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.
I read about this all the time. Today I saw it again in Lion’s Roar. But since I am alone in a small city in the (north western) corner of Pennsylvania, I have no teacher and I vaguely understand what “putting into practice” really means.
Anger — I got angry less frequently, and if I ever get angry, I caught myself. I think this is similar to what happened with drifting in meditation. You are bound to drift but you caught yourself and with “the method”, you come back to your breathe.
Craving 欲望 — I used to eat so much, now I can reasonably say I have very few cravings. In fact if my wife asks me if I want to go home this summer or I need to see my family and friends at home, I usually just sit, contemplate and then shake my head in reply. Plenty of people need me here. Whether I am here or there, I’ll have to “do my things” to help a being. Saying that this Jambudvīpa or 娑婆世界 in Chinese isn’t a place to have fun and make oneself powerful/rich/famous is what I learnt via 禅坐 and plenty of 大善知识.
Eating — I do not practice mindful eating during lunch and dinner. My family thinks mealtime is a time to bond and so talking is what I do a lot. Sometimes, I chew my food until it is almost liquid and similar to blended (except it is my teeth that blend, not a blender) then eat my food. So any food taste good to me –even food with no salt and food with too much salt. It is funny, the meditation group in my city wants to have a session where everyone brings chocolate and we do a mindful eating of the chocolate before Valentine’s Day. Either they will not be able to do it, or they have a very vague idea of what mindful eating is. My ideal would be to follow the sangha in most Theravada monastery and eat only once a day. Actually, Chinese Mahayanists also follow that and they called it 八关斋戒。
My daughter having her Science class virtually at the lunch table at home:
Papa, sometimes I am so embarrassed when you are here hearing my Science teacher explaining, she sounds so cheesy.
I asked her if she understood the meaning of those words. And then I asked her if her virtual classmates also understood. She then gave it a long thought.
As a matter of fact, I have high respect for her acting that way. Your teacher sounded cheesy, because she knew some of the students needed this act so that it will get into their brains, their consciousness, more easily.
She understood everything within seconds after the teacher explained. She is the “举一反三”－- kind of student, and I am sure she is not just stuck on those two jargons (“exothermic” and “endothermic”), because her language and Latin knowledge skills is far beyond mine, even though she jumped one grade and is the youngest in her class.
I said that because I tested her later. This is only 7th grade Science. She could explain why there is a need to “bond” between sodium (Na) and the other atoms, Cl, she could give me another example by picking “Mg” and “S”. And of course the words “exo” and “endo” are just mere words to describe what is happening in this chemical reactions.
I think I have little or no worries in her studies and I am so sure, I think this will go on forever. When she was younger, and it was time to for me to teach her Math, I would suggest closing all the books and go for a walk in the park or around the neighbourhood. This walk usually lasted 30 mins to an hour. Knowing that she is strong in words and language, we would verbally engaged in the topic of the day, until, she would re-discover the Math topic for that day, or upon me telling her the answer, she would bombard me with 20 more; either to clarify or to straighten up some new questions that arises in her.
I would not say her Math is good, I do not see her as good as I was when I was in Primary six or secondary school. But this method of teaching her, forced her not to use short cut in learning– that is, through understanding and through asking more questions. So far, she has never had to memorize anything, because remembering everything after the end of discussion, is a mere by-product of all these intense discussion.
Again, I always tell her uncles/aunts and cousins in Indonesia that she is far from “smart” and the only thing we should avoid in learning is ” 不要在文字上转牛角尖了，要真懂，要觉悟”, (“quit memorizing and getting caught up in jargons and words, work on real understanding and real construct of the actual thing you are learning”).
The trade-off is: learning is very slow (and for some painful and tedious), but I always ended up with a diligent daughter who continued with her curiosity and learning way after class is over.
The first time I was exposed to Japanese was when my brother introduced me to songs by Hideki Saijo (西城 秀樹). We have no idea what the song was about but we managed to sing a few of his songs. Initially we needed the lyrics (in RO MA Ji) but after many times, it became 滚瓜烂熟 (gun gua lan shu — roll melon rotten cooked) memorized. We continue to perfect the accent, perfect the pitch/tone and perfect to sound like a native/local.
It was not until I was in the 30’s tht I ‘ve decided to learn some cool traveler’s Japanese. Since I have a chance to pick my favourite, I remember I picked “Are you free tonight?” and practice until even the accent was indistinguishable from a native Tokyoite. It does not make any sense to do that, as whenever someone answer my question in Japanese, I would have no way to understand the reply. To prepare for that, I went a few steps further:
Me: Kon ban o hima desu ka? (Are you free tonight?)
She: A….domo…iye (No, I’m sorry)
Me: Do Shite? (Why?)
And following that, I again would have no way of understanding let alone replying. That was meaningless and shortlived fun for me. But many years later, my friend dragged me along to take Japanese 102 class (skipping 101). I took it reluctantly, struggled initially, had some fun with it and didn’t get a good grade.
