What to do in a sinking ship?

Some people tell me about how the company they are in is going south, or worse yet, not going anywhere.  The seeming obvious decision is just to leave.

Others who are volunteering in societies or organisations sometimes feel that way too.  And all too often, they leave feeling lost, burnt out, or even betrayed.

So they leave, or jump ship.

Read More …

Reflections from Nepal

It’s been over a month since I got back from Nepal for a 10 days mini-retreat-pilgrimage.  Many asked me to share about the trip, others ask me if there were new revelations or insight.  For a month now, I’ve been dragging my feet, or pen, or keyboard.  There was just much inertia to write.  Maybe it’s because it’s been awhile and I’m having writers’ block, or maybe the retreat got me quietened, so I have nothing to write! ha!

Below are my reflections … I mean ramblings from Nepal … ;)

Take a look at the above picture and soak in the surreal scenery.  It was around 5+ in the morning at Nargakot, Nepal and the sun was barely breaking dawn.  Clouds and fog were indistinguishable.  For that matter, both are moisture in the air, just given different names!  (insight alert! haha)

The Start and the End

The above view is so breathtaking, one could just stare at it for a long time.  Or at least as long as the sun had not completely risen.  The sunrise is nice only when it is rising.  Once it’s risen up, most people don’t bother.  When the sun is setting, the whole world take on a different hue.  Kinda like how we look at people, events and things in our life.  We are concerned about the start and the end, and usually don’t bother too much about the middle!  Yet, it is quite the middle that the whole earth get its much needed daily supply of solar energy for the trees, plants and all living beings.

Misleading Picture

The above picture is also very misleading, because it is so postcard type of view.  So I took another picture.

Here, I stepped back and shot a picture of the visitors / tourists who were snapping away at the sunrise!  Just a few steps away and what a different view!  Suddenly, it is less surreal or romantic as someone had pointed out about the first picture.

Sometimes I hesitate to take pictures.  I feel that the pictures only ‘capture’ a perspective and only the visual perspective.  Maybe videos will do better, but it just feels different from being there in person.  In the past when cameras were on 35mm film with 16, 24 and 32 … not GB but picture cartridges, one had to really choose wisely what picture to take.  And after that, it is a mystery what was captured.  When it’s developed into print, getting the photos back was always an exciting moment to see what shots were brilliant and what is under or overexposed.  Then there were the Mr-Ms-shaky-hands or Power-Finger photographer, who never fail to apply more than 30lbs per square inch force on the puny snap button.  The result is fantastic blurry pictures!  But I digress…

I took another shot to show the viewing tower in its full glory!

Here you see the tower with tourists lining the perimeter and ah yes, that’s a communications dish and there are multiple telco gsm transceivers all over!!  You don’t get to see this in postcards! ;)

So which picture would you send to your friends?  Which is the misleading picture?

If you wait until the surrounding is perfect … …

The retreat was spent in a homestay guest house in the outskirts of Kathmandu, so we were away from the hectic rush of city but still had basic amenities like lights, toilets, 3g mobile, internet access, LCD TVs, curry, nepalese food … wait, did I mention 3g mobile, internet access and LCD TVs?  Yes I did!  I was expecting a countryside homestay but we got more.  Apparently Ncell was available all over Nepal, even when we were in the mountains … which the locals insisted were hills. haha

After being in the homestay for a day, I started to realise one difference it had with a monastery.  First off, most monasteries I’ve resided in had no televisions, and if they did, it was as a teaching aid for us to attend recorded Dharma lessons.  The television was perpetually showing something and there was always someone chatting, discussing or something.

It was an interesting experience trying to meditate there and we did for awhile, then we tried meditating on the roof area or in the ground floor when it was too sunny or rainy.  As a senior monk once advised me, “If you wait until the surrounding is perfect before you cultivate (meditation), then you will never cultivate!”.

