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Learning A New Language

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


PSLE result out on the 24th

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.
guanyin1 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.

What is the right choice of school

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.

O my Malaysian Dharma Teachers

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.

mbva 馬來西亞尊勝佛學會

Background Image of TAku Umi ‘s page.

Reading online NEWS

The only forms of news that is available to me is and  The Straits Times actually costs money to subscribe.  Of course I will read The Straits Times, as I have been reading that for the first half of my life, and it will certainly give me that sense of continuity on the second half of my life, but it is being cut off when the online version is not free.

Nonetheless, I still can go to  SG.Yahoo and ASIAONE to continue my access to my root culture.  Actually there is also ZaoBao but Chinese is my 2nd language and I got C’s and sometimes B, so I usually prefer the English news.

Since I attended talk of Ven. Ding Hong 定弘法师, who was formerly 钟茂森博士 an associate Professor in Queensland University.  Venerable Ding Hong knows Theory of Relativity very well and gave many talks on Einstein’s Theory and also many talks on CAUSALITY, reincarnations and rebirths. It seems that, not only should I abstain from pure entertainment like movie and concert, but I should avoid NEWS too.  As it was explained (and I am also quite convinced) that most news are either surrounding the subject of 饮食男女 or something to do with the breaking of the five precepts — killing, stealing, lying, drinking and sexual misconduct(杀、盗、淫、妄、酒、贪、嗔、痴、慢、疑).  So really to keep our 5 (or six) senses calm and pure (清静), we could only chant “Amitabha” or frequently go back to our breathe like in meditating. We are in this 五浊恶世 world for a reason.  And the reason is not to bash in luxury and comfort (although, it  simply spends our 福报 — merit or reward), and when we have none of this 福报 left, all we have is obscuration to walk the 8 noble path, and then it’s going to be rough ride all the way.  For instance one may feel sleepy when one wants to meditate, couldn’t get to dharma talk on time or couldn’t make it at all either because one is sick or bus is late, or there are objection from people surrounding you.  There could also be discouragement or ridicule causing one to go further and further away from the Dharma Law etc, etc.  It seems like摄六根 (block the six passages) is what most Buddhist monks do, but upasaka and upasika should live to do that as well, otherwise, most practice will go as waste.

The Noble Path (V-I-S-A, L-E-M-C) starts with the Right View, in the Pure Land and Chan Buddhism teaching, it is the first and the most important of the eight, and it roughly means, one must view “I” as fake, completely understand the law of “causality”, and act (that means live every moment) completely wary of whether one is gaining merit, or destroying it.  Learn that there is no way one can do something and not be known as even the smallest act is stored in the alaya consciousness (阿赖耶识).

The Japanese that even Japanese don’t know

Nihonjin no shiranai nihongo – the part of the Japanese language that even local Japanese do not know. This is a very interesting drama about a young, pretty Japanese teacher of a class of foreigners interacting with her students. Keiko is a modern young Japanese so untypical of a Japanese teacher. But out of a desperate need to complete an assignment from this private school, she is willing to put herself on the line and prove to the principal that she can make it and be an exceptional teacher of a relatively hard-to-teach foreign adult students.
Orignally, many years ago, I intended to watch this dorama to improve my Japanese, but due to good, accurate subtitles, I learned little and got stuck episodes after episodes of this captivating J-dorama on youtube.


Years later I caught my wife watching “KELAS INTERNATIONAL” on youtube about a class of foreign students learning Bahasa Indonesia in a very popular Indonesian comedy/drama show.  After only two episodes with her, I thought it was a copycat of the Nihonjin shiranai Nihongo show. But on closer look, I realized it is of a very different genre.


Nihonjin-no-shiranai-Nihongo tends to focus on the interesting part of the language that was only peculiar in the Japanese language. One has to engage one’s brain and do learn some etymolgy of Japanese characters.,  while KELAS


focus on the students and has more episodes on the slapstick jokes and odd behavior of various foreigners while in Indonesia.bringing their local habits into that of Jakarta.  Most actors are real foreigners, except for the “China” student played by a Chinese Indonesian whose exaggeration is probably why people love this show.  She does reminded me of a Chinese Indonesian from the island of Sulawesi, they don’t speak Mandarin well and mixed Hokien, Teochew, Cantonese and Mandarin and Bahasa when she spoke her version of Chinese.  Also unlike the Japanese (Nihonjin), one episode is less than 30 minutes. Even the pronunciation of each student’s name is inherently by another student.  For example “玲玲” -Ling Ling(China student’s name) is pronounced “Rin Rin” by the Japanese guy.  And the Japanese guy would not distinguish “h” and “f” crating lots of errors and laughter.

法師, 你们都好慈悲啊!

听闻说法,知道多接触一些善知识能添福. 。在网络上听闻说法(除了聖嚴法師大法鼓节目的)起初都是听英语的。其中有听Ven. Robina Courtin 的,  Ajahn Chah 的, Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera 的 和Ajahn Yuttadhammo 的。但有可能是跟粤语很有密切的因缘,偶而也听听用广东话的法师和居士们说法。说起来也奇怪,我的方言不是广东话,是新洲的闽南语福建话,但我却跟广东话结了一点点的佛缘。好多次,为了把心经记下来,用了普通话,又读诵又唱 ,但总是漏了一、两行。直到有一天,无意中在youtube找到梅艳芳的《心经 》。很快的就把它,滚瓜烂熟的唱熟了。不用说,中文的心经也自然而然的记了下来. 。之后也喜欢听在网络上用粤语的讲经说法。其中有三为用广东话的法师,反复听了好多,都觉得这些法师们都好慈悲耶!

法軒法師   ---法軒法師是从马来西亚来的,广东话发音不准,跟我一样。但香港却很欢迎法軒法師去那里说法。法師早期出家是在泰国小乘佛廟做比丘,吃了很多苦,现在已转成大乘的和尚。法師的语气和口音给我一种在家乡的口味,听起来很亲切。而且法师个人的故事特别多,可能是这一方面吸引了很多观众。

了一法師   ---了一法師的口气跟我研究生时认识的一位香港学生很相识。说话总是有一点讽刺性,可是却点到为止从不会伤害到别人。这样子好像是横刀直入之后却模不到伤口,反而会另一个人反省一下到底法师说的有没有道理。通常了一法師的 youtube video 只有一张图,上面可能就只有佛经的一两句,或只有佛珠,一个人只能听,没有动画可以看。

定弘法師   ---在出家之前,法师像是一位乖乖子,好像是那种很听话,读书成绩很好的Mama’s Boy.出生于广州,国语也讲得很靓。好像从小就跟净空法师很有缘。他妈妈带他大,他竟然读到博士学位(钟茂森博士),还在Kansas 和 Queensland University 就业。但后来他还是把一切都捨了,出家跟着净空老法师学净土。定弘法師因为用广东话说法,好多好多香港人也因此觉得非常有幸,感恩不已。在圆明寺讲了《无量寿经》,以下是一般人的看法:

定弘法師是廣東人,廣東話講經弘法,自然而親切,是上天賜予給香港人, 感覺有福了。

甘国卫居士 ---甘国卫是早期在歌影视唱戏的艺人。但因為爱好读古书,有缘也读了很多经书,现今与夫人朱璧汶录制佛教粤曲精选VCD,风行海内外,弘扬佛法,深受大众欢迎。我喜欢他讲经说法因為他能够深入浅出,把最深最难的轻松简单的说解。

meditate for a while before another talk.