Monday, December 26, 2005

Somdej amulet protected wearer in accident

The Shin Min papers today (26.12.05) carried a report on a Singaporean man & his wife who met with a tour bus collision accident on Malaysia's North-South Highway. Apparently he was only slightly injured, as compared with his wife, who suffered broken cheekbones & teeth on impact. The man, Mr Zhang Yanguo, attributed his escape from serious injuries to a popular Thai Buddhist Amulet (called a Somdej) he was wearing. The amulet's casing was cracked by the impact, but Mr Zhang only got away with some minor bruises & abrasions to his knees. Other passengers were all injured to various degrees, and the female bus conductor was the one who got killed as she was sitting right in front.
So is it true that this amulet really protected its wearer? I believe so, because his wife, who was sitting next to him & not wearing any amulets, was seriously injured whereas he himself was not. If an amulet is made & consecreated properly by a venerable guru monk, there's no doubt that it would protect its wearer. It is also the wearer's good karma to get such an amulet and believe in the power of the Triple Gems to wear it constantly, & due to this very karma he is not harmed even when he meets with great dangers such as traffic accidents. Other victims, like the female conductor, does not have such karma and unfortunately had to meet with death as she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. There are many such incidents in Thailand where accident victims survived due to their faith in the amulets they are wearing. Although not all of them are true, it nevertheless reveals an undeniable link between amulets, Buddhist faith, & individual karma. The best protection is not simply wearing a good amulet, but to dilligently practice the Dhamma. Only one who lives with the teachings of the Buddha always in his heart will be protected by all the Devas and Vajra-holding guardian deities day & night, sadhu.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Path in a pail of muddy water

Hui Neng, the 6th Patriach, said in his very first sermon:

"Our mind is by nature pure and enlightened;
With this very mind should we enter straight into Buddhahood."

What does a pail of muddy water got to do with the Dhamma? Lots. In fact that's all there is to it; if you can understand this simile, you don't need to learn anything else. Take a pail of muddy water. When you let the water come to rest, the mud will gradually settle to the bottom of the pail & the water will resume its original transparency. But if the water is disturbed, the transparency will again be lost. Similarly, our original mind always retains an inner transparency or luminosity, and if we learn to leave the mind undisturbed, the mind will regain its original transparency. Again, if we let the mind be disturbed by the presence of dual thoughts, the mind will lose its original transparency.

Our Buddha-nature is like the transparent nature of water. Our delusional mind is the muddy water itself; good thoughts, evil thoughts, emotions & concepts are like the mud. The goal of practicing Chan or Zen meditation is to attempt to let thought separate itself from the mind, in the same way that mud settles to the bottom of the pail, returning the water to its original transparent form. Once your mind return to its true essence, freed from all duality, one attains Nibbana. Such a mind will never be deluded or muddy again. This is the most direct path to enlightenment.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Are Enlightened Ones subject to Karma?

An old fox-spirit once asked Ven Bai Zhang whether a great practitioner of the Dhamma was still subject to Karma. This fox-spirit had in the past answered wrongly to this same question and was thus reborn as a fox for many lives. Ven Bai Zhang replied:

"He is not ignorant of karma."

The fox-spirit was awakened upon hearing Bai Zhang's answer and was released from his animal body. What does it mean by being not ignorant of karma? It means that the enlightened person has thoroughly understood how karma works and no longer creates any more new karma - thereby transcending the cycle of cause & effect altogether, entering Nibbana.

Some people think that Karma is an all-powerful force that controls the entire fabric of the universe, so much so that even the Buddha is subjected to its effects. Although it is true that not even the highest supernormal powers can alter karma, but it is also a wrong view to believe that everything is pre-destined and cannot be changed. If it was so, then there is really no point for us to follow the Dhamma because ultimately we cannot escape our karma and may never attain Nibbana. On the contrary, it is precisely bcos there is a possiblity of release from the samsaric cycle of karma & rebirth that the Buddha preached the doctrine to us, such that whoever follows the holy path can also reach a place beyond birth & death, beyond karma like he did. Karma is like seeds planted in your Store Consciousness (called the Alaya). In order for these seeds to grow & bear fruit, conditions like sunlight, water, fertilizer are needed. Similarly, although we may have planted seeds of negative karma in our past lives, as long as we do not create the conditions (by continuing to do unwholesome deeds) for them to bear evil fruit, we don't really have to worry about them. Bear in mind that the store consciousness, the most subtle essence of our Self, is in reality an illusion. It is in fact simply another name for fundamental ignorance. Whatever good & evil karmic seeds planted in it throughout the countless eons are just as unreal as the field itself. Once we awaken to the truth, we will understand that they are just like all experiences we have in our dreams - ultimately non-existent.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Origin of the Universe

The Kevatta Sutta says:

"Then the Great Brahma, taking the monk by the arm and leading him off to one side, said to him, 'These gods of the retinue of Brahma believe, "There is nothing that the Great Brahma does not know. There is nothing that the Great Brahma does not see. There is nothing of which the Great Brahma is unaware. There is nothing that the Great Brahma has not realized." That is why I did not say in their presence that I, too, don't know where the four great elements... cease without remainder. So you have acted wrongly, acted incorrectly, in bypassing the Blessed One in search of an answer to this question elsewhere. Go right back to the Blessed One and, on arrival, ask him this question. However he answers it, you should take it to heart."

