Sunday, September 30, 2007

Yeh, My First Annual Anniversary in Blogging

This is a baby step for me in blogosphere ... So in humility, let's start the ride together.”

The date was Sep 30, 2006, and the above are the starting and ending sentences of my first blog, aptly entitled Maiden Blog. One year since on the very day, it seems an opportune time to reflect on my virtual journey, and to project what the future holds, both as an individual and as a member of the digital commons.

First, some statistics. In the past year, I have written a total of 288 blog entries here and a companion blog here. At the beginning, there were some common entries, then subsequently each going on its own way following a rather loose division of musings on my personal/family setting in the other blog and beyond to the global dimension in here.

Sometimes the division may become blurred as exemplified by entries on Buddhism in both, driven by my personal desire to share the Buddhist edicts, and also at times dictated by the need to ensure that the duration of inactivity between blogging does not become glaring. That yields an average blogging frequency of about 0.78 per day. This fractional number of course is merely an artifact, because blog articles are counted in integers: you either write one or none. But it does give one some satisfaction as regards how engaged one has been in an endeavor, a surrogate of sort for commitment.

That's from a very personal viewpoint. A more objective assessment of the impact can also be made based on the number of comments, in my case mostly from personal acquaintances, and also the hits as tracked using StatCounter. I keep tab of the former as I treat them as valuable feedback that warrants my response and acknowledgment, at best I could. I can say that the number never goes beyond double digit, most of the time staying within the grasp of one hand (hint: count the fingers on one hand).

On the other hand, checking the StatCounter on a daily basis lies within the purview of wify. Sometimes, she would inform me if there has been an unusual spike in the hit histogram, exceeding 50, say. At times, she would let me know from which “esoteric” location my blogs have been accessed in an attempt to assure me that my messages, if there are, do reach far and wide.

But I take all these in my strides, writing my blogs as the urge arises in me, not seeking gratification. Since I have a regular income from employment, there is no need for me to resort to Google Adsense that pays on a per click basis in exchange for displaying targeted advertisements in one's blog.

Personally, and this is my personal view, these are distractions that I can do without in spaces that I can control, such as my own blog. Just like I'm free to decide on the format of my blog, within reasons, others can equally exercise their discretion to do likewise. No rationalization is needed, and nothing is imputed. One does what one is comfortable with, no horde mentality, no false sense of aloofness and sublimation, or rising above the materially driven masses, self-professed or otherwise.

The problem with taking a too personal approach to blogging is that one tends toward spontaneity, breeding haphazard topic selection (practically anything under the sky), seemingly hopping from one spot to the next without any attempt toward categorization. I have seen blogs with articles grouped under topics on the side bar, which is a boost to readers enamored of methodological searches. The best I have done is to provide label tags, filling the need in a somewhat more detailed fashion.

But one constant in my blogs are the hand-drawn pictures of nature (mostly parts of plants and flowers), the handiwork of wify. Some of the entries are also heavy on the pictorial side, another attempt at heterogeneity to promote a varied appeal to the blog design. But most of all, I try to vary my writing style, sometimes experimenting with words/phrases that have just entered into my lexicon.

These I will continue to do, as I look forward to the second annual anniversary of my foray into personal journalism in the cyberspace. I hope you have had a great ride, at least not a bumpy one on account of my “free-wheeling” style, and look forward to your continued patronage, to borrow a cliché.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Knowing the How/When of Talking and Listening

Conversation is a human activity between two people: a speaker and a listener, during which their roles can interchange. That much everybody knows. Some are good speakers, while some are good listeners. We learn that too through engaging in our own share of conversations. But are we both a good speaker and a good listener rolled into one?

I found some simple answers, not entirely surprising as we know them but somehow do not put them into practice, in this brief Chinese article, which I chanced upon while Net surfing. As usual, I was hit by the translation bug, thinking that sharing it here, in English, might prompt some of us who are wont to talking more than listening, into recognizing the peril of listening to our own voice too often, and hence becoming ones who know how to talk by listening well. Read on then.

Knowing the How/When of Talking and Listening
[This title is a tad more explicit than its Chinese counterpart would suggest.]

When one learns to talk, one needs to learn to listen as well. They form the two sides of the same coin, encompassing the full range of the ability to talk well.

