Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Year-end Part 2: Where is Medicine Buddha?

Medicine Buddha
Early this morning as I reflect on a saying by Zen Master Kyong Ho,
 
Don’t wish for perfect health. In perfect health there is greed and wanting. So an ancient said, “Make good medicine from the suffering of sickness.”
 
I realise where Medicine Buddha is. I have found him. Is he far away in the eastern Pure Land? Actually Medicine Buddha lies in each and every doctor and medical specialist in this world who are treating the ill and sick of this world. They are all part of His healing activity. Therefore all those who are in the medical profession need to feel proud that they are helping the Medicine Buddha to heal the world. One day, they will help Him heal the spiritual sickness. I am grateful to all doctors in this world.

But Medicine Buddha is also present when we care for the sick and old. Yes, we, who are the rest of the people not in the medical profession. We may not be doctors, but when we take a simple plaster and apply it to someone's leg who has been bruised, then there is Medicine Buddha. When someone lies there on the hospital bed, and we cannot provide medicine, so we provide them a soothing chant of the Heart Sutra, there is the presence of Medicine Buddha. So all the caregivers in the world are included in the activity of the Medicine Buddha. It does not matter whether the service is free or not. I know many caregivers and doctors sometimes feel disheartened about their profession. They feel that it is taking too much of their time. As everyone can provide such a care without being professionally called a "caregiver", we are also manifesting the activity of the Medicine Buddha when we help a being in need. Everytime we take good care of our body by not abusing it with substances or actions, there is more chances of Medicine Buddha being with us. Remember Master Kyong Ho's advice - make good medicine from the suffering of sickness!

Here in this post, I give the glory to Medicine Buddha and his legion of assistants or agents! I would like to thank Him for a polyp-free colon. A polyp is a potential cancer in the long term if not removed. A lot of people don't go and check until it is too late. I know I did my prostrations regularly and that probably helped in some ways. I did those as repentance for my negative actions done. I have also reduce my meat intake by about half, as a form of repentance and respect for another sentient being. So I firmly believe that true repentance does eliminate potential sicknesses that we would otherwise have to suffer. But when it is not eliminated, I will try remember Master Kyong Ho's advice. Tatyatha Om Benkhaze Benkhaze Maha Benkhaze Benkhaze Radza Samughate Svaha!   

As I usher in 2013 and see how the joy and fun that people have, my thoughts go to those people who are lonely, sick, dying, or have died or gone over to the bardo.  I pray strongly that the Buddhas guide and bless all these sentient beings. May all sentient beings be blessed with the fortune to meet a true guru and practice the true dharma! Namo Amitabha Buddha!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Year-end Part 1: True Dharma, Synthetic Dharma and Human Rights

Last weekend I came across some synthetic jewellery at a shopping mall. Each item looks just like the real thing, only much cheaper. It is made of substitute material. You will only know it is not the real stone when you look at the price tag. It costs only a few hundred ringgit. The shop assistant then showed the real version. It costs a whopping RM 13,888. This kind of synthetic jewellery is for people who cannot afford the real diamonds and rubies.

Just like jewellery, most sentient beings also look for the true dharma. But the true dharma is not priced in dollars and cents. Although on a mundane level perhaps it could still be denominated in dollars and cents, as in you still need to pay for many religious items or support it in terms of donations, for the most part, it is freely available. For example, teachers could decide to teach the dharma for free, whereas even a small genuine diamond, costs a lot. Therefore, jewellery is generally not freely available. Just as there is synthetic jewellery, so there is also synthetic dharma. Synthetic dharma refers to partial dharma mixed with skillful means, or partial dharma mixed with wrong teachings as well as to totally wrong teachings invented by bogus teachers.

However, I realize that to be able to listen to even a sentence of true dharma requires a different kind of “affordability” on the part of the listener. While we progress much materially, we have slackened in the spiritual direction. For those few people who are interested to pursue spiritual truth, unfortunately, I find that many people are not able to “afford” the true dharma. Instead they meet with or find only synthetic dharma. While some synthetic dharma is generally non-spiritually destructive, and does promote a little good, there are those that are spiritually destructive either in the short or long term or both. It is the latter ones that we should shun. However when we do suffer the negative consequences of following the bogus synthetic teachings, we may not even realize that it is the cause of it. And so the ignorance remains, unless it is pointed out by a wise one. Even if it is pointed out by someone, he/she may refuse to listen and reject that the negative result was due directly to following the bogus teacher. That is the problem. Even for those who are able to meet with the true dharma, they get only bits and pieces of it. I realize that to be able to receive the true dharma teachings from true teachers, people need to have an abundance of karma for true dharma. That is the “affordability” aspect which is not measured by any human concept of quantitative value. Even with synthetic dharma, these sentient beings are so pleased with it. Alas! They don't have the karma for true dharma.

There are many spiritual teachers around – Buddhists, non-Buddhists and mixed kind. Some are genuine, some not, and some in-between. Sentient beings nowadays are little endowed with the ability to distinguish between the true dharma and the synthetic ones. We are also unable to point out what is genuine dharma and what is not. Part of the fault lies with us for living in a politically correct world. We live in a world that treasures human rights. One of the human rights that people most treasure is the right to follow any religion or spiritual group. Unless the group is involved in any criminal activity, it is very difficult for any other group to really criticize any other group. Hence, our human rights also do bring some consequences or constraints to us. So it is actually very difficult to directly point out who the genuine teachers are and who are not. Many of these teachers of synthetic dharma also urge their followers to do good and are also involved in much social work that directly contributes to society. That makes it even more difficult for anyone to actually criticize these synthetic dharma teachers. Not much can be done to correct the situation, except for the genuine teachers to do even more to promote their true dharma.

Some people have this idea that all religions are the same. The truth is that only on the surface of it, are all religions the same, in the sense that all religions urge their followers to do good and avoid evil. However, if we delve deeper into the insights of every religion, we will find that each one has their own concept of what is good and bad. Also most religions preach an Almighty God and going to His Heaven is the ultimate goal. But in Buddhism, we are not interested in going to any heaven. Even the Buddha’s Pure Lands, we are going there only for a little while, definitely not to stay there for eternity.

So, we who are following the genuine dharma, at least we believe so, should continue to support true dharma wherever it is. Even for those that are following true dharma, it is not guaranteed that in the future we will still continue having this blessing. At the end of it, it still comes down to whether we do have the karma to listen, undertake and practice the true dharma until the end. And even after that. For those that do, treasure it well and never let go of it. Do not convert to other religions over silly reasons like your marriage. If you know marrying that woman or man will eventually require you to convert into his/her religion, why do you still stubbornly attach to him/her. It is better to give up that woman or man, than true dharma practice. The exception to this rule is if you are still able to practice and achieve Enlightenment, despite converting to other religion. In most cases you cannot do that anymore, because the people of that religion will start indoctrinate you until you think it is okay to die and then go to heaven. Be careful because heaven is not guaranteed to you in black and white. Then samsara goes on and on for you. I am not saying other religions are wrong. Neither am I saying Buddhism is the only right religion. Rather I am saying they have a very different system and path than Buddhism. If that is what you want, then go for it. But think carefully before giving up on the Buddha's teachings. This is my humble reflection and thought as the year 2012 comes to an end.

Firstly I would like to thank my Gurus for all the blessing and guidance received. I also would like to thank the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Next I thank my protectors as usual for doing a fine job. Thank you so much, even though you still have a few more days to go! Must never let me do stupid things that I will regret forever.

This year has been a mixed bag for me personally. There had been 2 deaths in relations, and face some challenges in my work, but spiritually I think of this year as a year in which I made a little progress in meditation. It is a key step towards "dropping of body and mind" spoken of by Dogen. Just a little progress each year is good enough. That's all for now!   

Monday, December 24, 2012

Does Buddhist say "rest in peace"?


