Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Life is But a Dream (知世如梦)

Dharma Sister Ling could not breathe during her sleep one night and later collapsed in her office, out of breath. She was sent to the hospital but the doctor could not explain her illness and could not prescribe any medication for her. She asked me for help. She became alright after my blessing and left the hospital when the doctor still could not figure out her problem.

There were many old folks, even those in their 40s and 50s, who died during their sleep due to breathing difficulty. So, when we get into our beds tonight, we may not get out of the bed tomorrow morning. There is no guarantee that you will still live the next moment. You will not know when your last moment will come.

Go ask Dharma Sister Ling, “What do you think about your job?” “Do you still want to care so much about your work? The work can never be finished.” “What about your son?” “What about your husband?” “What about your family?” I can tell you that she now wants nothing else but her next breath. All your dissatisfactions and arguments with others will become meaningless when you are in such a state.

A cultivator must learn to appreciate the “impermanence” in life. Only when one has personally experienced the impermanence in life that he will develop a sense of renunciation crucial to the success of cultivation. I think that 1 to 2 hours of suffering was too short for Dharma Sister Ling. I could have acted earlier but I tried to delay my help. If that duration when she was out of breath could be prolonged slightly, it would have benefitted her more. If that duration could be stretched to 2 weeks, it would have been better for her. Let her go through the sufferings in that 2 weeks, she would have felt more deeply about the impermanence in life. Why so? For I had personally gone through a similar stage: for a few months I could not sleep at night because the very moment I lied down, I could not breathe at all. After that long period of ordeal, I appreciate my life better now. I no longer place hope on worldly matters: love, hatred, children, wife etc. For this remaining lifetime of mine, I will cultivate until I reach the stage where I can draw my last breath with ease. I had gone through that crisis stage in life.

Why did the ancient folks say that a cultivator must go through a big crisis in his life? For he will attain enlightenment only after going through that crisis in life. If you have not gone through a big crisis in life, you will continue to feel attached to the worldly matters and be stranded in the cyclic existence forever. So what if you are given the whole world? When you cannot even draw your next breath, the rest are just an illusion to you. Had Dharma Sister Ling been able to remain in that ordeal for a longer period, she would have developed a deeper appreciation of impermanence, and a stronger sense of renunciation. Only then she would have understood the meaning of this verse:
Knowing this world is a dream,
I ask for nothing.
As I ask for nothing,
My mind is free.
I will continue to live in this dream,
And accomplish the countless merits,
Which are also but a dream.

She would have then understood that this world is actually a dream and she would therefore ask for nothing. She would have then understood that this world is only a dream, including all of us who are sitting right here which is part of the dream too. It is a dream that will disappear immediately when one wakes up from it: your wife, your kids are actually not yours. Let me tell you this, very soon, all of them will just vanish. You don’t have to chase after them, because you will not be able to chase after them. This world is just a big dream. When you realize that it is a dream, you will then ask for nothing.

What do I mean by “asking for nothing”? Just sit there and do nothing, like the statue of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? No! We should continue to live our lives, knowing full well that they are just dream, dream, dream…… We will continue to work, continue to take care of our kids, but our mind is not attached to all these phenomena which are transient. You will be seen by others as a lunatic, who has a very different view from others. You will appear to be living life the same way like others that, you will need to eat, you will have stomach ache at times, and you will need to go to the toilet. You will appear to be acting and behaving like any other person around you, but your mentality is no longer the same like others, and your views are just different.

Dharma Sister Ling has not developed a deep sense of impermanence from the ordeal she went through yet; a deeper appreciation would have helped her attain a higher level of realization.

Cultivation should be the highest priority in life. All else should be of secondary importance. Cultivation is the most crucial thing in life. If you have not developed that sense of priority, your mood is still very much influenced by the worldly concerns, you will then continue to live and die in this cyclic existence perpetually. You will continue to be reborn in a cyclic existence even after this earth has been destroyed and disappeared. You will then continue to live and die after the earth was formed once again. If you like it that way, I will leave it to you.

