Monday, February 27, 2012

One-sided Compassion & the Case of Lynas

It is unfortunate that many people cannot see issues objectively. They will support just because they are more pro-government, or they will object just because they are more sympathetic to the opposition. We let our objectivity fly out the window. On the issue of Lynas, I am wondering whether the protestors know that many of the equipment they use on daily basis have some rare earth in it. The ipods, tablets and smart-phones that they use to post messages on Facebook also has rare earth in it. Without rare earth as parts of the components, we probably would not be able to use these things. And we happily use these gadgets even though there we are protesting against Lynas. Somebody has to dig the rare earth and process it for the manufacturers to use it in the tablets and smart-phones that we are using. I understand that rare earth is also used in medical equipment, and that means saving potential lives. But we don’t care if the plant in China is processing this rare earth, so long as it is not in Malaysia, right? That is our attitude – a one-sided compassion. There is this thing known as “No demand, no supply”. As long as people demand for products that uses rare earth as its components, then there will be companies and people working in these plants. And there will be people who will be exposed to any radiation, if any. These people are “risking” there lives for our products. Do we care about others, if the plant is not in Malaysia? I see this kind of rare earth plant as less “dangerous” than having a nuclear-powered plant in Malaysia. If people cannot even accept a rare earth plant, how can Malaysia ever have a nuclear-powered plant? Never. But nuclear energy is optional, as there are alternative sources of energy such as hydro-electricity. Are there any alternatives to rare earth? Can we use other things in our electronic components, instead of rare earth? I am not so sure. If we really care about not having any rare earth plant in Malaysia, we must also show our care for the people in other parts of the world where there is this plant. And also we should not be using products that use this rare earth. Stop using your computers. Can we do that? As much as I do not want a plant spewing radiation at my backyard, I also realize that my compassion so far is one-sided. I am still using computers, which has rare earth components in them, very much and I will be very hypocritical if I were to join the protest against Lynas. But at least I do realise this much, which many people don’t. They turn it instead into a political platform and not realizing that they also form part of the demand-supply chain for rare earth. The right thing to do is to allow the UN atomic agency to do their job of monitoring the proposed Lynas plant in Malaysia and having it a distance away from any town/village. I read in the papers that someone suggested having it in the middle of a desert. But that will only hike up the cost of rare earth sky-high. That means, the cost of our computer gadgets and tablet PCs will also be affected. And when this happens, many people will be wondering why there is inflation? Actually we ourselves are the cause of inflation. I still think using safer alternatives to rare earth is still the best solution.
We should start seeing worldly matters from all angles. Only by practising seeing issues from many angles, can we eventually be able to see spiritual issues from all angles. We must rise above partisanship and go beyond political rhetoric. It is only when we are able to see things in their proper perspective and not be carried away by all the hype that we can truly be a Bodhisattva like Kuan Yin, who as the Thousand Eyed One, is the embodiment of someone who is able to see everything in its proper perspective. With his thousand hands, he is able to help many sentient beings. That is why he is the All-Sided One. Not like us, who only see things from our own narrow, egoistic and emotional side.  If we hope to be a great Bodhisattva like Kuan Yin, we must get rid of our selfish prejudices and learn to have all-sided compassion, and not merely one-sided ones. To only protest having the plant in Malaysia but does not think about the plants elsewhere in the world is as one-sided as those who protest against cruelty to animals / the eating of shark fins but happily eats meat. To the latter, the slaughter of chickens and pigs is not cruelty? To be a Bodhisattva, one-sided compassion just doesn't cut it!  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Japanese vs Korean Zen Meal Style

For a comparison with Korean style, which uses 4 bowls, see this video below.

I have a slight idea of what they are experiencing there while having meal because I have been to their kind of retreat, although I would say our meal discipline was not that strict... well, what do you expect from retreatants like me... LOL! But I offer no excuse not to be able to do it in their kind of environment. I thought it is most compassionate of them to offer the leftover water to the hungry ghost... especially to think that even a small speck of sesame seed will choke them. It was said that there was a Korean Zen Master who would make all the monks drink the entire pail of water should he see even one sesame seed floating on it. Next time, we should try to leave as little as possible of food on our plate at the end of a meal. Let's not be wasteful.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ordinary mind produces ordinary karma

