Meditation Retreat

Just finish a short meditation retreat conducted by Ajahn Cattamalo. Really learned a lot about myself. Ajahn shared this beautiful and deep quote during the retreat.

“However much you think, you’ll never know;
to truly know you have to stop all thinking,
yet on thinking you rely to know.
Encountering the one who knows, destroy him”

– Ajahn Cattamalo

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The Buddha speaks the ultimate extinction of the Dharma Sutra

From the Seng Yu Lu Translator anonymous.Appended to the Sung Annals.
English translation by Bhiksu Heng SureEdited by Bhiksuni Heng Yin
Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was in the state of Kushinagara. The Tathagata was to enter Nirvana within three months and the Bhiksus and Bodhisattvas as well as a great multitude of beings had come to pay homage to the Buddha and to bow in reverence. The World-honored One was tranquil and silent. He spoke not a word and his light did not appear. Worthy Ananda bowed and asked the Buddha,
“O Bhagavan, heretofore whenever you spoke the Dharma, awesome lights would naturally appear. Yet today among this great assembly there is no such radiance. There must be a good cause for this and we wish to hear the Bhagavan’s explanation.”
The Buddha remained silent and did not answer until the request had been repeated three times. He then told Ananda,
“After I enter Nirvana, when the Dharma is about to perish, during the Evil Age of the Five Turbidities, the way of demons will flourish. Demonic beings will become Shramanas; they will pervert and destroy my teachings. Wearing the garb of laypersons they will prefer handsome clothes and their precept sashes will be made of multi-colored cloth. They will use intoxicants, eat meat, kill other beings and they will indulge in their desire for flavorful food. They will lack compassion and they will bear hatred and jealousy even among themselves.
At that time there will also be Bodhisattvas, Pratyeka Buddhas, and Arhats who will reverently and diligently cultivate immaculate virtue. They will be respected by all people and their teachings will be fair and egalitarian. These cultivators (of the Way) will take pity on the poor, they will be mindful of the aged and they will save and give counsel to those people they find in difficult circumstances. They will at all times exhort others to worship and to protect sutras and images (of the Buddha). They will do meritorious deeds, be resolute and kind and never harm others. They will forsake their bodies for others’ benefit. They will hold no great regard for themselves but will be patient, yielding, humane and peaceful.
If such people exist, the hordes of demonic Bhiksus will be jealous of them. The demons will harass them, slander and defame them, expel I them from their midst and degrade them. They will ostracize the good monks from the (monastic) community. Thereafter these demons will not cultivate the way-virtue. Their temples and monastic buildings will be vacant and overgrown with weeds. For want of care and maintenance their way-places will drift into ruin and oblivion. The demon is Bhiksus will only be greedy for wealth and will amass great heaps of goods. They will refuse to distribute any of it or to use it to gain blessings and virtue.
At this time, the evil monks will buy and sell slaves to till their fields and to slash and burn the mountain forests. They will do harm to living creatures and they will feel not the least bit of compassion. These slaves will themselves become Bhiksus and maidservants will become Bhiksunis.   Totally lacking in way virtue, these people will run amok, indulging in licentious behavior. In their turbid confusion they will fail to separate the men from the women (in the monastic communities). From this generation on, the Way will be weakened. Fugitives from the law will seek refuge in my Way, wishing to be Sramanas but failing to observe the moral regulations. The precepts will continue to be recited twice a month, but in name alone. Being lazy and lax, no one will want to listen any longer. These evil Sramanas will be unwilling to recite the sutras in their entirety and they will make abbreviations at the beginning and at the end of the texts as they please. Soon the practice of reciting sutras will stop altogether. Even if there are people who recite texts they will be unlettered, unqualified men who will insist, nonetheless, that they are correct. Bumptious, arrogant, and vain, these men will seek fame and glory. They will display elegant airs in the hope of attracting offerings from other people.
