Which Part of “All Conditioned Phenomena Are Subject to Change” Do We Not Understand?

So we started off with wood for our tools and made many things with it.  We chose the trees that are strong and durable.  That was good for awhile.  Then we dried them, treated & processed them and made them last longer.  Along the way, we also used stone.  Oh, stone is so much harder and last longer.  But it was not as malleable as wood.  So we used both for a long time, complementing each other.

We then discovered smithing and started using copper, tin, bronze,  iron and many others.  Along the way, we developed and learnt how to make them stronger and more durable.  With each innovation, we found a way to prevent them from rusting, from breaking down.

Beyond wood, stone and metal, we also used glass and clay.  Unlike wood, glass and clay can be molded into various shapes needed.  Strong and yet lighter than metal, it was great.  But they were brittle.  Very brittle.  Modern tempered glass can be made stronger, but then it is heavy.

Then we invented a magical material.

It was malleable and yet hard.  If you needed, soft variants can be made.  You can make it into thin strands like cotton thread, or have them shaped into bigger stronger structures if needed.  And it was durable.  It would not decay or rot like wood, nor rust like metal.  It was water resistant and can have high heat tolerance if needed.  You can even shape it the way you want it.  Exactly.  Precisely.  It was the perfect, magical material.

We invented plastic.

Now we have the ideal material that allowed us to do whatever we want.  Perfect ideal material.  Magical.  Only problem:  We are too successful in our pursuit.  Most plastics will outlast several generations of human beings.

Some people say that we should bring our own bags when we go to the market or mall.  I agree.  But I think many Singaporeans reuse that *ntuc* plastic bag as trash bag.  If we bring our own bags, we will end up buying trash bags, which we are presently not buying.

The problem is that we cannot see across time and space.  We can only see what is near, so it is hard to visualise how the whole earth is changing because of our habits.  We also cannot see these changes to our environment because we do not have the patience, energy or ability to watch over a span of several months or years.  And even if we could, we mostly lack the ability to see the patterns within what we observe.

We are unable to link our habits (cause) with the environment harm (results).

The same goes for the Law of Karma.  Untrained, it is not easy for us to see directly the functioning of karma.  But if we train our mind to be more observant, calm and mindful, we can start to see the patterns emerging.  Patterns of wholesome actions
leading to happiness, peace and calm, and patterns of unwholesome actions leading to sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair.

To observe the long term effects of our actions on the environment, scientists take sample data from various environment metrics to develop a model.  Through this model, they can approximate and project the possible impact of our actions before it occurs.  So far, the picture is not a pretty one.  We are going into our 59th minute or 11th hour.  Our time is running out.

The world as a whole need to rethink how we use the earth’s resources.  It is not an finite source unlike the US dollar (or other currency) which the US treasury can simply print more green back and flood the market with it.  If a certain natural resource run low or run out, we cannot simply produce more of it.  Natural resources cannot be manufactured so to speak.  It can only be replenished over time as nature take its course.  A broken wooden chair when left to the element, decay and rot over time.  Its constituent parts, be it the four elements or its hydrocarbon molecules, break down as it interacts with the environment.  Over time, a chair that is untreated will totally disintegrate and so call ‘disappear’; the ‘chair’ disappeared’ but the elements move on in this earth, is absorbed or combine with other entities.  This process of decay and decomposition do not speed up just because scientific advances allowed us to speed up the manufacturing process. 

Scientists are also trying to speed up the decomposition by tweaking certain bacteria to act on certain ‘protein’ in plastic, and a teen managed to do just that.  “The Waterloo, Ontario high school junior figured that something must make plastic degrade, even if it does take millennia, and that something was probably bacteria.”

