Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Merit of Spiritual Practice is Greater In A Degeneration Age

Konde Rinpoche:
Good evening, Acho Rinpoche, Dodo Rinpoche, lama and all fellow practitioners. I am glad to be with you again. Jul this year, I was supposed to return to our Dzogchen temple in Qumalai County with my brother, to make arrangement for your visit. But we could not get our VISA to enter China. So, I requested the help of Gade Rinpoche to make the necessary arrangement for you. I was worried about the arrangement and kept calling home. They told me not to worry because they would take care of everything well. My brother-in-law, Nicai, also promised me that everything would turn out fine. Acho Rinpoche returned to his temple smoothly this time and everything turned out perfect, obviously due to your good karma.

I was given a piece of land in India and I discussed with Acho Rinpoche on building a temple. It will be named “Acho Rinpoche Retreat Centre”. It will cost less than building the hostel for our monks at our temple in Qumailai Country. Initially we thought maybe we will build a bigger temple if the sponsorship is larger or a smaller one otherwise. Finally we decided to build a small temple and gradually enlarge it in future. It is up to Acho Rinpoche.

Acho Rinpoche:
Let me add, the experience of our tour to the temple in Qumalai County was indeed inconceivable. Those who travelled with me felt touched and grateful. Our Qinghai tour guide, Liu, has a strong karmic connection with me. Yesterday, I read her note about her experience in travelling with us – it is very touching. Initially, she felt a little annoyed with us due to our frequent hygiene-breaks, and she thought that I looked too ordinary too, dressing in common attire. However, towards the end of the tour, she felt touched and wept from time to time. She said she has been handling so many tour groups in the past but there was none like ours that touched her so deeply, made her wept and kept thining about us. She was very surprised by the warm reception given to us by the local in Qumalai County – we were treated like leaders.

Konde Rinpoche was humble when he said that the reception was too simple. Those who have watched the video footages of our excursion will agree that we were treated almost like a president or chairman. Actually, we felt very touched by their hospitality – they did their best. The huge yak tent was impressive and the food was wonderful, given the poverty of the place. They just treated us like dignitaries, almost like their leaders in the government. We were moved.

Initially I thought maybe we might encounter problems without Konde Rinpoche travelling with us. Fortunately everything turned out well. Least did I expect that there was an important mission awaiting us – the meeting with the grandfather of Konde Rinpoche. His grandfather was seriously ill (due to old age). He could hardly walk and talk when we met him. He felt very uncomfortable and his whole body was cold. He could not sleep for three months. He had to sit up in his bed while sleeping. He had less than two hours of sleep every day.

Initially we decided not to visit him since Konde Rinpoche was not coming along. But we changed our plan and went to see him because he wanted to see me. Fortunately we made it or we will miss the opportunity forever. After our meeting, I decided that I ought to do something for him – I wanted to bless him. So, I invoked Guru Rinpoche and I transformed into Guru Rinpoche and blessed him. His body became warmer after the blessing. We returned to see him on the following night and he looked quite normal and could talk. He slept for four hours that night after the blessing. For the first time in three months, he could finally sleep properly. I knew then that his time was up. Indeed, he passed away one week after we returned to Singapore. He persisted in order to meet me and left after fulfilling his wish. It was indeed an extra-ordinary tour. We would like to thank Konde Rinpoche for making the arrangement and giving us a VIP reception.

We will build a small retreat centre in South India, somewhere near Dzogchen Monastery. This is another mission. I hope you will be supportive of this mission, in order to benefit the sentient beings there. Now we shall invite Dodo Rinpoche to give us a teaching.

Dodo Rinpoche:
Amitabha Buddha. Time files - it has been a few months since we last met in Taiwan. Based on your recent trip to Qinghai, I realized that Singaporean Buddhists have helped the Tibetans a great deal. Actually, the problem of Tibet started after the Cultural Revolution, with the transmission of religion and culture of Tibet to the younger generation broken for 20 years. We, the Tibetan Rinpoches and lamas hope to mend the gap and restore what is lost. Everyone is trying hard. Every Tibetan Buddhist teacher has the same wish to restore traditions that are lost. We need help from many people. Some people might wonder why we need to build so many temples. If you take a look at the situations in Tibet, Nepal and India, they are very different from those in Singapore or Taiwan; the young lamas live in a deprived condition in the former, yet they need a learning environment badly. I would like to thank all of you who helped us in the past or who will be helping us in future, on behalf of my Tibetan community. We are grateful.

I spent most of my time in Taiwan and roughly know the problems facing the world today, such as global warming, natural calamities etc. We understand that life is very fragile, especially so for the mankind in future. The Buddha said, “Everything is impermanent.” The value of life does not lie in its length of time, nor in the wealth or status of a person. The point is – is it meaningful? There are several ways to explain its value. In most cases, the actual value is determined by whether it can bring benefits to other sentient beings. The numerous crises facing the world can only be reduced through inner and outer spiritual practices. The Buddha said, “Mind is the creator of all phenomena.” We must bring positive influence to the world through the positive strength of our inner mind.

There are two parts to the practice: the purification of our mind and the purification of our body. In Vajrayana Buddhism, there is a spiritual attainment called “Rainbow Body”. It is accomplished through the purification of one’s inner mind and physical body. One’s physical existence will then become rainbow-like. That’s my understanding. We need to start from training our mind. Basically, it means breaking free from our ignorance and ego which are our in-born propensities difficult to kick. The most difficult part about spiritual practice is not fasting, being naked or practicing in austerity. The biggest hurdle for enlightenment is taming our own mind,our desires.

A person will know who is good to him and who is bad to him without learning, after being born into this world. Even a toddler who cannot yet speak knows that. This is the in-born “ego”. Buddhism teaches us to let go of our ego but this is the most difficult part. For one who has been practicing for many life times, it could be easier for him to kick his ego or self-pride. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for a first-timer. One will find it very difficult to practice what he does not have or dislikes. So, this is the value of Buddhism and our aspiration to practice. It is not easy for us to change the world. But everyone has the responsibility to make it a better place because we are Buddhists - we are given the advice to do so by the Buddha. We should bring positive influences to the people around us, and we must tame our own ego and self-pride. This is the only way to bring peace to the world and reduce the occurences of major crises. If we train our mind well, our inner peacefulness will naturally calm the external word – this is the power of a positive mind. A positive mind will only happen through practice – mind training. There are both the teachings and true attainment in Buddhism. Teachings are just education, whereas true attainment is realized only through practice – no work no gain. We should learn the teachings and act accordingly to the teachings, taking one step at a time, do it every day, maybe scoring 100 marks or 50 marks, it does not matter. How much we could put into practice will become our true attainment.

I hope that we can become a true practitioner of the Dharma and we can achieve true spiritual attainment. Only then we are able to help the world when it is hit by disasters, by dedicating the merits of our cultivations to the victims. Take a look at Thailand which is hit by a major flood now – millions of people are displaced. The major disasters hitting the world are increasing in number over the years. This is an outer manifestation of our inner mind in a state of flux (fear and limitless desires). Guru Rinpoche said, an ordained monk who observed the precepts for 100 years in the past would accumulate less merit than an ordained monk who observes the precepts for merely one day in the current degeneration age. When the going becomes tougher, the merit gained from overcoming the difficulty in practice will become even more valuable.

We are connected through our affinity. I thank Acho Rinpoche for giving me the opportunity to do my sharing. Thanks.

Acho Rinpoche:
I would like to thank Dodo Rinpoche for his sharing. Besides the major flood in Thailand, South Turky was also hit by a major earthquake just few days ago – 7.2 rectal scale (23 Oct 2011). Thousands of houses have collapsed in the earthquake. There are many students still buried under the rubble. Today is the third day and the 72 golden hours have passed. There was a 2-week old infant being saved from the rubble yesterday. That place is under developed and lacks resources. Many countries in the world are trying to help them now, including Singapore. We, the Vajrayanists, ought to feel for them as though they are our relatives being buried under the rubble. We should feel the pain of those who are buried underneath the rubble. We should dedicate the merits of our practice to them and hope the situation can improve.

