Oct 11, 2008

An encounter with Ven. Dr K. Sri Dhammananda

I have been having a lot of dreams these days. I wonder if it could be the effects of the drugs I am taking? In the most recent dream, I was with the late Ven. Dr. K Sri Dhammananda. I had only met the man, when he was in the flesh, once. My friend (who happens to be close to him) and I went to meet him in his office at the Buddhist temple at Brickfields some years back. Last week, Mr. T had given me two books which the late monk authored. Well in the dream I had dropped my spectacles and was looking for it but I could not find it. I was lost, stressed and desperately looking for it here and there but I could not find it. Then came the late Ven Dr K. Sri Dhammananda in his orange robe. He found my spectacles, smiled and handed it over to me. I felt a great relief when I had them on again.

Today I met Mr. T for a discussion on Buddhism at a Buddhist CafĂ© in Klang. Looks like it’s going to be a weekly Saturday afternoon affair these days. He spoke about the true nature of the mind, about wrong thinking and views and about the Buddha. On one occasion I had asked him “where is the Buddha now?” and he had answered “The Buddha is inside of you”. I must confess that the answer stunned me for a while (And I am still thinking about it..It sounded a lot like what Jesus had said in the bible - "The Father and I are one", "You see me, You see the Father")

Somewhere during the discussion, I saw the connection between the dream I had earlier and the discussion we were having. When I lost my spectacles I could not see clearly. My vision was blurred and it was most frustrating and annoying. When I could not see clearly, I could not function properly, efficiently. But when I had them back on, I could see clearly and function happily. The highly respected monk is a symbol for the dhamma. The word 'dhamma' even appears in his name. The teachings of the Buddha, the dhamma, is the spiritual spectacles that give perfect, right vision.

Now we suffer because of an undeveloped mind. Such a mind brings about wrong thinking or views. We suffer. We cannot “see” clearly. Thus we stumble and fumble. We make mistakes. We thus become inefficient. We cannot function to the best of our abilities or realize our true potential. We are sort of handicapped. In this state we are ‘sinners” or “lost sheep”. In his book “You and Your Problems, the late Ven Dr K. Sri Dhammananda had written:-

“It is not what happens but our reactions to what happens that determines our degree of happiness or misery. Circumstances have the power to disrupt our peace of mind only as we let them. Events are things of the external world. It is not what happens without but the reaction within that counts.”

“It is easy to enough to be pleasant
When life flows along like a song
But the man worthwhile
Is the man who can smile
When life goes dead wrong”

“The Buddha says that the world is within you. When you discipline yourself the whole world is disciplined and peace is maintained not only for yourself but all those around you.”

“Men experiences stress and suffering because of five psychological states which envelop his whole personality. They are called nivarana in the Pali language meaning hindrances. They hinder happiness and overcloud a man’s vision of himself, his environment and the interaction between the two..These five hindrances are the desire for sensual pleasures, anger, indolence, worry and doubt. The Pali Canon illustrates the effect of these hindrances with the help of five similes.

The mind overpowered by the desire of sensual pleasures is compared to colored water which prevents a true reflection of an object on the water. Thus a man obsessed with the desire for sense of pleasures is unable to get a true perspective of either himself or other people or his environment.

The mind obsessed by anger is compared to boiling water which cannot give an accurate reflection. A man overpowered by anger is unable to discern an issue properly.

When the mind is in the grip of indolence it is like moss covered water: light cannot even penetrate the water and a reflection is impossible. The lazy man does not even make an effort at correct understanding.

When worried the mind is like wind tossed turbulent water, which also fails to give a true reflection. The worried man forever restless is unable to make a proper assessment of an issue.

When the mind is in doubt it is compared to muddy water placed in darkness which cannot reflect an image well.

Thus all the five hindrances deprive the mind of understanding and happiness and cause much stress and suffering.”

“Man’s mind influences his body profoundly. The mind has just as much potential to be a medication as it has to be a poison. When the mind is vicious, it can kill a being, but when it is steady and diligent it can benefit others.

