Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Left Hand Holding the Right Hand

One of my wife’s Buddhist friends emailed us a story that we feel strongly about sharing it with others. Hence, this translated attempt. Personally I feel that the translated text seems uneven, even contrived, losing some of the smoothness, the pithiness, and the rhyming elegance inherent in Chinese prose, when delivered by a masterful writer. At the same time, I feel confident that the gist of the message, the essence of the lesson, is not lost in the translation. But you would be the judge, the original text being attached herewith, at the end. Thank you, Claudia, for the great piece.

The left hand holding the right hand: Priceless

There is one widely disseminated story.

One day, at a table full of drinkers, faces red and behavior bordering on inebriety, a man, feeling his tongue loose, opined:

"Holding the hand of a damsel feels like reliving the teen years;
Holding the hand of the sis-in-law makes one regret ever holding a wrong one in the past;
Holding the hand of a lover sends a warm flow through the heart;
Holding the hand of a female classmate makes one regret ever letting it go;
Holding the hand of the wife is like the left hand holding the right hand."

A middle-aged lady in the crowd, after a moment of silence, agreed, “That’s a good way of putting it, the left hand holding the right hand.” The crowd stopped laughing, and stared at her.

The lady continued, “While holding the hand of another can engender an ecstatic sensation, one can always throw it away when it’s over. But throwing away a left or right hand would make one a cripple.

If an able-bodied person professes this attitude toword marriage and life, he/she indeed has something to be proud of.

Once a person has lost a hand, he/she would truly value how precious it is to be able to hold the right hand with the left hand. When he/she holds the hands together subconsciously, he/she is engulfed by a sense of belonging, one that is real and fulfilling.

A marriage that embraces the left hand holding the right hand analogy achieves an elevation to perennial serenity like autumn water.

The passing of time and our advancing age are bound to level off the acute mutual affection and dissipate the passion of married couples, a confounding development that is beyond their control.

But the mutual feelings that are embedded in the wrinkles of thought, and smeared on the white hair of life, are as scintillating as before.

Anybody’s hand would lose its luster when subjected to the daily grind of life.

It’s fair to say that a progression from falling in love to tying the knots is essentially a journey from the magnificent to the mundane. Whatever remains is as ordinary as the left hand holding the right hand.

This scenario may not be a stimulating one, nor romantic, but it’s more real and reliable than “holding somebody else’s hand”.

In this mundane world of ours, a man who is prepared to love his wife the way the left hand is holding the right hand will feel secure in his affection.

As a matter of fact, all men know that holding the hand of a damsel is expensive while holding that of a lover is tiring.

It’s only when the hand in hand belongs to the wife who has stuck with the husband through thick and thin, in riches and in poor, at the abyss of despondency and at the zenith of triumph, that the bliss of union shall linger on, unconditionally in continuity like flowing water.

[Please click on the images for clarity.]

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Courageous Odyssey

I learned early in life that I’m not the adventurous type, preferring to stay close to the beaten path and avoiding uncharted territory almost morbidly.

Proof? I was not a boy scout, many of whom have participated in camping activities, not to mention the annual Jamboree sessions. Neither did I ever venture out at night, stake a tent, and sleep under the sky roof (literally).

But this is as far as physical activities go. Of things that can be stretched beyond the confines of physical space, I do let my imagination run wild, galloping in all directions as manifested in my avid reading.

I did indulge myself in games, and knew a thing or two about physical exertion, and the triumph of winning. But these took place in controlled environments such as stadiums, where the elements were never a factor one had to contend with.

So I was positively awe-struck when I read the exploits, on two wheels, humanly pedaled, of this young Malaysian. Not across Malaysia, not across Asia, but from the Pacific coast of US eastward to the Pacific coast of China, then making his way back to Malaysia. Of course he did not bike over the Atlantic, nor over the British Channel. But the rest of the way, he just let his faithful Surly Long Haul Trucker (hint: this is a touring bike with a steel frame) do the talking.