Many people often say "rest in peace" ("RIP") when wishing someone who had died. It occurs to me that it is actually a quote with Christian origins, particularly Catholic (refer to Wikipedia). But most Christians believe that when a person dies, he just "rest" until he (and everyone else) is re-surrected by the 2nd coming of Christ. I believe there are other versions by other Churches within Christianity. But basically I try not to wish anyone using that term anymore (unless I forget). In Buddhism we do not rest in eternity or wait to be re-surrected by anyone. We continue into the next rebirth. Hence, as a Buddhist, it is more appropriate that we wish that the deceased will be reborn in the Buddha's Pure Land or reborn as a perfect human again or just a happy rebirth.
But it is just a small thing. It is not a big thing even if you say it because you are used to saying it. But I just want to clarify.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Zen Mind

I thought this documentary by Empty Mind Film captures the essence of Zen, in particular Soto Zen. It also shows the various Zen temples in Japan. It runs about 56 mins long. Enjoy it, thanks to the producers.
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Anti-blessings and The Environment

We crave and seek blessings from God, Buddha, Allah, gods, spirits, or whoever/whatever we pray to. But yet we create anti-blessings big time. We don't realise it but we create so much anti-blessings, that the blessings from our "God" does not reach us.  What is anti-blessing? The below are the causes of anti-blessings. I am sure you can add to the list: -
 
1. jealousy
2. anger/hate
3. greed
4. lust
5. lies
6. stealing from others
7. boastfulness
8. animals/humans we have killed directly/indirectly
9.indulging in things /actions/ food/beverage that make our mind deluded/blurry  
10. selfishness
 
and much, much more. Basically all these come from our ego. It is the primary source for all of our anti-blessings. Our false pride is creating the anti-blessings.If we can just reduce the anti-blessings we create daily, blessings will come pouring like rain...irrespective of whether you are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or others. Do you agree? Also, if we can take care of our inner environment, the outer environment will naturally be able to take care of itself. But nowadays, we try to reduce on use of plastic bags, reduce styrofoam, and do all sorts of actions to protect the environment and our health. I know people who are supposedly cautious of their health and environment, afraid that the plastic may melt on their food, but you can see these same persons smoking away like chimneys. I just don't understand these persons. I see so much contradiction in their behaviour and thinking. We often neglect our inner environment. For example, we don't think we need to look at our own behaviour and how it affects others. If we can be better inwardly, our outer environment will be naturally better. How is that so? It is because the outer environment is a reflection of the inner environment.

I hope you can think about this.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chanting Mantras For Others

From now on, I will try to put aside my own miserable conditions to recite Om Mani Padme Hum for others. For now, I will recite it to lessen the pain of those suffering from cancer or other terminal illnesses and those grief-stricken spirits from those who have died suddenly or unexpectedly like Jacob Isaac Fletcher, the more than 20 kids who was gunned down by one man in Connecticut, USA and other such cases. I will try to keep my mind sane amidst a world slowly getting insane.   
 
Refer:
 
and
 
 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Osel Hita's Film



Please check this production by Osel Hita and his associate. It is about the Foundation for Development of Compassion and Wisdom. It is a film that stamps Osel's "coming" in the years to come.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Overcome Pain During Meditation?

I mentioned about sitting in meditation in my previous blog. Now I am going to give some tips on how to overcome pain during meditation. Actually it does not come from me, but something I learned from Venerable Master Hsuan Hua  - my Ch'an master. He said, "To endure suffering is to overcome suffering." I think I read this is one of Ven. Heng Sure's journey on foot, bowing every 3 steps. In his account he related about his leg being very painful and almost could not walk. But once the blood was able to flow through the "blockage", it ceased to bother him. So there you are - the tips.
 
Pain arises during meditation when you sit long enough in meditation. What I mean is not 5 to 15 minutes, but at least 30 minutes continuously. What I went through during the meditation retreat was not 30 minutes, but 40 to 50 minutes per session. In a single day, there are a total of slightly more than 12 hours of meditation, consisting of at least 11 hours of sitting meditation spread throughout the day till night, with 3 meal breaks in between, and 10 minutes of walking meditation in between sessions. There are a few sessions in between meals. If you sit that long, your leg is bound to hurt, so will your back, arms and shoulders. That happens because when you do not move your body parts for awhile, I presume the blood does not quite flow naturally. But if you persists, your "chi" will eventually flow again and makes the blood flow once more. Then the pain will disappear or reduce. Basically, it not bother you anymore. If your legs get numb, it is wise to move it a little, or change leg. What I mean is if you had put your right leg on your left, you should now put the other way. But don't make it a habit to change it too often, or you will never be able to overcome the leg pain. Even though my experience is nothing compared to Ven. Heng Sure's I have learned to see some truth in his statement and Ven. Master Hsuan Hua's.     
 
Of course, my tip above is more of personal endurance. But not enduring pain foolishly, rather try not to move the body at the slightest pain. We look at the pain and then let it go. Focus the attention on the meditation. Not the pain, unless it gets very unbearable. Then move a little. Otherwise, don't get into the habit of moving at every single pain or discomfort. In our tradition, we are allowed to stand up should it get too painful. Or, we could "request" for a beating by the Zen stick. It helps to get the blood flow again. From my experience, it only helps a little bit. It is better to conquer it.
 
Mind you that this is not a blogpost to boast about myself. I am sincere in sharing this small tips. There is still pain if I sit for long periods, but at least now I know how to manage it. Because I get readers who search for information in the internet, I am writing this tip primarily for the sake of these people. I hope it will benefit some people. I was also looking for some info on this topic but could not find much. People are also reluctant to share their "recipe" for conquering pain. I was quite disappointed. Hence I do not wish to let another person like me, who is seriously into meditation to experience again what I went through. I learned it the hard way, and now wish to share it with others who are keen.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

KPIs for Meditation Retreat

At the end of a recent meditation retreat, I realised that I could measure my progress in several ways. Well, these could very well be my spiritual key performance indicators (commonly referred to as K.P.I. in the corporate world).
 
The four K.P.I.s for meditation are:
 
i. Able to sit in proper meditation posture, without much movement.
ii. Able to manage the pain that results from sitting meditation.
iii. Able to concentrate on the object of meditation.
iv. Able to bring the focus of meditation to the cakra just below the navel. In Chinese, this is called the "tantien".
 
The 2 K.P.I.s for prostrations are:
 
i. Able to complete the entire 108 prostrations each session
ii. Able to manage the pain that results from the prostrations done.
 
I am happy that in all these six K.P.I.s, I have improved in all of them over the last year. As I told the group in the final day's circle talk, I did not go there with high lofty goals. I told them it was first things first (to borrow the first habit from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective Persons).  I thought that if I cannot even sit properly, how would I be able to concentrate on the meditation object. I would be busy adjusting my legs, my hands and shoulders. I did not attend expecting to break through any koans (but which I eventually did, i.e. after the retreat, for one of the koans). I realise that all great masters could sit for long hours in meditation without moving. If I ever hope to occupy such lofty positions, I must be able to first sit in meditation properly. So that was what I did. Even though there is still much room for improvement, I am happy with my performance.
I did not need to receive that many beatings this time, nor did I need to stand up. I also need not rub medicated oil or muscular cream on my painful legs or body as often as last time.I am not sure if there was less pain this time or that I managed it better, but that is the direction I am heading now. With less pain to distract me, I can certainly focus on my meditation better. It was not a wonder then that a doctor who measured my blood pressure after I returned home (it was a regular check-up), said that my blood pressure went down. No, I am not having high blood pressure but it was a little lower than normal (but not dangerously low).

