why we must not simply support any leaders blindly. So when we choose our leaders, we must choose wisely, otherwise if our leaders commit wrong, we and probably our descendants will suffer the negative consequences for a long long time. If our leaders engage in war or oppress the people and if we support their actions, we too will have part of the karma when it ripens.

These are the only ways to change our national karma. It starts with changing our bad ways on an individual basis. And choosing our leaders carefully. There is no other way. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Whither Gradual or Sudden Enlightenment?

Referring to my blog on how Kamalashila won the debate over Ho Shan Mahayana, I would like to clarify that it is not Mahayana Buddhism lost. 'Ho Shan Mahayana' refers to the name of a monk that debated with Kamalashila. Some say that it is referring to a particular group of monks that practices some sort of Zen Buddhism. 

In the same blog, I also mentioned about sudden vs gradual enlightenment and the debate btwn Ven. Sheng Yen and HH the Dalai Lama. The thing is the concept of gradual enlightenment is not the creation of the Dalai Lama alone. This debate of sudden & gradual enlightenment is not confined to btwn proponents of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism alone, but also within the various traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism. For example, there are masters in some lineages that believe those who practice certain tantric path will go direct to final enlightenment without having to go through all the grounds and paths. Others, however, believe that you go through each one (such as each of the ten bodhisattva bumis and the 5 Paths) step by step. 

In the founder of the Drikung Kagyu lineage, Lord Jigten Sumgon's Gong Chik vajra verse no. 13, he is of the opinion that all the paths and grounds need to be traversed by all who seek enlightenment. He was also of the opinion that even in cases of sudden enlightenment, that person must have been working on his mind (i.e. purification of defilements & accumulation of merits) for sometime. In other words, he must have the necessary pre-requisites for achieving enlightenment before he is able to break through even at the first level of enlightenment. 

I support that notion. Just as our defilements are not removed in a single day, in the same way enlightenment is not achieved in a short, sudden event. Enlightenment does not come falling down into our lap without causes and conditions. And even if it was a sudden break through the question is: at what stage of enlightenment have you achieved? If it is just the initial level, it means he still has a long way to go until he achieves final and complete Buddhahood. And if one have not work to achieve all the qualities of a Buddha, one will not become a Buddha. Just by meditation alone, no matter what meditation method is employed, one will not become a Buddha. For example, we need to 'work' with sentient beings to develop all the qualities necessary such as compassion, patience and the rest of the paramitas. Hence the path to enlightenment can never be so simple as an instant moment when we will suddenly be endowed with all the qualities of compassion and wisdom. It has to be a process. And the process can only result in enlightenment when our defilements are removed. 

How much enlightenment we achieve will depend on how much defilements are removed. If you remove more, then you will achieve a higher stage if enlightenment. Hence in that sense, I feel that he is actually saying it is not so much about getting suddenly or gradually enlightened but how much further you need to 'go' once you have achieved some levels of enlightenment. Therefore to seek for sudden enlightenment can border on being greedy. Rather we need to focus on working to purify our defilements, not focus on how quick to attain enlightenment. Focus on properly removing defilements in the shortest possible time without getting ourselves too hasty nor too slack. That's the Buddha's Middle Path.

Once defilements are purified, enlightenment will result, and how soon we achieve that, i.e. sudden or gradual depends on how much effort we put in to purifying our defilements. We do not suddenly get a PhD without having studied primary and secondary schools. The smarter kids will study faster and skip a few years but they still need to demonstrate they have the necessary knowledge and ability before the school will allow these genius kids to skip a few years. So the question of not having purified the defilements and gained the necessary merits before we could achieve sudden enlightenment does not arise. 

Regardless of our path of practice, every defilements still need to be purified and merits still need to be accumulated. It does not mean if we practice Zen or a particular tantric path to 'sudden' enlightenment, then there is no need to go through all those steps of purification and accumulation. We still need to go through the process. And a process involves time, hence gradual. If the process takes only a short time, some people call that 'sudden' but it really means the process happens faster, depending on the effort and capability of the person.

As to which path is better, Zen or Tibetan Buddhism, I believe the answer lies in each individual. Whichever path hastens the purification and accumulation process, that's the path best for you! And it is generally accepted by most Buddhists that whatever is best for one person need not be best for another. And vice-versa. That's why it is said that the Buddha taught many paths and dharma to suit many types of beings. 

So, to the question: whither gradual or sudden enlightenment? If you choose either one, you really deserve a knock on the head. Just focus on our practice and enlightenment will gradually come suddenly! Don't you think so?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Prayers for Tsunami and Eartquake in Japan

I have been away for official work duties and have been unable to blog. Moreover, my PC has been out-of-action for the last 2 weeks. Anyway, I am back and would like to express my horrow and sadness at the tragedy that strucked Japan on Friday afternoon. At that time I was still in KL. 

Kyabje Lama Zopa has issued an advice for people to recite the Ksitigarbha mantra, and which I think is a mantra from the Tibetan tradition. The mantra is not something which I can find in the usual Ksitigarbha Sutra, nor is the short version the same as the one that is common among Chinese Mahayana. So, I donot know what is the origin of this Tibetan version of the Ksitigarbha mantra. The latter is what I am familiar, i.e. Om Pra Mani Dhani Svaha. Anyway, the below is the long and short versions of the Ksitigarbha mantra in the Tibetan lineage. And it might saound weird to you but I really heard the long version as below the first time in a Sathya Sai Baba centre. Sai Baba do encourage people to practice mantras.

