Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Be Careful with Feng Shui

Nowadays we are deluged with many news articles on what the water dragon will bring to the new lunar year. Many people become interested in these sort of predictions and astrology readings. Never-heard-before feng shui masters suddenly are everywhere. Whether they have the necessary trainings and credentials nobody knows for sure. Who is there to check whether the advice they provide is right or wrong? Is there a professional body for Feng Shui Masters just as there are such bodies for lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers and accountants? Do they have a professional code of ethics? I doubt so. Recently we read in the papers of one master who claimed was advised by some unnamed deities that the water dragon year is not a good year to have babies. Can you believed that?

I write this article not for the purpose of debasing the art of feng shui or any feng shui master but rather to give some advice to people new to feng shui so that they can look at it with the right perspective. I find it necessary to write this because many feng shui masters are interpreting the fortunes of individuals, groups, countries, etc based only on their own views. As we know feng shui is not a definite science. In definite science, things can be measured accurately. It can be seen and analysed in a laboratory and quantified. But in feng shui, such as a person’s Four Pillars of Destiny, it can only be represented in terms of a chart showing the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches. It is analysed into different animal signs and their respective elements. But what these chart tells you is up to the expertise of individual masters and their individual interpretation.

Some interpretation can be horrifying, in fact make things worse than before. An example is the case of the ”Flower Head” ("Thau Hua" in mandarin Chinese) star that appears in one’s sign. Even though it is commonly interpreted as a romance star, it is actually a star indicating one’s relationship with others. It does not necessarily mean there is a third party to an on-going relationship. Feng Shui masters with no wisdom will ask their clients to remedy it away with a certain object, or wearing a certain colour, or doing a certain prayer. In fact I know of one feng shui master who allegedly asked for RM3000 to remedy a “flower head” issue for one client. This master claims he has a Thai Buddhist monk as his master who can see one’s past and with some incantation, can eliminate one’s third party problems. The client was said to happily give the money to the master. But the client is not the only person susceptible to such follies. There are many people around us who easily “buy” into any feng shui advice given, without thinking with their own wisdom. Another client who supposedly has this “flower head” star who eagerly remedy it for her husband soon finds that her husband’s work had suffered instead. His colleagues now could not cooperate with him. Before his wife did the “remedy”, the office relationship was smooth but after the wife remedy it for fear of a third party, the career of the husband took a turn for the worst. So, you see, there is a saying in America I think – “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. The wife should be more confident of her husband. Use her own wisdom to see the characteristic of her husband. If there is no potential relationship, don’t create unnecessary fear or doubt just because of some unfounded advice from some crack feng shui master. You can see how stupid people can be. Hence, that is why feng shui is not a definite science, even though some feng shui masters claim that is a science. It can be a science, but not definite science.

Read feng shui fortunes of you want, but take the advice with wisdom. As Buddhists, we must use our prajna wisdom to filter through these advice given and reflect whether it is relevant or not. If it is not relevant or petty, cast it aside. Most importantly, do not be so stuck-up with feng shui predictions. Don’t let your life be governed by these elements and animal signs. These are samsaric things. As Buddhists, we should strive to transcend it. Even for Tibetan Mo, I Ching, tarot, or other types of divination, let’s not get too stuck-up with these either. I am not saying feng shui and all these divination are false. I am just saying treat it and use it with care and wisdom. There is too much personal interpretation going into each reading, so much so that two different masters can provide conflicting interpretations into the same chart. That's the main reason we must be careful. Moreover, if you do too much divination, you will soon find that you depend too much on it. You become unable to use your own wisdom to make your own decisions, even for minor things. In the process, you lose your wisdom. As mentioned in my previous blog post, rely on the wisdom of Manjusri, which is the wisdom of all the Buddhas, and is not something that only Arya Manjusri or the Buddhas have. In fact, I understand from the Buddha that it is inside each and everyone of us. That is why it is called "innate wisdom". We just need to bring it out. For a start use common sense. There's much wisdom there too. We can see how many people put aside common sense for something absurd, right? That blog on Arya Manjusri with the picture was my first blog post for the lunar new year and is among the first article I have ever written about Manjusri. I have not written much on this Great Bodhisattva in the past but for this year, he is coming strongly this year. And that goes to indicate how important using our wisdom is for this year. Arya Manjusri is telling us to use our innate wisdom. And I beg you to share this message with others. Just remember to quote the full address of my blog.

That’s all I have to say and have a happy 2012 once again!