I also noted the need to write down a "journal" of our meditation, not to boast of our achievements, but so that if we go wrong somewhere accidentally, hopefully somebody could retrace our steps and help us get back on track. Or, get someone who can do so. Believe me, I have seen people going down the wrong path. For example, during the period of retreat, I did see one person crying suddenly after his meditation session. It is normal to have outburst of emotions especially for beginners, but thereafter he was noted to smile to himself from time to time. I do not know the reason he did so, but I suspected he kept going back to experience a certain state of meditation again and again. He was also talking in his sleep. If he did not tell that to his meditation teacher, nobody will know. Then nobody can help him. I see some people emphasize too much on progressing as quickly as possible, but they do not relate to their teacher important experiences during the meditation and ask questions about how to handle them. From what I know, it is best to let go and not think so much about experiences. 
 
As you progress through meditation, the K.P.I.s will naturally have to change accordingly. But the above are just the basic ones anyone could adopt if starting on a meditation retreat.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Buddhism and Gender Segregation

In Buddhism, during certain practice occasions, such as group retreats, men and women are segregated. The reason this is done is because it is meant for the good of the participants of the retreat themselves. Due to the seriousness of the meditation practice, lustful thoughts and actions are discouraged. It is also done for practical reasons. It is better for the men to be grouped with the men and the women with women because it is not practical for men and women to share the same bathroom and sleeping room. But this is done only during serious practice sessions. After the event, the men and women are free to do what they like. Buddhism has a reason for doing everything. It does not force any precepts or commandments into anyone. You are free to kill and to steal. The only thing is Buddhism reminds you of the consequences of your own actions, whether it is good or bad. If you kill, you will have to bear with the consequences of killing, in this present life and the next. Same for stealing and any other actions. With the natural karma law in force, there is no need in Buddhism to do the bidding of any supreme entity. The law of karma is natural and is not created nor enforced by the Buddha or anyone else. So it is impartial. You cannot also argue with it as with mundane legal cases. And it also does not mean you are offering a gold bar to the Buddha, you will suffer less from the karma you have already created previously. There is no pleasing anyone, unlike other religions whereby you are said to be able to go to the supreme being's heaven if you protect the sanctity of that religion, irrespective of the actions you do in achieving that. Have you not heard of people killing to protect their religions and their supreme being? In Buddhism, it does not work that way. Killing anti-Buddhists who blaspheme the Buddha will still yield the same negative karma as you will if you kill anyone else. It does not mean the karma will be less or that you will be more favored by the Buddha. There is no such thing in Buddhism. But sometimes there are people who misrepresents their religions, so I cannot really judge or imply that other religions are less fair, but one thing is clear - Buddhism is fair. It does not force anyone to do things they don't like. Even though religions that force its adherents to do things does have a place in society, in Buddhism, Buddhists have a choice. Precepts are not forced unto anyone. Hence in Buddhism there is no necessity to segregate the genders in shopping malls, cinemas, hair saloons, etc. Physical separation is only superficial because in Buddhism we are taught that mind is the forerunner of all things - good and bad. It starts with a bad thought. Physical separation does not prevent bad thoughts. Anyway, if you put men with men and women with women too much and too often, that will indirectly foster and promote homosexuality among people of that religion. So, they must be careful not to over-do the segregation. As a Buddhist, I certainly do not wish such non-Buddhist laws to be imposed on any Buddhists. We have our own ways to prevent misconduct amongst Buddhists. There is no need to apply the laws of other religions unto us.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Don't Let Your Character Shy You From Buddhist Practice

Life is too short. Even though some people say I do not improve even though having been to 'retreats' and all that, isn't it true that only sick people need medicines? I know myself better. I will be in a worse position if I don't. Going to such retreats creates a strong imprint which can potentially manifest in future lifetimes, possibly at moments when you need them most. It will reconnect you with the Buddha Dharma even though you may not have resolved your internal 'weaknesses' such as anger, greed, and many delusions. I will not be able to know what sort of religions there will be in the future lives, but based on current ones, I cherish the freedom I get in Buddhism. And I certainly want to reconnect back with my spiritual path in my future lives. After this one is long gone, we are going to have different family members, different environment, different world. So I am not going to let the circumstances of this life undermine my intention to start planting causes and condition to shape my potential future life. Even though I have not exactly gotten rid of my anger, lust, greed, hatred, whatever else.... despite all my negative actions, and I am not giving excuses not to continue to work on them, but I still have not forgotten my path. There is still much that I can do to help sentient beings in various small ways. A few weeks ago, I helped a small house lizard escape out of its 'vajra hell'. Its 'vajra hell' is my house kitchen sink! It was circling round and round and unable to climb out. I am not sure what happened to its ability to climb on vertical surfaces. The sink was not wet or oily. Anyway, it was very tired by the time I saw it and would have died had I not intervened to help it. But it was quite a task to help it as every time I go near it with a piece of paper to push it out of the sink, it ran away from it. This helped me realise that we could be in a similar position. We could be constantly running away from the Buddha's compassionate and tireless effort to give us blessings. Through our own ignorance, we shy away from the Buddha's wisdom and compassion. In the case of Pure Land Buddhism, we are likened to running from Amida's Vow (or not recognising it), even though Amida's Vows are always around us. While trying to help it, I was also chanting some mantras for it to hear, even though it probably could not hear it or could not make any sense of it. But it's okay because it is the connection with the Dharma that I was trying to impart to it. In the end, using some ingenuity, I put a long stick from the top of the sink to the bottom and slowly with another piece of paper, I pushed it when it was too tired to move. Helping sentient beings are much like that. Bodhisattvas must never abandon a sentient being in need, even if it is just a house lizard. It also depends on our innate wisdom and skillful means to respond in the most appropriate manner to sentient being's unique situations. So the lizard crawls out and hid itself underneath a rack for plates and cups. Animals constantly live in fear. This small incident made me realise so many things, and I thought I want to share. I realise that it is not the life of a lizard that really needs saving, rather it is connecting an animal with no Dharma connection to someone with some Dharma connection. If the lizard is lucky, it will die soon thereafter and be reborn in a better realm of existence. Saving the life of the lizard is not the actual animal liberation, rather causing it to be reborn in a better realm is. I think that is important. Hence despite my carelessness sometimes with other humans, there are times when I have shown my little bit of compassion and wisdom. The latter can only be possible due to my little involvement with the Buddha Dharma. That is why one should not shy away from it.

Bottom line is - don't let anyone tell you not to go for meditation retreats, chantings or even involve yourself in Buddhist activities based merely on your outer character. Don't be disillusioned! Don't shy away from receiving help from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who are always there for us. Don't feel that you are not joining or quiting because you have not improved despite being involved in it for so many years. Delusions are not that easily uprooted after aeons of its dictatorship!

So... due to the necessity to continue to work on my internal issues, to repent and the need to plant imprints for the future, I will be gone for a while....and I may not be able to write anything in this blog for a while. It does not mean I will be a better person after I return. It may be the same old me from other's perspective. But I will still go because from my point of view, it will not be the same old me. Be patient and take care. I pray that my protectors will take care of my family members and home while I am away! Om Mani Padme Hum! Om Tare Tutare Ture Svaha!

P/S:
If you are in the United States of America, particularly North Carolina, you can check this out.
http://www.udharmanc.com/
They are rather new and need your support to make the Buddhist community in NC grow.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Non-Genuine Dharma Transmissions

Recently I read an article of an interview between a magazine and a Zen teacher. He is a Westerner and had many years of Zen meditations under many teachers, roshis, shifus, etc. He had the opportunity to see the many things that were going on in the Zen world. Among the things he revealed in that Q & A was that not all persons who got a dharma transmission or who have the title 'roshi' are actually enlightened. From his wide experience he can vouch that there were on occasions 'other considerations' for granting dharma transmissions. Moreover, he said that certain meditative experience of oneness may not be considered as an 'enlightenment' in the Buddhist sense. There could also be people who did not actually penetrate the entire course in koan study but decided to take on the title of 'roshi'. This article confirms my own thoughts that these sort of things could indeed happen. Something similar is mentioned in the book "Foundation of Japanese Buddhism, vol. II" by Alicia & Daigan Matsunaga, publication of Buddhist Books International.  