This world is facing numerous major disasters, including natural calamities and financial crisis which is caused by the greed of the financial sector. The whole financial sector has turned into a huge monster swallowing everything. This monster is conspiring with the government, academic institutions and the media to cheat the whole world, swallowing the wealth of the whole world. They warn the world that the global economy must not be let collapsed or the whole world will collapse. This is a big disaster. If the global economy collapses, the world will be thrown into a state of chaos, and our hard earnings will just evaporate into thin air overnight. How so? Each time they start printing more currency notes, our savings will reduce significantly in value. We work hard here and they spend all our money elsewhere. They are lazy to work and are merely scheming about taking others’ money away. The world is indeed in a state of chaos. Most people want to earn the most money in the shortest time without working hard for it. Sp, this world ends up facing many problems. “Mind is the creator of all phenomena.” It is the “desire” in men that created this world; this is the consequence of the inner desire of mankind manifesting outward. When the world is in a state of flux, the power generated from our spiritual practice will become greater.

Recently I read a book about a Taiwanese spiritual medium trying to help others through spiritual consultations with the deities. There was a strange phenomenon being mentioned in the book – “those people seeking help were either facing a major crisis in life or had incurable illnesses”. The medium found a commonality among these people – “none of them ever did anything good in their life! Even the deities could not help them! ”

In this degeneration age, a person is born with an instinct to fight and compete with others, who is eager to outdo others at all times. He never thinks of wanting to help others but cares only for himself. Our educational system has gone astray – people who are more intelligent and highly educated are more inclined to cause harm to the world. When they face big problem in their life and seek help from the spiritual world - the spiritual world cannot help them because they had never done anything good in their life, not even a small act of kindness. I found it very pitiful! Why on earth had this people not done any good act in their entire life?

"A Bodhisattva is fearful of the cause, whereas the sentient being is fearful of the effect." When a sentient being faces the consequence of a bad karma and rushes to seek help from the deities, it is just too late! A Bodhisattva is fearful of the cause and therefore avoids planting a bad seed, no matter how small it seems. Every thought that arises in our mind must be good and should mean to benefit others.

We are very lucky that we are spiritual practitioners in this degeneration age, and we are able to help others through our practice. What will we do when we face “impermanence” in our life one day? What should we do? How can we depart from this world freely? Or do we want to end up like those seeking help from the Buddha only in time of crisis? I really feel sad after reading the book – how on earth has the world become like this today? Too many people are selfish and never think of benefitting others.

There was another medium mentioned in the same book too. He helped to build a monastery in India, for a Vajrayana group. He met a senior Rinpoche and became a big donor, helping the latter to build a monastery.

There are not many monasteries in Singapore because there are not many ordained folks here. But there are many ordained folks in India and Tibet but not enough temples to provide them with shelter. We will build a temple in India (Acho Rinpoche Retreat Centre, near Dzogchen Monastery in South India), to give them a place to live, to learn and to practice the Dharma without worrying too much of their basic needs. We will dedicate the merits to the world. We are walking on the right path, a path that will lead to our ultimate enlightenment in future.

I am thankful to you for sharing the same mind set during all these years, walking on the right path. Thank you. I would also like to thank Dodo Rinpoche for giving us a warm reception in Taiwan last year when we visited his meditation centres. Amitabha Buddha.

A discourse given jointly by Konde Rinpoche, Dodo Rinpoche and Acho Rinpoche on 26 Oct 2011.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Long Lasting Merit of Spiritual Practice

(The 1st meeting between Acho Rinpoche and Summer in North India, in 2007.)

Acho Rinpoche:
Now we will invite the new members to share with us the cause of their initiation into Buddhism and their views on the practice. I think this will be helpful to the rest. The rest of you have been around for a long time and you already know one another quite well by now.

(New members shared their experience with the rest.)

I agree to the views of Dharma Brother Zibing. Practice does not mean just meditation. Everyone is born with a different intellectual capacity and therefore everyone has different needs for the teaching. Some people need meditation, some do not. Some people think that meditation is very crucial but some could already be good enough to skip it. However, meditation is a necessary process to some people. Everyone needs a different teaching, and that gives rise to the different methods of practice.

In the past, Dharma Brother Maoxin helped out at a certain meditation centre for a long time and he had a serious eye condition that could not be cured. He looked very worried when he came to seek my help because he nearly became blind. At that point in time, I was wondering why couldn’t anyone at that meditation centre help him with his problem? I told him, “Ok! Come to me.” After blessing him, his eyes recovered fully. He joined us for our recent Vietnam tour – a mind training tour. I still remember we met each other in Taiwan just last year, including his brother. He has joined us now but his brother has yet to do so. He told me that his brother had a dream recently. He dreamt of me teaching and blessing a large group of people. So, I think his brother will join us in future too. Maoxin said he could feel the powerful force of blessing during our group prayers. He felt a solidifying sensation filling his whole body and finally understood what “power of blessing” is all about. Not only could he feel the power of blessing in my shrine, he could also feel the power of blessing coming straight from me towards him when he sat at the same table with me during a meal. He is full of spiritual joy now.

Now, we will come back to Summer (Yatong). 5 years ago, we bumped into each other in North India during our visit to the sacred places of the Buddha. We exchanged our glances and she nodded to me and struck a conversation with me when she noticed that I am a Chinese. That was how we established our spiritual connection. Least that I know, we would meet again 5 years later.

I wrote in our book entitled “X-Tour: The Tour of Birth and Death” – “We parted after exchanging our first glances and making acquaintance.” I said then that “I hope we would meet again in future, be it in Africa, Tibet or any other places.” For she continued to travel to the different corners of the world, I did not know where she would be heading next. She could end up in South Africa, Nepal or any other places in the next moment. I did not expect to meet her in Vietnam this time. Maybe we should thank Facebook for making it happen. I seldom play with such tool and I do not have a Facebook account but we were somehow reconnected through such social networking tools. It was just coincidental that when she made up her mind to go into a meditation retreat in Myanmar, we contacted her and invited her to join us for our Vietnam tour.

I don’t know where she will be going next. She has no schedule, like many Tibetan practitioners who have no plans. I bet if you ask her how long she will be gone, she will not know the answer either. Maybe she will just go there and decide based on the situation then, probably stay there for 1 to 2 years if the situation permits or just leave if it doesn’t. That’s how it is. She has no baggage – no family baggage, no work-life baggage. She just goes forward and seeks the path to enlightenment. Most of us are unable to do so. At least, she has let go of her materialistic life. My deepest impression of her was that she had only one piece of garment when we first met her in India. I was curious about how she managed to get by with only one piece of garment – did she not need to change it? She told me that she would usually find a very cheap lodging place and wrap herself in a scarf, and wash her only piece of garment during this period. She had only one piece of garment but we have so many, and we continue to buy more. She could let go of her needs for more garment but we can’t. However, I notice that she is travelling with more pieces of garment this time.

We were heading to the North but she was heading to the South when we met in India. She wanted to return to where we came from 2 to 3 hours ago, in darkness at night. I told her she must not do so, it would be dangerous for her. So, we remained in the hotel for dinner and stayed there overnight. On the next day, I gave her some money in US currency. She told me that the money could support her trip to South Africa for half a year. I was thinking to myself that I could have just spent the money within a day. I was touched by her readiness to let go of her monetary possession. So, I would like to invite her to do her sharing tonight. We are unable to do what she does in this respect and that is something we ought to learn from her. Of course, I hope that she could finally fulfill her wish.

When I met Acho Rinpoche in his pilgrimage tour, I was on my own pilgrimage tour too. I just read the story of the Buddha when I was in Nalanda. There are eight most important sacred places of the Buddha, including Nalanda where Buddha first embarked on his spiritual path of practice, Bodhgaya where He attained enlightenment, Vaisali where he preached etc. The eight sacred places made up His whole autobiography. The most important point was that the Buddha began his spiritual journey as an ascetic, a beggar, a spiritual seeker, with no money at his disposal. He made it and that goes to show that it can be done. When I first met you, I already ran out of money; I would just walk or take a free ride for my travelling. Sometimes, I would feel exhausted, running out of food and water. Sometimes, I made very good connections with people.

