Sunday, January 28, 2007

The View is the Final Reference Point

Subsequent to the Wisdom series, Venerable Bhikkhuni Shing Yi has sent us more verses on positive attitude, but this time accompanied by cartoon sketches depicting the action of a young monk, perhaps signifying that it’s best to cultivate these habits from young. As Buddha said, “You are your own master.” So the choice of self reflection or gossip, of engaging in virtue or vice, is all yours, but the benefits of the right choice based on right view/understanding, the every first of the eight noble paths to understanding the Four Noble Truths, are contagious.


Do not gossip while discoursing.
Always reflect on your errant ways in solitude.

The ground,
when planted with vegetables,
makes it tough for weeds to grow;
The heart,
when filled with virtue,
makes it difficult for vice to form.

Speaking of right view, here I would like to share a passage that I have read in the book, What Makes You Not A Buddhist, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (2007, Shambhala, Boston & London):

The View is the Final Reference Point (p. 108-109, Conclusions)

All methods of Buddhism can be explained with the four seals – all compounded phenomena are impermanent, all emotions are pain, all things have no inherent existence, and enlightenment is beyond concepts. Every act and deed encouraged by Buddhist scriptures is based on these four truths, or seals.

In the Mahayana sutras, Buddha advised his followers not to eat meat. Not only is it nonvirtuous to bring direct harm to another being, but the act of eating meat does not complement the four seals. This is because when you eat meat, on some level you are doing it for survival – to sustain yourself. This desire to survive is connected to wanting to be permanent, to live longer at the expense of the life of another being. If putting an animal into your mouth would absolutely guarantee an extension of your life, then, from a selfish point of view, there would be reason to do so. But no matter how many dead bodies you stuff into your mouth, you are going to die one of these days. Maybe even sooner.

One may also consume meat for bourgeois reasons – savoring caviar because it is extravagant, eating tiger’s penises for virility, consuming boiled bird’s nests to maintain youthful-appearing skin. One cannot find a more selfish act than that – for your vanity a life is extinguished. In a reverse situation, we humans cannot even bear a mosquito bite, let alone imagine ourselves confined in crowded cages with our beaks cut off waiting to be slaughtered, along with our family and friends, or being fattened up in a pen to become human burgers.

The attitude that our vanity is worth another’s life is clinging to the self. Clinging to the self is ignorance; and as we have seen, ignorance leads to pain. In the case of eating meat it also causes others to experience pain. For this reason, the Mahayana sutras describe the practice of putting oneself in the place of these creatures and refraining from eating meat out of a sense of compassion. When Buddha prohibited consumption of meat, he meant all meats. He didn’t single out beef for sentimental reasons, or pork because it is dirty, nor did he say that it’s OK to eat fish because they have no soul.

In my personal opinion, Venerable Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse has explained cogently the greater purpose of not eating meat. It’s more than merely observing a Buddhist discipline of becoming a vegetarian. Instead, it’s about cultivating compassion, and understanding the truth of not clinging to self.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

What Dreams May Come

In one of his Dharma lectures to us on the teaching of the Consciousness Only (Weishi) School last October, Venerable Master Hui Zheng introduced to us the movie What Dreams May Come that describes the afterlife.

We bought the DVD from WalMart soon after the lecture and somehow could not get around to watching it until today, it being Jan 14 [the date when the base draft of this blog was first written but only published today with some updates and editing. Procrastination is a great stealer of time. I have to be more vigilant]. What a powerful movie. I may just decide to read the book.

Even though the movie centers around the profound love between two soul mates, who are also husband and wife, spanning from earth to heaven, to hell and back to heaven, some of the concepts explored resonate with the Buddha teachings as well. Examples are heaven and hell, rebirth/reincarnation, and suicide as a cardinal sin.

The movie was adapted from a book with the same name, What Dreams May Come, a 1978 novel by Richard Matheson. The title comes from a famous line in Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 3, scene 1 (To be, or not to be..."), namely, "For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil”, according to wikipedia, and the movie tagline reads: After life there is more. The end is just the beginning.

Some of the accolades on the DVD covers:

A visual masterpiece;

Stunning and totally original; and

Awe-inspiring. A visual blast.

The dreamscape was indeed a striking magnificence of vivid color, the denizens locomoting in mid-air gracefully or threading on water effortlessly. The depiction of hell, on the other hand, is expected: somber, gruesome, and downright unpalatable. For these visual impacts, the movie won the 1998 Academy Award for best visual effects, the only award garnered.