When the lives of these demonic Bhiksus come to an end their essential spirits will fall into the Avici Hells. Having committed the Five Evil Sins, they will suffer successive rebirths as hungry ghosts and as animals. They will know all such states of woe as they pass on through aeons as numerous as the sands on the banks of the Ganges River. When their offenses are accounted for they will be reborn in a borderland where the Triple Jewel is unknown.
When the Dharma is about to disappear, women will become vigorous and will at all times do deeds of virtue. Men will grow lax and will no longer speak of the Dharma. Those genuine Sramanas they see will be looked upon as dung and no one will have faith in them. When the Dharma is about to perish, all the Gods will begin to weep. Rivers will dry up and the five grains will not ripen. Epidemic diseases will frequently take the lives of multitudes of people. The masses will toil and suffer while the local officials will plot and scheme. No one will adhere to principles. Instead, all people will take delight in the ensuing chaos. Evil people will be ever more numerous like the sands of the ocean-bed. Good persons will be hard to find; at most there will be one or two. As the aeon comes to a close, the revolution of the Sun and the Moon will grow short and the lifespan of men will decrease. Their hair will turn white at the age of forty years. Because of excessive licentious behavior they will quickly exhaust their seminal fluids and will die at a young age, usually before sixty years. As the lifespan of males decreases, that of females will increase to seventy, eighty, ninety, or one hundred years.
The great rivers will rise up in disharmony with their natural cycles, yet people will not take notice or feel concern. Extremes of climate will soon be taken for granted. Beings of all races will mix together at random, without regard for the noble and the mean. They will alternately sink and float like feeding aquatic creatures.
Then there will be Bodhisattvas, Pratyeka Buddhas and Arhats who will gather together in an unprecedented assembly because they will all have been harried and pursued by the hordes of demons. They will no longer dwell in the assemblies but the Three Vehicles will retreat to the wilderness. In a tranquil place they will find shelter, happiness, and long life. Gods will protect them and the moon will shine down upon them. The Three Vehicles will have an opportunity to meet together and the Way will flourish. However, within fifty-two years the Surangama Sutra and the Pratyutpanna Samadhi will be the first to change and then to disappear. The twelve divisions of the canon will gradually follow until they vanish completely, never to appear again. Its words and texts will be totally unknown ever after. The precept sashes of sramanas will turn white of themselves. When my Dharma disappears it will be just like an oil lamp, which flares, brightly for an instant just before it goes out. So too, will the Dharma flare and die. After this time it is difficult to speak with certainty of what will follow.
So it will remain for the next ten million years. When Maitreya is about to appear in the world to become the next Buddha, the planet will be entirely peaceful. Evil vapors will have dissipated, rain will be ample and regular, and crops will grow abundantly. Trees will grow to a great height and men will grow to be eighty feet tall. The average lifespan will extend to 84,000 years. It will be impossible to count all the beings who will be taken across to liberation.”
Worthy Ananda addressed the Buddha, “What should we call this Sutra and how shall we uphold it?”
The Buddha said, “Ananda, this sutra is called The Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma. Tell everyone to propagate it widely; the merit of your actions will be measureless, beyond reckoning.”
When the four-fold assembly of disciples heard this Sutra they grieved and wept. Each of them resolved to attain the true path of the Supreme Sage. Then bowing to the Buddha, they departed.