When we talk about the origin of the universe, a Creator always comes to mind. Depending on your religion, your creator can be known as God, Jehovah, Allah, Brahma, Ahura, Panggu etc. The names that people give their Creator are endless. In Buddhism, there is also a "Creator", but in actual fact he is not really who we believe him to be. In the scriptures there is a deity called Maha Brahma, who believes he is the creator, but in reality he is just the first sentient being that appears in our world. Being the only one around, he reigns over the Brahma heavens and all the celestial beings that subsequently appear mistakenly think that because Brahma was there before them, he must be their Father & Creator. And because all these subsequent beings revere him, Brahma also believes himself to be the Creator. This deluded view was later corrected when the Buddha taught the truth to Brahma & gave him the light of wisdom.

The origin of the universe is not caused by one person or deity, but by our own fundamental ignorance. From fundamental ignorance arose flucuating ignorance, which manifest as the 4 elements & the 5 aggregates, the constituents of our physical & mental world. Fundamental ignorance has no beginning and existed along with the Buddha-nature since time immemorial - that's why it is called "fundamental". But unlike the Buddha-nature, which has no beginning & no end, it is ultimately unreal and can one day be destroyed. When fundmental ignorance is vanquished, we become Buddhas and fluctuating ignorance is absorbed back into the Buddha-nature, transforming into pure Panna. Not having a "God" or a "Creator" is also what differentiates Buddhism from all other religions.

The 6 Perfections

The 6 Paramitas (Perfections) are the path leading one to Buddhahood, practiced by all Bodhisattvas in the universe. They are namely - Dana (giving), Sila (morality), Ksanti (patience), Viriya (zeal), Dhyana (concentration) & Prajna (wisdom). These 6 Paramitas encompasses the 84,000 methods of the Bodhisattva path, and nobody can achieve Samma Sambodhi (complete enlightenment) without fulfilling these perfections. Most Buddhists understand them as 6 different paths, but like all Dhamma, in reality there is only 1 Paramita. The Sutra of Contemplating Benefits say:

"If the Bodhisattva gives away all his defilements,
It is called Dana Paramita or the perfection of giving.
When false thoughts no longer arise in his mind,
It is called Sila Paramita or the perfection of morality.
No longer involving himself with the sensory universe,
It is called Ksanti Paramita or the perfection of patience.
Leaving behind all attachment to forms,
It is called Viriya Paramita or the perfection of zeal.
The mind being always flowing and never stagnating,
It is called Dhyana Paramita or the perfection of concentration.
Having realized the absolute truth, one abandons all sophistry,
Which is Prajna Paramita or the perfection of wisdom."

Thus you can see that the 6 Paramitas are actually: Giving away, Non-arising, Non-involvement, Leaving forms, Non-stagnation & No sophistry. All 6 Paramitas originate from the 1 Paramita - Giving. The rest are only empty names that vary according to different applications. But ignorant men do not see the truth and keep getting caught up with numbers, names & forms of the Dhamma. They create the Karma for birth & death and is trapped to the Samsaric cycle for an infinity due to their own clinging. If they only realize that when one defilement is given up, all defilements are also given up, one false thought no longer arise means all false thoughts no longer arise & so on & so forth; they would attain enlightenment right at this very moment. I hereby give you the perfection of giving - but are you ready to accept it?

The 3 Foundations of Nibbana

Hui Neng, the 6th Patriach said:

"Having no wrong in the Buddha-nature is true morality,
Having no ignorance in the Buddha-nature is true wisdom,
Having no distraction in the Buddha-nature is true concentration.
Neither increasing nor decreasing makes it adamantine,
Whether coming or going it always remain in Samadhi."

As we know, the 3 foundations of the path to Nibbana is Sila (morality), Samadhi (concentration) & Panna (wisdom). What exactly are they? Most Buddhists believe that following and not breaking the percepts is called Sila, practicing meditation & attaining Jhana is called Samadhi, and developing insight from the basis of Samadhi is called Panna. When Sila, Samadhi & Panna completely overcome the defilements in the mind, one realizes Nibbana. That is a very literal way of understanding the Dhamma, suitable for those who have not transcend duality.

However, when one realizes the non-duality of the absolute truth, one will see that the Buddha-nature is fundamenally pure and cannot be defiled - that is Sila.

Knowing that the true mind is immovable, the passions are stilled and one no longer any positive or negative emotions towards one's sensory experiences - that is Samadhi.

Seeing the purity of the Buddha-nature, yet not clinging to any concept of purity; knowing the immovablity of the true mind, yet not clinging to any concept of immovablity; such that one can perceive & differentiate all phenomena, yet never becoming attached to anything at all - that is Panna.

