Category Archives: Buddhism

Rose is Rose, Rose is not Rose

When the Buddha see a rose, does he recognize it as a rose in the same way that we do? Of course he does. But before he says the rose is a rose, the Buddha has seen that the rose is not a rose. He has seen that it is made of non-rose elements, with no clear demarcation between the rose and those elements that are not the rose. When we perceive things, we generally use the sword of conceptualization to cut reality into pieces, saying, “This piece is A, and A cannot be B, C, or D.” But when A is looked at in light of dependent co-arising, we see that A is comprised of B, C, D, and everything else in the universe. “A” can never exist by itself alone. When we look deeply into A, we see B, C, D, and so on. Once we understand that A is not just A, we understand the true nature of A and are qualified to say “A is A,” or “A is not A.” But until then, the A we see is just an illusion of the true A.

Look deeply at the one you love (or at someone you do not like at all!) and you will see that she is not herself alone. “She” includes her education, society, culture, heredity, parents, and all the things that contribute to her being. When we see that, we truly understand her. If she makes us unhappy, we can see that she did not intend to but that unfavorable conditions made her do it. To protect and cultivate the good qualities in her, we need to know how to protect and cultivate the elements outside her, including ourselves, that make her fresh and lovely. If we are peaceful and pleasant, she too will be peaceful and pleasant.

If we look deeply into A and see that A is not A, we see A in its fullest flowering. At that time, love becomes true love, generosity becomes true generosity, practicing the precepts become truly practicing the precepts, and support becomes true support. This is the way the Buddha looks at a rose, and it is why he is not attached to the rose. When we are still caught in signs, we are still attached to the rose. A Chinese Zen master once said, “Before practicing Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. While practicing Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers. After practicing, mountains are mountains again and rivers are rivers again.”

From The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra. Thich Nhat Hanh

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My Problem With Buddhism

Normally, when people ask me what is my religion, I get stuck without an answer. Sometimes, to to escape, I will simply say Buddhism but the reality is that it is not the true answer. I can only say that I am more attracted to Buddhism as a practical philosophical system.

My problem with Buddhism is that I cannot accept or perhaps have not understood, if that is the better term, the concept of rebirth and Nirvana. From my previous post, I can understand that everything in this universe is a constant, nothing created, nothing destroyed. It is perhaps just a big recycling machine. So in this sense, “rebirth” as in the elements recycle itself do make sense to me.

But the rebirth as a continuous karmic existence, that I am not very sure. Also, according to Buddhism, when one achieves enlightenment, one achieves Nirvana which is a state of mind and one is no longer subject to rebirth and thus will be free from suffering. Or something like that as I understand it.

However, thinking again in terms of the Heart Sutra as in my previous post, what exactly is not reborn? If it is said that one achieves Nirvana and is not subject to the cycle of rebirth, then there must be something that is not reborn. And what is that? Your soul? In Buddhism, it is believed that the “soul” does not exist. If there is no “soul”, then what exactly is not being reborn?

I still can’t clear that hurdle. Perhaps I am still a little sparrow stuck in this world and enlightenment is still far, far away. But for what I am worth now, I cannot still get it.

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The Heart of Understanding

The Heart Sutra is not an easy piece of work to understand. I have heard this sutra since I was young and all these while, the idea behind the sutra is at best a poetry to me and at worst, meaningless rhetoric.

Consider these sentences:

“Form is not different from emptiness, emptiness is not different from form. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”

Sounds cool, ain’t it? Not only does it sound cool, it also sounds romantic.

But what exactly does it mean, I really have no real clue and no real understanding. It just felt cool, that’s all although when sometimes not so good things happens to me, I will just tell myself, “Ah…. have it is no different from not having it, so not having it is fine. Life goes on…”. Something along that line.

It is not till recently where I bought the book again, this time with commentaries by Thich Nhat Hanh that I gain some small insight into the real meaning of the Heart Sutra.

He started his commentary rather simply. He said that the paper that I am looking at now is not paper but is really cloud. Why is it cloud while it is obviously paper? Is that guy trying to pull some tricks and tries to be mysterious and vague? You see, one way to make people think you are greater than them is to say something that is very vague but very grand sounding. By doing so, you give an impression of greatness because your mind is so advanced, normal mortals can’t understand what you are saying. Better still, start to create your own vocabulary. Now, you will be immortal, maybe like Hegel.

What he was trying to put through is something not new, especially in this age of science and technology. What he merely said was that because of clouds, we have rain, because of rain, we have trees, because of trees, we have paper. And the cycle goes on and on and on. The form changes but it is actually the same thing. This is not nuclear science. I think anyone who has some education will understand this, no? In science class, the teacher taught us that energy cannot be created and cannot be destroyed. It merely changed from one form to another. Not too hard to understand that I think.

So it goes on to ask, “empty”, empty of what? When we say something is empty, it has to be empty of something, no? When we say the cup is empty, it is empty of water, perhaps, but it is not empty of air. It still contains air. So when we say form is emptiness, emptiness is form, then it has to be empty of something. It is not just pure talk and BS, spoken to impress.

So it is empty of what?

He goes on to explain the sutra, and the answer is it is empty of itself. What does it mean by it is empty of itself? That means that something cannot exist by itself alone, it’s existence contains the existence of other things (recall the paper-cloud analogy) and thus because it cannot exist by itself independent of other things, therefore it is empty of itself. In short, it has no “self”.