Our ability to talk hinges on two pre-requisites: unbiased thinking and patience. Talking is a two-way communication, and is not a monologue; and patience is required in facing up to others’ inquiries and opinions, no matter how naïve or ignorant they may seem. A simple question should beget a simple answer from us; likewise for a complex question.

Talking is for conveying our thoughts, and not for finding faults in others. Therefore, refrain from imputing on the weaknesses of others. Such an inconsiderate action will only bring about undesirable consequences, much like what one would expect from poking somebody’s eyes.

Sometimes, you don’t need to expound on some principles, but just listening attentively can convey an understanding, an agreement, an acceptance. At other times, people just need to be listened to, and not seek any profound treatise.

Talking too much dilutes the significance of the intended message. It also runs the risk of disclosing irrelevant and inappropriate contents by encouraging the proverbial loose tongue. This is often construed as bragging, consequently diminishing the worth of the communication. Therefore, know what to talk and when to talk, so that our talks are not relegated to mere restroom graffiti, compromising their worth.

Lying leads to cheap talks, their values severely discounted. The lying may at first be prompted by specific circumstances. However it may easily develop into a pattern if we are not cautious, turning us into habitual liars regardless of the circumstances. But a liar cannot hope to escape detection, and will be branded as unreliable, both in speech and as a person.

Sometimes, we would like to offer constructive views. But the timing of the delivery, and whether the mode of the delivery is acceptable to others, become prime considerations.

When we come across rumors, we, like judges, should not view than as absolutes. Instead, try to understand their points of view, which are likely borne out of their peculiar set of circumstances. We should listen objectively like judges do, from different perspectives.

Even when you understand the real issues, you might not need to defend the truth. Explaining the truth that is not acceptable to the other party is not going to change his/her perception. It might even lead to further strain and misunderstanding. We are all different, and some of us are more prone to misunderstanding others.

Arguing can mutually motivate each other to greater understanding provided both sides have the right frame of mind. Otherwise, arguing becomes meaningfulness if it is stalemated by entrenched polemics.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Zen-like LIFE

This is a busy week for TV series premiers. Some are new seasons, while some are brand new shows, trying to earn our loyalty. I knew Criminal Minds, on CBS, was slated to premier last night. It being one of my favorite shows, having won me over in the last season, I made time for it at 9.00pm. And the usual BAU members were in their elements, profiling unsubs and catching criminals.

When it ended, I channel-surfed awhile and chanced upon this new series, Life, over at NBC. Straightaway I was hooked, no less because of the Zen-like statements made by Crews, the main character, a detective-turned-prisoner-turned-detective trying to take his life back. Besides, I like the name of the series, simply LIFE.

The guy with the Zen look is Crews ...

The very first few scenes already set the tone: Crews reading The Path to Zen in his prison cell. I can't quite make up the author of the book but the picture at the back of the book seems to be that of a lady. Perhaps I would try googling later.

Obviously this is a well-read book, crumpled and all at the edges ...

Among other things, the website of the show features a Zen guide. It contains a brief description of Zen meditation, and the emphases among the different Zen schools.

Open at your peril ... Just kidding.

I managed to transcribe this statement of Crews (by watching the video, repeatedly) made to the face of a prison guard who was trying to provoke him to become an angry convict:

Anger ruins joy, steals the goodness of my heart, forces my mouth to say terrible things. Overcoming anger brings peace of mind, a mind without regrets. Overcoming anger, I will be delightful and loved by anyone".

"The universe makes fun of us all," the hero intoned sagely. Go figure.

On another scene, while he was speeding along a road in a car, he professed that he was not attached to the car. And true enough, he was shown here about to take a big bite off his favorite food, a fruit, after watching his car go under the back-tracking tractor driven by his erstwhile cell-mate.

"No attachment whatsoever."

I think I will add this to my to-watch TV Series list. If you missed the premier, you can check out the pilot here and make up your own mind about it. But be prepared to be interrupted by some commercials from the sponsor, TARGET. But this would pale compared to the strings of TV commercials during the actual show last night.

[The images are all screen captures of the website, except for the first one, which was downloaded from the same site.]