Insightful lines sprinkle throughout the movie. Some that I managed to pick up (with some prodding from wikipedia) are excerpted below:

What some folks call impossible, is just stuff they haven't seen before. [or tried. In fact, if you break down the word, it reads “I’m Possible”. I’ve read this somewhere but the source escapes me now (Wayne Dyer, perhaps?).]

Sometimes, when you win, you lose. (in the early part of the movie). [Especially in relation to time frame, i.e., winning in the short-term but losing in the long haul. Or in stratagem, winning the battle but losing the war.]

Thought is real. Physical is the illusion. [The environment affects you the way your inner self perceives it to be. What others do will only get to you if and when you let them. You may not be able to control what they do, but you certainly have the control over how you choose to respond. And that’s a choice.]

Sometimes, when you lose, you win. (toward the end of the movie) [by stepping back, by not craving for the credit.]

Those are some thoughts for the day. Be good, do good, and be at peace.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Morning Delight

In the past several days, my wife has been following me on my morning trip to send our D to her school. Invariably, the return trip is always via the Bayshore Boulevard skirting the west bank of Hillsborough Bay, a body of water that abuts the Tampa Bay at its upper part. On those trips, a faithful companion that we always bring along is the digital cam that we bought last year on Black Friday (read here), Nikon Coolpix L6. Many an image that has graced this blog is the output from this handy camera.

But on these morning trips a different photographer is at work, namely my other half, as I have to do the driving. And here I would like to share some of her handiwork taken on different days, each capturing a different mood.

Let’s start with the overcast morning. The road was wet, and the air was damp. You can see that railings had been erected on the road median in preparation for the Gasparilla Invasion to be held on January 27, a once-a-year extravaganza when the City of Tampa is taken by swashbuckling pirates in full costume piloting droves of quaintly decorated pirate ships. But more on that later when I will blog on the festivity.

And here is one such pirate ship, looking quite forlorn actually. Maybe the pirates were taking a leave of absence to stock up on supply ready for the next voyage or shall we say, raid.

Then a cold front hit, the temperature dropping, and the air becoming crisp. The morning sky was a tapestry of different hues, the palm trees only visible in outline. This is the only still shot, literally, when we were at a traffic light. The others are portraits in motion, the shooting part I mean.

It was opportune that the sun was just peering beyond the horizon, or rather the low plain fringing the opposite bank of Hillsborough Bay. So we got our sunrise shot, an orange blob against the backdrop of the azure sky. [Compare with an earlier shot here.]

While I’m at it, I might as well throw in this great shot by my elder D taken during her visit to Busch Garden last December. It’s an albino peacock, which seems to be more stunning than its colorful brethren, primarily because this is my first sighting, albeit a pictorial one. Quirk of nature? I don’t know. [Update: Just read this in wikipedia: The White Peafowl is frequently mistaken for an albino, but it is a colour mutation of Indian Blue Peacock.]

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Sutra of the Eight Bodhisattva Realizations

Yesterday, we attended a Dharma talk delivered by Brother Shieh at the comfy home of Brother Brian and his wife, Sister Connie, with the usual accompaniment of delicious food. The topic of the day was The Sutra of the Eight Bodhisattva Realizations, which is based on Brother Shieh’s English translation of the title of the Sutra in Chinese. This Sutra summarizes the eight essential ways toward attaining enlightenment as enunciated by the Buddha himself. A slight variation of the English translated title, Sutra of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, together with the translated full text, is accessible at the website of the Buddha Gate Monastery. In Buddhist parlance, Great Beings is an alternative term for Bodhisattvas.

While perhaps small in number and laconic in verses, each of the eight realizations covers expansive grounds and entails profound ramifications that are inter-related. A practical way to embracing the eight realizations, as outlined by Brother Shieh (seen here doing the preamble outlining his approach to the talk), is to follow the sequential steps comprising:

1) Memorization and recitation of the Sutra. This will ensure that the Sutra will reside in our subconscious and can be invoked at will, much like our own name when asked.

2) Reading interpretative texts and listening to Dharma talks on the Sutra. This will facilitate our understanding of the correct meanings and implications intended by the Buddha.

3) Ruminations on the teachings embodied in the Sutra. We need to contemplate, chew, and mull on the teachings, bringing to bear our unique life experiences conditioned by individual circumstances, and be awe-struck when the realizations hit.

4) Mental Transformation. The realizations should then propel a mental transformation toward actualization and manifestation of the Buddha teachings in our daily life.