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Year Blessings from Bodhisattva Manjusri

Bodhisattva Manjusri
I hope that the New Year of the Water Dragon will help us bring forth more compassion and wisdom into our own lives as well as into the lives of others. This is the true way to invite the God of Happiness into the Lunar New Year. For some strange reasons (because I am not a Fengshui master), one relative of mine asked me which direction should we face to invite the God of Happiness in this New Year. I answered that I do not know about these things. But as a Buddhist, in my heart, I would have answered the person that the direction is the direction of the heart. The God of Happiness comes from inside our heart. Not from external. The external deities do not last very long. What is more important is the deity or God in the heart. Whatever religion you believe in, I think it is also true. As you can see from the picture I took of Bodhisattva Manjusri at Musang-sa Temple, Korea, great wisdom shines forth from the heart of great compassion. I really like the picture because the light from the camera reflected exactly from the heart of the Bodhisattva. And there are light reflections at the side that was probably from the light reflections elsewhere. These look like a bright sun, a cloudy moon and one or two crescents. Can you see the photo as if it is emitting light? It is like there is an aura of light shining forth around it. I can assure you that this picture is unadulterated. By the look of it, you probably realise that it is crooked a little bit. I could have touched it up with photoshop or something, but decided not to. Let it be in its natural state. Rigpa, right? Hahahaha!

Just like the Great Bodhisattva Manjusri, we must live our lives with compassion and in doing so, also show wisdom in our actions. I hope by sharing this photo of Manjusri, indirectly you will also obtain great blessings and connection with him. You can visualise the light shine directly from Manjusri's heart into your heart. Or, if you prefer it to go to your crown first, then you visualise that. Or, it can go simultaneously to your crown, throat and heart (or even the other cakras if you know where it is). You can recite his mantra as you do that. His mantra is Om Arapacana Dhih. If you are more comfortable with chinese, then Na Mo Wen Shu Shr Li Pu Sa. Or, simply Namo Arya Manjusri Ye. It's up to you. By doing that, I hope it will result in bringing out the great wisdom and compassion inside YOU! Happy New Year and GONG XI FA CAI!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Journey to the West - Part2

Some notes on what I learned from the drama:-

1. The mani that the Buddha placed on top of the Five Element Mountain that trapped Monkey is supposedly Om Mani Padme Hum. And the secret mantra that the Monk recites to tighten the ring over Monkey's head is also Om Mani Padme Hum. That in itself is a lesson to us that this mantra is so powerful it can help control our delusions and eventually will lead us to what is good.

2. Today's episode (30/1/12) we are taught a lesson on the importance of Bodhicitta. The Monkey was able to see through any demon guised as a human but the Monk cannot. So, Monkey killed those demons but his Master was unhappy that he killed 3 persons in one day. The Monk then asked Monkey to leave him saying that he is unworthy to go to the West to obtain the Buddha's scriptures. The Monkey tried to explain to his Master that in actual fact those "humans" he "killed" were actually demons out to devour the Monk. The Monk is not taken in by the explanation. He said that Monkey is endowed with the ability to see demons in disguised and able to kill them in one blow. But it is useless to go with him to get the scriptures because one who is not compassionate is unworthy of the journey. The Monk said he had realised this from teachings by Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. And indeed, he stressed that having bodhicitta is one of the most important criteria before one can get the scriptures from the Buddha. He said not everybody is worthy of the journey. Monkey said if not for him killing the demons, they would have been killed by the demons instead. But the Monk was unperturbed in wanting to instill bodhicitta in Monkey. That is the lesson Monkey must learn, even if it means being harsh to Monkey. He recited the mantra to tighten the ring on Monkey's head. And in the end, wrote the letter of severance to end Master-Disciple relationship with Monkey. In the end, Monkey left reluctantly after bowing to the master one last time. So, what can be learned from this? Plenty.

-  It is useless to be in a hurry to achieve enlightenment without cultivating and letting our bodhicitta blossom in FULL. Achieving enlightenment is not like turning on a switch whereby suddenly you are endowed with compassion. It does not work like that. We are not mechanical machine. Great compassion must be instilled in our hearts while we are still unenlightened. Then only we are qualified to earn that status. Many people instead are more interested in opening their physical cakras nowadays without developing their inner virtues. They think virtues can be gained mechanically. How wrong! That is why some so-called "enlightened master" still are found to have gross faults. Such masters will never learn because their students cover it up by their "guru devotion", i.e. faith in seeing the master as PERFECT. Such students will also never truly gain much because their masters do not have proper virtues in the first place.