We met in Vaisali and we went together to Kusinagar and Jetavana Garden next. We parted after our trip to Jetavana Garden. Actually, I was planning to go to a temple near the hotel, about 7 km away. I thought it was fine for me to walk there from the hotel but you folks insisted that I should not do so, saying that it was too dark and too dangerous. You said you would feel uneasy if I should end up in any danger. I said it was safe in India but you said I just should not do so. You wanted me to stay overnight at the hotel. We had our dinner at this beautiful hotel. When we parted, you told me to stay behind in the hotel for one night. I said it would be too expensive, at 2,000 rupees per night. 2,000 rupees could last me for half a year. You were worried about my safety and paid for my lodging at the hotel, and you gave me some additional cash. At that point, Acho Rinpoche used a word that really moved me to tears. He said, “We would like to make an offering to you.” I was shocked by the word “offering” because it is usually used in reverence of someone of a higher spiritual attainment. I was expecting the word “donation”, to someone as ordinary as I. That was my first time accepting a monetary offering from others. I still remember Acho Rinpoche gave me a 100 dollar note in US currency. Dharma Sister Chan and others also gave me some money too. I almost cried. I remained in a state of shock even after you folks left. I wrote many things in my diary on that day but they have not been published in my blog yet. The impact was very great and lasting.

Acho Rinpoche:
Why did I use the word “offering”? To me, all sentient beings are essentially equal. Since you are a serious spiritual seeker, you must be a real practitioner. To me, there is no question of higher or lower in my offering to you. Since you aspire to walk the path to enlightenment in order to help other sentient beings, you are a precious being. Of course, I should make offering to someone precious. I still remember asking you, “Don’t you feel worried about falling sick, since you travel without money?” She told me that initially she fell sick easily but became healthier over time. When she could not find any lodging in the temple, she would just sleep in an open field. I asked her was she not afraid of baddies? After all, she is just a lady. She said she was not afraid. She said she usually would have an intuition about whether it would be safe to go into a certain house. Well, she has been travelling safely in the past 5 years. I felt touched about what she said to me in Vietnam during our tour, “When you made up your mind, everything will work out nicely to fulfill your wish.”

I believe in one thing – “When you make a wish that is strong and clear, realize it. The force of the entire universe will be with you.” (Summer said this idea came from a book entitled “A Miraculous Tour of a Teenage Shepherd”.) The only point that one must make sure is that this wish must be a genuine wish but not a mere desire. Sometimes we can’t differentiate between a genuine wish and a desire. But if we can quiet our mind and listen to our inner voice, we can pacify the noise and see clearly the most important wish in our life. We will then know what our destiny is. Basically, there will be no fear and deprivation when we simply walk on our path of destiny.

Acho Rinpoche:
Summer mentioned an important point about spiritual practice. When one aspires to the bodhicitta, he does not need to worry about anything else - do not worry about money, do not worry about environment, do not worry about family etc. For when you aspire to bodhicitta, the Dharma Protectors will come forward to assist you and help you realize your wish and fulfill your bodhicitta. This is a very important point. The most important point is – have we aspired to bodhicitta? If we have, we will overcome all adversities in life, and the Dharma Protectors will come forward to assist us. This is how I feel after going through so many rounds of our “mind training tour”. All adversities will be eradicated and transformed into positive conditions, and a situation will become conducive in enabling us to complete the tour successfully, allowing us to accomplish our mind training practice and help some of the sentient beings along the way.

Take our recent Vietnam tour for instance. We managed to help some of the Vietnamese walk the path to enlightenment. Our tour leader and local tour guide joined us for our night prayers several times, and they too could feel the inconceivable power of blessing. No matter how much money you make in this life, no matter how many houses you own, no matter how great or influential your career is, when you draw your last breath, they will just vanish into thin air - these things will not be related to you at all. When you die, you will not be able to bring along any of them. You will only bring along your own karma and the merit of your spiritual practice.

Every X-tour is a mind training tour planned by the Bodhisattvas, which aims to help the numerous sentient beings. We just have to follow the instruction and the power of blessing will happen naturally. The power of blessing will last forever – it will follow you life after life and help you moment to moment. It will not vanish after you depart from this world but will follow you forever. Konde Rinpoche said that the world will be hit by numerous disasters going forward. Who knows what would happen on 21 Dec 2012? Will mankind become extinct? Will earth vanish? No one knows. What is certain is that major disasters will happen. They have already happened in the past few years, outnumbering the occurrences recorded in the history of mankind in the last few hundred years. They have become more frequent and larger in scale, including natural calamities, hurricanes, earth quakes, floods etc. The big flood hitting Thailand lasts a long time, and it will be followed by plague naturally. The SARS that hit us few years ago suddenly vanished; we realized that it was the blessing of Grand Master that helped to eradicate the plague. However, Grand Master said that there will be a more serious plague than SARS that will hit us, that will cause a much greater casualty.

Singapore was hit by SARS too, although it is spared of natural calamities, hurricanes, earth quakes etc. Will Singapore be spared of disasters? My answer is – no! I felt that Singapore will be hit by many disasters going forward, including some people would suddenly die of strange illnesses. So, do not assume that Singapore will be spared because it is free of natural calamities. It will be hit by many disasters too, just like other places in the world. Only spiritual practice can protect a practitioner. So, please practice seriously in order to attain true liberation and enlightenment. Give spiritual practice the first priority, and leave the rest aside – this is a very important point.

(The 2nd meeting between Acho Rinpoche and Summer in Vietnam, in 2011.)

A discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 12 Nov 2011.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

X-Tour: Vietnam 2

On 19 Dec 2008, we, a group of Vajrayanists, went to Vietnam. We visited Hanoi, Saba, Halong Bay, Hue, Danang and Hoi An. In May 2009, we published a travel book on our Vietnam tour.

On 2 Sep 2010, we went to Vietnam again. This time, we visited the Ho Chi Minh City (HCM), the Mekong Delta, the Guchi Tunnel and Vungtau, a beach resort situtated 125km away from HCM. In Vungtau, we paid respect to a giant statue of Jesus on a hill top, where thousands of dragon flies were dancing around the hill, as if they were the angels giving us a welcoming party!

We visited several arts galleries and saw some beautiful pictures showing snowcapped mountains and fields of wild flowers. Initially I thought maybe the artists did their paintings after visiting Switzerland or New Zealand in winter. But I was later told by our Vietnamese tour guide, “Prince Chu Chu”, that the beautiful landscape was his hometown – Dalat. At that point in time, I decided that I must make a trip to Dalat before publishing our second travel book on our Vietnam tour.

The opportunity finally came! On 5 Nov 2011, a group of 21 of us boarded the “iron bird” once again for a 6-day tour to HCM, Phanthiet and Dalat. Phanthiet is located in the south-eastern coastal line of Vietnam, famous for its fishing village and beach resorts. There is a vast piece of sand dune here where we did our sand boarding. It reminded us of our memorable experience doing sand boarding in The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park of Perth in Australia several years ago. Phanthiet is serene, like Pali of Indonesia. We saw many Russion tourists on the streets in Phanthiet.

We did not see any traffic lights in Dalat. That was truly an eye-opening experience to a group of city dwellers like us. We strolled along the Xuan Huong Lake in the evening, and relished a cup of Vietnamese coffee while admiring the serenity of the lake, the greeneries in the surrounding and the reflections of villas and pine trees on the quiet surface of the lake…, what an enjoyable experience! The flowers in Dalat Garden abound, making us reluctant to shut our eyes even for a moment…. And we saw lots of lavenders blossoming fully in a quiet corner in the garden. That prompted me to think about when we would be making our trip to Hokkaido - my hometown in my past life in my dream.

On our return to HCM, we visited the city hall, an old cathedral and a heritage post office. We also had our dinner onboard a cruise, enjoying the music and dance performances while admiring the night scenes along the Saigon River. We saw a group of Korean tourists who were seemingly drunk, singing and dancing wildly. “A Midnight Kiss” (a Chinese song) lingered for a long time in the air above Saigon River that night….

Now the image of Sister Zhen (our Vietnamese tour guide) suddenly appeared in my mind. She told us about how the Chinese fled Vietnam during the Vietnam War, with many of them drowning in the sea as a result. She had tried to flee too, twice, in vain. We told her candidly, had she managed to board the “pirate” ship, we would not have met her today. One could imagine how pitiful the lives of the Chinese were during that period! These pictures of sorrow that appeared in my mind seemed to be out of place. Heaven! Why must sentient beings go through such sufferings…?

