Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The First Humans on Earth

According to the Aganna Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, the first humans that appeared were Devas from one of the heavens of form, the Abhassara heaven. Millions of years ago, when there were no humans on Earth yet, a group of devas descended down from the Abhassara to explore this land. During this time some of them ate and developed a craving for a naturally abundant crop down here. But after having ate this earthly food their subtle bodies became coarse and heavy, such that they were no longer able to fly back to their heavenly abodes; so they had no choice but to stay on earth as humans. From this group those with stronger craving became females and those with lesser became males. With males and females, they started to reproduce and populate the Earth. Those other devas whose good karma were exhausted like them were also reborn down here as humans.

Some people are also puzzled as to why the human population keep increasing if each being had only one consciousness. They forgot that besides the human realm there are also beings from the Deva, Asura, Animal, Ghost and Hell realms. They also forget that our world (called Jambudiva) is not the only world in the universe. Humans who do enough good karma get to be reborn as a deva, but this is a small number as compared to devas who used up their good karma & be reborn as humans. Those beings in the lower realms who have exhausted their bad karma were also reborn as humans, but this is also a relatively small number compared to humans who fall into those realms. Why is that so? Simply bcos the upward climb to the higher realms is always more difficult than the downward descend into the lower realms. That's why there are much more animals than humans.

Also considering the fact that beings from other worlds who share collective karma with the beings in this world get reborn here as well, so the number of people on earth can only go up!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Can a person be reborn in 2 or more bodies?

In the old movie the "Little Buddha", the main character of the story (the little boy) was said to be 1 of the 3 reincarnations of a great Tibetan Lama. Many Buddhists wonder if this kind of thing is possible. Cynical people don't even believe in rebirth, let alone multiple rebirths. Still others form preconceptions about this based only on reading or hearsay.

Brothers & sisters, it is not wise to form conclusions about this topic based on book knowledge or preconceived ideas on the nature of reality. Unless you have attained the supernormal power of seeing into past lives or seen your own true mind (through meditation), you would not really know for sure whether this is possible.

We must look at this from 2 viewpoints - the sentient being & the enlightened being. For sentient beings we can take the simile of a candle being used to lit another candle. At any one time the present candle can be used to lit only one other candle, because this delusional mind still clings to a single body as a self.
For the enlightened being, the mind is the Buddha-nature, & for the Buddha nature, one is all & all is one. The Buddha-nature can be one candle, & can also be many candles, in fact even infinite number of candles that can all be used to lit other candles. In the absolute mind there is no concept of time, space or numbers; because from the viewpoint of the absolute, all time, space & numbers are also not apart from it. That is how the Bodhisattvas can be reborn in many manifestations at the same time. Although they appear to be reborn, in reality nothing is born or dies. It is like an illusionist who creates many illusionary beings. Can these unreal beings be said to born & die? Likewise, manifestations of the enlightened ones appear & disappear all the time for the sake of teaching sentient beings, but the Buddha-nature remains unmoved.

This is Dhamma from the unborn mind; hope it will clear your doubts, sadhu.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The true meaning of Ksitigarbha's vow

Most of us may have read the Ksitigarbha (Dizang) Sutra & know the great vow of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha: "If the Hells do not become empty, I will never attain Buddhahood." Given the unsurpassable willpower & intensity of such a vow, many Buddhists doubt whether it can ever be realized or is it even practical at all.

Please listen to me; do not doubt the true words of the Great Bodhisattvas, for in reality they ARE already Buddhas, but merely appear as Bodhisattvas to better help sentient beings. Dizang or Ksitigarbha refers to the untiring determination to save all sentient beings, which is an aspect of your own Buddha-nature. The Avatamsaka Sutra says:

"Such as the True Thusness, which is by nature untiring."

The Buddha-nature is untiring bcos there is neither a concept of a self nor something belonging to me. With this pure mind, it is omnipresent in all the Buddha Lands in the 10 directions. The Hells does not exist elsewhere, but they refer to the burning thoughts of craving & anger within your own mind. Sentient beings are not outside of you, but they refer to the countless klesha (defilements) that arise from your own fundamental ignorance to cloud your true mind. As long as ignorance is not broken, suffering & samsara will continue to exist forever.

When Ksitigarbha vowed not to attain Buddhahood until all the hells are empty, he is really saying that one can never see one's own Buddha-nature until craving & anger is conquered; one cannot attain enlightenment until all the klesha that cloud your mind is transformed. And the only way to do this is to attack the source of craving, anger & all klesha - Avijja or fundamental ignorance. If you can break this Avijja and realize the Absolute, then you will be no different from Ksitigarbha, Avalokitesvara & all the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas in the 10 directions.

