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做人,要看破啦

阿公在世的时候,我还不到十五岁,但阿公的俚語好多,70年代的我在繁荣滚滚的新加坡,哪儿会听得懂阿公的俚語呢?但现在人过中年了,到底“看破”是教我要看破红尘呢?还是叫我把万事都放下?

几年前,我成了佛弟子,这些俚語回头看,真是有意识,而且跟佛学很相应。

“你人再好,沒有錢,總會有人把你看扁.”

看扁就看扁嘛,我根本就不在意。 佛学修行的人,不用人喜歡你,也不管有人討厭你。
不是每個人都會喜歡你,有人羨慕你,也有人討厭你,有人嫉妒你,也有人看不起你。在這個社會沒有錢你什麼都不是,有錢你是爺 沒錢你是狗。

诶,很有意识,原来众生活得就是为这些鷄毛蒜皮的小事。多布施,多修忍辱,那不就把九十巴仙以上的烦恼都解决了吗?众生为了求财色名食(睡),多种贪嗔痴带来的恶业,多不值得呀!

难怪学佛的也该多慈悲,救救(或度一度)有缘的众生,让他们也认识观世音菩萨的自在,不要总是被境转,而且受了苦还是不愿意放下。其实不用佛法,阿公的“看破”就已经足够应付这些小事。

社么才是“大事”呢?学佛的,世俗社么都是小事,唯有“念佛”成佛是最最重要的事。时时刻刻,关注呼吸,不要着急未来,不要在乎过去,更不要为啥事起烦恼。这样多逍遥、多自在啊。

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Late Bloomer

I have former students who told me they do not appreciate Linear Algebra until way after my class or in their career as engineers.  I have an aunt who does not know the difference in the pronunciation of “soup” and “soap”, until she became an adult.  Very often, to “see’ something and finally “get it” requires all the correct ” 因缘”.  Thich Nhat Hanh called it “Dependent co-arising” or simple “inter-being”.

When the water is not yet boiled and you put in the food, you will not achieve a good result

Top chef are usually perfectionist who’d tell you the right time and the right moment is crucial.  Even if you have all the right ingredients.  That is usally the ifference between a good chef and a bad one.

Einstein was the same way.  If you google, you will easily find articles or blogs that Einstein was a late bloomer.  He started speaking really late.  At a young age he was bad at Math (that might be hard to believe for some people).  He hated all the Math classes by top mathematicians like Minkowski and Carl Gaiser.  As a student, he also avoided Hurwitz and mostly skipped his classes at the Zürich Polytechnic.  In fact, someone tried to teach him how to swim but to not avail.

 “Oh, and my father tried to teach him how to swim, but it didn’t work. He couldn’t float.”

said Betty Leedom, a girl (now probably an old lady or maybe even dead) who grew up on North Tulane Street in Princeton and Einstein tutored her in algebra and geometry privately.

Everything requires the right ingredient, the right things and the right timing.  Once a person is in pain (say from stomach problem), then telling them how they should be eating right is not going help them in any way.  When they are too happy partying, that is also not the right time to “lecture” them on proper food and moderate eating.  So when is the right time?  杨宁老师 said “众生迷惑 , 唯有用善巧方便  来 叫醒他们。”

Two Bikkhus who may have crossed my path

Robert Jackman served in the Korean war in the Navy.   Then after that he finished his Master of Arts degree from UC Berkeley in 1963, he decided to serve in the Peace Corps in Sabah between 1964 and 1966.  Near the end of his service as a Peace Corp Member, he went to Singapore for his break.  Sitting in a sidewalk cafe, he saw a monk walking by and he said to himself “That looks interesting.”

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At the end of his service in the Peace Corp, he became a samanera in a northeastern Thailand town.  The following year his became a disciple of the famous Ajahn Chah.

When in Asia I saw Buddhist monks all the time.  But when I was in my forties, I saw while walking on a bridge in Singapore two seemingly new Theravada monks.  My first instinct was to kneel down but I wasn’t sure if that is what people do in Thailand and so instead I stand to the side and in total respect I simply bowed.  I would not say I have the same feeling as Mr. Jackman when he saw the monk in Singapore.  Mr Jackman is now a very famous Ajahn Luang Por (father, venerable, teacher).  I wished Mr. Jackman actually was very near to me when he was at the cafe in Singapore in 1966.  Or better still, he actually touched my head while I was being carried.  But those thoughts are what Chinese Buddhists called “Da Wan Xiang”–打妄想.

