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.

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.   

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.