When the mind is concentrated on right thoughts and supported by right effort and right understanding, the effect it produces is immense. A mind with pure wholesome thoughts leads to healthy relaxed living.- He is strong who conquers others; he who conquers himself is mighty’ – Lao Tzu. The Buddha says “No enemy can harm one so much as one own thoughts of craving, thoughts of hate, thoughts of jealousy and so on”.

A man who does not know how to adjust his mind according to circumstances is not a real human. Turn your mind inwards, and try to find peace within yourself. It is only when the mind is controlled and properly directed that it becomes useful to its owner and society. An unruly mind is a liability both to its owner and to others.”

“What can you achieve by changing the world? Can you achieve perfection? Never, you will only be able to feed your vanity and fulfill your ego. You will be bound by the wheel of existence. But by changing yourself, by realizing the nature of the self through selflessness, self discipline and self exertion, you can achieve perfection. By achieving such perfection, your life becomes meaningful and you can render great service to others.”

“The important thing about life is that we have it and therefore we must make the best use of it. This indeed is the great value of life, the opportunity of making the maximum use of it. Many people lead narrow, unhappy and depressed life because they do not try to make the best use of life. They spend most of their time worrying and struggling for survival, working like slaves, confronting enormous problems and hindrances.

We spend enormous time and energy in an emotional battlefield- fighting for survival, fighting for power, fighting for gain, fighting for name, fighting for pleasure and fighting to be free from danger. Occasionally, we do gain a little bit of momentary satisfaction but every pleasure inevitably ends with suffering.

If you can understand the real nature of life and the world, then you can readily understand why it is absolutely necessary to attain liberation and you would not delay your effort for attainment of this blissful state. Today you are fighting to escape suffering through a worldly way, which is temporary. However if you try to get rid of your suffering by developing the spiritual aspect of your life, then you can find real peace.”
"You cannot change worldly conditions according to your wishes but you can change your mind to develop contentment to find happiness"
"According to the Buddha, this world is based on conflict, friction or unsatisfactoriness and impermanance. Again, he says the way to worldly gain is one thing, and that to salvation is another.". - (Jesus said the same thing - You cannot serve both God and money)
In conclusion the message i got from the dream and the writings of the great monk was the world is a battlefield. The mind is an even greater battlefield. If we have not conquered our mind, if we have not corrected our visions, the time is not ripe for us to function efficently at our best potential to conquer the problems of the world. Like Jesus had said - " Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your your eye', when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from yoru brother's eye.'. (Jesus was a carpenter and he had the correct vision to use saw dust and planks to make a fantastic simile - a sure sign of an enlightened mind at work).

Well said Chief Reverend. Thank you for the Buddha-vision.

Oct 10, 2008

Found: The Lost Sheep

One of the most pleasant and refreshing pictures of Jesus I have seen is the one of Jesus walking while carrying a lost sheep over his shoulders. It shows a close bonding between a man and his sheep, between man and animal, between man and nature. Now I suppose the artist has based his master piece on this parable in the bible:-

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them- what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call all your friends and neighbors together and say to them “I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate! In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent” – Luke 15: 4-7.

Jesus was a great Teacher. If he is right then, from the parable above:-

a. There is a God.
b. We are sinners.
c. We are lost.
d. There is a heaven.
e. God is consistently looking to bring us back to His Kingdom.
f. There will be great joy in heaven when one sinner repents.
g. God loves the sinner and seeks the sinner vigorously.

How often do our lives revolve around status oriented accumulation and conspicuous consumption? How often are we daily massaged by a hyperactive consumerist vision to see and measure everything in life in terms of money – even time is now considered money. If we do not have enough money we feel inferior, mediocre- unhappy and a loss of self esteem. We worry about how to pay the bills and lose sleep. We get irritable, annoyed, intolerant and restless. We cannot see clearly as we are blinded by our wrong vision. We are truly lost sheep when we live for the trinity of money, sex and power. Jesus taught that anxiety about this trinity is a waste of time and distracts us from what matters most – the bringing about of the kingdom and the righteousness of God which will bring all round true happiness, satisfaction and rejoicing in the world. This is the true ideal of life, and ideal we must strive for at all costs even at the price of death. And how do we enter into this Kingdom here on earth? By following the values taught by Jesus:-

