Sunday, December 17, 2006

Peculiar Photos taken in Thailand

The Avatamsaka Sutra says:

"The Buddha's body fills all things,
Appearing universally before all sentient beings;
Depending on causation & responding to feeling it never fails,
Yet always remaining in the seat of Enlightenment."

One day at 11.30am, 13-5-2005, inside the Nanshan tourist area of Sanya in Hainan Island, China, the skys quickly turned into a deep blue colour. Five mins later an incredible halo of light started to appear in the sky right about the great 3-sided standing Guanyin statue by the sea (as seen in the photo above). It lasted for around 40 mins & almost a thousand tourists witnessed this amazing sight. Those with cameras snapped incessantly, & Buddhists & non-Buddhists alike were filled with awe. Was it a manifestation of Guanyin like the Buddhists believe? Or was is a natural phenomena caused by changing climate & evaporation like the scientists say? Those who understand the Dharmakaya will see that these 2 explanations are not in contradiction with each other.

There was a small report on the above incident in the Chinese papers last year, but I think not many people could remember it. So I would like to show you 2 photos of mine taken in Thailand in recent times. This photo of LP Tuad's wax statue, taken at one of the the shrine halls of Wat Pako in Songkhla, is where they hold the sacred crystal orb given to him by a Naga when he was still a baby. Notice the many white orbs of light floating about in the picture. They cannot be found in any of the other photos that I have taken at Wat Pako. Many people believe these orbs of lights to be spirits, invisible to the naked eye but sometimes able to be captured by the camera. I do believe that wherever there is a site of great power, there tend to be many invisible beings assembling there to pray & pay homage, just like us humans. Cynics will say they are lighting & camera faults, but unless they can provide strong scientific evidence proving otherwise, why should anybody take their word for it?
Another photo I found special is this Chedi taken at Wat Arun in Bangkok. See the dark purple orb in the sky on the left side of the photo? What could it be? Perhaps the Sun, but the Sun could not be purple in colour right? Could it be some sort of Deva? Its glory does surpass the small white orbs seen above by many times. I leave this for readers to ponder themselves.

A Glimpse of the Buddha-nature

The Avatamsaka Sutra says:

"Such as the True Thusness, which is a body of shining light."

A couple of days ago, while dozing in my chair, I had experienced for myself what the above verse means. My mind was in a dreaming state when suddenly I found myself engulfed by a nimitta (mental image) of very powerful light, covering the entire dream universe. For a short period of perhaps 10 secs, I experienced a profound bliss, something which I have never experienced before in my life. Could this be the infinite light of our true mind, the Buddha-nature? Is this the same light that people see when they have near-death experiences (NDE) or when they first enter the Bardo state (described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead) after death?

Whatever it is, it was quickly over and my mind fall back into its normal dreaming state, after which I woke up in a short while. I believe the entire episode only lasted a few minutes, but it left a deep impression on my mind.

I read in the past when some practitioners experience this clear light they find themselves losing all sense of time & space. One guy related that he was walking to his car in the car park from his office when he suddenly had this awakening experience. His conceptional mind was dissolved at the moment and a walk that normally took 5 mins was reduced to like, a few seconds. This is also the same as meditators who enter Jhana for hours, but they themselves thought that it was only a few mins. Here is a story to illustrate this point:

One autumn, Ven Xuyun was travelling with a companion when he decided to rest in an abandoned hut for the night. He started a fire to boil water inside the hut, but while waiting for the water to boil, his mind converged into Samadhi there & then. When Ven Xuyun came out of the state, the fire was long dead and the water in the pot was already frozen, because it was already winter! Not knowing what happened he asked his companion who happened to be sitting nearby. The companion informed Xuyun that he had been sitting by the fire place for more than a month. Knowing that he would eventually "wake up", & not wishing to leave him just like that, the monk had somehow waited in the vincity faithfully all this time. Ven Xuyun was quite surprised to hear that, but he also had new found respect for his companion. This story tells us that the true mind is beyond all physical laws. Concepts of size, distance, time, space cease to exist, overrided by the omniscient & omnipresent virtues of the Buddha-nature.

The Buddha & all the Noble Ones must have experienced the same thing when they attained enlightenment, but at a much more intense & permanant level. I may still have a long way to go, but surely I too, will attain enlightenment in this lifetime if I never give up my Dharma practice. Let us all work hard.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Holy Wars & the End of the World

The Dhammapada says:

"Just as one would look upon a bubble,
Just as one would look upon a mirage;
If a person thus looks upon the world,
The Lord of Death sees him not."

All religions, especially monothestic ones like Islam & Christianity talk about Holy Wars & the End of the World. But what about Buddhism, which does not believe in violence or an Almighty God that creates & destroys the world? Surprisingly, there are such concepts in Buddhism, but they are nothing like what the other religions conceive them to be.

In Buddhism, the only "holy war" is the war with your own mental defilements like craving, hatred & ignorance. But unlike other wars, we do not seek to destroy these enemies, which are in reality part of ourselves. When we practice the Dharma, we seek to transform our defilements, not fight with them. Thus craving becomes contentment, hatred becomes compassion & ignorance becomes wisdom. In this way a sentient being is no different from the Buddha.

There is a also a concept of the end of the world, but the end is not really the end because all worlds go through the 4 stages of becoming & dissolving in an infinite cycle, in the same way as sentient beings live & die again & again in Samsara. However, the lifespan of our world is so long that the end is unimaginable to an unenlightened mind. Currently, we are in the Bhadda Kappa (Virtuous Aeon) and there would be 1000 Buddhas appearing in this aeon. From Kakusandha Buddha to our current Shakyamuni Buddha, only 4 Buddhas have appeared, and there are 996 more to come. From one Buddha to the next, there is an in-between period of around 5.76 billion yrs (according to the scriptures). Since no human can ever live to see the next Buddha - Maitreya, let alone all the other future Buddhas of the age, worrying about the end of the world is totally pointless.

What is really important is for us humans is to make the best use of our present existence to try to reach, or at least get as close as possible to Nibbana, the end of suffering; otherwise our time on earth would have been wasted. Once our fleeting lives come to an end at any time, we may no longer have a chance to hear & practice the Dharma in our next existence. Who knows how long do we have to suffer in the Samsaric cycle before we are reborn in favourable circumstances again?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thai Abbot arrested for roasting baby corpses

The Wanbao paper yesterday (01-12-2006) reported that a Thai abbot (pic shown above) from Roi Et province in Northeast Thailand (Isan) was arrested for roasting 2 baby corpses (indicated by the arrow) to make Lukkok. These Lukkok are then sold to businessmen as child spirits to attract wealth, for as much as 10,000 baht per corpse. This case reminded me of the necromancer Nain Ae, who was jailed years ago for a similar offence.

This abbot is around 60 yrs old & has been a monk for 30 years. He has 2 disciples living in the temple with him, 1 male & 1 female. According to the paper, the abbot does not beg for alms, chant & meditate like normal monks, but instead he had travelled widely to neighbouring countries like Laos, Cambodia & Burma to learn Black Magic. After the baby corpses were roasted, he would use his knowledge of the dark arts to transform them into Lukkok. This macarbe practice was discovered when the police visited their small temple for a routine check. Apparently the abbot has been doing it for some time, but his karma has finally caught up with him & now he has to face the legal consequences of doing things like that.

The Vinaya says:

"Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as:

..offering blood-sacrifices;
making predictions based on the fingertips;
laying demons in a cemetery;
placing spells on spirits;
reciting house-protection charms..

The Bhikku abstains from such wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these."

When a person puts on the saffron robe of the Sangha, yet practices such lowly arts such as black magic for a living, he is really without any sense of shame. Instead of training his body, speech & mind in the Dharma, he roasts babies to sell to foolish lay people. Mired in the swamp of wrong livelihood, does he not realize that the demons of Hell are also waiting to roast him after he dies? Woeful indeed!

In the Dharma Ending Age, the servants & children of Mara are everywhere, including those who have infiltrated into the Sangha and tries to destroy it from within. If we are ignorant enough to follow such imposters, we invite suffering upon ourselves for nothing. The importance of finding the right teacher in the Buddha Dharma can not be stressed enough.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Commentary to the Heart Sutra Part 3

A Bodhisattva, relying on this Prajna Paramita, is free from all hindrances as they too, are empty.

1. The Prajna Paramita that can be relied on is not the real Prajna Paramita. If a Bodhisattva needs to rely on anything at all, then we should kick him out of the window! We ourselves are Prajna Paramita; complete with all Dharmas, lacking in nothing. Why speak as if it is something outside for us to depend on? If we think that there is something to rely on, then we will forever be seeking external objects & be blind to our own Buddha-nature. This is the path of Samsara.

Ven Linji once went to visit Bodhidharma's tomb. The keeper asked him:
"Does the Ven wish to pray to the Buddha first, or to the Patriach (Bodhidharma)?"
Linji: "I will neither pray to the Buddha, nor to the Patriach."
Keeper: "What grievances to you have with the Buddha & the Patriach?"
At this point, Linji laughed, shook down his sleeves and left, leaving the keeper in puzzlement.