Today marks the first of 14 days when the Buddha performed miracles, such as opening up of heaven and hell for all to witness, simultaneous issuance of fire and water from his body, etc. It is a tremendous event according to the Buddhist calendar. Different tradition celebrates it on different days but as per the Tibetan calendar, it is celebrated from tomorrow onwards which coincides with the 2nd new moon. Normally Buddhists celebrate it by reading the scriptures, making offerings of fruits or flowers, releasing of animals meant to be killed for food, being a vegetarian for at least one day in the 14-day period, making a monetary donation, donating blood, reciting mantras, think of something wrong we have done in the past and repenting it, making holy aspirations/ vows, etc. These are some suggestions. It is commonly believed that since the miracles are so great, the merits resulting from any good or bad deed will be multiplied manifold. So, don’t miss this opportunity to do something good. It may just help you in your present situation. You never know. And in doing these good deeds, we always dedicate it to all beings, and not just for ourselves. Remember to do it selflessly, i.e. saying, “I am doing this for the sake of all beings. May all beings benefit from this action!”

Some people may think that we can also do all the good deeds every day, or any other day instead of today. Yes, that is true but if something is done every day, or any other day, it becomes ordinary. That is because the mind does not think it as special anymore. It does not become an act done on a holy day. In that case, it becomes an ordinary act and ordinary mind will only produce ordinary karma. And any Buddhist practitioner will be stupid to brush aside the need for a huge load of positive karma.

In Tibetan, the celebration is called “Losar” or in English “Days of Miracles” and I want to wish you all a “HAPPY LOSAR” or “Losar Tashi Delek”!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Buddhist View: Consuming Shark Fins Soup

President Barack Obama of the USA was recently caught in an issue involving shark fins soup. In the almost global concern about consuming shark fin soup, environmentalists campaign to ban this Chinese soup for fear that the finning of sharks will dwindle the shark population to the point of extinction. They also think it is cruel to fin the shark and let it go still alive into the ocean. That is Buddhism's view point on this? I will explore on this issue here based on my personal views as a Buddhist. I only speak for myself.

1. I do agree that it is indeed cruel to cut off the fin and let it go into the waters. It will be unable to swim and will be like a human being cut off their hands. Unlike humans, who may have people taking care of their daily needs, will other fish feed these sharks who have been decapitated? I don't think so. Hence, it is really a torture.

2. In terms of committing killing karma, however, letting go of the shark into the waters will certainly result in less negative karma for the catcher than if he were to kill it. Killing another life will result in tremendous negative karma and will result in a worse hell than to torture another being. This is seen from the perspective of the catcher, although it certainly looks more compassionate to just kill the shark from our side, as non-catcher or environmentalists who may not be Buddhists. Buddhists must always think which action will result in less karma, and should think of the karmic burden of the catchers too.

3. Environmentalists seek to ban the consumption of only shark fins but they don't say eating shark meat is wrong. They are silent on that aspect. As a Buddhist, eating shark meat is also wrong, if not more wrong, because it involves killing the entire shark. And what about other kinds of fish? What about other animals such as chicken, pigs and cows?They think it is okay to catch and eat them? Nobody says anything about this, except the vegetarians.

4. In response to number 3 above, even though environmentalists think about only shark fins, it is better to have half-compassion, than none at all. But it is better to move towards applying our principles equally to all sentient beings. That is what Buddhism calls "equanimity".

5. Someday if there are people who can cultivate sharks and you don't have to cut their fins and throw them back into the ocean, just like chickens, pigs and cows, it is then right to eat sharks fins? By cultivating sharks, their population will not dwindle, since it is the environmentalists main concern. If cultivation is possible, and consumers of shark fins soup cannot be accused of driving sharks to their extinction, what then is the stand of environmentalists on this issue?  

6. Consumers only know how to eat. And they eat not only shark fins, but also shark meat, pork, beef, chicken and other animal meat and animal parts. Other than certain types of Buddhists, most people just consume meat without thinking of the welfare of the animals. I feel that if people cannot be 100%vegetarians, at least abstain from meat once or twice a month. That will be very good. Think about the lives of others that have been sacrificed.