Understanding that the 3 foundations are fundamentally empty and that there is nothing to cultivate or attain is called the Equal Application of the 3 foundations. If you can practice the Dhamma in this way, then you are no different from the Buddha.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path is the first method of practice taught by the Buddha at the Deer Park in Benares, soon after His enlightenment. Through the ages followers tend to preceive them as 8 separate paths that can be categorized into the 3 foundations of the path to Nibbana - Sila (morality), Samadhi (concentration) & Panna (wisdom). But in reality, although there are 8 paths, 1 path encompass all the others. Which is that? The path of Right Understanding/ View. The Avatamsaka Sutra says:

"Without views one maintains the Right View,
To see all things as they truly are;
If you hold on to any Dhamma views,
You will not be able to see the Dhamma at all."

To have Right Understanding first one should let go of all conceptions and views with regard to what is the true Dhamma. When all conceived ideas are disgarded, until there is nothing left to disgard, the Dhamma will reveal itself. So to have right understanding is actually to see one's mind as it really is, rather than just hanging on to doctrinal concepts like Dukkha (suffering), Anicca (impermanace) & Anatta (no-self).

When one has Right Understanding, craving, anger & ignorance are no different from the Buddha mind - that is called Right Thought.

The things you say are all fingers point to the moon (the absolute truth) - that is called Right Speech.

Whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down, you are totally at peace with yourself - that is Right Action.

Whatever occupation you do, u do it with a undistracted mind - that is Right Occupation.

Such an undistracted mind cannot be defiled and thus requires no effort - that is Right Effort.

Because it is fundamentally pure, awareness and unawareness becomes non-dual - that is Right Mindfulness.

Once this mind is realized, one will never lose it again - that is Right Concentration.

And so from this you see, one is all and all is one. Free yourself from concepts and do not let your mind be stagnated. That is what we call the Panna Paramita (wisdom perfection) of the Buddhas.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Copper Kumantong which grows hair

The Jataka tales say:

"Opening the doors wide to practice Dana,
is what you are doing today;

Out of compassion for all beings,
you seek to achieve Buddhahood."

Last week the Shin Min papers carried a report from Selangor, Malaysia talking about a certain man owning a copper Kumantong Roop (shown above) which started growing hairs on its own. The man was so shocked that he fell sick for 3 days. When he first saw the hairs (seen in the yellow circles) on the 2-inch tall roop, he thought they were just cobwebs and simply cut them away. To his surprise, it the hairs grew back soon after. These 1/2 cm hairs could be found on the roop's head, back, ears & arms. The most obvious ones are the ones on its back. The owner of this roop, Mr Liang Hui (31 yrs old), could not understand this phenomena and so he took it to Pulau Kitam to consult his friend, Mr Xu Jiangjin, who was more well versed in such matters. After seeing the roop, Mr Xu thought it was incredible and believed this KMT roop to be a sentient entity. Mr Liang got the roop from a Thai monk in Pulau Kitam about a year ago for RM180 (< 90 SGD). At that time, he bought the roop to venerate at home, hoping to gain protection, luck & metta for himself & his family. However, after 1/2 a year, when Mr Liang was doing some house cleaning, he discovered that the roop had grow 1/2-inch long hairs all over. Thinking it was just dirt, he cut them off, but the hair grew back after another 2 months! Not familiar with the supernatural, Mr Liang was of course scared out of his wits. Because of the relatively small size of the roop, one may not notice the hairs unless one takes a very close look; but all who saw them were equally amazed.

What Mr Liang doesn't know, is that this KMT roop is actually the "house" of a KMT spirit and growing hairs is just a way of telling his owner that he is real & existent. They are child beings of the ghost realm who are converted to Buddhism by the monks who made the roop. Using the roop as their temporary body, they must try to earn enough merit (by helping their owner or otherwise) to be reborn into a higher realm. Venerating a KMT is no different from taking care of a child. An owner must not only clothe & feed it diligently (through daily offerings), but should communicate with it whenever possible also. Let them hear recitations of the Dhamma & as the child spirit gains right understanding, it will progress quickly and eventually be liberated from its ghostly form. If a person could really take care of such a KMT well, it will help its benefactor fulfill their wholesome wishes in this life & the next. Even after they are reborn, they will still come back somehow to be of service. Therefore those who own KMTs should have the right motivation in order to earn merit for oneself as well as for the spirit. If all the owner thinks about is selfish gain, then even if one take care the KMT well and it also help you to satisfy unwholesome desires, this is a negative path and both KMT & owner will end up in the lower realms for sure. Heaven or hell, it is up to you.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Travels to Wat Phakho

The Mahaparinirvana Sutra says:

"The body of the of the Tathagata is beyond birth & death. It is the Self, it is Permanant; it is Blissful and it is Pure. Thus, Self signifies the Buddha, Permanance signifies the Dharmakaya (Body of Truth); Bliss signifies Nirvana, and Purity signifies the Dharma."