The Buddha & the Patriach both taught us to look within our own minds for the Truth; how could Linji do otherwise?

2. The hindrances generally refer to (a) sensual desire, (b) ill-will, (c) sloth & torpor, (d) restlessness & remorse, (e) sceptical doubt. They hinder one from seeing the true nature of the mind, for they are manifestations of Avijja. But if a person can in an instant, realize directly that there is no mind, then what can these hindrances hinder? That's why the 6th Patriach said that:

"Bodhi has no tree,
The Bright Mirror is not a stand;
Intrinsically there is nothing,
Where can dust alight?"

If one has a mind, one is sure to have mental dust; when one has mental dust, one is sure to have 84,000 kinds of kleshas. One may sweep off the dust now & then, but after a while new dust gathers once more. This is just another a never-ending cycle which is not in line with the Dharma. Like trying to cut a fountain of water with a sword, you will never succeed as new water constantly flows out from the source. Why not go directly to the source? That is the only way to go!

Free from all fear and apart from inverted views, he reaches Final Nirvana.

1. This fear refers to the fear of birth & death, the fear of suffering. When one realizes all encompassing emptiness, birth & death becomes non-dual with cessation. Whether one comes or goes, the Buddha-nature remains unmoved. Like an illusionary man created by an illusionist, the illusionist feels no fear at all with the arising & dissappearing of the illusion. This is because he knows that the man is intrinsically unreal.

2. Inverted views refer to the 62 wrong views, consisting of the 5 aggregates considered under the 3 eras of past, present & future. In the past, each aggregate may be permanant, impermanant, both & neither (5 x 4). In the present, each aggregate may be finite, infinite, both or neither (5 x 4). In the future, each aggregate may continue, discontinue, both or neither (5 x 4). That adds up to 60. Plus the 2 views that the body & mind is either united or separate, we have the 62 wrong views. However after one sees the Buddha-nature, the 5 aggregates return to emptiness, as well as all concepts of time & space. Thus all the 62 wrong views can no longer be established.

3. Final Nirvana refers to Parinirvana or Nirvana without remainder. Contrary to what most people understand, Parinirvana does not refer to the manifestation of death of the enlightened ones, but the Unborn & Undying virtue of the Buddha-nature. Thus the Vimalakirti sutra says:

"All Dharmas fundamentally do not arise,
And thus they also do not enter into cessation;
That is the meaning of Nirvana."

The Parinirvana Sutra says:

"The teaching of Impermanance,
Still falls under the realm of duality;
Only when duality is no more,
Can one realize the bliss of Nirvana."

As such, all duality, birth & death & the 5 aggregates are absorbed back into the Absolute & simply become means for the Dharma to reveal itself to sentient beings. That is why the enlightened being lives in complete freedom, doing anything he wishes, preaching only when the opportunity arises & passing away in any manner & at any time he chooses. Like a jester, the Bodhisattva displays various activities among the world as if they are games, but in these games contain the direction that leads beings to the highest truth.

In the past Ven Long Tan went to study Zen with Ven Tian Huang. After staying for a long time, Long Tan asked Tian Huang:
"Master, after coming here, I've yet to receive any instruction from you."
Huang: "Since you came here, I've never neglected instructing you in the essence of the mind before."
Tan: "Where have you given me any instructions?"
Huang: "When you bring me a cup of tea, I drink it. When you bring me my meals, I eat them. When you salute me, I nod my head. Where have I not given you instructions?"
Tan lowered his head to think about what his master said. At this point Huang shouted:
"To see the Truth, you must see it right now! If you try to think then it is already gone!"
Tan attained enlightenment upon hearing these words.

Thus you see that there is not a single moment that the Bodhisattva does not teach the Dharma, but sentient beings simply could not catch the hint!

All Buddhas of the 3 eras (past, present and future) also rely on Prajna Paramita to attain anuttara-samya-ksambodhi (complete enlightenment).

1. What are the Buddhas of the 3 eras? The past thought does not arise is the past Buddha. The present thought does not stay is the present Buddha. The future thought does not cease is the future Buddha. The Diamond Sutra says:

"The past mind cannot be found,
The present mind cannot be found;
The future mind also cannot be found."

That which neither arises, abides nor ceases is the true Buddha - your own Buddha-nature.

2. The Buddhas do not rely on Prajna Paramita. Why? They themselves are Prajna, they themselves are Paramita! If they still need to rely on anything at all, then they cannot be called Buddhas.

In the Manjusri Prajna Paramita Sutra, the Buddha asked Manjusri:
"Have you gained all-prevading wisdom?"
Manjusri: "I myself am this all-pervading wisdom. Why would I need to seek it anywhere else?"

This sutra is full of traps. If you are not sharp enough, you will fall right into them and cannot escape.

3. There's no Dharma called anuttara-samya-ksambodhi or complete enlightenment. What more for its attainment? All there exist are names without any real meaning at all. The Buddha said:

"If I have gained any Dharma at all from Dipankara Buddha, then Dipankara Buddha would never have given me his prophecy (of future Buddhahood)."

Nothing gained, nothing attained, nothing lost, nothing denied. That is the true meaning of complete enlightenment.

Therefore know that Prajna Paramita is the great divine mantra,

1. Mantra are syllables & words of Truth that contain immense power, able to alter the conventional laws of reality when spoken by the right person. The Nobles Ones, sometimes even ordinary people, were able to perform what we perceive as miracles by reciting certain words of Truth. However, in this case, Mantra refer to all the inconceivable Dharma that issue forth from our Buddha-nature. This Mantra is wordless, formless, featureless and One with the Absolute. The sutras say:

"Only the Enlightened & other Enlightened Ones can know it."

2. Great divine mantra refers to the supernormal powers of the Buddha-nature. Traditionally, there are 6 supernormal powers. But these powers have a different meaning when discerned by Prajna Paramita. Ven Huihai once said:

"The Divine & Complete Buddha-nature,
Is omnipresent in all the infinite world systems;
Be there mountains, rivers, rocks or walls,
It comes & goes without obstruction."

i) Divine eye - all that one sees is the unborn & undying nature of the mind. The scriptures say:

"See that the mind is without appearance, see that the Buddha is no different."

ii) Divine ear - all that one hears is the Dharma of the Absolute. The scriptures say:

"The grass, the birds & the forests; all of them can recite the Dharma."

iii) Knowledge of the minds of others - knowing that all the minds of sentient beings are no different from the minds of the Buddhas. Upon his enlightenment, the Buddha exclaimed:

"Wonder of wonders! All sentient beings possess the wisdom-virtue of the Tathagata, yet they cannot see it due to their own kleshas!"

iv) Transformation at will - the complete freedom of the Buddha-nature to reveal itself through any worldly or non-wordly means. The scriptures say:

"Every plant & tree, every grain of sand & stone;
Not a single object here is apart from the Bodhisattva's manifestations."

v) Knowledge of past lives & future destiny - knowing that all the Buddhas & Patriaches of the past, present & future have & will continue to walk the same path, understand the same Truth & preach the same doctrine; for there is no Dharma other than the Mind. The scriptures say:

"All the Buddhas of the 3 eras, share the same Dharmakaya."

vi) Freedom without remainder from the wheel of Samsara - understanding without a doubt that the Mind is Samsara, the Mind is Nirvana, the Mind neither comes nor goes, increases of decreases. No less than the dissolving of all duality & complete realization of emptiness. The Dhammapada says:

"Dwelling in the cave (of the heart),
The mind, without form, wanders far and alone.
Those who subdue this mind,
Are liberated from the bonds of Mara."

These are the 6 supernormal powers of the Buddha-nature, the great divine mantra.

the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra.

1. Bright in this verse refers to the brightness of 3 Vijja or super knowledges. What are these 3? They are actually part of the 6 supernormal powers explained earlier, namely:

i) Divine Eye
ii) Knowledge of past lives & future destiny
iii) Freedom without remainder from Samsara

The difference between the power & the knowledge is that the latter is far more penetrative than the former, because is no longer hindered by coarse or even subtle kleshas, thereby regaining its full clarity. Worldly yogis, rishis & devas may also have supernormal powers, but only the enlightened ones possess the 3 super knowledges. In the case of Prajna Paramita, however, there is no such difference. The powers & knowledges of the Buddha-nature are completely One.

Once there was a Rishi who have attained the 5 supernormal powers 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?"

The 6th Power, the 3rd Knowledge, Prajna Paramita, all refer to the same thing. Do you know what is it?

2. Supreme refers to the omnipresent quality of Prajna Paramita. There is nothing above it or outside of it. Like the Avatamsaka Sutra said:

"Such as the True Thusness, which is present in all places.
Transference of good roots is likewise,
In a single thought moment, it reaches all world systems."

Because the nature of the mind is such, it can reach places like the Pure Land of Amitabha in a single instant, even though it is "10 billion world systems" away from our Saha world. If the mind was not so, then all our practices would have been in vain. Thus, you can see that space & distance are merely illusions.

