Saturday, April 30, 2011

Substance over form - Applying Accounting Principle in Religion

I got to know that there are people who is of the opinion that we generally do not say "Rinpoche has had a stroke" or "Rinpoche has suffered a stroke". This is true. However, my readers come from all over the world and not necessarily only from FPMT and may not even be Buddhists. The profile of my readers are wide ranging and they may not be able to understand what it means by "Rinpoche had manifested illness". For people within a particular Buddhist group, who are sending messages to their own e-group, then it would be appropriate to phrase it that way. And I would have phrased it that way too. 

However there are those of us who are only reporting the news in a general sense and it does not mean that we have any less devotion to the guru than anyone else. It is completely absurd to think that if it is said that way, it means we do not see Rinpoche as a Buddha. Guru devotion is a deeply personal experience and it is only between you and the guru. 

Nobody else should be the judge of whether you are devoted to him or not, at least I believe we cannot judge merely on a superficial level, i.e. merely on the external behavior or written or spoken words only. We need to go deeper and understand the context and circumstances of the action or written/spoken words. Even though I have not used the word "manifest", it does not mean on a personal level I do not know or cannot see Rinpoche as Buddha. If you check Ven. Roger's first email (the 1st paragraph) on the matter, he was also not using the word "manifest". It does not mean I am any less devoted. That doe snot mean he did not see Rinpoche as a Buddha. I am sure he does!

I can see that people are starting to take guru devotion to an absurd level. There are other places in my blog that I have described my experiences but it would not be appropriate for me to repeat them here merely to show how devoted I am. I won't do that. So if you still think I am any less devoted by saying or writing it that way, it's your business. Unlike some people, I do not need to advertise my guru devotion by either politically or spiritually correct constructed sentences.

If your sentence is politically or spiritually correctly constructed, does that mean you truly have the correct devotion to your guru? Not necessarily. Conversely, if your sentence is not politically or spiritually correct, does that mean you do not have true devotion? Not necessarily too. 

Therefore, we can still say things on a conventional way, i.e. the way others usually say it too, and not merely to say it in a way to prove we have guru devotion. As long as it's there in your heart, and you do really care for your gurus and hold them in your hearts as Buddhas, and its reflected in other aspects of your life as well (and not merely in how you say things), don't worry about superficial matters! I am not saying it is not important, but at the end of the day, it is substance that matters over form. If the form is there but there is no substance inside, it is really useless. While we should not be sloppy over form, only if there is substance, will spiritual realisations come about. If you do not know what "substance over form" mean, ask your qualified accountants. I learned from them too. They should be able to tell you. I guess that's how you apply an accounting prinicple in religion.

Anyway, the latest update I have on Kyabje Lama Zopa is dated 28 April, 2011 as below.

Dear Friends,

This morning was an early start for Rinpoche. The physiotherapist came to his room at 9 a.m. sharp and began Rinpoche’s training, helping him to understand how he can get out of bed by himself and into a wheel chair with the minimum amount of help.

 Then the two therapists and I (with Rinpoche in the wheelchair) went to the gym. Sangpo and I had dressed Rinpoche in his swimming shorts and singlet. (This is the first time ever Rinpoche has gone to the gym, in gym style clothes.)

 Rinpoche spent about one hour in the gym and the therapists were quite surprised by how eager and fast he was in learning to reuse his right leg again. The therapists are mainly concentrating on the right leg moving (the right arm has no movement at all, but that will come later). In the gym session Rinpoche was mainly learning how to help himself get onto the wheel chair and off and back on to the bed, and some simple walking movements.

 Rinpoche still is not able to walk unaided but the process has started. At the end of the session the doctor and the two therapists were quite pleased with Rinpoche’s first session in the gym and his progress. Tomorrow they want to Rinpoche to go in the hydro pool to start exercises there. Later today Rinpoche will have a session with the speech therapist and the occupational therapist.

 Both the therapists were surprised by how much Rinpoche was laughing and joking through the session. Rinpoche commented to the therapists that he thinks his progress is partly due to the 3,000 monks in Sera Je doing prayers.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Who were the Naked Ascetics?

In many of the Buddhist Sutras, there are mentioned of a group of people called "the naked ascetics". Sometimes they are refered to as "thirtikars". The Sanghata Sutra and the Golden Light Sutra are two sutras that mentions the existence of these naked practitioners. So who were these people? Do they exist now?

