Friday, August 21, 2009

Asking Favors from Ghosts

The Dhammapada says:

"Though month after month for a hundred years,
one should offer sacrifices by the thousands,
yet if only for a moment one should
worship those of perfected minds;
that honor is indeed better than a century of sacrifice."

Yesterday night was the 1st day of the 7th lunar month, which is believed to be the ghost month by the Chinese. Scores of people went to the Choa Chu Kang cemetary at midnight to burn various offerings, joss sticks and joss paper to the ghosts as they are released into the human realm, in the hope of getting protection, good luck and lottery (4-D) numbers from them. They have been following this tradition of theirs for quite a few years. On the other hand, thousands of Chinese families across Singapore today also burned similar offerings to their ancestors and the wandering spirits to make them happy.
But can those people get what they want? I seriously doubt so. What they are doing is no different from taking refuge in the ghosts; but unfortunately most of these ghosts are in a worse state than us humans. How then can they give us protection and good (money) luck? Although there are indeed some ghosts of great merit like Tua Ya Pek (White Wuchang), who have the power to shower deserving devotees with wealth; but ultimately they themselves are subjected to the wheel of birth and death that is called Samsara. What more for those ordinary ghosts, who are forced by their own karma to go through many unspeakable sufferings everyday? How can these poor beings offer humans any help?

Thus that is called taking the wrong refuge in the eyes of the wise. As long as one take refuge in those that are not yet free from the defilements of craving, anger and ignorance; those that still have to be born again and again, one will always be disappointed sooner or later. In the end when your time is up, none of those beings could offer a good word for you even as you stand before King Yama in the Halls of Hades. By then it will be too late to blame yourself for your own ignorance.
So what is the true refuge that one could depend on without fail? It is the blessed one, the perfected one, the fully enlightened one - "Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhasa". This is something chanted by pious Buddhists everyday, yet they do not know what it means. Most people think it is paying homage to the historical Buddha, or the golden Buddha statues that they worship in the temples or at home. But the truth is those are only the external forms of the Buddha, not the real Buddha. The real Buddha is the quality of pure awareness within you. The mind that knows the good and bad of all things that arise and pass away, but does not identify with any of them. The mind that is unmoving, yet does not abide in anything at all. Such a mind is the field of merit for the entire world, worthy of the most precious offerings. This is what we should all pay homage to and take refuge in. If one can abandon all craving, anger and ignorance in the mind, it will be the ghosts who come and make offerings to you during the 7th month and not the other way round!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Biechuan Si (别传寺) in Danxia Mountain

On the northern tip of Guangdong province, in the Shaoguan county there is a majestic range of red sandstone mountains called Danxia Shan (丹霞山). And in Danxia Shan there's a famous Chan monastery known as Biechuan Si (别传寺). After touring the peaks of Danxia, we descended a very steep flight of steps carved into the cliff to reach the temple. You had to hold the railings tightly as you went down so as not to fall off.
On the cliff we can see 4 words "Easy as ascending to Heaven" - surely this is an oxymoron when we think of how difficult it is to climb up or even down the steps.
The Wind Riding Pavilion for people to rest on the way down.
Yet another almost vertical flight of steps.
More calligraphy on the cliff "Stepping out on the top of the Pole" - this refers to the critical stage of Chan meditation where one must give up even the most subtle attachment to the all-encompassing emptiness.
The temple well. Behind there is a shrine to the earth deities Tudi Gong and Tudi Po.
Finally reaching the entrance of the temple. This temple was the place where Master Danxia Tianran of the Tang dynasty once stayed. He was the main character of the Koan of "Danxia burning the Buddha statues".
The inner wall of the temple with the words "Namo Amitofo".
Outside the Grand Hall.
The monks were doing their evening chanting in the hall when we were there.
Climbing up to the highest hall in the temple - the Vairocana Vihara.
Looking down from the Vairocana Vihara.
A grand 3-D Mandala depicting the Avatamsaka Universe of Vairocana Buddha. Vairocana sits right on the top, representing the Dharmakaya, and on the 2nd tier, the 4 Buddhas - Amitabha, Ashobhya, Ratnasambhava and Amoghasiddhi representing the Sambhogaya. All the other Buddhas in the myriad worlds below represent the Nirmanakaya.
The hall has mirrors on all sides, creating infinite reflections of the Mandala. This is also a core teaching of the Avatamsaka Sutra - the infinite inter-connectivity of all realms and the sentient beings who inhabit them.
The Guanyin Hall, which was still under construction.
The Guanyin statue on the main altar.
An ancient iron pagoda outside the temple.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wat Koksaman in Hadyai

Wat Koksaman is the biggest Buddhist temple in Hadyai town, located not far from the bridge, on the other side of the railway.
The Jatukam shrine, which is not fully built yet.
And this is where they plan to build the world's first black jewel LP Tuad statue. The concrete body of the statue and shrine structure were already up.
The beautiful Ubosot.
Phra Indra in fierce Yakka form.
The Phra Prom shrine. Behind is a LP Tuad shrine.
Phra Jantra in fierce Yakka form.
The multi-tiered spires and Phaya Krut image.
Images of Phra Narai and Ong Por Jatukam above the doors. Side view of the LP Tuad statue.
LP Pahn shrine. LP Pahn was the founder of this temple.
The Sala.
Statues of Lersi and ancient kings.
2" buchas of LP Tuad, made to gather funds for the black jewel LP Tuad project.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Siang Teng in Hadyai

Tong Sia Siang Teng in Hadyai is an important charity organization in Southern Thailand to help casualties in traffic accidents and other mishaps. If the victims are alive they would be sent to the hospital but if they are dead they would help to give them a proper cremation. Above we see the entrance to the Siam Teng.
The office. I went there to make a donation to the organization.
The Chinese temple inside.
Their operations building, where the ambulances are parked.
The Phra Sampogong Buddha shrine.
Inside the Chinese temple are 3 main deities.
In the middle is the statue of Patriarch Tai Hong Gong (1039-1125CE), a great Chan Master of the Song dynasty, who is revered by the Teochew Chinese in Thailand.
On the left was Tua Pek Gong, a popular earth deity who likes to give wealth to devotees.
On the right was Jow Mae Lim Kor Neo, a well-known female deity in Pattani province.
The calligraphy on the board says "Illuminate your Heart and see your Nature", the ideal of Chan Buddhism.
A 3" bronze bucha of Tai Hong Gong I chowed from the temple.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Wat Nok in Thonburi

Wat Nok is located in the Thonburi district of Bangkok, not far from Wat Paknam. Using the address from an amulet magazine ad, I took a taxi there. Above we see the temple gate. The newly built Vihara. The entrance to the Vihara. An image of Jatukam is above the door. The principal Buddha statue of Wat Nok. Below the Buddha were cabinets with relic-holding chedis. All around the hall were statues of the 500 Arahants. The images were the same, but the names were different. The golden chedi on the top floor of the Vihara. The crematorium. The Ubosot. Below was the temple shop and store room. Lots and lots of Buchas here. Above we see the famous Wat Nok Phra Prom statues sitting on 4 elephant heads. Too big for me to bring back though.. The latest batch of Tao Wessuwan statues. They also have many Chinaraj and Nakprok buchas. One of the altars inside the temple shop. The famous Phra Prom shrine of Wat Nok. One of the Tao Wessuwan buchas that I chowed back. Address and Tel No of Wat Nok.