3. Incomparable refers to the quality of omniscience. Because all Buddhas & sentient beings share the same Buddha-nature, they also share the same infinite wisdom. In terms of the Absolute, the mind, the Buddhas & sentient beings are One. Why is this so? Because in the Absoulte there is no Mind, no Buddhas & no sentient beings. Thus the scriptures say:

"Prajna in Unknowing,
Yet there is nothing it does not know.
Prajna is Unseeing,
Yet there is nothing it does not see."

Profound indeed is Prajna Paramita. There is nothing comparable to it in the entire Dharmadhatu. If you can see directly into where there is no mind, then this whole universe will become your playground.

Able to remove all suffering, because it is one with reality & free from all falsehood.

1. It removes all suffering because it shatters false clinging to a sufferer. When there is no sufferer, where can you find suffering?

Once Ven Baizhang & Ven Mazu were strolling together in an open field. Suddenly a bunch of wild geese flew by overhead. Mazu asked Baizhang:
"What are those?"
Baizhang: "Wild geese."
Mazu: "Where are they now?"
Baizhang: "Flew away."
Suddenly, Mazu pinched Baizhang's nose as hard as he possibly could. Baizhang screamed in pain!
Mazu: "Clearly still around! Since when did it flew away?"
Baizhang was immediately awakened after hearing these words.

Baizhang realized at that point that which does not suffer. Can you also see it?

2. What does it mean by being real & free from falsehood? Ven Xuanjue said:

"The freed cultivator who ceases all learning & becomes non-active,
Does not remove false thought nor does he seek reality.
The nature of fundamental ignorance is the Buddha-nature,
The illusionary & empty body is the Dharma body (Dharmakaya)."

All falsehood becomes reality in the absence of discrimination. Why? Because both falsehood & reality is not apart from emptiness. As such, there is neither falsehood nor reality - that is the true reality! Besides this true reality, I still have one more piece of Dharma to share with you. What is it? The tree behind my house is almost 90 feet tall.

To recite the Prajna-paramita mantra, say it thus:
"Ga-te, ga-te, para-ga-te, para-sam-ga-te, bodhi svaha."

Ah yes, the final part of the Heart Sutra, to recite that which is beyond words. Ga-te is a Sanskrit word meaning "Gone". Gone where? Gone to where there is neither coming nor going, where there is no birth & death, no entanglement & no liberation. Para-gate means "Gone beyond" & Para-sam-gate means "Totally gone beyond". Bodhi means enlightenment, svaha means to acheive. The whole verse of mantra means "To achieve enlightenment when you have totally gone beyond". The key word here is Ga-te. All the rest are merely emphasis words for the word Ga-te. If people ask you whether there is a single word that contains the essense of the whoe Heart Sutra, say there is none. But if they are still not satisfied, tell them it is the word Ga-te. If they ask for instruction on how to practice, tell them to meditate on the meaning of Ga-te. This is the final skillful means taught by the Heart Sutra. Remember it well!

With that, we have come to the end of this commentary. Although not a single word has been said, may it still be beneficial to all beings who bother to read it. May the blessings of all Buddhas be unto you all.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Commentary to the Heart Sutra Part 2

Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty. They are beyond birth and death, impurity or purity, increase or decrease;

1. Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty - of things that owe their existence to causes & conditions, they are empty of any real nature, like illusions, like mirages, like echos. Whether they last one split second, or even if they last thousands of kalpas, in the end all dissolve back into emptiness. The Diamond Sutra said:

"Of all conditioned things,
They are like dreams, bubbles, shadows;
Like dew & like lightning,
So should you perceive them."

Because they are empty, they cannot be grasped to. That which cannot be grasped is no different from the Buddha-nature.

2. They are beyond birth & death, impurity or purity, increase or decrease - the body of the Buddha is adamantine in nature. It is fundamentally unborn, & thus also undying. Being free from impurity, thus it also need no purity. Originally perfect, how can there be any increase or decrease? What is this Buddha body? None other than your own true mind! The 6th Patriach said:

"Who would have thought that the Self-nature, is intrinsically pure!

Who would have thought that the Self-nature, is intrinsically free from birth & death!

Who would have thought that the Self-nature, is intrinsically self-sufficient!

Who would have thought that the Self-nature, is intrinsically immovable!

Who would have thought that the Self-nature,can produce all Dharmas!"

Absolute is the Buddha-nature; Relative are birth, death, impurity, purity, increase & decrease. There is no room for the Relative in the Absolute, because all relative things that come into contact with the absolute are transformed into the absolute. Like snow flakes melting into a burning stove, or like smelling only the fragrance of jasmine when you enter a jasmine grove. The Buddha-nature is called Absolute as it is the ultimate reality. It stands on its own without need for any relative truths or what is known as duality. That which is non-dual is the Prajna Paramita of the Buddhas.

Because in emptiness there is no form, no feeling, perception, habit and consciousness. No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. No vision, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought. No sphere of vision and so forth, not even a sphere of consciousness.

1. Because in emptiness - refers to the Absolute, the Buddha-nature, the true mind. There is nothing outside of it, yet it is neither within, without or in-between.

Ven Guishen once asked Ven Wenyi:
"See that big rock in the garden. You said that everything is within the mind; so is that rock within your mind, or without?"
Wenyi: "Within my mind."
Guishen: "You are a wandering monk & should travel light. Why carry such a big rock in your mind when you travel about?"

Wenyi was not able to reply. He stay with Guishen for more than a month to contemplate, but could not come to any realization. Finally when he ran out of answers completely, Guishen gave him a relevation:

"If we talk about the Dharma, everything is in the present moment."

Wenyi attained enlightenment upon hearing that, & went on to become the founder of the Fayan branch of Chan Buddhism.

2. There is no form, no feeling, perception, habit and consciousness - the 5 aggregates cannot stand within the Absolute.

3. No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind - refers to our 6 sense organs.

4. No vision, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought - refers to the 6 sense objects.

5. No sphere of seeing and so forth, not even a sphere of consciousness - refers to the 6 sense spheres. When you break down the aggregates into subject & object, you get these 18 spheres. The 6 sense organs are the subject of Form, & the 6 sense objects are the object. When they interact with each other, you get the 6 sense spheres. From their interaction produces feeling, perception, habit & consciouness. No matter how you break them down, they still cannot stand within the Absolute. Mind, Buddha, Sentient beings; these are merely false names & also have no place in the Buddha-nature. Thus Ven Zhaozhou said:

"I don't like to hear the word Buddha!"

That being said, know that the nature of these 5 aggregates & 18 spheres are not apart from the Buddha-nature. Because they are empty, they are also non-arising & non-ceasing. Before we are enlightened, these aggregates & spheres are ruled by Avijja, creating all sorts of karma which causes Samsaric suffering. But after we are enlightened, they are dissolved back into the Absolute & simply become instruments for the Buddha-nature to reveal itself. Thus Ven Baozhi said:

"The Great Way is right before you,
Yet it is difficult for you to see it;
If you wish to know the body of the Great Way,
Do not seek them apart from form, sound & language."

The body of the Dharma cannot be grapsed, just as the body of all things are empty and also cannot be grasped. Thus it is called "Nothing". Yet within this nothing contains infinite wisdom & applications. Whether body or application, they are still One & the same thing, don't you see?

No ignorance or its extinction, not even aging and death and their extinction.

1. This verse refers to the 12 causal links of existence, namely: avijja (ignorance) - mental formations - consciousness - mind & matter - 6 sense bases - contact - feeling - craving - clinging - becoming - birth - aging & death. These links binds us to the wheel of samsara, leading us through the never-ending cycle of birth & death. The root cause of these 12 links is Avijja & it has been obscuring the Buddha-nature since time immemorial. Like the Buddha-nature, Avijja is without a beginning. But unlike the Buddha-nature, it can come to an end. Once Avijja is shattered, all the 12 causal links collapses; for they too cannot stand within the Absolute. Despite having obscured the true mind for so long, Avijja could not affect the purity of the Buddha-nature even one bit. All the infinite past lives of samsaric wandering appear to be like yesterday night's dreams. Once Avijja is shattered, there is no chance of it ever coming back, just as an enlightened person will never become deluded again. The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment says:

"Good man, it is like refining a piece of gold ore. The gold within does not come from refining, but once gold ore is refined into pure gold, it never becomes ore again. No matter how much time have passed, the nature of gold does not deteoriate. Thus you should not say it is not perfect from the beginning. The Complete Enlightenment of the Buddhas is no different."

Gold ore refers to the Buddha-nature obscured by Avijja, & pure gold refers to the Buddha-nature itself.

2. Those who realize enlightenment by themselves, breaking Avijja without any guidance are called Paccekas or Solitary Buddhas. Although they are enlightened, their enlightenment is incomplete because they still have a subtle clinging to the aspect of cessation in the Buddha-nature. They see only the body of emptiness, but they do not see its infinite applications. Thus they become stagnant, losing their inherent Prajna and are unable to preach the Dharma to others. Although the scriptures say they are superior to the Savakas, in the eyes of the Absolute they are no different - both are rotten seeds, content with dwelling in illusionary cities instead of the true mansion of the Tathagatas. Thus the Lotus Sutra says:

"In all the Buddha-lands,
There is only One vehicle;
Neither a second or third exists,
For they are only skillful means."

