Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Single Excellent Night

While reading one of my most favourite books - Majjhima Nikaya (The Middle Length Discourses of The Buddha), I came across one of my all times favourites verses which I would like to share today:
Let not a person revive the past
Or on the future build his hopes
For the past has been left behind
And the future has not been reached.
Instead with insight let him see
Each presently arisen state.
Let him know that and be sure of it,
Invincibly, unshakeably,
Today the effort must be made
Tomorrow Death may come, who knows?
No bargain with Mortality
Can keep him and his hordes away,
But one who dwells thus ardently
Relentlessly, by day, by night
It is he, the Peaceful Sage has said
Who has had a single excellent night.
(Bhaddekaratta Sutta -MN131)

I believe this verse requires no further explanation to my Buddhist friends. However, let me share what I think it meant to my non Buddhist friends.

One of the most important teaching of the Buddha is to live in the present moment, in other word not live in the past or live in the future. Although this sounds very simple, but in reality it is very deep and I have seen many people (including myself) that tends to live in the past or live in the future.

People who live in the past are normally people who have Regret and people who lament things that they possessed in the past which have somehow disappeared in the present. One of the most memorable story that I heard with regards to regret was from A Dhamma Talk that I heard in the past from Ajahn Brahm.
According to him, a victim of violence would normally never be happy, no matter how many years have passed, unless he/she is able to forgive the person that committed violence to him (in this case, I would like to emphasize that it's important to forgive the person that committed the wrong, but it's also important not to forgive/ tolerates the act). Why? This is because as long as he/she didn't forgive the person, he will always be victim; he/she always lived in the past. Although the violence has passed many years back, he/she is not able to forget and continue to hold on to it as if it's still there all the time. The day that the person started to forgive and let go of the past, then that's the time that he would able to find release and happiness back.
I believe that it's very important for human beings to remember that past is past, and a person who didn't want to let go of the past is like someone who was struck by arrow once, keep taking the arrow and injured himself again and again using his own hand. If someone scold us and cause us to be unhappy, that person only committed that act once, but if we keep remembering it again and again, we are the one that letting ourselves being scolded again and again.
In the similar way, another type of people who tend to live in the past is the people who tend to think of their possession in the past that somehow has disappeared. Two main things here are probably "Money" and "Loved one". In fact, I believe until today, most of suicide cases that happen in the modern world are mainly caused either of these two.
A person who lost money, or being betrayed by the person that he/she loved... If he didn't able to accept this fact, he will be very unhappy and in the worst case even loss the will to live.

On the extreme, is the type of people who live for future. In this case, I refer to the type of people who are not never able to be happy with whatever things that he has or doesn't have currently. For example, the type of people who think that in order to be happy he must possess one million (but then the irony is that once he possessed one million, he probably start to raise his bar to ten million or something). Or the type of people who like to say... "I will only be happy if only I have this... " " I will only be happy if I didn't have this, etc".
If one thinks carefully, it's quite foolish to always live for the future. Why? because if that's the case, then he will never be happy, never feel contented, to enjoy the things that he possesses currently.

Now, having said this, what is the ideal that most Buddhists try to realize then? It's realization that people who are truly happy are people who live in the present moment, free from the baggage of the past and future; people who recognize that happiness is a state of mind, and not necessarily depend on possession (whether material or immaterial); people who recognize that suffering (or non happiness if I may rephrase it) is due to once's own craving (of either craving to have something/ someone, or craving to not have something/someone).
Anyone, who are able to practice and realize this simple but deep teachings, regardless of whatever religion that they belong, I believe are the person who are worthy of respect, as he/she is able to truly happy and content.

PS: I do recognize that most people are the "in between" people. What I mean here is that most of us will enjoy the present occasionally, dwell in the past occasionally and live in the future occasionally. My point here is that it's probably foolish or impossible to throw away the luggage of past and future straight away. However, I have a strong believe that if we make small effort everyday to reduce the luggage of both the past and the future, then we will be surprised to learn that we are getting happier and happier, day by day. =)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Story of a mouse

It's quite funny sometimes to read blogs that I wrote previously ( It gave me an idea on what was my state of my mind at that time, and at times it also gave me some idea on how much I have changed, or I have not changed since that time. 
Since this blog has not been updated for quite some time, just thought of writing something in this peaceful Saturday.

