Saturday, February 23, 2013

Internal Threats to Mahayana & Tibetan Buddhism

Today I urge my dharma brothers and sisters of various Vajrayana centres to consider my suggestion here. Every year we are very fortunate to have Lamas and Rinpoches coming to Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere. There are also many of you who are very well-versed in Vajrayana, who can conduct and give dharma talks on your own. Unfortunately we are also faced with a threat from within the Buddhist family. Last year there was this Buddhist conference whereby various dharma speakers presented their papers. After their presentations are over, there will usually be a “Q&A” session. These dharma speakers come from all three main traditions of Buddhism. Here we consider Vajrayana as a separate tradition because of its distinct practices and teachings even though it is Mahayana in nature. The audience come of all kinds of background but many of them are Theravadas and Chinese Mahayana. So there was this elderly Tibetan professor who spoke on one Tibetan topic. Unfortunately the audience is not so interested in his topic. During his “Q&A”, he was bombarded with questions on the authenticity of Vajrayana teachings instead. The audience observed that many of these Tibetan teachers come and conduct rituals and chanting. So they learn nothing on the true essence of Vajrayana. Many of them think that Vajrayana is a messed-up Buddhists teachings combined with Tibetan local indigenous beliefs. Unfortunately the speaker is not aware of our particular Malaysian audience who come from other Buddhist traditions and have some messed-up idea of Vajrayana. Hence he did not quite do a good job in answering these questions from the audience. In fact I would say he was quite taken aback by all these questions. It is unfortunate that the audience have to leave the conference with all those questions still unanswered. It is for that reason that I want to make a list of possible topics that our Vajrayana centres in Malaysia could seriously consider as possible dharma topics in future.

But first, allow me to explain a little bit further why many Buddhists in Malaysia have this wrong idea of Vajrayana. This is mostly prevalent amongst Theravadas but slowly it is creeping into Chinese Mahayanists as well. They don’t quite investigate enough into the teachings of Vajrayana even though they exalt the concept of ehipassiko. They don’t study and check enough to understand what we are doing. This is made worse by certain fundamentalist Theravada teachers (both monks and lay teachers) are also contributing factors to this misunderstanding. Vajrayana practitioners normally are not aware of what is happening in other traditions and their impact on our tradition. That is because Vajrayanists usually are not critical of other traditions. In fact it is against our tradition to do so. It is stated in the tantric vows not to belittle other traditions. But our brothers and sisters in the other traditions, especially certain Theravada teachers, are adamant on promoting their tradition as the only true teachings of the Buddha. I feel that we cannot sit down and do nothing about this matter. I am not asking you to go fight with them. No. Even though pujas are important, we need to be more aware of what is happening in the Buddhist scenario around us and during public dharma talks, please request the dharma speakers to talk on topics that will create better understanding of what Tibetan Buddhism is truly about. At the moment, people think of it as only rituals, mantras and all kinds of weird deities. There is also a lot of misunderstanding on His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Some of these fundamentalist Theravada teachers have gone to spread their message at our local undergraduate students through talks organised by the university Buddhist student associations. Slowly they have been taught that Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings are incorrect and all these Bodhisattvas and Buddhas do not exist. They are to get rid of them. Some of these undergraduates have since grown up to be leaders of our Buddhist associations. Some are even leaders in the umbrella Buddhist bodies. These umbrella bodies deal with Government authorities from time to time. So you can just imagine the influence they have over our Buddhist community and our future.

I know sometimes committee members run out of topics when asked to think of a topic for their Rinpoche to talk on. They usually talk around these few topics, such as Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, Eight Verses of Mind Training, Lam Rim, Four Thoughts that Transform the Mind, or topics on Guru Yoga and Emptiness.  I know a centre that talked on paranormal activities and ghosts. I am going to suggest you give tougher topics to them next time. Give them topics other than what they are used to. These are the topics that come to my mind randomly: -

