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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 and bow but I wasn’t sure if that is what people do in Thailand and so instead I stand to the side in total respect and 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 me.  I was only 1 year old.  But that is what Chinese Buddhist say “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。

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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 discipline master look from the other party they are facing or talking to.  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 last 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 dinner 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 to feed his/her ego, constitute 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 foreigner 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.

Put Your Meditation into Practice

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.

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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。

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Exothermic and Endothermic Reactions

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.

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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.