So then one goes on to ask, hey if you say that I have no self, that I am not myself, then who the hell is the person typing away at the keyboard now or reading this blog now? It has to be something right?

Wow, this is going to be tough but there is actually an answer to it and it is right there in the book. If I continue here, it will be a very long post.

Suffice to say that the sutra is getting clearer to me now thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh. If you are interested in it, please do get it. The beauty is that there is are logical answers and there is no forcing to believe based on blind faith. And if you still can’t get to understand it? Well, fine. Just simply that when you eat, be mindful that you are eating. When you work, be mindful that you are working. And just be a good person, mindful of what he is doing. And in that, lies the dharma in its simplest and most original form.

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Readings from the Dharma

As I was reading and thinking of the discourses of the Buddha in the book I am reading now, In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, many passages made a very strong impression and got me thinking real deep and hard at the root. It helped me straighten my mind and helped me acquire some insights into my own thoughts and being as well as cut through the hustle and bustle of the happenings of the daily life.

Buddhism has this effect on me and I have never see Buddhism as a religion but a very powerful philosophical system rooted on logic, common sense and the betterment of the human condition.

Here is to share some words from the Samyutta Nikaya, titled “The Hindrances to Mental Development”:

According to this sutta, there are 5 hindrances to mental development, namely:

1. Sensual lust
2. Ill will
3. Dullness and drowsiness
4. Restlessless and remorse
5. Doubt

If we look deep into each one of the above, meditating on them (the Buddha has advised a very powerful yet simple method of meditation based on breathing), we can really see that these 5 sometimes really paralyzes our thoughts, poisons our mind and blocking us from achieving a better mental state.

For example, when we have ill will towards a certain people, our whole mind is coloured as such and we could not be objective and think straight. It also hurts our emotional self and much more. One of the ways to counter this is to inculcate a spirit of loving-kindness towards all being. Also, if we are dull and lazy and always drowsy and intoxicated, there is no way we can think straight and have a productive life. If we are indulgent to sensual lust, we are bound to be tempted into many things that has a negative effect on not only our mind but spirit, body, family etc.

The discourse on this is comprehensive and comes along with similes using a pot of water as a reflection of our mind and after reading this sutta, I started to think deep and many a knot has been untangled.

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Paticca Samuppada

The other day, someone asked me if I am a Buddhist. The reason I was asked is because Wesak Day is just around the corner.

I am a Buddhist by birth. To be more exact, I was born into the Chinese Mahayana Buddhist family who also practices some Taoist rites which is quite common in Malaysia. Later in my life, I got a bit confused with religion and did some self study on Buddhism as well as on Christianity and Islam. I figured and arrived at the conclusion that Buddhism fits me the most. I admire the intellectual and logical approach that the Buddha encouraged, one that is not based on superstitions, hearsay, blind faith, emotions and that sort. The logic and rational way of the Buddha, the Middle Path, self-reliance and the idea that one is responsible for their own actions and fate and not relying on external force and blame fate, all appealed very much to me. And I thought that the Buddha said explicitly of the non-existence of the soul and a supreme being/creator all made a lot of sense to me.

However, I cannot consider myself a true Buddhist as I do not believe (yet) one key concept of Buddhism and that is the concept of Re-Birth.

I believe that this life is all we have and we make the most out of this life, not only for ourselves but also for other people and our environment. The purpose of my being on earth and doing good is so that I create good karmas which I hope will benefit myself in this life and other people, especially people I love. For me, my karmas, whether good or bad, are created and reciprocated in this life alone. My karma will die with me. BUT, the effect of my karma will last longer than me and will outlive me. It does not, however, has any effect on me after I die.

For example, if I am an evil polluter of the environment, destroying the environment for profit, I am creating bad karmas. This bad karma has many consequences and in many dimensions. However, for me personally, I could get caught and get fined/jailed, I could be ridiculed and hated by people, or I could get lucky and nothing happens to me while I enjoy the money that I have milked out of the environment. If I die, that’s it for me. Nothing affects me anymore.

However, my bad karma will continue to outlive me. The environment can become so bad, other people may die. My family may get sued or get hated by people and thus making the life of my family members hell, etc.

The same is true for good karmas that I have created. My good deeds may not have been rewarded in this life and if I die, that’s it. I won’t get anything out of the good deeds that I have done since there is no such rebirth for me to get the benefit of my good deeds in this life. However, my good deeds may have made other people’s life better, made my family members better loved etc. My good deeds will outlive me but once I die, my karma has no effect on me personally.

So one is tempted to ask, if there is no such thing as karma and rebirth, why is it that some people are born rich and some are born poor? Why is it that some people are born healthy and some are born sick etc? How does one account for this?

To my mind right now, this is just pure chance and there need not be an explanation for it, the same as there need not be an explanation on how the universe began. There is no need for a reason. It just happened! Why can’t things just happen? The fact that we humans need an explanation for everything is a human weakness. I am not saying that this is bad. No, in fact this human trait is admirable but not all things need to have an explanation of how it began because there simply is none. Because this idea could not be comprehended, humans create the idea of a Creator and because there is really no answers to many questions that we have, we created the idea of Faith. With the Creator and Faith, we believe we have found our answers, but is this really so or is this simply an illusion and a delusion for us to give peace to our heart?

The Buddha has spoken, according to the records, on Karma and this was recorded in the Culakammavibhanga Sutta. I still have problem believing in him there.

Given that I cannot yet believe in this idea, I cannot also believe in reincarnation and rebirth and these being the tenets of Buddhism, how can I call myself a Buddhist?

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