What is that One vehicle? None other than your present mind!

No suffering, no origin of suffering, no extinction and no path.

1. This refers to the 4 Noble Truths. But they too cannot stand within the Absolute. Why is this so? Because Suffering can only be ebstablished upon a Sufferer. When you cannot find a self or even a no-self, what more for the concept of a sufferer? Thus you see that the Noble Truths that the Savakas rely upon to reach Nibbana are by themselves without any real nature, what more for the fruits of their path? That's why when Emperor Liang Wudi asked Bodhidharma:

"What is the highest meaning of the Noble Truths?"
His reply was: "Vast emptiness, nothing noble."
Wudi: "Who is the one speaking to me then?"
Bodhidharma: "I do not know."

Bodhidharma honestly revealed the Absolute to Wudi, but alas, he was not able to understand it.
No wisdom and no attainment; there is nothing to attain.

1. If the Absolute can have wisdom & attainment, then it is not the Absolute. The wisdom of the Buddha-nature is the wisdom of non-wisdom, which cannot be attained as it is inherent within the Buddha-nature itself. Our true nature is non-abiding, & therefore it is able to penetrate all things in all time & space. When we use it, we give it a false name called "Prajna"; when we don't use it, it is nameless, formless, & beyond all dual conceptions. If we have to name this body, we simply call it "Paramita", which is also another false name. But in reality there is neither Prajna nor Paramita for they are One & the same thing. In the Vimalakirti Sutra, Shariputra asked the Devi:

"Devi, how soon will you attain perfect enlightenment?"
Devi: "At such time as you, Elder, become an ordinary being once again, then will I attain perfect enlightenment."
Shariputra: "Devi, it is impossible that I should become an ordinary being once again."
Devi: "Just so, Ven Shariputra, it is impossible that I should attain perfect enlightenment! Why? Because perfect enlightenment is not something that can be attained."
Shariputra: "But the Buddhas of the past, present & future who have attained perfect enlightenment are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. What will you say of them?"
Devi: "Ven Shariputra, the expression, 'the Buddhas of the past, present and future' is merely a conventional expression spoken in line with worldy thinking. It does not mean enlightenment is tied to the past, present or future. But tell me, Elder, have you attained arahatship?"
Shariputra: "It is attained, because there is nothing to attain."
Devi: "Just so, all Buddhas & Bodhisattvas attain perfect enlightenment because there is nothing to be attained."

Only when there is no wisdom & no attainment, can one truly see what is Prajna Paramita.

(to be continued..)

Commentary to the Heart Sutra Part 1

Homage to all the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas in the 10 directions. May they forgive & offer me repentance if I misunderstand their teachings; but if I may comment in accordance to the supreme Dharma, let this merit be transfered to all sentient beings in the entire Dharmadhatu, such that they may see their very true minds.

Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.

Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra

1. What is Prajna? Prajna is often translated as wisdom. This wisdom is not ordinary worldly wisdom, but the wisdom to see all things as they really are. The scriptures say:

"Prajna does not know, yet there is nothing it does not know.
Prajna does not see, yet there is nothing it does not see."

The body of Prajna is empty like the void, yet in this void contains infinite applications.

"Able to differentiate all phenomena,
Yet remaining unmoved in the Utmost Meaning."

Prajna differentiates all things that comes into contact with it, yet it remains unattached to all things. This is the pure awareness quality of all Buddhas which Avalokitesvara wants all of us to discover in our own mind, which is also the central theme of the Heart Sutra.

2. Paramita - often translated as perfection, or crossing to the other shore.

"This shore" refers to samsara, suffering or delusion.
"Other shore" refers to nirvana, bliss or awakening.

But in reality there's neither "this shore" or "other shore". There is only one shore, the shore of the Buddha-nature, the shore of the Absolute that is freed from all duality. No samsara, no nibbana, no suffering, no bliss, no delusion, no awakening - that is the true Paramita, the true perfection & crossing to the other shore.

3. Hridaya - translated as essence, heart or mind. In Chinese, the character for heart & mind is the same & refers to the same thing.

"Heaven & hell is in the Mind, & so is Nirvana."

The mind is the origin & end of all things. Mind itself is the Buddha, mind itself is the Dharma; when they work in harmony you get the Sangha. When the mind returns in its original state of emptiness, it is called Paramita. From this state of emptiness one sees & knows all phenomena, that is called Prajna. In reality Prajna & Paramita is one & the same thing. Prajna is the Dharma, Paramita is the Buddha. When you combine them you have the Sangha. All these names are just different aspects of the one true Mind!

The whole Heart Sutra could have ended right here. That is all there is to teach. Like the 6th Patriarch said when he first started to preach: Maha Prajna Paramita. He fell silent after that. But seeing that nobody could understand that was all there is to it, he had no choice but to add:

"The Self-nature of Bodhi,
Is fundamentally pure;
With this very mind,
Enter straight into Buddhahood."

4. Which brings us to the term Sutra. Sutra means scripture or thread. Because sentient beings could not grasp the meaning of the wordless, the Buddhas need to use all sort of words as skillful means to refer people to this meaning, which Hui Neng described as "fingers pointing to the moon". The whole Tripitaka & the entire collection of scriptures in the Mahayana Canon are fingers. They exist because people can't see the moon by themselves. If they finally see the moon, then all these billions of words become useless.

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, deep in the practice of Prajna-paramita,

1. Yes Avalokitesvara is being long-winded like an old lady here, but he has no choice as people in the assembly could not understand what she wanted to teach. Bodhisattva means a being on the path to Buddhahood, a person seeking Bodhi. He is tricking us here, bcos Avalokitesvara knows very well that Bodhi or enlightenment could not be sought. Seeking brings us even further from our true mind; either u see it or u don't! He IS a Buddha, yet he goes around pretending to be a "Bodhisattva". Shame on him.

2. Avalokitesvara means he who observes the world with freedom (观自在 Guanzizai), or he who listens to the sounds of the world (观世音 Guanshiyin), commonly know as Guanyin. He is the embodiment of compassion in the Buddha-nature. This compassion is greater than the worldy humanism of Confucius & even the godly love of Jesus. How is that so? This compassion is one with the void, devoid of subject & object, self & other, giver & taker. It is what the scriptures described as:

Unconditioned Love, Non-dual Compassion.

This kind of enlightened compassion is untiring & everlasting, surpassing all love arising from religious or humanistic beliefs.

3. Deep in the practice of Prajna Paramita indeed! What does he think Prajna is? A swimming pool? Prajna is empty like space and physical concepts like "deep" & "shallow" does not exist. It is neither within, without, or in between. It cannot even be grasped, what more be practiced? Simply abandon all false thoughts & Prajna Paramita is right there! Being beyond both the mundane & supramundane knowledges, how can it be confined to worldy concepts of practice & progress? Another trick, ha!

Clearly sees that the 5 aggregates are empty, and thus passes beyond all suffering and distress.

1. clearly sees - here it is not the eye that see, but the mind. The scriptures say:

Neither seeing nor not seeing, that is the Buddha eye.

Thus understand that the nature of the mind & the nature of seeing is one. Seeing is mind, mind is seeing. Without mind there is no seeing, and vice versa.

2. the 5 aggregates - defined as form, feeling, perception, habit & consciousness. These are the components that make up a sentient being's world, what we cling to as Self. Form is the physical elements, the rest of the aggregates are the mind. For eg. a cake is form, our eyes that see it is also form. Being happy, being sad or being neutral towards having a cake, that is feeling. Recognizing that it is a cake is perception. Keeping our attention on the cake is habit. Mentally knowing that you have seen a cake is consciouness.

3. are empty - the nature of form, feeling, perception, habit & consciousness are fundamentally void. Being void it neither arises nor ceases. How can they be separated from the Buddha-nature? How can they be apart from Nirvana?

"All Dharmas do not arise,
All Dharmas do not cease,
If you can see likewise,
All Buddhas appear as you please."

4. passes beyond all suffering and distress - there is nobody at all! There are only physical & mental components which by themselves are just neutral faculties. Who is there to suffer then? Suffering arises only due to our own clinging. Being blinded by Avijja or root ignorance, we conjure up false feelings of craving or aversion towards form, which lead to birth & death. But if we can give up all these false feelings, the mind will simply return to its original equanimity. This is what Avalokitesvara meant by passing beyond all suffering. A cake is just a cake. What is there to be happy or sad about?

"When the mind arises all Dharmas arise,
When the mind ceases all Dharmas cease."

Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. The same is true of feeling, perception, habit and consciousness.

1. Shariputra - the Buddha's Chief Disciple, foremost in wisdom. Though he is wisest among the Sravakas, in the Prajna Paramita Sutras, Shariputra often ends up as the whipping boy. Why? Because 1 million Shariputras cannot fathom the Prajna wisdom of the Buddhas. The problem with Sravakas lie with their limited capacity. How are they limited? Sravakas have abandoned all clinging to Self, but they are not able to give up clinging to Nirvana. They are averse to birth & death and would rather stay indefinitely in the bliss of cessation. That is why when Shariputra sat in meditation in the forest, Vimalakirti came along and admonished him. Wise as Shariputra is, his wisdom is limited and the limited cannot fill up the Absolute no matter how many millions of times it mulitplies itself. Thus the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment said:

"Good man, the heart of complete enlightenment of all Buddhas is devoid of Bodhi & Nirvana; neither is there a concept of attaining or not attaining Buddhahood, not even a concept of false Samsara or not Samsara exists. Good man, even all the enlightened Sravaka Arahants, with their mind, body & speech gone into extinction, cannot fathom the Nirvana that I have attained on my own. What more for ordinary beings, with their conventional thinking, trying to define the completely enlightened state of the Tathagata?"