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The 8th Dharma Session of Middle Way Buddhist Association: Zen - A Life of Wisdom by Master Jian Zong

The 8th Dharma Session of Middle Way Buddhist Association was graced by Master Jian Zong, a Dharma instructor from the CT Zen Center of Sunnyvale, CA. Held on Sep 15, 2007 at the Pinellas Park venue of MWBA, the session followed the usual format of meditation , commencing at 9.30am sharp, followed by a Dharma discussion led by the guest speaker of the day, Master Jian Zong.

Master Jian Zong first prefaced the meditation session with dispensing some Buddhist wisdom, which he aptly titled Inner Kungfu [Chinese Martial Arts]. Different than the usual connotation of taming the enemy/opponent, a physical entity, Inner Kungfu here aims at taming the mind, which is the foundation of our love.

Brother Tom introducing Master Jian Zong at the beginning of the meditation session.

And Zen is in the heart of Inner Kungfu. It is recognized as the mind of the Buddha, and conjures up a self-driven endeavor to get enlightenment, through getting rid of stress, pressure, and anxiety.

We all need a good (re)charge now and then, which is facilitated by undergoing a high quality of rest, engendered by meditation. And relaxation is the first step to meditation, imbuing in us positive thinking and thoughts.

Master Jian Zong then enumerated the three basic steps to practicing sitting meditation involving our posture, breathing, and mind.

Good posture includes an upright body, sitting cross-legged in full or half-Lotus position, Diamond hand gesture symbolizing an unmoving mind, closed eyes or lowered eyelids but looking inward. Such good posturing totally centers the body and settles the mind conveniently.

A pure, clear, and still mind is what to strive for. That means doing constant battle with three mental states:

a) wandering thoughts: remedies include being in the present moment, letting go and leaving everything behind.

b) dozing: remedies include clarifying the mind, and physical interventions such as opening the eyes and massaging the head/face, gently rocking the body.

c) boredom: boredom breeds lethargy, and arises from a mind that is not focused. And therein lies the remedy: sharpening the mental focus.

On breathing, Master Jian Zong recommends the counting breath method, for its simplicity, and non-discriminatory premise. Counting variously to ten, seven, five, and even three, depending on one’s length of breath, the method helps us attain purity of mind, granting us the feeling that nothing can bother us now.

Master Jian Zong ended the session on Zen Meditation 101 with the need for post-meditation exercises entailing inhaling through the nose while maintaining a body upright posture, and then exhaling through the mouth while leaning the body forward, so designed to bring circulation back. He also cautioned: Do not let others push your body while in meditation.

The attendees also went through a walking meditation, guided by the cues from a handbell rung by Master Jian Zong. The take home message is embodied in the Principle of Zen practice: Wherever you’re, that’s where the mind is.

Entitled Zen - A Life of Wisdom, Master Jian Zong’s Buddhist lecture of the day was aimed at helping us find our own master key to open our closed minds, locked by our delusions and suffering. The master key has always been with us. So this is a rediscovery journey, finding the key that controls our mind in a state of stillness and tranquility. Two of the 48,000 Dharma gates, the avenues to unlocking our mind, are Zen meditation and learning Dharma, the Buddha’s teaching, each on its own, while constituting a necessary condition, is not a sufficient one.

Master Jian Zong interacting with the attendees during the Dharma lecture.

Zen, the Chinese word for which is Chan, is everywhere, is everything. To paraphrase Grand Master Wei Chueh, the founder of Chung Tai (CT) Zen Center, no matter how much the external environment changes, if we can see through the outer guise, we can let go of vexation, and maintain tranquility.

Master Jian Zong then introduced the 3Ts to attaining a perfect life:

T - Think wise

T - Think compassionate (the operative words being to tolerate and to forgive)

T - Think nothing (the absence of wandering thoughts leading to the development of wisdom and compassion), implying going back to ZERO, to clarity.

in the context of the 3Qs, the quotients:

IQ - conventional master knowledge and Intelligence that enable one to get a good job, say.

AQ - Attitude that leads to job promotion, networking

EQ - Emotion, the foundation of IQ/AQ that goes one step further to obtain wisdom.
And amidst this T/Q matrix sits Zen, the highest standard of EQ.

A life of wisdom presupposes a right view, a right understanding of which of the four kinds of wisdom that we are pursuing. There are the foolish kind and the erroneous kind that are borne out of attachment and craving, hence clouding our sense of right and wrong. Then there are the right wisdom and the pure wisdom, which is inherent in everyone’s original nature.