That was why I said that it is not about the master, but about yourself, ultimately. Also the fact is if the master is genuine, you can still learn a thing or two from him, even though he may not be as enlightened as you think (and even if his dharma transmissions were not based on spiritual attainments). He may still be able to guide you and others in his/her own ways. So some trust and respect to him is still proper. It is different, though, if he is only out to gain fame, position and money. Then you better run. But scandals do happen. How you react to it will depend on your personal experience with the teacher involved in the scandal. It is also completely possible that completely pure enlightened persons could sacrifice themselves in compromising positions merely to help the other persons. As unenlightened persons, we will not be able to fully comprehend this matter. Thank goodness my experiences with my own gurus and masters have not been any other thing but pure. I am not saying the scandals are all lies, nor am I validating them. Only that my spiritual development does not have any such hindrance. I completely trust my gurus and masters. If you do become  'Roshi' or 'Zen Master' (or whatever title) one day or offered a dharma transmission, make sure you are a worthy recipient, enlightened or otherwise. For me, I am not interested in such titles. But I do want someone qualified to check my progress. That's for sure.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Urging the Rakhinees and Rohingyas to Live Peacefully

Even though I have written that the issue between the Rakhinees (who happens to be Buddhists) and the Rohingyas (who happens to be Muslims), are merely ethnic issues, and not religious issues, I have to urge the Buddhist Rakhinees to be more tolerant and compassionate to reach out to the Muslim Rohingyas. Similarly, I would urge the Muslim Rohingyas to tolerate and have compassion on the Rakhinees. Please live peacefully with the Rakhinees. I hope the Government of Myanmar can allocate a piece of land for them, and place all the Rohingyas there. Let them have their own life there.   

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Abolish the Mandatory Death Sentence

Referring to this piece of article, there was a comment to seek public consultation.
http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v6/newsindex.php?id=704961

Therefore, even though I have stated my opinion before in a previous blog post, let me state my unreserved support for the abolishment of the mandatory death sentence for drug offences. I support the view that the law should not tie the hands of the judges. And it is not simply about saving Yong Vui Kong or the lives of any Malaysians, for that matter. It is about fairness to the judges and the alleged offenders. A person can and does possess the ability to repent and change him/herself for the better. He or she does not need to be sentenced to die at the first instance of offence. Give him/her a chance to change, especially drug mules. I have argued that very often they are tricked and cajoled into such offences. And very often too, they come from not very well-off family background. They often also lack education. It is the drug barons a.k.a. the drug lords who should be punished, not the young mules that they recruit. And even then, they should be given the chance too to transform themselves. You can keep them as long as possible in the prison but do not hand them the death sentence without giving them a chance to repent. I have argued in my previous blog post on this topic that the death sentence itself may be still necssary for hard offenders, who refuse to repent and transform and especially if their continued existence posed a threat to others. The death sentence should be reserved only for these repeat and stubborn criminal offenders, whereby no prisons is able to hold them. If there is a prison that can hold these people, the authorities can put them there. Yes, even if it is built in the middle of the sahara desert, where it is hot... almost like hell! Give them a taste of hell and then maybe, they can repent and truly regret their evil actions. But if we don't give them a chance, but send them to their death, they will never get the chance to experience the blessings of heaven and the spiritual goodness that all religions preach. We have to provide them the chance, but if they don't take it, that is their problem. If we don't provide the chance to them, that is our fault. It becomes our negative karma. In the future, others may also not give us a chance, even if it is just a minor mistake. Our bosses will scold us over a simple typing error, for instance. So, it is important not for us to sow such seeds of "not being given the chance to change for the better". Take the chance to lead the drug mules into a positive life, free from drugs. We can be "angels of positive transformation", instead of death punishers. For those who think abolishing the mandatory death sentence will result in more crime, well, I have suggested the authorities publicises actual life in prison environment (using actors) as well as show documentaries of criminals being whipped (with the faces hidden) on national television. Most people have never seen these punishments before and they don't feel the pain if they are not aware of it. Death is swift and immediate but suffering the whipping and shame of prison life is more unbearable. In return of abolishing the mandatory death sentence, the authorities could increase the number of whippings and increase the minimum number of years in prison. This will be the deterence.

Think about it and abolish the mandatory death sentence for drug offences. Let the judges have the freedom to decide what to punish the person after considering the weight of the offence and not tie his hands to only mete out the death sentence.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Preposterous Claims on Borobudur

Borobudur
 I chanced upon these articles below (and others in the internet) and this blogpost reflects my personal thoughts about this matter. You do not have to have the same opinion as mine. You should think and reflect, and then have your own opinion. The Buddha advised us to think for ourselves, not merely to follow others' thinking. In case you forget, we do have our own brains and minds. I am not trying to influence anyone. Please note that there are a series of video in youtube on this claim but it is in Bahasa Indonesia.
 
http://www.abigmessage.com/islamic-maths-lecturer-fahmi-basya-says-buddhist-temple-borobudur-belongs-to-islam.html
http://indonesia-permai.blogspot.com/2011/03/is-true-borobudur-temple-heritage-of.html

If you really study the logic of the claim made by this guy, any right thinking proper scholar will surely dismiss his claims as nonsense and preposterous. It is too wild a claim just to base it on similarity of the names. For example, he claimed that the word "Jawa" came from the word "Jews". Another silly logic has the name of first pronounce in prophet Solomon's name  in Malay (which is "Sulaiman"), i.e. "Su" as the origin of names of Indonesians such as the former leaders of Indonesia, i.e. Suharto and Sukarno. So, they are the descendants of prophet Solomon? Then does that mean that all the Chinese people with the family surname of "Su" or "Soo" are also his descendents? He also mentioned one place of Solomon called "Saba" and he believed it is something to do with Jawa. But I can tell him, there is a place, indeed called "Sabah" and it is the name of a state in Malaysia. It is situated in the island of Borneo. Not Jawa. His reasonings also did not take into account actual historical records written by independent voyagers from China and India to Indonesia from the 7th to the 14th century AD. Among them are Fa Hsien, Yi Jing Gunavarman, Vajrabodhi, Amoghavajra, and Atisa Dipankara Srijnana. All of them recorded that Jawa was a thriving place of Buddhist knowledge and practice. The Chinese voyagers even went there to learn sanskrit before going to India to bring back the Buddhist scriptures. All these are factual historical evidence ignored by this muslim scholar. The scholar also claimed that the statues in Borobudur are not modelled after the Buddha but are those of the prophet Solomon himself, who he claimed had curly hair. Obviously he does not know anything about the Buddha and why the Buddha's image has those tiny curly hair. Moreover, if these statues are modelled after Solomon, why aren't those Bamiyan statues not? And what about the different hand mudras of the Buddha? Solomon also had those hand mudras? 

He also took one picture/relief in the site and related it to prophet Solomon. If we study the Borobudur, we will know that the reliefs show the life of the historical Buddha and his previous lives(based on the Lalitavistara and Jatakamala), and they also tell the story of Sudhana's journey to Enlightenment according to the Gandhavyuha Sutra. And there are reasons why the reliefs were arranged in such manner from the lowest level to the highest. In fact, the entire structure has a spiritual Buddhist meaning. If you ask this scholar, he will not be able to explain the reasoning of the entire structure and the flow of each relief in the site from lowest to highest. There are many other aspects of Borobudur that this scholar did not explain in his "Solomon" context.  
 