After my Chinese tuition this morning, I enjoyed my weekly tea session with my family. Today, I just anyhow made up a story of a mouse which I shared with my brother.
Here it goes: 
Long time ago, there is this small mouse. His name is "Nobody". Just like many other mice in this world, Nobody was born in a house that he didn't even have idea who the owner is. After a while, all his family member left him due to some illness and from then on Nobody was left alone, occupying small holes in this big house. However, life seems to be quite comfortable for him. Although Nobody is alone, nobody to talk with, he has all Four Requisites available for him to be used. He has small hole as his house; When he is hungry, all he needs to do is go out of his hole and find some food out there; When he is sick, he also is able to go out to find some medicine to cure his illness. (Come to think of it, I have to revise that actually he only has Three Requisites. After all, mouse do not need Clothes right? =P). 
Anyway, to summarize Nobody's life. Nobody is lonely, has little friend, but Nobody has no issue with fulfilling his basic needs. 

One day, a friend comes to visit Nobody. Then he asked Nobody, are you happy with your life? Nobody answered, "Of course not!" Then this friend further asked him, "What will make you happy then?" "Oh, I will be happy, very happy if I have my own house. See? this hole is not a house and in fact this house belongs to other person right? And in the new house that I own, I want to stay with Prince Charming, my 偶像 mouse."

One fine day, when the mouse is 11 years old, in the horse year, Nobody felt that it's his lucky year, and so he used all the money that he has to go and buy TOTO. Of course, Nobody is smart. He purposely bought TOTO that will be opened after CNY because he knew that that TOTO has bigger prize. Guess what? He won the TOTO and all the money that he got is just nice enough to buy a small house. At that year, he too is able to attract Prince Charming to stay together with him. "What a year!" Nobody thought," This is the pinnacle of my life! Beyond this, there is only everlasting and abundance Happiness. All my wishes have been fulfilled by The Great One!"

Seven years past since then. In this ox year, Nobody is now 18 years old. One fine day, the old friend that used to visit Nobody in the hole, came to visit him again. This friend that asked him," Hey! Your life must be very good! Many years back you shared me your dreams, your wishes, and as far as I know, you have got EVERYTHING. You wanted a house, you got a house. You wanted to stay together with Prince Charming, Here you are, Prince Charming is here. What a life! I congratulate you for having such a Great Luck." Nobody's friend said. 
Upon hearing that, Nobody just grinned, "How I wish to have back the life in the Hole last time. Life was so much simpler at that time. Although, I lived alone, I do not have to worry about ANYTHING at all. If I want food, I got food. When I am sick, I got medicine. NOW? You see? This house actually belongs to me you know? There is no human being lived in this house. And since there is no human being living here, How am I able to get my food? Nowadays, I have to travel very far, to just find food to eat. Not only that, sometimes, after searching food for hours, I still come back empty handed. Then, don't you see it when you came to this house? This house is in a big mess. Since there is no human being stayed in this house, No one takes care of the house. How on earth a mouse can clean a house? Of course can't right?
Prince Charming? Yah... Prince Charming used to be very charming back then. Nowadays, Prince Charming always complained of this and complained of that. Prince Charming is not charming at all nowadays, and how I wish I can live alone like last time, away from all nagging and complaints." Nobody answered.

Upon hearing that, Nobody's friend just shacked his head and left, wishing all the best to Nobody.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Purpose of life

The first time I really realized that all human beings would eventually die, I was still a teenager, probably around 12-15 years of age. I remembered very clearly, at that time, I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweat, being reminded with the fact that I would die one day, the fact that I would lose all the people around me because they too would die sooner or later. 
I did not talk to anybody on this, probably because I was introvert by nature (especially when I was younger), and continued to feel very scared, hopeless, not knowing what to do. I remembered that this went on and on for quite sometime: Woke up in the middle of the night with cold sweat, and pondered what is the purpose of life, why am I being born at the first place, while at the same time, all the things and people that are deemed important to us, would disappear sooner or later. 