In August this year I went to Wat Phakho (pronounced Pah-ko) on the same day that I visited Wat Pagor. Actually there was some confusion with the driver, cause the names of the 2 temples sound similar. But after some clarifcation, we managed to proceed on our way there, which is in the northeast corner of Songkhla (Sathing Phra district). The journey, almost 100 km away, took 1 hr plus from Had Yai. As we all know, Wat Phakho is the temple where LP Tuad resided during his youth, before he travelled to Ayuthaya to further his Dhamma studies. This temple is located on the Phiphetasing Hill and therefore we need to climb up the hill to reach it. This long flight of steps are flanked by Nagas, which is a distinct feature of hilltop temples in Thailand. Near the entrance we are greeted by 2 statues of LP Tuad, in Samatid as well as Dhutanga postures. This temple was built many centuries ago (in 1514 AD) and houses many ancient objects & artifacts, many belonging to LP Tuad.The side hall is where the revered golden image of LP Tuad is kept, covered from head to toe with gold leaf. You can almost feel LP Tuad's presence here in the Sala. The main Chedi (Stupa) of the temple below is a well known symbol of Wat Phakho. It was renovated in recent years and given a fresh coat of white paint. It is said to house the Buddha's Footprint; notice the mystical aura or glow surrounding the Chedi. This a definitely a place of great power. A small Chedi below the main one caught my eye. In front of the Chedi is a statue of a young boy. Could this be a stupa of Kumantong or maybe just one of the young novices of this temple? A tall white Chedi behind the main one. This probably belongs to one of the past abbots. The golden reclining Buddha (Phra Non) statue in the pavillion (Sala). He smiles radiantly towards all sentient being who come and worship at the temple.The main prayer hall (Bot) of the temple houses 3 southern styled Buddha statues as well as another seated image of LP Tuad. As we can see, there's an intricate web of white string below the roof, used for consecration of sacred amulets & images. One of my favorite Buddhas, Phra Sangajai or Maitreya (to the Chinese) located at the back of the temple, overlooking the South China Sea.The old court house - Wat Phakho used to be the religious & political centre on this side of Songkhla, and therefore all legal matters were discussed here around 300 years ago. But it had long been converted into another Sala for people to worship. A life-sized wax image of LP Tuad, and yes, his magical crystal ball! According to the legend, this crystal ball is given to him by a python (probably a Naga) when he was a baby, and had followed LP Tuad ever since. I could not go near it as the whole thing was protected by a glass chamber. However, as it was raining heavily at that time, I sat down and meditated outside the chamber in order to feel the energy radiating from the ball. It was a blissful experience! When the rain became lighter, I made my way down to hill and proceeded on my way back to Had Yai. This was without a doubt, one of my most memorable temple tours I took to Thailand. Hopefully I can also visit Wat Changhai (in Pattani), where LP Tuad attained enlightenment when it is safe from the terrorist threat. May the Dharmakaya of LP Tuad protect everyone, sadhu.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Some subjects of meditation

True meditation is not about sitting down with crossed legs and focusing on your breath as most people think. The Mahayana way of meditation is neither sitting or focusing on anything at all, for its purpose is to see your own Buddha-nature and realize enlightenment. In the past when Master Mazu sat in meditation, his teacher Huairang asked him what he was doing. Mazu replied he was trying to meditate and achieve Buddhahood. Huairang said nothing, but he took a piece of tile and start polishing it in front of Mazu. This time it was Mazu who asked his teacher what he was doing. Huairang replied he was trying to polish the tile into a mirror. Mazu questioned how could a tile ever be polished into a mirror? Huairang asked him in return how could sitting in meditation lead one to Buddhahood? Mazu was dumbfounded. Huairang went on to ask him that if a bullock cart refuse to move forward, do you as the driver whip the bull or the cart? And from there, Mazu realized what was the true path to follow. The cart refer to our body and the bull our mind - it is the mind that attains Buddhahood, not the body. And so the practice of Dhamma should be based in the mind and not on physical form.

Here are some Buddha Koans that can be used in your meditation, extracted from the "Pointing at the Moon Records":

1. One day the Buddha sat on the high seat getting ready to expound the Dhamma. So Ven Maha Kassapa knocked the pestle on the ground and declared: "The World-honoured One has finished his sermon!" At this the Buddha got up and left.
For this Koan, meditate on "when did the Buddha give a sermon?"

2. Once the Buddha took a colour changing Mani Jewel and asked the 5 Celestial Kings: "What colour is this jewel?" Each King saw a different colour and responded accordingly. The Buddha then hid the jewel and asked them the same question with an empty hand. The Kings replied: "There's no jewel in your hand, Lord, so how can there be any colours?" The Buddha said: "How deluded you all are. Earlier I showed you a worldly jewel and each of you told me of a different colour. Now I am showing you the true jewel, yet you do not know it!" At that moment, the 5 Celestial Kings all attained enlightenment.
For this Koan, meditate on "what is the true jewel?"