There are other preposterous claims (such as a youtube video) claiming that the "2012" end of the world prophecy is also recorded in the Borobudur. the mathematical derivation of 20122012 is just his own imagination. At least, this is what I think since there is no recorded historical evidence of a "20122012" ever being inscribed on the site itself. This is definittely not recorded in the Borobudur. But the video is in Indonesian language. If you understand, you will know what I mean. The video link is here - 
 
If such flimsy reasons lie behind his logic of Borobudur being a muslim heritage, then it does not deserve any attention by any court of law. It is certainly imaginative and preposterous. He need a lot more concrete evidence to support his claims. And those that he had so far put forth, aren't. I am sorry. The Borobudur remains a Buddhist relic and monument. Congratulations to it being listed in 2012 as the Guiness World Record for the largest Buddhist monument in the world.
view of Borobudur from the top
 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Eating Animals

Eating Animals

Not eating meat,
I liberate animals.

Eating meat,
I liberate them too.

What do I mean?

- written 14 Oct 2012, 10.40am

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Many & The One

The Many & The One

The many returns to the one for wisdom,
But got lost along the way.
Lost, distracted, suffering in the wilderness of samsara,
How are they going to return to the one?

Responding to the calls for help,
The one returns to the many.
Diving into the depths of samsara,
How can one save them all?

Many and one.
Wisdom and compassion.
Form and emptiness.
Fingers and hand.

Different,
and yet in essence
the same.

The many returns to the one.
The one returns to the many.
How does the many return to the one?
How does the one return to the many?
Only don't know – just do it,
Like this – BAM!
(slap on the floor)

-          Written 13 Oct 2012,  10.40pm
-      edited 11.49pm

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Afterlife - A Doctor Sees Heaven

Referring to this news link:-

http://my.news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/heaven-real-says-neurosurgeon-claims-visited-afterlife-213527063.html

I feel that it is a pity that people usually only can see heaven or hell only when they are in a state of coma or on the verge of death. Then when they wake up, by medical or non-medical reasons, he/she will attribute it to the glory of God's miracle. He/she will then proclaim it to the whole world and say that it is prove of Jesus' or God's Greatness. Not writing this with the intention of taking away anyone's faith in other religions, but the truth is anyone can actually see heaven and hell after they have practice their meditation for some time and achieved what the Buddhists called "samadhi". To the Buddhists, these seeing of Heavens and Hells are really nothing special. We already know these things or external "realms" do exist. People who thinks that only what we can see with our human eyes are real, are really mistaken. Ghosts, for example, cannot be seen by the normal human eyes but by using special scientific equipment, there are documentaries and TV shows that have shown that these equipments are able to capture images of these "ghosts". 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Applying "Only Don't Know" to resolve any issues

This is another of my “summary” of the talk given at Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre in Singapore on 30 September 2012. These may not be their exact words, but I try to capture the essence of their message. I may have added in a few words for clarity. I hope it is correct. However, any mistake is mine.

Main altar at Kwan Yin Chan Ling, Singapore
Zen Master Dae Kwan of Su Bong Zen Monastery, Hong Kong talked about how to apply “only don’t know mind” into our daily life. She showed the relevance of “only don’t know”. She also demonstrated what it means by slapping our hand on any surface. That is the Kwan Um School of Zen’s mudra (action code) of emptiness (my own term). She said that there was once when they were having a retreat at HK’s Lantau island. There was a huge storm that was heading to the island. At that place of retreat, there was hardly any television, radio or computer for them to know what was going on in the world. They were blissfully focusing on their retreat. Fortunately one of the followers of Su Bong monastery managed to contact one of the administrators and the horror of the storm was communicated to the group. They prepared for the storm as best they could. After the storm, many trees were uprooted and there was much damage everywhere in Lantau island. Then ZM Dae Kwan saw a big branch of a tree hanging dangerously above a statue of Wei Tuo Pu Sa at the temple. If it fell, the statue will sure be damaged. But they could not figure out how to save the statue since moving it was near impossible. It weighted about a tonne!  Then everyone put their heads together and brain storm. It does not matter if the idea was crazy or not. It does not matter if previously they could work together or not. It does not matter if their idea was not successful in moving the statue. The important thing was everyone was of a single mind to save the statue. In the end someone thought of putting small pipes underneath the statue and slowly rolling it over the pipes. It succeeded but there were other problems that arose. Now how did do they put it on to a flat surface, since it was rolling down a slope? Then someone thought of a truck that they have. By parking the truck at the bottom of the slope, it resulted in a flat surface. Hence they could roll the statue on top of it. Basically, ZM Dae Kwan wanted to point out that putting our minds together and not discriminate “I, my, me” or “He, she, him, her”, then we can definitely work our correct function in life. With "don't know" mind, we can listen to others. We don't always have to say we are right. When someone has any idea, everyone just try. This is life's situation. Together action. Don;t be afraid of these words - "don't know". People may ask, in a society where everybody needs to know, why "don't know" by our School? With this "don;t know, we have less criticism. And like ZM Dae Bong said, we can then turn around situations in our society. We need these type of people to turn around society more harmoniously and respectful of each other. We can apply in our office environment too. There may be people we don't like, or have very strong opinions, at that time we should apply the "don't know" mind. Then the principle will come across to us. Make all our enemies our friends. This "don't know" has 2 qualities - great compassion and great wisdom.
But despite her explanation, during the Q&A session, someone in the audience still asked about how to apply “only don’t know” to the China-Japan issue whereby both of the nation fight over some islands. This guy said that society will not accept “don’t know” as a solution. He obviously did not get ZM Dae Kwan’s (or the previous Zen Masters) explanation of “only don’t know”. ZM Dae Kwan explained again that “only don’t know” is not “I don’t know”. It is “don’t know”, or “don’t know me”, “don’t know my”. Later ZM Dae Bong reiterated that it is about sharing. Together action is important to resolve issues. In this society, too much of “I take from you”, “You take from me” attitude means we are having animal behaviour. Are we having animal attitude? He explained that if we observed animal behaviours, they survived in the animal kingdom based on taking the life of other animals. They thrived only in their own group. They are incapable of mixing and sharing. If society and nations continue to behave like animals, then there is no hope for world peace. Therefore, as a conclusion, we can apply this “don’t know” mind to any situation and resolve issues, big or small.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Like Magnets, Our Mind Has Energy

Some notes (in point form) I took of Zen Master Dae Bong's teachings at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre on 30 September 2012 in Singapore in conjunction with the inaugural ceremony of Kwan Yin Chan Ling, Singapore. I have lighted edited it to make the notes taken clearer. All mistakes are mine:-
_____________________________________________________
 
  1. Zen Master Seung Sahn used to take 2 magnets and a pencil with him last time.
  2. Magnets have energy but we cannot see it.
  3. Our mind also has energy, like magnets.
  4. When our mind has "I, My, Me", it can push away even people who are close to us (e.g. our family members) like negatively charged magnets.
  5. Practice will clear away our delusions and then we can connect with others better (like oppositely charged magnets). That is the purpose of practice.
  6. Apparently there are people complaining life in Singapore is stressful. Creating lots of   negative thinking.
  7. Stress always exist but we do not have to be negatively affected by it.
  8. Original people of America reportedly came from Asia. They don't have any word for "problem". To them problem is opportunity. (N.B. the chinese character for problem consists of word for "opportunity")
  9. Dukkha is normally translated as "Suffering". Today I will translate it as "problems".
  10. Suicide will not end problems because in Buddhism, we get reborn again. Hence we will continue to suffer the same thing again.
  11. There was a study in America whereby people who have won lottery are interviewed 2 to 3 years later if they are still happy or happier.
  12. The result was that they were not happier 2 to 3 years after the win.
  13. Correct mind practice - like the magnet, we can turn negative situations around.
  14. We can then make correct connections to our family, friends, co-workers, our environment, etc.
  15. Our purpose in life is to make that. Correct relationships. Correct function. Correct direction.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Zen of Shinran Shonin


Shinran's statue
I'm feeling very sick lately. Lots of obstacles manifesting. Sometimes not sure what to do. Doing Vajrasattva mantras and using Peacock Queen feather to heal. In my moment of discontent but inately serious, I spoke to Shinran, "O - Great Shinran, since you are so faithful to Amitabha, please don't forget to take me to Him should anything untowards happens to me!" Suddenly I got this loud and unexpected reply back to my head, "WHO SAID I AM FAITHFUL TO AMITABHA? THAT IS RIDICULOUS! IF YOU WANT TO GO TO AMITABHA, YOU HAVE TO FIND HIM YOURSELF!"  