His name is Tzuo-Hann Law, but let’s just call him Tzuo. Tzuo has a brain to match his physical prowess, having just graduated from Duke this year. I was alerted to this crazy guy on a bike by Kian Ming, his fellow university mate who has gained some Internet fame through his blogging.

So I went through his biking journal, all 66 pages of them. On last count, he has clocked about 5,500 miles over 86 days, an average progress of about 65 miles a day. Presently, he is somewhere in Germany. And I urge you to visit his journal where he logs daily about his encounters from being almost out of breadth on a steep climb, the exhilarating downhill descent, to just plain sailing along the many country road. Then there are the widely fluctuating fortunes of the nightly accommodation: in a bush, at a gazebo in a park, or just a make-shift hammock where there are trees.

He also makes many friends along the way: fellow bikers, gracious hosts, grocery shop operators, dogs, even a flying companion that kept him company for some miles.

I commend him for his courage, for his fearlessness, also his meticulous planning. You don’t just go biking on ends for days without knowing what you’re getting into.

I can only imagine what the odyssey will do to his confidence, his survival instinct, his view of his place in this world, his outlook on life in general, at the end of it all.

If you can offer any traveling tips along the way, do drop a line at his guestbook, like so, penned by yours truly:

Dear Tzuo,

I came to know about your seeing the world on wheels, the human-pedalled type, in Kian Ming's blog and have read your journal (mostly the photos and the captions), and will continue to read about your daily trek as you progress homeward.

I'm really awe-struck by your carefree mentality. You could just sleep about anywhere, oblivious to your surrounding. No qualms about the human miscreats that we read so much about in the papers, let alone the little critters that own the nights, in the wilderness.

Just be careful when you are moving through the volatile Middle East.”

Should you feel like doing more beyond dispensing some encouraging words such as sponsorship, drop him a line too.

Bravo, Tzuo. What a way to see the world!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rambling Thoughts on Subjectivity (or the bane of it)

A subject is a class of study a student engages in school such as English, Maths, or History. A subject also refers to a citizen of a country such as the Queen’s subjects. In contrast, an object usually denotes an inanimate thing, unless we use it metaphorically such as an object of ridicule, which connotes a person who is a laughing stock by dint of action or word.

By extension, in exam lingo, a subjective test is one that requires an essay type of answers strung from an array of complete sentences that follow the time-honored regimen of Introduction – Body – Conclusion. The answer could be factual, describing some physical phenomena or explaining them, or it could be entirely conjectural, speculative such as describing a future scenario, say in the year 2020, or it could be purely imaginary, fictional as in writing a composition.

An objective test, on the other hand, is another name for multiple-choice format. One just chooses an answer from several candidates. Invariably there is only one right answer, or one that is closest to the “truth”.

Then we have their longest variants: subjectivity and objectivity. Subjectivity can range from mere personal musings to highly opinionated views and even bigoted statements that impose on others. At the other end of the spectrum, objectivity implies impartiality, one that is premised on the fact of the matter, and not contingent upon the status of the messenger.

There is a Chinese saying that reads, loosely translated, those involved are confused while the bystanders are clear. In others words, if we take one step back, we would be able to not only have a clarified view, but also see the big picture. Oftentimes, we may feel that too much is at stake, and that we cannot trust the ability of others to attain the noble goals that we have set for ourselves. So no delegation.

Another variation is our fixation on our own views, our judgment so clouded by our own sense of self-importance bordering on megalomania that we simply ignore sensible inputs from others and bulldoze right through.

The result is the same: the goal is derailed, and a nightmarish inter-personal relation ensues, with hurt egos all round. The initial passion drummed up by the ideal of a seemingly common goal wanes. Not willing to function like a rubber stamp, team members start to have second thoughts, and either resign to a subsidiary role or from the team altogether.

The negativity is especially galling if it were generated by the leader’s behavior, intentionally or otherwise for perception is what drives people to act. To lead, one must know the mindset of those who would like to be led, and the cultural milieu within which the leadership is exercised. An opinionated style may work in a passive society whose members have long been conditioned to toe the line, to not question but to do as told. But it will surely be doomed in a progressive society where a healthy dose of skepticism is commonplace, and where individual thought is revered.