2. Form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form - What is form, what is emptiness? In the past there was a wise sage who wanted to teach his son the the meaning of reality. He told his son to pluck a fruit from a big Banyan tree. The son did as he was told, & the sage asked him to open the fruit and see what was inside. When his son found some tiny seeds inside, the sage again asked him to split the seeds & check what was inside. The son managed to split the seeds after some effort and found that there was nothing inside! The sage then said:

"Dear son, the essence of life of this big Banyan tree is hidden within this tiny seed, yet there is nothing inside it. The nature of all existence is also like that, hidden within that subtle nothingness. That is the real you; you are not apart from that nothingness."

All forms come into being due to the combination of various conditions. They may appear different from each other, yet when split up into its most basic component, one cannot find anything within them. How then are they different from emptiness? You see a beautiful car, or a nubile young lady; your mind urges you to possess them because you cling to its present form. But if the car is suddenly wrecked, or the young lady suddenly turns into a wrinkled, old hag - where does your urge dissappear to?

3. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form - When your mind arises, form also arises. That is form. Seeing the true nature of form, & understanding that there is nothing to grasp to, the mind ceases. That is emptiness. From emptiness can arise infinite Dharmas, that is form. From infinite Dharmas all return to its source of nothingness, that is emptiness. When you see you own Buddha-nature, you also see that there is no form, no emptiness, no mind. From there, mind is form, mind is emptiness, mind is everything, mind is nothing. Form, emptiness, everything & nothing, these are only false names. There is no Dharma other than the Mind. That is the meaning of form is emptiness.

4. The same is true of feeling, perception, habit & consciousness - If form itself has no real substance, what more for the feeling, perception, habit & consciousness that arise because of form? The Avatamsaka Sutra said:

"Why speak of the various aggregates,
What nature do these aggregates have?
Such a nature cannot be destroyed,
Thus it is known as the Unborn."

The nature of the 5 aggregates is not apart from the Unborn. Why must you add false thoughts to them and create your own suffering? The 6th Patriach said:

"Aggregates & the world,
Ordinary beings see them as dual;
The wise man clearly understands,
That their nature is non-dual.
This nature which is non-dual,
Is none other than the Buddha-nature."

The only difference between an ordinary being & a wise man is that the former chases after form, whereas the wise man does not. If you stop chasing after form, then you too will not be far from Nirvana.

(to be continued..)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Monk who cuts off his own penis

Recently there was such an article in the papers:

[BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai Buddhist monk cut off his penis with a machete because he had an erection during meditation and declined to have it reattached, saying he had renounced all earthly cares, a doctor and a newspaper said on Wednesday.

The 35-year-old monk, whose name was withheld for privacy reasons, allowed medical staff at Maharaj hospital, 780 km (480 miles) south of Bangkok to dress his wound, but refused reattachment, hospital chief Prawing Euanontouch said.

"We cleaned up the wound, gave him some stitches, but he declined to have it reattached because he said had abandoned everything," Prawing told Reuters by telephone.

Prawing declined to comment on the monk's erection, which Bangkok-based Kom Chad Luk tabloid reported on its Web site.]

How foolish this monk is. The Vinaya mentioned that:

[Now at that time a certain monk, tormented by dissatisfaction, cut off his own male organ. They told this matter to the Buddha. He said: "This foolish man, monks, cut off one thing when another should have been cut off. Monks, one should not cut off one's own male organ. Whoever should cut it off, there is a grave offence."]

Besides breaking a serious Vinaya rule, this kind of self-mutilation is totally futile. The Bodhisattvas can give up life & limb for the sake of the Dharma, but never for such a ignorant purpose like trying to cut off one's desires. First of all, we must examine the causes of an erection. If it was physiological, then there's nothing to fuss about as it is just a sign of the body's natural blood circulation cycle. If it was mental, triggered by thoughts of lust, then would cutting off one's penis stop one from thinking?

Instead of trying to understand with the source of lust in the mind, this monk became poisoned by his own aversion & ignorance, leading to such an extreme act. The Buddha's teachings are for one to cut off one's attachment, not to cut off one's body parts! As for dealing with thoughts of lust, there are many kinds of Asubha meditation that use decaying corpses as a subject of contemplation to counter strong craving towards the physical body. Instead of going for the proper solution, the Thai monk completely misunderstood the Buddha's teachings and did something that he would surely regret for the rest of his life.

The problem with many people is that when they try to get rid of a defilement, they end up having another defilement. This is like using dirty water to mop a dirty floor - the floor still remains dirty.

In the past there was a Lama who was very good at the Asubha meditation method of contemplating on the skeleton. He had developed disgust for the physical body, thinking that he had thus freed himself from the shackles of lust. Manjusri knew of this and devised a method to test whether the Lama had indeed attain such freedom. So he manifested himself as a beautiful young lass and went to visit this Lama. "She" intentionally used all sorts of ways to seduce him and test his mental strength.

At first, this Lama remained unmoved. But Manjusri had unlimited powers of knowing the minds of others, and was able to detect some subtle weaknesses in the Lama's mind. As the seduction went on, the Lama's resolve finally wore down and he started to feel very aroused. Realizing that he was about to lose it, the Lama had no choice but to flee. Manjusri kept chasing him, until the Lama became exhausted and begged the girl to let him off. At this point, Manjusri appeared in his true form and admonished the Lama saying:

"If you are a slave to lust, you cannot escape the wheel of suffering; but if you are a slave to aversion, you also can never attain enlightenment! Only when you transcend this duality can you understand the true meaning of the Dharma."

Thereupon the Lama finally realized his mistake and expressed profound gratitude for the Bodhisattva's instruction. Take heed, everyone! Do not repeat the mistakes of the Thai monk or the Lama. Always bear in mind the emptiness of all Dharmas and do not seek solutions outside of your own mind. This is the teaching of Manjusri.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Dana & Worldly Merit

Dana is the first & most important of the Paramitas. But what is the true value of Dana or Giving? We have all heard the story of Emperor Liang Wudi asking Bodhidharma that since he had performed lots of charity, like for example, building monasteries for monks and nuns, & many orphanages, etc. whether he had gained a lot of merit by doing so. Bodhidharma, being an enlightened and straightforward master, bluntly told the emperor that he had no merit at all. The Emperor was quite unhappy with what he heard. He continued to ask Bodhidharma about the meaning of the Noble Truths, & who Bodhidharma really was, but again his answers were completely beyond the Emperor's limited understanding. So he refused to talk to him any further & sent him away. Bodhidharma then left the palace, heading north to the Wei kingdom. He eventually settled down in the Shaolin Temple.
All Wudi had created with his good deeds was only worldy merit, for he had performed them with a deluded mind. Worldy merit, was according to Bodhidharma:

"Small fruits of human & deva realms,
Grown from seeds with remainder;
Like a shadow that follow its from,
Which although exists but it unreal."

If one clings to the concept of Dana - whether it is a person giving, object given or person receiving, then whatever merit one gains is illusionary, leading one to temporary happiness but suffering in the end. It does not matter whether you expect anything in return or not.

True merit is only attained when you see in your mind that there is no giver, no object, no receiver & therefore no merit gained whatsoever. In other words, it is transcendal merit. As Bodhidharma described:

"Pure & perfect wisdom,

With an intrinsically empty body;

Such a kind of merit,

Cannot be gained by worldly means."

We all know that before you can realize the unconditioned reality of Nibbana, you do need all sorts of worldly good deeds & practices to help you towards that goal. Whether it is the Theravada or other Mahayana schools, they all share the same ideology. Even Shen Xiu, Hui Neng's compatriot under the 5th patriach also teach in the same manner. That's why he once said that:

"To refrain from all evil is Sila,

To cultivate all good is Prajna;

To purify one's mind is Samadhi."

Very standard Dhamma practice. Great. But why can't people attain Buddhahood following this teaching? The problem lies with the nature of sentient beings, which grasps on to everything, getting stuck to whatever they are doing & become unable to progress. That's where the unconventional Chan teaching comes in. Chan pulls the mat out from under you, completely taking out the root of grasping within you - your own mind. Every teaching of Chan does not deviate from this spirit. Thus Hui Neng replied to Shen Xiu's katha saying:

"Not to think in a wrong way is Sila,

Not to think in an ignorant way is Prajna,

Not to think in a confused way is Samadhi;

Like diamond it neither increases nor decreases,

Whether coming or going it never leaves Samaya."

