Thursday, July 16, 2015

Incident at Low Yat- a Buddhist response


I was asked to write about what would a Buddhist do in the aftermath of the Low Yat Incident a few days ago.

So here's the background for those who don't know the incident. Basically, a man stole a handphone, got caught and in that weekend, gangs of people came and smash the shop, fights broke out and also a riot, caused in no small part by someone from the gang using misunderstanding and racial slur to mobilize the mob to do such uncivilized behavior. Lucky for Malaysia, the incident has been resolved very fast and efficiently by the police, using CCTV cameras to show that the case is a theft case and the thieve called for revenge. That's it, don't bring in racial hatred and spoil the harmony in Malaysia.

And I am inclined to agree with that. Case closed, no comments. I don't need to continue anymore, don't share the ugly stuffs.

Yet, I think the real impact of the incident is online and that means in the minds of those who shared, commented, or even just read about the incident. Many are very level-headed, condemning the incident as not racial thing, but just an ugly thing. I agree. Don't need to get angry. So let's drop the Low Yat thnig and pretend you came for a Dhamma lesson.

Where's the Buddhist stuffs? Hmmm... well, back in Buddha's days there was a sort of racial separation as well. That's the caste system, separated into four caste based on birth that has no chance whatsoever to change caste (unless they join the ascetics). When there is also the untouchables, the outcaste. The Buddha had spoken out against such discrimination, using various methods and logic to show the people at that time that it does not make sense to discriminate by birth, only by deeds is one an outcaste.

There is the biological reasoning, that we are all humans with the same eyes, ears, nose, heart, brain, liver, so what is the basis for discrimination amongst humans? Biologically we are of the same capabilities. Another reasoning is that there exist virtuous and evil people in all castes, can we really discriminate and say one caste is morally inferior to another? Is it justified to use a biased preconceived notion to judge others? In any caste system, a person who had committed a crime still pays for the crime committed.

In Digha Nikaya 4, The Buddha once asked a Brahmin (a person from the highest caste): What makes a Brahmin?

The answer he got was:
  1. Racial caste purity documented to seven generations;
  2. Knowledge of the mantras (of the Vedic religion);
  3. Appearance;
  4. Virtue;
  5. Wisdom.
Then the Buddha skillfully asked him that if one quality is to be dropped, and still the person could be considered a Brahmin, which would it be?
The Brahmin, Sonadanda then dropped off appearance. As it is relatively unimportant. 
Then the Buddha continued, if one more quality is to be dropped, and still the person could be considered a Brahmin, which would it be?
The Brahmin, Sonadanda then dropped off knowledge of the mantras. (Note this is like dropping religion off a race association.)
The Buddha continued even more, if one more quality is to be dropped, and still the person could be considered a Brahmin, which would it be?
The Brahmin Sonadanda now said birth can be left out, for virtue is more important. Wisdom and virtue are the two mutually irreducible qualities of a Brahman. Thus, Sonadanda says, “wisdom is purified by morality, and morality by wisdom.” This combination he identifies with the highest good, and the Buddha concurs. 

This was how the Buddha gradually lead the person to be trained into the right view taught by him, by self discovery and question.

This is also how you should be asking yourself. Are you affected by racial comments? Are you able to let go and be calm in all situations? Are you able to see logically and calmly what makes a good human? It's not by birth (Chinese or Malay) nor by religion, nor by appearances. Merely virtue and wisdom. In this regard, the Malaysians humans can be proud of themselves for displaying wisdom in condemning the incident and not raise it to racial riot, and the virtue to forgive and be non-violent, and letting go of anger.

Of course, even nationality boundaries are also a sort of discrimination based on birth, so I would use, as a good member of the human race, let's be continue to be wise and virtuous.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dhamma and Buddhism

I am currently taking the Bachelor of Arts in Buddhist Studies in Buddhist and Pali College of Singapore at Mangala Vihara. I am also a Buddhist practitioner with knowledge of the Dhamma since 11 years ago. This article is to clarify what is the difference between Dhamma and Buddhism as I see it currently. This article would reflect what is being taught in Majjhima Nikaya no. 22. Clarification, I didn't read it fully.

I would define Buddhism as the container of Dhamma. The Buddhist Societies, the humans who practices it, the culture, history, geographical spread, the social context, Buddhist arts, etc... all these are Buddhism, you can also include the Dhamma in here as well.