This is where finesse comes in. It is not tantamount to greasing the wheel that turns by expedient means, but a wholesome application of respecting others’ views, and a wholehearted acceptance of the adage that there is no I in the team. Everybody counts, and those not being counted are merely untapped talents, their latent ability waiting to be brought forth by the wise leader.

It would take both the one who leads and those who are led to achieve a common destiny shared by all. Without one or the other, one is just placing obstacles along the way. So in a sense, both are equally indispensable, but at the same time, no one is truly indispensable. So have trust in people who want to do good.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Simple and Pristine Lifestyle, Part IV (the Concluding Part)

This is the concluding installment of my English translation of the Chinese article entitled A Simple Life Is A Beautiful One by Venerable Hung I that appeared in the May 2007 (#153) issue of Dharma Garden. Parts I and II, and III can be viewed here , here and here.

C) A simple and pristine Buddhist practice

Not too long ago, while stopping over at HongKong for about a week, several Buddhist practitioners echoed the same sentiment to me: not to simply consume vitamin and other health supplements because of the health hazards these products pose to our body. When I asked for the source of the information, they pointed to the recent launch of a health education campaign by the Government of HongKong as well as the promotion from many doctors who advocate a balanced and natural dietary intake as opposed to relying on chemically composed vitamins.

The above phenomenon bears some similarity to the way we practice Buddhism. The Buddha had unequivocally taught us to inspect ourselves, to purify ourselves in our daily routine in order to liberate us based on self enlightenment and self awakening. But we deem that such a simple but honest way of practice borders on monotony, and that the same old same old Dharma seems dry and uneventful. Therefore, it appears better to continuously seek guidance from different accomplished Buddhist teachers, and to learn some extraordinary methods for instant gratification. This is popular among the many large religions under the guise of modernist evolution, gaining traction among the adherents. Actually, the public’s longing for faith-based guidance is understandable and deserves support; however, regrettably, any wrongful path that emphasizes rare and strange pursuits would not only be unproductive, but even harmful to us.

How to ensure a simple and pristine Buddhist practice? In my opinion, firstly, have a basic understanding of the principles of dependent origination and causality so that we could minimize, even eliminate, a topsy turvy lifestyle rife with wanton thoughts and daydreaming. Secondly, select an appropriate method of practice, and follow it with perseverance, thereby cultivating good habits that lead to a peaceful and still mind.

Every Buddhist practitioner who aspires toward self enlightenment and the enlightenment of others ought to have a proper understanding of the Dharma embodied in the concept of dependent origination. As the verses go, having begets having, arising begets arising; nothing begets nothing, extinguishing begets extinguishing. These verses spell out the real phenomenon of the vicissitude of life and the liberation from life’s suffering. If we understand that the rise and fall of our life is dictated by the changes resulting from our karmic store of mind, body, and thought, which is beyond our control, nor does it follow immutably from the influence of some past events, then we would be in a better position to face reality, taking cognizance of the here and now, and to ponder what to do and what we can do. Although we cannot alter what has happened, but we definitely can renew the present. Similarly, we cannot project what’s going to happen in the future, but we can as sure manage the present. Therefore, starting from dependent origination, we can relate to the triple-generation continuity as per the dictates of causality. At the same time, we would realize that practice is for the here and now. As long as we have the right view, we do not need extrasensory perception to know that Dharma is everywhere. Naturally our mind would be peaceful and blissful.

The essence of Dharma is the same among all schools. However, there is a distinction between the convenient and the rigorous to cater for different mindsets and aptitudes. As for practice, Buddhism too presents many ways to facilitate learning. Even though on the surface chanting Buddha’s name may differ from meditation, in actuality all the ways invariably found their core learning in precept, mindfulness, and wisdom., and advocate relaxation, focus, clarity and awakening, and Dharma bliss as the means. Therefore, the contents are not complicated on the learning path of Dharma; instead, they exhibit unity and continuity. And the complex conflicts that may ensue more likely result from our misunderstanding and attachment.