This gatha teaches us not to think in a way which is not in accordance with the emptiness of the mind, which leads to grasping & consequently stagnation. It is no different from Bodhidharma's teaching to Emperor Liang Wudi. Therefore the Dana practiced by a Chan practitioner is not the same as the Dana practiced by those from other schools.

After all being said, I want to clarify that I'm not asking anybody to follow the Chan school, but I just found it appropriate to state the Chan position on Dana & worldy merit since I practice Chan. The reader can then compare this to his or her own understanding of this subject & come to your own conclusions. To end this posting I'd like to tell another short Zen koan abt the Layman Pang:

After Layman Pang attained enlightenment, he took all his wealth, put them on a boat & sailed it out to sea. He then let all of it sink to the bottom of the sea. When he returned to land, somebody asked him:

"Why did you let all that wealth go to waste? Why not use it for Dana?"

To this Pang replied:

"No way! Dana was precisely the cause of my suffering for too many past lives!"

Can you now understand why Layman Pang said that?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Gyalwa Karmapa returns to S'pore

After a period of 7 years, HH the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Trinley Thaye Dorje returns to Singapore to propagate the Dharma on 7-10-2006. For the uninitiated, he is the spiritual leader of the Kagyud school of Tibetan Buddhism, who is among the top most influential figures in Tibet. However, the Kagyuds have never been involved in the political rule of the Land of Snows, unlike the other schools like Gelugpa or Sakya. The Kagyud lineage focuses on the practice of Mahamudra meditation, which is descended from great yogis like Tilopa & Naropa from India, to Marpa, Milarepa & Gampopa in Tibet. It is also called the "Black Hat" school because all the Karmapas, from the first one (Dusum Khyenpa 1110-1193) to the current one, wear a ceremonial black hat as proof of their lineage. Some of you may know that at this time there are 2 Karmapas, the other one being Urgyen Trinley Dorje. Although there are disputes among the followers as to who is the true Karmapa, I believe that as long as they share the same devotion to teaching & compassion for all beings, both are worthy of the highest respect.

Here we see the Karmapa arriving at the Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre in Singapore, being welcomed by many local & foreign devotees. It is a rare opportunity to meet the Karmapa, who has been reincarnated so many times to help sentient beings. On this occasion (8-10-2006) he conducted the taking of the 3 Refuges as well as the Bodhisattva vow ceremonies. After a discourse on the meaning of the refuges & the why we must arouse our Bodhicitta (the resolution to seek Buddhahood) in fluent English, he began the Tibetan chanting, leading the devotees to repeat after him.When the chanting is over, all the devotees started to queue up in a typical Singaporean fashion to be blessed by the Karmapa. Each of the devotees, local & foreign alike have a little of their hair cut to symbolize the abandonment of defilements & doubt in the Triple Gems.Here we see the Karmapa sitting upon his throne to touch the head of every devotee as a way of blessing. It was tiring for him due to the large numbers of devotees, but the unwavering compassion for all beings is what drives this Bodhisattva on. I also witnessed that one lady brought her dog into the hall to be blessed by the Karmapa as well! But he did not turn her down because it was an animal, which shows his equanimity for all sentient beings is genuine.This is the new refuge card given to those who have taken refuge on this day. Although I have taken them before 9 years ago under this school, I decided to have them renewed again since the Karmapa is here in Singapore. So my Dharma name has been changed from Migyur Dorje (Unchangable Vajra) to Konchog Tendar (Flourishing Dharma). A joyous occasion it was! Over the next few days the Karmapa will conduct various initiation & empowerment ceremonies for deities like Red Chenrezig, Medicine Buddha & Amitayus Buddha. May all beings who have the good karma to be present, who accept & practice his teachings attain Enlightenment in one lifetime, sadhu.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Haunting of Suvarnabhumi Airport

Last week there was a report on the new airport in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi being seriously haunted. Since they started to build this airport 4 decades ago, the construction had been delayed time & time again by lack of funds or corruption scandals. There were also reports of hauntings & unexplained accidents which further undermined the urgency to get this airport up & going. Some airport workers also said that the 6 km stretch of road on the east side of the airport was very accident prone because drivers saw ghosts wandering on the road at night.

So on 23rd Sep 2006, 5 days before the official opening, the airport authorities invited 99 monks from 3 famous temples in Bangkok to perform a chanting ceremony in 8 directions of the airport to pacify the spirits & pray for a smooth operation.

A strange event happened during the chanting. A 22 yr old worker named Khun Chai who was present at the ceremony started to tremble uncontrollably, after which he assumed a humped back form & spoke in an old man's voice. The spirit identified himself as "Poo Ming" (Poo means grandfather), who is the guardian deity of the land on which they built this airport. Poo Ming complained that all their construction work destroyed his home & they have ignored his existence for too long. He threatened to cause trouble for the authorities if they do not build a shrine for him to reside in. Khun Chai collapsed after delivering this message for Poo Ming.

Although the airport authorities find it unbelievable, but they still acceded to Poo Ming's request and built a shrine near the Novotel airport hotel for him. Besides the shrine to Poo Ming, they also set up & consecrated 1 Buddha image (called Phra Pathingma Suvarnabhumi Sirichok) & 1 Phra Prom (4-faced Maha Brahma) image inside the Thai Airways office building for further protection & good luck.

But did everything go smoothly on the opening day (28th Oct)? Fortunately for them, other than a luggage belt cock-up, the airport operated without any major problems.Real life is sometimes stranger than fiction. The moral of this story is to respect the land we live on, & also not to dismiss things we cannot see with our naked eye. Thus there is such a verse in the Atanatiya Paritta given by the 4 Heavenly Kings (recited for protection against evil spirits):

"Sada sukhena rakkhantu,
Buddha santikara tuvang;
tehi tavang rakkhito santo,
mutto sabba bahayehi ca."

It means, "May the Buddhas who are peacemakers protect you always, so that you may be happy; being protected by them, may you be free from all dangers."

The key word here is "santikara" or peacemaker. Make peace with the earth we live on, make peace with the air that we breathe & the water which sustain our lives. Make peace with humans, animals, devas, spirits & all sentient beings. In this way you will find happiness & be protected from all dangers always.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Legend of Jow Ngaw

The odd looking Jow Ngaw เจ้าเงาะ is worshipped as a deity of prosperity by some Thais. Jow Ngaw originally refered to a character in a literature by King Rama II - SangThong สังข์ทอง, the original work is in poem form but there are simplified versions for children and an animation was also made.
The story is based around a prince named SangThong. His mom was a wife of a King but when she gave birth to the baby, it came out as a conch shell so she (and her conch shell) had been expelled from the palace. She went to stayed with an old couple where she supposed to do the housework, but the place always mysteriously clean itself. One day she found out that there was a boy came out from the conch shell and do all the housework. This boy is SangThong.
So SangThong was growing up and the palace heard the news. King's current wife persuaded the king to get rid of both of them. So the mom and SangThong had been put to sea (on a raft) but the storm had split them up. Mom, later on, was found by a rich guy and accepted to work for him as a cook. Meanwhile, SangThong had some help along the way from a Naga, and was then picked up by a female ogre. Anyway, the ogre had magic powers like hypnotising. So Sangthong was under the hypnosis that the giant was a nice woman who took care of him. The giant really looked after him but she was afraid that if he knew she was a giant and eat wild animals, SangThong would run away. Anyway, while living with this ogre, there is a forbidden area in the place that SangThong was not allowed to go in. But in his curiosity, one day he broke the rule, went into that room & found loads of wild animal & human bones. SangThong realised his foster mom was a giant, but he also found silver and golden pools inside. So he had a dip in the pool and turn his body into gold, then he found (1) golden shoes that make him be able to fly (2) golden dagger (3) the Jow Ngaw armour/costume so when he wore it, nobody realise he has a golden body. Wearing the costume made him looks like Ngaw Pah เงาะป่า, & with all the other items, he fled the scene.

After SangThong fled the scene, the foster mom came back home and realised that he was gone, so she ran after him. When she saw him, he created a magical barrier that placed the ogre under a spell, such that if she passed through the barrier, she will die. So she cried and asked him to come back, but SangThong still really scared of her. She cried and cried until she died. While she was dying though, to show that she genuinely loved him as her son, she wrote a magical spell for him just in case it will be useful for him in the future. After the ogre died, SangThong realised that she really loved him and felt really really sorry for her. He arranged a really really big funeral (no pun intended) and then left their home.

Wearing his Jao Ngaw costume, SangThong arrived at the suburb of a town, He then stayed there and helped a villager looked after his buffalos. The children in the village also enjoyed playing with him.

One day, the king of this town invited all the princes from surrounding kingdoms to his palace for his 7 princesses to choose whom they want to marry. The 6 of the princesses each chose their own prince without hesitation. The youngest princess, Rojana, however did not like anyone. So the king invited all the men in his town to show up for his Rojana to choose. And among these guys, Rojana chose Jao Ngaw because she could see through his costume (somehow) and know he was a handsome guy with a golden body. But the king was so angry (don't forget that people saw SangThong as Jao Ngaw i.e. dark skin man with curly hair and wear red flower on his ears like a crazy person) with her choice that he expelled both of them.

