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.