One and half decade has passed since that time. If you were to ask me the same question, what is the purpose of life? What's the meaning of life? Why are we being born? I probably will be able to give all sorts of answers, probably starting from Buddhist point of view, from humanistic point of view, etc etc. However deep down, I am still unsure as I am still searching for THE  answer. True enough, I have experienced much more things in life compared to 15 years ago. I faced with more problems in life. I experienced deaths of my love ones. I saw greed, hatred, and delusion popping out from my own mind. I saw expressions of greed, hatred and delusion in the inhabitants of the world, but yet, when I was alone, and started to think more deeply, I have to be very frank with myself, that I have not found the answer yet, and I am not even sure whether I am closer to the answer that I am looking for compared to 15 years ago, when I was still a teenager, knowing for the first time that I would die one day.

Sometimes life is really very very strange. I desired a lot of things, and because of those desire, I became attached with a lot of things. Through this desire, it has brought some suffering in me, especially when I failed to get what I want, or the thing that I love went away. 
I hated quite a few things too. There are certain practices that I would not be able to accept. There are certain characters in people that I don't like. There are certain situations that I hate to be with. All these things too, contributed to my unhappiness, especially when those things refused to go away. 
But yet, when I am alone and contemplate on the impermanence of all things, I will have to agree that those things are not important, my like, my dislike are not important, since I, and all human beings will die one day, just a matter of time. So what's the point of chasing all the things that are just transient? Getting angry with people, or conditions while those things are also just transient? 
But then, after reflecting on these things. I still continued to have likes, and dislikes, and unable to be free from those likes and dislikes. It is funny, isn't it?

People who tend to think like me (I wonder whether are there a lot out there), probably will search for the answer in the religion. But have religions really provided the answers to these questions? 
If I looked at Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the answer seems to be that if one has complete faith to the God (or messengers of God), the conclusion that I got (well, it's obvious that I don't subscribe to this, and therefore pardon me for being too prejudice) seems to be that it offers an easy way out, and comfort to people. As long as one believe, there is no worry, because the kingdom of heaven will be waiting for the people who have faith. The kingdom of heaven is an ETERNAL place, with only happiness. It's very comforting isn't it?
But with Buddhism, thing is very different. Buddhism (and many Indian religions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, etc) believe in the concept of karma, and rebirth. To many people, probably this provides comfort as well, especially to people who are afraid and not able to accept the fact that they will die one day. Don't worry, there will be life after death. And this rebirth will be endless. 
However, there is more to it. The purpose of being a Buddhist is not only to get better rebirth, but as oppose to it, the final goal of being Buddhist is to be enlightened, in other words, to be free from cycle of birth and death - to end rebirth once and for all! How comforting is that? I think it is not, as until today, I am still quite skeptical how many lay Buddhists really put enlightenment as their final goals (as opposed to getting better rebirth). 

How about you? Have you found the purpose of your own life? 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Devas (gods) and Asuras ( demigods)

In Buddhist cosmology, the lower section of devas are consistently having a war with asuras. Most of the time, the devas are winning the wars, and at the result they always seem to enjoy their life most of the time (some said it's due to their good kamma). The asuras are always jealous with the devas because they always enjoy their life, and as the result, always wanted to topple the devas so that they can enjoy their life too (and probably make the devas suffer). Unfortunately, asuras most of the time, will lose the war against the devas and always suffer as the result. Each time they lose the war, the more jealous and hatred will develop in their mind towards the devas, while the devas continue to enjoy their life, sometimes unknowingly that the result of this act, cause more jealousy and more hatred that asuras have towards them.