 I was completely taken aback by that reply. Momentarily stunned. But I knew the words of Shinran (or whatever my imagination of his reply) was with much wisdom and meaning. That was just Friday morning. Is that a Pure Land koan? Strange. But the point is, try think about what it means to find "Amitabha" or what it means by "going to Amitabha Pure Land". Many of us say we want to go there. Or, during our prayers, we say so, BUT, are we serious about that aspiration? Even if it is genuine, what do we do with that aspiration? Are we just hoping for someone out there to "rescue" us? Are we just waiting for some "GOD" or "GOD-like" entity to give us "salvation" ala Christianity and other monotheistic religions? Even Jodo Shinshu with its "ultra-faith" in Amitabha is not like those religions. Some Buddhists may think that it is, but I have since learned that it is not. If it is merely going to some Buddha realm, perhaps we can merely rely. But the true "salvation" of Amitabha is really more than that. How much more? I leave you with these thoughts. Good day. May Amitabha's Light shine on all of us - all sentient beings! Go find your Amitabha!

Pic source: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinran

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Enlightenment - Easy to Get, Hard to Keep



Very good teaching with a story Zen Master Bon Soeng heard from a Tibetan Rinpoche. This talk was given quite recently (June 27, 2012) and uploaded to youtube by emptygatezen. There are other talks given by this Zen Master and clips of these can be found in youtube, thanks to emptygatezen.   

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Delaying Death By Buddhist Means

While we are having fun with our fleeting joys and jokes, there are many people suffering from one pain or another. When people in pain come to you, what can you do? Can you relieve their pain? I like to donate to hospitals run by Buddhist groups that are in need of financing. One such hospital is the Amdo Eye Hospital.It is also known as "Qinghai Woeser Cataract Treatment Center". Another example is Namdroling hospital. Refer this link - http://www.indiegogo.com/SaveNamdrolingHospital?c=home
Helping a hospital is a good way to repent the evil karma that we ourselves have accumulated.

You never know what the power of good karma can do to us. Granny's life got extended for one more year due to the positive karma generated. She was taken to the hospital in August 2011 with late stage of cancer. The doctor told the family she had only a few weeks at most. With that news, many relatives and family members from outside the state or country were asked to return for a last chat with granny. But I had a problem with that if she were to die in a few weeks time. It would have clashed with my retreat and I would have to skip it. So I decide that for the sake of my practice, any death will have to be postponed. And how do I go about postponing it? Do I think that I am Buddha? Even Buddhas don't just postpone people's death. So I did not think about it that much anymore.
 
But at that time I was in fact copying the Heart Sutra for Japan. I wrote 10 sets and my family wrote hundreds more. These Heart Sutras were to be sent and enshrined in Japan at the place where there was a terrible earthquake, followed by a tsunami earlier. I wrote before on this. The merits from this deed were dedicated to sick granny, hoping that it could buy her a little bit more time. It worked. I managed to go for my retreat. After the retreat, I went straight to see her to recite the Heart Sutra for her. I was having the thinking that it did not matter any more if the death were to happen since the retreat was over. I thought her death was "postponed" by 10 weeks. But she was discharged a few weeks after that. She can still talk and smile. And not wringing in pain or anything like that. She had good karma. Sometime after Chinese New Year I visited her and she was still emitting a happy aura around her. That gave me confidence that she will not die yet. I told myself perhaps she got 10 months. But June came and gone. I was happy she got more than 10 months. Guess how long she got? She passed away in August 2012 recently. She got roughly about another 12 months! Amazing, right? Scientifically I cannot prove that her life was extended due to the Heart Sutra. But I believe that there are genuine Buddhist methods to extend a person's life a little bit more. The only thing is we must never be greedy and start asking to live forever. Limit your request to a certain time period. State it clearly how long you want. And what would be the benefit to Buddhism if that wish came true? Also, what would you be prepared to do for getting the wish come true? At the end of the day, whether it will come true or not, you need to leave it to karma. Sometimes it is perhaps better to die. We may not understand the reason but we must trust karma. It works through karma. There is no external entity that grants or extents life. Other religions may think that that responsibility lies in God's hands. But in Buddhism, we know nobody does that job. How long we live depends on our own individual karma as well as collective karma. If karma can cause illnesses, it can also heal. In a very poignant miment yesterday, I saw someone on a wheelchair yesterday. He had suffered from a stroke. The brandname of the wheelchair was "Karma". The moment I saw it, something struck deep inside me. It connects to something deep inside. Karma. Karma. Karma.  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Helping Sentient Beings through Rites and Rituals

There was a bereavement recently and I thank those who have sent their condolences earlier. For those who havenot, please don't start wishing me/my family. It's too late for that. People don't wish after the event is over. On 18 August 2012 I saw my grandmother-in-law for the last time. And the last thing I know of her alive was her sweet smile when I whispered to her to remember to pray ("Liam Keng" in hokkien dialect). Then she dozed off. Then on 25 August, her heart already stopped beating only within minutes to an hour of my arrival (not sure). "Amah" was cremated on 29 August at Batu Gantung. The wake was held at Farlim Khoo Kongsi funeral parlour. The final journey began after 1pm. It was a sad occasion for the many relatives who come back from far and wide (Singapore, Australia and America). We will miss her. There was no representation from my side, which was a disappointment. It is a disappointment if you know that even family members and close friends do not even send their condolences. It's quite a phenomena that happy occasions (like Chinese New Year) do not unite as many family members and relatives as a sad occasion would. But they are a more united family than mine. We bid farewell to a great lady!
 
On the night before the cremation, the family could not find any Buddhist temple/association that could do the chanting at the funeral parlour. Knowing that I am somewhat involved in Buddhism, one of the aunties suggested half-jokingly that perhaps I could stand in and lead the night chanting. I said okay. The only problem is there is no chanting book. In the end, I have to do the chanting alone. I used a youtube chanting to help. When she was alive, I used to recite the Heart Sutra for her, so now I recite it for her. For me, as mentioned by the teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn, 100% sincere recitation is important. More important than how accurate or how nice you have recited is the heart. This is better than long chanting by monks that merely go through the procedures. And I used my finger to knock on an imaginary moktak. Hence that was enough to do my "duty" to do the chanting that night. When I came to the Heart Sutra mantra, I visualised strongly that she is crossing over - "Beyond, Beyond, go beyond, utterly go beyond... attaining Bodhi, Svaha!" Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha. With that, I "sent" her out of her body completely and visualised her going to Amitabha Pure Land. After the session, I did a short sharing of the meaning of the Heart Sutra to 2 young nephews-in-law.

What many people do not know is that this "grandmother" is that she had had a one-year life extension. In August 2011, she was admitted into the hospital and the doctor told the family that she only had a few weeks to live. Many family members and relatives from outstation/ other countries were called to return home. Obviously there was an intervention. But that is another story. She got to live until August 2012.
 
With this funeral, I have witnessed how a Toaist funeral is conducted in the past and now I have seen how a Buddhist (Chinese Mahayana) style is like. Basically the Buddhist Sangha recited the Amitabha Sutra, the 88 Buddhas Repentance, the Amitabha rebirth mantra, the sweet dew mantra, the Heart Sutra, the Great Compassionate Dharani and the Qing Liang Di prayers (refer to the City of Ten Thousand Buddha chanting book). Qing Liang Di Pu Sa actually refers to the myriad Bodhisattvas and Mahasattvas in the Pure Land awaiting our arrival there.
 
