Tuesday, May 16, 2006

To be a True Victor

The Dhammapada says:

"Victory begets enmity,
The defeated dwell in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,

Discarding both victory and defeat."

The Dao De Jing says:

"The Sage does not compete,
Yet the world cannot compete with him."

Life is a constant struggle. As sentient beings, from birth we are thrown in all sorts of situations where we need to compete & to fight for survival. Whether it is for that scholarship in school, for the affections of the opposite sex, for that medal in sports, promotion at work etc.. the list is endless. It is easy to lose oneself in the competition of life & end up even worse off than before one started. Even if we are successful, we have to fight to maintain the success or be quickly replaced by those more able than us. This is an undeniable aspect of samsaric existence. Where then can the Dhamma be found? How can permanant happiness be attained in this endless struggle?

The answer lies in retuning the mind. Although we cannot avoid life's competitions, understand that the path to enlightenment does not lie in competition itself. To compete for first & last is the path of the deluded. To cling to victory & defeat is to fuel one's ego. With an ego like Mount Sumeru, how can one ever attain freedom from Samsara? You may even be invincible & defeat 1,000 warriors in battle, yet it will not bring you any closer to the end of suffering.

The only true victory lies in victory over yourself, over your own mental defilements like craving, hatred & ignorance. To overcome all duality like victory & defeat, birth & death, samsara & nibbana in the mind is the ultimate victory of the Buddhas. If you always remember this Dhamma during any competition, then you will always be the victor no matter whether you win or lose.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Legend of Jatukam Ramathep

Once upon a time, many centuries ago (about 1700 years ago), it was a time of war and trouble. There lived a king and his princes in Central Siam. The elder prince named Jatukam and the other named Ramathep. After many years of war, the King finally conquered and managed to secure Sri Lanka into part of his Kingdom. There was a saying that the King possessed a sacred treasure, this was none other than the holy relics of Lord Buddha. Before the King began his journey to the newly conquered land, he tasked the protection of the relics to his two princes, & ordered them to guard it with their lives.

Some time later, the princes received information of plan by their enemies to capture the relics. They immediately informed the King in Sri Lanka. The King instruction was to quickly take the relics away by sea and head to Sri Lanka. Halfway through the journey, a thunderstorm struck and their ships were sunken. Except the two princes, the rest of the crew did not survive.

The two princes were washed ashore, but well. Without the sea transport, they could no longer bring the relics to Sri Lanka. They started praying sincerely to the relics, saying: “Dear Enlightened One! If this land we step upon is a holy piece of land, then please guide us let us live a new life here. With our people, we shall guard and protected your relics forever.”

Later the two princes built a temple on this holy land and with much hard work, they also establish a wealthy and strong city. They brought new hope and peace to all the people. In remembrance of the great deeds by the two princes, they named this place Nakhon Si Thammarat in their honour. This is now located in Southern Thailand at the present time. The temple that the two princes built for the relics is called Wat Mahathat - as it is known now.

Ever since then, after a few centuries, many people had travelled to Wat Mahathat to locate the relics that were buried by the princes. Finally, they found a stone carving and the relics buried at the Wat. The stories of the two princes were found engraved on this stone.

The two princes had done many great deeds and the greatest is by erecting the temple to house the relics. And they promised to guard the Relics with their lives. They had earned respect from both the heavenly and earthly beings. Later, the people combined the two princes into one and named him Tao Jatukam Ramathep when praying to him. Tao Jatukam Ramathep becomes one of the most respected and popular deities in the South of Thailand. In olden days, Tao was used to address noble ones. It is believed that those that pray to Tao Jatukam Ramathep will be blessed with fulfilling life and better in all aspects in everyday work. (End) Wat Phra Mahathat

The temple is located on Ratchadamnoen Road in Tambon Nai Muang, Amphue Meuang of Nakhon Si Thammarat province. This is one of the most important historical sites in Southern Thailand. The stupa, 55.78m high, has a distinctive Sri Lankan style. The top of the spire is entirely covered in pure gold. Inside the temple are many buildings of importance, especially the royal building which has beautiful architecture from the Ayutthaya period and the Sam Chom building, where the Buddha image garbed in royal attire - Phra Si Thamma Sokarat is housed. There are also the Phra Maha Phinetkrom (the equestrian image) building and the Thap Kaset building; while the Khian and Pho Lanka buildings are used to display artifacts donated to the temple by Buddhists from the whole region.

Over the doorway at the entrance of Wat Phra Mahathat in Nakhon Si Thammarat, there are the statutes of Tao Kadtukam and Tao Ramathep, the guardian deities of holy relics of the Buddha. The name of one deity is Tao Kadtukam, which later people understand that he is none other than Jatukam.

There are many stories on how the City Pillar (Lak Meuang) and the first Jatukam amulets were made. One story tells of Police Maj Gen Sanpetch Thammikun, the provincial police chief during the 1980s, going to Wat Nang Phraya during a shamanistic ritual. The medium, a woman, told the policeman to come back. When he did come back later the woman wasn't there, but had been replaced by a new medium claiming to be the spirit of the military leader for the B.E. 17th century Nakhon Si Thammarat king.