I feel that during our brief sojourn here, everyone has to use his/her life and time in the best way possible, including all the causes and effects that surround us. The way to be frugal and to eliminate wastage is to lead a simple and pristine life, through maintaining a simple, harmonious, and serene mind to guide and frame our outlook. Additionally, that simple and pristine philosophy to life would serve as a beacon, illuminating a path for us to march peacefully, and assuredly forward.

A truly simple and pristine life has no place for opposing stands but quality-invariant compassion and forbearance. Once these two conditions are met, not only would our lives be fulfilling, but our relations with those around us would be less stressful and filled with immeasurable bliss.

So it took me about five weeks to complete the translation of what to me is a practical and meaningful guide to leading a simple life that benefits both ourselves and others. Thanks to Venerabl Hung I for penning such thoughtful and simple to follow handbook-style guides. May Buddha bless you always. Amituofo.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Releasing or Harming Life?

I have blogged many times here about our release life activities, the latest one being here. I have also tried to read up on this intrinsically meritorious activity, one which has instilling compassion in all of us at its core. At the same time, the potential for abuse exists as blogged here, which admonishes us to temper the conduct of the activity with wisdom. Therefore, the pros and cons of release life activity as a benevolent act sanctioned by the Buddhist community have been debated at length.

Recently, the same disagreement, to put it mildly, surfaced in Malaysia in conjunction with the Global Guan Yin Dharma Ceremony (July 30 - Aug 1, 2007) . Among the activities planned to commemorate the occasion was the organized release life activity.

I am not privy to what actually transpired on the ground, but have this news article in Nanyang Siang Pau (Aug 8, 2007) to give me a sense of the undercurrents of conflicting standpoints.

Consider it a proposal for an alternative (the virtual) kind of engaging in release life activities. In the spirit of sharing, here’s my attempt at an English translation:

Do set up a release life website!

Many years ago, per chance I wrote an article commenting on the deviation of the practice of release life from its true meaning. A reader responded in support, saying that if anyone stops catching small animals for release life after reading my article, that itself would constitute a meritorious act of saving life.

The reader also attached an explanation on the significance of releasing life by Venerable Dhammananda, quoting him, “liberating all sentient beings from suffering is the best form of releasing life.”

Many years since, many small animals still suffer because of the practice of releasing life.

Releasing animals from immediate harm is saving life, but not one that is pre-meditated. However, the practice of releasing life in order to accrue good merits has gone astray, bringing much detriment over the long term to the lives of many small animals such as turtles, birds, and fish. For many years, many people have voiced negatively on the practice, as have many venerable monks and practitioners in the Buddhist community explained based on Buddhist scriptures the fine points and protocol required of the proper conduct of the practice. But twisted forms of releasing life rituals continue unabated.

The recent Global GuanYin Dharma Ceremony too has been criticized by the public including Buddhists as damaging the atmosphere of peace and serenity for organizing an activity that released more than ten thousands small animals. Perhaps some of these fish and birds have indeed been spared the fate of immediate slaughter, or regained freedom from captivity; however, many were likely innocent lives but were caught specifically to cater for the need of the ritual.

Even though the organizers have stated categorically that these animals were purchased on the spot from the markets, perhaps in an attempt to deflect the accusation of abetting those in the business of supplying animals for release life activities. But is this a practical method? How many times would it serve the purpose? How does one ensure that the “surprised” purchase is not anticipated by those with vested interests?

Whenever there is the practice of releasing life, then there will be businesses specializing in supplying the needed “commodity”. Today, when one walks past any pet shop, it’s not difficult to observe pitiful small animals that would hardly qualify as pets in cages.

The practice of release life has resulted in many small animals and birds being forced into captivity, even untimely demise. So many reports have chronicled the specter of releasing life being turned into an unwholesome endeavor that going into details here would seem superfluous.