From a personal perspective, the first two steps seem passive and relatively easier to achieve. But precisely because the first two tasks do not demand great effort other than prioritizing time for them, most followers also tend to stagnate at this stage, and fail to think long, hard, and deep so as to be able to follow through and eventually benefit from the Buddha teachings.

Brother Shieh spent about three and a half hours leading us through the first three realizations, including a Q & A session at the end. The session was sprinkled with personal anecdotes that helped bring home the messages, interspersed with examples of dealing with specific circumstances such as employing the right tone and nuances for communication.

The first realization encapsulates the notions of impermanence and no-self. This is perhaps easier to grasp if we were to view all things, including life-form, as assemblages or fabrications, or compounds comprising constituents which in turn are assembled from yet minuscule constituents. For example, our body is composed of the four elements: earth (bones and skeleton), water (blood), fire (heat/temperature), and wind (gaseous substance). Our body undergoes regeneration constantly, and we age by the seconds, and experience the great equalizer of all, death. It is the same with any inanimate object, say a wooden table. The wooden pieces are from trees, and in the process of turning a felled tree into wood, various ingredients such as preservatives, are added. Despite that, the finished product continues to undergo physical expansion/shrinkage brought about by changes in heat and moisture content in the air, and other more subtle chemical reactions that manifest in color change. As they say, change is the only constant in life, literally. So if we could internalize that nothing is permanent, then we are more inclined to accept that whatever our attachments to worldly stuff, including our body, our look, and our possessions, are merely transitory. Then letting go becomes relatively painless, much less a struggle.

On the other hand, the notion of no-self does not imply that we disregard our self and do not take care of our body. It’s removing our own selves from the equation, it’s putting ourselves in others’ shoes. It’s about helping others and giving. And to do that, we need a healthy body and a wholesome mind. Here Brother Shieh was driving home the point (as evident from his clenched fist) that we need to take care of our physical body in order to serve a greater purpose: a life of wisdom.

The second realization advocates minimal desires, realizing that craving leads to vicious competition and places excessive demands on our limited resources. When acquiring a new possession, always ask ourselves: do I need it? And not do I want it. In this age of one-upmanship and keeping up with the Joneses, to not to compare may be hard to resist. But the least we can do is to compare with those less endowed than us to satisfy our warped sense of superiority.

The third realization denounces and hence, renounces an insatiable appetite. And we do that by cultivating contentment. Feel blessed with what we already have. Lead a simple life. In the end, a status symbol is just that, a symbol, and an imaginary one at that. It confers no tangible substance, let alone permanence.

Until conditions permit the continuation of the Dharma talk on the Sutra by Brother Shieh, let’s contemplate on the first three realizations. You are more than welcome to share the fruits of your ruminations and experiences of your actualizations in mutual support of our forward march toward enlightenment.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Most of us have heard of de-listing, right? Which is to remove one from the list, any list, shortlist, etc. Or what about de-commissioning? De-toxing? Not to mention de-throning, de-facing, and de-bugging? Now there is de-lurking, which I first read here , which pointed me to here (from where the button below is taken). Apparently, there used to be a De-lurking Day, but now there's a De-Lurking Week for those lurkers to amend their "silent", "reticent" way.

Delurking is a heart-felt appeal to lurkers in the blogosphere, those who read blogs but do not comment, to come out of the proverbial closet and pen their impressions, perceptions, objections, etc., in the comment boxes.

The comments are valuable feedbacks to the bloggers whether they are on the mark or off the mark, whether they enjoy a readership of one (though now one can have a sense of that by installing a stats counter), several, scores, or many.

So far I have yet to break into the double digit realm as far as the number of comments on my blogs goes. So be a sport, make some noise (though I can’t hear it, I would be able to see it).

In case you did not notice, I did not blog yesterday too. Not that I’m losing steam for lack of readership or whatever. I was actually preoccupied with preparing some supporting documents for my D’s college application, those required for establishing Florida residency and demonstrating sufficient funds for a college education. Fortunately, I have already gone down the same road last year, then for my S’s college application. So that helps. Anyway now the matter is in the hands of the Admission Offices.

One of the U’s she is eying is UF, the only college with a double championship trophies in collegiate sports in the same year, as of now. I read that UF is expected to be swamped (no pun intended) with thousands of applications that will surely make admission that much more competitive.

So, ready to de-lurk?

Friday, January 05, 2007

China: A Soundless and Scentless Tour

Being ethnic Chinese and having gone through my elementary school education in Chinese, I have always been fascinated by China, her history, her geography, her people and their way of life.

