Sunday, July 31, 2005

Plague Demons on the loose again in China

There is such a Buddhist saying:

"Demons originate from one's own mind,
And they are also conquered by the same mind."

As we all know, currently there is a contagious virus spreading from pigs to human in Sichuan, China, and it is showing signs of expansion. This is reminiscent of the past SARS epidemic, which originated from civet cats to humans as well. What about the Bird Flu virus, which is still rampant in certain Southeast Asian countries? If not controlled properly, all these viruses could easily spread from animals to humans and to other humans, resulting in another great plauge that would kill many. What is the cause of such large scale negative kamma, one may ask? None other than the sin of killing.

In Buddhist doctrine, there is a Chieftain among the Ghosts, one of many in the Ghost realm, who is in charge of spreading plauge in our world. However, it is not this chieftain who decides who or when to punish humans with viruses, but rather human beings themselves. In other words, it is humans who create such negative karma and the chieftain merely delivers the fruits. Whenever the collective sins of killing in one place reach a certain level, the chieftain would send out the plague demons under his command to spread viruses among those people responsible for such unwholesome deeds. For those who refrain from killing, the demons would bypass their dwellings even if they live in the same area as those responsible. So it is no surprise that for the current plague in Sichuan, those who are struck down first are the pig butchers, followed by those in close association with them. In the past, during the SARS epidemic, those who died first were also butchers who slaughter civet cats and other wild animals in Guangdong for a living. Butchers kill animals everyday and the more they kill, the worse karma they create for themselves. In this life they suffer sudden and painful deaths and in the next existence they are reborn in the Hells to suffer more of the terrible suffering they imposed on other sentient beings. Naturally, people who enjoy eating freshly slaugtered meat would also share this type of karma. This is especially evident in certain regions of China, especially Guangdong province, where many animal related epidemics are known to have originated.

But putting the Chieftain of Plague and his demonic servants aside, what does the Buddha actually wanted to teach us? The teaching that evil comes from our own minds. Because of the thought of craving for fresh meat that arises in the mind, humans have slaugtered countless animals to satisfy their hunger since time immemorial. Those who are slaugtered hate those who butcher them and when they are reborn, they take revenge on their killers. This create an endless vicious cycle of kiling and getting killed. Thus war, plague and famine, all resulting in massive loss of lives, have never once disappeared from human history. All because of the craving to devour the flesh of other beings.

Realizing the cause and effect behind such death and destruction, the only way for human beings to gain lasting peace and safety in the world is to curb the craving for meat. When one developes compassion for the lives of other sentient beings, especially the animals, he will no longer kill and when the sins of killing are no more; the karma of war, plague and famine will also become non-existent. When that time finally comes, one will realize that the chieftain and his plague demons are really Bodhisattvas showing us the path of the Dhamma.

All sentient beings are one in the Dhammakaya (truth-body); all beings crave life and fear death, all seek happiness and shun suffering. So let compassion arise in your heart and transform our world into a Pure Land, sadhu.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Can Women become Buddhas?

During last year's World Buddhist Conference (2004) in Singapore, there was a fierce debate among some of the monks, nuns and lay people present on whether there was such a thing as a female Buddha, commonly found in the Vajrayana tradition. Naturally, those monks of the Theravada tradition could not accept this concept, but they were missing the point altogether. The best answer to that question lies in the dialouge between Shariputra, the chief disciple of the Buddha, and a goddess, who was actually an enlightened Bodhisattva. This is to be found in the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra:

