Thursday, November 27, 2008

Differentiating Among the Four Urges to Have

Continuing from my previous post on Calming the Mind from Master Sheng Yen's book, I Send You My Blessings, this post deals with the Four Urges to Have as he further dissected the social psyche that has muddled our value system despite the advances we have made on the technology front. The flourish of materialism and the rapid upheavals in social structures result in our poor understanding, bordering on ignorance, of the four urges to have: need to have; love to have; able to have; and ought to have.

Instead, oneupmanship and herd mentality become the order of the day. The ensuing social ills are already a foregone conclusion. And in his lucid style, Master Sheng Yen went on to elaborate on the right frame of mind one should bring to bear on each of the urges: the courage, the wisdom, and the serenity to know their differences with clarity.

Need to Have versus Love to Have
Need to Have is meeting a genuine need the absence of which will compromise our continuing existence. It includes both material provisions such as the basic means of food, cloth, and shelter, and equally important, spiritual endowments such as happiness, peace of mind, and compassion, to name just a few.

On the other hand, Love to Have is nothing more than the expression of greed, our covetous nature coming to the fore. In a word, such wanting is superfluous, pandering to our vanity for cosmetic luxury at best. These wants are numerous, and the temptation is formidable. Then again, there are certain wants that are appropriate in the context of etiquette such as presentable attire and technological enhancements that help us to continue functioning in a modern world such as computers and mobile phones. The key word here is aptness in consonance with social norms but not flaunting.

There are really not too many needs that would make a life meaningful. Often it's subjectivity that makes us feel empty, unfulfilled, when we are devoid of them. When faced with a decision, it's easy to confuse the Need to Have and Love to Have. A simple example will suffice here.

When we are well to do, the natural inclination is to acquire things based on our perceived taste like purchasing a new model of shoes even though the ones we have are very much wearable, elevating a Love to Have to becoming the Need to Have. However, when we are financially strapped, we realize that life goes on as usual without having to keep up with the Joneses.

Able to Have versus Ought to Have
Able to Have is met through our efforts, earning and deserving the fruits of our labor. It's well within our capability, and is distinct from forcing the issue with chasing after fame, status, power, and the like. No doubt such social recognitions can be enticing, and have driven many up the social ladder. But wait a minute, do we really have the wherewithal to deserve such accolades? If we have not earned them, or the enabling conditions are inadequate, but we continue to delude ourselves as deserving, we will only end up being miserable and hurt.

As to Ought to have or not, it can be put into context when quoting a popular refrain among the youth of today: I like it, so I ought to have it. This is muddled thinking at its height. Our likes are boundless. Therefore it's imperative to ask ourselves instead: Do I ought to like it? Do I ought to have it? Fame is illusory when it's not due, and wealth is mere ill-gotten gain when it is not earned. Conversely, a deserving case can serve as an motivation.

How to balance these four urges to Have? Master Sheng Yen advised us to start from the environmental protection of the mind, insulating our mind from external pollution and strengthening our inner immunity against encroachments from without. At the same time, rid ourselves of envy, anger, second-guessing, selfishness and similarly negative thoughts that would only aggravate our predicament, and learn to monitor and introspect each arising thought, understanding our Need to Have, and dissipating our Love to Have.

If and when we are able to differentiate among these four urges to have, we will have a clear direction in life toward peace of mind and harmony.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Calming the Mind

We often use the dichotomy between the haves and have-nots to illustrate the chasm dividing the affluence and the destitute present in our society, even internationally. The underlying simmer of the malcontent is all but waiting to flare up given the slightest provocation. Thus, concepts such as spreading the wealth, prospering thy neighbor, affirmative action have emerged to correct such imbalance viewed largely from the standpoint of economics.

While not discounting the potential for remediation of such externally driven measures in social engineering, the Buddhist outlook on life stresses the right views as the foundation of a calm mind as succinctly embodied in the Heart Sutra and eloquently captured in the booklet (in Chinese) translated as I send You My Blessings by Master Sheng Yen who has amalgamated the gems of Buddhist wisdom embodied in the Heart Sutra, the Pu Men Pin and the Greast Compassionate Mantra. These are:

1) The three-generational causality
His Highness Dalai Lama was once asked why those who have committed wrong deeds did not receive karmic retribution while those who have done virtuous deeds have not been showered with karmic blessings, to which he replied, “That is because you don't believe in the past and the future life. When you do, you will realize that all the pieces will fall into place when the apparent injustice is viewed from the totality of the three-generational causality whence your indignation will subside.”