This time, there was a special traveler who joined us for the tour. She was none other than the main character in the 5th Chapter of our travel book entitled “X-Tour: The Tour of Birth and Death (North India & Nepal)”. To her, travelling means spiritual practice. The spiritual connection between us had quietly rekindled. Where will Summer be next? Which part of the world? Only heaven knows!


Acho Rinpoche
23 Nov 2011

More pictures:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Balancing Act Between Intellectual Study and True Practice (理事双修之间的平衡点)

A Balancing Act Between Intellectual Study and True Practice


Frankly, it is not easy to read the books of Master Nan Huai Jin. For he is extremely knowledgeable, who is familiar with both the western and eastern cultures, ancient and modern histories, and even futuristic stuff concerning humanity, physics and astrology. When he expounds a sutra, he will draw from many sources in order to illustrate a point. He could be telling you about 9999 more trees in order to explain to you about one tree. In most cases, we will find ourselves lost in his lengthy explanations and forget about the original point of discussion. He will not tell you the exact answer but will leave it to you to find your own answer. Most people will just miss the original point of discussion during his lengthy explanation. But the scholarly type loves his style. It is a big challenge to read his books because they are highly intellectual.

I can finish reading Grand Master’s books in half an hour to one hour each, because Grand Master tends to repeat himself. His childhood stories are familiar to us, so we can read them very fast. The most difficult parts of his books are those touching on Zen Buddhism. The stories about his supernatural power and his past lives are the easiest. When Grand Master mentioned Zen Buddhism, he drew from the ancient parables of Zen Masters, in classical Chinese language which is very difficult to read and comprehend. He would then share something based on his present day experience and told you that that was the answer. He asked if you understand what he meant, but he would not tell you the answer directly either. Most of the readers cannot understand his teachings, for Zen Buddhism is something very abstract and difficult for one to grasp the essence of its teachings. One will not know the answer if he does not understand the essence of the teaching.

I have been encouraging you to read and to learn from the different exposures. I have told you in the past that you will not attain enlightenment through mere reading. Enlightenment does not come from a book. However, one must train on the path to enlightenment through reading. You will not attain enlightenment through reading a single book; that is impossible! If this was possible, those who read a sutra e.g. Diamond Sutra, Lotus Sutra or Shurangama Sutra etc, would have attained enlightenment. Why had they not attained enlightenment after reading the sutra? So, enlightenment cannot be found in the books or sutras. Nevertheless, you will still need to rely on them to attain enlightenment eventually.

If you only talk about enlightenment and nothing else during the exposition of a sutra, you could only persuade a few to walk the path to enlightenment. Some people are fond of history, some are fond of philosophy, and some are fond of science; if your knowledge is wide and you are able touch on many subjects during your discourse, you will be able to engage and help more people. Especially the Gelug students who are very scholarly in their study, who will expect you to know what Middle Way, Mind Only and Tathagarbha are, for you to convince them that you have the right qualifications.

Grand Master seldom talks about Middle Way, Mind Only and Tathagarbha, because he said they are too profound and few can comprehend. However, in Tibetan Buddhism, if you are not familiar with these teachings and claim yourself to be a tulku (a re-incarnated master), no one will believe you. To them, a tulku must understand the teachings of the Middle Way, Mind Only and Tathagathagarbha. However, they tend to spend too much time on the study and have actually fallen into another extreme situation. They usually spend 30 to 50 years on studying the teachings intellectually. How many 30 or 50 years can we afford in a single lifetime? They spend their whole life studying these teachings full-time! We simply can’t afford the time! When they finally understand the teachings, they would have already become too old and weak to start their true practice. So, they wasted too much time in their life trying to understand these teachings intellectually.

Recently, I read a book written by Tan Xi Yong. I realized that people like him are too academic, like a professor in a university. They seem to be talking about the studies at an academic level but not teaching you how to actually attain the true state of Buddhahood. These teachings are meant for the Master Degree or PhD holders. You will, at most, become a top PhD scholar but not a practitioner. They wrote so many books just to help one understand the teachings academically, which it is still far from the true practice. When they have finally understood the teachings academically, they would have become too old and weak to embark on the daily spiritual practice (sadhana).

So, we must know what to choose and what to abandon. We must marry both the intellectual study and the daily sadhana in one. It is wrong to not read at all or read too much. Reading too much will become a mere research activity and you will end up being confused by all the buzz words like “self-nature”, “absence of self-nature” etc. Some people become entrapped forever. So, spiritual practice is just not an easy task!

How do we do our reading while trying to understand the teachings intellectually, and at the same time applying them in our practice in order to attain enlightenment? It is not an easy task. It requires great skill. I hope you will think it through. It will be impossible for you to attain enlightenment if you choose not to read and not to think it through. Unless you choose the Pureland School and merely recite the name of Amitabha Buddha until you achieve a spiritual response with Him and you will be reborn in the Western Blissful Pureland after this life. However, when you are finally reborn before Amitabha Buddha in the Blissul Pureland, He will still open up a sutra right in front of you and say this to you, “Come, let’s study the Middle Way…” He will still talk to you about such thing. You will then need to learn the teaching before returning to this world to put it into practice. In the end, you still need to understand the teachings! So, it is good that we learn more about it during our present lifetime, never mind that you cannot understand the full teachings at this stage. You can study those parts that you do not understand now in the Pureland later.

Grand Master also said that we will not truly understand such teachings even though he teaches them now. He would rather suggest that we learn these teachings when we are reborn in the Blissful Pureland, by then He (Amitabha Buddha) would teach us those teachings. He said he does give the teachings elsewhere, in other realms albeit not on earth. Generally, the people in this world will not understand such teachings, especially during this era of degeneration age where people are too overwhelmed by monetary possessions.

The whole world is in a chaos now. A colleague of mine just came back from England. He stayed there for 2 years. He said England is in a bad shape now, with the people generally out of job and money. He heard news about a few million people who would be retrenched soon. So, some people resorted to robbery for survival! Greece is facing an impending default; EU is facing their own problems; USA is in huge debt; the global financial system is on the verge of collapsing but no one dares to let it collapse due to the huge repercussion. So, all parties are trying to support and sustain it. How long can this last? No one knows. Not to mention the big calamities hitting the world like floods, earthquakes, tornados etc. The world is thrown into a non-ending series of disasters - these are the signs of a degeneration age.

What can we do? We can only live by one belief: lit the world with our little brightness of enlightenment, no matter how small it is; help more people the best we can. We hope to write and publish more books to share the teachings of the Buddha, letting more people know of the precious teachings of the Buddha which can help us attain the ultimate state of liberation. That’s good enough. We only need to practice well personally before trying to help others. This is our mission of this lifetime.

A discourse by Acho Rinpoche.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Differences Between Zen Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism (Part 2)

The amount of merits accumulated by a Bodhisattva on the First Level of Bodhisattvahood is simply inconceivable, let alone the level of attainment of a Buddha. A Bodhisattva on the First Level can manifest in three thousand big world systems, in the form of emanation bodies. A Bodhisattva on the Second Level can multiply that number by ten folds. A Buddha’s ability is simply boundless, beyond our imagination. Even Padampa Sange dared not attempt to explain the state of attainment of a Buddha.

According to Sutrayana Buddhism, a Bodhisattva must practise for three big eons before attaining the state of Buddhahood. However, there are special methods in Vajrayana Buddhism such as empowerment, mantra and the blessing of an enlightened root guru that can help to expedite the entire process of enlightenment of a student very swiftly. However, there is no such practice in Sutrayana Buddhism. Avalokitesvara immediately advanced to the Eighth Level from the First Level the moment He chanted the Great Compassion Mantra; Heinstantaneously accomplished all the merits belonging to the Bodhisattvas ranging from the First to the Eighth Levels. Vajrayana Buddhism has such special power of blessing indeed. Therefore, the Tantra can help one attain Buddhahood in a single lifetime. As long as one practices under the guidance of his root guru with vigour, it is possible to attain the state Buddhahood in a single lifetime. There were numerous cases of Tibetan masters successfully attaining Buddhahood in a very short period when they practiced under the guidance of their root gurus with vigour.