Master Jian Zong likens cultivating relationships to holding a sand grain in our hand: holding it loosely with an open palm, the grain will stay there. Try to squeeze it hard, the grain will slip away, so would a relationship. Therefore open your hand, and open your mind.

Giving another analogy, if we have been shot once by an arrow, don’t stick a second arrow on the same wound. Every time we think about the hurt, reminding ourselves of the negative experience, we are sticking the proverbial arrow into the same wound. Don’t think about it, and you can recover from the wound. It’s the self that benefits the most from forgiving and forgetting.

Another apt analogy is stirring dirty water in a cup. Let it sit, and the dirt will settle to the bottom, and we will see the problem clearly.

Wisdom and compassion are the essence of Buddhism, and are hence the goals of Buddhist practitioners. And wisdom without compassion leads to indifference.

To overcome greed, one of the three mental toxins (the other two being anger/aggression, and ignorance), think contentment. Being contented is a positive attitude that drives us to be amicable with others while fulfilling our responsibility. Like the old Chinese saying, standing on one mountain, one would yet see another higher mountain.

Turning to wealth, Master Jian Zong listed at least 5 groups that own our wealth, lest we be deluded into thinking that we are the sole keeper [for those who have attended the 6th MWBA Dharma Session conducted by Master Jian Fu on July 9 & 10, 2007, these would serve as refresher material]:

a) IRS
b) Natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis)
c) Thieves/robbers
d) Bankers/doctors
e) Children (think burden), and in US especially,
f) insurers/lawyers.

But we can also use the money in the right way: to shower kindness on our parents, our teachers, and all sentient being; to support and uphold the three jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; to help the three suffering realms (animals, hungry ghosts, and hell). We need to know our benefactors, and take responsibility for what’s bad.

To those who doubt that your life is a blessed one, be reminded of what you find when you wake up this morning:

- health
- absence of the savages of wars, the agony of imprisonment, the pangs of starvation.
- food
- money
- parents, being married and alive

- holding up your head and smiling

- prayers for family, friends, co-workers, dedicating merits to them.
- giving to others, which is more blessed than receiving,
- books to read.

You will realize that you’re so blessed in ways that you may not even know.

Oftentimes information dissemination is not governed by the right view/understanding. Therefore Buddhism advocates the 3 in 1 practice, the three being the studies of precepts (moral conduct), of Samadhi (deep concentration), and the wisdom (that arises from the attainment of Samadhi).

To do that is to go for QBQ (the question behind the question) , to know where suffering comes from; in Buddhist parlance, it’s VBV, the vexation behind the vexation, thereby enabling us to reach the highest state, Bodhi, which is both enlightenment and vexation.

We often hear the refrain, “Why me?” Playing on Chinese pronunciation of words, Don’t ask why [because “why” in Chinese pronunciation means “bad”], ask How [good in Chinese pronunciation] to resolve problem.

The Buddha said, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” This is exemplified by a story of the 3rd Patriarch, who was asked by one of his students how to be free of bondage.

Who has tied you down?” asked the 3rd Patriarch.

Nobody,” replied the student. “If no body is tying you down, then you’re free. Why do you have to free yourself?” the 3rd Patriarch wisely counseled. The message, we are often bound by our own thinking.

As concluding remarks, Master Jian Zong explained the significance of the name MWBA, and the name of the venue: the Middle Way embodies the principle of the Zen Meditation that guides us on the path to true liberation, and Clearwater, in Chinese, means still water, a clear water mind.

To end the day‘s session that has been sprinkled with numbers and symbols, Master Jian Zong offered the mathematical symbol for infinity (see image on the right) as characterizing our mind.

During the ensuing vegetarian lunch treat, it was announced that the 9th MWBA Dharma session would be held on Oct 20, 2007, featuring Dr. Peter Chang on a discussion of the physical and mental aspects of Buddhist meditation as well as the philosophy behind traditional Chinese medicine. But note a departure from the usual start time, 2.00pm instead of 9.30am. And we all bade Master Jian Zong a safe flight to Atlanta.

A group photo of Master Jian Zong with some of the attendees.

