Saturday, August 27, 2011

Zen vs Tibetan Buddhism Part II

The last time I wrote on this topic, I said that I am almost submerged by Tibetan Buddhism. Since then I have realised that no matter Zen or Tibetan Buddhism, the clear mind is the same whether practising Zen meditation or Tibetan Mahamudra. And investigating the emptiness of the "I" is the same in both practices. So, it does not bother me anymore what label you put it - Zen or Tibetan Buddhism. It is only the outer appearance that seems different. But I do agree for common lay persons, practising the tantric cakras and bindus (the flow of the bodily energy and blood) can be difficult even for advanced Buddhists. But almost everyone can rest their mind in simple mahamudra as well as doing zazen or shinkantaza. I find that foundation practices in Tibetan Buddhism and Lam Rim realisations gained can be valuable ingredients of any meditation practoice but it is generally not incororated into the Zen practice. However, some Zen schools may have bowing practices, so you can consider that as a sort of "preliminary practice" too.

So, it's really your own choice. There is no such thing is "which one is the best?" A best choice for one person may not be the best choice for another. That's because the types of delusions, karma and affinities the persons have are different.  If you are the type of person that likes names and forms (i.e. rituals, multitudes of deities, etc), then perhaps Tibetan Buddhism will be suitable for you. However, if you are not so keen about names and forms and prefer simplicity, then perhaps Zen. If you prefer something in between, then perhaps Theravada or Pure Land Buddhism. So, Buddhism offers a whole range of methods and ways of practice to suit different types of personality and karma. It is not a "one suit fits all" approach. There is sure to be something suitable for each and everyone. But at the very root of this diversity, the core message is the same. You only need to walk it. 

This might be the last write-up before I take a rest for a while. Be well and take care! (note: I am back and I have amended a few things today - 5 Sept 2011)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Endless donations

Sometimes I do admire the determination and faith of people of other religions. They can cycle and go into the deepest parts of rural area, such as in Sarawak to “help” the indigenous people there and slowly, eventually bring them into their faith. But their faith is also quite simple. Not complicated like Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism. Our religion also seems to cost a lot of money nowadays. A phowa initiation and teaching costs RM300 and a dzogchen ngondro teaching costs SGD200. Do they have such things? Do they charge for their sermons? I doubt.  And someone just commented to me today that Buddhism nowadays seems to have endless fundraising and asking for this donation and that donation every now and then. It seems very difficult to support a centre or temple in these modern times. She also said that in the Buddha's time, he just wandered about from place to place. He did not asked for money at all, but just food and shelter. Things were very much simpler then and easier for the lay people to support.

Her comments make me reflect deeply. Do people convert to other religions because they find it easier and simpler? I wonder. But I suppose too that it is not entirely the fault of Buddhists. The world, for example, has generally become more materialistic compared to the Buddha's time. The world appears now to be about making money and if you don't have money, it's going to be tough surviving in this materialistic world. As monks and nuns do not have a constant source of income, it is difficult for Buddhist temples and centers to raise donations to support them. But if you look at the life of Master Hsu Yun, he advocated a simple life for monks and monastic self-reliance. He and his monks would plant vegetables in the available land at his temples. He did not want to burden his benefactors if possible. Even though I am not suggesting temples to plant their vegetables, we can learn from this attitude and reduce our reliance on monetary support. I admit, though, I do not have a concrete and complete solution to this issue other than implementing financial prudence and governance in temples/centers. Master Hsu Yun was certainly like those Theravadian forest monks. They just live a simple life. I am saying grandiosity is bad. It has its good points too. But in seeking grandiosity, we must not over-burden our financial benefactors. At least that's how I feel. You must work out your costs properly and not simply make a wild guest or simply put a larger figure. You must have your costing sheet to support your suggested donation amounts. But costing sheet works both ways. It could also reveal that we are not charging enough to cover the incurred expenses for that event. And if you do not charge enough, you will have to seek another donation drive again. That's what I am saying and that's what I mean by "endless donations". If you choose to get angry or agitated over the point I am trying to raise here, then I am afraid you have missed the point.
I have no intention of stirring things up but merely food for your thoughts.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Becoming An Agent of Amitabha

