Blessing of the Flower Mandala

Flower Mandala @ KMSPKS

Completion of Flower Mandala at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery

Yesterday was Vesak Day, and at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, we celebrated it with 3-steps-1-bow on the eve, recitation of the Buddha’s teachings,
lantern displays highlighting the four gratitudes towards one’s parents, country, sentient beings and the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha).  A fifth highlighted this year was the very planet earth we all reside in.

Without our parents, we do not even exist.  Through them, we are born and with their love, care and upbringing, we learn values, get an education and come to be where we are now in life.  But it is also not just through them.  Without the nation, with its infrastructure, the peace and stability (where exist) that they are able to bring us up.  In some cases, the country offers much lesser than the land itself, and in such cases, it is to the land that we are grateful.

It does not end here.

Even then, the nation comprises of its people and our life, especially modern cities rely on the support and services of countless other beings from both within the nation and beyond.  As a matter of fact, our inter-dependence extends to even insects which forms the ecosystem through which our food comes from.  While we pay for products and services, we cannot use money directly nor eat them.  Money is useless without others to provide the service.  Each day when we turn on the lamp or the tap, countless of individuals contributed to the light and water.  Our convenient life depends on the inconveniences of countless others to make it possible.

The Buddha, through his example, showed the world how we too can put an end to suffering.  As we celebrate Vesak and commemorate his birth, enlightenment and final passing into Mahaparinirvana, we are really celebrating the Buddha nature in each and everyone of us!  This Buddha nature, to be awaken, this potential to be free from suffering is in all of us whatever our race, language or religion, in all sentient beings.

His teaching, the Buddha Dharma, shows the way to bring this potential to fruition, and it is up to us to apply it, as it is up to the patient to take the prescription given by a doctor.  Before us, there are those who followed this path and attained to awakening, enlightenment!  These awaken ones and those committed to the path as monastic sangha continue to guide us as we go on this path of joy, path of awakening.

To the Buddha, his teachings (Dharma),  and the sangha, we return and rely on, with gratitude and reverence.

The teachings on gratitude arises from the teachings of dependent-arising and emptiness nature of all phenomena!

For some, my final offering was considered a blessing or consecration of the flower mandala.  In fact, it is more like the reverse.

This year, a special flower mandala (circle) is formed through the offerings by numerous Buddhists.
Yesterday, I was privileged and honoured to be tasked by my teacher, Master Kwang Sheng to complete the flower mandala offering.

For some, my final offering was considered a blessing or consecration of the flower mandala.  In fact, it is more like the reverse.

The flower mandala can be representative of the whole universe, comprising of various flowers forming different forms and concepts.  All phenomena too arises dependent on conditions.  While various forms and concepts are formed through the flowers, these forms and concepts are not inherent or independently found in the flowers!  And as the flowers wither over time, so too will conditions change with time.  When the flowers are in time scattered, no real substantial circle, squares or triangles are destroyed.  So too for all phenomena.

Through conditions, do all phenomena come about.  With the changes of condition, do all phenomena cease.

The flower mandala in this way, manifest and serves as a link to the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence, dependent origination, no-self, dependent-arising and emptiness of all phenomena!

If we can reflect on this teaching through the flower mandala and see that indeed all phenomena, be it good or bad that we are experiencing comes through multitude of
conditions and ceases to exist with the ceasing of conditions, then blessed with this wisdom, we can put an end to all suffering!

In this way, we receive the supreme blessing of the flower mandala, that is the teachings of the Buddha!

Happy Vesak!

Happy Vesak Day 2556!

Tomorrow is Vesak Day 2556!  Yes, you didn’t read it wrong.  It is 2556 years since the Buddha’s final passing into Mahaparinibbana (Sanskrit: Mahaparinirvana) and 2601 years since his Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree.

Buddhists around the world celebrate the Birth, Enlightenment and Mahaparinibbana of the Buddha around this period.  Some countries such as Japan has evolved into a flower festival, said to have developed over time with the offering of flowers to Buddha in Buddhist monasteries and later developed into the former.

While commonly seen as a Buddhist celebration, it is significant to all people, all sentient beings.  The celebration marks the conquering of our common human state of unknowing, of delusion, of ignorance, of worry, of anxiety, of stress, of suffering.  Of transcending the extremes of sensual pleasure and extreme ascetism.  Of going beyond words and petty differences, and seeing how things truly are.  Of fulfilling the maxim of human potential, Nirvana, Arahanthood, Buddhahood!