Birthday at Lumbini or Not

We spent a few days on the road and was to visit Lumbini, the birth place of the Buddha.  We managed to visit it but owing to the schedule of the ground guide, we had to decide whether to insist on staying for another day or not, so I might spend my birthday at Lumbini.  In the end we didn’t.  It was a nice idea, but will it help me progress in my cultivation?  I don’t usually celebrate my birthday anyway and definitely did not celebrate it at Lumbini for the past 39 years anyway.  In Buddhism, attachment even to the Buddha’s birthplace can become a point of contention!  For that matter, attachment to anything!

In the end, there is nothing wrong with the birthplace nor with the idea of celebrating one’s birthday at Lumbini, but if one becomes attached to it and insist or demand for it to happen, to have it our way then we can get all stressed up.

I didn’t celebrate my birthday in Lumbini but I didn’t let that give ‘birth’ to stress or unhappiness. :)

A flat Tire and a Dried Out Carburetor

Along the way back from Nargakot, the car broke down with a flat tire and when we returned from Lumbini, the jeep broke down with an overheated carburetor just 20km away from the perimeters of Kathmandu!  Talk about uncertainty.  Things do break down.  We should maintain it where we can, but “Subject to change are all conditioned phenomena!”.  Realising this, we won’t be so surprised when our MRT breakdown or the JEM ceiling collapse … oh wait, let’s not go to the other extreme of becoming resigned to ‘fate’!

Some people think that Buddhists are and should be resigned to ‘fate’ or ‘karma’.  But the reverse is true.  The teachings on karma is not a passive resignation to our lot in life.  It is a teaching on how our actions (karma) have consequences and we are responsible for them!  However, if we have done our best and things still fail, then we should recognise that there are no suitable conditions and accept the results with equanimity.  Knowing the difference is Wisdom!

Insights

I sometimes find my ‘insights’ funny.  Like after a novice retreat almost 13 years ago, my fellow Dharma brothers each shared their aspirations to cultivate and practise, my take away from the retreat was that I don’t need so much food, so my post-retreat ‘practice’ was to eat lesser, just enough was enough.

Hope you had a good laugh at my ramblings from this mini-retreat!  At the very least, enjoy the misleading pictures! haha

Of Haze, Rain and Sunshine

For the past week, there is one word that enshrouds all our conversations: Haze.  Singapore, a small island nation, is cradled between peninsular Malaysia to the north, separated by the Johor Straits (in other countries, this is really like the size of a river or large stream!) and to the south, the Sumatra island, Indonesia.  For the past few weeks, we’ve been having haze from the recent forest fire in Sumatra island with PSI level as high as 371 and on one day peaking past 400!

Soon, facebook and whatsapp started getting flooded with updates on the PSI levels, with warnings and advisory notes about respiratory safety.  Very quickly, the SWAT complain kings and queens also started complaining about the haze, about our neighbouring country, about the government etc etc.

For the most part, I was actually oblivious to the haze.  I am indoors mostly and when I do give talks in the evening, transport is provided, so it is relatively harder to notice the haze.  As a matter of fact, I was wondering why the sun rise from Buddhist Library is so beautiful these days.  Then my students started asking me about the haze  and I was like, ah yes, the haze!

Sunrise at 7:12am 9th June 2013 The light haze two weeks ago was beginning to give us a much more crimson sunrise than usual!

With N95 and surgical masks being passed around and complaints about the haze abound, a few observations and reflections came to me.  Not to sound callous, but the haze kinda made it quite ‘exciting’!  Suddenly, Singapore as a nation was facing a crisis together.  A part of me felt like I was in a movie set when I went outdoors.  There was this sense of wonder when I saw familiar places in a new light or haze if you will!  It was like, the haze had transported the whole nation into a new realm a new place, without us moving an inch.