Is it possible to be a Lotus amidst the Flames?

To be a Lotus amidst the Flames means to live an impure life, yet remaining completely pure in the heart. Many Bodhisattvas who have realized the Unborn Dhamma choose this as an expedient method to teach sentient beings who have unwholesome livelihoods. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, there are many such examples among the 53 teachers that Sudana sought out to learn the Supreme Dhamma. The courtesan Vasumi is one of the most notable ones, as I have mentioned before in previous writings. But before you think you can follow in the footsteps of these enlightened beings, consider this story first:

In the past when the great translator Kumarajiva was forced by the Emperor Yao to take several palace maids as consorts, he relented & allowed the girls to serve him. The emperor's intention was for Kumarjiva to have blood descendents to continue his line, such that his teachings will live on through his children. Kumarajiva, of course, had other plans. However this caused his disciples to think that "Oh, even our master is living with women, so is it not ok for us to give up our vows of celibacy too?" Knowing their thoughts, Kumarajiva assembled all his disciples, took a bowl of needles, & swallowed all the needles right before their very eyes! He then said "I know what u are all thinking. If any of you could swallow this bowl of needles and remain unharmed, then you are welcomed to follow what I'm doing now." Stunned, none of them could utter a word. Kumarajiva then used his spiritual power to expel all the needles from his body through the pores of his skin. Only then did the disciples understood what does it really mean to live in defilement & yet remain undefiled.

Are you able to do likewise? If not, it will be much wiser to keep to the safe shelter of the percepts on your journey towards enlightenment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Retribution for Killing: A True Story

The Shin Min papers carried an interesting article on 7.1.06 abt a woman in Ipoh, Malaysia who gave birth to a "Snake Girl" after killing a snake in the vegetable plantation when she was pregnant. This woman believed she had offended a Snake Spirit, and she would carry this regret with her until her last day. The Snake Girl that is her retarded daughter is now 29 yrs old. From young she refused to wear any clothes and constantly twirls her tounge out like a snake's tounge. After she's fully fed she would coil herself up like a snake and go to sleep (see above)!
This Snake Girl was named Wen Jinlan by her mother, Yang Yamei (60 yrs old); not that a name had any meaning at all to her. Whenever her family tried to dress her, she would angrily tear up her clothes and throw them far far away, much to her mother's frustration. As Mdm Yang's husband is old (72 yrs) and in ill health, she had no choice but to get help from the Petaling Guanyin Temple. The temple managed to get the Ipoh Disabled Children's Home to take Snake Girl in. Last week Mdm Yang had finally taken Snake Girl to the home. Although she is 29, she looked no older than a teenage child, and is less than 4 feet tall. Still refusing to wear clothes, the mother had somehow put Snake Girl in a pair of shorts. After being hand-fed by her mother, Snake Girl lazily coils up on the floor to sleep, legs in the air & tounge still slithering.

Besides Snake Girl, who is Mdm yang's eldest daughter, she had also given birth to 6 other children. But they all suffered some form of misfortune; her 3rd son had gone missing for many years, the 5th son suffered from insanity and the rest of the children all lived hand to mouth. Mdm Yang knew this is her bad karma and had resigned herself to her fate.

The chairman of the Disabled Children's home, Mr Zhang Guoliang, sympathized with her and said they would take care of Snake Girl. But she must learn to dress herself and Mr Zhang would get the staff to slowly re-educate her into more human behaviour.

This true story tells us that very often, those sentient beings that you have gravely offended in this life or in past lives can and will come to take their revenge on you when the opportunity arrives; and what better way to do this than to become your children! Children are born into our families all for a karmic purpose; either they are your creditors or your debtors. If they are the former, then you have no choice but to clothe them, feed them, raise them to pay pack, and yet still be abused or even killed by your own flesh and blood if their hatred is deep enough. Of course, in taking revenge these beings create even more negative karma in the process. Although they cause their parents to suffer, they themselves stand a high chance of falling into the Hells when they die. Especially if they commit the Parajika sins ie. kill their own parents, they will be reborn into Avici Hell where they will suffer unspeakble torment for countless eons.
Terrible indeed are the fruits of hatred and revenge, for it is a raging fire that burns both debtor and creditor alike without discrimination. It is a vicious cycle where nobody stands to gain anything at all in the whole painful process. The only way for sentient beings to break this samsaric cycle is for one party to give up the hatred in his or her heart and for the other party to sincerely seek forgiveness. Throughout the eons of samsaric existence, all of us have made innumberable enemies in ignorance and therefore we are both creditors and debtors in one body. The wise Dhamma practice is to constantly douse with Metta (loving-kindness) all thoughts of hate that arise in the delusional mind, and at the same time seek forgiveness from all sentient beings that we might have trangressed in our past and present lives. Observe the percepts, guard the mind so as not to make any more future enemies. In this way, with our enemies gradually reduced, the path to enlightenment will become smooth. Let us have unwavering faith in the Triple Gems, sadhu.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Possiblity of Enlightenment in 1 lifetime