Be humble and thirst for truth and righteousness, be merciful, be pure in heart, be a peacemaker, be willing to joyfully suffer persecution and insult for doing what is right.
Be the salt and light of the world – by doing good works.
Do not hate or indulge in anger, but instead seek to reconcile.
Do no lust or be sexually unfaithful in your heart.
Do not presume to make vows but have simple speech, where yes means yes and no means no.
Do not get revenge, but find a creative and non violent ways to overcome evil done to you.
Love your enemies, as God does and be generous to everyone as God is.
Give to the poor, pray and fast secretly.
Don’t let greed cloud your outlook but store up treasure in heaven through generosity.
Don’t worry about your own daily needs but instead trust yourself to God’s care (have faith) and seek God kingdom of righteousness first and foremost and vigorously.
Don’t judge others but instead work on your own blindness.
Go to God with all your needs, knowing that God is a caring Father.
Do to others as you would them do to you.
Don’t be misled by religious talk, what counts is actually living the teaching.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal but store yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
You cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve both God (truth and righteousness) and money.
Renounce. Forget yourself, take up your cross follow the teachings.
He who loves his life will lose it. He who loses his life for the sake of the Kingdom will find it.

And the great Teacher makes this promise:-

“Therefore take no THOUGHT, saying “what shall we eat” or “what shall we drink” or “what shall we wear” (for all these things to the Gentiles seek) for your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things WILL be added to you”- Matt 6: 31-33.

Now the great but pauper artist Vincent Van Gogh had this to say about Jesus:-

Christ alone... has affirmed as a principal certainty, eternal life, the infinity of time, the nothingness of death, the necessity and the raison d'ĂȘtre of serenity and devotion. He lived serenely, as a greater artist than all other artists, despising marble and clay as well as color, working in living flesh. That is to say, this matchless artist... made neither statues nor pictures nor books; he loudly proclaimed that he made... living men, immortals.

I am convinced, like Van Gogh, that if we repent from the errors of our ways and live the teachings of Jesus, if we would make his words, so to speak…our flesh (‘and the word became flesh, full of grace and truth- John 1:14), we would have true peace of mind and we would become living men… immortals. Then there will be great rejoicing and celebration in heaven.

Oct 5, 2008

The Bojjhangas (Part 2)

I summarize my reading of the Bojjhangas as follows:-

The Enlightenment factor of Mindfulness – to be mindful day and night to perform wholesome deeds – generous, moral and meditation deeds and to be mindful to avoid unwholesome deeds. Whatever work that needs to be carried out, mindfulness does not forget to do it. To be pure in thought, word and deed at all times. To be mindful of the present, the Now. Not the past and the future. To guard the mind from unwholesome mental states or defilements. To be mindful of all phenomena arising in the body or mind - they must be observed as they really are at the moment of their rising. To be aware of the rising and passing away of mental and physical phenomena.

The Enlightenment factor of the investigation of states – when things are investigated and examined thoroughly and diligently, understanding, knowledge or insight (wisdom) arises. All mental states that arise – good or bad – must be seen and understood as what they really are.

The Enlightenment factor of effort – Effort and energy are needed if one is to progress or prosper in whatever one does. One must have strength, courage, endurance to put in the necessary effort to succeed at anything one sets out to do. No shrinking, no stepping back, no procrastination – no matter what the difficulties encountered.

The Enlightenment factor of rapture – One has to have interest, satisfaction and joy in what one does that leads to rapture. This is a inner feeling of gladness and delight. This does not mean only work for one’s own joy or satisfaction. It must lead to giving gladness and delight to others too. The work one does that leads to rapture has to have the function of pervading – to pervade the body or mind with rapture – to refresh the body and the mind with the work one does which leads to the service of others – elating, refreshing both oneself and others.

The Enlightenment factor of tranquility – one has to put in effort to keep one’s mind in constant tranquility and calmness. Its function is to relieve or crush the disturbances and agitation of body and mind. When one has a tranquil mind, one can work and function efficiently and thus be of service to oneself and others.