3. At one time the Brahmin Kala made an offering of flowers to the Buddha. The Buddha responded by saying: "Rishi (hermit), let it go!" The Brahmin put down the flower in his left hand. The Buddha repeated again: "Rishi, let it go!" The Brahmin put down the flower in his right hand. The Buddha repeated himself for the 3rd time: "Rishi, let it go!" And the Brahmin said: "Both my hands are empty, what else will you have me put down?" Finally the Buddha told him: "I did not teach you to let go of the flowers. What you should let go are the external 6 sense objects, the internal 6 sense organs and the 6 sensory awareness in between. When everything is let go, until there is nothing left to let go, that is where you can find your true self." The Brahmin realized the Unborn Dhamma upon hearing these words.
For this Koan, meditate on "what is left when there is nothing left to let go?"

4.There was a Rishi who have attained the 5 supernormal powers (Clairvoyance, Clairaudience, Telepathy, Recollection of past-lives & Mind-body projection) asking the Buddha: "World-honoured One, you possess the 6 supernormal powers, whereas I only have 5 powers. What is the 6th power?" The Buddha suddenly exclaimed: "Rishi!" The Rishi answered: "Yes, lord?" Buddha: "That power; why do you ask me?"
For this Koan, meditate on "what is the 6th power?"

5. The Buddha was travelling with the Ven Ananda when they passed by the stupa of a past Buddha. The Buddha prostrated before the stupa, and Ven Ananda asked him: "Who does this stupa belong to?" Buddha: "It belongs to one of the past Buddhas." Ananda: "The past Buddhas were whose disciples?" Buddha: "They were my disciples." Ananda: "That should be the case."
For this Koan, meditate on "who is the Buddha?"

By meditating, it does not mean that you have to sit down all the time, but constantly contemplate on the answer to any of these Koans no matter whether you are sitting, walking, standing or lying down. When the time is ripe, this one thought of fluctuating ignorance will break through your fundamental ignorance and allow you the see your true Buddha-nature. This is the method taught in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, and also the direct path of the Chan or Zen school. May you have swift progress on the path to enlightenment, sadhu.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Deluge of New Orleans

The Mangala Sutta says:

"Abstaining from evil thoughts, evil deeds and evil speech;
Refraining from taking intoxicants,
And being mindful of wholesome conduct;
This is the highest blessing."

Even as New Orleans is slowly recovering from the flood waters that destroyed the entire city, and with the memory of 9.11 fresh on their minds, Americans cannot help but wonder why such a disaster had happened right in their heartlands. Besides the known physical causes, some religious people speculate it is God's punishment to the Americans for making the Israeli government pull out Jewish settlers from Gaza. Others say it is punishment for US arrogance and unjust control of Iraq & Afghanistan. As for terrorist groups, they laugh at any sign of American misfortune. Secular analysts blame the city's inadequate evacuation system, non-repair of the dam, the apathetic people, the welfare state, the breaking loose of criminals from prison and the incompetent police for the total anarchy that ensued after the disaster. Whatever people say, it is only speculation and the true causes of any major disaster in the world lies nowhere else other than in the minds of sentient beings. When many beings in one place share similar thoughts and perform similar deeds, collective karma is produced according to the nature of those deeds. Good & evil seeds beget corresponding fruits and nobody except maybe the enlightened ones can escape this universal law.
What is the karmic cause of such a disaster? None other than the 3 Poisons within one's mind. In the past, during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty in China, there was a Runzhou district in the Jiangsu province. The inhabitants of that district were mostly fishermen who made a living catching fish, frogs & shells. They were used to daily killing and there was also a terrible tradition of disposing of female offspring by leaving them out in the open to die, or by drowning them. Everyday they caught fish & frogs and the elders would teach the children how to slaughter these creatures. This became their habit and these people thought it was great to know the art of slaughtering.

In the whole district there was only one old lady named Kong Po who abstained from killing and earned a living by weaving cloth. She would use her earnings to liberate lives and advice others to do so. Kong Po constantly admonished others to be compassionate towards living creatures and not to ignore any chance to perform wholesome deeds, no matter how small. Seeing the negative karma that her fellow villagers create everyday, she could not help but fear what kind of retribution they would reap in the future.

One night, some of the fishermen in the village saw an officer in black robes picking up a black record book from the river. Amazed, they asked who he was and what he was doing. The officer replied in this book lies the retribution for constant killing, and told them to stop killing immediately and practice liberating lives. After he finished his words the officer threw the book back into the river and disappeared. A few days later, the river embankment collapsed and the river waters flooded the entire district, sweeping houses away and killing many many villagers, much like New Orleans now. All except for Kong Po, who was with his grandson, praying to the Buddha on a hilltop monastery at the time of the disaster. This was proof that she had been blessed and protected by Devas as a result of her compassion, even as her fellow villagers suffered the unwholesome fruits of their collective karma.

Since time immemorial, whenever the people of any place commit too many sins, they were sure to be struck by some big disaster (natural or otherwise). This is not punishment from an Almighty Being, but karma created by the Craving, Hatred & Ignorance in their own minds. The law of cause & effect is clear for all to see yet sentient beings do not see it as they are blinded by their own ignorance. After the flood waters submerged the city of New Orleans, only then we see the true character of some of the surviving inhabitants there. No longer afraid of the consequences, they engaged in an orgy of looting, killing and raping, turning New Orleans into a watery hell as it is. Indeed, it was collective unwholesome karma that caused the disaster to happen, yet those lawless groups did not learn anything from it but go ahead to do more evil. How could these people be saved? Only the Hells awaits them. As for those who follow the Dhamma, they will always be free from harm, no matter what dangerous or disaster situation they find themselves in.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

HK Stepmom: The Prison of Hatred

The Dhammapada says:

"Let a man conquer anger with love,
Let him subdue evil with good;
Let him overcome the greedy with generosity,
And the liar with truth."