In theory, one must take it one step at a time. However, the Tantra can actually help us expedite the process and accomplish the practice sooner. Although it will still not be an easy process, it is indeed possible. In the past, one must go through the study of Sutrayana teachings for more than 10 to 20 years before learning the Tantra. So, we are considered in the express lane now because some of us either had only spent a very short period of time on the Sutrayana path or did not even go through it before jumping onto the bandwagon of Vajrayana. So, all the more we must cherish the precious Tantra.

Precepts are critical. Guru Padmasambhava said that the practice of Tantra is likened to one walking on the sharp edge of a knife, where one can easily slipped and hurt himself. So, the practice of Tantra is of high risk. Sutrayana is a safer but slower path, likened to riding a bicycle or taking a bus. The practice of Tantra is likened to taking a flight, fast but risky. If the airplane plunges midway in the sky, you will be finished in no time! The practice of Tantra is an express path of a higher risk. So, everyone must practice with great precaution – do not go astray.

You will face many obstacles during the course of practice and fall on the sharp edge of a knife, and hurt yourself. So, we must abide by the precepts strictly. Mind training is very crucial – do not let your mind run amok. Guard your mind every day, every hour, every second and every moment – do not let your mind run wild. Do not be controlled by your mind or negative emotions. If you are controlled by your negative emotions, you will fall. So, the Trantra can help you attain Buddhahood swiftly but it can also let you fall swiftly. I hope you will take it seriously and practise with great precaution – do not let your mind run wild.

A discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 2011.07.15 & 16

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Differences Between Zen Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism (Part 1)

Actually, most of us have not even truly started on the path to enlightenment. There are too many Buddhists who have practised for more than 20 to 30 years who have not even reached the First Level of Bodhisattvahood. This includes students whom Grand Master said provided the “right” answers to his questions on Zen Buddhism; they have not even entered the true path yet, who are still far from the attainment of Buddhahood.

Many have mistaken intellectual understanding of enlightenment for the true attainment of Buddhahood. Actually, it is far from it! The past Zen patriarchs never claimed that they had attained Buddhahood, including the famous 6th Zen Patriarch, Hui Neng. “Attainment of Buddhahood in a single lifetime” does not exist in Zen Buddhism; it is exclusive to Vajrayana Buddhism. Neither does it exist in the Sutrayana Buddhism which advocates that Buddhahood can only be attained after practicing for three big eons.

Zen Buddhism only advocates that “One’s mind is essentially the Buddha”. Some people opined that Master Hui Neng had only reached the First Level of Buddhisattvahood. Zen Buddhism lacks a clear stage of the path; you can’t tell whether you have practiced correctly, unless you can be verified by a highly enlightened Zen Master. From the Zen parables, we know that there is no clear stage of the path in Zen Buddhism; this is a difficult method. Zen mainly talks about intellectual enlightenment, which does not equate to true enlightenment. That is the reason why the Vajrayanists do not advocate Zen and that Zen gradually became less popular today. There were indeed few accomplished Zen masters in the history of Zen Buddhism. Instead, many Zen students became “crazy Zen” in the end. That’s the danger of Zen.

There is a clear stage of the path in Vajrayana Buddhism – this is no trivial matter. According to this book entitled “The Blue Print of Buddhahood” by H.E Thrangu Rinpoche, we have not even entered the Path of the Boddhisattva. According to this book, we must abandon our families, our jobs, our money and practise deep in the mountains in order to do so. Tibetan practitioners did just that, but that is just the initial stage of the practice. Instead, we cling on tightly to our worldly possessions, our jobs, our spouse, our money, our parents, our kids; so we are still practicing outside of the path. There are few who practiced with vigour at the beginning but became slacken over time. It is indeed not easy to persevere. It is easy to understand the theories but difficult to apply them in practice. Does it mean that we should just give up then? No! It is fortunate that you have not given up on it still.

In my opinion, there are too many practitioners practicing outside the path. Some of them became very arrogant after practicing for a period, who are fond of debating with others on the Internet. They are even worst because they have become more egoistic, arrogant and self-centered after embarking on the practice. This is the degeneration age when the practice has become very difficult. However, you cannot give up the practice or you will forever remain an ordinary person. If you do the practice, you will still stand a chance of attaining enlightenment one day. No matter how slim the chance may be, you should just persevere.

Vajrayana Buddhism has a clear stage of the path, which will eventually lead you to the same level of enlightenment mentioned in Zen Buddhism. The first part of Dzogchen in Vajayana Buddhism – “Trekcho”, is similar to Zen, when a practitioner will naturally break free of the cyclic existence when he reaches this stage – that is the only difference between the two. This is a better method than Zen because a Zen practitioner who has not attained the true state of enlightenment might mistake his intellectual understanding of enlightenment as the true enlightenment. Vajrayana is a safer gradual path.

Although we are still at the preliminary stage of the practice, as long as we head for the right direction and practise compassion and emptiness, we will continue to walk the path to enlightenment, be it in this lifetime, next life, life after next, 10 lives later, 100 lives later, 1000 lives later, 10000 lives later… However long it takes, one day we will make it!

A discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 2011.07.15 & 16

Thursday, August 18, 2011

X-tour: The Source of the Three Rivers in Qinghai & Northern Xinjiang

Our original plan this time was to visit the Source of the Three Rivers in Qinghai and Tibet, from 20 Jul to 3 Aug 2011. However, in mid Jun 2011, the Chinese authority in Tibet suddenly stopped issuing visit permits to foreign tourists. We immediately worked with our tour guide, Zen, to change our plan from Tibet to Daocheng Yading. Unfortunately, Daocheng Yading also chose to close its doors to foreign tourists during the same period. Finally, we decided to go see the Kanas Lake in Northern Xinjiang. It was just unexpected. So, this was how the X-tour came about this time…

The first half of the tour primarily focused on our trip to Horthang Monastery in Qumalai County at the Source of the Three Rivers. It was just thin air in the plateau and mountain sickness. Nearly half the group had to be admitted to the local hospitals for emergency treatment of acute mountain sickness.

We flew from Chendu (500m in altitude) to Xinin (2300m in altitude), and revisited the Taer Monastery - the birthplace of Master Tsongkhapa. After which, we set off for Yushu. We spent a night in Maduo County (only to learn from our Tibetan friends at a later stage that even the Tibetans dared not stayed there overnight). We arrived at Maduo County (4300m in altitude) at night. The air became thinner over time as we moved to higher altitude in Maduo. Most of us felt weak and lost our appetite by then. The hotel was extremely poor in conditions, and it was a three-storey building. Most of us could hardly walk due to high altitude syndromes. At night, before sleep, Dharma Sister Yue reminded me to help deliver her soul, if she passed away at night! I could not sleep throughout the night because my heart was pounding loudly, and Dharma Sister Yue who was sleeping next to me kept groaning the whole night!

When we reached Xiewu, there were already 5 members who fell ill due to acute mountain sickness. They vomited and felt giddy, with their lips and tongues turned purplish. One of the doctors on our team suggested admitting them to the local hospital for oxygen treatment. With the assistance from Sonam Lama, the great grandson of Dharma Sister Bing in her past life, we found a small Tibetan clinic, but the doctor on duty was out. Sonam Lama borrowed a few oxygen bags for the few who suffered from acute mountain sickness.

We continued our journey to Yushu. When we finally reached Yushu (3700m), we really felt depressed seeing the entire Jiegu Town in ruins. More than 85% of the buildings in Jiegu Town were damaged during the major earthquake hitting Yushu last year. When our coach reached the local hospital, I quickly looked for a toilet, only to find a make-shift one in a tent – you can imagine its condition. At that moment, we suddenly missed the natural toilet in the wilderness! Eight members were admitted to the hyperbaric chamber for treatment, and the rest of us checked into a simple hotel made of wooden boards. At night, we held an emergency meeting that lasted three hours, discussing in group on whether we should continue our journey to Qumalai County which is located at an even higher altitude, at 4200m. One of the doctors on our team insisted that the eight members who suffered from acute mountain sickness should not go, while the rest of the members also should not risk our lives by going; the local doctor also advised strongly against the group going to Qumalai. However, the main destination of our X-tour this time was just the Horthang Monastery in Qumalai County! How? How?

The other doctor on our team already fell sick from mountain sickness and appeared very weak; she requested to return home immediately, we even considered the possibility of seeking help from the SOS to arrange an emergency flight......