The Enlightenment factor of concentration – one has to develop the characteristic of non- distraction. When concentration arises, the mind does not go here and there anymore. It stays focused on whatever one does in the Now, the present, until it completes what one sets out to do.

The Enlightenment factor of equanimity – One has to be balanced in all things. Its function is to prevent deficiency and excess and to prevent partiality. It makes one impartial in all things.

When one is diligent in practicing the above, one becomes the master of one’s mind. Much physical disease is caused by anger, stress, depression, guilt, unforgiving nature, envy, hatred etc. The practice of the above teaching leads to peace of mind and the control of thoughts- of seeing things as they really are. With right thinking, all is made well. For as a man thinks, so is he. We attract not what we want but what we are. This is the law of attraction. We attract what we are. And what we are, are constituted by our habitual right or wrong way of thinking and this can go back a long, long, long way. Wrong thinking and wrong actions are the cause. Physical disease and other unwanted happenings are the effect. We reap what we have sown. It is the law of karma. Bad karma can be mitigated if we follow the Bojjhangas.

The ideal is the perfect man. The perfect nation. The Bojjhangas are the means to become the perfect man, the perfect nation. For the health of the nation depends on the minds of its citizens and more significantly, the minds of its leaders. If the minds of the leaders are corrupt and weak, its policies will be weak and the nation suffers. Thanks to the Buddha we can become the perfect man or the perfect nation if we follow the Bojjhangas.

From the point of worldly affairs – the Bojjhangas should be taught to the people. It should be part of the education policy to create the perfect nation. For example if we had the factor of mindfulness, we would not be lazy, forgetful or negligent in our duties. We would be mindful of our thoughts, words and deed as we know it has consequences. We would want to be mindful to sow good thoughts, words and deeds to attract good consequences to ourselves and to others. We would be attentive in our work and this leads to quality work. Mindfulness leads to self mastery.

If we had the factor of investigation of states, we would increase our knowledge in all that we do and would be seeking ways to improve ourselves and the quality of our service. We would reject an education policy that emphasizes on memory and passing exams by how well one has learnt answers from past year questions. We would implement one that emphasizes thinking, creativity, inquiring, reasoning, novelty and analysis. We reject ignorance. We endeavor to have a scientific mentality. We should be able to discern whether our efforts and undertakings would bring more prosperity and wealth to ourselves and the nation. When we understand this investigation of states as a factor for prosperity, progress and wealth to arise, we would apply ourselves diligently and honestly to the task of investigation of things, asking about the ideal of things. We would put in the necessary effort to implement our understanding and knowledge from our investigations. We would find the ideal of things and reject any element that corrupts our ideal.

With the factor of effort, we are encouraged to strive enthusiastically to investigate and find the effective policies and strategies to bring benefit to ourselves and others. We would then implement them to achieve the ideal. We would reject any form of incompetence, indolence and apathy in our quest to make the ideal a reality.

With the factor of concentration added to the factor of effort, we are fully immersed in carrying out our business or duties in the home, in the work place at the micro level and in the field of education, trade or politics at the macro level. We reject laziness. We honor discipline. If all is done well, we experience benefit and profit from our work. More gets done. There would be more achievement and productivity. This leads to the experience of joy, lightness and delight (rapture)… calm and peace (tranquility) which enriches our being. This would enable us to be more compassionate beings for one has to be compassionate with oneself before one can be compassionate to another being. As a result of the factors of rapture and tranquility we would cherish and love our work and our duty – health, productivity and prosperity are maximized. One should be placed in a working environment where one can work according to one’s best interests, abilities and talents to increase productivity. This will ensure that the factor of rapture and the factor tranquility pervades everywhere leading to more contentment, harmony and productivity.

With the factor of equanimity, we become balanced people. We then become impartial, tolerant, composed, fair, compassionate and competent in our work and dealings with others. We carry our duties with composure, with reason and logic rather than being swayed by our passions and emotions. We reject all forms of extremism and fanaticisms. We reject superstition. We would reject greed. We would reject a society where the gap between the rich and the poor is wide. We would strive for equality for all. We reject racial politics. We reject unfair economic policies. We reject all injustices. We would respect human rights. We would respect animal rights. We would respect the rights of all living beings and the rights of the environment.