Recently, there is a criminal assault case in Hong Kong that grips its entire populace with intrigue and pity; the case of 20 year old stepmom Hong Minyi hiring 2 young thugs to attack his 7 year old stepson, Cen Haoxian (Xian-zai) with cleavers, almost severing his arm and nearly killing the little boy. At the centre of the storm is the boy's father Cen Weicheng, who is undeniably the originator of this family tragedy.

What drives this young lady and a mother of a 2 month old baby (also fathered by Cen Weicheng) to mastermind such a cruel attack on a defenseless young boy? None other than the poison of hatred. Hatred is one of the most potent of the 5 Poisons of the mind. When hatred rages uncontrollably, binding the mind in a burning prison, it is the quickest way for anybody to enter Hell. Hong is very much a troubled young lady. On the one hand her husband and mother-in-law are consistently showing more affection to his stepson, such that she often perceives the young boy to be "bullying" her own baby.

On the other hand her once divorced husband, who by nature likes to flirt around, is still sticking to his old habits and not giving her the attention that she deserves. Provoked into jealousy and anger, Hong decided to hire a young delinquent to beat up the object of her hatred - Xian-zai. As the previous attack did not cause serious injury to Xian-zai, the crime was not reported to the police. It only made the family more protective of Xian-zai. Unfortunately, that made Hong even more peeved. She felt she needed to make an even stronger statement to draw the attention of her nonchalant husband. Hong took out her savings and hired 2 thugs to teach Xian-zai a lesson he would never forget. Wielding cleavers that could easily inflict fatal injuries to any adult, let alone a young boy, the 2 thugs struck Xian-zai while he was returning home from school with his grandma. Now lying in hospital and slowly making a recovery, he could only listen in bewilderment as people tell him how his stepmom and all suspected accomplices got arrested by the police one-by-one. Xian-zai could not have imagined himself becoming the object of sympathy of the entire Hong Kong in a single day. Celebrity well-wishers have been visiting him in hospital and consoling the boy with all sorts of gifts. Child-cousellers have been appointed to relieve him of his traumatic experience. As for Hong, she would be charged with attempted murder, which warrants a life-sentence. Under a jury system swayed by public opinion, the HK courts would no doubt convict the young lady and all those men she hired to harm Xian-zai. These are the unwholesome fruits of her jealousy and anger. For her this mental prison transforms into a physical prison - proof of the Dhamma that one's enviroment is shaped by the state of one's mind. It is also important to note that this family tragedy is caused by Cen Weicheng's thoughts of lust (much like Ah How in Singapore), which often drove him to sexual misconduct.

This directly broke up his first marriage and indirectly caused his second marriage to end up in that messy situation that it is now. The effects of broken families on children are far-reaching enough; Xian-zai is not just an innocent victim of his stepmom's burning anger, but more so of his father's moral failings. Hopefully he would learn not to repeat them when he grows up. Time and time again we see sentient beings in the world create suffering for themselves through their own craving, hatred, ignorance, egoism & doubt. Thus the need to educate people in the Dhamma is pressing indeed! Only through the Dhamma can we transform the 5 poisons into the 5 Buddha-wisdoms, and the burning prisons into jewelled palaces. May all beings find refuge in the Triple Gems, sadhu.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Fate of Ah How

The scriptures say:

"Everything you sowed is reaped by yourself,
Who is there to blame when you suffer in hell?"

Although Took Leng How (Ah How) has been sentenced to hang for murdering Huang Na as most people expected, but the true damage of his crime will not only be felt by Huang Na's family, but by his own family long after his death. The family members who suffer the most is of course Ah How's wife and 2 year old son, who have to bear the shame of being the wife and son of a child rapist & murderer for many years. Of course, his wife could re-marry and nobody would remember her after a few years, but his son would not be able to escape being mocked & bullied by his peers throughout his growing years.

As for Ah How himself, waiting to be hanged on death row is probably an experience worse than being hanged itself. From now till his turn to die will probably take another 1 year. Everyday will pass slowly and painfully for him as his inner demons haunt him until the last moment, before the noose is tied around his neck. Ah How is already in Hell, though he does not know it yet. When he actually comes face to face with Yama, Lord of Death in the Halls of Hell, he would finally realize the true error of his ways. But by then, it will be too late indeed. If Ah How wishes to lessen his sins, he should stop appealing to be spared from death and accept the punishment for his crime calmly. He should sincerely repent for his evil deeds and seek forgiveness from Huang Na and her parents in China. If he is able to gain forgivenss from those he harmed, it will greatly reduce his suffering in this world and the next, not to mention the suffering of his own family, especially the wife and son.

