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:

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 -
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.