I called that a 5-minute enthusiasm (五分钟热度)。
Last week, I chance upon a Taiwanese lady teaching Tibetan. Again I was distracted. I do not know how this distraction comes about. Maybe it is another language, like Mandarin, Cantonese, it is tonal. She only taught ( ), and the whole night, I thought about those characters, wrote them in the air, wanting to perfect the “knowing”. Whatever will it be for, I have no idea. Then the next morning, I realize there are 30 of these characters I have to learn. And for the i, U, E and O sounds of each of the 30 characters, I have to learn “kiku”, “siakkio”, “Jempo” and “Naro” vowels to go with them. And there are probably another 6 more vowels that were not so common. So this is like ” A, i, U, E ,O, and Ka, Ki Ku Ke Ko ” all over again as in Japanese. Would this be another 5-minute enthusiasm (五分钟热度)? I wonder.
But then, I should not think of its uses and benefits too much. In the very least, they are interesting to me right now. In the ChenReZig, we chant in Kagyu lineage Buddhist Center in this city, there are Tibetan characters on top of the English sounds. For another short reason, this will start new neurons developing in my brain and reduce my chance of getting Dementia. And it might sound silly, but I follow along and go to webpages and try to sing the characters songs for children, much like singing ABC in English. This is only learning the alphabet, wish me luck.
For a list of the simple characters, please go to this link
I seriously do not remember the day my PSLE result was out but I remember my ‘O’ level, my ‘A’-level and every single year of my NUS results. I remember those because I knew there was going to be a big crowd, I knew there will be pushing and every scene is probably similar to a Black Friday rush in USA.
But I was never there early. I usually appeared only after everybody knew their results, when the crowd has long scattered or worse when there was no one left at the counter/window/notice board.
My daughter is 11 years old. This year if my guess is correct, it should be my daughter’s PSLE result. But I do not have to go. Because she is not taking her PSLE. She is a seventh grader (similar to Sec one?) in Pennsylvania. So I do not have to make any rush. In fact, I have taught her to disregard all her results and behave like Scott Finch in “Mockingbird”, where school is only a learning ground and once she has done her learning, she merely needs to 『捫心自問』(touch your heart and ask oneself) “have you done your very best?” that is all that matters. And so she lead a school life relatively guilt-free and with little pressure. It seems she only enjoy school, never pressured by it.
The other day, her mother offer her an iPad mini from someone who just bought a new iPad and is willing to give the old iPad mini away. Any child would only be too happy to own it. But moments later, her mother changed her mind and decided to tell the person to give the iPad to someone who needed it more.
I quickly find time (after the announcement) to discuss with her what it would be like if the same situation were thrown at any of her cousins. Her cousins (her age) in Indonesia would be very fortunate to have something like an iPad. She knew it would hurt them so much, they would not be able to get out of it for days if not weeks or months. But she quickly understand my reason to discuss. Very quickly, like what 心 经 suggest, she got what I am trying to do. Like 知道五蕴皆空 it removed her 苦厄. She may not be a Buddhist, but she has all the advantage of the skills I can pass to her. She felt no misery, and it did not bother her very long, it was “let go, let go, let go” and she was not bitter nor unhappy.
In Primary Six, I don’t quite understand my teacher when he mentioned why we should choose the best school and how we should be careful what to pick as the first choice. As no parents helped me (nor compelled) me to pick my choice, I choose my first choice according to my teacher’s recommendation and ended up in my second choice which is my favourite choice because it is walk-able from my house!
I read with amazement my first “Buddhism book” from a Singaporean who followed Master Sheng Yan of Dharma Drum and in it. In the book, the author mentioned that during his ‘O’ level time, he actually go against the trend and ‘rat race’ and picked polytechnic as his first choice and National JC as his second choice. Venerable Guo Jun (果骏,-Mahaboddhi Monastery) was a very fine student and so he made it to his first choice effortlessly! But what I admire most about him is not his academics, but his endurance to do the Korean toughest traditional Seon (Sŏn, 禪) 90-day retreat 3 times!
When I was in my ‘O’ level, again I was faced with a choice of JC. But I did not choose polytechnic despite the scare form my uncle, “English not so good, polytechnic was a better choice”. My English wasn’t that good, but I thought JC would be more ‘fun’, because my brother was already in a JC and he seemed to show me that is the brighter path to take. Basically I have no idea what I was doing because at that time I had no intention of going to the university at all. My grandma gave me the impression that the university (or oversea education for that matter) is only for the rich, and we (阮人) as normal folks should only dream about it or wait for it in our next life. So I pick my ACJC and had a blast of my teenage years in that school.
When great Naropa (那洛巴尊者) was young, he was well verse in “the study of logic, science, grammar, rhetoric and art.” Comparing to him, I am maybe less than 10% of his ability in science. Anyway, Naropa was about to go to the famous Nalanda University for his Buddhist study when some “dakini”(空行母) told him to basically: “Stop philosophizing and seek out for a certain Tilopa for instruction!” And so Naropa left Nalanda University to look for a certain person whom he did not recognize at first and was put to twelve very hard tests. Some part includes grinding oil from sesame seeds for a prostitute.
