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! ^_^

20101024 Oct 24 Robes and Books Offering 供袈裟与赠书仪式

Robes and Books Offering 供袈裟与赠书仪式


Robes offering is an annual event in the Buddhist tradition. Monks during the 4 months of rainy season spend more time in temples and attend to lay devotees by teaching the Dhamma and helping them to practise meditation.
At the end of the season, in order to show their appreciation and to give thanks, lay devotees would choose one day to gather at temples to offer robes to the monks.

The Saffron robe symbolises monkhood and renunciation from worldly life. On the other hand, a robe is also one of the 4 requisites essential to monks in their daily lives. So robe offering is a great meritorious deed a lay Buddhist can do.

In the Buddhist Library, this tradition is observed and kept alive as one of our annual events.

Morning Service

  • 10.00am – 10.30am: Puja & Chanting诵经法会
  • 10.30am – 11.30am: Dhamma
    talk 佛理开示
  • 11.30am: Dana for Mahasangha 供僧
  • 11.45am: Lunch for participants 午餐

Evening Service

  • 7.00pm: Arrival of participants 信众抵达
  • 7.30pm: Arrival of the Mahasangha & Commencement of Puja 僧团抵达及法会开始
  • 8.00pm – 8.15pm: Dhamma talk 佛理开示
  • 8.15pm – 9.00pm: Robes Offering and Book Presentation 供袈裟与赠书
  • 9.00pm – 9.15pm: Blessings by Mahasangha 僧团祈福
  • 9.15pm – 9.30pm: Light refreshment 茶点招待

The Buddhist Library

2, Lorong 24A Geylang
Singapore, Singapore
Pls contact the counter staff at 67468435 to enquire about books / robes sponsorship.

z20101113 One Day Meditation Retreat @ PMT

2010 Nov 13, One Day Meditation Retreat @ PMT


Join us in this one day simple small group meditation, where we will practice mindfulness, breathing and walking meditation. Only for those who have interest, effort and time. 

  • 0745am ~ 0800am – Registration
  • 0800am ~ 1100am – Morning session (Briefing 0800am ~ 0830am)
  • 1100am ~ 0100pm – Lunch
  • 0100pm ~ 0400pm – Afternoon session (Briefing 1230pm ~ 0100pm)
  • 0400pm ~ 0500pm – Q&A | Closing Dedication

Registration Fee: $50 per student (include lunch)
Registration and payment to be made at PMT Admin Office during opening hours. 

Maximum 20+ students. Registration is on a first come first serve basis before closing date on Saturday, 6 Nov or when session is full. Please log on to www.pmt.org.sg or call 6466 0785 for details.

I do not charge for the session. The registration fee is for defraying operation costs in PMT. If I were to charge, I would charge 20MH ~ 50MH where MH = Meditation Hours. Suki hontu! ^_^

Can A Gay Person Be Ordained As A Monk/Nun?

Someone emailed me a question:

Hi shifu, can a gay person be ordained as a monk/nun?

I replied:

Thank you for writing.

Heterosexual men and women have to transcend their heterosexual desires if they are going to be ordained. Similarly, gay person can be ordained as a monk/nun, as long as this person can transcend this inclination.

Hope this clarifies.

With metta, ^_^


In which case, can such a person still be considered gay or heterosexual?  Asexual perhaps?

Suki hontu! ^_^

I Am Going to Slap You! *Piak*

What if I tell you that I am going to slap you when I see you?  Never mind that I don’t really have a good reason to do so or that I don’t know who is reading this entry … unless you leave a comment.

Future Slap

Now, I have not slapped you yet.  but already, you may start wondering why this crazy monk wants to slap you.  Or you may start pondering on when I might really slap you.  Perhaps you are already worrying about the slap and how painful or embarrassing it would be.  You might even start to become upset at me or become afraid of me, because of the future slap that I *may* deliver to your rosy cheeks.  All these occurring without me having slapped you just yet.  I may end up giving you a pat or punch or nothing at all.  But who knows?

Now, the only thing that has happened is really your reaction to the possibility of being slapped some time in the future.  Maybe your reaction is justified, or maybe it is not.  What is certain is that your reaction if at all, is the one thing affecting you.  Each time you recall the statement “I am going to slap you”, and start going into a semi-uncontrolled spin of rumination and emotional acrobatics, you are giving yourself a slap, a mental slap at that.

Instead of doing that, when you notice that you mind has started on this cycle or even inclining towards it, be aware and
mindful of it.  Mentally label it.  => Say in your mind, labelling it “thinking, thinking, thinking.”  Do this instead of diving into the thoughts and begin slapping yourself silly.  Noting and labeling the mind that has wandered off thinking about things can interrupt the cycle while strengthening mindfulness.  Bring it back to the present moment, wherever you are, whatever you are doing.  Give your mind a rest.

Past Slap

Conversely, I may have already slapped you in the past, and each time you think about it, you get so upset.  You wonder how anyone can be so rude and uncouthly, and you wonder why you did not prevented my slap with your karate block or something.  When one dwells in this way, one becomes agitated and the mind spins once again into a mental rut, unable to extract itself out.  When we do that, we are again slapping ourselves mentally.  While the person slapped us once, we slap ourselves again and again whenever we go into that little corner, experiencing the stinging slap each time.  We end up slapping ourselves more than what that person did.

Stop slapping ourselves.  When you notice that the mind has started on this cycle or even inclining towards it, be aware and mindful of it.  Do as mentioned above:

Note – Label the mental process of “Thinking” for 5 to 10 secs
Bring the mind back to the present moment, be it your breathe or whatever you are doing.

The same applies to pleasant experiences where we reminisce over the past.  While this seem pretty harmless, it can unfortunately spin off into discontentment of the present and take us on an emotional roller-coaster ride.  Similarly, if we start letting our mind wander to the future, of what would happen, may or what we would do or may do, the mind goes into an auto-pilot mode that more often than not lands in a ditch.

Break the Cycle

We can break the cycle.  Wanting to break the cycle is important.  Recognising that the faults of this cycle aligns ourselves in the right direction.  Then we have to start doing something about it.  Before we spin into such cycles, we train ourselves to be take care of our mind and be mindful of where it is going and what it is doing.  We can do so by using mindfulness meditation to train ourselves.  As we sit and watch the breathe, labelling it as it rises and fall, or as it goes in and out, we train the mind.  As we do walking meditation, we learn to watch and be mindful of the walking.  While doing that, we also start to be mindful of how the mind is so fleeting, even whilst we walk (or get on with our daily lives), like a leave in the wind, perpetually on the move.

But as we train and become more and more mindful, we are more easily aware when the mind has drifted.  We then slow down the tendency to spin into those emotional ruts.  Overtime, we tame the mind.  What we do with it after that, is another blog entry.

In the meantime, go, go to the empty space, go to the empty room, go meditate.  Or just close your eyes right now and where you are, just meditate, even for 5 secs, 5 mins or 50 mins.


Happy Thoughts ^_^

Based on a sharing with a visitor to the library yesterday, on how she can meditate.