I found out that they do still exist in today's society. They are still found mostly in India and are very likely referring to the Jains or the Hindu Naga Sadhus. Yes, they walk about stark naked, especially one particular sect of the Jain monks, not wearing even a piece of loin cloth. To these people there is no such thing as shame. You can say that their view is similar to the naturalist who believes that the human body is born naked and hence alright to be naked. To these people, it is completely in line with nature. There is nothing to be shy. However nakednenss is not in line with how the modern so-called civil world behaves. To modern people, humans had to wear clothes. There are 2 sects of Jain believers. One has since adopted some clothes on their body but the other is still consevertive and the monks do not wear anything on their body. They endure the harsh weather - hot or cold or windy or rainy seasons. They believe this is the form of complete detachment. They do not possess anything. Not even a begging bowl. Before our Buddha found the Middle Path, he was said to be practising these extreme asceticism too. After all, naked asceticism is very much popular during his time. The most popular avatar of Jain, Mahavira, was said to be the Buddha's contemporary and was senior to the Buddha in terms of age. Mahavira went about in India stark naked from place to place teaching his method to achieve enlightenment. He established a Sangha (order of monks) earlier than the Buddha. Even to this day, the statue of Mahavira is portrayed as completely naked even though Mahavira's statues do have some resemblance to the Buddha statues.

So, the teachings of Gautama Buddha as contained in the Buddhist Sutras are actually to refute and contradict some of these teachings in Jain and Hindusim held at that time. Of course, to the Jains and Hindus, these are not correct. They think our Buddhist concept of "pure meat" is ridiculous. And they don't really get our concept of emptiness, as against their concept of an eternal soul. If you check the internet, the Jain saints were referred to as "tirthankaras". In the Theravada Buddhist texts, Mahavira was referred to as Nigantha Nattaputta (the Non-possessor Natta's son) and was mentioned in texts such as the Majjima Nikaya. A picture extracted from in the internet show these naked ascetics.  So, in this blog I have explored who these people that are mentioned in our Buddhist texts are.

4. photo is from by searching "naked ascetics".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba has passed away

My dearest Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba has passed away at 7.40 am Indian time on Sunday 24 April 2011, and I am deeply saddened. I have no words to say. 7.40am Indian time is about 10.10am Malaysian time. An hour later, I fekt a deep sadness just thinking of Baba suddenly when I was driving in my car. The feeling was intense, I wanted to cry. It was not as intense prior to that. Now I know that has something to do with his actual passing away.

When I did the Medicine Buddha pujas for Lama Zopa Rinpoche, I dedicated it also to Sathya Sai Baba. I have recorded the deeds of Sathya Sai Baba elsewhere in my blog. Refer to the subject "Sai Baba". Sai Baba had often met with Tibetan lamas and he urged Buddhists to recite the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra. My close friend has these words to say, which are what I have in mind too right now.

May all the good that he has done for all sentient beings, all the good that he has inspired in others, be dedicated to the purification of all beings' afflictive emotions.

Anyway, now I have to do my part to ensure another guru does not "go away" that soon. And I am going to do Tara prayers for Rinpoche.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche has had a stroke

...please do Medicine Buddha prayers!! As if the illness of Sathya Sai Baba is not enough to give me the suspense, now I almost got the heart attack with this news from Ven. Roger that Rinpoche has had a stroke and is now in hospital. The email this morning from Ven. Roger did not mention any stroke, only a later message from him did. So, if you do not have any Medicine Buddha puja texts, at least recite the Medicne Buddha mantra or the White Tara mantra. I should think all FPMT centres worldwide are organising a puja by Sunday. It is very critical Lama Zopa survives for a long long time. When the late Lama Yeshe passed away, FPMT still has Lama Zopa. I am not sure about the succession after Rinpoche. This is something the FPMT organisation must seriously think about. But my post here is not to dwell about this issue. So, please go do your Medicine Buddha prayers. Thank you.

Dear Friends,

Lama Zopa Rinpoche has been admitted to hospital, the medical staff have confirmed that Rinpoche has had a stroke and temporally lost some of the movement of his right side and his speech is impaired.