In this life, I happened to be born in a not-rich Indonesian Chinese family. After becoming more adult and reflecting back to their situation in Indonesia, I thought that there is something seriously wrong with the culture and system in Indonesia. Why? To many Indonesian chinese the year of 1965 and 1998 is a nightmare to many. These are the years when the poorer Indonesian prosecuted the Chinese, and as the result many chinese are being killed, or raped. From the surface, it's easy to say that the chinese did nothing wrong and they are the victims and therefore we should blamed the people who committed mass murder or mass rapes against them.
But is this really the case? Frankly, I don't believe it is, because for something to happen, the condition must be right and most the time, the condition is ripen due to the action from both sides, chinese indonesian and non chinese indonesian.
Most people know that the chinese are a more well off than the non chinese, and tends to enjoy life much more (and sometimes to the extremes). You may think this group as the devas. The non chinese on the other hand, most of them will have a chinese towkay (boss) but has a very low salary, to the point that it's difficult to  just to live. When economy crisis came (like 1998), they would lose the job and as the result don't even have food to eat and maintain his life. And that time, what do you think they will think? Probably something like "the chinese is just a guest in this land. This is our land, but they are the one that is richer... somemore very proud and like to show off... " and gets very very angry, and jealous to this group of people... The result is of course tragedy that happened....Seeing in this way, things happened because there are faults in both groups and it is unfair to blame one group. (eg. if we blame the asuras for having a lot of hatred and anger towards the devas? we can also blame the devas for showing off and enjoying their life, while being insensitive to the asuras right?)

The story of asuras and devas, the story of indonesian chinese, is not the only cases around. In the history of mankind, these stories are being repeated again and again and again in similar forms in on way or another. Of course, from Buddhist point of view, the root of the problem is of course as what the Buddha said as "greed, hatred and delusion". But from political point of view, in terms of society, this is being aggravated by a very large income gap, and unequal opportunities that existed in the particular society. For the chinese indonesian case, do you really think that all the richer chinese are really better than the non chinese? If there is a more equal opportunity, if there is a fairer system, will the result still the same? Personally, I don't believe so. To me, a healthier society should learn from the tragedy that happened in Indonesia in 1965 and 1998 so that all the people will work towards less income gap, a more meritocratic system regardless of races, or groups, or in other words a fairer society.
This can be a very difficult think to achieve in certain society. A more recent example is probably Thailand, between the red shirt and the yellow shirt, between the privileged Bangkok and southern thailanders and poor rural northern thailanders....
Some said history tends to repeat itself. But, to me, we SHOULD learn from history so as to prevent mistakes that we as mankind committed in the past so as not to repeat the history again....

Final note: This blog expresses my own opinion. You may agree or disagree but would love to hear ur opinions...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Buddhist scripture

I have been very curious wanting to know for quite a while, between these two groups, which group have more people?
1. Buddhists who have ever read Buddhist scripture (Tipitaka) before.
2. Buddhists who have never read Tipitaka before, but have ever read a few pages of Christian's Bible.

Judging from all Buddhist friends that I knew so far, frankly I am not that confident that the first group has more people than the second group. Why is it so? Obviously, Buddhism, unlike others, is not a book based religion, in the sense that we don't treat Tipitaka as holy book to be venerated. As the result, study of Buddhism (with exception of advanced level), has never really focused on studying Tipitaka directly. (Although,  of course, most (if not all) Buddhist book is based on teaching inside Tipitaka).

For myself, my interest of Buddhist scriptures, in particular the Sutta sections is growing slowly but steadily ever since I met Piya Tan and attended Sutta studies class in 2001. (Just to highlight, I started studying Buddhism ever since I was in Primary one, which mean I really started reading Tipitaka after 12 years of getting in touch with Buddhism). After reading and studying it for quite a while, I really thought that we should incorporate more scripture studies to the study of Buddhism (especially to the children and teenagers for early exposures).
Why do I think so?

1. The Suttas recorded the most direct and unadulterated version of the Buddhist teachings (although I am not suggesting that all the things inside it is spoken by the Buddha as some of it is obviously later addition after the Buddha's passing away). All the Buddhist books that we read today obviously contains a lot of teaching of the Buddha. However, it is obviously more subjective as it will also contain thought and opinion of the authors as well.

2. It is I think one of the way to feel closer to the Buddha. From close study of the Sutta, we will be able to know how the Buddha react upon being challenge, what is the style of the Buddha teaching His disciples, how the Buddha solve problems and wrong doings of his disciples (especially in Vinaya), how is the subtle humour that the Buddha possess, etc.