Shariputra: Why do you not change your female physical form?
Goddess: For the past 12 years I have searched in vain for a female form; what do you want me to change? This is like an illusionist who creates an illusionary woman. Is it correct to ask him to change this unreal woman?
Shariputra: No, since it is an unreal form, what can it be changed into?
Goddess: Likewise, all phenomena are unreal. So why have you asked me to change my unreal female form?
At this point, the goddess used her supernatural powers to transform Shariputra into a goddess and herself into a man similar to him.
Goddess: Why do you not change your female form?
Shariputra: I do not know why I have turned into a goddess!
Goddess: If you can change your female form, then all women should also be able to turn into men. Like Shariputra, who is not a woman but appears in a female form, all women are no different. Though they appear in female form, they are fundamentally not women. Hence the Buddha said, "All things are neither male nor female".
The goddess then used her supernatural powers again to transform Shariputra back into his original male form.
Goddess: Where is your female form now?
Shariputra: The form of a woman is neither existent nor non-existent.
Goddess: In the same way, all things are fundamentally neither existent nor non-existent; and that which is neither existent nor non-existent is proclaimed by the Buddha.
- o -
The Buddha-nature is universal and genderless. Since all sentient beings possess this Buddha-nature, everyone can achieve Buddhahood regardless of sex. The term "Buddha" does not refer to a man or a woman, but to a completely enlightened mind. Although the male and female form is fundamentally non-existent, sentient beings cling to them as a result of being deluded by their flucuating ignorance, which originates from fundmental ignorance. Once we are able to shatter fundamental ignorance though correct meditation, concepts such as male and female will cease to exist, along with all other dualities. In the enlightened state, flucuating ignorance is absorbed by the Buddha-nature and transforms into limitless skillful means. This means that an enlightened person still thinks this and that endlessly like an ordinary person, but all these thoughts are now manifestations of the absolute truth, capable of leading other sentient beings to the shore of awakening. This kind of infinite Panna is beyond the comprehension of practicioners who possess small capacities and aptitudes. Those who cling to names and forms are truly sad Hinayanists (followers of the small vehicle) - for they will never be able to see the absolute truth, the real "Buddha".

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Wheel of Samsara

A Buddhist Master once said:

"All things are but creations of the Mind,
All existences are based only on Consciousness;
Happiness and suffering depends on oneself,
What have they got to do with the conditions we are in?"

In Buddhism, we believe all sentient beings are trapped in the Wheel of Samsara, of never-ending birth and death. This wheel consists of 6 realms of existence, consisting of the Deva (gods), Asura (titans), Human, Animal, Ghost and Hell realms. Driven by their own karma, sentient beings die and are reborn constantly in any of these realms. Those with good karma are reborn in the higher realms of Deva, Asura and Humans, whereas those with bad karma are reborn in the lower realms of Animal, Ghost and the worst, Hell. None of these realms are real or permanent and they originate from the fundamental ignorance of the Mind. Although they are not real, sentient beings will continue to perceive them as real until they could attain Nibbana. Because they perceive the 6 realms as real, the suffering they experience will also be real. It is like a person experiencing a nightmare; every horrible event seen in it will appear real and frightening to the dreamer. But when he wakes up, he realizes that none of it is real. The same could be said for good dreams - however pleasurable they are, they are unreal and impermanant. Once a person wakes up, nothing will be left and he will be left unhappy once gain. That is the true nature of our samsaric existence.

Many modern educated people and cynics question the truth of rebirth and of the 6 realms of existence. The most common dismissal is that nobody knows what happens after one dies. They say heaven and hell are merely superstition to make people do good. These people rather believe in the materialistic view that when a person dies, he becomes ashes or dust and existence stops there. However, that is a superstition in itself. Why? Because just as you cannot see heaven and hell, you also cannot see what happens to the mental components (consciousness) of a person after his physical body dissolves.

Know that the 6 realms of existence are not worlds that one can only see after death; but they are all here, in our human realm. These other dimensions are present in our current dimension, and those whose frequency is tuned right would be able to perceive them. How is this possible? Remember that all things originate from the Mind. The 6 realms are also in the Mind. Let me take you on a tour through all of them, right here, right now.

Close your eyes. First focus your thoughts on creating happiness for the whole world, through Loving-kindness, Compassion, Appreciative-joy and Equanimity. If your mind is always basking in such wholesome thoughts, then you are already experiencing the bliss of the Deva realm.

Secondly, focus your thoughts on working for the good of your family, your friends and relatives, and even the society and the country. If your mind grasp to these kind of wholesome thoughts, then you will find yourself truly happy in the Human realm.

Thirdly, focus your thoughts on envy for those in a better state than you are, on constant striving, whether mentally or physically, to be like them or even take their place. When the mind is constantly struggling to compete with others better off, you are living in the realm of the Asuras.