Kshitigarbha Long Mantra:



A picture of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva in the Tibetan lineage is as above. And Lama Zopa also adviced people to recite the Guru Sakyamuni Buddha prayer as follows:
La ma tön pa chom dän dä
De zhin sheg pa dra chom pa
Yang dag par dzog päi sang gyä
Päl gyäl wa shakya thub pa la
Chhag tshäl lo chhö do kyab su chhi wo
Jin gyi lab tu söl

To the guru, founder, bhagavan, tathagata, arhat, perfectly completed buddha, glorious conqueror Shakyamuni Buddha, I prostrate, make offerings, and go for refuge. Please grant me your blessings. Recite as much as you can (not just 3 times).

And I would add that the Tara mantra for Earthquake disasters and Water disasters should be recited also. I blog on that some time ago. Please go find it. Ever since I had that vision of Tara, I had re-discovered those mantras and since then many huge disasters have been happening in many countries across the world. I believe that the Tara mantra can help. That Tara vision did not appear for no reason.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Whither to separate - the religious and the political roles?

This is about the issue of whether religion should be separate from politics. It is a difficult topic and goes beyond Buddhism. Even in Buddhism, the issue is not limited to Tibet alone. There are many Buddhist monks who also took to the streets to show their political support either as pro or anti-government. Hence in this blog, I shall confine my discussion to the situation in Tibet but mindful that the same principle could be applied elsewhere if appropriate. Firstly I would urge my dharma brothers and sisters to exercise more forbearance in being updated on the issue of Tibet. When people say they want dharma and politics to be segregated, I really am not sure what they mean. Do you mean …

- You do not care about what happens to the Tibetans because it has nothing to do with us, and that you do not wish to receive any posts or messages regarding Tibet-China liberation issue in this Vajrayana Penang forum?
- Or, you do not mind anyone posting issues on Tibet-China liberation issues but only want to receive the messages sparingly?
- Or, are people unhappy that HH the Dalai Lama and HH the Karmapa are playing both the roles of spiritual as well as regarded by most Tibetans as their political leaders?

The real issue is this: if your country is facing wars or being oppressed by another country, is it right for monks/nuns/ and other religious people to say that “well, I am a dharma practitioner… I will have nothing to do with whatever happens to my country. The country can go to the dumps but I will have nothing to do with it. Let other people fight and die for the country but I will not participate. Religious people like me will have nothing to do with the politics of the country.” Is this attitude correct?

What do you mean when people say “to segregate religions and politics”? Do these people mean that during a general election, monks and nuns do not need to come and vote and select the next government? I think that as long as you live in that country, you will have a responsibility to ensure a responsible government is elected. Otherwise, a bad government will affect religious practice. Everything affects everything else. That’s the theory of inter-dependent factors, as far as I understand it. It is not right to remain a pacifist in certain situations. But yet in certain other situations it may be more right to remain a pacifist. It depends on what is the situation and we have to use our judgment. Being too involved in politics may affect our dharma practice, i.e. if we are serious into attaining enlightenment. But we cannot really totally abstain from it too. Like it or not, we cannot leave it entirely to the politicians. In our country, we elect them. In countries where they do not have elections, they may resort to other ways such as over-throwing them by force. Even during the Buddha’s time, Sakyamuni Buddha took the risk and tried to stop the forces of Magadha from annihilating the Sakya kingdom. If you ask me, I will say at that moment, the Buddha was playing the role of political peace-maker, but in a religious way. He did not say “I am a monk, a renunciate…the kingdom and clan is not my problem anymore”. And I would say that that’s exactly the role that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is also trying to play now with regard the issue of Tibet.

Someone has to play that role in politics whether he/she is a religious person or not. In trying to segregate politics from religion, are we saying that politicians cannot be practicing people as well? They cannot be a religious person? So what do people mean when they want religions to be separate from politics? What the real issue that is bothering you? The issue of when religious persons should step in and participate in political decisions is never clear cut. A lot of times there will be no clear boundary to demarcate each side. I do not think it is a case of not being able to play both roles. Rather it is about playing both roles clearly and responsibly, if at all anyone needs to play both religious and political roles. Unfortunately, I admit that history did indicate to us that even Tibetans were not able to play both roles very well (for instance, when a few of the previous Dalai Lamas died in mysterious circumstances). Also, a person who plays both roles will be subjected to the risk of being very convenient for critics to blame a religious decision as a political one. The dhogyal issue is perceived by some as a case in point even though the Dalai Lama critics may argue it is indeed a political issue, rather than a religious one. The debate continues till today.

In conclusion, the issue of whether to separate the religious role from the political is not as easy as it may seem. But what is clear is that we should not have a rigid mind that have only one way of thinking. We must try to be more inclusive and expand our compassion to include the struggles of people from other countries. For me, as a mark of gratitude to the ancient Buddhist lamas who were in ancient Tibet, I have always respected their struggles even though I have also resisted being disrespectful to both Tibetan and Chinese side. On the other hand, if we feel that we are being bombarded too frequently with messages about “Free Tibet”, then that is a different issue and can be handled easily. But is it the messages that are bothering us or the person sending them? I confess that I do not always read every email sent to me. If we delete it without opening the mail, soon every mail from that person automatically goes into the spam folder. So, that takes care of these mails, without me generating unwholesome karma with anyone. And the bottom line is that we must be clear what is bothering us. Again it is being clear about the questions – “what is the real issue?” and “why is it disturbing our mind?” Making bodhisattva aspirations are good but do you have the skill to be one? Being skilful with how we deal with various situations and various beings in life is a necessary skill of a bodhisattva-to-be. It needs honing over time. Mine definitely needs a lot of honing. I will leave the closing remarks as that. Thank you.