Suddenly, I felt like I was a tourist and the hazy look reminded me of yesteryears in Taipei plus the charred smell.  If the haze has no smell and negative health impact, it is quite a welcome ‘change’ if you will.  A week ago, the media was going on and on about the town council like it meant the world, and now, everything look so distant with the haze.

With this crisis, we suddenly have a common ‘problem’ that in a way unite us.  No more awkward lift moments or silent conversation gaps.  Anyone can say “the haze is quite bad ‘hor’?”.  And we also have a convenient excuse to break out of our Singaporean-Asian straight-face culture and care even more for each other “Drink more water, be careful ok?”, “Do you need some N95 or surgical masks?”  The haze and masks had in one blanketing sweep, achieved what our nation has tried so hard to get us to do, be more gracious and be kind.

The haze has also brought out another quintessential aspect of Singaporeans:  Kiasu 怕輸 and Kiasi 怕死, namely fear of losing and fear of dying.  While these two qualities are sometimes manifested in an ugly fashion, I sometimes wonder if we are being
too hard on ourselves, after all, these two are also seen elsewhere, but perhaps more as passion to win / competitiveness, and self-preservation.  Self-deprecation aside, stories of long queues and stock piling begin to come in.  Should stores have a quota per customer?  The very fact that this is a solution that comes to my mind also reveals another fact about Singaporeans, that we are so happy to have rules and regulations in place.  This, according to a friend in journalism, restricts maturity of the people and disallow the growth of civil exchanges on an individual basis such that we learn to trust each other to do the right thing.  But I digress.

On our way to Buddha Tooth Relic Temple on Friday morning (21st June 2013), we see Bugis area enshrouded in a dream like state. The trees in the foreground looks crisp and clear but is betrayed by the Bugis Plus mall (and not ION or Luma? Thanks to a tip-off by a dear friend!) in the hazy background.

Trust is good.  And we do trust others to do the right thing even if we sometimes do not!  haha … we trust our neighbours to put out the fire.  Do we trust them to do so or do we actually expect or demand that they do so?  It’s a fine line between trust and expectations.  Singaporeans trust the government to safeguard our interest and to generally “take care of things”.  And there is no reason not to.  After all, for the past forty odd years, our government (that is, the civil servants, not just the party) has done fairly well by any standards.  Over the years, this trust in our government and the system to take care of things, take care of us, has evolved into an expectation that it will be so.

Whenever anything go wrong, a common reaction is “What is the government doing?”  Perhaps as spider man movie put it, “With great power, comes great responsibility”.  So is it any wonder when there is the haze, we start looking at the government and ask what is being done?  Facebook, twitter and messaging apps start to be clogged with complaints about the government.  Can Singapore really go over and make another country do something about the fire?  Perhaps some fire fighting missions may help a bit, but looking at some of the satellite images, I wonder how much can really be done.  Others wonder if the government should declare a state of emergency and start issuing free medical assistance and masks to people.  Most importantly, why isn’t there a day or two of crisis holiday declared?

While it seem rather bleak or silly that we are grouching over such matters while other nations are facing dire situations that is literally life and death, I find a certain glimmer of light amidst these rantings.  As a nation and people, we are really quite simple.  Simple, not in a condescending manner, but in a positive fashion.  That of all the things one could ask of, we just want a day off.  Seriously, a day off.  *laugh*  We are really people of fairly simple wants.  We just want a day off.  Take a moment to soak that in.

It is a poignant moment and I’m somewhat comforted by this, that despite our self-deprecative kiasu and kiasistic tendencies, we just want a day off.  Sure, we may sometimes have bouts of greed and desire, but hey, we are still human, unenlightened human beings.  By and large, Singaporeans are fairly simple in needs and wants.  Perhaps that is why our country is so stable.  So stable that a haze becomes the talking point for the past few weeks.

Today, I can finally see a clear day with nice shiny sun.  Was there a shower last night?  Was it the prayers by this or that religion?  When I saw posting of different religious groups doing prayers, I almost wanted to suggest that we pray and request for rain only on specific days so that due credit is given.  haha Or maybe it is not our prayers or some divinity, but just a matter of conditions.