The hospital have requested that Rinpoche stay for a few days to observe and monitor him to ensure there are no further complications. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been informed of Rinpoche’s situation and high Lamas close to Rinpoche are doing pujas as well as Kopan Monastery. Apart from Rinpoche’s right side and speech being affected, Rinpoche seems in good humor and is doing his prayers in the hospital (altar is set up with prayer wheel, thanka and texts)

Regarding practices – at this time the main practice is Medicine Buddha puja and to recite the mantras of the Long Life Deities such as White Tara and Amitayus.

Specifically I am requesting if Centers could organize extensive Medicine Buddha pujas or Medicine Buddha practice with many offerings and to do strong prayers for Rinpoche’s health and long life at this time.

roger (FPMT)

Facing the inevitable

Now I probably know what it must have been like during the Buddha's time when he was about to pass into Maha Parinirvana at Kusinagara. All the gloom and sadness pervading the earth and heavens. Even the gods shed tears despite knowing the nature of impermanence. And I think it is quite appropriate to feel that way. If you do not feel anything and cold as a stone when your guru is about to pass away, then that tells us something about how you probably treated your guru, i.e. unimportant. 

There is a feeling of resignation that he has to go away but yet our heart longs for him to be with us for a longer time. There is this feeling of being abandoned like a child who suddenly loses both his/her parents. Whose going to take care of me (us)? Whose going to guide me (us) from now on? Am I (are we) going to be on the right track without your presence? When the guru is around, he can scold us or prompt us whenever we stray from the path. But when the guru is no longer around, we are forced to be independent. To walk or own path. To make important decisions ourselves. If we make mistakes, we have to face the music ourselves. The guru will not be with us always and forever taking our hands and telling us the do's and don'ts. In such a way, we will never learn from our mistakes and be matured. So, essentially the guru will have to be away from us. However, he will always be watching us from a distance. This I am sure.  

Even though I am short of some type of blessings but I have been real fortunate in some ways too. And I am eternally grateful for this kind of blessings to have known Sathya Sai Baba. Not everybody has it. Nowadays the younger people in Malaysia do not have such fortune to know genuine gurus on the level of Sai Baba. The center in Farlim complained that they do not have any youth section. And the reason is the youngest member they have is over 50 years old. So, how to have a youth section? 

Anyway, since Sai Baba's health took a turn for the worse, I have been held to the edge of my seat every now and then. My heart is not at peace and it will never be so long as he plans to go "away". Before Master Hsuan Hua passed away, I did not know he was ill. So I did not have to worry. I would feel the same way too had I known he was ill too. And I would feel the same way too for all my teachers. I was worried too for Khenrinpoche, the Abbot of Kopan Monastery. When Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen was taken ill several times in the past, I always did some prayers for him. I even compiled a book on teachings on the Mani mantra (given by various teachers) and sent it to him. At another occasion I wrote a long life verse for him. It's published somewhere in this blog. Go read it if you haven't. 

As long as Sai Baba still hovers somewhere between life and death, that's so long we will be held in suspense. Not knowing what will happen. It's the uncertainty that's terrible to bear. But we'll watch and see what happens next. Some people say Sai Baba predicted he will die at 96 years old. But the truth is, he can decide not to follow that early prediction. That's not a problem for him but a problem for us. If he goes away sooner than later, then it is our lost. Indeed, humanity's lost. Not his. So, now all devotees are face to face with the inevitable and it's not impermanence that's the problem for us. It's knowing our good karma with the physical body of the guru is over and not knowing how we will fare without our guru thereafter that's worrying many devotees. That's what was probably on the minds of many people who surrounded the Buddha on his death bed. But the Buddha assured them and said that let the Dharma be their guide after his death. He said that he who sees the dharma, sees the Buddha. And indeed, it is no different. I am confident that that's exactly the advice Sathya Sai Baba would give to all his devotees.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Experiences of Sai Baba as a Buddhist

I want share my experiences on Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba because based on these experiences, I have determined that Sai Baba is genuine. My believe in him is not something based on faith alone but through the experiences I have had of him through the years, especially in the early years of my spiritual development. During those days, I was just beginning to study and understand Buddhism.