What Chinese Mahayana Buddhists do not practice (and which I find good) is shouting to the "soul" of the deceased to come out of the body just prior to it being pushed into the furnace. Taoist Sai Kong normally do that. This is because in Buddhism, our "soul" is actually the mind. And the mind consists of many consciousnesses and sub-consciousnesses. They leave the body in stages. Not all at once....
So, if due to some bad karma or some reasons, your sub-conscious is still inside the body, you may experience some burning sensation. For people who have done serious bad karma, that is equivalent to being reborn in hell, where you are literally burnt alive on and on. So, the body may burn for only a short while, but due to your karma, you experience it like almost forever. That's terrible, isn't it? But don't fret. There are indicators or signs that "Amah" has been reborn into a better place. One indicator is that her face is peaceful and serene. People destined for the hellish realms will not look that good. The second indicator is that on the 16 August, she told an aunt that she saw an elephant and a horse. Normally it is a horse and a cow headed ones. But  I am not sure she saw the animals or the animal-faced ones. But anyhow, to see an elephant is good. It is rare for a person to dream of an elephant, much less to see one while alive through a near death vision. I regard this as an auspicious vision. Then there was this big rat that I saw on the ground, suddenly appeared on the ceiling while we were doing a chanting in the evening, led by a Buddhist monk. Something that was on the ground, and suddenly appear so high up, while the chanting of Amitabha Sutra was going on, I regard that as a sign of auspiciousness. But yet, a rat is not such a good sign. So, generally the signs seem to point to a "a bit of good, a bit of not-so-good" rebirth or a "good" rebirth. 
 
I wrote about people criticising the Tibetan Buddhists for their apparent emphasis on rites and rituals sometime ago. Yet they do not realise that nowadays the Chinese and Theravadian monks have a lackadaisical attitude towards rituals and chantings that so much so that they think that it is okay to leave the rituals to the Taoist priests (such as death rituals). They say proudly that they emphasise on "cultivation" only, as if helping others obtain liberation through rites and rituals are not cultivation. Long time ago the Chinese Mahayana monks were only known for their rites and rituals, and not much teachings and cultivation. And these monks were criticised. That's where their attitude towards the Tibetan Sangha probably came from. But to go the other extreme of not caring about he lay people's everyday concerns and problems, and think that it is okay to leave the chantings to the Sai Kong (Taoist priest) is absurd. The Tibetan Lamas make it a point to regard the death process as very serious and an opportunity for them to liberate the dying through the bardo process. Hence the rites and rituals of the bardo process are important liberating activity for them. This is what is COMPASSION. Others merely regrd the death process as unavoidable and hence it is not so important. If anything, they think it is adequate that we can just leave a tape recorder playing "Namo O Mi Tuo Fwo" at the funeral parlour. They regard chanting services at funerals as a chore only to get more ang-pow (money). Not to the Vajrayanist. The latter do everything possible to help the dying obtain rebirth in the Buddha Pure Land or to be reborn as a human being again. This is something to consider. Helping sentient beings through rites and rituals is cultivation. But they must be done with explanation and understanding. The leaders of the rites and rituals must explain the significance of what they are doing. Otherwise over time, they could become mere tradition and custom or empty rituals that does not save or help anybody.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In Memory of Geshe Tsering

Re-edited post in memory of Geshe Lama Tsering who recently passed away in Kopan Monastery. May I have the merits to be able to meet with this wonderful lama again.
 
___________________________________________________
 
One interesting incident happened on the Saturday 30 Dec 2006 at Roots Institute, Bodhgaya, India. In the afternoon on that day, Lama Zopa Rinpoche was scheduled to begin lecture and I was rushing back from the Great Stupa. I had a quick shower and was preparing to walk to the Gompa. The lecture was to have begun early. Usually it is at 4pm. At that time, I saw a lama about the size of Khenrinpoche Lama Lhundrup walking in a hurry in front of the Maitreya Statue and asking Melissa (Root's Spiritual Program Coordinator at that time) something. He does not seem satisfied and looked still bewildered. Then seeing me, he waved his hands to me and called me over. He asked me to take me to see Rinpoche.

I have no idea who he was but said to myself, I cannot reject giving my service to a lama, ...any lama. He was using a walking-stick. I held him by the hand and we went to the building where Rinpoche was staying. He had been informed that Rinpoche would be meeting the students at 4pm, so he had to hurry to see Rinpoche. He had some offerings to give Rinpoche. So I helped him up the stairs and Rinpoche's assistant, Jampa (Kopan's puja chant leader) was there to greet lama. Lama took out some fruits and Jampa put them on a plate and took them inside. He then sat on a chair and keep asking Jampa what Rinpoche was doing and if there was someone with him. I asked him what is his name, and he said "Geshe Tsering". Jampa said Rinpoche was doing some practices. Ven. Roger (Rinpoche's personal assistant and President of FPMT) was also inside. I was asked to massage his tired legs. The lama was getting nervous and moved to sit inside the lounge area. I went in too to massage his legs and knees.

A short while later Ven. Roger came outside and talked to Lama. And then Ven. Roger had his lunch ( very late lunch!!) . Ven. Roger signalled me outside and said that the lecture had begun. And asked me if I wanted to go attend the lecture at the gompa. He said that they could take care of lama from then. After all , he said even when lama goes inside I would not be allowed inside (to meet with Rinpoche). I suspected (but I could be wrong) that Ven. Roger might be thinking that I was trying to sneak inside to meet with Rinpoche. But I never had any such thoughts. In the first place, it was Geshe Tsering himself who had asked me to accompany him. It was over 3pm and Rinpoche still did not come out of the private chambers. He was giving consultation to a lady. After sometime, the lady came out and I think it was the other assistant - Sangpo- that said Lama could now go in.
At last Lama went inside to meet with Rinpoche.

As I heard Rinpoche laughed a lot, it was obvious he was happy to meet with lama. I met with a friend from a center in Kuala Lumpur and he told me then that that lama was the late Lama Yeshe's brother! I almost floored...I had no inkling I was serving the Lama Yeshe's own brother?? Wow, I was actually massaging Geshe Tsering's legs and I did not know it! What ever gave me this opportunity to serve him? It certainly felt like I was serving Lama Yeshe himself. At least I imagined it that way! Lama came out about 15 minutes later and I walked him out. Then he wanted to meet with the Librarian (Ven. Dekyong) but Venerable was already in the gompa and could not be disturbed. So he went to the kitchen and meet with the kitchen Indian staffs. They seemed to have known him and served him with some bread and milk-tea. Lama gave me his milk-tea instead. I took it since lama insisted, but it was too hot to drink. Lama then went inside the kitchen and I (as attendant) had the duty to follow him. I put the bread and milk-tea to oneside and went with him. He gave blessing to the staffs and then I walked him to the gates. He said no need to walk him out but I had the duty to do so nevertheless. Half-way he stopped and searched his bag as if he wanted to give me something. But all he had were the balance of the fruits for Rinpoche. There was nothing else and he walked on. To me, lama did not have to give me anything. To be given this opportunity to serve him was all that I needed. I paid the rickshaw 20 rupees and asked if he had 10 rupees change. The rickshaw peddlar returned me 10 rupees and I passed them to the lama. Lama refused to accept it initially. But I insisted and just said if he can not accept it, then he should donate the money to the Great Stupa on my behalf. It was only then that he accepted my small gift to him. Small amount, but it was a pure gift from my heart. I should have given him more. Anyway I waved goodbye to him and wished him all the best. In my mind, I had hoped that I will see him again.

