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……

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