The Chan school of Buddhism, first brought to China from India by Bodhidharma, is the first Mahayana school that teaches the possiblity of attaining Buddhahood in this very life. The heart of enlightenment has been passed down from the past Buddhas to the Patriarches, and from the Patriarches down to monks and lay people alike. Whoever was ready to be awakened received instruction on the Absolute Dhamma from the Chan masters without discrimination. Of course, there were many teachers from other schools opposed to this aspect of Chan, and furthermore they also could not bring themselves to believe sudden enlightenment is possible.
Even up to today, renowned Buddhist scholars like Ven Shengyan from Taiwan also share this kind of thinking. The ironic thing is that he himself is a Chan Master who professes lineage from the Caodong (Soto) branch of Chan Buddhism. He once wrote in his book "The Orthodox Beliefs of Buddhism" that "The enlightenment of Chan is not equal to attaining Buddhahood. At most it is only equal to attaining the pure Dharma eye; which is the Sotapanna (stream-entry) stage of sainthood in Theravada or the first Bhumi (plane) of enlightenment in Mahayana."

He goes on to say that "If we consider this from the Tiantai school viewpoint, then a Chan practitioner who has passed through the 3 stages of practice is only at the Resemblance State of enlightenment (4th of the 6 states of enlightenment in Tiantai theory). Even after they have broken through the black pit of Avijja (fundamental ignorance), they still need to become hermits to continue cultivating their sainthood. At this point they would have only completed one of the 3 Asankhya Kalpas (immeasurable eons) required to reach Buddhahood."

Sorry to say, I totally cannot accept such statements from a famous teacher like him. Ven Shengyan's misguided views on enlightenment reminds me of a certain Vinaya master named Yuan who challenged Ven Huihai on the same subject. This was how it went:

Yuan: Chan masters keep saying that "this very body is the Buddha", I think this is unacceptable. Because the scriptures say that Bodhisattas who have reached the 1st Bhumi are able to manifest themselves in a hundred Buddha worlds. Those who reach the 2nd Bhumi have this power increased ten-fold. Why don't the master (refering to Hui Hai) try showing me some of this supernormal power?

Huihai: Acariya (teacher), are you yourself an ordinary person or a saint?

Yuan: I'm still an ordinary person.

Huihai: If you are an ordinary monk, how can you understand such states? The scriptures say, "Virtuous one, concepts of superiority & inferiority exists within your mind, and they are not in line with the Buddha's wisdom." This exactly describes you!

Yuan: Chan masters say that "If you realize the Dharma, with this very body you are liberated". I think this is unacceptable too.

Huihai: If a person does good throughout his life, but suddenly steals something into his hand; is he a thief in this very body?

Yuan: Of course.

Huihai: So if I clearly see my own Buddha-nature now, why can't I be liberated?

Yuan: Not right now, you still need to pass through the 3 Asankhya Kalpas before you can attain complete liberation.

Huihai: Can you count Asankhya (something immeasurable)?

Yuan: Then when you compared theft to liberation, is that comparison rational?

Huihai: Acariya, if you cannot see the Dharma, do not obstuct everyone from understanding it. If your eyes are closed, do not hate everybody who is able to see things.

At this, Yuan left in anger, saying that Huihai was an old fool without any Dharma. Huihai remarked "that" which had left is Yuan's Dharma. (end)

I feel sad for Ven Shengyan for he clings to doctrinal concepts which are only words, and presumptiously judges the wisdom of the past Buddhas & Patriarches with them. The scriptures say: "Do not slander Panna, for such a sin is limitless." It is indeed dangerous to try defining the Buddha-nature by mere scriptural knowledge instead of directly seeing it in your own heart through meditation. The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment says:

"Good man, the heart of complete enlightenment of all Buddhas is devoid of Bodhi & Nibbana; 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 Savaka Arahants, with their mind, body & speech gone into extinction, cannot fathom the Nibbana that I have attained on my own. What more for ordinary people, with their conventional thinking, trying to define the completely enlightened state of the Tathagata? This is like trying to use a firefly's flame to burn Mount Sumeru - totally impossible to set alight. Or with the Samsaric mind producing Samsaric views, trying to enter the Tathagata's ocean of Nibbana - also completely impossible to reach. That is why I preach to all Bodhisattas & future sentient beings: destroy the root of Samsara (Avijja) that is without beginning first."