7. From Buddhism's point of view, the extinction or continuation of any animal specie is not a major concern, at least it is not a spiritual concern. This is because being born as an animal is considered as being born into one of the lower realms. Meaning, it is not good for anyone to be born as an animal. Therefore, it is not a Buddhist stand to see the increase of any animal population. We believe in compassion on animals (hence the non-killing precept) but at the same time, we do not encourage the perpetuation of the animal specie. In fact, the lesser the population in all the lower realms (i.e. consisting of hungry ghosts, animals and hell-beings) the better it is from the Buddhist perspective. That is why Buddhists do the animal liberation prayers. It is done not so much to free the animals from captivity but rather to assist them to gain a better rebirth after their current lives as animals.

8. Hence, a Tibetan Buddhist may liberate a shark by eating shark fins soup and blowing a mantra on it. It is believed that the mantra will enable the shark not to be reorn anymore as a shark in its next life. The mantra is said to be effective even though the mantra is blown on a fin only. The shark may be dead and reborn somewhere else already, but it is taught in Tibetan Buddhism that it will still be able to receive the impact of the mantra through a long series of causes and conditions. The compassion of Buddhists is on the shark's actual being and not the continuation of its existence as a shark.      

I am not trying to defend either the consumers or the environmentalists, but only exploring the issue from different angles and laying out the facts as they are, especially from my view as a Buddhist. Did I miss any other angle of looking at this issue?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Offerings for the Jade Emperor

The pictures are taken during the prayers commemorating the Jade Emperor, commonly celebrated on the 9th day of the Chinese New Year. Chinese all over the whole, in particular those of Hokkien descend celebrate this occasion. All kinds of fruits and food are offered to the celestial emperor. Pineapples, mandarin oranges, banana and especially stalks of sugar cane are placed as offerings. The long sugar canes are normally placed at the side of the altar table. Sometimes they are cut into  smaller pieces and placed on the table. 3 different types (the long, the round and the normal turtle shaped ones) of a kind of local pastry made of flour and paste from peas called "Ang Ku"  are a "must" offering.

Various pastries or "Kuih" in Malay made of glutinuous rice and something called "Huat" (or translated into "prosperity") Kuih are also a  common feature on the table offering. Oh, by the way, roasted pigs are also offered, but nowadays people cut down on live ones but offer those made of flour instead (such as the one in the picture below). So, there is less killing karma involved. All of the pictures here are taken by me during the festival in Penang, Malaysia.  I was there when the locals celebrated the festival. It ended with some show of firecrackers. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jade Buddha of Universal Peace in Singapore

The Jade Buddha of Universal Peace
I finally did get to see the Jade Buddha, thanks to FPMT ABC for inviting it and arranging the exhibition at the Ngee Ann Civic Plaza in Singapore recently. When I first knew about it, I knew that it was probably my only chance to see it, save if I go to Australia. Hence I arranged my flight and accommodation, but there was no flight to Singapore (due to the Chinese New Year holidays). So I had to book a coach which charged a ridiculous hiked-up price of RM120.00. Last year about the same time, it was only RM70 or RM80 only. And you know what was worst? I nearly never made it to see the Jade Buddha! The bus company called me an hour before the scheduled trip to inform me the bus broke down or something. I believed this was a lie. There was probably no bus to begin with. I told them I don’t care, and that they need to find for me an alternative. They say there is an alternative the next day. But I did not want to go the next day. My trip was booked to go that very night, not the next day. I insisted that I travelled that very night. I tried on my own to call other bus companies such as Aeroline, Plusliner and Grassland Express but their scheduled trip was over for the day. Feeling hopeless and that maybe I had no karma to see the Jade Buddha, my thoughts flew to my protectors. After one hour or more, the bus company called me to say that they have found an alternative bus, i.e. to KL and then change to another bus that will take me to Singapore. Yippee! But I thank the protectors again for enabling me to have another alternative bus that took me to Larkin station in Johor instead of to KL and then change to another one. I will never take that bus again. After this experience, I don’t trust them anymore. If not for the fully booked Konsortium Bus that I normally take, I would not have bought the bus ticket from that company.

Anyway I arrived in Singapore, checked in at the hotel first and then took the MRT to Orchard Road for the exhibition. It was held inside a huge white tent just at the open foyer of Ngee Ann Civic Plaza. I think that is cheaper than having it inside a hall or something. Anyway I believed the venue was sponsored. Also having it at the busy shopping district for Singapore definitely was a right choice since people could come in and drop by – even out of curiosity. So, a plus point for FPMT ABC.