The sense of impermanence is very crucial. The most important thing in life is for one to develop a strong sense of impermanence; other things in life will pale in comparison. If you only treat cultivation as a secondary priority in life, cultivating for a better prospect for your career or your family, you are just turning to cultivation for a worldly purpose, then you are not a true cultivator and you will not be able to end your cyclic existence.

Dharma Sister Ling has helped us appreciate more of the impermanence in life. If you find your life very interesting today, then you will want to ask for more tomorrow. If you treat your current day as your last day in life, you will appreciate everyday and every moment of your life. Everyday I am telling myself that this will probably be my last day. When I wake up on the following day, I will feel very thankful that I am still breathing and that I have earned one more day. We should still view this life as a dream and all happenings in our life as dreams: going to office is a dream, work and kids are dreams etc. Cultivation is the most crucial thing in life. Compassion is the most crucial thing in life. Do not let our mind run wild. No matter how ill you have treated me, I will remain compassionate towards you, for the Buddhas and Boddhisattvas only aspire to help the sentient beings perpetually.

I wish that you would practice with vigou and perseverance. Free yourself from the fetter of the cyclic existence, and then you would be able to help other sentient beings do likewise.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Self Reflection (指向自己)

How easy is spiritual cultivation? You could say that it is easy and yet not easy. You could also say that is tough and yet not tough. The numerous enlightened beings including the bodhisattvas and the enlightened masters have re-incarnated at will in this world to provide the opportunity for other sentient beings to learn from them directly, but there had been very few cases of success. Sentient beings have accumulated too great a negative karma (lust, hatred and ignorance) since time immemorial; although they do their daily practices, the merit generated from which is completely nullified by the negative karma created on a daily basis through their own actions, speech and thoughts. Although you do not kill or hurt others, your negative thoughts could have already more than adequate to nullify all your merits. That explains why so many cultivators actually regress on the spiritual path instead of making progress.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, you will need to spend the first 12 years studying the Hinayana and Mahayana doctrines and observe the precepts very closely, before being admitted into the Vajrayana practices. That was the practice in the old days by the patriarchs. So, we have skipped the rule. The danger of skipping the rule is that you will end up confused when you are given the higher teachings before you are ready; you will sometimes find yourself completely lost, not knowing what to do. Sometimes you would have spoken some wrong words and created a bad karma without you knowing. That is why the precepts are so crucial. You had better not say anything you are not sure of.

There is a precept in the Vajrayana Buddhism – the fellow vajrayanists must not quarrel with one another. So, please abide by this precept strictly when you learn about it. If you quarrel with a teacher of the dharma, that is even worse. The Vajrayana precepts are very crucial. Please watch your own thoughts, speech and actions closely, and repent immediately when you harbor ill thoughts; this is the only way to make progress on the spiritual path. So, you should know it whether you have made advancement in your cultivation.

If you end up becoming more opinionated, argumental and easily annoyed, you have to pay attention. You should just reflect inward to see if you have gone astray. If it is your own mistake, make amends. You should not be picking on others as it will lead you to nowhere. Only when you reflect inward, do your own soul searching, you will be able to eradicate your own lust, hatred and ignorance gradually.

Even the patriarchs went through numerous lifetimes to perfect their cultivation. There is no one who could succeed in his cultivation in one single lifetime, including myself. I reflect inward daily and ask myself if I did it right? Did I say something wrong or did it cause any misunderstanding by others? If I did it wrong, I will need to make amends. Sometimes, as I am getting old, I tend to forget what I have just said, or what I said yesterday. So, please do not just pick on the flaws of others, but learn to see the positive side of another person.