- It is not always right to insist right over wrong. Even though sometimes we know we are right, but it is sometimes good to relent and let others have their way. But slowly you try to let the dharma reach out to them. Not directly but in a wiser, more creative way. we must also have the patience to wait for the opportune time to cross over any sentient being. And not immediately brand or be too quick to label someone or something as good or bad. Labelling should not be the primary purpose but having compassion for people is. It is not good to leave others estranged but instead as Buddhists, we should learn how to gather others (Buddhists and non-Buddhists, animals, ghosts, hell-beings and heavenly gods) in. Gather eveybody in - Buddhists or Taoists gods/deities. Buddhists tend to make the mistake of putting aside Chinese gods that they think are more Taoists than Buddhists, and refuse to make offerings of flowers, fruits and joss-sticks to these gods. They think that making these offerings will make them less Buddhist. How ridiculous! I think it is okay to "gather" such deities and gods "in" by making offerings to them on their holy days or respecting them by putting our palms together for festivals dedicated to these gods. Tonight Chinese of hokkien descend will pray to Jade Emperor to mark his birthday. I have a friend who told me today she is not praying anymore because it is considered a Taoist god. By my comments above, you already know that I think of that. Even Theravadins have a puja praise to the Heavenly gods and they do offer flowers in local shrines dedicated to such heavenly gods. By no means are they taking refuge in these gods. They are merely making offerings and being respectful. Hence I think it is okay to celebrate Jade Emperor's birthday.

- As soon as Monkey left his master, and returning to his home in Flower-Fruit Mountain, he learned that his kingdom has been destroyed by a freak fireball and by an unknown entity. So, returning to his homeland on a bad experience has also enabled Monkey to help his people.

I will add more notes here instead of creating new posts. So do come back to this post from time to time.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fraud In Houses Of Worship

The below article titled "Fraud in Houses of Worship" came out in a Fraud Magazine recently. I have had a chance to read it and the story told in the article is exactly what I have always believed possible to happen even in Buddhist temples/centres or associations. That is why I have written on the topic of "risk management" in my blog. But by and large, I am not sure if people have taken heed of my advice. And it is true that most people do not think it can happen to their Buddhist centre/temple/monastery. However, most temples and centres are headed by monks and nuns who may not be very knowledgeable about "governance" issues or "risk management". Most of them may never have worked in commercial sector nor public sector before, hence I suspect the Sangha have very little knowledge on what constitute "best practice" in our Buddhist circles. What they should do is get advice from people who do have this knowledge. It is not that difficult actually. You only need to ask yourself "what could go wrong".  Hopefully after reading the article below, you will go back and re-read my previous blog posts on the same subject.

Fraud In Houses Of Worship
What Believers Do Not Want to Believe

Robert M. Cornell, Ph.D., CMA, ACFE Educator ; Carol B. Johnson, Ph.D., ACFE Educator Associate; Janelle Rogers Hutchinson

Houses of worship are particularly vulnerable to fraud, but most feel they are impervious. The authors provide reasons why churches feel so bulletproof and seven practical steps fraud examiners can use to help churches stop fraud in its tracks.

An accounting professor who teaches a fraud investigation class recently told a story about a student in her class who approached her for help on a personal project. The student's church had asked the student to attempt to determine the dollar amount of damages in a recent embezzlement. The perpetrator, a former church secretary, had been defrauding the 200-member church for 18 months by writing herself duplicate paychecks, stealing cash from donation deposits and taking out credit card accounts in the church name, among other schemes.

The church discovered the fraud when the secretary was called away for a family emergency, and the previously inattentive manager received a phone call about an unpaid credit card bill. The manager did not know the credit card existed. Because the church had not segregated employee duties, the secretary had free rein over all aspects of church finances: she kept the books, paid all the bills, handled cash receipts, managed the payroll, issued paychecks and reconciled the bank account. The sky was the limit for her fraud. A simple search of public records would have revealed that the secretary was in financial trouble — a serious red flag for fraud. But the church did not conduct that search until it was too late.

The professor was not surprised by such a common scheme. However, she was taken aback when she opened the student's work file to review the case. She recognized the name of the perpetrator as a secretary in her church and confirmed this identity by questioning the student investigator. Internal controls in the professor's church were a bit better — it had segregated some accounting duties — but were still insufficient. In fact, internal controls were bad enough that no one could ever know if the secretary stole from the professor's church.

