Of Firefighters and Detectives

Imagine this.  YOUR house is on fire.

You call the fire department and the firefighters arrive, setting up the hoses and readies to put out the fire.

Just then, the detectives who arrives at the scene, stops the firefighters from putting out the fire.

Let us put out the fire before it spreads“, the firefighters pleaded.

Hold your horses, no one is putting out any fire till we investigate and find out who set the fire!“, rebutted the detectives.

But the hold house is going to burn down and the neighbouring houses are starting to smother“, you quipped.

Well, burn down if it has to, we are going to get to the bottom of this all.  The Who, What, When, Where, Why, How of this case!“, stated the detectives in a matter-of-factly manner.

It would be a disaster if this happens in real life.  In real life, the police control the crowd to prevent looting or owners and bystanders from risking their lives while the firefighters do their job in putting out the fire.  If  not, it would be a disaster.

But what about us?  What happens when we are ‘burning’ with rage?  Seething with anger?  Torching green with jealousy?  We tend to not put out our ‘fire’ in our mind and heart.  Sometimes we even invite others to come and inspect the fire, burning them with a mark of communal anger.  Other times, when others try to calm us down or talk some sense into us, we find more evidence to be angry, we put more fuel into our inner flame.

I am right, he is wrong!  That’s why I am angry!!  Stop trying to defending him, can’t you see that he is the one at fault?

When we relook at the statement, it becomes really queer.  It is as though the person who is “right”, should be angry, should be upset.  But why should the person who is right have to suffer the consequences of anger?  We need to remind ourselves, “If we are right and
they are wrong, we should be happy”.  Or at least not angry.  If we can manage it, have compassion for those who are wrong.

If we find that we have anger or other negative emotions, we should learn to put out the fire first before trying to play detectives and find out “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How”.

Remember, “Put out the fire first!“.


In Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta “The shorter instructions to Malunkya”, when Ven. Malunkyaputta threatens to disrobe if he is not given an answer to a series of questions unconnected to the holy life, the Buddha gives a parable of a man, who while wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison, refuses treatment until the Who, What, When, Where, Why and Hows of the poison arrow is known.




Photo of Shophouses on fire
Disclaimer: I have no link or affiliation with btinvest.com.sg.  The above link is provided to give due credit for the photo.

Psychology Researcher ‘Discovers’ What Buddha Realised 2600 Years Ago

One key realisation that the Buddha discovered was that all conditioned phenomena being impermanent is subject to change (according to conditions and not our wishful thinking!); being subject to change in this way, is not conducive to satisfy our whims and fancy … i.e. not conducive to being satisfactory or happiness, at least not stable, dependable tangible happiness or pleasure.

In Samyutta Nikaya 22: Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic, the Buddha declares

“Bhikkhus, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’ And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’ ~ The Buddha [1]

Beyond form (ie physical matter, including our very own body), the
Buddha further declares how, like form, the other aggregates of feeling, perception, volition formation, consciousness (collectively this latter four is what we call mind, heart etc) also does change simply according to our wishes.

Our very existence, this body and mind being of this nature, is hence, put to the question

“Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my self’?” ~ The Buddha [1]

This and countless suttas point to the truth of no-self, or not-self.  That there is no substantial, permanent, unchanging ‘self’ that can be found within or without the five aggregates, that the five aggregates are not self.

However, the Buddha also saw that sentient beings tend to see wrongly, and have perversions, inversions, distortions of perception, of mind, of view.

“Perceiving constancy in the inconstant, pleasure in the stressful, self in what’s not-self, attractiveness in the unattractive”
~ The Buddha [2]

2600 years after the Buddha’s awakening and thus Buddhahood, Daniel Gilbert, psychology researcher at Harvard university is coming to a similar realisation that despite our sense of a permanent core, identity, values, personality etc, i.e. self, we are indeed subject to change.  In an article “You Can’t See It, But You’ll Be A Different Person In 10 Years[3]

No matter how old people are, they seem to believe that who they are today is essentially who they’ll be tomorrow.

That’s according to fresh research that suggests that people generally fail to appreciate how much their personality and values will change in the years ahead — even though they recognize that they have changed in the past.

Daniel Gilbert, a psychology researcher at Harvard University who did this study with two colleagues, says that he’s no exception to this rule.

“I have this deep sense that although I will physically age — I’ll have even less hair than I do and probably a few more pounds — that by and large the core of me, my identity, my values, my personality, my deepest preferences, are not going to change from here on out,” says Gilbert, who is 55.

From the Buddha’s teachings, we are invited to see for ourselves if there is really anything permanent, substantial, unchanging that we can call “Mine, I or my self” or soul.

Seeing that such a permanent entity such as an “I” do not exist, we realise that the very idea that “I am a fixed entity” is flawed to begin with.  We cannot even exist or survive if we cannot change physically and mentally.

“If one’s heart is unchanging, then it would have been impossible for the two parties to even start liking each other.”
~ 你變心了 Your heart has changed! [4]

Even the very relationships we have with others are not “permanent, fixed and unchanging”, for if they were, friendships cannot come to be, love cannot sprout and feuds must have existed to begin with or never fester.

Unconsciously, we hold onto the notion that “I” am fixed and cannot, will not change.  We project this notion onto others and expect others not to change too!  If we like a person, we tend to attribute all the goodness solely to that person, ignoring all other (ever changing) conditions, including that very person who is changing
as well.  We then expect that person to perpetually fit our perception … and NOT CHANGE.  Are we setting ourselves up for disappointment or what?