It all boils down to control.  We want changes that suit us.  But nature has other plans.  This very physical world has other plans.  It will change, not according to our whims and fancy.  It will change only according to conditions.  In a simplistic sense, science is really about understanding this world so that we can steer how it changes in order to satisfy our needs and wants.  When we want it not to change, we paint it, lacquer it, glaze it, electroplate it, wrap it with vinyl, enshrine it in glass or make it chemically inert.  If we want it to change, we heat it up, toss it around, dissolve it, charge it, or even send our bacterial minions to do our bidding.

Scientists in some ways are like the Buddha.  They try to know and understand this world to make our life easier, better, without so much stress and suffering.  Difference is that the Buddha discovered that the nature of this world is that it is impermanent, subject to change and cannot be controlled by any single entity, but goes in a constant flux of transitions according to conditions.  Instead of changing the world, the Buddha realised that we have to change ourselves.  By reducing our craving and attachment, our suffering reduces, by realising the true nature of all phenomena, one’s habit of delighting, craving and attachment / control subsides and ceases.  With that, suffering also ceases.

Scientists instead went the other way to change the world.

As I type on this keyboard, made mainly of plastic, I wonder how we can balance between changing the world and changing ourselves.  Each of us have to find that balance that work for us at this moment.  I just hope we find that balance sooner.

So, which part of “All conditioned phenomena are subject to change” do we not understand?

 

References

I Don’t Mind Ants Eating My Leftovers, It’s Just that They Have a Tendency to Drown in Them! ಠ_ಠ

Yes, I’ve said it.  I really don’t mind ants eating my leftovers, it is just that they have a tendency to drown in it.

So my little effort is to ensure that either

  1. I do not have any drinks (even plain water!) left unattended and uncovered.
  2. If ants have started helping themselves to the drink or food, I move them to the sink and drain the drink or food so that they do not drown1 in their food!
  3. n

For the most part, they do a great job cleaning up the leftovers and leave the utensil reading for light washing.  So I leave at peace with them.  :p

I usually finish up my drink and wash up.  But sometimes I leave a cup of water, yes, even plain water on my desk, only to find it swarmed by ants!  There is something about ants these days, they go all over the place even when there is no visible food or drinks around.  Aren’t they supposed to forage for food, and not just go jalan jalan?

Sometimes, they even bite me.  I once tried to endure the bite.  I wondered how much of the ant bite I can endure.  Not much I realised!  To be fair, I lasted probably close to 40+ secs or 1 min.  Problem is, sometimes I am trying to reply to emails, write an article or doing my own sutra / sastra study, and I am afraid I might accidentally crush them.  So I have developed a skill to pick them up skilfully and put them elsewhere.  Then someone suggests that this would get them lost and confused!  Arrgghh … there is no pleasing everyone huh?

Other times, I blow them away.  They seem rather resilient and are supposed to be able to support up to 400 many (502) times their body weight.  And some people say that it may feel like being blown away by a typhoon!  Oh dear!

Until I find a better way to deal with ants already on my body or in my vicinity, in danger of being crushed accidentally by me, I would pick them up or blow them away to safety.

Footnote

1. Ants that in water can often be rescued.  Scoop them from water and remove excess water by carefully dabbing tissue or cloth and absorbing the water.  Then orally blow dry them.  Numerous ants had been ‘rescued’ and ‘revived’ these way.

2. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_much_weight_can_an_ant_carry

References

Massive and Extremely Dangerous Earthquake in the Border Area in Between Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and China

When this news caught my eye, I thought I was misreading.  I was like, come on, disasters don’t happen so often.  I mean, they are not supposed to.  Right?

Well, wrong.

http://earthquake-report.com/2011/03/24/massive-and-extremely-dangerous-earthquake-in-the-border-area-in-between-myanmar-thailand-laos-and-china/

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2011/mar/24/as-myanmar-earthquake/

I’ll post back if there are relief efforts from Tzu Chi and how we can help.

Meanwhile, as you wind your day down, send metta and loving thoughts to our friends in these countries (seems like Myanmar could be harder hit?).  And if you are able to, send them monetary and material aids as well.