This potential is in each and everyone of us, whether we believe or subscribe to it or not.  That despite our faults and flaws, we can cultivate wholesome mental habits and attain to Perfection.  That while we look so different, speak different languages, think and act so differently, we share the common human experience of wanting happiness.  And if we start cultivating in ourselves love (metta 慈), compassion (悲) and wisdom (智), we can slowly but surely overcome the defilements of greed, hatred and delusion.

We can and we should strive towards this goal.  For this is our birthright as sentient beings.  For all sentient beings have Buddha Nature, the potential to become a Buddha, to be free from defilements, free from Cravings and Attachments, free from Suffering.

Happy Vesak!

Bathing of Prince Siddhartha


Bathing of Prince Siddhartha @ the Buddhist LibraryThis should have been a pre-Vesak post, so I am either very early or a week late!


Sometime back, a devotee sent me an email containing a video clip where two venerables and some lay people were having a discussion or meeting over Vesak celebration.  In the discussion, the topic of “bathing of Buddha” came about.

Below is the email text (for context) and my reply.

Original forward email text:

Please share this video clip which was recorded today.All monks and temple committees cannot make use of Buddhists who come to temples to bathe Buddha or Bodhisattva images to collect donation. It is also not the duty of the temples to prepare food for Buddhist followers to fill their stomachs. But, they have to provide Dhamma food for their spiritual development.

I hope that in the coming Vesak day, all monks and temple committees must understand Buddha said that water in the Ganges River cannot clean our sin, only Vinaya and Dhamma can purify our mind and heart.

Please note that our children are very intelligence, do not let them look down on our foolish act when they understand the Dhamma.

Wish you a happy Vesak celebration.

The Messenger of Truth.
Bhikkhu Buddha Dhatu.

My reply to the lay Buddhist.

First off, I won’t analyse the venerable’s statements as he is not with us in this email thread to reply or clarify.  Instead I will comment on the practices mentioned and perhaps how they are rightly observed.  In some cases, I may state my agreement where applicable.

Money Making Practices

I firmly agree with the venerable that no one, monastics or lay, should transform spiritual practices into money making enterprises.  The same applies to all traditions.  This cheapens the practice and soils the persons’ mind / heart.

In the example given, donation boxes are placed near or in front of the baby prince Siddhartha.  While donations are welcome, it is usually not a business transaction where you are required to pay to participate in the ‘buddha bathing” ceremony.

In some centres or temples, when Dharma or meditation classes / workshops are conducted, a nominal fee is charged for two purposes:

1) to defray utilities and standing costs, and

2) to get commitment from participants so that they can benefit from the class or service.

“Buddha Bathing”

Strictly speaking, the practice is an aspiration making step where one performs the symbolic act of bathing baby Siddhartha and makes an aspiration to purify one’s body, speech and mind, practising the Noble Eightfold Path towards enlightenment, Nirvana … or Nibbana if you will.  When you listen to the elderly man speak, he was trying to express this in Mandarin, but when it was translated, it seem to be misconstrued to mean that bathing the statue purifies the person.  That is why the venerable starts quoting the Buddha’s admonishment of the Brahminic practice of bathing in the Ganges river etc.

To me, it is a miscommunication and to put up this miscommunicated video online is not very helpful for anyone.  If any Buddhists groups start getting self-righteous then things can get problematic.  Why?  When one become self-righteous, one often have the preconception that one is right and that others are wrong, and wrong
in a certain manner.  Then it is easy to misinterpret what others are saying or doing.

Helping Others To Grow Positively

Taking Buddha’s example in the Sigolavada sutta (DN31), we see the Buddha guiding Sigala towards wholesome practices and not outrightly condemning him.  When He saw Sigala paying respects to the six directions, he do not simply dismiss the practice, instead he transforms the practice by reinterpreting the practice in the light of the Dharma.

Perhaps, when we see fellow Buddhist communities with various practices that are unknown or alien to us and our community, we should first understand and know correctly how they are being done.  Out of compassion, we should understand clearly what motivation they have and the path (magga, practice) and goal (phala, desired result) that they advocate.

Then if examined thus, there are any part of it that does not, in the short term, lead to harmonious living filled with loving kindness and compassion, or in the long term, lead to reduction and cessation of greed, hatred and delusion, then we can gently and compassionately, offer an interpretation where applicable that is more inline with the Dhamma-Vinaya.

That way, we can help each other progress in the Dhamma, instead of disparaging one another and possible push others further away from the Buddhist teachings and practices.

Suki hontu.

Righting A Wrong: Faith & Atonement

There is an EIF dialogue session on Saturday, 23rd October 2010 and I was invited to participate.  Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the dialogue, so I decided to pen down my thoughts in relation to the suggested discussion points and share them with the participants and on this blog.

Faith & Atonement

I’ll go with the two definitions of atonement and move on from there:

1. Amends or reparations made for an injury or wrong;
2. Reconciliations or an instance of reconciliation between God and humanity.