I first got to know of Sathya Sai Baba from either my mother (or father I am not sure, but it is one of them) at a very young age, before primary school I think. She said she heard from a friend of an Indian holy man whose picture can produce holy ashes (vibuthi). I aroused interest to know him instantly. However it was not until my primary school days when I met a friend who lived near a Sathya Sai Baba centre that I began to read books and know him better through this friend and going to the centre a few times. Informally we would gather with some mutual friends and sing bhajan songs and discuss about his advices and miraculous deeds. It is from this group that I started to explore religions generally, and better understand major religions in the world such as Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Yes, by knowing Sai Baba we have better understood the different religions in the world and it helps foster a harmonious attitude towards other religions. I treat the faiths of others with respect until I have had dreams of Jesus and Hindu Gods. I have had dreams of the Muslim call to prayer (i.e. azan) which I took that to be a dream of the Muslim God since their God is not represented in any physical form.

Even though I heard of Sai Baba through my parents, they were not believers themselves. So, it was quite tough initially because I could not put a picture of Sai Baba on my family prayer altar. I had to make a mini altar in my cupboard were I keep my clothes and stuffs. They don’t really stop me from believer in him but at times my father did comment that “even satan could do miracles”. Yes, satan could also do miracles but he leads one to evil. And my experience of him has been all positive. I know of nothing that suggest otherwise. Since believing in Sai Baba, my understanding of my own religion, i.e. Buddhism has only grown more and deeper through the years. I have not been led to any satanic practices so far. I have been to two Sai Baba centres here and know of activities in other centres and I can declare here that I do not know of any cases of members practicing any black magic or activities that harm others.

One of my first letters to Sai Baba was in respect of my difficulty in praying to him. I wrote on a piece of paper a short letter to Sai Baba but which I handed it to my friend to be placed in the Sai Baba centre altar. Most devotees of Sai Baba do that. If they want to post the letters to India, they can do so. However, a lot of people merely place their letters in a sealed envelope and put it in front of Sai Baba photo on the shrine. If Sai Baba deems it necessary to reply, he will give the person a calling card. So, after placing the letter on the shrine for some time (it is not fixed how long it will take for a reply to come, and sometimes never) the person will find a reply manifesting inside the envelope or there will messages appearing elsewhere among inside the tray of thick vibuthi. The handwriting is all the same, i.e. that of Sai Baba’s. In my message to Sai Baba, I complaint that I did not have a proper place to do daily prayers because of my parents. But yet I told Sai Baba, I love my parents and do not wish to hurt their feelings. I also wished that they would believe in him too. After one or two weeks, my friend called me and told me he suspected there was a reply inside the envelope. It’s thicker than usual. He went there from time to time to pray to Sai Baba and properly whenever he is there, he could also see if there was any reply.

When I opened the letter, true enough there was a letter from Sai Baba. I was elated. Since the envelope was very thin, if someone had tampered with it, I would have noticed it. It was not possible for someone to tear the seal and re-seal it without some obvious signs that it had been opened. But the envelope was intact. It was still properly sealed as before. The first thing he said was “In you love. Become a true bhakta”. He knew I loved my parents and he did not ask me to go against my parents or anything like that to worship him. He just advised me to develop true devotion. That was sufficed to him. Many years later, I learned the true meaning of that sentence. Initially I thought that he had asked me to believe in him and be a devotee. However, now I realised that that initial understanding was very naïve. Had he wanted me to merely believe in him, he would have asked me to go against my parents and become a Sai Baba centre member. But he never asked me to become a Sai Baba centre member at all. And I never became one. I also did not know of Sai Baba members forcing me to donate money to them. In fact they never collected any donation from me at all whenever I was there in their centres. Buddhists centres and temples have approached and collected from me far more then I have ever donated to Sai Baba centres. And that is a fact. So, I can say that Sai Baba is not interested in my money at all. Nor is he interested in getting me to believe in him. Otherwise he would have asked me to visit him in India and would have sent me all the Sai Baba organisation newsletters and asked me to join their centres and all that. But none of those things matters to Sai Baba. All he had wanted to tell me was to have true devotion to the guru. And that is the first step in the Gelugpa’s Graduated Path to Enlightenment ( Lam Rim) and a key ingredient in other Tibetan Buddhist lineages. And because I do see him free of faults, you can see that in subsequent years, I have had the good blessings of meeting great Buddhist teachers such as Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, and many others. Hence it is true that true devotion to the guru is the root cause of enlightenment.