Then I rushed back to the gompa and was told Rinpoche's teachings would start at 4.30 pm (just as I had overheard earlier at Rinpoche's building when Ven. Roger was talking to the recently appointed Director of Root (at that time Ms Sally Dudgeon). During the teachings, Rinpoche certainly knew about the event even though I did not meet him at all at the private chambers. He did not see me with the lama. But yet he knew it and immediately at the start of the teachings he said serving the lama will bring inconceivable benefits and realisations. It was my consolation because I had felt a little disappointed that there was no private inteview for me with Rinpoche. I had felt that others were more closer to Rinpoche and they had so many opportunities to talk to Rinpoche and ask him things, and observed him doing the pujas/practices... whereas I felt so distant from Rinpoche. During that evening's teachings, a lot of his teachings directly hit me point blank. His dharnma teachings seem to be aiming at the problems that I had and had wanted to ask him. I had passed him a letter to him a few days before, asking for advice on my practice and a certain personal problem I have. The teachings that evening certainly was prove again that he was my Buddha and there was so much kindness in him to accept me even though I was not the most pure hearted, morally pure student. There was so many flaws in me , yet Rinpoche accepted me with kindness. He gave teachings that would be useful to me. I felt thankful that he knew my innermost heart.

That day was also the day I observed the 8 precepts. I had doubts for a few days prior to that whether I could observe it or not. I kept thinking of my stomach/gastric problems. But then I told myself that I must not miss this chance. There were many people who took it. I reminded myself of the verse in the Source of All My Good: " protect my vows even though it cost me my life". It means if I take the precepts, I must not break it even if I were to be threatened to give up my precepts or die, not to mention gastric. Protecting ones vows and precepts are much more important. And I have also read Rinpoche's explanation that taking even one precept will create skies of merits. So I undertook the 8 precepts with that motivation in mind and woke up early (5am) that day and join a dozen others in taking the 8 mahayana precepts. The day ended without any stomach problems. Perhaps I worried too much.

It summary, it was a great day. The 8 precepts, the opportunity to serving Lama Yeshe's brother and the teachings by Rinpoche that serving the lama was the best thing to do - all these add up to make my day wonderful. When asked for Rinpoche's advice for my practice, he replied with just one word: "wow".  

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Truth of The Platform Sutra

I would like to summarise what I have read recently. It is concerning The Sixth Patriarch Platform Sutra or sometimes called The Altar Sutra. It is one of the few classical Buddhist texts elevated to a "sutra" level although these are not the words or teachings of the Buddha. However, it is based on the teachings of the Buddha. A common perception is that it is written by Hui Neng. According to modern scholars, this was the work of one of the successors of Hui Neng, called Shen Hui. There was also modern discovery (via research) that in fact Hui Neng was not the sixth patriarch succeeding Hung Jen. It was Shen Hsiu that succeeded Hung Jen and Hui Neng was almost an obscure figure.  Through some scheming of Shen Hui, he allegedly created stories of the animosity between Shen Hsiu and Hui Neng vis-a-vis the Northern vs Southern Schools conflict. These scholars found that there was not much difference in philosophy between Shen Hsiu and Hui Neng. Through involvement with the Chinese Imperial Palace, Shen Hui got himself appointed as the Seventh Patriarch and thus the actual history of Zen had been changed. You can refer to  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hui-neng and its references for further details. I am not a scholar, so please judge for yourself the papers written by these modern scholars. But it is not just one or two persons, but several scholars have written that The Platform Sutra is the creative work of one monk called Shen Hui.  

My personal thoughts on this is that our Buddha Dharma is not dependent on originality of the Buddhist scriptures. Rather it is on the principles that lies within the scripture. In this case, even though the stories in the Platform Sutra may not be true, there are still some principles relating to the Sudden and Gradual Enlightenment that one could learn. I interpret that Sudden vs Gradual Enlightenment in a different perspective. I see these two opposing approaches to enlightenment as actually akin to the Ultimate and Conventional Truths talked about by both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. So, for me, I need not have to pick whether it is gradual or sudden enlightenment that is the better truth (is there such a thing?). Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen described the two truths as two sides of the same hand. Yes, gradual and sudden enlightenment is not for us to pick and choose which one is the more true. There is no Tom, Dick and Harry that can suddenly gain Enlightenment without any prior practice. And yet, any Tom, Dick and Harry is fundamentally enlightened by nature.

The Northern and Southern Schools of Chan Buddhism soon vanish and instead there is Rinzai and Soto (Lin Chi and Tsao Tung) schools now. But the Northern Chan thoughts are said to spread over to Tibet, Korea and Japan before it ceased to be a school by identity. In Tun-Huang, China (the site of the famous Tun-Huang caves), Tibetan Buddhism and Chan met and there was much exchange of ideas and debates/discussions resulting in the famous Samye debate, where Kamalashila is said to have won over the Chan counterpart. The Chinese Buddhism that we have today is probably in some ways due to the exchanges that happened there at Tun-Huang. For example, the Chinese Buddhists probably learned the famous Om Mani Padme Hum and other mantras from the Tibetan lamas there. That's probably how a little of the mantric tradition and teachings got into the Chinese Mahayana tradition. In my blog-post, on "How Ho-Shan Mahayana lost the debate", that blog gave  mostly the Tibetan Buddhist side of the story but I ended it saying that there was probably much misunderstanding on both sides. After reading these scholarly papers, I am more certain that there was indeed much misunderstanding. The truth is modern scholars themselves are uncertain who actually won. There is also much doubt as to whether they understood each other during the debate due to language barriers. They only argue to the other based on secondary or third level hand-down knowledge they obtained from others. For example, when Zen talks about "no thought" it is not the completely no thought as explained by Tibetan Masters. It is not the dhyana (or Jhana) of non-thought. Some Theravadian masters have no issues with their disciples going into Jhanas, but the Tibetan Buddhist and Zen Masters certainly have issues with going into Jhana levels. So, for me, I think there are more similarities than differences in philosophy. Hence some of the perceived superiority of Zen over Tibetan Buddhism or vice-versa is really only based on "perception". Of course, there are philosophical points that one have and the other does not. But I see those as unique points or "skillful means" that are catering to specific types of sentient beings.  If you are more suitable for Zen, then take up Zen. If you are more suitable for Tibetan Buddhism, then follow a good Lama.

To round up, after reading those scholarly papers on Zen, I think there is much respect one has to give to Ho Shang Mahayana. The paper described him as probably an intelligent monk. Tibetan Buddhist texts may somewhat cast him in a negative light but I am sure we can forgive them due to their misunderstanding. Sometimes we too hear one side of the story and not the other. If you are not interested in Zen, there is only so much you know. And vice-versa for Tibetan Buddhism. But it's okay. You walk your own path.   

I need to be burned... in a good way!

I am sure you have seen those Chinese Buddhist monks or nuns with burnt marks on their bald heads. Well, I understand that these are the precept marks. I thought that they are done only for monks and nuns. Apparently this is also practiced in some Buddhist groups, ... at least now I know Kwan Um School of Zen does it. And they do it even for lay-people. Interesting. I know most Chinese Mahayana and Tibetan Mahayana schools don't do it anymore. The Kwan Um School of Zen performs the precepts burning on the inside of one's forearm. I think this is good because it serves like a tattoo and reminds one of your commitment to morality. Maybe one day I can go to Mu Sang Sa to get one of these burn marks. I need to be burned! Hehehehe... LOL! Well, I like the verse in red below. If you are interested, there's one coming up at Mu Sang Sa on September 2. However, there are terms and conditions. Please refer to their website www.musangsa.org for more information.

Excerpt taken from the Mu Sang Sa precepts information and application sheet.
Precepts Burn : During the precepts ceremony, you will receive a small burn on the inside of your forearm. This is a Buddhist tradition from China, modified in Korea. The burn itself is very small and relatively painless; the significance of this custom is expressed in the repentance ritual: May all my offenses, accumulated during hundreds of kalpas, now be totally consumed in an instant, as fire burns dry grass, extinguishing all things until nothing remains.” The instant when fire touches skin is an all-consuming moment in which all opinions and ideas disappear, and only the direct experience of burning sensation remains. Our practice is to return again and again to each moment of direct experience; in experiencing totally what is in each moment, all our transgressions and defilements are extinguished; the chain of karmic residue is broken.