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Far from the Dharma, I am

Far from the Dharma, I am

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Why is religion declining?

Why do world today have lesser faith/belief in religion? One university in the United States found a correlation with age and religious importance. A study was done and it revealed that two-thirds of the people living in the States over the age of 65 expressed that religion is important to them while more than half of the people under the age of 50 stated the other wise.

There are many reasons which lead to the thinning of faith in a religion. Is it because of education? In the olden days, people were uneducated and do not possessed the knowledge of the physical world. Unnatural phenomenon like natural disasters; eclipses etc were thought to be the work of spirits or God (The God here is just a generic term and does not pinpoint to any specific religion). As Humans start to know more about science, we also improved on our ability to conceive ideas; to process thoughts; to make logical judgment based on our knowledge of science. Whatever which cannot be proved by the laws/principle of science is naturally voided. Sad to say, humans are getting more educated, developing better cognition ability and yet mental illnesses are more common today.

The ability to think also contributes to the ability to doubt. To doubt may be a good or a bad thing in a religion. The strong point of Christians is to their indestructible faith in God and it is something to be respected and impressed. Similarly to the older generation of Buddhist (I’m taking Pureland practitioners as an example as I do not know anything about other Mahayana practices), their faith in Amitabah is unshakable. Based on my understanding, it is a very bad thing to have doubt in God in Christianity. In Buddhism, Buddha reminded us not to believe anything he had said just because he had said so. We should examine and investigate for ourselves. What works for us is the truth. What do not work for us is not. This is one of the good ways for Buddhist to develop their own confidence in the teaching of the Buddha. Regardless of what religion we are practicing, faith is still an important component. Faith and blind faith is separated by a thin line. One should always reflect his/her understanding and belief. This is not to shakes one’s faith but to clear away any doubts he/she may have in his/her religion. In this way, faith can be strengthened into confidence.

The education system does affect our perspective on different issues and the ability to think based on our perception. This is very dangerous as we tend to fail to look at the nature of the problem most of the time. The rest of the opinions we developed is due to our own perception and perception is molded by the daily experience we had since birth. That is why we have the half-full and half-empty concept. I felt that we are asking too much unnecessary questions when trying to accept the Dharma. The older generations accept the Dharma without many questions but with faith and respect. We, being the educated, should try to walk the middle-path when learning the Dharma. Embrace the Dharma with an open mind and try our best not to form judgment on the teachings of the Buddha. When terms and conditions are right, you will be able to see how the teachings apply and integrate into our daily lives.

Is life also getting too comfortable nowadays for one to believe in a religion? People were educated nowadays. Standard of living is also very high. Most people tend to indulge themselves in the way of ‘life’, to stay in big houses; to drive bigger cars as it is an indication of the social status. People tend to jump into the social ‘norms’ because they felt they are abnormal if they are not behaving in the ‘normal’ way we should behave in. What is normal? Social ‘norms’ are just behavioral expectations and cues within a society or group. It is the ‘rules’ that dominate a certain group of people for appropriate/inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. All these were created by us. Just living with different set of values/belief does not make us abnormal. Some of the people who are not spiritually ‘rich’ are rich on the outside yet poor on the inside. They have to work harder and harder everyday to pay off the expensive lifestyle which they chose to. Before they can fully pay off a specific thing, they went to purchase bigger and more expensive ‘necessities’.

We tend to grasp very tightly at things which can provide us sensual pleasure. What is the point of purchasing a $5k hi-fi set when we don’t have the chance to use it at all due to hectic work load? How much time does the whole family spent together every week to enjoy the crispy clear sound of the hi-fi set or the high-resolution of a hi-def 42 inch television? Some of the people like to switch on the music or television just to input some ‘sounds’ into their home to make it ‘lively’. On the actual fact, it is so empty.

I just went to a friend’s house for dinner recently. Upon entering, I saw an elevated platform and meditation cushions. Buddha’s statues and paintings were hanged around the house. I felt very comfortable and peaceful and I wish I can have the opportunity to sit down and meditate that very instance. To me, a house should have a very comfortable feeling, a place for you to unwind, a place to escape from the complicated world we work in. Other than external fittings, the people who are staying in the house also played an important role. Imagining after a long tiring day at work and you still have to face so many problems created by unpleasant family members, that is a good as hell on earth.

Sad to say, the younger generations are living in a too comfortable world to go into religion. Partly is could be due to the way we were brought up. Parents who forced their child to go church or to hold a joss stick and pray to the heaven or even prostrate to the image of the Buddha. In worst cases, parents who were not highly educated do not even know the reason/rationale for doing certain rituals or practice. How do we expect the children to be convinced that whatever the parents are doing is essential or beneficial when parents themselves do not even know the rationale behind all these? Religion can only touch your heart if you open your heart to accept them. However, youngsters’ lives revolve around sensual pleasure other then education. Going to a party definitely have more appealing factor comparing having to go to a temple or even to sit down for hours to practice meditation. Most people will probably go for a degree so that one can wield higher wages. That is when they reach about the age of 24 – 25. Everyone’s plan is to find a good paying job, establishes a good career foundation, find a soul mate and settle down and that is where the struggle of life begins. Most of our life will not turn out the way we expect it to go and we will have to put up with half decent jobs, spending hours in a complicated work organization, pleasing bosses just to earn some bread.