Both my parents hailed from China, the southern provinces specifically, in the early part of the 20th century when the exodus to Southeast Asia was in vogue. When I came along they have already settled down in their adopted country for good and their memories of Tangshan (an endearing term for China used by her erstwhile inhabitants) could have faded to such an extent that I was never told any tall tales of their experiences in China.

So my perception of China has been formed from second hand accounts from books, movies, and magazines in the 1960s and 1970s. Then when travel restrictions to China were lifted in the 1980s, I began to learn more from relatives and friends who have visited China.

The Internet explosion of the 1990s added another new source of information on China. At the same time, I also began to have personal friends from China when I started Grad school in US.

Still, due to a variety of reasons, visiting China remains elusive. The best opportunity presented itself in 2001 when the biennial Congress of the International Association for Hydraulic Research (IAHR) was slated to be held in Beijing, China around mid-September. However, as a result of personal exigency, I had to forego the trip.

By now, friends and relatives alike are making a beeline to China, and have come back with fascinating accounts to share. Two of my brothers-in-law are now doing business in China, no doubt drawn by the tremendous business opportunity afforded by the large clientele base there and boosted by their own fluency in the Chinese language that helps bridge the communication barrier.

A few days ago my wife received some photos from a friend who has just returned from a scenic trip to China. Her shots capture some of the rustic beauty of Jiangnan that is beyond mere words.

The pagoda-like architecture provides the perfect backdrop to the placid lake water, casting a near-perfect reflection of the above-water scene.

The next shot is an evening scene of a water village: a canal plied by covered boats ferrying tourists and locals alike, houses adorned with brightly lit lanterns built right up the water edge, and a pedestrian bridge at the far end providing a land link for the two banks.

It's almost as if I was there, completely blended in with the scenes that I've just described, sight-wise of course. The only things missing from this virtual tour are the sound and the scent of the place, which I shall endeavor to rectify in the not too distant future.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Words of Wisdom to Live By

I chanced upon the 115 wise sayings that prompt immediate (or gradual as the case may be) realizations here. While they encapsulate the teaching of Buddha, they too can be viewed as faith-neutral precepts that everyone can hold dear to. Therefore, in this first blog of 2007 of mine here, I've elected to actualize one of my New Year resolutions by doing an English translation of the sayings in blocks of ten. You are welcome to share your thoughts and experience whether any one has been partcularly germane to your circumstances and has put you in good stead to face the challenges of life. In like manner, I would also relate to those that have served me well or those that have helped point out my foolish and errant ways.

I’ve originally intended to group in pairs the Chinese saying and its English translation. In order for the Chinese characters to be independent of the Chinese viewer platform, I opted to use the image format. However, after a few trials, I found that I could not control the size of the individual images (no doubt a reflection on my limited knowledge of HTML script) so that they all would appear the same. Therefore, for the sake of uniformity in appearance, I had settled for the use of a single image containing the block of Chinese sayings, followed by a listing of the English translation in tow. Let me know if you have a better plan. I’m always all ears.

1) We suffer because we seek the wrong things.
[Admittedly we don't always realize the truism here until it's too late. Oftentimes the realization is triggered by an precipitous event that has cost us dearly.]

2) Instead of blaming others for our suffering, it’s more instructive to ascribe it to our lack of self discipline.
[Blaming others helps to deflect attention on our weakness, but it will only propagate the tendency to commit the same mistake. Facing up to our own inadequacy takes courage, and in no way projects diffidence.]

3) If you do not bring worry unto yourself, others will never be able to do so. Because there is no space in your heart for that.

4) Watch and learn yourself instead of criticizing others.

5) The inability to tolerate others and forgive them is a sure way of making yourself miserable.
[This is akin to "Don't sweat over the small stuff" admonished by Richard Carlson.]

6) Don’t view others as pathetic. Examine yourself. How are you conducting yourself in life? How much do you know about life?
[Humility, humility, and more humility.]

7) Learning the Buddha way is to be at peace with our conscience, and not for the envy of others.
[There is no place for vanity.]

8) We indulge in gossip because we suffer from inadequate good merits for those with sufficient good merits are oblivious to small talk.
[Good merits come from good deeds, and doing good deeds is a continuous effort that could ill-afford any idle time.]

9) Actualizing the Buddha way advances in small increments.
[And there is no room for retreat.]

10) We will never become Buddha if we practice within our own comfort zone.
[No venture, no gain or you reap what you sow.]