As you can see, believing in Sai Baba does not make me a Hindu. He never asks people to become Hindus. He asked people to believe and study their own respective religions. Practice it and to become better persons. That’s the message he gives to his devotees. He never tried to convert people into another religion. Sometimes people who had not experienced him say that he is a magician, i.e. that he uses sleight of hand to produce these objects just like other magicians. If that is the case, then David Copperfield and other like him would have had millions and millions of devotees and they would have been great spiritual gurus. But that is not the case. Even if it is a sleight of hand in producing the vibuthi, how do you explain the amount of vibuthi that comes out of his hand. Do you think he can hide so much vibuthi is his hand or body? Even if he did hide in his hand, what about those vibuthi and objects that is produced in the Sai Baba centres and in the homes of millions of his devotees worldwide? Sai Baba is thousands of miles away in India and not anywhere near these homes or centres. So, how can it be that it is by ordinary David Copperfield type of visual magic that all these are done? If that was the case, David Copperfield and others like him would have done similar magic in their shows. But David Copperfield could never produce anything in my home and in the homes of others simultaneously, could he?

Also, David Copperfield photo could never stick to a granite wall without the aid of some glue or something for us to hang it on. Well, it happened one night when I was in my bed. My “bed” was just a simple mattress placed against the wall, on a wooden plank which I shared with my brother at that time. I had this magnetic photo of Sai Baba which I kept near my mattress every night. It was like those magnetic fridge buttons that we stick to our refrigerators. Does magnet stick to walls made of bricks and cement? Not that I know of. Logically magnets should only stick to steel and iron, right? Before I sleep, I would usually hold the magnetic photo in my hand and pray to him. Sometimes I would hold it against the wall above my pillow and then “talk” to him. On one of these nights, a strange thing happened. I held the magnetic photo on the wall as usual but on that night, I had carelessly let go of my hand. I had expected the magnetic photo to drop to my mattress or the wooden plank, but it did not. I was stunned! It stayed there for quite several minutes. It was very strange. I could not believe it. But it dropped after a while. I can tell you there was not a thing made of steel or iron on the spot where it stuck. I placed my hand underneath it so that it does not drop to the wooden plank. After picking it up, I saw a thin layer of vibuthi on the magnetic photo. It was a bit in liquid form and there was no water anywhere near my bed at that time. It is like a thin layer of the rice powder cake (bedak) that many Asian women use. I tried for a second time and it stuck there on the wall again but for a shorter period. It did not work again after that. Had there been steel or iron there on the spot, it would have stuck all the time. I still have that magnetic photo with me. To Sai Baba, it is not miracles or magic, rather they are his calling cards to enhance and convince us of his qualities, especially the divine aspects. Could David Copperfield or other ordinary showbiz magicians do that?

There was also the case of money that got transferred from my friend to me. I was going to school on that day and I discovered there was an extra RM10.00 (if I recall correctly I think so, but if it is not, it does not matter  how much was the denomination of the bill I got) that I had found in my food container. My parents never gave me that much money, so I knew it was not from them. In school, my friend told me that he lost a RM10 cash. Then I related to him that I had found a RM10 note while I was in my home. I did not steal from him and he knew that. So he did not accuse me of stealing. A few days later, there was a “calling card” from Sai Baba. He refers in his letter to “Fifty rupees friend”. At first we did not know what he was talking about. But then when we realise that fifty rupees translates to RM10 during that time’s exchange rate, we realised that he was referring to me. Again this is on the basis that my recollection of the actual denomination of the cash bill I had received. So we knew that Sai Baba had transferred the RM10 from my friend to me. I offered to return the RM10 to my friend but he declined saying that that is what Baba wants to give me. I politely accepted it as a blessing from Baba. And I must add that at that time, Sai Baba was in India just as always. He was nowhere near Malaysia to do that sort of trick. No one else knew of this incident except my friend, Baba and I. So how can Sai Baba be a fraud? No way.