Thus, strict compliance with the Bojjhangas can only lead to all round health, prosperity and happiness to all. May all be happy and well.

The Bojjhangas (Part 1)

Last Saturday as usual I went back to my parents’ home. My mum told me that there was a package for me. I looked at it and it was a huge packet. Inside the package, there were 18 books! – on Buddhism. My mum told me that an elderly Chinese man sent them to me. I know that man as Mr. T (He had given me 10 books earlier- of which I had not the time to read yet). I called Mr. T and thanked him for the books. He told me to read all the books he had given me and digest the teachings and I could discuss any matters that merit discussion with him during the weekends. I started reading the first book – The Bojjhangas.
This teaching of the Buddha is said to be the medicine that makes ALL diseases disappear. Disease can be physical, mental or spiritual and this teaching of the Blessed One cures ALL diseases– if we care to practice it daily, faithfully.

The Bojjhangas (English version) is as follows:-

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rajagaha in Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel Santuary. Now on that occasion the Blessed One was sick, afflicted, gravely ill. Then the Venerable Mahacunda approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, and sat down on one side. The Blessed One then said to the Venerable Mahacunda: “Recite the factors of enlightenment Cunda”

“These seven factors of enlightenment venerable sir, have been rightly expounded by the Blessed One: when developed and cultivated, they lead to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana. What seven?

The enlightenment factor of mindfulness has been rightly expounded by the Blessed One: when developed and cultivated, it leads to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.

The enlightenment factor of investigation has been rightly expounded by the Blessed One: when developed and cultivated, it leads to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.

The enlightenment factor of energy has been rightly expounded by the Blessed One: when developed and cultivated, it leads to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.

The enlightenment factor of rapture has been rightly expounded by the Blessed One: when developed and cultivated, it leads to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.

The enlightenment factor of tranquility has been rightly expounded by the Blessed One: when developed and cultivated, it leads to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.

The enlightenment factor of concentration has been rightly expounded by the Blessed One: when developed and cultivated, it leads to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.

The enlightenment factor of equanimity has been rightly expounded by the Blessed One: when developed and cultivated, it leads to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.

These seven factors of enlightenment venerable sir, have been rightfully expounded by the Blessed One, when developed and cultivated they lead to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.

[“Surely Cunda, they are factors of enlightenment! Surely, Cunda, they are factors of enlightenment! This is what the Venerable Mahacunda said. The Teacher approved. And the Blessed One recovered from that illness. In such a way the Blessed One was cured of his illness.

The Bojjhanga Sutta (English Version)

Having known by way of experience the seven kinds of Dhamma called factors of enlightenment which destroy ALL sufferings of beings who wander through this samsara (round of rebirths) and which defeat the army of Mara, the Evil One, these excellent persons were liberated from the three kinds of existence. They have reached Nibbana where there is no rebirth, ageing, death and danger.

Oh good people! Let us recite this Bojjhanga Sutta which is endowed with the aforementioned attributes, which gives not a few benefits and which is like medicine and a mantra.

These seven factors of enlightenment, namely mindfulness, investigation of dhammas, effort (or energy), rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity, which are all well-expounded by the All Seeing Sage, promote, when practiced repeatedly, penetration of the truth, cessation of suffering and knowledge of the path. By this utterance of truth, may there always be happiness for you.

Once the Lord saw Moggalana and Kassapa being unwell and suffering, he preached the seven factors of enlightenment.

They having rejoiced at the discourse, immediately were freed from the disease. By this utterance of truth, may there always be happiness to you.

Once when the King of the Dhamma was oppressed by disease, he had the Venerable Cunda recite the discourse respectfully, and having rejoiced at the discourse was immediately cured of the disease. By this utterance of truth, may there always be happiness to you.

The diseases of the three Great Sages that were eradicated reached the stage of never occurring again like the mental defilements eradicated by the path. By this utterance of truth, may there always be happiness for you.