In retrospect, I see that almost anything I chose from schools to JC to University to Master degree and PhD and even jobs were picked carefully. Almost like a karmic force, I accepted one thing after another whether it was good or bad or so-so. I have no regrets whatsoever. After reading stories of great Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa. And stories of venerables Yin Guang and Hui Neng, I felt very glade of how I let none of those things in my life stress me in any way. As long as it is 善知识 and 大善知识, I will take is with complete challenge and contemplation.
The only way I can have encounter with the Dharma is either with books or with the internet. Like how I was influenced into the culture in Mathematics, I advocate it to personal interaction with high level Mathematicians and Theoretical Physicists. One can learn Physics until he got an A1 or A2 in ‘O’ level or ‘A’ level, but when one talks to a Nobel Laureate, one can feel that the learning has not reach a 妙、不可思议level. This is not something one can show, but it is something that one can definitely feel he is there. I guess that is why they say “Cloud 9”. If you are among the clouds, the feeling is certainly wonderful, and you know you are about there but you cannot show or describe to anyone, that you are already there.
So I must thank the few Malaysian teachers that I learned from on YouTube, they greatly influenced and taught me, they give me the 精进心 (perseverance) or virya–an energy to continue and better what I do. If a country want to win an olympic medal who would be better than a medalist who also went to a similar primary/secondary school, eat the same hawker center Economic Beehoon and talk with the same Singlish /Malaysian accent as you?
法轩法师-faxuanfashi is a Malaysian who gave Dharma talks in Mandarin and Cantonese. His Cantonese has such a strong Malaysian-Singapore accent, he reminded me of myself learning to speak Cantonese in Toronto with Hongkongers in early 90’s. Every word sounds like its Mandarin equivalence. For instance we pronounce 非常，开始，or 始终，wrong in Cantonese because of our habits in Mandarin. (Another example the very short 夕阳无限好 took me very, very long to finally say correctly in Cantonese.) Even though his accent were laughable, he was invited to speak in Hong Kong and many parts of Cantonese speaking Malaysia to give Dharma talks. He was able to relate to everyday Singaporean/Malaysian Chinese, and I spend many, many hours absorbing 善知识 from him. Faxuan had experience as a Theravada monk in his younger days, so he knows both the Theravedan and the Mahayanist way. He speaks at a level any typical Singaporean/Malaysian Chinese can understand even though he is well versed in Leng Yan （楞严）Sutra and is deep in the Dharma knowledge.
尘聪法师 also known as Lama Yeshe now is a Tibetan lama receiving transmission from Nubpa Rinpoche. I consider myself very fortunate to have found Lama Yeshe’s talk on the internet. Lama yeshe was a big time lawyer in Malaysia until he realize that vexation (烦恼) has no roots and leave the house to become a Chinese Mahayanist Buddhist monk. Then he found Nubpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan who reduced himself to a lowly gardener whilst suffering persecution in PRC. So Lama Yeshe followed Nubpa Rinpoche because he saw the Metta and kindness in Nubpa Rinpoche. To say that Lama Yeshe’s is powerful is an understatement. When he talks, I feel a lion roaring the truth very loudly and clearly. But I also hear his chinese talk peppered with English and Singlish. And he pronounced 心 (heart) as ‘sim’ — something only Hokkien and Teochew people would do.
Taku Umi Chen (Brother K.C. Chen) — Takuumi must be very young when I first heard his Dharma on the internet a few years ago. Now he is ordained as a Buddhist Monk. As a child, he would follow his mother to a buddhist temple and many times, they would chant the sutra for a few hours. And with that, he could recite(背) some of the sutras, e.g. the Ksitigarbha Sutra. When he was just a upasaka, I would listen to his talk about the importance of the Surangama Sutra. Later when I researched more on the net, I found that I need to attend (minimum) something like 136 lessons from 淨心長老. Each lesson will be an hour long and after each lesson, I probably need to do homework (including practice) of 2-4 hours each time, to fully understand the details of the sutra. I tried it for a few lessons and find it very slow and long. But since Takuumi suggested (提倡) chanting the mantra instead, I followed Takuumi’s YouTube version (20 mins) and started chanting the mantra a few times a day hoping to memorize it. After a year and a half, I think I finally got it in my head and I would do 7 times a day every day. This involved waking up very early in the morning because I hope to finish them and do some sitting meditation before the sunrise. Takuumi is very cheerful each time in his talk. He is said to know Japanese and is very good in Chinese especially with those deep, deep words from the Buddhist sutras. But I like it because he is also well versed in Sanskrit and for that reason, he advocated the Surangama mantra in Sanskrit, even though the Chinese transliterated version is more commonly heard in Buddhist temple every morning for 早课. A pdf file containing that can be downloaded from his cloud by clicking here.