Dhamma there might be many deep meanings. First and most commonly that I would use is the words of the Buddha. Technically that is also Buddhism as the words are signpost to the thing pointed to. So the second and truer meaning is the realization of the truth of the world as it really is. Yet, the Buddha has also mentioned this before: the Dhamma is like a raft to cross the river of suffering. Let it go after crossing. So the third meaning of Dhamma is the way to the end of suffering.

To learn Dhamma properly, one only needs to understand properly the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths in brief are:

  1. This is suffering (or dissatisfaction) to be understood.
  2. This is the cause of suffering (craving and ignorance) to be abandoned.
  3. This is the end of suffering to be attained/realized. 
  4. This is the way to the end of Suffering to be developed.
Right View, Thoughts, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Meditation are the Noble Eightfold Path. 

There is a repeat there that the Right View of the Noble Eightfold Path includes Four Noble Truths. And the Fourth of the Four Noble Truths is the Noble Eightfold Path itself. Thus saying the Dhamma is the way to the end of suffering (Noble Eightfold Path) is technically correct as well.

Properly taught so that the learner can know how to attain to Nibbana (the end of suffering), that is the purpose of learning Dhamma. In this sense, learning Dhamma is a lot about strengthening one's Right View. Thus, don't criticize a person who keeps on learning Dhamma. They are starting on the path. If they somehow is not able to apply it to develop Right Thoughts, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Meditation yet, then encourage them to continue on the path and develop them.

To learn the Dhamma, one can go to various Dhamma talks, Basic Buddhism Courses, Dhamma Class, online, Dhamma books, etc... that's the business of Buddhism.

The danger is when the Dhamma is not properly taught and the grasping on the Dhamma becomes wrong grasping as stated in the sutta.

In brief, the way is to establish Right View properly, so that one thoughts becomes gentle, kind and able to let go. One develops Right Thoughts. With this, one's speech and action is also Right when one observes the 5 precepts. One's Livelihood would be Right when it does not harm oneself and others. Right Effort and Right Mindfulness are involved together with Right View in developing the rest of the Right Factors. You have to know clearly, remember and put in effort to develop these factors. Finally, Right Meditation is to have stillness of mind together with the seven Right factors, to let go all the way into the Jhana states (of mental absorption, and shutting off of the five physical senses).

Right knowledge will appear as one uses the mind with strong mindfulness from the Jhana states to examine body, feeling, mind and phenomena (dhamma). One would find that all conditioned things are impermanent, suffering, not self (a thing that is impermanent and suffering is not worth to call a self or identify as me, mine, I.) Right liberation comes as a result of disenchantment and letting go of all cravings to all conditioned things as the result of seeing things as they are. This is wisdom from realization, not from intellectual knowing and understanding. The whole process of meditation to attain to insight and to prepare for meditation, one has to be virtuous, and to start the path correctly, one has to have Right View.

Buddhism is what you learn if you dabble in the Buddhist world for quite long and also if you take up the Diploma in Buddhism course here: which opens registration in July and August!

In the course, you will learn some Dhamma as well as many other things not needed for the practice to enlightenment. The benefits would be to be able to see objectively how Dhamma has affected the world and to read the Buddha's words. We base it mainly on the Pali suttas, and we have to read up quite a number of them, even learning the Pali language so that we can read the originals without depending on translators!

This path can be called scholastic Buddhism. To be objective in the learning of the Dhamma itself. It is easier to let go of the raft like this in the end. It is also easier to be able to come to terms with the existence of so many different schools and traditions of Buddhism that some would have contradictions in Dhamma. To practice the Dhamma however, does require one to choose a path. Whether one chooses Varjayana, Mahayana, or Theravada or Early Buddhism (the common suttas amongst the traditions, basically Theravada without relying on commentaries and Abhidhamma which may contradict with the Sutta and Vinaya), one can totally practice it well. The worst thing might be to learn Buddhism and not practise the Dhamma. Like mentioned in the sutta above, it is to the long-term harm and suffering to those who wrongly grasp the Dhamma.

To learn Buddhism also enables one to teach more effectively. However it is also possible to just learn the Dhamma, practise, realize, and then teach. That would perhaps be a more direct and effective way.