Do you remember my previous blog post where I wrote that I told my father that he will be reborn in Amitabha Pure Land if he wrote the Heart Sutra? Guess how many he eventually wrote? Almost 621. I was surprised myself. So many! He really took the time to write and write. I am happy that when he asked me what to do with it, I asked him to keep it first. Now I am sending them all to Japan to benefit the earthquake and tsunami victims. Isn't it amazing? Now he truely believes he was doing something beneficial for sentient beings. Altogether my family wrote 641 Heart Sutras and I have sent it to Japan this morning to be enshrined in Yamagata Prefecture's Mount Gassan.

And I said "almost 621", because my mother had a hand in writing a few chinese characters too in the 621st copy! She would not write anything all these while, but last night I strongly asked her to do so, even if it was just a few words. I said that was the only way she will benefit in the future. And only if she writes, will I put her name there. I left it to her to decide. The next day, when I visited her, she said to me excitedly that she has written the Heart Sutra. She asked my father to leave her some words to write because she " also wants to visit the Buddha Pure Land" to quote her words. At least, now there has arisen in her a little aspiration to be reborn there. I am so happy. I have no other reason than to share with you my joy in their efforts.

With the arising of faith in both my parents to be reborn in Amitabha Pure Land, I have repaid their kindness a little bit. I leave it to Amitabha to do the rest of the task to eventually guide them to His Land when the time comes. That is not my job anymore. I have done the part of sowing seeds of faith in them and one day, those seeds will result in their eventual rebirth in Amitabha Pure Land. In that sense, I have become an agent of Amitabha Buddha. An unenlightened agent. A fool most of the time, but showing sparks of wisdom sometimes. But nevertheless an agent of Amitabha Buddha. You know, it is just like those insurance agents. The only thing is you are not selling insurance. Instead you are helping Amitabha Buddha plant seeds of faith in His 48 Vows. There is no monetary income from this agency but in the process, you help yourself to be reborn there. The best thing is that anyone can become one. There is no need to fill up any application form. Just do it. Others have done way better than I have. So can you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gay marriage: Love is okay, Attachment is not.

I feel compassionate towards gays. They call themselves "PLU", I think. They are one of the most misunderstood and discriminated people. Due to the hatred and discrimination of gays, many gays choose to remain hidden in closets, which to a certain extent is even more tormenting. If you are a gay - You will feel strongly attracted to almost every cute looking guys that your eyes set on, but yet you have to curb your inner desires and stay away. You will be often torn apart by conflicting emotional and moral issues. A lot of times, you wished you did not have those feelings and you wonder where all these came from. There is a wide believe that you are born with it if you are gay. But yet, is there a gay gene?  Is there a gay self? In this blog write-up, which is based on my own research, I will not be exploring gay genetics, but will try to give my views about this gay issue, including gay marriages, whether there is a gay self,  and rounding it up with some words of advice from a Tibetan lama.

I feel that marriages are meant for between a man and a woman only. Not between people of the same sex. But I completely understand their feeling of wanting to be together with their partners for the rest of their lives just like a normal heterosexual couple. But the truth is they are not a normal “man-woman” couple. I cannot as yet think of a better word for the gay couple. Perhaps “together-ness” ? Or, “vow of faithfulness”? Nah, no word seems to be the right one to describe the vow between gays to be together forever. But I opine that it is not “marriage”.

