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 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 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.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sri Lankan and Myanmar Buddhists: Non-Religious Issues

Anyone who says the Myanmarese, or formerly called Burmese, (with the Rohingyas) and Sri Lankans (with the Tamils) are/were engaging in "holy wars" the same as the Christians and Muslims and Jews, must be out of their minds. This is because they do not know what is meant by the term "holy war". During the crusades as well as when the Turkish empire destroyed Nalanda University in India (an important seat of Buddhism in its hey days) by holy war, they did it because they want to spread their religions. And the reason the Palstinians and Jews fight in Jerusalam, is because that city is holy to both religions. Both wants to own it due to their religions. When Sri Lankans fight against Tamils, they were not fighting for Buddhism nor to protect Buddhism. Even when the Sinhalese monks in Sri Lanka burned the Muslim shrine, it was supposedly about a proprietary land issue. Same for Burmese Buddhists against the Rohingyas. Buddhism was never in danger. Neither were they fighting to spread Buddhism. The fact is in both cases they were fighting to protect what they perceived as their terrotory from the influx of people from other ethnic groups. These are about land and/or ethnic issues. Never about religions. It so happen that these 2 ethinic groups are distinguished by 2 different religions. Essentially these fighting are not religious in nature. So Buddhists and non-Buddhists should be very clear about this. We Buddhists must not fall into the same trap. We must have wisdom to handle this issue and see it as what IT IS, ie. a non-religious inter-ethnic problem. This is my stand. But of course, if the monks ended up killing others, then it is a broken precept and it does not matter whether they kill Buddhists or Muslims or whatever, killing is killing. And killing cannot be condoned. Neither should rape nor revenge be condoned. However, I want to remind again, despite the killing, rape and revenge between both parties, it is NOT a "Buddhists vs Muslims" issue. It is very alarming to me that Buddhist leaders could conceivably see that it could be one. Therefore, it is NOT a holy war. And Muslims should not see it as that either. Buddhists must not be that easily provoked by other religions. We must have more wisdom than them. Hence it is my stand that Buddhism remains a peaceful religion as it was and as it will be... ALWAYS. Buddha never asks us to spread the religion by sword nor by any violence /means of force. Buddhists, as individuals (and not the religion itself), could be violent and they can kill people - that I agree. But in all these actions, the killings were never done to protect Buddhism nor to spread the religion. Even in the case of Tibet, had most Tibetans been Christians, I am sure they would still be against the Chinese and fighting for its freedom. So, even in Tibet, it is not a religious cause, rather a nationalistic/political cause. 

For the issue of Rohingyas, neither Myanmar nor Bangladesh would accept them. So they are left stateless. Even though it is not a religious issue, I personally feel that they should be accepted by the Bangladeshis since they are of the same religion and easier for them to bond with the Muslim Bangladeshis, than the Buddhist Myanmareses. The Bangladeshi government should strongly consider this. The fact that Bangladeshi may also not be that financially equipped to take in all of the Rohingyas is a separate issue and can be assisted by the international community. The international media journalists exacerbate the misunderstanding by using the wrong words in their news reports, such as "... the Buddhists..." and "...the Muslim Rohingyas...". They should find out the actual ethnic race of the Buddhist Myanmareses.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Destruction of Nalanda University by Muslim Invaders

These are selected articles from Wikipedia on the subject. When they destroyed Buddhism in India, they did it with the sole purpose of spreading their religion. It was a holy war to them, not a territorial issue or ethnic issue. I will explain more on these latter issues later. Read on:-

In 1193, the Nalanda University complex was destroyed by Afghan Khilji-Ghilzai Muslims under Bakhtiyar Khalji; this event is seen as the final milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. He also burned Nalanda's a major Buddhist library and Vikramshila University[citation needed], as well as numerous Bhuddhist monasteries in India. When the Tibetan translator, Chag Lotsawa Dharmasvamin (Chag Lo-tsa-ba, 1197–1264), visited northern India in 1235, Nalanda was damaged, looted, and largely deserted, but still standing and functioning with seventy students. Mahabodhi, Sompura, Vajrasan and other important monasteries were found to be untouched. The Ghuri ravages only afflicted those monasteries that lay in the direct of their advance and were fortified in the manner of defensive forts.

By the end of the 12th century, following the Muslim conquest of the Buddhist stronghold in Bihar, Buddhism having already declined in the south declined in the North as well as survivors retreated to Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet or escaped to the South of the sub-continent.

In 1193, the Nalanda University was sacked by[11] the fanatic Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turk;[12] this event is seen by scholars as a late milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. The Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, in his chronicle the Tabaqat-I-Nasiri, reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji tried his best to uproot Buddhism and plant Islam by the sword[13] the burning of the library continued for several months and "smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills."[14]

Buddhism was in decline all over India during this time due to various reasons. The continuous rise of the Brahmins’ power and caste system in everyday life was a direct threat to Buddhist philosophy, which displaced its political and social base.[15] The Bhakti movement resulted construction of many Hindu temples which undermined Buddhist philosophy.[15] This decline continued after the last Buddhist emperor under Pala dynasty in the 12th century, followed by destruction of Buddhist monasteries by Muslim conquerors.[16]

The last throne-holder of Nalanda, Shakyashribhadra, fled to Tibet in 1204 CE at the invitation of the Tibetan translator Tropu Lotsawa (Khro-phu Lo-tsa-ba Byams-pa dpal). In Tibet, he started an ordination lineage of the Mulasarvastivadin lineage to complement the two existing ones.

When the Tibetan translator Chag Lotsawa (Chag Lo-tsa-ba, 1197–1264) visited the site in 1235, he found it damaged and looted, with a 90-year-old teacher, Rahula Shribhadra, instructing a class of about 70 students.[17][18] During Chag Lotsawa's time there an incursion by Turkish soldiers caused the remaining students to flee. Despite all this, "remnants of the debilitated Buddhist community continued to struggle on under scarce resources until c. 1400 CE when Chagalaraja was reportedly the last king to have patronized Nalanda."[19]

Ahir considers the destruction of the temples, monasteries, centers of learning at Nalanda and northern India to be responsible for the demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy.[20]