Other than accepting the karmic fruits due to us, the notion of three-generational causality also includes making vows and their attribution, which behooves us to always persevere and do our best regardless of our circumstances.

2) The Pseudo combination of the Four Great Elements
Our life is comprised of five elements, divided into the physical and the spiritual. The physical category refers to our body that is made up of earth, water, fire, and wind. These do not exist before birth, but are formed when we are born, from the fetus to the adult form. The Pseudo combination refers to the continuously evolving state of our body, constantly changing.

In addition to our body, all matters are typified by impermanence, contrasting life and death, possession and loss. Precisely because of the carousel of life, death, possession, and loss, our life continues to grow. Therefore, regardless of whether we are here to receive our karmic dues, or to actualize our vows, we must manage life beneficially by being at ease with ourselves, joyous at what life throws at us, and facing life's challenges come what may.

3) The Emptiness of the Five Aggregates
The Five Aggregates or Skandas (form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness) are not intrinsic by themselves. Because of our egos and selfish nature, our life as constituted by the five aggregates is thus formed, and so is the ensuing numerous karmic retributions. However, Buddha knew that life itself is no better than the five aggregates, being plagued by impermanence, constantly shuffling between life and death and changing between thoughts. In this life of mutability, only wisdom remains invariant. Hence, it is admonished in the Heart Sutra that we should use Buddha's wisdom to see through the emptiness of the five aggregates.

However, a great majority of us are blind to the universality of impermanence, ignorant of causality, oblivious to conditional arising, and hence are afflicted by attachment that is manifest in wanting the unnecessary, coveting the undeserving, and chasing after the unattainable. As a consequence, crime abounds, ushering in the next generation of karmic retribution.

Conversely, a man of wisdom would not forcibly acquire things that are beyond him, nor obsess with wishes. If by chance the wish comes true, one would readily give to others in an effort to alleviate others' suffering. This is compassion born out of wisdom, one that puts others' benefits before anything else and one that would ensure absolute peace and harmony.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kathina: A Robe Offering Celebration

We attended the robe offering celebration organized by Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society (DWMS) at Clearwater on the morning of Nov 8, 2008. Unlike the previous year when the event was held outdoor under a makeshift tent, this time it was held in the premises of Unity Church located next door, thanks to Leddy Hammock, Spiritual Leader and her congregation.

In his opening speech, Bhante Dhammawansha, the resident monk of DWMS, welcomed all attendees to this auspicious occasion, which was preceded by healing chanting held last night and which would also include Taking the Refuge in the Three Jewels and Five Precepts Ceremony. The Kathina Celebration is held for the laity to venerate the Sangha after the traditional three-month raining retreat stretching from June 15 to Sep 15, the Monsoon season in India by giving alms to meet their basic needs so that the Sangha could devote fully to practicing and propagating the Dharma. Such provisions could include clothing, food, and shelter. Hence the robe offering celebration. The robes are a 25-century old tradition for Buddhist monks, a noble and humbling attire that underlies the simplicity of their existence.

It is also an occasion for sharing between the Sangha (spiritual experience) and the laity (providing a conducive environment for the spread of the Dharma), and at the same time for exulting the inter-dependence and unity between them. The robe offering celebration is also meant to remember the departed and to offer blessings for the sick and needy.

While we value rights, Buddha focused on duties and taught that when we carry out our duties, rights are automatically imputed.

During the occasion, eight attendees also participated in the Taking the Refuge in the Triple Gems (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) ceremony by taking vows to abide by the five precepts (no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, and no intoxication), which constitute the five basic Buddhist code of ethics. In practice, Taking the Refuge is actually taking refuge within oneself by becoming virtuous. Each refuge taker was given a certificate of appreciation that bears his/her Pali Dharma name with special connotation for wisdom, rightfulness, loving kindness, etc., traits that are embraced and held in high regard in Buddhism.

The Sangha filing out from the premises of DWMS on their way to Unity Church located across the carpark.

The devotees lining up to give alms, in this case, food, to the Sangha, each with an alms bowl in hand.

Bhante Dhammawansha delivering the welcoming speech.

The lunch in session, the devotees delivering various food items by turn to the Sangha.

The devotee's turn to feast.

Gift offering.

The Taking the Refuge in the Triple Gem ceremony.

The devotees receiving the blessed water and string bracelets.