I feel that gays need not have the same type of marriage that heterosexuals have. It is because they feel they need to do so that there arises so many movements around the world to fight for gay rights (and also anti-gays). And when New York legalises gay marriage, they feel so happy, until they had to announce to the entire world. The recent announcement by the pastor Ou Yang is a case in point. The announcement obviously caught the attention of people who are not that friendly to gays and Malaysia being a muslim majority country, actions may be taken against them by the authorities if they go ahead with the marriage in Malaysia. It remains to be seen what will happen next. I still feel that gays should stay low key and not make any major headlines to announce their “marriages”. Actually gays do not need a marriage certificate, instead if they feel they need something to solemnise their "together-ness", maybe they just need a legal document to legalise their friendship and faithfulness to each other. Just get a lawyer to draft a simple agreement and signed by a witness for each party and that’s it. Then they can live together legally, but not as husband and wife. The latter words belong to only the heterosexual couple. As I said, marriage is only reserved for a man and a woman. For want of a better word, gays also use the word “marry” but I feel that that word is not suitable at all for gays. I have nothing against them marrying, it just does not make sense of them getting married. Why would they want to get married? Cannot they be satisfied with just being "together legally"? These two terms may seem the same but they are not. This is because the word "marriage" suggest procreation and gays cannot procreate. Period. At least that's what I think. So, gays should really seriously think what do they want to achieve by marrying? Cannot the same objective be achieved in any other way besides marrying?

Whether homosexual or heterosexual, both types of couple are attracted to each other because of love. Most recently Gelek Rinpoche, a prominent Gelug lama, had mentioned that there is a difference between love and attachment. There is a very fine line of difference between these two feelings. He asked, "Is it love that you have in your partner/spouse or is it attachment?" Rinpoche said that it is alright to love someone, and in fact, love should be increased, but not so, if we have attachment. Attachment is something negative and is one of the roots of suffering. I think this teaching makes a lot of sense. So, both gays and so-called “normal” couples must ask themselves this aforementioned question. Giving up attachment is not easy, especially if it is attachment to their gayness or heterosexuality. Both should be transcended. After all, you may be a man in this life but in your future life it is not guaranteed you will forever be a male. And the same is true for a woman in this life. So, do not get so hung up with being a man or a woman. It’s all impermanent. If a gay man approaches you or touches you or glances at you in a certain way, do not get so mad with him. Try to understand. You may be a heterosexual in this life, but if you get too attached to your girlfriend in this life, it is highly possible that in her next life, she could be reborn as a man and you also reborn as a man. At that time, you will not be able to explain how you are attracted to another man. It is highly possible due to your previous karma with that person. He was your wife in your previous life. Sometimes we carry over our bad habits (i.e. strong attachments and desires) from our previous lives into our present lives even though we have changed gender from our past lives.

With regard to gay issues, of course, in Buddhism there are opinions that gay sex is unnatural and against the law of nature, etc etc. I will not go into that. Enough being said on these elsewhere. But let us try to understand gays more. Let us be more tolerant and not be too judgemental on them. As for gays, I think it is often their (or our?) attachment to their (or our?) gayness that brings a lot of social problem unto themselves (or ourselves?). When love is mixed with attachment, there will arise unwholesome desires for oral and anal sex. I hate to say this but it is true that the penis is never meant for the mouth nor anus. Therefore, gays should stick to hugging, cuddling, kissing and maybe, hand fondling or hand masturbation. Eventually and over time, even masturbation should be reduced and given up. In any case, always protect yourself by wearing condoms! Human life is too precious to waste it by getting AIDS or other diseases. If your urges are too strong, try use a dildo instead. Or, get a real banana and suck that. And because of attachment too, some people may feel that they are a girl trapped in a man's body, or vice-versa. Then they go for sex change and all that painful procedure. Karma is never wrong. If you get a man's body or woman's body, respect that. Use it to benefit other sentient beings, instead of feeling attached to your gender. Remember that ultimately sentient beings do not have any gender. It is only the body that may have gender. Gender is impermanent. Gender is emptiness. If you can truely understand this dharma, you will no longer be so desirous to go for a sex change. Contemplate on the emptiness of the gender. There is no permanently gay self inside anyone. No one is forever a man or a woman, life after life. And that's the truth, that is, at least according to the Buddhist teaching on rebirth. I wrote about this before in a prior blog. Search for it.