While we enjoy a day or two of respite from the haze, and take a breather from our complaints, perhaps we should also remember those hundreds, thousands, and millions of animals, birds and insects that are harmed or burnt alive.  Perhaps we can and should focus not just on the haze, but also on this massive collateral harm to the eco-system.  The haze will go away in a few weeks time, but the lives lost is gone and acres of forest cleared is not so easily restored.
Haze or not, may we care for each other’s well being.
Clear skies or not, may we give comfort and cooling drinks that quenches and cools not just our body, but also our heart and mind.

May all beings who are harmed or killed in all these fire find peace and be reborn in a happier state.
May all beings be free from harm and danger.
May all beings be free from anger and ill-will.

May all beings be Well and Happy!

Reference

http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0624-greenpeace-photos.html

Margaret Thatcher Passes Away at 87

Personally, I don’t know that much about who she is.  But in my memory, as a child, she was the only lady who would keep on appearing in the news.

The one name she would be known as is “鐵娘子” or “Iron-lady” leaves a deep impression in me.  Some may use it in jest or contempt, but to me, it speaks of inner strength, determination and courage in Margaret Thatcher.

Wherever she is now, may she find peace and happiness.
May she be Guided and Protected by the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha!

Sabbe Satta Sukhita hontu!

My Wish For the World Is … …

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away … …

ok, maybe not so far away, but back when I was a lay person, I remember watching one of those Miss Universe pageant on the television.  I always thought it was super cliche when during the question section, the contestant would declare their wish for world peace.

Increasingly, I start to appreciate what peace, world peace is, when I see all the chaos happening in the world.

Did you know that there is a battle going on in Syria?

http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/05/14938142-nearly-200-killed-in-syria-battles-over-the-weekend-rights-group-says?chromedomain=usnews

And Hurricane Sandy?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/hurricane-sandy-causes-evacuations-closings-throughout-east-coast/2012/10/29/8eac52ba-2162-11e2-8448-81b1ce7d6978_story.html

While here in Singapore, we experience the monsoons, our hearts go out to those who are made homeless and lost their love ones.

Let’s help them in whatever ways we can.

And in whatever beliefs you have, cultivate love.  Cultivate Love for all.  ~ Metta Sutta [1]

Reference

[1] – Metta

Attack by Vandals Destroys Nearly 30 Buddhist Statues in a Maldives National Museum

Once again, vandals are at work.  This time, the target was 30 Buddhist statues in a Maldives National Museum.

 

“The whole pre-Islamic history is gone.” said Mr. Waheed, the director of the National Museum.

It is not gone.  The statues are gone.  But one cannot change or remove history simply by destroying the statues.  Instead, they have written history, of how in modern day Maldive, inspite of the destruction, Buddhists do not return blow for blow, hatred for hatred.  They have helped affirm the Buddhist teaching on loving kindness, compassion and true inner peace and calm.

Fellow friends, keep in mind.  The expression of the Buddha's and Bodhisattva's qualities and teachings in the statues can be destroyed, and has been harmed and destroyed numerous times.  Dharma books can be burnt, and has been burnt numerous times.  Teachings memorised in our heart can be lost if we die or are killed, and has happened before.  

But the Truth pointed by the teachings, the learning and application of the teachings, the fruit of inner peace and calm, and the unshakable cessation of suffering, Nirvana … that cannot be harmed by words and blows nor destroyed by guns and bombs.

 

 

MALE, Maldives — The broken glass from an attack by vandals on the National Museum here has been swept away, and the remnants of the Buddhist statues they destroyed — nearly 30 of them, some dating to the sixth century — have been locked away. But officials say the loss to this island nation’s archaeological legacy can never be recouped. [1]

 

References

[ 1 ]  The New York Times