Anyway, just keep on practising! And if you are serious in knowing the Dhamma objectively, take up Buddhism!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Earth Hour Metta Meditation

28th March 2015, Saturday night was Earth Hour, from 8:30pm-9:30pm. Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery Gratitude Corner organized a special observance of the Earth Hour: Metta Meditation. Instead of the usual celebratory festival mood, it is suitable for Buddhists to have a more serious approach to a reminder event.

24 participants sat in the open, behind the Hall of Great Compassion. It's a great way to be in touch with the outside air again and to remind us.

The reminder is to have us remember to live a lifestyle that is consistent with a sustainable planet. To have lifestyle change, first our actions has to change, our actions is also influenced by our speech, which is influenced by our thoughts and it all sprang from our views. Inline with that, the Green education part was from 7pm onwards until 8:30pm. There was a 21 minute video of glacier melting, the interdependence of climate change, hope for a green future, evidences of rebirth into humans and the call for working together to have a solution. Together these videos achieved the goal of having the green view of the participants.

There are also poster stands, presenting a story in the Vinaya, Culla Vagga about how the order of the Sangha had been environmentally conscious. In the story, Ananda described how they reuse their old robes by turning them into cover sheets. With the old cover sheets becoming floor sheets, then covers for pillows and mattress, foot towels, then dusters, and finally, the old dusters are shredded up knead into mud and spread out on the flooring.

This shows the level of commitment that Buddha has for environmental protection.

We also had a time to show the official Earth Hour 2015 video! The point of Earth Hour is not to be green only during this hour, but to go beyond the hour, to commit to a greener lifestyle for the coming year and recommit every year!

Then Venerable Chuan Guan gave us a Dhamma talk about how practicing the Dhamma and turning off air-conditioner is one of the best ways to be green. In practicing non-greed, non-attachment, one is not bothered if the air-conditioning is turned on or not. An air-conditioner takes up to thousands of watts of electricity, and most of the other appliances in our home takes up to a few to a hundred watts of electricity. Or compare it with a standing fan of only 75 watts!

We are also introduced to the concept of Metta Meditation and how by realizing that we are all living in a small fishbowl, whatever we throw at the earth, is actually throwing at our small fishbowl. We are all interdependent, thus having love for us and other sentient beings means having to include loving the small fishbowl that we live in.

Metta Meditation is the training in loving-kindness, having the sincere wish for all beings to be well and happy without any expectations. During the one hour, actual Earth Hour, we had a guided Metta meditation sitting in the dark. Metta Round the World had been our supporter, spreading the idea for this event to all of it's participating organisations all around the world!

The photograph is adjusted for longer exposure so the sky seems brighter than what the naked eye sees. There is an unexpected glow from the dragon as well.
Our photographer had taken the rare opportunity of total darkness in the monastery to capture breathtaking pictures. And our participants and volunteers feedback that the event was meaningful and wishes to have it next year again!

 "The selected venue which was in an open space instead of an enclosed area is very helpful. Though it was just for a short session, it was a fruitful one; especially during the lights off when the area was in total darkness and in mute silence. I feel very closely connected to the nature. It was like I am in an empty space, the universe; calm and peaceful. Hah! I may sounds exaggerating but this is truly what I felt"
                                                                                                                       -ChengYee, Volunteer

 "Earth Hour Metta Meditation was an excellent opportunity for me to reflect upon the scarcity of Earth resources and develop mindfulness of how our way of life can have irreversible consequences on the Earth and future generations to come. I am also more grateful to Earth for providing an environment for Buddhism to flourish. 感恩!"  
                                                                                                                        -Yi Hao, Participant

At the end, we dedicated merits to the late Lee Kuan Yew, Founding Prime Minister of Singapore, all beings, and for the successful climate conference in Paris 2015 for it is the first time that all nations in the world, including USA and China, agree to have a legally binding climate agreement.

As the issue of climate change is urgent, it is hoped that in the spirit of loving-kindness, this event will spread to more and more temples and monasteries around the world and we can help use the power of love to sustain the planet!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Earth Hour Metta Meditation Still On Because It Is Not Celebratory In Nature, All The More Love Is Needed In Times Of Sadness