May Ah How know what is best for him.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Undecaying Body of LP Tong

The Avatamsaka Sutra says:

"Such as the True Thusness,
Which stays with its original nature,
Remaining unchanging throughout."

On 12.08.05 - 14.08.05 I made a pilgrimage trip to Had Yai, Songkhla Province in Southern Thailand. At one of the popular temples near Had Yai (Wat Pagor), I saw for myself the legendary body of Luangpor (Ajarn) Tong, whose physical body shows no sign of decay after passing away since the year 2000, at the age of 93. LP Tong looks as if he was sleeping, and other than the sunken facial features, one really cannot tell he has died for 5 years. According to the temple, his hair continues to grow and needs trimming every once in a while. This kind of phenomena is called "Flesh Body Buddha" in Buddhist terminology. Only monks of high spiritual attainment can choose to keep their bodies in samadhi after they enter final nibbana. This is usually to serve a special purpose, because the normal tradition is to be cremated (like the Buddha) and the remaining relics be placed in a stupa or pagoda. Reports say that indeed there is such a special purpose in the case of LP Tong. Before he passed away, he had already left instructions for his disciples not to cremate his body. LP Tong wanted future generations of Buddhists from the whole region to gain confidence in the Triple Gems after seeing the miraculous aspects of the Dhamma through his undecaying body. This alternative tradition is perhaps started by Maha Kassapa, the Buddha's foremost disciple who was also not cremated. According to the scriptures, Maha Kassapa flew inside Mount Kukkutapada (Chicken Foot Peak) and entered final nibbana there. His body will remain in eternal samadhi until the future Buddha Maitreya descends to Earth to teach the Dhamma many thousands of years later. Coming back to the subject, LP Tong predicted that this small temple would become quite propserous with the bus loads of followers & tourists coming to see him after his death. Today, these words are proven right - Wat Pagor is thriving with pilgrims from Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand, who come daily to pay respects to him and ask for various blessings.Besides LP Tong's undecaying body, I also got to see Maechee (Nun) Niam's skeletal remains. MC Niam was LP Tong's female teacher who had died decades ago. Out of respect for his teacher, LP Tong kept her body in a glass chedi to be venerated by himself and his followers. As I walked closer to take a look, I saw a dried yellowish skeleton in a seated position and garbed in the white robes of a non-ordained nun. Like the other countries of Theravada culture, Thailand does not have an order of Bhikkuni. Nuns could only take the 10 percepts and wear white robes instead of the saffron robes of the Sangha.Irregardless, MC Niam was known to be a compassionate Nun who observed vegetarianism throughout her holy life, although it was not required of monks & nuns in the Theravada tradition. She is said to be able to grant the wishes of the faithful who pray to her, but they must also develope compassion and abstain from eating meat for a period of time. Paying respects to both LP Tong & MC Niam, one could not help but be filled with a profound sense of bliss. One regret I had was that I did not manage to meet LP Tong's successor, Abbot Maha Pairon when I went there; but rest assured I will be back for a future visit the next time.

Reflecting on the undecaying bodies I've seen, I had an insight that although our physical body go through birth and death, happiness and suffering, sin and merit; our Buddha nature remains unmoving amidst all these. Everything we know, feel, experience, possess are ultimately unreal and does not belong to us. The Buddha is an illusionist turning an illusionary wheel of the Dhamma to teach illusionary sentient beings. If sentient beings attain any form of enlightenment, that is also unreal as there is nothing to realize and no suffering to end. What then is the absoulte truth, the true undecaying body which we cannot see? Meditate on this katha, especially the last verse, for the answer:

"Everynight I sleep with the Buddha, every morning it awakens with me. Whether sitting or standing it follows, whether speaking or silent it is there. Never leaving me for even an instant, it is no different from a shadow following the body. To know where this Buddha is, look right here in these words."

May you also see the true nature of your mind, sadhu.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Hungry Ghost Festival

zt The scriptures say:

"When the mind arises all kinds of phenomena arise,
When the mind dissolves all kinds of phenomena dissolves."

It is that time of the year again when Chinese Singaporeans burn all kinds of joss paper, including hell money, clothes, accessories, electronics, tv sets, cars and even houses to their deceased relatives in the nether realm. The seventh lunar month marks a time of offerings and celebrations for both the living and the non-living beings. This festival has it origins in the Mahayana Buddhist legend that on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, the Buddha's disciple Mogallana, at the advice of the Lord, made offerings to the whole Sangha community in order to relieve his mother from her suffering in hell. Because of this great merit Mogallana's mother was indeed released from hell and was reborn as a deva. The Buddha was very pleased with Mogallana's fillial piety and praised him extensively for it, thus starting the tradition of "Ullambana". On this Ullambana day, future Buddhists would also make offerings to the Sangha for the benefit of their dead relatives. The Taoists, however, believe that on the 7th month the gates of the nether realm (including the ghost and hell realms - Taoists do not make a distinction) are opened for the ghosts to come up to the human world for a visit, and the humans, especially relatives, must make offerings to them to provide for their well being in the nether world, until they go back at the end of the month. This is called the annual "Zhong Yuan Pu Du" ceremony. The practice of burning joss paper and other models of material things comes from the Taoist tradition and not the Buddhist practice, because Buddhists normally offer more practical stuff like rice, clothing and other daily necessities to the Sangha, as well as conduct mass sutra chanting ceremonies to benefit all sentient beings in the lower realms.