Here I would like to quote Grand Master Wei Chueh, taken from Chung Tai Koans: The Teaching Stories of Grand Master Wei Chueh, a publication for free distribution brought by Master Jian Zong:

"With respect, we eradicate arrogance;
with compassion, we extinguish anger and hatred;
with harmony, we eliminate violence;
with truth and sincerity, we eradicate deceit

"To obtain Middle Way Reality,
we observe the Four Tenet of Chung Tai

which are:

To our elders be respectful.
To our juniors be kind.
With all humanity be harmonious.
In all endeavors be true.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

An English Translation of Master Hui Zhen’s Mindful Dispensation # 19 (June 2, 2007

We first met Master Hui Zhen when we attended his Dharma Lecture series on the Consciousness Only School of Buddhism held in Tampa last December. Since then we have been visiting his chinese blog regularly and came to know of his rendition which we have literally translated as HuiZhen’s Mindful Dispensation. He has so far written 20 such articles in his typical free flowing style. And we found #19, which he published on June 2, 2007, to be especially germane to all of us today when oneupmanship seems to be the order of the day, oftentimes resulting in wasterful efforts and strained relationship.

In this respect, Master Hui Zhen has kindly agreed to share this particular dispensation of his in the form of an English translation. As usual any inadequacy that arises in the translation is solely ours and we hope you would be able to take home some of the messages that would put you in good stead in inter-personal dealings.

Master Hui Zhen’s Mindful Dispensation # 19 (June 2, 2007)
(An English translation)

Sometimes, it makes sense for us to be less smart, to have less complicated thoughts, and to be less scheming too. But we have to act wisely, at any time.

Being smart is knowing how to deal with others, but being wise is understanding how to live with ourselves. Smartness is necessary in external exploration, but introspection is virtually impossible without wisdom. To be smart is nifty in doing things, but wisdom is manifested through poise. Smartness begets receiving while wisdom leads to giving. A smart Alec will not necessarily be happy, but a wise man will be at ease for sure.

A smart person is, well, smart. On the other hand, a wise man can appear ignorant on the surface out of modesty but erudite deep down. Why do smart people fumble? Simply because they are conceited, believing themselves to be above others. Frequently the supposedly smart way turns out to be less than effective, begging the question as to who really is the smart one.

A smart person always attempts to change others, often getting agitated in the process. A wise person will first conduct a self review, continuously seeking ways to improve/upgrade oneself, hence effecting liberation.

Basically, take the case of a man and a woman wanting to get married to each other, but their purpose for matrimony is diametrically opposite. A man marries a woman for her present fine qualities, wishing that these will remain true long into the future. A woman, on the other hand, marries a man with the hope that he will change into the perfect husband that she dreams of.

Therefore, those who want a wife wish for a perfect spouse. And those who want a husband hope to settle in with a perfect man. The answer is a foregone conclusion: they will never find each other.

A wise one tries one’s level best to accept others’ shortcomings in stride, and to uncover their worthy attributes. And that’s the surest way to lead a harmonious and fulfilling life.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Looking Up At The Universe

I chanced upon this Chinese poem written by Mr. Wen JiaBao, the Premier of China, here. According to the news story, Mr. Wen was meeting with university students and took the opportunity to dispense a few words of encouragement to the so-called future pillars of society, admonishing them not to focus only on the matters right “below their feet”. Instead, they should look up and around them, be awed by the vista that such a simple change in the frame of mind would bring. The whole world is your stage, Mr. Wen entreats impassionedly, and challenges them to scale greater heights, perform greater feats, and surmount greater odds, for humanity.

The poem is not written in the classical format, but rather the free format of today’s genre, whose easy flowing prose evokes resonation in the readers all the same. The contents have struck a chord in me, the message of which transcends national boundaries, and is equally poignant regardless of the country’s geography, demographics, and stage of development. Hence, this attempt at an English translation. May we all embrace the vision expounded therein and work for the global community.

Looking up at the Universe
by Wen JiaBao, Premier of China

I look up at the universe, so sparse and expansive, embodying infinite truth, and I labor to seek, to follow.

I look up at the universe, so solemn and pristine, evincing regal righteousness, and filling me with passion, with trepidation.

I look up at the universe, so liberal and serene, displaying boundless horizon, and cradling my mind, lending support.

