Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Future of Burma

The Book of Great Learning says:
"He who loses the (hearts of the) people loses the state."
It has been 10 days since the beginning of the nationwide anti-Junta protests started by the monks in Burma, and the situation is getting worse every day. Already large numbers of monks & civilians have been beaten, arrested, even slain by the merciless soldiers sent in to crack down on peaceful protesters.

The Dao De Jing says:
"Why threaten the people with death,
when they are no longer afraid of dying?"
My heart goes out to the suffering Burmese monks and people. Despite its rich natural resources, economically Burma is no better than North Korea after decades of isolation. After the recent 5-fold increase in fuel prices, the impoverished people are literally faced with starvation, which leaves them no choice other than to take to the streets along with the monks. However instead of being heard they are shot at, struck down with sticks and thrown behind bars.
The Junta government in Burma has oppressed its people for far too long. They have no qualms about plunging their own nation into an abyss of poverty and hopelessness, only to cling on to illegitimate power. Nothing has changed since the 1988 massacre of 3,000 over protesters, other than the mastermind of the violence - General Tan Shwe, another ruthless dictator. Like North Korean "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, he himself lives like a King while the rest of the country are going through hell trying to survive from day to day.

What future does the Burmese nation have, under such a corrupt and violent regime? How can ordinary people and monks with little possessions hope to topple their military rulers, who have been entrenched in power for the past few decades?

The answer lies in one word - Karma. The sins of the Junta has ripened since 1988, and the reaping of their evil fruits is imminent. On the surface it looks impossible for the people to overthrow them, but the Junta is not as united as it appears to be. The moment they spilled the blood of the Sangha as well as the people, the Junta effectively sealed their own fate in the same way that the Taliban sealed theirs when they destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues. Forces of dissent among the military are growing stronger in different parts of Burma. These forces feel sympathy for the Buddhist religion as well as for their own countrymen. Mark my words, soon there will be revolts within the Burmese Army itself.

The Dao De Jing also says:
"When the people no longer fear oppression,
then the great calamity (for the ruler) has arrived."
And that would be the beginning of the end for the Junta and General Tan Shwe. Even as monks, ordinary folks and foreign journalists lay dying on the ground, surely the dawn of a new era awaits Burma after an eternal midnight. Let us pray for the safety and peace of all those suffering people. May they be protected by the power of the Dhamma, sadhu.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Monkey God Tree of Jurong West

During the middle of the week (14.9.07) there were a few newspaper reports on the discovery of monkey images appearing in a 16 yr old tree by the roadside along Jurong West St 42, near Blk 431. Some Chinese people believed that it was Qi Tian Da Sheng (Sun Wukong), the Monkey God manifesting in that tree and started spreading the word around. A certain uncle who first discovered the "miraculous tree" wrote a notice in red ink telling of the legend surrounding it. It says that: "Three yrs ago, a divine monkey had come searching for his father, the Monkey God, at this tree. But it was only until a recent accident which caused the bark of the tree to fall off that the Monkey God became freed. I (the uncle) discovered the image on the tree on Sep 9th at 9.52am when I drove past the tree, and was thus filled with a feeling of awe beyond words. May the Monkey God bless everyone." This notice now laid beside the foot of the tree, along with all the offerings of fruits, peanuts, flowers, candles & joss sticks as we could see in the top most picture. In a typical Singaporean fashion, many people also started to pray for 4-D numbers.

A closeup of the Monkey God image on the tree. Residents in the area also add to the legend saying that although a few accidents had happened at that spot, none had been fatal. One said he had seen a lorry crash into the tree in March, causing the front of the lorry to be completely smashed. This resident was driving past and stopped my car to see if the driver needed help, but he saw him climb out uninjured at all. Others said that in the last 13 years, the tree had been hit by vehicles 3 times; but in all those accidents, the drivers also escaped unscathed. So naturally people attributed these lucky escapes to the Monkey God's blessing & protection.

On the 14th, there were only dozens of people praying at the tree, mostly Chinese. Later Indian residents also started to come and pray. For them, they also believe that it is the Hindu Monkey God - Hanuman appearing in the tree.
But whether it is Sun Wukong or Hanuman, what matters most was that everyone believed they could get good luck by praying at this miraculous tree. Some smart Indian lady was also selling photos of the Monkey God image at $3 a piece.. she was already cashing in on the luck even as other people prayed for numbers.

In a space of 2 days (15.9.07), the curious crowds who came to see the Monkey God Tree swelled to hundreds, even thousands, causing traffic jams & making a lot of noise for residents in the area. Some of these people even claim that they can see Guanyin & Ganesha images in the nearby trees. SPI guys went down, and they tested strong EMF fields coming from the tree. A local Thai white-robe Ajarn also came to perform prayers, revealing that there was indeed a "monkey spirit" dwelling in the tree. What was most amusing was the middle-aged auntie who claimed to be a medium for Hu Ye, the Tiger deity. She crawled around the tree like a tiger, only to pray for 4-D numbers like the others. What a smart way to beat the crowds..