 

Teo Bo Kang, 張保康 was born in Wolf Mountain, JiangSu, China, in 1931.  By 1943 (and records say he was 14 year-old that time), he was bought to this place to become a Sa Mi 沙彌 (samanera I think), because somebody thought his 生辰八字 was suitable to be a monk.  His life became better because his parents were very, very poor and at that time in that place, that was one way people made their children’s life better.  In 1949 he was forced to disrobe due to the war to serve the Army under Chiang Kai Shek.  Only in 1960 was he able to return to monkhood but by that time he with the army had already moved to Taiwan.  In 1969 he was forced to go to Rissho  (立正) University to do a PhD as very few Mahayanist Buddhist monks have high degree.  When he returned to Taiwan with a PhD, he was told there was no position for him in Taiwan and he had to go to the US to spread the Dharma in the so-called Buddhist Association of the US.   In 1977 his Shifu (in Taiwan) passed away and he had to go back to Taiwan for a funeral, but when he returned from the funeral, to the US, he was out of job again because his place had been filled.  So he became a homeless person with no jobs and no position in New York.  Here is what he said in his own words:

“我就是在逆境中走过来的人。诸位现在看到的都是我风光的一面,没见到我在美国纽约做流浪汉的时候,没见到我被人落井下石,当成落水狗一样的时候。我这一生,可说是在挫折中走过来,是在被重重的打击之中、阻扰之中走出来的,但是当初那些困扰我的人,其实都是帮助我的人。

因此,我很感恩我的生命历程中,能够有这么多帮助我的人。”

 

I remember walking Canal Street New York City in the year of 1990 with my brother, I may have seen a Buddhist monk sitting on the street begging. Could that be this famous Taiwanese monk?  I wished I have given some money to him because my contribution will be “wu liang wu bian” 无量无边 limitless.  Then again, by 1990, he may have established himself and is no more a 流浪汉.  So again 我又 打妄想 了。

Meditation alone . . .

With the ongoing trend of mediation and the new world on mindfulness and Zen, I wanted to say in the title that “Meditation alone is not enough”.

In the East, Buddhism  is often more ritualistic (like prostration and circumambulating the stupa) and not too much of meditation.  But the spread of Buddhism, especially ZEN Buddhism, to the West has its central theme in meditation.  Today, one can see many centers that taught meditation or incorporate meditation with yoga or chanting of mantras.  Many even choose to believe that meditation is the way to solve any problems.

But this “commercialization” of meditation is beginning to be dangerous.  Many people are meditating without knowing what it is or worse being taught by teachers who has no idea what it is and how to do it except it solves problems of migranes, stress and hypertension.  Many spend hours believing they are meditating and even more hours trying to perfect this art.  But in actuality, they were spending time day-dreaming and indulging in their own thoughts and fantasy on the Zafu cushion.  They merely enjoy the quiet and serene environment and benefited merely because in their “usual” life they do not have anything serene or similarly quiet.  Some even went on to try 5-day, 10-day meditation, thinking it was a marathon training like going for 50-mile, 100-mile training to push themselves to the limit.

There is no such thing as a “meditator”.  One can train himself on running and become a marathoner or 100-mile runner, but the aim of meditating is never to show anyone or prove anything, or become a meditator.  Some people believe meditation is a treatment for suicidal thoughts or urges.  But last week, we had a Pennsylvanian girl of York who jumped over the Norman Wood Bridge into the Susquehanna River shortly after her 10-day meditation retreat.

So if you are having mental issues or depression, make sure to learn the proper Buddhist teaching and follow some legitimate Buddhist master (or monastics of religion with traditions in meditation).  Do not meditate on your own, one can easily 走火入魔, and the outcome will be adverse if not suicidal.

Seminar

I call this a seminar, but some of you would prefer to call it “retreat” or “Dharma Talk”.   But call it anything you want, on the last three days of April, Lama Katie came to the city of Erie to talk about “Compassion in Tough Times”. The following two days, she taught the practice of Meditation and Awareness.

I may have meditated every morning, but her talk is completely fresh and useful to me.  Also I helped out in arranging the chairs and tables and directing the speaker to to lunch place by riding in the car.

Lama Katie is a Dharma teacher in charge of the regional small Kaygu-linear Tibetan centers within maybe 200 miles.  She is not in the monastics and so even though she wore the robe, she used a “outside shawl” that is light beige in color.

Between meditation, lunches and dinners, I was not expecting very much and was worried if the crowd gets too, too big and I might be too busy to listen to the talks.  But it turns out to be small and I provided my very basic knowledge of the Tibetan characters by writing “Om Mani Padme Hum” on the blackboard in the “Writing Studio of St. Mary school”on 10th Street.

Even though everyone in the Center felt the talk was very basic, I felt I benefited a lot from it.  Maybe because I did not know much.  On the last moment of silence, someone played the flute and for a very strange reason, that 2-minute music moved me to tears.  I do not have an explanation for that.  When most audience left, two persons took refuge (it’s kind of like baptism in Christianity) and I felt those words used in the refuge-taking were more for me than those takers.

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The Fourth Precept 不妄语

Musāvādā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi. (Pali)

As a person took refuge in the 3 jewels, he vowed to maintain the 5 precepts.  The Chinese simplifies it as avoiding 杀盗淫妄酒.  In particular, I find the fourth precept very subtle and very hard not to break.