Although Jao Ngaw and Rojana was expelled from the palace. The king was not satisfied and still want to find a reason to execute Jao Ngaw. So one day he arranged a kind of competition, where every one of his sons-in-law have to join. Let's called the other 6 sons-in-law together as the 6 in laws.

He ordered everyone of them to go into the jungle and hunt one stag. The person who can't bring a stag back will be executed. The king was so confident that all the six in laws were good hunters (in which they were) and Jao Ngaw was useless.

However, once they splited up in the jungle, Jao Ngaw took off his costume, revealed his golden body, used the spell (remember, the one that his giant foster mom wrote for him before she died) to call stags. And all the stags in this jungle came to him. Meanwhile the six in laws can't find any single stag between them. In the end, the six inlaws came to beg Jao Ngaw (whom they thought was an angel because he has golden body), so SangThong aka Jao Ngaw asked for part of their ears as exchange items.

So the king can't get rid of Jao Ngaw yet. Having no idea about the spell, he arranged another competition. This time he asked them to go catch some fish. Same thing happened, this one Jao Ngaw asked for part of their noses. Now the king ended up with six incomplete (body-parts wise) in laws and Jao Ngaw was still around. He did not give up and tried to think of new plan.

While the king was busy finding a way to get rid of Jao Ngaw, the king of the gods, Indra, knew what the king was thinking, so to protect Jao Ngaw, Indra came down to see the king and challenged the king for a game of polo (or something similar) in the sky (so you need to be able to fly), if the representative of the king lost, the king will lose his life.

So the king annouced looking for anyone who can be his representative and win the game, the person will reward with his throne and his wealth. No one turned up so Rojana's mom went to talk to Rojana and Rojana talked to Jao Ngaw to change back to SangThong (wearing magic shoes) to compete with Indra.

SangThong won, so the king apologised to him and gave him the throne and all but SangThong wanted to looking for his real mom first. So he went off, visited so many towns until one day he arrived at a rich man's house, who invited him for dinner. He recognised his mom's food, found her and brought her back to his town (Rojana's dad town).

So he became a great king and people talked about him until his name arrived at his birth town. His dad realised that SangThong was his son (whom he thought had been gotten rid of, regrettably). His dad came to apologise to both mom and the son. And they all live happily ever after.

(Story translated by TK)

Why do Thai people worship Jow Ngaw instead of SangThong? Because when SangThong grew up, he wore Jao Ngaw costume all the time so when you say SangThong, Thai people have an image of the baby with the conch shell which was very small part of the story. For the most of the story, things happened when he was Jao Ngaw. Moreover, the most famous part of the story is where Rojana chose her groom. This part is often taken out to make a traditional Khon play, which was when he was Jao Ngaw, as seen on photo of traditional play above (Jow Ngaw is the one at the back obviously). So although Jow Ngaw is a fictional character, it is so deeply imprinted in the Thai people's minds that it eventually becomes an actual deity. This is no different from how some Chinese worship Sun Wukong, the Monkey God from the classic - "Journey to the West".

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Corruption of the Chinese Sangha

The Vinaya mentions that:

"Should any bhikkhu — participating in the training and livelihood of the bhikkhus, without having renounced the training, without having declared his weakness — engage in the sexual act, even with a female animal, he is defeated and no longer in communion."

A recent study of the state of the Chinese Sangha in China's big cities revealed that almost 90% of its monks have violated major Vinaya rules in one way or another. These "monks" have wives, girlfriends, even children. In actual fact they have committed a Parajika (defeat) offence and must be disrobed immediately, but so far only those discovered to be married with kids were expelled. Many others with unofficial partners still continue living in a wrongful way unchecked. The situation is so widespread that it becomes almost impossible to censure so many of them.

The Buddha also said to the monks:

"And what is wrong livelihood? Scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, & pursuing gain with gain. This is wrong livelihood."

And also to abstain from:

"running messages ... from buying and selling ... from dealing with false scales, false metals, and false measures ... from bribery, deception, and fraud."

Besides personal misconduct, the famous temples in metropolitan cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Tianjin, Yantai etc. are all well known for auctioning the rights for striking the Chinese New Year gong (a rite performed for good luck) to high ranking government officials, rich businessmen and even ordinary devotees for thousands of yuan per strike. The same auctioning process goes on for the rights to offer the first joss stick on Chinese New Year (another rite of good luck), which can be bid up to over 10 thousand yuan at least. Competiton among the different temples is fierce and politicking becomes inevitable. Temple accounts are also never revealed to the public and corrupt practices fester uncontrolled. All these commercial practices are considered wrong livelihood for monks and considered Dukkata & even Sanghadisesa offences. But again they are so popular & profitable that nobody really cares whether what they are doing accords with the Vinaya or not.

How did Chinese Buddhism come to such a state? Decades of religious suppression under Mao Zedong, followed by over 20 yrs of economic reforms set forth by Deng Xiaoping are to blame. Great strides in material progress transformed the minds of not only the ordinary people, but the monks & nuns among them as well. The pursuit of prosperity in modern Chinese society is so important that it becomes the norm, such that even religious beliefs are bended & moulded to fit into this all powerful norm. Some of these monks try to justify their misconduct by saying that they are merely adapting to the greater enviroment in order to survive, & if others are also doing it, how can they be blamed as individuals? This type of rationale, even though wrong, is very much understandable. For those few who do keep to the Vinaya rules, it is also impossible for them to influence the majority, so they have no choice but to leave the cities and go practice in some faraway mountain monastery that still remains untainted. Otherwise it will surely be a case of, "if you can't beat them, join them."

In the current Dhamma Ending Age, when the Vinaya & Dhamma is slowly eroding away, true Bhikkhus & Bhikkunis will become fewer & fewer, until a time where the monastic code might be forgotten altogether. Lay followers will no longer have a qualified Sangha to look up to, not to mention an Ariya Sangha. When the Vinaya is corrupted, the Dhamma cannot survive on its own as well. Woeful it will be for us to be born in a time where the right Dhamma can no longer be heard. Blinded like bats we will be, depraved of the light of the doctrine. The signs of such a time are already evident in Sanghas around the world, not just the Chinese Sangha. Let us try our best to work towards our own enlightenment while there are still some real monks & nuns around, & the correct path to Nibbana can still be learned. If we missed this opportunity as humans in this life, the next time we are reborn as humans will definitely be too late. Take heed!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Betel Tree Spirit in Penang

The New Paper on 15th Sep 2006 did a report on a certain human face which recently grew out of a betel nut tree in a Penang village. While droves of curious people went to see for themselves, some also harm the tree by cutting off its roots, which they believed had healing powers. The villagers are very much against this type of inconsiderate people.Look at how human-like the face is! Some say the face changes everyday, but it sure looks damn unhappy here. Maybe its those dumb people who are cutting the roots pissing it off. That's why they call it a "ghost tree". Chinese visitors also started to offer joss sticks & flowers to this ghost tree, praying for 4-D numbers. Some of the smart villagers also sell photos of the face to visitors for 2 ringgit each. I think they might as well get a bomoh to make amulets out of its betel nuts. Why hasn't anybody thought of it yet? This also reminds me of the tree shrine in Choa Chu Kang where they found a Lukkok. I wonder which Ajahn wannabe buried it there, of all places. When there's so many people praying there, someone is sure to discover his "baby"! Well now that its with the police, some people have put up a separate shrine there to make offerings to the baby spirit. Wierd stuff..

The Vinaya says that:

"The damaging of a living plant is an offence to be confessed."

The story goes that during the Buddha's time a certain Alavi bhikkhu was chopping down a tree. The devata living in the tree said to the bhikkhu,
"Sir, do not chop down my dwelling to build a dwelling for yourself."
The bhikkhu, paying no attention, continued chopping and injured the arm of the devata's child. The devata thought:
"What if I were to kill this bhikkhu right here?"
Then another thought occurred to her:
"But no, that wouldn't be proper. What if I were to inform the Blessed One of this matter?"
So she went to the Blessed One and on arrival informed him of what had happened.
"Very good, devata. It's very good that you didn't kill the bhikkhu. If you had, you would have produced much demerit for yourself. Now go, devata. Over there is a vacant tree. Go into it."

(The Commentary adds here that the tree, being in the Jetavana Monastery, was one of the choicest pieces of devata real estate in those days. Other devas coming to pay their respects to the Buddha also made a point of paying their respects to the devata living in this tree.)

People were offended and annoyed and spread it about, "How can these Sakyan recluses chop down trees and have them cut up? They are destroying one-facultied life."

This news report is living proof that there ARE Devatas or in this case, spirits that make dwellings out of any tree taller than a man. If we are not careful when dealing with these trees, these supernatural beings could very well harm or even kill us for destroying their houses. That is why we should not just respect animals, but all plant life as well.