This whole episode taking place in modern Singapore shows a good example of how folk religion is formed. Strange images appear in trees, rocks or other nature objects, & people immediately think that it is some gods, deities or spirits manifesting themselves. They start to pray, they start to spread the word, & soon a shrine is formed. As more & more people come it develops into a temple, perhaps even forming a religious sect later!
The Dhammapada says:
"Wonderful indeed, it is to subdue the mind,
so difficult to subdue, ever swift,
and seizing whatever it desires.
A tamed mind brings happiness."
What people fail to see is that the real monkey is not in the tree, but in their minds, or we can call it the monkey mind. In the story of the "Journey to the West", although Sun Wukong had great powers, it could only be put to good use after being tamed & taught in the right way by Buddha & Guanyin. Likewise, our mind is very powerful, yet very wild, undisciplined, easily distracted & quickly agitated. It constantly grasps at sensual objects, lusting for what it finds attractive, hating what it finds unattractive. This untrained mind of love & hate is the cause of endless becoming & dissolving, the source of all our Dukkha (suffering).
Thus in order to seek lasting happiness we have to train it in the path of the Ariyas, the Noble Ones. We restrain the monkey mind with the chain of mental Sila (the precepts), training it to focus on doing useful work with mental Samadhi (meditation), & make it realize the immense benefits of its own labour with mental Panna (arising of insight). Finally this monkey mind becomes completely tamed, well-trained, awakened. It is now a Buddha. Just like at the end of the "Journey to the West", Sun Wukong is bestowed the title of "Victorious Buddha" by the Buddha for his merits in protecting Master Tang Sanzang all the way to India & taking the scriptures back to Tang Dynasty China. This is the true path of the Monkey God, who is none other than our own Monkey Mind. Do you see it?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Korean Hostage Crisis: Prison of Ignorance

An interesting article I read in the ST today says the Taliban declared that the South Korean government paid them US$20 million as ransom to secure the release of all the hostages; something which they denied of course. The terrorist group had now vowed to use the funds to buy arms and mount more suicide attacks. "With it (the money) we will purchase arms, get our communication network renewed and buy vehicles for carrying out more suicide attacks." So said one of the Taliban commanders. Although the remaining 19 Koreans got to live, who knows how many more innocent people will die in their place now that the Taliban got so much more money to spend.

Many countries criticized the SK government for conceding to the Taliban's demands; but what are they to do otherwise? To let their own citizens die just like that? No, the SK government are not to blame for bailing their own people out. If there is anyone to blame, it should be the leaders of the Christian church group who sent these 23 Korean members to Afghanistan to do missionary work in the first place. The group had obstinately ignored government warnings against travelling to Afghanistan, after more than 1,000 Korean Christians were already deported since last year due to "security concerns". For these foolish church leaders, whose faith have blinded their common sense, the blood of the 2 Korean members killed by the Taliban is on their hands. Their actions have caused their own people to lose US$20 million to terrorists, in addition to the suffering on their own members. And when the Taliban kill hundreds, maybe thousands of other innocent people with their new weapons, these church leaders will realize the severe consequences of their ignorance. Instead of spreading God's word, they end up indirectly causing the loss of many lives in the near future.

Truly, Ignorance is a dark prison that defiles whatever deeds we do, be they good or evil. Faith without wisdom is blind faith, & instead of doing "God's work" as some of those people imagine themselves to be, they end up making a big mess out of everything, in God's name. Therefore in Buddhism much emphasis is placed on Wisdom Perfection or Prajna Paramita. Without wisdom, none of the practices we do will ever become complete. Whether it is Sila (Discipline) or Samadhi (Concentration), or the Paramitas of Dana (Giving), Sila, Ksanti (Patience), Virya (Zeal) & Dhayna (Meditation), all these practices will not be able to bear fruit without insight into the nature of reality that comes from the application of Prajna. It is only through Prajna that the other practices can be called "Paramita".

Although the Buddha had compassion for all sentient beings, yet he did not go out & try to help everyone indiscriminately. The Buddha had the Jnana (knowledge) to know when & where is the best to teach certain people, their mental aptitudes & whether they are ready to be taught or not. He is able to teach in such a way that people always receive the greatest possible benefit from hearing the Dharma at the right moment. If the necessary conditions are not ripe, the Buddha would not teach such a person, even though he is face-to-face with him or her. To do otherwise would not help the person, or worse, it might even be harmful when aversion or anger is aroused. It is because of such wisdom that the Buddha is known as "Satta Deva Manussa-nang" - the Teacher of gods & men. To always balance Compassion with Wisdom is what will truly benefit oneself & other beings. This is where we must all learn from the Buddha.