Sabbe satta sukita hontu!  -__-

Sharings from An Atheist Who Was Once A Pastor, A Missionary and An Evangelist

Dear Friends, Below is a sharing from an atheist who was once a pastor, a missionary and an evangelist.

I am quite moved by the length at which he goes to really understand his religion and its teachings.  While I can only say that I read one over times, the English translation of the Pali Nikayas (Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta, Anguttara (anthologies) Nikaya and some of the available suttas in the Khuddaka Nikaya), with repeated readings of some suttas that I have special affinity to, he read all 66 books a total of TWENTY-SIX (26) times!  That is not to mention that of the Chinese Mahayana Tripitaka where I have mainly focused on sutras and sastras (commentaries) from the Prajna (Wisdom) sections 般若部 and Yoga (Cultivators1) sections 瑜伽部 (唯識) and spent more time learning certain sutras or commentaries as needed.

I am posting it here as there may be something we can glean from his personal journey.  How are we Buddhist equally dogmatic or not?  How are we cultivating and verifying the Dharma as the Buddha invited us to?  Or are we merely accepting everything while praying for the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to come do the change for us?

Many people ask why someone like me, who came from a Christian home, went to a Christian high school and then went on to spend five years in seminary and become a pastor, a missionary, and an evangelist, would turn his back on the God he spent a lifetime worshiping and serving and give up all faith in the supernatural. The answer is very simple, and I’m about to give it. First, however, let me tell you what the reason is not.

Most people, upon hearing my story, all unanimously decide regardless of their own spiritual beliefs or religious affiliations that I must be mad at God. They tell me I just had the wrong religion, or that I just needed to try their particular name-brand. It’s the one thing religious people of all stripes can actually agree on, and it isn’t even true.

I did, in fact, have a rough time in religion. My formative years of trial and tribulation didn’t weaken my faith in
the least. In fact, it was because of these troubles that I spent many nights on my knees praying that I might not be like “those other Christians,” and that God would show me the path to becoming his choice servant. It was because of this that I began to take my studies of the Judeo-Christian god very seriously, and it was this in-depth study and reflection that led to my current state of unbelief.

Let me share with you the ten main reasons I found that reflect why I went from a Fundamental, Independent Baptist minister to an ardent Atheist.

http://www.secularnewsdaily.com/2011/03/22/reasons-for-disbelief-the-top-ten-reasons-i-am-an-atheist/

Library Collection of Donations for Japan Earthquake

The Buddhist Library is collecting donations for the Japan disaster and will be directing it through Tzu Chi 

Members who are visiting the Buddhist Library premises may offer their support and donations through the collection box at the counter.   You may also donate directly to Tzu Chi to offer your aid for the Japanese people.

Why donate via Tzu Chi Foundation?

There are many reasons why I would recommend donating via Tzu  Chi Foundation.  But of these reasons, one prime consideration is the spirit of voluntarism in their organisation.  It is said that volunteers who go on overseas relief mission pay for their own travel expenses and do not get reimbursed for their time.  This way, there is a minimum or virtually no overhead slapped onto your donation.

http://www.tzuchi.org.sg/en/Charity/index3.html

Directness

Instead of going through a third party, Tzu Chi volunteers personally deliver relief goods to the hands of each household in need,. Hence, all of the donations go directly to the hands of the needy.

Priority

Tzu Chi relief team assesses the needs and conditions before deciding which areas to provide aid to, ensuring that aid goes to areas where they are most needed.

Respect

Wherever Tzu Chi relief workers go to help, they must respect the lifestyle, the customs and the cultural tradition of that place. Relief workers are not superior to the victims, but reach out to them as friends.

Timeliness

Quick action makes relief more effective. Tzu Chi responds immediately after a disaster strikes and provides relief in a timely manner.