Sai Baba is definitely genuine and this is confirmed by my previous experiences of him. As a Buddhist, even though the Buddha taught us a lot of things, I am aware that there are many things unenlightened persons like me do not yet understand. Nevertheless the Buddha (especially in Mahayana Buddhism) did say that he and other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will manifest in myriad forms all over the world to help teach the dharma to sentient beings and liberate them. As Buddhists, we must be more open to the possibility of these kinds of beings around us. They are our touch point to the Buddha qualities, which includes omnipresence, and omniscience. Even though he did say that he is God, he did not directly say that he is Buddha. So in one aspect, he is different from the Living Buddha Lian Shen of Taiwan who goes all over the world declaring that he is the Buddha but lacks Sai Baba’s qualities. Again this is based on my experiences and not simply because I do not believe in him. I know someone who is a disciple of Master Lian Shen. From my observation, his life has become worse and worse since he started believing in him. He has had problems with debts at one time. He has changed jobs numerous times and lately had some family problems. I am not saying that all his problems are 100% due to this guru. Rather I think believing in the right guru is important as it is the root cause of our blessings.

I do believe that Buddha comes in different ways and not necessarily in the way of Gautama Buddha, i.e. showing the aspect of enlightenment after some period of practice. I do believe that religious saints like Krishna and Jesus are all manifestations of the Enlightened Being. But not everyone is. There are many pretenders nowadays who only want the status but lack the enlightened qualities to be one, and so we must be careful.

I hope this article is helpful to dispel some allegations against Sai Baba or any doubts about him. My testimony here will run counter to anyone who thinks he is a fraud or magician or anti-christ. He is none of these. However I am not doing this because I want you to believe in him. No. It is up to individual karma whether you believe or not. Surely it is not proper to believe in him on the basis of merely what I have written. You must experience him for yourself. But I am afraid there is not much time for you to do that. He is in a critical condition now and as you know, even Buddhas do pass away. Dying and being ill does not take away or reduce the enlightened qualities of a Buddha. It just conforms with the nature of phenomena , which is not different from Enlightenment if seen from the non-dual nature of samsara and nirvana, as we Buddhists put it. But normal people do not understand this and they say that if Sai Baba is God, surely he will not die. This kind of comments only shows one’s ignorance of the non-differentiation of samsara and nirvana. There is not much time left and I have only one regret. And that is, I have not physically met Sathya Sai Baba. But based on my experiences, probably a physical meeting is not necessary since he is able to receive my messages from far away and even reply to me in letters or in dreams. Whatever it is, I blame it on my karma but I do hope that we will still have strong connections in the future and not forsake me even when he may not be physically around anymore, and that he will guide me to final liberation. May he be well and live a long life to continue his dharma activities!

I regard this as a pure offering from my heart to Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba! Om Sai Ram.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Letter from Sambhogakaya Guru

Someone wrote a comment in one of my post on ngondro practices today and I thought it is good to share a ngondro I received from my Sambhogakaya guru quite some years ago. What did I say? Did I say "Sambhagakaya guru"? 

Well, he looks like one of my nirmanakaya guru, at least in his physical aspect. I am not going to name who he is but in this dream I had, I receive a letter from him and was asked to recite and accumulate a certain particular mantra for a certain number of times. Because he only appeared in my dream, I call him Sambhogakaya guru. The other reason why I named him as such was because some months later I received a letter from the same guru but in physical aspect, i.e. the nirmanakaya guru. In this letter I was given several ngondros to do but none of these are the same as the ngondro I received in the dream. I never asked the guru what he thought about the dream. The important thing was that I believed in it.

The reason why I believed in it was that in the dream he told me if I could finish accumulating the said target number of mantras, I will get to receive a "certain practice". By the time I accumulate half of the target, I got the actual letter containing ngondros to practice from the same guru. By the time I completed the target total, I did actually receive the "certain practice" from him in Bodhgaya, India. Amazing, isn't it? And for some people they would stop at that. But no, I continued reciting and accumulating the said mantra till today. Sorry, I cannot reveal the mantra and anyway, it is not important for you to know. That's all my story.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When it is proper to be a little anxious

It is often advised that as Buddhists, we should always ensure that our mind always remain calm and collected, especially in times of anxiety, trouble or pain. Is there an exception?