We seemed to be going through a similar situation as Venerable Xuanzhuang in the story “Going West”. Should we give up the task of going west to bring back the precious teachings of the Buddha in the face of a big test? At that point in time, most of us seemed to have a common thought in mind: “Sigh! Why did we come to this horrible place!” Some members suggested staying in Yushu and not proceeding further, but the hotel did not have enough rooms for 38 of us for two nights. Some members suggested returning to Maduo County, but the altitude there was even higher than Yushu. Some suggested taking a flight from Yushu back to Xinin, but there was no air ticket available. Some suggested taking our coach back to Xinin but that would take 14 hours non-stop, and our driver had already contracted a serious flu. How? Should we continue our journey to Qumalai County at a higher altitude? According to our original plan, we had to stay there for two nights! The enthronement ceremony was already planned, with many lamas and students in my past life awaiting my return…… Or, was death awaiting us?

After 12am, all of us felt very tired due to the high altitude syndromes, we decided to just vote openly to decide on our next move. We had no other choice…… The outcome of the voting was that five members decided to stay in Yushu for two more days, including a couple from Australia. On the following morning, when Dharma Brother Hong from Australia did his morning prayer, he had a vision of me appearing before him, in a lama’s attire, telling him that he must continue his journey to Horthang Monastery. So, his wife finally decided to continue with the journey too. There were only three members staying behind in Yushu.

We departed from Yushu with a heavy heart, heading towards Qumalai County at the Source of the Three Rivers located 200km away. We saw vast grass land and plenty of yaks and goats along the way; the landscape in Qumalai County was, unexpectedly, very scenic! We no longer felt the effect of thin air – the feeling of short breath suddenly disappeared. We checked into Qumalai Hotel at night and I had a sound sleep throughout the night.

On the following morning, we were transported by 10 4WD to Horthang Monastery. About two hours later, we finally saw Horthang Monastery – it was surrounded by hills and there was a river flowing pass its front. There were many school students lining up the road leading to the monastery, waving and welcoming us. There were many lamas waving the snowy white hattah in their hands, welcoming us too. When I arrived at the monastery, I was immediately escorted to the main seat in the temple. H.E Kade Rinpoche presided over the enthronement ceremony. Some of the members wept uncontrollably when they were in the monastery. It was just like Venerable Xuanzhuang and his disciples who had finally made it to the west, who had successfully found the teachings of the Buddha. The mission was successfully completed! The practice was finally accomplished! Ha ha!

Next, we flew from Yushu back to Xinin, and continued our journey to Urumuqi in Xinjiang. The second half of the tour was inconceivable too; a sudden change of weather and the appearance of rainbows seem to have become a norm in the X-tours. When we returned to Urumuqi on the second last day of the tour, while we were on our way to see the cultural performance, two rainbows quietly appeared in the sky……

On our way from Chendu back to Singapore, I casually asked the group, “We missed Tibet and Daocheng Yading this time but we will visit both places in future, and the journey might be even tougher. Is anyone coming along still?” Everyone unanimously agreed to come along! For everyone had passed the test this time! On our way back to Singapore, I saw a vertical rainbow and a round-shaped rainbow appearing in the sky, accompanying our group of Vajrayanists all the way.

After returning to Singapore, I recalled our moments at Erdao Bridge in Urumuqi, Xinjiang with fondness – I was eating the famous roasted skewed lamb and drinking the cooling kawas, while humming the song by Daolang entitled “The first snow fall in 2002”. I also remembered the moment when our Qinghai tour guide, Liu, was singing the song entitled “The love song of the 6th Dalai Lama”, when I suddenly had a vision of my past life……, when my tears quietly flowed down my cheeks……

More Photos:


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Title: "Dancing in the Sky"

This is a collection of teachings on mind training
given by Acho Rinpoche during the recent years. They
were given by Acho Rinpoche at the end of every group
prayer session he had with his students. Throughout
the years, Acho Rinpoche always stresses on the teaching
of “mind-training”.

Mind training is the essence of Buddhism. An untrained
mind is predominated by wrong views and
karmic obscurations - the root cause of all our mental
afflictions and illusory cyclic existence. Acho Rinpoche
stresses on mind training in the practice of Buddhism,
including applying the teachings in our daily activities
between the sessions. This is an effective way of
achieving quick progress in spiritual cultivation, for
the practice should not be confined to just the short
prayer sessions.

In order to truly benefit from the teachings of the
Buddha, we must “live the Dharma, and merge the
Dharma with our daily activities.” By merely hearing
the teachings and not internalizing their values
will not benefit us in anyway. A human life is precious
only when it is being used to practise the Dharma - the
teachings that could lead us onto the path to enlightenment,
which is the ultimate state of freedom and
true happiness.

You can buy this book from the following publishers:

Acho Publications

A Precious Human Life (朝闻道夕可死矣)

Today is Vesak Day, so I wish everyone a Happy Vesak Day. Today is also the Birthday of One Thousand Buddhas. We have come together because of our spiritual bond. Do not belittle this spiritual bond – you had, in fact, received a very special blessing during your past lives that you could be part of the prayer group today. I hope you would cherish this opportunity dearly.

All things in this world will come to pass very soon. No matter how rich you are, even if you possess the wealth of the entire world, you will lose all of them at the moment when you draw your last breadth. By then, you will not be able to take anything along with you including your loved ones, your dearest ones, your son, your wife or your parents. Only your karma accumulated in the present and past lives will follow you throughout your endless cycle of birth and death. Karma is the accumulation of all the thoughts that you harboured in this life. Your thoughts became your actions, your personality and your karma – following you closely in all your future reincarnations.

According to Sakyamuni Buddha, being reborn as a human is actually a very rare opportunity. It is extremely difficult for one to be reborn a human. On the contrary, it is very easy for one to be reborn as an animal, hell being, ghost, ant, insect, etc. Now that you have been reborn a human, you ought to do your spiritual practice and give it the top priority in your life.

All things in this human world are but illusionary liken to a flower reflected in a mirror and a moon reflected on the surface of water; only spiritual practice truly matters. I will always remember a teaching of Sakyamuni Buddha that touches my heart dearly, which set me to ponder on its meaning for a long time. He said, “A man, even if he could live for 100 years and possess all the wealth and best things in this world including having a good wife, good children, a good career, the largest fortune, who has everything in the world and no sickness at all, however, all his possessions are nothing compared with having the opportunity to hear my teaching on the Law of Dependent Origination (生灭法). When you hear my teaching on the Law of Dependent Origination in the morning, you can leave this world immediately in the afternoon on the same day. Hearing this teaching far surpasses a life of 100 years without hearing it. ” This is a very important teaching given by Sakyamuni Buddha.

Sakyamuni Buddha said that you have already reincarnated umpteen times through the millions of aeons meaninglessly, and you have never been able to break free of the cyclic existence. Since you have already gained a human existence, heard the teachings of the Buddha and actually practiced the teachings during this prayer session, I hope you would cherish this opportunity and continue to develop your spirituality through vigorous practices. When you succeed in your spiritual practice, you will develop a special ability to help the numerous sentient beings in this universe. An enlightened being will naturally possess inconceivable abilities to help others. You would be able to help eradicate the numerous calamities, like Grand Master who is able to help eradicate any natural calamities and earthquakes occurring anywhere on earth, and turn this place into a pure land.

Please cherish your superior spiritual bond in this life and continue to walk the path to enlightenment extended from your previous life. Do not forget your spiritual path during the endless cycles of reincarnations. All things in this world are like a flower reflected in a mirror and a moon reflected on the surface of water. So what if you manage to get them? You will still end up having to let them go sooner or later.

Our prayer session today has thus come to a perfect closure.

A discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 28-05-2010

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Three Stages of Spiritual Cultivation (修行的三个层次)

Zen Buddhism often talks about the three stages of spiritual cultivation. At the first stage, an ordinary person sees a mountain as mountain and a lake a lake. An ordinary person will feel happy upon seeing a beautiful mountain but upset upon seeing an ugly one. The mind of an ordinary person will be affected by the external environment. An ordinary person will feel happy upon seeing a beautiful lake, but upset upon seeing an ugly one with murky and filthy water. Our old Singapore River was filthy and stinky. When one saw it in the past, he would feel very uncomfortable. That is the mentality of an ordinary person. No one is spared before he embarks on the path to enlightenment. All ordinary folks are in this stage, no matter how smart he is, be it a president or a bagger - it makes no difference. As long as you are still bound by the misconception of the notion of “I”, your mind will be affected by your surroundings.

