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.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Fountain of Beer

The Book of Great Learning says:

"Before the Yin (Dynasty) came to an end,
Its decadance was as high as Heaven;
Taking the example of Yin,
Know that it is never easy to maintain the Mandate of Heaven."

In Harbin, China, the local "Happy" brand beer plant had recently used 90 tonnes of beer to build a great fountain right in the city's main recreation centre. This is the first "Fountain of Beer" in China (and perhaps the world) ever built. This monument had met with harsh criticism from the people of Harbin city as extremely wasteful and decadent.
This reminds me of the the last days of the ancient Yin Dynasty (around 1100BC), where the inhumane King Zhou built a Forest of Meat and Pool of Wine to frolic and swim in with his concubine Da Ji. Like the end of many dynasties, the last rulers were enjoying themselves totally without restraint whereas the people were starving and dying. Not long after that, the Yin Dynasty was overthrown by the Zhou Dynasty. Ever since that time, the Chinese idiom of "Wine Pool Meat Forest" has been used to describe the peak of decadence. Whenever any civilization reach such a stage, a revolution to overthrow it becomes inevitable.

China has came a long way since the first economic reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. Now it is already a rising dragon, and its annual GDP surpasses every other nation in the world except for the US. But with such progress also brings a lot of negative and corrupt practices, which will over time, destroy the fabric of the nation itself. A good example is the massive waste of food and beverage by rich and powerful people in every part of China. Just take the above fountain with 90 tonnes of beer! Can you calculate how many thirsty mouths it can feed? People in other parts of the world are dying of hunger and thirst and yet this "Happy" plant is treating so much drinkable beer like sewage water. Woeful indeed is the wasteful and extravagant man, for he has sowed the seeds of poverty and starvation for himself. Such a decadent monument is merely the tip of the iceberg, signifying a small aspect of the unseen state of decay behind China's rapid growth. Rampant corruption and widespread unrest are also troubling the communist government for many years, but they only know how to clamp down on problems with an iron fist. They do not see what is the real root of their problems or how to treat it. History moves in a cycle and almost always repeats itself; if these trends are not checked, in less than 20 years the current government will very likely be overthrown, like so many other ruling dynasties before it. The worldly Dhamma is such that Devas and Humans alike hate the wasteful and extravagant and respect the thrifty and contented person, for this is a sign that the craving in his mind is well under control. So let us take caution and guard our minds against decadence; let us be content and thrifty always, sadhu.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Heng Shu the "Nun"

The Lotus Sutra say:

"All the 3 realms (of desire, form & formlessness) are houses on fire;
One who does not leave the burning houses quickly will be destroyed along with them."

Heng Shu (shown above) is a famous or perhaps infamous celebrity Buddhist Nun in Taiwan, who also happens to be the sister of veteran entertainers Zhang Fei (Fei Ge) and Fei Yuqing. What is so famous about her? Not much, except that she watches porn movies, play mahjong, rear dogs, eat meat, join online chats, do aerobics, yachting and play golf etc.. the list goes on. In other words, she does not look or behave like a nun at all, except for the shaven head and prayer beads.

Many people wonder why she behave the way she does; most criticize her for being at best, a sideshow or at worst, a heretic of the religion. She herself believes she is practicing what is known as the worldly Dhamma - meaning whatever she does is for the purpose of realizing the Truth. Although we all understand that the truth is omnipresent in all things, but unfortunately there are also many heretical teachers and religious con-men who abuse people's faith in a similar fashion, for their own selfish purposes. So how can we know who are the real Bodhisattvas and who are just servants of Mara (the evil one), out to destroy the Buddha's teachings?

The answer lies with only one thing - the analytical power of Panna. Real Bodhisattvas may utilize countless skillful means, even those that are against the basic percepts, to teach sentient beings the absolute truth. However, in the end they would still lead them to the Dhamma. For servants of Mara, they just pretend to use similar means, but when people are hooked to certain negative actions, they will leave them to face the consequences of their own actions themselves. Only one who has seen the Buddha-nature and attained enlightenment can use the appropriate skillful means. If a monk or any practitioner who is unenlightened tries to imitate, he or she will surely end up at the gates of hell for gravely misleading oneself and others.
All being said, it is up the the individual to decide what to make of Heng Shu. Her non-religious activites seem to serve no real purpose other than for her own amusement. If indeed all these reports are true, Heng Shu will be one of many deviant monks and nuns waiting in queue to enter Hell soon!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Fruit Spirits

The Vajrasekhara Sutra says:

"Estacy, Love, Contact, Embracing are all the Bodhisattva's path;
All defilements are fundamentally no different from the pure Buddha body."

A recent report from Segamat, Malaysia, tells us that "Fruit Spirits" are strange human-shaped fruits originating from the deep mountainous trees in the Northern Thailand and Laos border regions. Picked and consecrated by Dhutanga (Ascetic) monks wandering in those mountains, they are sometimes given to lay followers as an auspicious gift to be venerated at home. These Fruit Spirits are believed to bring luck and wealth to the faithful.

One of the owners of these fruit spirtis, Mr Deng from the Segamat Buddhadhamma Society related that the trees that grow such human-shaped fruits bear fruit only once in a few years. Most of the fruits are shaped like a woman and only a rare few are shaped like a man. Besides being woman-shaped, the facial features of these fruits (shown above) are also clear and distinguishable, and they even appear to be wearing holy robes on their bodies. Mr Deng was given 5 such fruits by a Dhutanga monk on a past occasion, and 2 of them (a man and a woman) have been brought back to the house of one of their members. Now they have only 3 left at the society. Although there have been people from other parts of Malaysia, and even Singapore asking to buy their remaining fruit spirits, Mr Deng have so far rejected all requests, prefering to keep them on display for the public.

Mr Deng also told reporters that according to legend, long ago there was a couple whose love for each other was thwarted by unfortunate circumstances, and decided to commit suicide together in the end. After their death, their spirits (belonging to the Ghost realm) continue to dwell in the trees where they died. As they cultivated their spiritual powers, they became tree deities and the trees in which they dwell started to bear such man and woman-shaped fruits - signifying their physical and spiritual union. These fruits contain the essense of their union and thus possess the ability to help lovers and people in trouble. After being blessed by the Dhutanga monks and converted to the Dhamma, they also become guardian deities for lay followers who have an affinity with them.

All sentient beings are fettered by thoughts of love and lust, which are manifestations of fluctuating ignorance. Yet in order to shatter fundamental ignorance and reach Nibbana, these emotions can sometimes be used as an expedient method of practice to clear obstacles on the path to Enlightenment. That is why all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and even Arahants have spiritual partners of the opposite sex assisting and practicing with them through the eons, right until they attain the ultimate goal. After they become enlightened, they will dutifully help their spiritual partners reach the same goal as they have, out of gratitude for their timeless support. Yashodhara, the Buddha's consort when he was still a Prince, is a good example of such a faithful female partner. She later became an Arahant also when the Buddha went back to Kapilavastu to teach the Dhamma to his family and kinsmen, the Sakyas. Taking the Buddha's example, and the example of the Fruit Spirits, we should always respect and be thankful to our spiritual partners, for without them we may never attain enlightenment.