Practicality

Tzu Chi relief team thoroughly and carefully assesses the needs and conditions in each location before conducting distributions and relief work program, providing medical services, and rebuilding in the long run. This is to ensure that the aid provided is needed and practical.

Democracy Requires Mature People or Members to Succeed

Democracy, the banner of modernity, seem like the solution for everything in our life.  In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights0, it is stated as one of the intended goal of human rights.

Article 29.

  • (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

  • (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

While it has been the better choice compared to other forms of governance1 such as Monarchy { Government by a single ruler (king/queen, emperor) }, Aristocracy { Government by noblemen (hereditary) }, Oligarchy { Government by few persons}, Theocracy { “Government by God” (in reality this means government by religious leaders) } or Dictatorship { Government by people, that have seized power by force (often: military dictatorship) }, it may not always be suitable or at least not produce what most people may consider ‘good’ results.  Take note that I am considering democracy at various levels of organisations and not just on a national or political level.  You will see in the next few paragraphs, how democracy at its core, requires the people or members of an organisation or relationship to be matured.

Take a country for example.  If the people are immature, they would choose whoever throws them a freebie or says pleasing things, only to bring harm to the country and its people in the long term.  If
the people are mature, they would choose whoever can make tough choices, even unpleasant ones, if that is what it takes to protect the long term interest of the nation and its people.  Granted, there are leaders who make unpleasant decisions that also harm in the long term, the people in its maturity, should hopefully have corresponding wisdom to tell the difference.

In an organisation, if immaturity is the predominant trait, leaders and potential leaders would be tempted to play to the sentiments of its members, and sway them in order to win a short term victory.  This is sometimes the hard decisions that even good leaders have to make.  The difference between them and the bad ones, is that the former would try to grow the members in maturity while the latter would like to keep them in perpetual naiveté.  Why you ask?  Wrong question.

Moving along, we look at relationships, say parent-child relationships.  In the past 10 years, I’ve observed how families are becoming democratic as well!  I see some parents discussing everything from the type of food their child would like to eat, to the time to go to bed.  Topics open for voting includes but are not limited to whether the child wants to do their homework or not, to whether they should greet their grandparents, parents or anyone else.  The discussion was not between the parents, but between the parents *AND* the child.

Maybe it is wiser to let the child decide what they want to eat.  After all, we all know that children below the age of 19 know their nutritional needs very well and would not easily give in to the allure of junk food and candies even when tempted with democratic choice.  Surely, children all over the world are wiser than us to sleep early and wake up early.  They would not do harm to their fragile body by burning mid-night oil like we adults do!  Being discerning children, they would definitely choose wisely to allocate adequate hours of study and play in a balanced clockwork such that they will grow up to be all rounded, healthy physically, intelligent mentally and richly balanced emotionally.  Hurray to democracy!  And less you think I forgot about manners, you should not for one moment question the infinitely well mannered kids and youths of today, for it must be the misguided thoughts of a drunk to have thought the following:

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”2 – Socrates3

Who is this Socrates to think so little of youths?  Surely it is the teachers and the school system that should change to fit the students!  In fact, let us get the students to decide the syllabus and curriculum.  How you ask?  By their grades of course, and their parents’ plea, naturally.  If a child cannot catch up, let us dumb down the syllabus so that he will not be left behind.  If a teacher reprimands a student, let the parents not weep in shame over the misconduct (of the child!) but stage a protest in the papers, the champion of human rights, free speech and democracy!   For how can such monstrosity be allowed in the hallowed grounds of education?

Perhaps, whilst we drink democracy and dine on human rights wantonly, we will have the last laugh over Socrates’ whimsical chatter as we congratulate each other in free speech.

Call me when the party is over.  Meanwhile, I’ll be meditating.

 

Reference

0 – http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

1 – http://www.democracy-building.info/definition-democracy.html

2 – http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/63219

3 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrates

4 – http://www.stanford.edu/~ldiamond/iraq/WhaIsDemocracy012004.htm