Some of the people might turn into spirituality/religion for solutions to help them to cope with their life. Out of these numbers, how many actually become serious practitioners. Religion/spirituality can provide the explanation why people were upset or unsatisfied with certain issues. The problem arises when the solutions are being offered to them and they are not ready to put in the effort and time to tune themselves, to practice, to go to do service to church etc. What they want is instant solutions but that is impossible.

It is like being envy of someone who made a lot of money from investment and yet one is reluctant to put in the effort to read up and research on the stocks and pump in investment to buy them. One cannot just make a single trip to church or listen to a session of dharma talk and be free of all sufferings and worries forever. It will still require a lot of practice and effort even if it’s just to make a trip down to a monastery or church. If anyone can provide solutions like that in this era, he will be rich!

Just a penny for my thoughts

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~Poem~ by Lama Gendun Rinpoche

Happiness is not to be found with many efforts or will, but is here, nearby, in your relaxing and surrendering.
Don’t worry, there is nothing to be done.
Everything that comes up to your mind has no importance because it has no reality.
Don’t conceive any attachment for it.
Don’t judge yourself.
Let it be.
Let it come up and down without changing a thing.
It all vanishes and begins again, endlessly.
Nothing but the quest for happiness prevents us from seeing it.
It is like a rainbow that one is always chasing without ever reaching it.
It is because it has no existence.
It has always been here and goes with you all the time.
Don’t believe in the reality of experiences, good or bad.
They are like rainbows.
Because we want to grasp what is not to be grasped,
We exhaust our strength in vain.
As soon as we relinquish our hold, space is here, open, welcoming & comfortable.
So, do enjoy it.
Everything is yours already.
Stop searching.
Don’t go into the jungle to look for the elephant that is quietly waiting for you at home.
There is nothing to do.
There is nothing to force.
There is nothing to desire.
And all comes by itself.

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Dennis Wholey interviews Hyon Gak Sunim

Venerable Hyon Gak Sunim (玄覺 指導法師) was born Paul Muenzen in 1964 to a family of devout Catholics in New Jersey, U.S.A. His mother is a PhD in biochemistry, and his father was an executive at a prominent American computer company, and later founded his own company. He has eight brothers and sisters. He was the Head Teacher of the Zen hall (禪院長) at 500 year-old Hwa Gye Sah Temple (華溪寺) in the Sam Gak Sahn Mountain (三角山) range, outside Seoul, South Korea. In August 2001, he received inka (印可), certifying his enlightenment, by Zen Master Seung Sahn (崇山大禪 師), the 78th Patriarch (祖師) in a lineage stretching back to Shakyamuni Buddha.

Educated in philosophy and literature at Yale University (Class of 1987) and comparative religions at Harvard Divinity School (’92), Ven. Hyon Gak Sumin was ordained in 1992 in the temple of the Sixth Patriarch, Nam Hwa Sah Temple (南華寺) on Chogye Mountain (曺溪山), in Guangzhou (廣州), People’s Republic of China: he was the first Westerner to be ordained in China since the Communist Revolution. (The name he received from Zen Master Seung Sahn: “Hyon Gak” means“endlessly profound enlightenment.”). He received Bikkhu precepts (比丘戒) at the Diamond Altar (金剛戒檀) of Tong Do Sah Temple (通度寺) in Korea, one of the most sacred sites in the nation, and has been doing training in various remote mountain places, including 3 intensive 100-day solo retreats (單獨 百日 勇猛精進) and some 15 group 3-month intensive meditation retreats (安居).

He has compiled and edited several of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s books, including “The Whole World is a Single Flower” (Tuttle 1992) (世界一花), “The Compass of Zen” (禪의 羅 針盤) (Shambhala Publication 1997), “Only Don’t Know” (Shambhala, revised 1999), and “Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake” (Shambhala 2006). He also translated the 500 year-old classic of So Sahn Dae Sa (西山大師): “The Mirror of Zen” (禪家龜鑑)(Shambhala 2007), into English for the first time.