It was quite common for people to drop cash and checks by the church office during the week and leave them with the secretary for use in special funds, such as one to aid local homeless people. It would have been easy for the secretary to simply pocket some of the funds, and no one would have been the wiser. The secretary eventually resigned; it is unknown if she stole from the professor's church during her tenure there. She was replaced with another secretary who had her own financial problems — her home was in foreclosure within six months of taking the job.

The professor advised church officials that they needed to improve internal controls, but the staff members believed that "no one would ever do such a thing here." Indeed, fraud examiners who deal with finances, fraud and internal controls in houses of worship may be labeled overreacting conspiracy theorists when they tell church staffs they may have fraudsters in their midst. However, fraud examiners know that houses of worship — churches, synagogues, temples, mosques etc. — are among the most vulnerable entities.

Ref: Fraud Magazine, Jan. 2012.

Friday, January 13, 2012


This is yet another Chinese drama series based on the famous novel by Wu- Cheng-En. Even though I have written about it in a previous blog (2010 version) but I will probably never get tired of watching this story. Everytime I watch it, it seems I learn something new. For example, the Monkey God was said to be born of the forces of nature and through time it appeared as a rock. And when the rock cracks open, a shining monkey appear. This has a deep meaning in dharma actually. My interpretation is that originally there is only clarity but through defilements, the clarity becomes obscured. This is shown in the first episode when the Monkey loses its shining body. An untamed mind soon loses its direction and creates havoc in heaven and hell. The five aggregates, which is actually the constituents of the mind can be used to tame it. But it needs to be liberated first by a Good Knowing Advisor, i.e. a Guru. Our mind have to be directed towards the Path and slowly tread it, learning along the way the lessons that needed to be learned. Then only we can be liberated. In one of the episodes, it also shows the Emperor of China being taken to a hell region and explained a few of the various types of hell and what are the punishment and the causes. I find this very good because it is teaching dharma on TV, which is otherwise cannot be found on a Malaysian TV programme. Even though it is not strictly a Buddhist drama series, it is as close as we can get. In this version, I also like the translation because they use the accurate sanskrit terms in the translation. And this is because they use the accurate chinese terms in the dialogues and voice-overs. It also shows the producers make a good effort to know about Buddhism. And it is good if it is shown in China itself because this will make the communists indirectly learn about Buddhism. Even though the animation is not as good as the 2010 version, I feel the producers really tried their best. At the end of every episode, they will show clips of the making of the movie. From there, we know it is not that easy. Much work and effort have gone into it. I will probably write more about it as the series progresses. Watch it on 8TV channel from 8.30pm till 9.30pm every Monday to Friday.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Trip to Hwa Gye Sa