Cherish the time we have together, especially the opportunity to learn and practice the Tantras which is in fact very rare and inconceivable. No one can succeed in his cultivation instantaneously, and I dare not give you the guarantee that you can achieve great success in your cultivation. If you finally succeed in your cultivation, I will be the most happy person to celebrate your success, and it will be worth my pain of going through the learning process with you. I will be more than willing to go to hell for your enlightenment. So, I wish that you would gradually cleanse your negative karma by constantly reflecting inward, but not outward. You must progress towards reducing your own anxieties and becoming an easy person. Otherwise, you will need to reflect upon yourself – maybe it is time to repent?

Please think about this crucial point.

Negative Propensities (瘾)


Cultivation is part and parcel of our lives. That makes me think about ‘habits’. There are many kinds of habits: smoking, gambling, drinking etc. These are harmful habits. So, Sakyamuni Buddha invented the numerous precepts, in order to keep us away from those harmful habits. Because if we cannot resist the temptations of the harmful habits, they can become big hurdles in our cultivations.

Some people are extremely stingy and they have their great desire for money. There was a story about Shariputtra who became a thousand year-old snake in one of his previous lives. The snake lived amidst a pile of jewels, guarding them closely. Shariputtra was a very wealthy but stingy man before he became a snake in his next life. He fell very ill once but refused to see the doctor out of stinginess; money was even more important than his own life. Out of his extreme stinginess, he was reborn as a snake in his next life, continued to guard his wealth for a thousand year. One day, the snake heard the recitations of a novice monk, like the Sixth Patriach of Zen Buddhism who became enlightened upon hearing a recitation of a sentence in the Diamond Sutra, the snake suddenly realized that “This world is actually an illusion!” and let go of its attachment to the jewels it was guarding, and ended that episode of life.

Acho Rinpoche:

The moment we were born, we already inherited the propensities ingrained in us through our own actions in our previous lives. We are the products of our parents, a physical body with bone and flesh will inevitably inherit some form of propensities. I believe that every one of us, including Sakyamuni Buddha, Grand Master and all of you including myself, will have to deal with such propensities in our practice. The only difference lies in the method through which we kick the negative ones. Habits (negative propensities) cannot be easily kicked as they are already deeply ingrained in our Eighth Consciousness (Alaya Consciousness).

When you practice with diligence, you will become mentally stronger to resist the negative propensities more effectively. When you don’t, you will succumb to them once again. Cultivation is like rowing your boat against the current of a river; when you remain still, you will be washed away by the current. The strong current will carry you away, if you do not persist and persevere in your practice. It is not an easy task! I can only say that it is just not easy! Although it is not easy, we must still persist and persevere in our practice. If we do not persist and persevere in our practice, we will succumb to the worldly temptations and fall.

There was a Zen Master who practiced well. He had only one problem – he liked his bowl too much and was too attached to it. Because of his attachment to that bowl, he could not attain enlightenment. He was reborn to protect that bowl in his next life. So, the moral of the story is that, a cultivator, no matter who you are, as long as you still have worldly attachment (negative propensities), you will be reborn repeatedly in the cyclic existence and keep walking the path of cultivation. If you want to end your cyclic existence, you must kick your negative propensities.

I can only say that it is not easy! But it is not impossible either! It is possible because I have succeeded doing so personally. It is possible but not easy. It is a question of will. If you keep telling yourself that “I am a commoner, my karma is heavy, I will not be able to achieve enlightenment in this life, I will take it slowly.” If you think likewise, you have given yourself an excuse to continue with your bad habits and you will never be able to kick them. So, you must develop a very strong sense of confidence and determination to deal with the problem - tell yourself that “I must kick it!” Then, you will kick it one day.

From my personal experience, no matter which habit, be it the greatest and the hardest in the world, it can be kicked. There is no habit that cannot be kicked. For there is Buddha Nature in every one of us and every one of us can attain enlightenment one day. When you aspire to practice diligently and develop a strong sense of renunciation, you will be able to kick your bad habits - all of them! There is no habit that cannot be kicked!