Try to let go and loosen up our attachments, both of being gay and of being heterosexual. Remember Gelek Rinpoche’s advice: Love is okay, attachment is not. If you truely love your partner, whether you are gay or heterosexual, the way to show that love is to seek liberation from samsara. That is the ultimate love. Sometimes people wonder whether there is a gay Buddha or not. Well, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are everywhere, and they manifest in whatever way suitable to liberate sentient beings. Perhaps this message comes to you out of inspiration from the gay Buddha? LOL!! Even though there are certain aspects of gayness that I feel strongly to, I cannot let it colour my judgement when I write this blog. This blog must be impartial of my personal feelings or prejudices or gender preference. May everyone be well and happy! 

Pic randomly searched from internet:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pain is emptiness, Emptiness is pain

When doctors have given up on you, what do you do with the physical pain that ravages your already feeble body? What else is there to do but surrender to pain and death? All around you watches helplessly, as you wring in pain or edge towards your final breath. Your body is too weak to recite any mantras. Your mind obscured by the physical pain and mental uncertainties. Practicing phowa at such times is almost impossible. Your only hope and the only thing you can do with your feeble mind at such moments is to think of Amitabha. Direct all thoughts, even though weak, to Amitabha and long with all your heart to be reborn there. Even though the image may not be clear, and it will certainly fade as your vision fades and your senses deteriorates, any small recollection of Amitabha helps at such dying moments. This is your only hope. And mine!

No matter what's my practice, I will always have faith in Amitabha. Amitabha is always with me. I will always have a lotus flower at Sukhavati. And that's my ultimate home. My resting place. A place where I recharge before I plunge back to samsara to continue this unending task of liberating my brothers and sisters. Indeed by doing so, I may lose my way again but it's okay for I know Amitabha will always remember me and lead me back to my home. And that continues on and on. Endlessly.

Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Pain is emptiness. Emptiness is pain. Tadyatha Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha. Namo OmituoFwo!

After reciting the above (extracted from the Heart Sutra and using the word "pain"), the pain in my body is still there (yes, pain is emptiness, but emptiness is also pain) but I certainly feel more confident to deal with it. And you can also try just "Pain is emptiness" and dropping the other part "emptiness is pain". And never forget to add the Heart Sutra mantra. So, try this if you are trying to deal with physical pain. It may help somewhat.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Burning Offerings to Hungry Ghosts & Hell-Beings

The month of the hungry ghost offers great opportunity to Buddhists to do great things for the benefit of the departed ones. There are 2 Sutras that this practice came from. One is the Ulambana Sutra (a Sutra that both Mahayana and Theravadian Buddhists share) and the other is Ksitigarbha Sutra. It is practiced in the seventh lunar month mainly due to the 30th day seventh month being Ksitigarbha’s birthday. That’s the date devotees of this great bodhisattva assigned to him and commemorates this with celebrations involving emulating his compassionate deeds to benefit the departed ones suffering in hell and those languishing as hungry ghosts. It is believed that Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is able to traverse all levels of hell to help those suffering there. And since it is said that the hell gates are closely guarded with iron gates, (an allegory to our heavy negative karma preventing us from any escape from its consequences), it is only Ksitigarbha’s compassion that is able to penetrate open these gates (an allegory that only through great compassionate action that we can help sentient beings). With these “gates” open, Ksitigarbha is able to liberate sentient beings and send them back to other higher realms, including being reborn as human beings. That’s probably where the local folk believe of the gates of hell opening during the seventh month and the hell-dwellers are sent free to roam earth for a month before being brought back. Ordinary folks despite being ignorant of Buddhist wisdoms, are basically compassionate people and tried to benefit these “roaming ghost or hell-beings” by burning for them money, clothes, shoes, etc. And even offer them food and drink for the entire month. I personally find this very good practice or culture. I would call this a culture of compassion. Even though the latter things are not real and the ghosts or hell-beings would never be able to get these money, clothes or shoes, still as a Buddhist, I will never condemn these practices. I know a lot of Buddhists who advise people not to burn and offer these “paper things”. They say these practices are wrong and very “Taoist”. Are we so sure it is 100% wrong? Are we sure Buddhists practices do not have these “burning” practices? I still do burn these “money” for the benefit of these “beings” but there is a difference in the way I do it. I convert the practice into a fire puja style offering to the Triple Jewels (what generates more merits than offerings to the Triple Jewels!) before dedicating the immense merits to the liberation of the beings in the lower realms. So, if people are thinking I will advise people to stop burning these things, well, I won’t. If people have a different way of benefiting the lower realms beings, and do not wish to burn these offerings, that’s fine with Buddhism. But if there are people who wish to continue to burn offerings in the month of hungry ghost, that’s also fine with Buddhism, but do it the way I suggested. It’s the Buddhist fire puja way. This is seldom mentioned by Buddhists, but I say this so that people can still see that there are still some good in burning these gold and silver papers. Tibetan Buddhists are especially good in making things as an imagery of the actual thing and offering the substitute (or visualised images) instead of the real thing. Anyway, even Pachok Rinpoche refused to say bad thing about this practice. He said that there are beings that can benefit from the smoke that comes from the burning. So, that’s exactly what I do when I burn those things. I recite “Om Ah Hum” and transform them into spiritually charged smokes so that both humans and non-humans who smell the smokes can benefit from them. Of course, we have to compromise a little bit with regard the environment.