I look up at the universe, so magnificent and luminous, emitting eternal warmth, and kindling in me a ray of hope, sounding a spring thunder.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Day of Compassionate Shower

Looking strenuously through the swishing movement of the front screen wipers and beyond that, a translucent sheet of pouring rain, I gingerly drove to Clearwater yesterday morning. The warning signs were already present early in the morning: overcast sky darkened by ominous rain clouds. My passengers: my wife and her retinue of Buddhist friends. And the mission: release life activity followed by a vegetarian lunch at a Largo Thai food restaurant to be graced by Bhante Dhammawansha.

Upon reaching Bhante’s residence and joined by Tom of the Middle Way Buddhist Association, we found ourselves confined in due to the seemingly incessant rain. The decision was then made, while I was browsing through the collection of Buddhist books on the bookselves (Bhante’s residence also doubles as the meeting venue of the Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society) to have Bhante deliver a Dharma talk to us while waiting for the rain to subside. [In what follows I would be paraphrasing what Bhante actually said as gleaned from my notes and my recollection, including those in quotation marks, which have been inserted to break the monotony and secondarily, to add emphasis. I have also taken the liberty to sprinkle my own thoughts here and there, to stretch the imagination a bit if you will.]

We congregated in the front room, facing a gleaming white stately status of the Buddha, with Bhante seated to one side. “When you wake up early in the morning to do something good, be it engaging in releasing fish, helping others, reading a spiritual book, or doing any wholesome activity, it’s always a very auspicious, very lucky day,” Bhante started the session. Forget about what the horoscope says as Buddhism has no place for superstitious beliefs. And we can change the prophesies of the horoscope by changing our mind, Bhante continued.

In view of the wholesome deed we had set out to do, one that resonates with compassion, Bhante elected to speak on compassion. It so happened that compassion was also what I had been reflecting on after I finished Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes as blogged here. I don’t think this is coincident, not even for a minute, but rather symptomatic of what the world sorely lacks, and that reiterating and reminding ourselves of this universal value would surely go a long way toward alleviating the world’s suffering, one step at a time, and one sentient life at a time.

What is compassion? In a nutshell, compassion is the ability to see the world’s suffering in its many manifestations: poverty, sickness, anger, difficult situations, etc., and to feel the warmth, the hurt that emanates from these observations, and to melt in the sea of suffering, and to act on these feelings, driven by the overarching desire to help the needy. At the fundamental level, Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, connotes compassion to all. Bhante further quoted His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama: My religion is compassion. And King Asoka, one of the two great people of the world from India out of the seven listed by HG Wells of the History of the World fame, the other one being the Buddha, was credited with building the first hospital for animals.

How to be compassionate? We can cultivate compassion if we know the answers to the flip-side question: Why can’t we be kind?

Firstly, we are blind to suffering. We see, but we don’t notice. We hear, but we don’t listen. We read, but we don’t ruminate. We choose to personify the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, nor do we have any qualms in embracing the NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) one.

Secondly, this detachment (I guess this is one occasion where detachment is less than welcome) translates into our inability to understand that one day we will be like them too (old, helpless and hopeless).

Therefore, we can be compassionate when we can identify with the suffering around us, and we can realize that we are not immune to suffering. Just like we need medical treatment for the sick, we need mental uplifting to relieve suffering, and compassion is that spiritual antidote that can work wonders for a troubled mind.

Why do we need to cultivate compassion? Because compassion does not come naturally while cruelty can be dispensed almost effortlessly. And one way to manifest compassion is Right Speech (one of the Eight Noble Paths). And no speech is part and parcel of Right speech too. When the Buddha was engaged in a discourse with his followers, he listened most of the time, always smiled, and seldom talked. We should do the same, especially when we are angry: Don’t talk and don’t react.

Bhante then related two stories to illustrate the point: first, the frog story:

The Buddha used honey words, not in the sense of sweet-talking, but words that are not hurtful, and his delivery can best be characterized as “the beauty of sound” that not only captivated the crowd of followers, but also animals, drawn in by the melodious renditions. One of these animals was a frog, which positioned itself to “listen” on one occasion. Then a man who had spent some time searching for a lost cow in the forest walked in. Feeling exhausted, he propped himself against the long stick used to herd cows, one end staked into the ground, without realizing that the stick had rested on top of the frog, which was engrossed in listening to the Buddha’s delivery. It was said that the dead frog was born into the deity realm in its next life.