3. By studying it in context, we will reduce our tendency of quoting the Buddha's word out of context. For example, a few years ago, I have a friend who told me that the Buddha teaches us that there are many ways and many paths to Enlightenment. One can even get enlightened by following non Buddhist teachings. As the prove, this friend quoted that the Buddha said before that on one day, He took a few leaves and asked the disciples that which one is more? The few leaves in my hand or leaves in the forest, and further elaborating to me that since there are many leaves in the forest, following one of these "leaves" (aka teaching) we can also get enlightened. But upon further study of the Sutta (SN 56.31 Simsapa Sutta ), This is obviously NOT what the Buddha meant when He said this. In fact, the Buddha is trying to tell us that there are a lot of truths that the Buddha did not teach. However, Why did the Buddha didn't teach them? Because those teachings are not relevant in bringing one to enlightenment!

4. Although it is true that wisdom in Buddhism arises not from theoretical studies of the scripture, but from practice (aka meditation and personal realization), it is also important to know the theory, as probably my teacher told me before "Theory without practice is of no use. However, practice without theory will lead us to more delusion/ ignorance". To put into a Buddhist word, the threefold formulation of Buddhism is - study, practice and realization.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Upagupta and Mara

I first heard about the story of Upagupta a few years ago during a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Sujato. Somehow there is something magical about this story that it is always in my mind from the first day I heard from Ajahn Sujato until today.

The story goes like this....

Upagupta is basically a Sarvastivada monk, born a few hundred years after the Buddha passed away (Parinibbana). He is one of the most famous Sarvastivadian monk, well known for his ability in teaching the Dhamma as well as his magical power. One day, Mara became jealous of Upagupta (probably because of Upagupta, many people became enlightened, and these people became outside the jurisdiction of Mara), and decided to distract and manage to do so for three consecutive times. In the last time, Mara, using his magical power, created a performance just besides the place Upagupta teaching the Dhamma. As the result, many people became distracted and started to enjoy the performance instead of listening to the teaching given by Upagupta. After the performance, Upagupta then went to Mara and offered a flower garland. Mara became very happy, thinking that he is able to win not only his disciples, but also Upagupta himself, decided to accept the flower garland. However, as soon as the flower garland touched the Mara's body, the flower garland suddenly became dead snakes, dead dogs and skulls sticking to Mara's body. No matter how hard Mara tried to disengage himself from these disgusting things, he failed to do so.
And then suddenly, the Mara thought of the Buddha (that has passed away for hundreds years by then). Mara taught that comparing the Buddha with his disciple, Upagupta, the Buddha was so much more compassionate. No matter how much Mara tried to do so many terrible things to the Buddha, The Buddha never did such a disgusting things.
Mara after that then conceded defeat and said that he would do any things if Upagupta agreed to release him for all these disgusting things. Upagupta, knowing that he has managed to make Mara realized the Buddha's compassion, agreed to do so.
Upagupta then asked Mara to transform himself to become the Buddha. It is because Upagupta was born hundreds years after the Buddha and never saw the Buddha's physical body but always been wanting to see the Buddha (Mara on the other hand, saw the Buddha many times). Mara agreed with condition that Upagupta should not pay respect to him, because no matter how much similar he is to the Buddha, he is after all not the Buddha, but Mara the evil one himself. Upagupta agreed to do so. But when Mara transformed himself to become the Buddha, Upagupta then pay respect by bowing to the Mara. Upon questioning by Mara, Upagupta simply replied that he was not paying respect to Mara, but the Buddha himself!

This is a very fascinating story to me. Just as the Buddha is symbol of Deathless, Mara is the symbol of Death (and probably in particular the Death of spirituality).
Traditionally, this story is used as a teaching that Buddhists do not paying respect to statues (Mara), but rather Buddhists pay respect on the Buddha, particularly the quality of the Buddha that we wanted to have.

However, my questions to all Buddhists are.

1. How many of us are in fact worshiping Mara in the form of Buddha's statue, and how many of us are really worshiping the Buddha? Although the action from outside is different, the difference are huge. On one hand, one is paying respect the bringer of light, to the path to the Deathless, while on the other hand, one is paying respect to the Death, to the Mara himself!