Also this month of prayers and offerings to King Yama, offers me a chance to say “hi” and give my respect to him. By giving him some offerings of joss-sticks, it is my way of saying “I respect the work that you do”. In that way, I purify any pre-existing negative affinities I might have with him. It clears my path for me of any obstacles I might face in the after-death world. Buddhists who intends to practice phowa or enlightenment by bardo, had better have a good relationship with King Yama. So, go give your respects to him. Don’t be arrogant. Make friends with him. There’s no need to wait till we die to say “hi” to him. If we hope to be a great bodhisattva like Ksitigarbha, and also help hell-beings, we had better get acquainted with King Yama. In Buddhism, the King Yama in charged of these roaming ghost beings is a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. And that’s why when Avalokiteshvara works hand-in-hand with Ksitigarbha, lots of beings can be liberated. In case some Buddhists think he is just a Taoist deity, let me reiterate that he does exist in our Buddhist world too, even as a non-manifestation of Avalikiteshvara. And if you can take initiations of some unknown deities that originate from Tibet, you cannot even say “hi” to King Yama, a deity we see often in Chinese temples? Think about that.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Blind-sided by our own religion

Referring to the news above, I do not wish to comment on the incident but want to remind my fellow Buddhists that we must not have this urge to do things merely to protect the interests of only Buddhists. We must consider the impact and consequences to all others, besides the interest of Buddhism and Buddhists. Sometimes we are blind-sided by our own religions, and do not consider what will happen to the rest. For example, a small group of over-zealous Buddhist monks/laymen often brings up the question of whether which Buddhist tradition is the original teachings of the Buddha and which one is not. I do not want to identify this small group but we find these sort of issues are being posted in youtube again. On the one hand, they do that on the reason that they are protecting the orthodox teachings of the Buddha, yet they are blind-sided to other consequences of them doing so. It's sad but it's true. 

So, we must be careful not to be blind-sided by our own religious tradition or lineage affliation. We cannot right every wrong in this world. We are not Superman. But even Superman cannot save every single person in this world. He has his own limitations too. Anyway, there are causes and conditions that may not be apparent to us. We can only do what we can in the circumstances and not adopt a "holier than thou" attitude when looking at people from other tradtions, lineages or religions. Such attitude may be permissible subtlely but not too overtly until we take actions detrimental to peace and harmony in the society. This is my message to fellow Buddhists.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Damage to The Jade Buddha due to an accident

The Jade Buddha container has been involved in a serious road accident in Germany. The truck driver reacted to another truck in front of him which caused the trailer to fishtail and the container to crash on its side – with the Buddha facing downwards. Considerable damage has been sustained to the Jade Buddha, throne and container. We are currently arranging for restoration experts from Berlin to assess the situation. Regrettably we have cancelled the showing of the Jade Buddha in Leipzig to allow enough time for the restoration to be completed.

My comment: I am sad that this accident happened. I hoped that the statue can be restored quickly back to its original. I hope to see it soon coming to my town.

Source: The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion update 13 July 2011.