ZM Seung Sahn's stupa
It was easier to go to Hwa Gye Sa, compared to Mu Sang Sa. Hwa Gye Sa was nearer than I thought since it was within Seoul city. The guesthouse where I stayed was near to the Hye Hwa station (line 4 Metro route). And to go to Hwa Gye Sa, I only needed to wait for the 151 bus outside on the main street of the guesthouse, in front of a clothing store named SYCO. If you are walking out of the guesthouse, the bus stop is on the right while the bus stop that goes to the Incheon airport, is on the left, in front of the Family Mart 24 hour convenience store. The bus driver knows where is Hwa Gye Sa, and any foreigner just needs to say the word “Hwa Gye Sa’ and he will know. The bus fare is KRW1000 per person. From inside the bus, you can actually see the road sign “Hwa Gye Sa” and an arrow that points right ahead to the temple. The road is slightly going uphill and just before a football field, that is where one should alight from the bus. The bus will then turn right to the road next to the field. However, a woman passenger mistakenly told us to get down from the bus one stop from the last one before the field. But it was okay, it was not very far. I walked straight ahead right up to a school and then I saw the looming temple arch of Hwa Gye Sa. It was huge and it leads the way to the main temple building.
After the temple arch, to the right, I can spot the four stupas of the Zen Masters, one of which is that of Seung Sahn Sunim. From the number of cars, I know there are already many people there at that time. It was already lunch time and people were queuing up at the temple cafeteria for the lunch meal. Lunch was a simple rice noodle soup, with kimchi taste. I thought I should just eat that right away instead of reporting to the temple office first. After meal, I went to look for the temple office but it was close. It was said to be closed. The staffs probably went for lunch. Then I went touring the temple grounds and to pay my respect at Master Seung Sahn’s stupa. There was a sign in Korean which I could not read. I was wondering whether it says “Do not enter”. Not knowing what it says, and anyway, earlier in an email, I have informed the Abbot. So, I went ahead to the stupa and make my 3 bows. I also bowed to Master Ko Bong’s stupa, which was next to it as well as the other two. After taking a few photos, I was off to the main temple building for the said talk on meditation. It was a Sunday and on every Sunday, there is a special Sunday program going on at Hwa Gye Sa. The abbot had earlier suggested that I attend the Sunday program if I could. So I chose to go there on a Sunday. Anyway I was in luck because I found out from Zen Master Dae Bong that Zen Master Dae Jin was going to give a talk that afternoon, right after the meditation session. Wow! To think that I had the opportunity to meditate in Hwa Gye Sa was really good and now adding to that was the dharma talk by Zen Master Dae Jin. It was astounding!
I waited for the meditation session to start by touring around the temple grounds and wanted to arrange with the temple office to have an audience with the Abbot first. At the back of the temple building where we had the lunch was a small building which housed what appeared to be an office. I asked the ladies in charged and was told the Abbot had already gone upstairs for the meditation session and cannot be disturbed. She asked me if I wanted to join them and I replied in the affirmative. Hence I was taken to the upper most level and waited outside the room for the 10-minutes break in-between meditation session. It is only during the breaks that anyone can join in. A few ladies and one gentleman joined in too. Soon I was there inside the heated room and found myself meditating for about 20 to 30 minutes before the session ended. About 10 minutes later, Zen Master Dae Jin walked into the hall and gave a talk on “Going beyond our likes and dislikes”. He shared his experiences in the past when he travelled to Russia to give dharma talks and there was this woman who really disliked a local Russian politician due to the latter’s alleged corruption. The Zen Master said that people’s likes and dislikes changes from time to time and there is no fixed concept to it. He gave an example of a former South Korean president who really behaved like a dictator during his administration. Even though people really hated him, but it was him who pushed South Korea’s development until it is what it is today. Even though he was assassinated, later at the height of the Asian economic crisis in 1998-1999, some local Koreans wished that he was still around. They thought that he could have handled it better. The Zen Master’s point being that our perception is never static and it could change as circumstances change. So, it is not right to permanently label someone as good or bad. When Dae Jin Sunim brought up the example of the former South Korean president, my thoughts were on Malaysian’s own similar story. Yes, my thoughts were on former Prime Minister, i.e. Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He was also a strongman and he was responsible to bring modern development to Malaysia. People hated him for a lot of things but many praised him for handling the economic crisis.
The prayer, dining and meditation hall
The talk ended at about 4pm and I approached Ven. Dae Jin and introduced myself. We talked for a short while and I soon had to take my leave. The abbot, Ven. Kwang Haeng was kind to offer to lead us to view the late Seung Sahn’s private room. The room has now been converted into a showroom with many of his belongings encased in a glass cabinet. The abbot said that there are plans to turn this room into a small museum. He also said there are plans to raise Seung Sahn Sunim’s stupa so that it is a little higher. We also went to view the smaller “Main Hall” where the locals offered packets of rice and other offerings. The locals also offered incense and candle lights with strips of paper to write their wishes. This is Hwa Gye Sa’s part in giving the locals a chance in merit making. I understand that there are also dharma classes and other activities where the temple engages with the locals. From my own observation, all these are evidence of Seung Sahn Sunim’s legacy. Even though he is no longer with us, his legacy can be seen everywhere in Hwa Gye Sa and Mu Sang Sa as well as his other centres around the world. I came here to meet with him even though I know it is no longer physically possible.  What I could do was just to bow at his stupa and I did that with much gratitude! But as I said, I felt his legacy everywhere and hence in that sense, I did meet up with him, though not physically.    

As I walked out of the gates of Hwa Gye Sa, I cannot but felt that it will not be my last visit here for I will step on the soil of Hwa Gye Sa for many more times to come in the future. As the sun sets and the air became colder, I walked back to the bus stop to wait for bus no. 151 again. That was my last day in Seoul before I leave for Malaysia early the next morning. Thank you, South Korea for a wonderful trip! Thank you Seung Sahn Sunim!   

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

The year closed with a shock message I received yesterday. I received a text message from my father to say that my mother hava had a fall in the afternoon of 30 December 2011. I should have called me then but did not. Perhaps he did not want to shocked me and my siblings. Anyway, thankfully my mother is okay except for some pain in the back. I woke up earlier this morning at 4.40am thinking about this incident and thought that how close it was of ruining this new year's day. I quickly got up and thanked the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, especially their agent who is also my protector. Thank you so much!

With that, I want to wish every one here a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2012!