The second, the parrot story:

It was said that one of the Buddha’s past lives was as a parrot. One day, two baby parrots, nestled in a nest perched up on a tree, fell off the tree in a wind storm. One fell into the community of ascetics, who practiced Right Speech, and the parrot picked up the same when it grew up. The other parrot fell among a group of thieves. Day in and day out it was bombarded with foul words that were meant to kill, to rob, and the like. So that became this parrot’s vocabulary, swearing and bad-mouthing.

The second story also brings forth the message that Buddhists teach by way of examples. That’s why Buddhists practice Buddhism, and they are Buddhist practitioners.

By way of another analogy, Bhante equated our mind to the blue sky, infinite in all directions. Sometimes there are dark clouds, which may dampen our spirits somewhat. But these clouds will come to pass. So just let them pass, and let go as they do.

We then stepped out under a blue sky, and proceeded to the Clearwater Beach for the release life activity. While there, the rain resumed, but in a drizzle. So armed with umbrellas, and led by Bhante, we accomplished the compassionate act of releasing life, under the watchful eyes of a pelican which had settled on the water surface nearby, but it was kept at bay by the group’s admonitions and shooing hand gestures, and the water canon shot from a hose by the owner of the tackle shop, who has grown accustomed to our regular release life activities.

The last business of the day was the vegetarian lunch at the Thai House in the Largo Mall. It turned out that the day of our visit also coincided with the birthday of the proprietor of the eatery, a Thai and a devout Buddhist. And to honor the presence of Bhante, he gracefully offered the lunch treat as on the house. So the day turned out to be one of compassionate shower all round.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Looking Ahead on the Occasion of Malaysia's Golden Anniversary

Yesterday (Aug 31), Malaysia celebrated the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from the British. That year was 1957, and I was just a three-year old toddler, probably lost in my own little world. Since then, I have seen it grow, prosper, and start to make a name for herself on the world stage. Accolades like the world’s largest exporter of rubber and tin made it to my primary school textbooks.

In years to come, these recognitions have slowly faded into oblivion as Malaysia transitions herself beyond the production and export of primary commodities into valued added manufacturing. At the same time, increasing arable lands have been taken up by urbanization and converted for industrial use. Thus, agriculture, once the mainstay of the country’s economy, has been relegated to the status of a sunset industry, though lately agriculture has been accorded a late boost in the recent national development plans.

Flushed with funds from petrodollars, the country has also embarked on several mega infrastructure projects under the previous administration. The Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), and the new government administration center, Putrajaya, came readily to mind.

However, these physical behemoths are dwarfed by the socio-political developments that have gripped the country since the start of the present administration. Political maneuvering, racial polarization, religious intolerance, curtailment of press freedom, and inept governance dominate the alternative mass media aka blogosphere.

By all counts, a golden anniversary is a joyous occasion for reflection, reflecting on the past struggles and sacrifice, for stocktaking, reminding us of the many endowments that the country is blessed with, and for projection into the future, relishing a Malaysia worthy of all Malaysians regardless of race, religion, and socio-economic status.

But by feeling the societal pulse now, indications are the social contract forged in the days of independence has been questioned, the natural endowments squandered by mismanagement, and the prognosis of the country cast into doubt.

It’s naive to think that come next year, things would be looking up any better. But we just have to harbor hope, even a single ray of hope that enough Malaysian would care about a Malaysian Malaysia, not Malay, not Chinese, not Indian, but a Malaysia for all her people, to make a difference perhaps at the occasion of the Emerald (55th anniversary in Year 2012), if not then the diamond anniversary (60th anniversary in Year 2017).

On a less somber note, I saw what the Malaysian Google people have come up with to commemorate this occasion in Jeff Ooi’s blog, in the same spirit of the parent Google people on other momentous occasions, featuring the gigantic kite (called wau in the Malaysian language; merdeka = independence, tahun = year) popular in the northern State of Kelantan as shown below. That, and the bouquet of flowers (top right) courtesy of my wife, appear to be the only bright sparks for me as Malaysia launches itself into the second half of her first century of coming into being.