1. The key differences between Tibetan Buddhism and other traditions
2. Why are the rituals in Tibetan Buddhism important?
3. An introduction to some rituals in Vajrayana Buddhism
4. Did the Buddha teach Tibetan Buddhism?
5. Why are there so many sects and sub-sects within Tibetan Buddhism? Does it mean that one of  them is true and the rest is false?
6. How Buddhism spread from India to Tibet? An introduction into the past Kings of Tibet and Padmasambhava.
7. What are the aspects of local Tibetan indigenous beliefs that had been incorporated into  Vajrayana Buddhism?
8. Have the Buddha’s key teachings in Vajrayana changed due to those local beliefs that had been incorporated?
9. Have the teachings of Tibetan Masters deviated from the Buddha’s fundamental teachings? An analysis of several key commentaries and texts written by Vajrayana Masters against the Pali Canon. (note: this would be a good thesis to write)
10. Where do all these Tibetan Buddhist deities and imageries come from? And their significance.
11. What are the key texts used by Tibetan Buddhism? Do they come from the Buddha? (Note: In Theravada, they use the Tripitaka. Is there a Tibetan Buddhist Tripitaka and what is it consists of? To explain why they are authentic texts).
12. Who is the Dalai Lama? Is he a conniving agent of the West or a spiritual reincarnation of a Buddhist Deity?
13. An introduction to the Dalai Lama: a look into his worldly and spiritual role.
14. Is the 14th Dalai Lama the unofficial "pope" for all Buddhists? What is his importance?

You can add more to the topics above. These are only my suggestions. Basically these topics, if explained properly, would have been able to answer most of the questions hurled to the Tibetan professor I mentioned earlier. I have given my personal views on the issue of these certain Theravada teachers' claim of authenticity in my previous posts under the same label. Therefore I will not repeat them here. Please spread these suggested topics around and hopefully it will curb some of those misconceptions people have on Mahayana generally and Tibetan Buddhism specifically. When these topics are presented, please announce it vigorously so that more people can come. There is no point if only your own members attend. Put up public banners. Inform all Buddhist e-forums of such teachings. I put my palms together and apologise if I have said anything incorrect here. Please remember – we are only doing what we can to promote the right understanding of Mahayana and Vajrayana. It is the same for Chinese Mahayanists. You can come up with a list of topics as above. Peace. Sarvam Mangalam. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Can You Still Commit Errors after Enlightenment is Achieved?

I was still young and raw when I first met Seung Sahn Sunim. But after I decided that it probably wasn’t the right time for me to be involved in Zen practice, there was a period of blackout. During that blackout period, there was no contact or news about him or the Zen school. I did think about him from time to time and perhaps even read his books but that was all. So I was oblivious about the scandal affecting him when it happened. Now when I retrospect, I think that was a blessing by the Buddhas.  They might have thought that it was not important for me to know about the scandal until I am ready. Many years later, I came into contact with his Zen school once more and found out that he had passed away.  I also found out about the scandal. Now it really did not matter anymore, at least for me. It might even be better had he been alive and decided to grope me. Serious. But that is me. I am not advocating this to everyone, because everyone has different levels of worldly and spiritual experience. For me the only impact that scandal has in me is of spiritual in nature. I now have the question whether for enlightened beings, does he or she still have the propensity to commit questionable acts of morality. I have no doubt over the enlightened status of this Zen Master and other Tibetan Masters who were also implicated in similar scandals. I began to do research on it. Apparently, even on after achieving enlightenment, there is still a propensity to slide into duality, although you have transcended it. This is mentioned in Lam Rim Chen Mo and Lama Tsongkhapa supported this by providing passages from other earlier Masters such as Candrakirti. Candrakirti referred to the remaining obscuration as “cognitive obscuration”. This has not been eliminated even though “afflictive obscuration” has been eliminated.
Quote: "Therefore, bodhisattvas and Hinayana arhats who have reached the eighth level have put an end to the creation of new latent propensities for errors of dualistic appearance, but since they have many long-established latent propensities for dualistic appearance that are yet to be cleared away, they still must train for a long time. When they clear away these propensities – stopping all latent propensities for error – they become Buddhas.”  
Lam Rim Chen Mo mentioned that elimination of cognitive obscuration is not by way of meditation alone but involves other behavioural aspects of training. This is where the importance of bodhisattva activity comes in. Without bodhicitta, this behavioural aspect of training can never be accomplished. If bodhicitta is not activated, one will remain as a Sravaka or Pacceka Buddha and will not be able to comprehend fully the knowledge of the lack of self in phenomena (even though they have eliminated fully the afflictive ignorance).

In The Jewel Treasury of Advice, Drikung Bhande Dharmaradza wrote:

Ordinary people can’t keep the discipline of the sharavakas,
Yet many think that the vows of secret mantra,
The discipline of maha aryas, are easier to keep.
Even though the activities of union and liberating,
And so forth are stated in the tantras,
These are the deeds only of those on pure bhumis.

In the name of secret mantra, some take women,
Drink, wear strange clothes, and act like madmen, and so forth.
If in this way, one deceives oneself,
One will become stuck in the mud of samsara,
And then fall to the depths of hell.

Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen explained,
“ Liberating, or putting others to death through curses and black magic, is also mentioned in the tantras. This type of liberating does not harm others’ lives, but rather it frees them from samsaric delusion, causing them to attain enlightenment. But this can only be done by highly realised bodhisattvas who are accomplished in their meditation practice and who have attained the eighth or higher bhumis, called the “pure bhumis”. The great Indian master Tilopa is an example of such a bodhisattva.” He gave an example of how Tilopa had eaten fish and they were all liberated. In Zen, Master Hsuan Hua had in his sutra commentaries, given an example of a similar Zen Master who could eat fish to the bones and then vomit out the entire fish still alive.

However, even though the bodhisattvas of pure bhumis could do such great liberating deeds, still they have to continue training to eliminate the cognitive ignorance as mentioned earlier. How much more do persons who have attained only the lower levels of enlightenment!  

For me, it is not necessary for me to judge whether Master Seung Sahn or any master have attained the eighth level or not. That is not my business. It is no longer about them or what they do. It is about what I do with knowing that. It is about how I react to it. My business is only moment to moment clear mind. For me, I do not believe in punishment. I believe more in reforming and transforming criminals or wrong doers. I have my own experience of being “groped/ molested”. But I won’t go into it, except to say that I do not think it is proper for me to report it up to the authorities or make this into a big issue. It will bring untold suffering to the person. I am only concerned about the person because I understand human weakness to strong desires. Who doesn’t have desires? You? Hence I try to learn from what happened and did my own research on this topic. After finding out the facts as above, now I will be more careful when and if I ever achieve enlightenment. Therefore I thank the Buddhas for educating me on this aspect of enlightenment. And thank them for the period of “blackout”. It happened for a reason. In the intervening period, my path matures and I re-connected. My relationship with him remains pure. Had it not been for the “blackout” period, I do not know how I would have re-acted if I knew of the scandal then. I might have been disgusted and left Sunim, like some people had back then. Who knows I might too? But it is useless speculating. Since it is my karma not to know about it, I accept it as it had happened. However I understood that 2 repentance ceremonies were done and the School community accepted these. Therefore some rules were changed for the better of the future Zen cultivators and case is close. The way I see it, it ended up well. I do not know about the scandals of other Zen or Tibetan Masters, but in Kwan Um School, in this sense, there is still some positive development from the scandal. It is now more disciplined and proper. I am grateful to be back in Seung Sahn Sunim’s fold and having the opportunity to utilise its facilities for meditation and study under the tutelage of the current Zen Masters.

So back to the original question – after achieving enlightenment, can we still commit errors? It depends on what level is achieved. But generally, answer is "Yes" unless you have achieved the final Buddhahood level. If we still have the propensity for errors even at such high bodhisattva levels, how much more lower levels. So, even though we can bring up issues with gurus for proper solution to such problems, and to prevent innocent persons from being taken advantage of by unenlightened fraudulent gurus, we must learn to forgive genuine masters with some flaws. The reason is simple - we ourselves could be susceptible to such moral questionable acts. Continuous practice is required until actual Buddhahood is achieved. Even at the last level of Bodhisattvahood, there will be the cognitive obscuration. But I understand it is really tricky to know when we have achieved Buddhahood or not. Along the way, we could be “deceived” (by our own wrong thinking) that we have achieved it but actually not. Be careful. My advice is always to be humble and doubt your own achievement.

1. Tsongkhapa. The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Lam Rim Chen Mo. Snow lion Publications. 2002.
2. Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen. A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path. Snow Lion Publications. 2009.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Year of the Snake: Holy Dragons or Evil Snakes?

Holy Dragons or Evil Snakes?

This Chinese New Year
Fire crackers are heard.
Young and old flock to fortune masters,
Will it be a good year?
Will it be bad?
While they wonder
And wander...
Looking for prosperity,
Holy dragons roam the sky,
Inviting auspiciousness into
The hearts of humility,
And evil snakes slitter into
The hearts of ego.
But alas!
People continue to wonder
And wander...
Still searching for good fortune.
Holy dragons and evil snakes
Are not fools.

"Wishing all readers a wise and blessed Lunar New Year! How blessed we are depends on our actions. Be strong in facing adversities and May the Triple Gem blesses all. Gong Xi Fa Cai".