2. How do we know when we are paying respecting to the Buddha's statue, are we really paying respect to the Buddha, or are we paying respect to the Mara?

3. Why Buddhists created the Buddha's statue at the first place? Is this because they longed so much for the Buddha and refused to believe that the Buddha passed away (Mara)? Or is it because they wanted to find  places to remind them the positive qualities of the Buddha (Buddha)?

Sunday, January 17, 2010


One of the things that I enjoyed the most about teaching is that I tend to get inspiration myself. The time when I used to prepare the materials, the time that when I sat quietly pondering what to say, and the actual time when I am teaching, at times, I realized that strangely I have learnt things myself. Below is the reflection that I had while preparing today's material:

This morning, the topic of this morning's lesson is about Maha Mongallana, the left hand man of the Buddha. He is of course traditionally known as someone that is exceptionally strong in spiritual power. If you have known Superman, you will definitely compare between Maha Mongallana with him, and somehow felt that Maha Mongallana's power is even beyond Superman (at least in the story). Some of them are:
1. He has the ability to see things far away, like Superman but even more as he can see even to other realms (1-0 for Maha Mongallana)
2. He has the ability to listen to sounds from far away, just like Superman, but even more as he can listen to sounds from other realms (2-0 for Maha Mongallana)
3. He has the ability to do mind reading, (well Superman can't so 3-0 for Maha Mongallana)
4. He can teleport (Superman can only fly, so 4-0 for Maha Mongallana)
5. He is exceptionally strong (I don't know how to compare so I decide to make it a tie with Superman =P).

However, to me, the most moving story of Maha Mongallana is not about the story that he is stronger than Superman, but it is about his background. From both canonical sources as well as non-canonical sources, we can gather that Maha Mongallana did many wrong deeds in the past, two of the most terrible of those are:
1. He is Mara, the evil one himself during the first Buddha's dispensation (our current Buddha is the fifth in this  kappa/aeons). - This is story is canonical, found in Majjhima Nikaya sutta no. 50 (I guess Mara is the Buddhist version of Devil/ Satan).
2. He killed his own father and mother before. - I guess this story is non canonical, found only in commentaries as a justification that he lost his power leading to the fact that bandits managed to kill him.

Contemplate on these two facts more carefully. Have you ever heard from other religions that Devil can be in Heaven? Have you ever heard that Satan can be in Heaven? To me, I have not. But this is the real beauty of Buddhism from philosophy from of view. Everybody has the capacity to be enlightened even Mara, the evil one himself. Not only did Maha Mongallana did enlightened, he even became the chief disciple of the Buddha!
Similarly, someone who killed even his own father and his own mother, if he realized his mistakes and changed, he also has the capacity to be enlightened.

I am not suggesting that it is okay to do wrong deeds. From the story, Maha Mongallana suffered greatly because of these two deeds. Due to his wrong deeds of becoming Mara the evil one and killing his own father and mother, he had stayed in hell for very very long time. However, this does not end his capacity to be enlightened and to be Arahat.
In summary, in Buddhism, there is no bad person, only person doing bad deeds. eg. Osama bin Laden is not bad person, but he do commit bad deeds. Saddam Hussein is not a bad person, but he do commit bad deeds, etc.

This is a very positive way of looking at the world today, and it is the greatest expression of forgiveness. Similarly, no matter how bad someone has treated us (even to the degree of killing our beloved ones), it is refreshing if we can forgive that person, though we will not forgive the deeds.
And if more and more people able to practice this, I believe the world will be a more peaceful and less hateful place to be. (Otherwise vicious cycle like this might happened. If someone killed our loved ones, we killed that person. And as the result, that person's loved ones will kill us, prompting our loved one to killed that person, and so on...)

Therefore, as a Buddhist, contemplate this. Maha Mongallana has enlightened, though he has done many bad deeds many lives before. Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or anyone that has did many terrible deeds to us, just like Maha Mongallana, has the capacity to become enlightened, and therefore forgive them!