Fourthly, focus your thoughts on eating, sleeping and having sex. When one can think of nothing other than these base instincts, you are already one of the Animals.

Fifthly, focus your thoughts on how to satisfy all kinds of cravings, whether it is for food, money, power, fame, sex or pleasure. If the flames of desire burns your mind constantly, so much so you cannot gain even a moment of peace, you have become a real Ghost.

Lastly, focus your thoughts on anger and destroying all those things that stand in the way of the gratification of your desires. If your mind comtemplates violence and death upon other beings, you have just passed through the gates of Hell.

Now contemplate your mental journey through these 6 kind of thoughts. Do you finally see the 6 realms in their true sense? If so, the path of the Dhamma awaits you!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ah How & Leong SC: The Prison of Lust

The Buddhist saying goes:

"One thought can lead us to become the Buddha, one thought can also lead us to become Mara (the Evil One)."

What drives seemingly ordinary men with wives and kids like Took Leng How (Ah How) and Leong Siew Chor to commit cold-blooded murder? None other than the craving of the flesh - lust. Lust is a burning prison just like the other poisons. The former man is young, possesses a high sex drive and living far away from his wife. The latter man is old, never had sex outside of marriage but lusts for something different.

For Ah How, his thoughts are constantly preoccupied with sex while working here in Singapore. These thoughts caused him to develop a perverted lust for a little girl close to him - Huang Na. Such feelings of lust grows stronger and stronger until they could not be contained. As a result, an evil plan formed in Ah How's mind and when the opportunity arrived (Huang Na's mother went back to China), Ah How decided to carry out his dastard crime on little Huang Na. Not wishing to be discovered, he automatically did the next worst thing - silencing the girl by murder. How he disposed of her body and escaped back to Malaysia is history.In Leong SC's case, having worked most of his life away for family and children like most Singaporean men do, a secret lust to expereince something different also grew in his mind. This lust found its place in the person of Liu Hongmei, a nubile young lady from China working under him in the factory. Liu gave in to his advances and Leong succeeded in gratifying his lust. Feeling somewhat satisfied yet guilty, Leong spent a large part of what little money he had to fulfill whatever needs Hongmei has. However things quickly got out of hand when Liu decided to end this sinful relationship. Frugal by nature, and not wishing to let go, another poison arised in Leong's mind - Anger. Filled with Anger, Leong stole Hongmei's ATM card to take back some of the money he had given her. But his anger was not appeased and Leong murdered her the next day. How he dismembered her body in his own house and disposed of it in Kallang River is also history.

These cases again verify the Dhamma of how unwholesome thought leads to woeful karmic results. Although Ah How is still on trial and Leong still in remand, I dare say that both men would not be able to escape the gallows. After their deaths, they would be reborn in Hell to suffer further for their evil deeds. Immense suffering indeed, all caused by their own thoughts of lust. If only sentient beings fully understand the terrible suffering that such unwholesome thoughts bring, nobody would dare to think evil, let alone commit evil. Therein lies the importance of an education in the Dhamma.

TT Durai: The Prison of Egoism

The Anattalakkhana Sutta says:

"Thus, O Bhikkus, all of the 5 aggregates, whether past, present or future, internal or external, coarse or subtle, low or high, far or near, should be understood with the right knowledge and in its true nature - this is not mine, this is not me and this is not my Self."