News of Founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s death had prompted WWF Singapore to cancel their celebration of Earth Hour and just have a simple 60+ Earth Hour logo with LED candles and lights off. Many other malls followed suit. However one event is still appropriate to continue on. That is Earth Hour Metta Meditation.
Metta is an ancient Indian language word for loving-kindness, which is love without expectations. During this event, participants are invited to sit down during Earth Hour and spread this loving-kindness to the Earth and all beings on it. Because meditation is solemn in nature, it is still appropriate to have this event ongoing.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew had cleaned up Singapore’s River, established Singapore as a Garden City, and established water recycling in Singapore. Many of his plans are environmentally conscious and yet Singapore is not perfect in being 100% green. We can still be more civic minded in not treating the recycling bins as rubbish bins and vice versa.
So in truly being appreciative of his foundational efforts, we should not slack in our efforts to help make Singapore more environmentally friendly. This is especially urgent since Singapore is now depending on the last landfill of the country, which is estimated to last another 30 years at the rate of rubbish generation of Singaporeans.
However, the more fundamental concern maybe the geographical one. As a low-lying island, Singapore is very vulnerable to sea level rise. Even as Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts sea level rise by the end of this century to be about one meter, if global warming is left unchecked, you can bet that the sea level rise will go beyond one meter and much more. So Singapore of 50 years independence (and much longer history as a port city) might only have a few more centuries to live on the same land. Unless we somehow figure out how to float the entire island, or build underwater cities.
earth hour metta meditation
Earth Hour Metta Meditation is organized by Gratitude Corner (Environmental Protection Projects) of Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, the largest temple in Singapore. It is supported by Metta Round the World, a project aimed at creating more loving minds in the world for peace, harmony and happiness. The event is free for all (regardless of religious inclination) to come, no registration. From 7pm onwards, the public can come to the monastery to behind the Hall of Great Compassion (the first hall from the entrance) and learn about some exhibitions and videos of environmentalism and how Buddhism can contribute to address the problem. There would be talks around 7:50pm and the meditation, guided by a Venerable (monastic) will start at 8:30pm until 9:30pm.
Meditation is another word for mind training, or mental development. In Metta Meditation, we train to be familiarized with loving without any expectations. Too often we demand some form of return from whomever we pour our efforts into, and when we do not get it, we would feel sad and demotivated to continue on the work. This is very applicable in the scene of environmental protection. Just like Mr. Lee Kuan Yew who had worked away his life for the sake of Singapore, we can take to his example and contribute what we can for the sake of a safer earth to live on.
As such, in the work to protect the environment, we cannot lack this motivation of Metta, or Great Love, loving-kindness. Despite the attitudes of others around us being not environmentally conscious, ordering meat (it does harm the environment), not recycling and so on, we can do the opposite and be environmentally friendly out of our innate love. Once we are established ourselves in being green and having Great Love, we can spread it around and influence others to do the same.
In a study done in the United States of America, they had found a significant drop in violent crime in Washington, D.C., from June 7 to July 30, 1993 due to approximately 4,000 participants in the Transcendental Meditation programme. The statistical probability that this result could reflect chance variation in crime levels was less than 2 in 1 billion (p < .000000002). As such, the power of the mind, especially collectively is significant to change our world.
Metta Round the World aims at gathering the people round the world (Buddhist or not) to meditate on Metta together for peace, harmony, and stability in the world. In line with that, knowing that climate change contributed to the war in Syria, it is only natural to include being green as part of the practice of loving-kindness.
If nothing else, this event teaches the participants to reflect in themselves, to develop that sense of love and compassion for the world and act accordingly. As we change, we have the power to influence others (without expectations), and thus at the end of the event, we dedicate this act towards a sustainable planet, and the memory of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, wishing him (wherever he is now) and all beings to be well and happy.
It is also worth mentioning that this year is the year in which the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference would be held in Paris. The conference objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. For the first time, China and United States, the two biggest carbon emitters of the world has agreed to work together to change climate change. So we also dedicate this act of loving-kindness to the success of this conference. Just as our leaders act on the top, we can act from the bottom to help make a better future for our next generation.
May all of us be well and happy! And not just during Earth Hour, go beyond the hour!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Right speech as the middle path between free speech and censorship in the wake of Charlie Hebdo attack

 In the past week, after the world was shocked at a bias report of media on death of less than a hundred people in France (as compared to thousands elsewhere hint: Boko Haram attack on Baga), due to religious fanatics of people claiming to be Muslims.

Many irresponsible journalists immediately when into defend freedom of speech mode, saying that it's an attack on freedom of speech, causing Islamophobia to rise. Yet, there are many others who are more moderate (and wise) who recognize that freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences of speech. So far their voice has not been heard enough. People are still in very extremist mode about the incident, although the call for harmony and rational judgement is always present.