Ven. Hyon Gak Sunim is also the author of the Korean bestseller, From Harvard to Hwa Gye Sah Temple, which has been one of the best-selling books in the Republic of Korea for the last five years. To date, it has sold over 1,000,000 copies, and translations are planned for Chinese and Japanese. It is a very personal, at times very humorous tale of his life in America, his fundamental questions about the nature of human existence haunting him from childhood through years of Catholic school education, through schooling in philosophy and literature at Yale and Harvard, to his becoming a monk under one of the leading Zen teachers of our time. The book is widely credited with leading a revival in interest in Korean Buddhism. He donated all of the royalties from this bestseller to his teacher, Great Zen Master Seung Sahn, to help build Mu Sang Sah Temple in Kye Ryeong Sahn Mountain (鷄龍山無上寺). Ven. Hyon Gak Sunim is also the editor or translator of several best-selling translations into Korean of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s English-language books.

As the Head Teacher of the Seoul International Zen Center at Hwa Gye Sah Temple ( 華溪寺 國際禪院 禪院長), he was Zen Master Seung Sahn’s official representative at the Head Temple. He led three-month intensive retreats (安居) twice annually, and ass much in demand as a public speaker throughout Korea, Asia, and many parts of the West. The former Buddhist Chaplain at Harvard University, Ven. Hyon Gak Sumin has given public talks at Harvard University, Yale University, Oxford University, Columbia University, New York University, Brown University, Universite de Paris, University of
London, among many others, in addition to colleges, divinity schools, and countless temples throughout Korea.
Recently he has attempted to return to the mountains to deepen his enlightenment experience in solitude.

Venerable Hyon Gak Sunim beautifully explained about Buddhism, Zen and Mediation in general. Buddhism is so vast and it cannot be summarized or explained. It has to be experienced personally. If you watched the first clip, he is cross referencing Buddhism and Christianity. I am not eligible to comment much about Christianity so if any Christians happened to came across my blog, please read it with an open mind.

Quoting a few sentences from Ven. Hyon Gak Sunim:

1) Jesus said if you wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven, become as a child again

2) You have eyes but you dun see. You have ears but you dun hear. So all of our lives we seeing with our eyes, we are hearing with our ears,we are smelling with our nose but we are not part of that experience.

3) The mind is its own place and in itself can make a hell of heaven or heaven of hell (John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1966)

4) You shall know the truth and truth shall set you free.

Dennis Wholey started the interview by asking Venerable what is an American doing in Korea and being a monk. Ven. replied instantaneously to be seated there and talking to him. To me, this is a very simple and yet a deep example of what is zen all about. Zen to me is still quite a complex concept to me and I can’t comment on it much. Venerable keep talking about the Truth in the video. What is the Truth? In Buddhist context, we all know that the Dharma is the Truth. Through our own defilements and ignorance, the Truth can be placed in front of us and yet we can never fully understand it. Meditation goes hand in hand to deepen our insight and concentration and it will allow us to understand the Dharma deeper and deeper each time.

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Wants (Cravings)

Wants (cravings):

  • A want or a desire must NEVER be mistaken as an aspiration. A person with less wants/cravings/desires is NOT an ambitionless person.
  • Always wanting, that’s the way the mind is. Keep watching how the mind creates stories and pull you in. Don’t pay attention to the story, pay attention to this nature of the mind. Don’t look at that concept, that story. Notice it’s the mind creating the stories, not you. The mind one thing, the story is another. The mind makes the stories and serves it to you. You buy it. Watch that! You will see how the mind creates its own unhappiness.
  • Craving is like a river. It starts from a small stream and leads to a bigger stream. It continues from a bigger stream and leads to a river. It continues from the river and lead to a bigger, rapid flowing river. It continues from a rapid flowing river and leads to the big sea. Craving never ends. It only grows larger and larger.

I will only be happy if “(your wants/cravings at this point of time)”.
Let “(your wants/cravings at this point of time”= x
Re-expressing it in a mathematical formula:
‘Happiness’ = x
Let ‘happiness’ be represented by H, where H is an arbitrary number.
H = x
The mathematical behavior of this x is exponentially, meaning x = ex
Therefore, H = ex

wants vs happiness

This graph shows the relationship between ‘happiness’ and cravings. It does not imply that the more craving you have, the more happy you will be but rather, the amount of cravings will always increases in order to gain more ‘happiness’.

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