Likewise, when we dislike a person, we tend to attribute all the unpleasantness solely to that person, ignoring all other (ever changing) conditions, including that very person who is changing as well.  We then (ironically!) expect that person to perpetually fit out perception … and NOT CHANGE.  Do we give others a chance to change?

Realising that there is no fixed entity, we learn to appreciate even more deeply the relationships we have with others, for it is not a fixed, unchanging link that we can take for granted.  Conversely, this same realisation also liberates us from a fixed negative pattern or relationship we may have had; we give both others and ourselves the chance to grow the relationship towards a positive direction.

The Buddha’s teaching of anatta (無我) no-self / not-self ultimately leads us to the realisation that there is nothing worth while for us to be attached to, and nothing permanent, unchanging or substantial that we can grasp onto anyway, giving rise to Final Liberation, Nirvana (Pali: Nibbana).

So, what do you wish to change this next three months?


If You Are Reading This, I Guess the World Didn’t End

I told you so, didn’t I?  See, the Mayans got it wrong, or at least the Dooms-day sayers read it wrong.  You see, just as 31st December in our calendar denotes the end of a calendar cycle, and not the end of the world, the end of the Mayan calendar, merely indicated an end of their calendar cycle.

The Chinese has a 5 x 12 = 60 years calendar cycle.  The Chinese are still around.  (Disclaimer:  I’m a Singaporean Chinese)

Anyway, you might also notice that while some apocalypse believer may quote the Mayan calendar as their basis for their stand, they seldom bring in the rest of the Mayan culture.  It is like quoting the Chinese calendar without appreciation its agricultural background and the close link between the two.

But wait, it is 21st December in Singapore now, but what about the rest of the world?  At the time of writing 7:29am GMT+8, London, Western Africa, Greenland, North and South Americas are all still living in the past!  They are by timezoning convention, still in 20th December 2012!

So which 21st Dec is the world going to end?  Or is it at the very last second, when the last spot of the world say goodbye to this ‘special’ day?

Human society is very concerned with two things:  The start (origin) and end (destruction) of the world.

We are concerned with them for very good reasons.

We are concerned with the “end”, because we like to be alive.  It’s good to be alive isn’t it?  To breathe, to drink water, to walk in the beach, to enjoy the breeze and the sun shine?  Most people don’t want their world to end, especially when they are having it good.

We are also concerned about the “start” because we want to know how this good existence came to be.  One can imagine the early human ancestors of ours enjoying the wild fruits and plants (and dare I say, occasional hunt?), only to see them appear again after some time.  Where did these fruits come from?  How did they come about?  What is their origin?  This is the kind of things that probably keep anthropologists awake at night.

The same questions probably plagued our ancestors about the sun and the moon, the two main light sources for human beings for several hundreds of thousands of years.  Is it any wonder that early religions (animism & most of the main religions) had references to such natural phenomena.  One can imagine how the life-giving sun must have played a part in their life.  Again, where did the sun come from?

End of Something Else

A while back, I spoke at an inter-faith youth camp in Singapore.  There were three speakers, a Jewish Rabbi, an elderly Sikh lay speaker, and myself representing Buddhism.  A youth asked the rabbi about how discoveries in evolution is affecting the world views on creation for Jews.  It was a definite “God created the world” answer from the rabbi.  The Sikh priests added with his sharing on the Sikh teachings.  And it came to me.

The Buddha’s teaching is not concerned about the origin or start of the world (nor its end).  It is not concerned with that.  It is more concerned with the
origin of Suffering, and its End.

The whole of Buddhism centers around understanding the nature of human suffering, the cause of it, and the application of the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) to put an end to it.


No one wants to grow old, fall sick or sick, but it happens.

No one wants to be separated from our loved ones and be in contact with unpleasant ones, but it happens.

We don’t always get what we want.  We enjoy moments of fleeting joy and pleasure when we do, but we suffer when we don’t.  This emotional roller-coaster ride where our happiness depends on the outside world is the nature of our common human experience.

We would rather be born into perpetual happiness but we don’t get that.

In short, when we don’t get what we desire and crave for, or lose what we are attached to, we suffer.

Our very human existence coupled with desire, craving and attachment gives rise to Suffering.


When I shared this with many non-Buddhist groups, they all readily agreed to these statements, accepting that these are facts of life, are truths.  And they are right.  These are Truths.  And that is why the Buddha’s teaching was declared and known as the Truths, the Four Noble Truths!

The above is the First Noble Truth of Suffering [A], with the Second Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering [B], elaborating in full (with 12 links of dependent origination) on how desire, craving and attachment give rise to Suffering.

Since B give rise to A, if B cease, then A ceases.  When B & A has ceased completely, we refer to this as the Nirvana (Pali: Nibbana), the Third Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering.

And wait, before you return to liking other facebook posts, there is a bonus item!  The Buddha even shared with us, the way to do it!!  You didn’t think he was just gonna stop there did you?  Buddhism is perhaps one of the only religion where the founder, like a good teacher who is kind and unwithholding, actually shows the methodologies to put an end to suffering.  This is known as the Noble Truth of the Path (method) leading to the End of Suffering.

Together, this is the Four Noble Truths and is core, is central to Buddhism.  Take that out, and there is little left that can be said to be Buddhism, or Buddha-Dharma.

So come my friend, come learn the good teachings, to put an end, not to this world, but the Suffering that arises due to craving and attachment!

PS: Less than 12 hours left to be sure that the world do not come to an end ‘today’!!  haha