Observations at Ven Dhammananda's cremation

Ven Dhammananda (1919-2006), one of the most revered Theravada Buddhist leaders in South East Asia, passed away in KL, Malaysia on 31st Aug 2006. He was 87 yrs old. A wake was immediately set up at the Maha Vihara Temple in KL, where the Ven was the abbot. Devotees from all over Malaysia & Singapore flooded in to pay their last respects to this great teacher. On 3rd Sep 2006, his body was transported to the Nirvana Memorial Park in Semenyih to be cremated on a hilltop. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mr Ratnasiri Wickremanayake specially flew in to join the thousands of mourners who came to witness the cremation ceremony.On the way to the memorial park, raindrops which resembled snowflakes started to fall, a sign that even the Devas mourned the passing away of this Maha Thera. The above photo was snapped by one of the mourners and published in Malaysia's New Life Post paper. During the cremation in the evening (around 6.15pm), more miraculous signs started to appear. Devotees heard claps of thunder, after which they saw in the northern sky images of a great Stupa, as well as celestial Nagas protecting it. Some say this is a sign that the Heavenly King Vessamana, guardian of the North & often portrayed as carrying a Stupa, had came to receive the Ven's relics. The following morning, when the chanting ceremony started around 9 something am, everyone present saw a white light shining forth from the sky above the 3 storey high funeral pyre containing the Ven's remains. Within the light there appeared 2 clouds, one resembling Ven Dhammananda in a samatid posture (see above photo) and the other resembling a Bodhisattva (some say Guanyin) who has also came to receive him. This vision lasted for 5 mins and dissappeared when the chanting was over. Although the monks present told the devotees there not to take these signs too seriously and that they might just be natural phenomena, but everyone who saw them can't help but be filled with deep awe and renewed faith in the Dhamma. To see more photos, go to

These miraculous signs indicate that Ven Dhammananda is by no means an ordinary monk, but an Ariya who has attained one of the fruits of Sainthood. The Diamond Sutra says:

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does a practitioner who has attained the level of sotāpanna think: 'I have attained the realization of the sotāpanna?' "
Subhūti said, "No, World Honored One. And why not? Because the name sotāpanna means 'stream-enterer,' and there is in fact no stream to be entered. One does not enter form, sound, odor, taste, touch, or concepts. Therefore one is called a sotāpanna."
"Subhūti, what do you think? Does a sakadāgāmi think, 'I have attained the realization of sakadāgāmi?' "
Subhūti said: "No, World Honored One. And why not? Although the name sakadāgāmi means to go and come once more, but there is, in reality, no going or coming. Therefore he is called a sakadāgāmi."
"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the adept who has attained the level of anāgāmi say, 'I have achieved the realization of the anāgāmi?' "
Subhūti said, "No, World Honored One. And why not? Anāgāmi means non-returning (to this world), but there is, in fact, no such thing as returning. Therefore this person is called an anāgāmi."
"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the arahat think, 'I have attained the realization of the arahat?' "
"No, World Honored One. And why not? There is, in reality, no such a thing called 'arahat.' World Honored One, if an arahat should give rise to the thought, 'I have attained the realization of the arahat, this would mean that he is attached to the notions of self, person, sentient being, and life span.' "

Therefore understand that to attain enlightenment means not attaining anything at all. All Dhamma are fundamentally empty and cannot be grasped to. If Ven Dhammananda still grapsed on to anything, we would not be able to see all those signs at his passing away. Therein lies the bliss of Nibbana, of which these signs act as inspirations for everyone. Let us work hard towards our own liberation, for noone can save us except ourselves, sadhu.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The 4 Noble Truths in Zen

Ven Xing Si asked Hui Neng:
"How do I practice, such that I will not fall into stages?"
Neng: "What have you been practicing lately?"
Si: "I don't even think about the Noble Truths!"
Neng: "What stage is that?"
Si: "When you don't even think about the Noble Truths, what stage is there left?"
The 6th Patriach was very pleased with his answer, and asked him to lead the disciples.

Every Buddhist know that the 4 Noble Truths are the core teaching of the Dhamma, for it is the very first sermon that the Buddha gave at the Deer Park in Benares to the 5 ascetics. But what are the Noble Truths according to Zen, which Ven Xingsi, one of the foremost disciples of the 6th Patriach rejected outright?

1. Suffering - what is suffering? The mind of love & hate, suffering & happiness, birth & death, existing & non-existing; such that all dual states of mind are suffering.

2. Cause of Suffering - what causes suffering? Avijja or fundamental ignorance. Being ignorant & blind to the true nature of the mind, grasping to duality as its reality.

3. End of Suffering - what is the end of suffering? Shatter Avijja & one passes beyond all suffering. This is Nibbana, Bodhi, Patience of the Unborn, Dharmakaya.

4. Path leading to the End - what is the path? The path is the 8-fold Path of which the most important is to establish Right View (which I have explained in one of my past articles).

When one developes Right View, one sees that the mind & all its conceptions are fundamentally empty. Duality exists only because of one's deep-seated grasping & discrimination. One chases after illusionary things in the false hope that they will lead to happiness, setting forth the wheel of Samsara. Abandoning all false thoughts, discrimination & grasping in your own mind, & this very mind is the Buddha. There is no other Buddha or Dharma except your own mind. This is the "esoteric teaching" that the Buddha silently imparted to Maha Kassapa, from Bodhidharma to Hui Ke, & from Hui Neng to all his disciples. The heart of Zen has been transmitted for 2549 yrs, but there are no other teachings except for this one. No special meditation instructions, no supernormal powers or any other exciting stuff. Do you believe it?

When one realizes this for oneself, the mind is completely calmed. It remains unmoved amidst all phenomena for the Cause of Suffering has fallen away. When the Cause of Suffering is no more, Suffering is no more. When Suffering does not exist in the first place, what more for the End of Suffering? When one crosses the river, one abandons the raft. The Path that led you here has served its purpose, now it no longer has any use. So why talk about stages? Thus the Heart Sutra says:

"No suffering, no cause, no end & no path."

This is also what Ven Xingsi meant when he said he no longer thought about the Noble Truths.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


What is Nirvana? Why is there different kinds of Nirvana? What happens to the enlightened ones after they enter Nirvana & pass away? These are the questions that have puzzled many Buddhists & non-Buddhists alike regarding the highest goal of the Buddhist Path. Different traditions have different explanations of this concept, but it is the Mahayana scriptures that provide the closest answer.

Nirvana is best defined as "the unbinding of the mind from the mental effluents (asava), defilements (kilesa), the cycle of rebirth (vatta), & from all that can be described or defined. This term also denotes the extinguishing of a fire, & so carries the connotations of stilling, cooling, and peace."

In the Maha Parinirvana Sutra, Nirvana is described as possessing the 4 qualities of Permanance, Bliss, Self & Purity. Most who learn from the Pali Canon can understand why Nirvana is permanant, blissful & pure, but being so used to the concepts of Anicca (Impermanance), Dukkha (Suffering) & especially Anatta (No-Self), they find it difficult to grasp what did the Buddha mean when he said Nirvana is Self.

The Pali Canon also mentioned that the nature of Nibbana as being Viññanam Anidassanam, or Consciousness without Feature. In the Suttas, the Buddha was famous in his refusal to answer the query of what happens to Him after his Parinibbana or Final Nibbana. All that is mentioned is this "Consciousness Without Feature", nothing more. This term is best explained as being a non-active state of being so vast & subtle that it is beyond description.

This was why Ajahn Mun (1870-1949 a contemporary Thai forest monk who has attained Arahantship in his lifetime) was very disturbed by the visits from the Buddha and Arahants after his enlightenment. His immediate puzzlement was how a Buddha who has crossed over to Anupadisesa Nibbana (Nibbana without remainder) could possibly interact with our Conditioned Reality (this story is related in his biography, "A Heart Released"). Ajahn Mun's description of the Unconditioned (Vimutti) state is very similar to the Buddha's description of "Consciousness Without Feature" in the Kevatta Sutta.

The Buddha did not say what happens to him after Parinirvana bcos at that time the Kevatta Sutta was expounded, the listeners were not ready to accept the Mahayana teachings. But in the Maha Parinirvana Sutra, all these loose ends are explained in detail. What is called the "consciousness without feature" in the Pali Canon is none other than the Dharmakaya in the Mahayana scriptures, except that consciouness is already transformed into the 4 Buddha Wisdoms (Complete reflectivity, Perfect equanimity, Wonderous observation & Infallible success) and thus cannot be called consciousness any more.

The fact that Ajahn Mun could not understand how the Buddha & the past Arahants could still visit him after his enlightenment shows that the fruit of Arahantship is still far from that of the omniscient Samma Sambuddhas. What we understand from the term "anupadisesa nibbana" or nibbana without remainder is also not the true picture. Ultimate reality encompasses both the conditioned & the unconditioned, and thus cannot be separated into "with remainder" or "without remainder". That nibbana that can be separated is not the true Nibbana, but what the Mahayana Sutras described as an "illusionary city" for the Savakas (disciples) & Paccekas (solitary buddhas) to rest temporarily in because they do not have the aptitude to aim directly for the highest goal - Buddhahood.

When the Buddha talked about a Self, he was refering to the Dharmakaya, this ultimate reality, which is never apart from our own minds throughout all time & all space. This is the true Nirvana, beyond birth & death, coming & going, remainder & no-remainder, conditioned & unconditioned. It cannot be entered or exited because all the Buddhas never moved from it in the first place. So where are all those Buddhas now?

Right here in my closed mouth.