When I first read it, I zoomed into the part of reconciliation between God and humanity.
Throughout history, humans have worshipped and prayed to multitudes of God(s). However, Buddhist do not have a belief in creator God(s). Hence, there is no concept to receive reconciliation between God and humanity. Some may posit that Buddhists merely replace “God” with “Buddha” and draw arbitrary delineations to differentiate themselves. Consequently, some think that Buddhists worship Buddha and seek forgiveness from him, in order to not incur his wrath. In fact, it cannot be further from the truth.

We may perhaps first examine how wrong or injury can occur. It can occur if say, harm or injury were inflicted or it could occur if certain rules are broken. Many times, the two coincide, other times, they diverge.

eg, it is illegal to park along the road at certain hours or not at all. No one may be harmed in a sense, but a breach of the law has occurred.

Another example I like to share is wearing of seat belts. Some people dislike seat belts and wear them only when absolutely needed, and takes them off whenever they can. As some say in Singapore (or worldwide?), “just don’t get caught”. The funny thing about this rule is that, even if you don’t get caught by the traffic police, getting caught in an accident would result in harm nonetheless.

So we can see that sometimes rules and harm coincide and sometimes don’t.

In Buddhism, if you harmed someone, the best thing to do is to seek forgiveness from the person or group we harmed. We have a joke about asking Buddha for forgiveness after slapping someone. Nope, not gonna work. Apologising to the person involved is the most
direct way of atonement and of gaining closure on the matter.

In the case of a breach of Buddhist precepts, it is not a breach against the Buddha, but against ourselves. Consequently, Buddhists in a way do not really apologise to the Buddha. Let’s take a look at Buddhist precepts to understand better.

Buddhist precepts are training rules taken up voluntarily to help us change and become better. It is like a person with high blood pressure prescribed a ‘precept’ of not taking too much salt and oil. If he take a lot of salt and oil, would the doctor be angry? Would he need to apologise to the doctor? I think the doctor would not be angry (ok, some may!), but may feel sorry for the patient, for the patient is the one who is being harmed, and not the doctor. Out of compassion, the doctor may rebuke him and suggest for ways that the patient may adopt a healthier diet, but in the end, it is still up to the patient to adopt the diet, and to follow through with it.

So when Buddhist did something against the precepts, they are really doing something against themselves and others (where their actions also harm others), and not the Buddha. Just like the doctor in the above analogy, the Buddha do not get angry with people for doing wrong things. Instead, He feels compassion for us, for He sees clearly the harm that we do to ourselves and others by breaching the precepts.

Hence ‘atonement’ is not so much an apology or seeking reconciliation from the Buddha, but ‘atonement’ refers more towards the steps we take to right the wrong.
This consist of (1) confession 忏, (2) repentance 悔 and (3) aspiration 发愿. (Some communities may develop this further and hence be more comprehensive).

In Buddhism, if we do some wrong, the first step is to (1) confess the deed, (2) recognise that our deed was (2a) harmful, was wrong, ignoble, blame-worthy, unworthy, and hence, should be (2b) abandoned, removed, eradicated etc. We should, having recognised the wrong, then (3) make a firm resolve not to repeat it. But easier said than done. So, within the Buddhist text, there are very comprehensive teachings, outlining how the human psyche ticks and what triggering factors lead to others that inclines towards harmful actions that are driven by greed, anger and delusion.

Follow-up Steps
We then (1) practise distancing from triggering factors while (2) applying reflections, contemplations and other practices that transform our perception of the triggering factors so that future contact with it do not lead to the same actions. Meanwhile, we also (3) strengthen mindfulness so that if (1) fails and we encounter the trigger before we have mastered (2), then mindfulness can kick in and prevent a repeat of our earlier actions. (4) Applying proper attention is also most useful while we distant ourselves. Why preoccupy ourselves with something that upsets us?

In modern day Buddhism, repentance puja (chants) are recited as part of a devotional practice that encompasses the above steps. These may be done infront of the Buddha’s image as a reminder of our spiritual direction, towards this state of perfection, Nirvana, that is humanly possible and attained by the Buddha, the Arahants and Enlightened Bodhisattvas. Where possible, confession and repentance is also done with one’s guidance teacher who knows our habits, both good and bad, and knows our tendencies and inclinations. In this way, done methodologically, it can lighten the emotional burden of wrong, while developing the mind so that we can practise restrain and not repeat our mistakes again and again.

These steps leading to an eradication of harmful actions is the full ‘atonement’ of that wrong, a full purification of that wrong.

Good news is that while difficult, it is humanly possible.

Happy thoughts! ^_^