Monday, September 07, 2009

From Releasing Life to Following a Vegetarian Diet: A multitide of goodness

The two pillars of Buddhist teachings are compassion and equality. And to attain a compassionate and non-discriminating mind, one must refrain from killing, help all living beings, and maintain a vegetarian diet. A compassionate mind is a Buddha mind that augments blessings and cultivates virtuous conditions. (The image to the right, the work of Wify, may seem familiar after a while).

Releasing animal life from captivity is more than a symbolic activity. It evokes both a sense of equality and compassion in line with Buddhist teachings. After a hiatus of considerable length of time, Wify participated in a Release Life activity organized by Sister Yu Huei held yesterday at Ben T. Davis Beach as chronicled in the images that follow. Unlike the Releasing Life activity that may seem to have only local impacts, following a vegetarian diet has proven to bestow a multitude of goodness, both local and global, as eloquently summarized in a Chinese article that appears in the January 2009 issue (No. 118) of Chung Tai Shan Magazine (pg. 7, see image to the left). The following is my adaptation of the above article, focusing on the gist and message rather than a verbatim translation. It goes without saying that any shortfall or erroneous interpretation is all mine, and mine alone.

From the Buddhist world view, all sentient beings are our past relatives. Therefore, premised on the principles of causality/conditional origination and compassion, not consuming meat is being merciful. And the aim of being a vegetarian is to promote compassion. Once the mind of compassion is entrenched in each of us, society strife will diminish, and by extension, international conflict will reduce, thereby auguring well for the vision of world peace.

Anthropogenic contribution to global warming-induced climate change, with profound potential consequences on the sustainability of Planet Earth as we know it, has been increasingly recognized as needing redressal. One key measure is to reduce the carbon footprint of all human activities.

In this regard, it has been estimated that adopting a vegetarian diet helps to reduce the per capita carbon dioxide emission to the tune of 4.1 kg per day, or 1.5 tonne per annum. Animal feeds require both capital and energy to produce. For example, it has been estimated that to produce one pound of beef requires the consumption of 16 pounds of cereals, enough to feed 16 persons per day.

Therefore, the best way to reduce our carbon footprint is to be on the vegetarian diet, better even than owning a hybrid car. Becoming vegetarians to combat global warming and promoting energy conservation to reduce carbon footprint have emerged as a virtuous life style that one can assume to protect Earth.

Protecting Earth amounts to protecting all sentient beings, ensuring each and every one of us a rightful place in peaceful coexistence. In addition to religious precepts, the upsurge in the number of vegetarians world-wide is also driven by the medical evidence of health benefits associated with being vegetarian. Apart from lowering cholesterol and fat, hence curtailing the incidence of cardiac and pulmonary diseases, maintaining a vegetarian diet can potentially reduce cancer of the gastro-intestinal tract due to the high fiber content of a vegetarian diet. At the same time, adopting a vegetarian diet helps promote mental clarity, instill a balanced disposition, strengthen the body's immunity and recovery system, and improve the overall wellbeing.

Maintaining a vegetarian diet cleanses the digestive system, the home, and the mind. From the quality of health, of environmental protection, the benefits of following a vegetarian diet extends to the quality of a compassionate mind, a truly self-beneficial trait that benefits others as well.

Perching comes naturally to all birds, taking a breather from flight. All fixed, or floating for that matter, objects are game as shown in this mosaic, including the double arch of McDonald and navigation aid on the sea.

The bait shop located just after the Howard Frankland Bridge (I-275), spotting a rather unique sign post with ropes wrap-around with a buttressed bottom, and what resembles a juke box in the front (actually it's just a concrete monolith nicely painted to be a King of the Rock lookalike).

The participants chanting the Great Compassion Mantra and the Heart Sutra in turn at Ben T. Davis Beach. There are more images of the two on-lookers perching at the water's edge.

Wify (in the picture) and Sister Yu Huei preparing to empty the pails of prawns and juvenile fish into the Bay, signalling the completion of the Release Life activitiy.

And the participants of the compassion-induced activity posing for a group picture, filled with bliss on a blessed morning.

Various stages of flight caught on film, their capture more of a matter of luck than anything else.

Another fortuitous shot, the camera trained at the right place and at the right time featuring a swooping bird just after a strike, the bounty firmly clamped by its beak.

One of the two on-lookers, the dark-colored bird, perched with wings spread, supposedly to dry its plummage. It maintained this seemingly meditative posture throughout the whole time we were there, only cranking its rubberized neck in different directions, hardly moving an inch even while the feeding frenzy (see second image below) was going on in its vicinity, truely being mindful and oblivious to the environment as exemplified by the perfect stillness evoked in the middle image of the bottom panel with nary a ripple even on the water surface that features a perfect reflection.

A mosaic of less than perfect reflection, both while in flight and while standing motionless, that features the remaining on-looker (bottom panel).

The before and after scenes of a feast: the frenzy stirred up by the widely strewn bread crumbs (top), and the contentment (bottom).

A lone bird missing out on the human-assisted feeding, cutting a forlorn figure in the endless quest for sustenance.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A memorable event at the Memorial Service for the Late Master Sheng Yen

Last Sunday, we sped along I-4 in the afternoon, hovering tantalizingly close around the speed limit. A minivan load of seven, me at the helm, was then making its way to Orlando to attend the memorial service for the late Master Sheng Yen. In my rush, I turned into the opposite lane at 408, necessitating a detour and a U-turn to head back to the correct direction, arriving at our destination, the University Inn along E Colonial Drive, late by about ten minutes.

Then I parked at the wrong lot, one owned by a neighboring eatery, and had to move the car to the designated lot while Wify and her entourage made a beeline into the venue first. When I joined the back of the hall several minutes later, the service had already started, the august hall filled with the mind calming chanting of Heart Sutra. Palms joined and eyes closed, I joined the congregation. This was followed by the repeated recitation of Buddha's name, Namo Amitabha, which I participated by silent intonation.

Next up was the slide presentation on the various snapshots of the life of the Master Sheng Yen, right from the time when he was a schoolboy back in China, covering his academic sojourn in Japan and his ascension as a world renowned religious leader, sharing the world stage with many other prominent personalities of the faith such as His Holiness Damai Lama, and standing at the podium of the United Nations addressing the world's heads of government on the issue of world peace and harmony. I recall one anecdote in which his Master admonished him to be a Buddhist teacher, but not a Buddhist scholar.

The simple but solemn memorial service, as Master Sheng Yen would have wanted, concluded with an open session for any attendee who wished to make remarks/observations of the occasion. Amidst several lay followers of Master Sheng Yen who recounted their personal interactions with their beloved Master, two representatives from Orlando-based Buddhist Organizations, Fo Guang Shan and Tzu Chi, also took their turn to express their condolences. It was indeed a heart-warming moment to witness this denomination-transcending participation that augurs well for the continuing flourishing of Buddhism in the area.

The hallmark of simplicity, dignity, and solemnness that announces the purpose of the event.

A composite of some of Master Sheng Yen's sayings on display.

The table-full of publications of Master Sheng Yen dedicated to his immense contribution to Buddhist literature (above and below).

The slide presentation on the life of Master Sheng Yen in progress.

A group photo of the attendees.