Well, yes. I can think of one situation when a little bit of anxiety is good. A little bit of movement of our mind is good in situations when our guru is sick or having problems. If in such situations we remain unmoved, it will be like telling our teachers that we don't care and don't bother on whatever is happening. Even though we believe our teachers are Buddhas and simply testing us, by remaining unmoved, we will fail his test. It will be an indication that even if he is no longer here, we will no longer care. By showing some concern and a little anxiety, it will demonstrate our sincerity and devotion to our gurus. It shows that we still want him to be around and that he means a lot to us. So, it is proper to recite some prayers at such times. It is not that we doubt he can recover or that he needs our prayers, rather we recite prayers because we are serious we want him to continue to be with us. By doing nothing and continuing our normal life as if nothing is happening will cause our relationship and affinity (karma) with our teacher to diminish somewhat. In future. we may even lose our connection with our gurus or even future gurus. So, be careful, and I would encourage, students of any guru to do something if and when your guru(s) is not feeling well, especially when he is showing signs of passing on.

However, we should not be too over-dramatic because being over-dramatic is often also a sign of hypocrisy. Being composed, yet showing enough concern to recite some mantras or other practices in such situation is good!    

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

News Flash: Sai Baba reported to be in critical condition

NEW DELHI, April 4 (Bernama) -- World renowned Indian spiritual guru Sathya Sai Baba, known for his miracles and healing power, is in "critical condition", said his doctors.
A statement from the guru''s medical team said the frail 84-year-old ''baba'', as he is affectionately known, was still on ventilator support system. "He continues to be on CRRT (Continuous Renal Replacement therapy) system to help functioning of the kidneys.

"The vital systems are not adequately responding. The condition of ''baba'' is critical," said Dr A. N. Safaya, director of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences in Puttaparthi.

Puttaparthi, located in India''s southern state of Andhra Pradesh, is also the residence of the spiritual teacher. Doctors in the medial centre had been treating him since last Friday, after he was admitted with serious pneumonia and respiratory difficulties.

Millions of devotees across the world are drawn to Sai Baba''s spiritual teachings and many have congregated at his ashram to pray for his speedy recovery.



Sunday, April 3, 2011

News for all Buddhists who are also Sai Baba devotees

Anantapur (AP), Apr 2 (PTI) The health condition of Sri Satya Sai Baba, who developed a breathing problem last night after being hospitalised at Puttaparti for lung and chest congestion, is now stable, doctors attending on him said today.

86-year-old Baba had difficulty in breathing late last night and was put on supportive respiratory device, said Dr A N Safaya, Director, Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences hospital, in a health bulletin here.

He is now breathing more easily and all other vital systems are functioning normally and there was no cause for anxiety, the bulletin said. Baba was admitted to this Prashanthigram Super Speciality hospital in Puttaparti near here on March 28 after he complained of slowing heart beat and giddiness.


RELIGIOUS guru Sri Satya Sai Baba’s condition remained stable on Tuesday after a pacemaker was fitted following breathing difficulties and giddiness, Makkal Osai re-ported.

Prasanthi Nilayam ashram representatives said Sai Baba fell sick on Monday afternoon and was shifted to the Sri Satyasai Hospital in Puttaparthi in the evening.

Sai Baba, who celebrated his 85th birthday in November last year, had not been well for the past six months. Although he continued to bless devotees, he had not been giving his discourses. Hospital director Safaya said Sai Baba was expected to be discharged in a few days.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Is Buddhism the most expensive religion?

Buddhist monasteries and institutions/centres depend very much on the donations of the public in order to survive. Being Buddhists, I think we are the most expensive of all major religions. The Churches are much simpler in design and most of them do not have statues, except for the Catholics. Even then, Catholic saints are less in number and mostly not gilded or gold-plated or as beautifully designed as the Buddhists statues. The only other religion comes close to the Buddhist lavishness is Hinduism. But from my observation and the number of fundraisings and donations needed to maintain, develop and support the activities and members of the Buddhist temples and centres remains by far the most costly despite their lesser number of adherents globally. Or, at least it does seem that way. Am I correct to say so? You are free to challenge my assumption and I will appreciate any indications that my views are incorrect.