As a result, some release life activities have degenerated into the abyss of hypocrisy, their purposes running counter to the notion that life is sacrosanct. Such meaningless pursuits have brought suffering, even death, upon the small animals. At the same time, the perpetrators have committed grave wrongs, instead of achieving the noble purpose of releasing life.

Today, we can access websites that worship Confucius or ancestors. There are also virtual shrines and temples, even those that cater to striking small likeness of people that have done you wrong [a prevalent practice in some Asian culture, digital likeness that is], though I’m not sure whether there is one for releasing life. If there isn’t, I would like to appeal to any web design whiz kid to make one, so that those who intend to engage in releasing life as doing a good deed can do so to their hearts’ content, on the Net, thus benefiting themselves, others, and the small animals.

Does that mean giving up participating in releasing life on the ground? I demur. There are checks and balances that one can follow as blogged here. But it does mean no publicity, for it’s na├»ve to think that in this highly commercialized world of ours, there is a dearth of enterprising souls who would spin any innocuous activity into a profit making concern where often the end (the sale) justifies the means (catching small animals that in all likelihood would not become pets).

Also, conduct the activity in small groups, over spatially/geographically divergent areas. Be random in selecting the sites (to ensure that the released animals have the highest chance of getting back to life in the wild, and not becomg part of the food chain, not so soon anyway), and in selecting the place of purchase (to ensure that the proprietors do not temporarily stock up more catches to meet the needs).

Here I would like to end with an excerpt from Reiki Blogger, which I chanced upon while googling “Compassion and Wisdom”:

So, the basic practice of kindness becomes a unity of wisdom and compassion. Because without one the other suffers. Without the warmth of compassion our wisdom and clarity becomes impartial and cold. And without the clear seeing wisdom our kindness becomes mis-guided and perhaps only serves to perpetuate the problem.”

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Simple and Pristine Lifestyle, Part III

This is the third translation installment of the Chinese article entitled A Simple Life Is A Beautiful One, by Venerable Hung I that appeared in the May 2007 (#153) issue of Dharma Garden. Parts I and II can be viewed here and here.

B) A simple and pristine inter-personal ethos

Unless we lead the life of a recluse, we will always interact with people and handle inter-personal matters. I believe we all wish for as simple a human relationship as possible but contrary to our expectations, we usually struggle to live and work in a complicated environment, finding ourselves ill at ease and things going against our will.

On reflection, are we truly behaving simply to begin with? Probably not. We too are guilty of complicating matters, bringing chagrin upon people around us. Often I rationalize that a person that has no malevolent streak in him would likely not hurt others purposely. Maybe our actions at hurting are just manifestations of habits, without ill-intent. Here by habits I mean a natural response that follows from our thoughts, our feelings, our preferences and personal likes and dislikes, without inhibition. Our typical response is often predicated on our reasoning, that we are properly motivated; however, it often spawns discomfiture and worry in others.

How do we foster a simple attitude toward others? I feel that firstly, we must not change ourselves on account of others' mood swings. Secondly, we must abide by our principles of engaging others, regardless of whether the response from others is friendly or otherwise. We need to uphold these principles at all times.

In this regard, we need to come up with some methodology of addressing inter-personal matters. As the saying goes, each of us looks different, so is our mind thinking differently. Some people are rational, some aren’t; some people choose their words, some don’t; some people are affable, some are downright arrogant. Regardless of whom we meet, the best approach is to attempt to understand the truth, and then to adopt that which is meritorious and discard that which is unwholesome. Discarding here implies letting go of our dissatisfaction and sense of outrage, but not giving up on others. Then we have to ask ourselves whether we would like to continue to network and cultivate positive relations with others. If the answer is affirmative, then we need to nurture compassion and forbearance, and continue establishing good contacts with others. Once we are able to understand the likely changes of inter-personal relation to some extent and prepare ourselves accordingly, we will become steady and forthright. Similarly, when we are sure of our principles of engaging others, we will be focused, marching forward with an even keel, and not lose our purpose in life due to complications in inter-personal matters.

Stay tuned for the fourth and last installment of the translation on a simple and pristine Buddhist practice, followed by conclusions.