Thus, one must believe that Enlightenment is possible in 1 lifetime. The Supreme Dhamma is in each and everyone of us, and if you are determined enough to see it, it will reveal itself to you when the time is ripe. The transmission of Chan is beyond words & concepts. If Ven Shengyan forsake his book knowledge and look hard within his mind, he too will see the Buddha-nature one day, sadhu.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sex in Buddhism: To avoid or not to avoid

The scriptures say:

"If the mind is transformed by phenomena, that makes us sentient beings.
If phenomena is transformed by the mind, then we are no different from the Tathagatas."

In the conventional Buddhist view, we are taught to shun sensual objects like sex, wealth & power etc. for their impermanant & corrupting nature. That is fine & good for treating people who has a strong craving to these objects, but the problem comes when they start to cling to the very Dhamma that frees them from such craving. They become dogmatic and mistakenly believe that only the total elimination of sensual craving can lead them to Nibbana. But in actual fact, they have strayed from the Dhamma and because of their clinging, their true mind is still obscured by Avijja or fundamental ignorance. Most Savaka practitioners fall into this category.

But in reality, abstinence & indulgence are 2 sides of the same coin. If one cannot see through this duality, then neither choice can lead you to enlightenment. To have sex or not to have sex is not relevant in the highest Dhamma - because in the absence both craving & aversion, all physical activities are enlightened in the first place. In this case, rather than saying we are part of the sensual world, it is more appropriate to say the sensual world is part of us - part of enlightenment.

Some will say that I abstain from impure sensual pleasures to seek the pure pleasure of meditation, or Jhana. But even though the pleasure of Jhana is not of a physical sensual nature, but it is still pleasure, albeit a mental kind. But this is still not the highest pleasure; for the mind, consisting of the 4 aggregates, is unreal in itself. Frankly speaking, in terms of unreality, there's no difference btw sensual & jhanic pleasure. Such being their nature, what is there to avoid or grasp to?

Just as clinging to sensual pleasure binds one to the realm of desire, they forget that clinging to jhanic pleasure binds u to the realm of form, or if one attains the immaterial jhanas, the realm of formlessness. If a practitioner abandons sensual pleasure, only to pursue jhanic pleasure, he still has not gone beyond the 3 realms, beyond Samsara. If one says that external sense objects are impermanant & suffering, then does that mean that such internal mental states are somehow permanant & pleasurable? Therefore understand that it is not the avoidance of pleasure, sensual or otherwise, that leads one to enlightenment, but rather transcending it, seeing that it is fundamentally empty like all things. It is for this reason that Ven Shariputra was scoffed at by Vimalakirti when he sat in meditation. Some will argue that one who has cut off craving will not want to have sex or even talk abt it; but that is the Savaka & Pacceka path, not the Bodhisatta path. A Bodhisatta, unlike the Savakas & Paccekas, has not totally cut off the roots of craving, because it is necessary to use it on the path to Buddhahood. Although he does not crave for sex, he is not averse to it either. When it is necessary, he will use this craving for the benefit of all sentient beings. That means that he can have sex, yet remaining totally unmoved in his mind. Only one who has realized the Unborn Dhamma can perform such a feat.

In the Avatamsaka Sutra there is one such Bodhisatta. She appears as a courtesan, enticing sentient beings prone to craving with her great beauty, then leading them to the Dhamma after they were hooked. And how do u think the Bodhisatta took birth in Queen Maya's womb? By using this very same root of craving! But does that mean that the Bodhisatta is by any means impure? No, because it is merely a tool of the Buddha-nature.

Sex is not impure & dirty; impurity & flith exists only in the deluded mind. If one thing is impure, all things are also impure. If delusion is no more, one thing is pure and all things also become pure. Nothing is increased or decreased; the Buddha-nature remains the same as before. This is the heart of Mahayana, do you understand?

To see the mind that is beyond pleasure & suffering, that is the highest pleasure; that is the bliss of Nibbana.