It is not my intention to criticise any particular Buddhist centre or organisation or temple, but more and more amount of money seems to be needed annually. More projects that require fund-raisings seem to come out every year, especially on huge projects that require millions of dollars. These include building new building blocks, acquiring large pieces of land, commissioning the building of huge Buddhist statues, renovations and expansions, as well as acquiring expensive décor and materials for these projects. These Buddhist organisations often lay out the plan first (i.e. what they want) and then only they start to think or figure out how to raise that much money to support it. Conventional wisdom normally dictates that we should plan according to our budget or how much we think we could realistically raise. But it does seem (or at least appear to me) that most of these projects are not planned with the budget in mind. Their projects are fixed and could not be scaled down in case if insufficient funds are raised. If this happens, it’s possible the project will get stuck and the project site will be an ugly scene of half-completed buildings. It could be left abandoned for many years till it is revived again in the future, if ever. In the meantime, the purpose for which the money had been raised and spent for the half-completed project goes unfulfilled. Thus, the well-wishers do not get the full merits for their donations. Because the project is incomplete, indirectly the donations that had been raised can be considered as wasted.

Whatever that has been planned, they just dish it out to the public and start their donation drive. This is done without the slightest thought on how many times the public has to be approached for donations. The need for Buddhists to perfect their perfection of generosity cannot be a reason for subtle exploitation of the Buddhist community. In a smaller Buddhist community or township, where there are several Buddhist organisations, they usually are approaching the same community of Buddhists or members there for money. Hence it is not surprising that some criticism levelled at Buddhism is that we are money-faced people, often asking for endless donations.

Buddhists must be careful about this point. If you intent to raise funds from your benefactors, while they are very generous in giving money and other support, the organisers must see to its intended completion. It is not good to leave projects unaccomplished for years. This is because the money raised in the past could have been better utilised somewhere else such as in other projects that could be argued to benefit as many beings as the incomplete project, or perhaps even more. Also it is not good for Buddhist organisers to think that their benefactors have bottomless pockets and that they can approach these benefactors many times over and over again. Do they not have any sense of shame? I do not know. But often when we are approached for donations, we are often greeted with the same “promotion tagline”, i.e. that by sponsoring the project or statue or temple, it will generate infinite merits and good karma for the donor. But when these same donors suffer from some unfortunate illness or accident soon later, these organisers do not give any thought about explaining to these donors what happened to the vast good merits they had earned or seemingly earned. But many donors and well-wishers are very simple and do not wish for anything more than blessings. And yet, sometimes they do not seem to be getting much blessings. I am just wondering whether these well-intentioned donors have been taken advantage of by some Buddhist organisations. However, regardless of whether the donor is sincere or not, I feel that Buddhist organisations and temples must exercise prudence in fund-raising and not attempt to raise funds too many times in a year or ask money from members too many times, even in cases of selling items at much higher prices than their actual cost. They should also not embark on expensive projects or acquire expensive property without prior accumulation of funds first. I do not agree with the idea of “Buy first, Build first, but Think later” concept. This is very similar to those people who live on credit cards but could not pay-off their monthly debts on time. This is not right and should not be encouraged. Buddhist organisations should learn to accumulate money first over several years if they want to acquire expensive assets. There are far more issues than could be possibly discussed here in this article. I understand that Buddhist organisations have their own difficulties too and tough challenges.

 As mentioned earlier, it is not intended to be a veiled criticism to any organisations nor intended to cause any controversy. Rather it is an exploration and honest look at this issue confronting Buddhists in our world when we are faced with an ever shrinking economy and ever rising inflation. Due to limited funds available, I seriously think we should only raise funds only when there is a serious need for it. Some financial prudence as well as forward-looking and compassionate attitude are perhaps the key ingredients needed for a balanced formula in the activity of fund-raising. Doing it correctly, the money collected will generate much blessings for everybody and even beyond. But doing it incorrectly could potentially cause a rebirth to the lower realms for the fund-raisers.

So, is Buddhism the most expensive religion? I am sure, the truth is perhaps far more complicated than this. It will not be a simple “yes” or “no” answer. But the intention of this article is not to seek an answer to this question. Rather it is hoped that you will give more thoughts when you are confronted with the need to do some fund raising for the organisation or temple that you belonged. What do you think? But no matter the problem with handling donations, and whether it is expensive or not, we get the opportunity to practice with whatever our situation, i.e be it our wealth or lack of it. It is also because people spend a lot on the religion, that much merits are created. And that is a good thing that other religions may not have. If we use welath properly and spent it in the wisest way, then the most expensive religion is also the most meritorious religion.

Sarvam mangalam.