The police general came a third time, and the second medium claimed to be yet another spirit - Jatukam, who instructed him to lead the construction of a city pillar. However, the spirit advised him that first he should consult with Police Maj Gen Khun Pantarakrachadej (also known as Ajarn Khun Phan), who was thought to be a master of Buddhist magical arts (Puttakom). This is believed by some to be the reason why Jatukam Ramathep was chosen to be a model for the amulet images when the campaign to raise funds for the city pillar was launched. The city pillar was partly completed in 1986, and the original Jatukam amulets were made in 1987. It was circular pendant a five-centimetres in diameter, and was priced at 49 baht. Now many are sold for more than 100,000 baht each. In the past only very few Jatukam amulets were produced, but after Police Maj Gen Khun Pantarakrachadej (Khun Phan) passed away recently at the age of 103 (some say 108), the amulets again became very popular. It may be significant that his death on Sep 5th 2006 was just two weeks before the military coup in Bangkok. Since the royal cremation ceremony of Khun Phan last February, Jatukam amulets have become even more popular. But how long can the craze last?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Do inanimate objects have Buddha-nature?

A Buddhist Poet once wrote:

"The green bamboo droves are the Dhammakaya;
The fragant yellow flowers are none other than Panna."

Taking this kind of expression literally, many later generation practitioners were misled to think that because the Buddha-nature encompasses all things, even inanimate objects possess such a nature. If Panna is the same as flowers, then doesn't that makes it non-sentient? If the Dhammakaya is the same as bamboo, then doesn't it becomes inanimate? So when we cook and eat bamboo shoots, are't we chewing on the Dhammakaya? What worth is there in seeking to attain these things if that is the case?

The scriptures say:

"Able to well distinguish all phenomena,
Yet remaining unmoved in the utmost meaning."

Understand that the Dhammakaya is the result of eons spent in perfecting our Sila, Samadhi, Panna & the rest of the Paramitas. It is the true body of all Buddhas, timeless, unchanging, omnipresent & all-knowing. How can such an unequalled attainment be inanimate & non-sentient? If inanimate objects have Buddha-nature, then how come none of them ever attain Buddhahood? According to such theory, then it is better for all of us to die now & become corpses; because corpses are inanimate objects; wouldn't that make us closer to becoming Buddhas?

The Buddha is right in front of you, yet you spend kalpas looking for him. Your whole being is the Dhamma, yet you seek the Dhamma outside of yourself. How foolish that is!

Contemplate on the 5th patriach Hong Ren's katha:

"With sentience we come to plant our seeds,
From fertile ground we are born;
Without sentience we have no seeds,
Neither will there be nature or growth."

Therein lies the true location of our Buddha-nature.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Birth, Aging, Sickness & Death

The Heart Sutra says:

"Seeing the 5 aggregates as empty,
Going beyond all kinds of suffering."

When Prince Siddharta first saw the 4 sights of an old man, a sick man, a corpse & a recluse, he immediately realized that all sentient beings have to go through the physical sufferings of aging, sickness & death without exception. But in the recluse, he saw that they might be a way out of suffering by taking up the spiritual path. That marked the beginning of his journey towards enlightenment.

Although we all have to be born, grow old, fall sick & die, but are these things inherently bad? It might not feel pleasant to experience these changes, but some have observed that there are those who are able to grow old gracefully, enjoy their "golden years", & also accept sickness & death comfortably without any mental anguish. In fact there are times that this changes offer release from other forms of suffering for some people. What then, is the true nature of birth, aging, sickness & death?
If you contemplate on these changes, you will gain the insight that good & bad, happiness & suffering is all in the mind. It has nothing to do with birth, aging, sickness & death - these are only natural processes for the physical body, which is by nature illusionary. To give an example, for those old folks whose minds are happy & contented, old age is a time of relaxing & enjoying life. But for those who are bitter & dissatisfied, it becomes a time of anxiety & regret.

When the mind is gripped by Avijja (fundamental ignorance), and controlled by the craving, hatred & ignorance that arises from it, then all changes in the body causes suffering in the mind because we wrongly believe this body to be "ours". But when Avijja is broken, the 3 poisons are transformed into Sila (discipline), Samadhi (concentration) & Panna (wisdom), which are the innate virtues of our Buddha-nature. Birth, aging, sickness & death are all transformed into skillful means to teach sentient beings who cling to such delusions about Dukkha (suffering), Anicca (impermance), Anatta (no-self) & Sunyata (emptiness). If they realize the body & mind are not worth clinging to, then we teach them that even the Dhamma is just a temporary medicine & also not worth clinging to. When they realize all-encompassing emptiness, we teach them that this very emptiness is not worth clinging to as it is Avijja itself! Only when they shatter this Avijja do they realize that they have in fact gone full circle - for they themselves are Buddhas! Everything comes back to your own mind, but are you aware of it?