Buddhists also talk about doing the Ten Virtuous Acts (十善业) or Avoiding the Ten Unwholesome Acts (十恶业), which seem to be the extended version of the five precepts.

In the ten virtuous acts, this single 4th precept is again broken up into four subcategories (語四善業道) namely:

  • 不妄语:不對他人说谎话、空话,不颠倒是非。don’t tell a lie nor said the opposite of what’s true
  • 不两舌:不在他人之间挑拨离间。don’t be double-tongued and say things to break up a good relation between two persons or two groups of people.
  • 不恶口:不用粗言侮辱他人。don’t use harsh languages nor bullying language (vulgarity?) on another
  • 不绮语:不花言巧语、阿谀奉承他人。don’t get involved in frivolous talking e.g. gossiping, saying only nice things to boost another’s ego, overly or unnecessarily praising or empty talking typically seen when a person is drunk.

So as you can see, (the first) not telling lie itself is pretty hard to maintain.  I lied all the time, from the time I was afraid my granny would cane me, I would lie unintentionally whenever I sense the cane will be coming my way if my granny knew I did something not agreeable in her ways.  So most people, like me, will they sense that look when it is coming a break a white lie?  It is also a habit that was developed from beginning-less time for eons because of that “passion for the good”, “aversion for the bad” habits.  Hence the story of George Washington admitting to cutting the tree and not lie was a classic we learned in Primary school.

Maybe being “double-tongued” or “hypocritical” is avoidable.  Especially when  we learned in school of its “badness” and being one who don’t want to be known or branded as “bad”, we can be cautious not to be  “double-tongued” (两舌).

Harsh language can be avoided if we can control our anger.  Anger can easily make us use words we normally do not use.  That superiority complex or inferiority complex and the urge to control or bully can also be avoided if we take care and remember to be kind all the time.  So kindness and anger control are two good antidotes to number 3 of the subcategories of the 4th precept.

The “no frivolous talking” is the hardest to avoid.  I grew up learning that to be sociable is to be able to mingle into the crowd and be talkative in a dining table.  And beyond making small talks (which I think is mostly frivolous talk), one usually makes up things to talk about or say what he does not believe in or blow up a fact or hide an ugly truth.  Sometimes even agreeing to somebody which may not be what you believe but because you don’t need to feed his/her ego, that constitutes frivolous talk.  For a long time when I was in the army, I developed this ability to talk to any kind of person, be it uneducated Hokkien Ah Beng, or highly educated soldiers who speaks with a foreign accent.  I take it as a skill and not a breaking of any precept in being able to always agree and finally acceptable.  To add to the matter, I ended up enjoy “empty talking” so much, I could not stop.

And having too much socializing, when we run out of topic, gossips or rumour-mongering and rumour spreading always follows.  Now that I am in the five precepts, I actually do not mind being branded as a geek (or unsociable) and not have to do all these frivolous talking.

Yuttadharmo’s story

My first YouTube meditation teacher mentioned a story about Sariputra.  it goes like this

One day some laypersons brought just enough desserts (let’s say these are donuts) to nine monks. One monk was missing so eight monks ate eight donuts and one donuts was left on the table.  Since the ninth monk did not show up for a looooong time, the other monks suggest Sariputra should eat the last one.

When Sariputra took the last donut, the ninth monk showed up, and saw how Sariputra was eating his portion.  Naturally his thought was full of how unjust this is.  Sariputra saw his expression and being already an Arhant, he could even read the ninth monk’s mind.  Sariputra saw sufferings in what to most of us, is an unimportant situation.  Sariputra did not say anything.  Neither did he apologize.  Instead he quietly made a simple vow never to eat any sweet desserts.  From then on, even the most delicious dessert offered to monks, Sariputra would turn it down.

Wa!  太洒脱! 潇洒呀!

Normal people will respond with a lot of “sorry’s”and explanation.  What’s more, normal people will continue to make the same mistake of making another person upset in a similar situation.

Once my wife saw me putting my face very near to my “Kindle Fire Tablet”without my glasses. So she started telling me (like I’m her son) that I shouldn’t do that and that the “blue light effect” would in the long run put me a chance of developing a tumour.

Naturally, I started grumbling back at her like an Grumpy Old Man.  I even brought up how she violates rules which I said were similar to this even though I nagged multiple times how bad those habits could be.

Then thought of the above story of Sariputra came up in my mind.  I said to myself, “why don’t I stop being so defensive and make a vow so that my wife will never be upset, at least about this tablet and blue light effect on me”.  So I made a small vow, and turn quietly turn off my tablet.  Since then, except for bringing the tablet to my interview in Pittsburgh (because I don’t have an iPad or a laptop), I have never read from the tablet.  I read a book instead.  I think I should even clear up all the items on that Kindle fire and give the tablet away.