Friday, February 8, 2013

Counting My Blessings

In my schooling days, I first got to connect with Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua and Venerable Boon Keng. They were my earliest teachers. Later Zen Master Seung Sahn, and few years after that Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen (at that time a "khenpo"). During that time, I read up a lot of books and listened to teachings of all traditions. I came across Lama Yeshe's books and FPMT at that time. I was particularly attracted to Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings although I have no idea of the differences between the Tibetan Buddhist lineages then. I could not tell the difference, except that they wear different coloured hats. I was also attracted to Shinran's approach to Pure Land Buddhism for many years already. There was no FPMT centre yet in Malaysia or Singapore (or just starting) at that time but I remember being interested in this organisation. Yes, I did connect with Seung Sahn Sunim a long time ago. I met him before I met many of my Tibetan Lamas. Zen practice just did not pick up. There was no Kwan Um Zen centre in Malaysia or Singapore yet (or maybe just starting, same as FPMT). So I let these two stay dormant. There was a period of time when I was disillusioned with Buddhist groups in my country. I tried not to project myself as a practitioner so much. There was not much spiritual progress at that time. But it led to many personal problems. I could not handle myself, in short. It was Khenchen who said something and I decided to re-focus on Buddhist practice. But Khenchen was not around all the time. There was also no group. In order to re-establish myself, I decided to go to a teaching given by the first teacher of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition that came by. And that was His Holiness Phakchok Rinpoche. It happened to be him. But it was Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche that re-connected me with Lama Tsongkhapa and for the first time, I understood the entire path of Lam Rim. Basically, it means I understood how Vajrayana path works. His Holiness Sakya Trizin is a teacher of Lama Zopa, so it is okay to receive teachings and empowerment from him. Understanding Lam Rim was an important turning point for me. Previously I did not understood how all these different practices in Tibetan Buddhism jive together. It is around that time, that I understood the different lineages within Vajrayana Buddhism. By then, for me, it was too late to stick to one lineage. I had my foot in almost every Buddhist tradition and lineage. I cannot pick one and ignore the rest of my previous gurus. But the Buddhas have a way for me. Neither am I mixing them up like some mixed fruit cocktail. Where my karma for one practice is weak, it is made up in another tradition. For example, I find that there is lacking of a Tibetan Buddhist centre for meditation practice here in my home state. But recently I re-connected back to Master Seung Sahn's Zen school. They have many meditation centres around the world. Many people did not know I have a previous connection with him and they may think that I "jumped boat" to Zen. It is not like that. Through the Zen centres of Kwan Um School of Zen, I get to practice my meditation. One Zen Master have this observation. He said that the Buddha blesses me by sending me different teachers to guide me in different aspects. In short, I know how to take care of my path. You don't have to worry. One Lama also said I have blessings from the Buddha (after I had the vision of the Sanghata assembly). So in this blog post, I humbly count my blessings and thank all my gurus for these blessings! I really have not much achievement in my life to be proud of, at least not in worldly matters. In spiritual matters, nothing much too, seriously....except for these blessings that I cannot ignore or not acknowledge. To not acknowledge these blessings would be ungrateful. I suppose one must always count one's blessings and humbly be thankful to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas! I try. I try. Hence this lunar new year, I am sharing with you my spiritual path, not out of arrogance but humbly counting whatever I have as blessings. If you learn from different traditions and get confused, it is not so good. But if you can benefit from them, and no conflict, then no problem. That is my advice for those contemplating of learning more then one tradition or lineage. For me, it is not a case of "...okay, now I am going to learn this tradition. After that I will learn from another." Not spiritual shopping. Not like that at all. Take care. Sarvam Mangalam.        

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Accidents Caused by Ghosts

I was told of accidents that are caused by ghosts/spirits who might had similar tragic deaths there in the past. When a person is driving his car or motorbike, the driver could suddenly feel dizzy or his vision momentarily blurred. This is the spell cast by the ghost/spirit upon the driver, especially if the driver's karma is not that good at that moment. If this happens, an accident could occur. So it is not true that all accidents are caused by human recklessness alone. There are exceptions, whereby the accidents are caused by ghosts/spirits out to harm humans. Don't always blame it on the drivers. That is why some time ago, I decided to recite mantras to liberate those who have died along a major highway in my home state. But most people are not interested. Only one person took part. After I accumulated it, I offered it to a Rinpoche and he  recited the mantras and dedicated these to the ghosts/spirits. After that, I noted a reduction in reported tragic accidents there. Hence we must help ghosts and spirits whenever we can. By helping them, we also help ourselves indirectly. My advice is to do liberation not only for animals but for ghosts/spirits and those suffering in hells too!