At the second stage, you have started doing your spiritual cultivation. Initially, you must observe lots of precepts, refraining from the negative conducts and abiding by the Five Precepts. You must be bound by the precepts at the initial stage and do the Ten Virtous Acts. In order to transform from an ordinary person to a saint, you must uphold the Five Precepts and do the Ten Virtous Acts. Otherwise, you will forever remain an ordinary person in the first stage. As long as you do not discard your self-importance, you will forever be stranded in the Six Realms of Existence.

Precepts are very crucial. You must start from observing the precepts. There are many precepts in the Hinayana practice and a greater number in the Mahayana practice, and even greater number in the Vajrayana practice. If you want to attain the ultimate enlightenment, you must observe the precepts. You might ask, “Can I not abide by the precepts?” The answer is “No!” We were born with the three poisons of lust, hatred and ignorance deeply ingrained in us due to our karma. Our negative propensities are so strong that we can easily fall into the Three Lower Realms (animal, hell being and hungry ghost), if we are not protected by the precepts. Besides, at this stage, a rigorous practice is a necessity. Without rigorous practice, you will never stand a chance to break free of the cyclic existence. At this stage, you have already started doing your spiritual cultivation, and you will now see a mountain not as a mountain and a lake not as a lake. You have broken away from the old mindset and perception of an ordinary person and see the world in a different light. The second stage can last an awfully long period, up to many lifetimes or even eons; you might not realize that you have been practicing for a long time. In the Hinayana, this stage can last billions of years, even as long as three big eons. This is just the preliminary practice of the second stage.

Take a look at how Saykamuni Buddha attained His enlightenment. In his past life, he even offered himself to a hungry tiger because he already attained the state of “selflessness”. Take a look at Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara who readily gave up His eyes to someone else! “A mountain is not a mountain, and a lake is not a lake!” To Him, eyes were not “eyes” - they were not “His”. He would give His eyes to you if you want them. Now you have come to the later part of the second stage which is extremely difficult only a few can reach. Most of you can only reach the earlier part of the second stage, which is to observe the precepts and do the virtuous acts. How will you be able to give up your wealth when others request it? Or give up your house, car, wife, children, etc.? Will you give up all your possessions, your life? Although the advance practice in the second stage is of extreme difficulty, it is not the ultimate attainment yet.

Finally, you must enter the third stage, where you will see a mountain as mountain and a lake as lake once more. If you continue to persevere on observing the precepts, you will forever remain in the second stage where you will see a mountain not a mountain and a lake not a lake. You will just be a special practitioner different from others; you will appear to be a sublime looking deity being worshipped in a shrine, at the most. You will not be able to walk into the crowd and mingle with them, with the ultimate aim of guiding them onto the path to enlightenment. If you want to help the sentient beings, you must return to the state of seeing a mountain as mountain and a lake as lake once more, like the rest. Of course, by now you have already become a different person in the third stage, different from what you were in the first stage. Regardless of whether the mountain or lake is good or bad, it makes no difference to you - you will not be discriminative now. You have become a happy person, immersed in great joy in a state where you will see a mountain as mountain and a lake as lake once more.

Basically, when you have reached this stage of cultivation, you can break free of the precepts – you can “transgress” the precepts. Like the story told in the Mahā-vaipulya-buddhâvatasaka-sūtra, you could even become a prostitute and offer yourself to any man who wants you, in order to help him enter the path to enlightenment. You can do anything you want and offer anything you wish, for you have already surpassed the conceptual mind of life-and-death, and the discriminative and antagonistic views. You will appear crazy but, in fact, you have truly attained the state of enlightenment. Many of the enlightened Tibetan masters were accomplished practitioners of the Great Perfection (Dzogchen), who lived like animals in filthy places such as a garbage-dumping ground or a latrine. They appeared to be lunatics but, in fact, they are the accomplished masters! The real lunatics are different because they are mentally disordered, unable to tell the difference between good and bad, clean or dirty; they are unable to spiritual practice nor help other sentient beings, let alone being accomplished in spiritual attainment. Those who have attained the third stage of cultivation are different - they are superior, accomplished and non–discriminative. They are fully aware of the differences between good and bad, clean and dirty, but they are just not affected by the differences. They are fine with what you give or not give. They are not bothered by your scolding or teasing. The third stage is a very superior level of attainment most difficult to achieve.

We must walk the path to enlightenment one step at a time. Zen Buddhism has its danger of being reduced to mere “pet phrases of enlightenment”. One might just end up having an empty claim of “I am a Buddha.” If you are not a truly accomplished practitioner and yet you choose to do something against the Dharma, you will fall! It is pointless for you to simply claim that “I am a Buddha!” You will fall because you have not truly attained the state of Buddhahood. So, you had better start from the second stage and abide by the precepts! Otherwise, you will get yourself into trouble.

You might say that “I can do anything. I can kill!” Alright, then I will give you a knife to kill and see if you will be spared from the universal law of cause-and-effect. Unless you have truly attained enlightenment, like Guru Padmasambhava who could deliver the souls of those He killed immediately to the Western Blissful Pure Land, you had better keep the knife away. We had better walk the path to enlightenment one step at a time, starting from the Hinayana, progressing gradually to the Mahayana, and finally the Vajrayana. A gradual approach is a safer approach

Do not be mistaken that you could truly understand the quintessential teachings of Zen Buddhism through the mere intellectual study of Zen books. In the past, there were many Zen practitioners who expounded Zen without truly understanding it’s true meaning. Grand Master has written nearly 10 books on Zen by now, in order to help us understand the ultimate teachings. However, so what if you have intellectually understood the ultimate teachings? It is pointless as long as you are unable to apply the ultimate teachings in your daily conduct! It is more important to be able to apply the ultimate teachings in our conduct than having a mere intellectual understanding. Both pet phrases and intellectual understanding are inadequate - you will still fall unless you are truly enlightened. So, we had better take it one step at a time - walk the path slowly to break free of the cyclic existence eventually.

When you truly break free of the cyclic existence, like that mentioned in the Diamond Sutra, you can discard all the teachings including the precepts, cultivation, meditation and mantras. They are like a boat ferrying us from one shore to another . When we reach the other shore, we should not carry the boat along on our back anymore - that will be meaningless and it will become a burden instead. A boat will become useless when we reach the shore. A boat must be discarded after crossing the river. Another word, when we have truly accomplished our practice, we should discard all the doctrines and precepts. However, you cannot do so before reaching the other shore. Without the boat, you cannot cross the river but you will get drown in the river instead. As long as we are still practicing in the Causal Stage, we will still need the doctrines, the precepts, the practice, the meditation, the mantra, praising the Buddha, the Six Perfections, etc. One day, when we reach the other shore, we can then discard the boat. Otherwise, we need to hold on to it tight!

Now, while we are holding tight to our boat, we might be seeing someone else discarding the boat. We must not criticize others for discarding the boat because we may not understand their true ability. There are many people who criticize Grand Master for drinking alcohol, dancing, eating meat but not vegetarian food, etc. Not only outsiders criticized Grand Master, even his own students followed likewise, “Why did he do that?” The outsiders said, “Your teacher does not look a bit like a monk! A monk must abide by the numerous precepts, but he does not!” Sometimes, Grand Master wears normal attire instead of a monk robe when he goes out of the temple. Others saw it and criticized him, “How can a monk like you wear normal attire? You don’t have the serious mannerism of a monk.” Actually, the person did not know that Grand Master is a truly accomplished practitioner. A truly accomplished practitioner can wear anything, be it a monk robe, normal attire or nothing – he is still an enlightened Buddha. When you are not a Buddha yet, no matter how serious you wear, you are just an ordinary person!

So, we must not criticize others before knowing who he really is. The greatest taboo of a practitioner is to criticize others based on what you think you know – you can be wrong! This is my greatest taboo too. I do not criticize others but merely sing praises of them. If I happen to see any actions of you against the Dharma, I will just think to myself that “Maybe you have already attained enlightenment. You may be breaking away from the precepts for the sake of helping the sentient beings. I may not understand it yet. How could I simply criticize you? If I do so, I might just be committing a great sin through my speech!” No matter what, we must not criticize others. We should not commit bad karma through our speech but to maintain a pure speech at all times. When we criticize others, we are actually criticizing ourselves for being non-accommodating. So, instead of committing bad karma through our speech, we would rather train our own mind and practise with vigour, which will be a more meaningful act.

A discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 26-10-2010

Monday, May 9, 2011

Reading is Part of Practice (修行要读书)

The mere reading of sutras or books on the teachings will not free you of the cyclic existence nor make you enlightened immediately. Nevertheless, I still think that reading is very important because a spiritual practice could either start with an actual practice followed by the intellectual understanding, or start with an intellectual understanding followed by the actual practice. Even the Great Perfection (Dzogchen) teachings of the Nyingma start with intellectual understanding.

Mipham Rinpoche said, “If one does not understand the teachings, he will have great difficulty attaining enlightenment.” So, one must start with the intellectual understanding through studying the teachings. Some of the incomprehensible spiritual attainment could actually be explained intellectually through the teachings. So, reading is very important. Sometimes, you may come across some inspirational teachings, inconceivable personal attainment or experience of others that will humble us and spur us on the path of cultivation.

I hope that you can choose a wider range of subjects including the sutras, for reading and sharing. This will force you to think more deeply on the teachings expounded through the sutras instead of doing mere recitations, and you should strive to understand the various teachings in totality, without conflicts. You will make good progress through the preparation and thinking process before sharing with others, unless you have already achieved a very high level of enlightenment and could simply share any teachings in an impromptu manner.

A discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 25-03-2010

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Cultivations of Wisdom & Merits (福慧要双修)

(Singapore River in the old days)

Acho Rinpoche: Yesterday was the birthday of Dharma Sister Yue. So, we bought a cake for her to celebrate her birthday tonight. Although we are late by one day, we still wish her a happy birthday today. We had a very special encounter yesterday at the Singapore River. So, I would like to invite Dharma Brother Shao to do his sharing first.

Shao: First, I would like to share with you a dream that I had this morning. In the dream, Acho Rinpoche instructed me to share the story at Singapore River. I did not know the reason initially, but I did know that it was related to Dharma Sister Bing. She told us that she worked at a place near the Singapore River. She also joked about asking me to do a soul deliverance ritual at her workplace. In the dream, I told Acho Rinpoche that there were seven of us sitting at a table. The word “seven” in Mandarin sounded like “begging”. So, it meant that there would be seven of us experiencing starvation at an eatery.

Last night, we had our dinner at an eatery selling clay-pot rice. On my way to the washroom, I had a vision: there were many laborers squatting on the stools, sharing a very small bowl of food on the tables. The employers were very stingy in the old days, paying meager salaries to their employees. So, the laborers lived a very thrifty lifestyle, eating very little food each day. Most of the time, they did not have a full meal. Some people did not even have a job and were unable to make their ends meet; they had to do without meals every day. How pathetic! But they got use to it. So, we ought to learn to appreciate our food and good fortune today.

In the dream, Acho Rinpoche told me that “seven” meant “death”. I could not figure it out and I woke up from my dream at that point. It was 4am in the morning. I went to the washroom and had a vision at that point – I “saw” Fort Canning Hill. I ignored the vision and returned to my bed. But I could not sleep again because I kept “seeing” Fort Canning Hill. I understood the meaning of the vision - the spiritual beings in Fort Canning Hill were requesting my help. So, I went into my shrine and did a prayer for them. After the prayer, I emptied my mind and saw numerous spiritual beings coming out from my stomach. How strange! In my vision, Fort Canning Hill is a place full of negative energy. For it was a place where many people were brutally killed (during Japanese occupation). It is being ruled by a Mountain God. There is a palace within the hill, resembling the nether world. What a strange place!

Acho Rinpoche: Due to a very strange reason, we made a trip to the Singapore River yesterday. I seldom go to such places because they are usually very crowded. And it is not within my scope of work too. However, there was still a small reason for us to be there because Lianhe Zaobao (a local Chinese newspaper) organized a Mid-autumn Festival celebration there. So, I thought, “Probably we could celebrate Dharma Sister Yue’s birthday there. There were Taiwanese food stalls selling stinky bean curd, oyster omelet etc. Since we just came back from our Taiwan trip recently and we still find their local delicacies memorable, why don’t we just celebrate her birthday there?”

When we reached Clark Quay at the Singapore River, Dharma Sister Chan informed me of those coming. But I somehow felt that an important person seemed to be left out. Soon after, I saw that person appearing among us. Clark Quay was full of people that we could not even squeeze ourselves into the crowd. So, I decided immediately that we should leave the place and go somewhere else for dinner. Since Dharma Sister Chan also works in the same location, she recommended us a place nearby. We came to an eatery selling clay-pot rice. This place was crowded and there was not seats available but we did not feel like going elsewhere and just waited for our turn. Soon after, there was a big table available which accommodate about twelve of us. But still, we had a few more members waiting outside for their turn.

We ordered our food but we believed that the kitchen could not deliver, because there were too many customers that they could not cope! The eateries around this area are usually very quiet on the weekends but the celebration of festival brought such a big crowd to this place. We waited for about 20 minutes before our first dish was served. The clay-pot rice was reminiscent of the familiar taste dated back 30 years ago. It was very delicious! The small group sitting outside already had their seats and ordered their food. When we were almost done with our dinner, the group sitting outside was still waiting for their first dish to be served. So, they checked with the owner of the eatery on their order. But another hour passed and they still did not have any food served. Dharma Brother Liang was kind and he brought over a small piece of bean curd from our table and gave it to them. Our little Dharma Brother Xin usually was not too interested in bean curd but he ate it all up as he was too hungry. Next, we sent a set of clay-pot rice over to them too. By this time, their food was still not delivered. We were done with our dinner, and the customers on other tables had left too, with new customers continued streaming in who had their food served too. It was only our group sitting outside had nothing served. After two hours, there was a small plate of stewed port knuckle served and that was it.

Finally, the group complained to the lady boss. The lady boss found it very strange, “This is the first time such funny thing happened in our shop! The orders are placed in order. There is no reason why only the first dish was served and the rest are left out!” She could not figure out how on earth it happened? I stood beside her and just smiled. Of course I knew what the reason was.

After that, everyone asked me the reason for such strange happening. I told them a little bit of the secret. It was just like what Dharma Brother Shao said, “One plus one.” First, the laborers in the old days lived in poverty. They hardly had food to eat. Often, they had to sleep with an empty stomach. The group was made to experience hunger felt by the laborers in the past, so that they would understand that our ancestors built our modern Singapore through hardship. Their contributions are great, yet they had so little to eat and they were starved most of the time!
In addition to that, Dharma Sister Bing tried to help the spiritual beings stranded in the nether world by pouring the holy water into the fountain at her workplace, and that brought some of the spiritual beings over to the eatery too where we had our dinner. These spiritual beings were beheaded during the Japanese occupation, and they could not eat because they were too used to the habitual actions of eating with their mouths. I had to give them blessings and “reproduced” their heads, before offering them the food. And we had to transfer our “merits” from our table to the table outside, giving them (spiritual beings) the food to feed them.

These sentient beings suffered in hardship due to the lack of merits. So, we must cultivate merits too. Without merits, it will be difficult for one to practice spiritual cultivation. Just take a look at those laborers, they were so pathetic because of the lack of merits – they could not even afford a meal! Take a look at those beings who died from being beheaded – they suffered great pains and are still stranded in the nether world today, unable to take a rebirth. They continued to suffer from starvations – they can’t eat without heads, even though there is food.
We cannot do without merits. So, we must practice the cultivation of both wisdom and merits. We did a Jembhala prayer just now at the request of a Dharma Brother who had the word “merit” as part of his name. I thought of doing this prayer at 3pm today but it slipped my mind soon after. It was this Dharma Brother who requested the prayer to be done that we managed to do it today. Just now, an inconceivable number of Jembhala descended from space to receive blessings from the Sun Moon Lamp Buddha. So, this red wine being offered to Jembhala during the prayer will bring merits to those who drink it. Such merits will follow you in your future lives, supporting you financially in your spiritual practice. With that, we have completed our prayer today. Amitabha!

A discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 11-9-2010, the birthday of Jembhala.

(Singapore River today)