I had just read what the Pope has to say about it, and he is right. Insulting religion is going too far, as is killing in the name of religion. Well, Buddhist doesn't has a united world spiritual leader like the Catholics. So here's a voice from a Buddhist.

I believe that the Buddha has already addressed this issue of Freedom of speech vs Censorship way back in his time. Of course, come to think of it, everyone has freedom to speak what they like to speak. It's just how the law of the country and society would react to that speech that matters. In America, most likely any speech is allowed without any retribution, giving the false illusion that one can be free from responsibility of what one says. In countries that has internal security acts, like Malaysia (who recently just joined in the gang after a brief pulling out), certain speech has grave consequences, that of jail without trial. This gives an unnecessary feel of oppression and discomfort.

What did the Buddha said about speech? Once a prince was instructed by a rival religious leader to question the Buddha if he would speak words that are unendearing & disagreeable to others? If he replies yes, then he is no different from run of the mill person. If he says no, then point out an occurrence where he did said it. Thus, this would be a two-pronged question which the Buddha cannot swallow it down or spit it up.

Here we can relate to the arguments for free speech. Sometimes, hurtful things has to be said for the good of that person, so that they can change. Yet, the arguments for censorship is such that, sometimes, some speech is just too harmful that it's better to ban saying it altogether.

When the prince did approached the Buddha with the question, the reply was: "Prince, there is no categorical yes-or-no answer to that." Then the prince had said that the rival religious leader had lost there and then. After inquiring as to the cause of the prince asking that question, the Buddha asked the prince (who has his baby on his lap then) a counter question: "What do you think, prince: If this young boy, through your own negligence or that of the nurse, were to take a stick or a piece of gravel into its mouth, what would you do?"

"I would take it out, lord. If I couldn't get it out right away, then holding its head in my left hand and crooking a finger of my right, I would take it out, even if it meant drawing blood. Why is that? Because I have sympathy for the young boy."

You can refer to the picture now as to how the Buddha continued. In the same way, he would speak what he knows to be true, not false. And it has to be beneficial, not unbeneficial. And if it is unendearing & disagreeable to others, or endearing & agreeable to others, he would have the sense of proper time to say them. Why is that? Because he has a sense of compassion for living beings.
Right speech in Actio
So referring to internet journalism, it is still mostly reporting on what is true, for facts checking is one of the main pride of journalists. Yet, sadly, fake news websites are sprouting. It doesn't help that the disclaimer, which is often overlooked, says that it's a satirical site. Many people in social media has already been conned with fake news now and then.

As with regards to what is beneficial and what is not, I do not think most journalist take that into account when writing their reports. It doesn't matter so much about the thing they are reporting as how they are reporting it that would make the difference of whether it generates more fear, hatred, intolerance in the world, or does it generate more harmony, love, kindness in the world. Still many journalists does try to look into the positive aspects of things.

So, the Buddha seems ok on whether the thing to be said is unendearing & disagreeable or endearing & agreeable to others. The focus is on having the right time to say it. This might be the most challenging thing of all, because having the right time means judging the recipient's level of acceptance of what is to be said, and journalists has mainly no idea. Or is it? With the advert of the internet, the world is like a global village in closeness. So the myriad of social media, comments, blogs and independent news like this site captures the reaction of the crowd for one to judge if this article has gotten the right time to be said.

This right here is the main solution between freedom of speech and censorship: the sense of proper time to say it. If said in a wrong time, a speech that is beneficial cannot be accepted.

Right speech I believe is the middle path that's the solution between extremes of freedom of speech and censorship. Right speech acknowledges that we are free to speak, but not free from responsibility of the speech, therefore self censorship is practiced, to say what is true, beneficial, harmonious, in a kind and timely manner.

Yes, it doesn't address the problem of what the state should practice, but if you're reading this, then you can start to practice right speech. In the age of social media, where a lot of news get coverage from sharing, you are part of the journalists of the world by the choice of sharing or not sharing a particular article. Hopefully, you'll be able to practice right speech and share wisely.

To recap: share what you know to be true, to be beneficial, and have the sense of proper time to share what may or may not be endearing and agreeable.

The more people practicing this, the less extreme the world would be and maybe, just maybe we can come together in harmony and unity and start focusing and acting on seriously deathly issues for the future of our species: climate change.