We all know by now that the ex-NKF chief Durai has lost his position and became totally disgraced in the span of a few short days. He is but a victim of his own conceit.
In the Dhamma, there are 5 poisons that cage the Mind and bind us the to never-ending wheel of Samsara. These are namely, Craving, Anger, Ignorance, Egoism and Doubt. All of them are prisons that compels the Mind to create negative karma and increase the suffering that we experience. Of the 5 poisons, ignorance is the root and chief poison. All sentient beings are blinded by their own fundamental and fluctuating ignorance, and from there arises the other poisons. In Durai's case, ignorance cause him to believe the way he was running NKF and using its money are perfectly justified. Due to this wrong belief, egoistic conceit grew in his mind and cause him to think he was invincible. This unwholesome mental condition is not helped by the fact that he is backed by a supportive, but equally ignorant Board and continued donations from the public. Besides that, he had successfully sued fly weights in the past for exposing his erroneous deeds and made them pay damages. All these caused his mind to brim over with conceit, so much so that he foolishly challenged a heavy weight like SPH for doing the same thing. That was the beginning of Hell for Durai, and SPH's lawyer, Davinder Singh is his tormentor. Having abused the trust of the public and misused their donations for his own extravagances, the shame he suffers now is merely the least of the karmic fruits that he would bear as a result. Indeed, unless he repents and gives away all wealth that does not rightfully belong to him, his future existence lies in the animal realm. He would most probably be reborn as a buffalo or a horse, destined to slog his whole life until all the money he owes the people of Singapore is repaid. Such is the price to pay for conceited thought. We should thus learn from Durai's example and guard our minds from conceit, sadhu.

The Power of Prophecy

Why are those with meditative powers able to know the causes of events big and small, as well as predict the future? The scriptures say:

" Sentient beings are afraid of the fruits, whereas the Bodhisattvas are afraid of the seeds (of karma) themselves."

These seeds of karma, cause and effect, are the wholesome and unwholesome thoughts that form in the Mind, borned out of fundamental ignorance (avijja). Man is born to think. He thinks this and that endlessly from birth until death. These thoughts that concoct endlessly are called fluctuating ignorance. Those who practice the Dhamma are careful to watch over the mind, preventing unwholesome thoughts from being nurtured. Because one unwholesome thought leads to another, spreading quickly and eventually enveloping the Mind. When the Mind is totally seized by unwholesome thought, it would compel a person to speak unwholesome speech and do unwholesome deeds, resulting in woeful karmic results. This is true for one single person as well as many people. The Bodhisattva could perceive the negative thoughts that form in the Mind of one person, or similar thoughts in a majority of people. Through Panna (intrinsic wisdom), he is able to see what corresponding chain of events these thoughts set forth, and the chain reactions as a result. That is how the Bodhisattva is able to see the future of one person, one country or even the whole world. Inversely, when he sees the woeful fruits that sentient beings suffer, he is also able to perceive through Panna the original thoughts that lead to such a state.

Han Fei Zi, the Legalist philoshopher of the Warring States period , wrote in his book:

"In the past, when Ji Zi, the minister of King Zhou (the last ruler of the Yin Dynasty), saw him using ivory chopsticks, he immediately became very afraid. A retainer asked him why. Ji Zi explained that if the King start using ivory chopsticks, he would not be satisfied with clay plates and cups, but insist on plates and cups of jade. When he start to use jade utensils, he would not be satified with meals of vegetables and rice, but insist on being served meat from cows, elephants and even leopards. When he start to eat such exotic meats, he would not be satisfied with simple robes of cotton and hemp, but insist on robes of silk and satin. Wearing silk and satin robes, he would not be satisfied with eating in a straw hut but insist on eating in a dining room of a high pavillion. If things come to such a stage, then their country is in great danger. True enough, the Yin Dynasty was overthrown 5 years after Ji Zi said those words. That is why those who can read minute signs are considered wise."

Even past sages of the worldy truth have such powers of prophecy, how much more so for the enlightened ones, who sees the absolute truth?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

What is the Dhamma?

The Sages say:

"Dhamma is the Mind, Buddha is also the Mind.
There is no difference between the Buddha & the Dhamma."

"Heaven & Hell is in the Mind, and so is Nibbana."

"All things originate from the Mind."

Thus one who sees the true nature of the Mind sees the Dhamma, and also the Buddha. This is known as Enlightenment, Awakening, the Absolute Truth, Bodhi, Nibbana; whatever you call it, they are only names. The truth cannot be described with words, understood by logic or reached by thought & sophistry. It is beyond all duality and mental conceptions. It is everywhere and yet nowhere; it is everything and yet nothing. Only the enlightened can know it.

So how can we reach enlighenment? Meditation is the door, and Wisdom is the key. This is the Path of the Dhamma that we will study here.