The Jade Buddha was huge and sat on a white throne made for it, although it was not the throne that was supposed to be carved with the names of all the carving benefactors as promised. I felt a little disappointed but it was okay. I am not sure if they will fulfil the promise of having the carved names on the throne or not. Anyway, I met Lillian Too, his husband and Juanita Lee there. FPMT ABC’s president, Tan Hup Cheng escorted and showed them around. As I am not really any VIP, nobody escorted or showed me around. Hehehe…  Never mind, I prefer my freedom and obscurity! Other than the Jade Buddha, there are the 21 Taras and Dzambala statues for visitors to make offerings. Visitors can also view the Chenrezig sand mandala constructed by lamas especially invited for it. But I especially loved to see the many beautiful and exquisite relics left by the late Khensur Lama Lhundrup of Kopan Monastery. There is no doubt of the purity of his mind. Such blessings derived just to see the relics.  

Khensur Lama Lhundrup's relics
Before I left the place, I was blessed by the relics which the lama placed on my head. And I even meditated right there inside the busy exhibition. Yes, did my walking and sitting meditation. The sitting meditation was especially memorable because during the meditation, I could sense people coming near me even though I did not open my eyes to see them. There was a lot of peace felt in that meditation session. If you were there and did not meditate, you have missed such a wonderful opportunity to experience what it was like. Even a 5 minutes concentrated meditation would have been good. Thanks to Jade Buddha and overall, I am glad I went. I am posting a few pictures I took from that exhibition. The pictures belong to me. You can click to enlarge.

For more pictures, go to FPMT ABC's website -

Friday, February 3, 2012

Don't sweat over the petty stuffs!

The dharma is a personal experience and nothing that others do to you can take that dharma experience away from you. No matter what injustice that others inflict upon you, ultimately the one who has the taste of dharma is the one who has the taste of dharma. Not others. Only you ultimately decide your own future. As I kept hearing these days over the radio: "don't sweat over petty stuffs." Yes, life is too short. Very soon it will end. Very soon, some freak accident could easily end our good life we are having now. So, don't keep enjoying life till we forget to be careful to take care of our mind. Since not many people read my blog, and I am no dharma teacher, so this is more of self-reminder. I write what is in my heart, like telling myself. 

I would like to thank my protector for the quick intervention to make my journey outstation possible recently, despite some last minute hindrance/obstacle. That trip was really worth it! So much blessings! Maybe I will talk about this in another post.

In the meantime, I wrote the above yesterday evening. After I slept I dremat of Lillian Too cleaning her altar in one of her outlets. The outlet was very big, looks almost like a hall. The altar is located on a wall platform high up about 1.5 to 2 storeys and she had to climb up the platform in order to clean it. She was supposed to clean just one of the altars and the rest will be cleaned by others. She was just commencing the first cleansing, like officiating the process. She was holding a cloth and she showed how to clean the altar, which looks like the traditional Chinese altar for Thee Kong (i.e. Jade Emperor). But suddenly when she was walking, perhaps she forgot she was higher up from the ground, she suddenly mis-stepped and fell down. Lillian Too fell down 1.5 to 2 storeys high. It was horrifying. Everybody was shocked and thought the worst had happened to Lillian Too. At such a height and such impact, it was not impossible that she had died immediately upon impact. I felt shocked but did not wake up yet. In the dream, she was helped by  a few Lamas. And then, miraculously she was seen limping out with the help of others - seriously injured but still alive!

Then I woke up - still trying to coup with the after-shock.Thankfully it was only a dream. However, that dream was a reflection of what I had in my mind, i.e that freak accidents and sudden illnesses can occur at any time and any place. It can come down in a flash to us and we will be unware of it until it is too late. The dream is really a dharma lesson. No matter how much merit we think we have, or how good a Guru we have or how much we try to avoid it by implementing Feng Shui or other methods, and no matter how much dharma we know, "freak" cases can still happen to us. For example, stroke can strike anyone at anytime. Suddenly things can turn for the worst. I think this is trying to tell us to be prepared always! And just what are we preparing for? I am not so sure. Perhaps instilling the Lam Rim awareness on death, impermannce, 3 lower realms, karma, etc. This is so that we can practice with more sincerity. And do more repentances. Perhaps we need to give up our worldly career and start thinking of investing more time in attending retreats? Be thankful, be grateful always for every little blessings! We are not trying to be negative here but rather using negative thoughts to spur us to do the proper things in life! Again, life is short. Don't sweat over the petty stuffs. Does this make sense to you?