But can all the paper cash, cars, credit cards, condos (the 5C dream of Singaporeans) etc burned actually reach the dead relatives of those living people? And is the ghost realm no different from the human realm, as they still need all those material things?
According to the Dhamma, the burned offerings can indeed reach the dead, but only if their relatives are still in the ghost realm. If they are reborned in other realms, like for example the animal or hell realms, those offerings would become futile. At least they are only of use to other non-related beings in the ghost realm. That also answers the 2nd question, which means to say that the ghost realm is indeed structured closely to the human realm. Although newbie Buddhists are often taught that the ghost realm means only a place where hungry ghosts with swollen bellies and needle like necks are always looking for something to eat, in reality it is not that simple. Just as the human world has humans with bad karma who suffer from hunger all the time, the ghost realm also has hungry ghosts with bad karma whose hunger can nevered be satisfied. On the other hand, there are ghosts with good karma who become chieftains with great power, assuming responsiblity over a large number of other ghosts in various regions, as described in the Ksitigarbha Sutra. In the same way, humans with good karma also become premiers or presidents and take charge of millions of humans in their own country. The only major difference between the 2 realms is that the suffering expreienced in the ghost realm is more intense as compared to the human realm, due to the definitive strong craving that burns the mind of a ghost. Thus there is no doubt that ghosts still need to use money, but they can only do so if their karma allows them to. From this you can see the limited use of making such paper offerings.
If you truly wish to help your deceased relatives, no other method can be compared to making offerings to the Sangha (or the Triple Gems) and selflessly transfering all merit to them. Because this merit is so great, it can reach your relatives no matter which realm they are reborn in and no matter what bad karma they are suffering from. If they are in the lower realms they would be immediately relieved and if they are already in the higher realms they will be elevated to a even higher level of bliss.
On a deeper level, the spirit of Ullambana teaches the Paramita (Bodhisattva path) of Dana (giving). Giving away material goods to the physical Sangha may produce merit, but this merit cannot be compared to the merit of giving away all your internal 6 sense organs, external 6 sensory objects and 6 sensory awareness in between to the spiritual Sangha, which is one with the absolute truth. This merit transforms your father (craving) and mother (ignorance) from the past, present & future into Panna (wisdom insight) and Upaya (skillful means), ultimately fulfilling the virtue of fillial piety as all delusion is melted into the ocean of Nibbana - all is one & one is all. This is the true purpose of Ullambana.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Dhamma of Food

The Chinese saying goes:
"Food and wine within the vermillion gates become rotten,
Whereas the man on the street dies of cold & hunger."
This saying describes the extreme gap between the rich and the poor and criticizes the starking social inequality of every society.
It is reported in the Shin Min papers on 18.8.05 that after the Shenyang Int. Food Festival in China was over, the Complete Banquet of the Man & Han races (worth 200,000 RMB) on display for 3 days were all thrown away like rubbish. This extravagant banquet of the past Qing emperors consist of 196 dishes and took 60 over cooks and workers days to prepare. Yet for all their efforts, they feel no pity when so much food is thrown away just like that. A recent survey in China shows that on average, each and every restaurant in China throw away about 50kg of food everyday as a result of left overs after every meal served. That amounts to about 600 billion RMB worth of food wasted in one year!
This proves that what I mentioned previously about decadence is true. The Chinese people in general have long developed the unwholesome habit of food wastage as a nation, a sure sign of decadence and corruption. Even my wife, who is from China, display such identical negative traits; behaviour which I constantly chastise her for. China was once poor also and the people there also suffered daily hunger before. But all that is forgotten, now that they have grown affluent after years of economic reforms. Another Chinese saying goes:
"When one is rich but not humane, he is no different from a fat pig."
Affluence corrupts the mind and breeds decadance when not tempered with the proper moral guidance and education. The rich gets richer while the poor tries to strike it rich at any cost; and so the whole nation is enveloped by the poison of craving. Having lost the traditional teachings of Taosim, Confucianism & Buddhism; after being suppressed by the communist governement for so many years, China is slowly, but surely trodding towards another woeful era, for the seeds of negative karma have already been sowed. Just think, so many other people in the 3rd world nations are still living in extreme poverty and hunger, especially in Africa, which is none other than the realm of the Hungry Ghosts manisfested on Earth. So anyone can see it is not wholesome at all for any nation to waste food on such a massive scale instead of helping those starving sentient beings. A wise man knows that the fortunes of nations are never permanant, rising and falling like the tide. The Chinese people are already trapped in the Prison of Craving, yet they do not know it. Although on the surface China is still doing very well now, I forsee that in my life time I will witness China suffer the fruits of its collective kamma.
May the Dhamma lead them out of the coming darkness.