Of Rebirth, Karma, and a Cockcroach



A few days ago I saw a post in a facebook group about this article by an ex-catholic-buddhist Paul Williams, who was born a Catholic, converted to Buddhism for 30 years and converted back after 30 years of Buddhist studies, practices and learning in the Tibetan tradition.*

The post drew 100+ comments and quickly went past 200 within a few days.  After reading through some of the comments which escalated to name callings and several links to other articles, including one by Ajahn Sujato, I decided to leave a note.

Below is my comment in the thread. Read More …

To Feel or Not to Feel?

Go with the flow, they say.  Connect with our feelings, they say.

“I don’t feel like eating” “I feel so happy” ” I feel so sad” “I feel depressed” “I don’t feel like doing anything”

Sounds familiar?  It is becoming increasingly common to hear such statements.  Or more correctly, we are increasingly more more accepting of such statements.

It’s good isn’t it?  We are learning to be more empathetic and understanding towards others’ feelings.  On one hand, it is good that we are becoming more caring and loving by recognising what others are going through.  We start to connect with one another at a deeper level.  On the other hand, this emphasis on our feelings is starting to show its flip side:  Just as one can feel good, one can feel bad as well.

A long time ago, it is common to hear woman’s heart (decisions) described as the traffic lights, flipping this and that way every now and then.  Also, people’s feelings (emotions) like the weather, unpredictable and ever changing. Dear reader, are you affected already?  Has these few lines of words affected your feelings yet?

Like the clouds in
the sky

Don’t fret.  I think man’s heart and emotions are rather similar, also subject to change and sometimes unpredictable.  We all just lie on varying degrees in a spectrum.

So …. feel better?  That’s how easy our feelings, as in emotions, changes.

Like the clouds in the sky, our feelings come and go.  Or like when someone fart, if you let it dissipate, then the smell goes away.  If you hold on to it, trap it with a plastic bag, then the smell stays with you.

These days, we are becoming increasingly absorbed in our feelings.  There is nothing wrong about being aware of how we feel.  Our feelings are important, and I’m not here to trivialise what others are going through or are feeling.  But if we start giving it so much importance, over-importance and over-emphasis of our feelings, then we are headed for trouble.

Giving our feelings too much emphasis reinforces them and allows them to persist.  They stay as long as we allow them to.  It’s nice to want positive feelings to stay and persist.  It feels really good to solidify them.  Unfortunately, the same psychological process that give rise to positive feelings can give rise to negative feelings too.  And as long as we get used to letting positive feelings stay, persist and solidify, this mental habitual tendency is the same mechanism that can allow our negative emotions to stay, persist and solidify.

When we feel good, then it is over the top elation.  When we feel bad, then it is down in the rut, depression!

On the other end, some may ignore or deny their feelings.  Doing so, they may lose touch with themselves and allow negativity to pile up, only to blow up in their face, and often in others as well!  Chances are, one may also find it hard to be aware of others’ feelings if one is not even aware of one’s own feelings.

Instead of denying and ignoring our feelings, or becoming overly dependent or over-emphasising our feelings, perhaps there is a middle ground, a middle way.

Be aware when there are positive emotions arising, just as when there are negative ones.  But instead of holding on to them, like one may try to hold on to clouds (or fart!?), we should see that these feelings come and go, arises when there are conditions and goes away like the clouds in the sky.  Remember that feelings are impermanent.

We should shift ourselves mentally and emotionally

Where you are, try sitting with your upper torso slanted to the side at around 30 degrees.  Hold it there.  Hold.  Wait.  Ok, wait a bit longer.  Hold until you feel some strain and ache.  In fact, hold for one minute before continuing.

Did you do that?  Or did you shift your body when it feels uncomfortable?  If you shifted, congratulations!  Our heart and mind is much like that too.  If certain way of thinking or feeling is uncomfortable, we should shift ourselves mentally and emotionally, instead of allowing ourselves to hold onto such painful feelings.

We can and should learn emotional “aerobics”!  Like aerobics or yoga is on our body, it is initially not so easy on our mind and heart, for we are used to our mental habits of holding on!!  But like those physical exercises, if we learn to be malleable mentally and emotionally, then we can liberate ourselves from negative emotions that shackles us down.

The Buddha described our physical and mental faculties as like foams, bubbles, mirages, core-less, like a magician’s trick, unreal, empty, void and without substance.

Go ahead and observe.  See for yourself.  Ehipassiko.


  • Diamond Sutra – Chapter 32



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?


你變心了 Your Heart Has Changed!

I don’t know about now, but this used to be a common line in movies and soap operas.  Usually expressed when the other party has a change of heart, falling in love with another person.


If one’s heart is unchanging, then it would have been impossible for the two parties to even start liking each other.  With the first change of heart, there is interest.  With the second change of heart, there is liking.  With the next change of heart, there is love.  We like these changes of heart, but when the change of heart results in a fall out in the relationship, we fret.  We are unhappy.  We throw tantrums.  We scorn at this change of heart.

We ridicule it, calling it heartless to have such a change of heart.  We cry.  We lament.  We shout!  We are angry.  We are sad.  We cannot understand how this is possible.  We start to question.  We question the other person.  We question ourselves.  We question the neighbour’s dog.  “Doggie, do you know why?  Was it because of the way I eat?  No?  You saw another person with him / her didn’t you?”  We question the ants that crawl through the vents in the wall.  We try to pry an answer from them but to no avail.

We question the aunty pushing the carts in the streets.  We question the bus driver.  We question our little niece and nephew.  No, that is not your nephew, but your stranger’s son.  We question.  We doubt.  We wonder.  We ponder.  We want an answer.

But the answer was always there.

If we care to listen.  If we care to be quiet for awhile and just watch and observe.  Right from the start, the heart was ever changing.  No, there was no start.  There was always a preceding moment.  Obfuscated by our limited senses, we cannot phantom the preceding moments before our birth or our conception in our mother’s womb.  But the wise one shared us a peek and let us in on the secret.  That life is a continuum of mind and body, with one preceding the next.  If we were to observe closely enough and were to watch really mindfully, we will see the truth in that.

That the mind is in a constant state of flux.  The heart that is.  The way the heart-mind 心 is, is to change.  And it changes according to conditions, not according to anyone’s whims and fancy.  So how can there be unchanging love?

And yet, there are numerous accounts of love-lorn pairs who remain faithful to their dying days.  There is something sadistically beautiful about the human idea of love.  We admire two person being tormented their whole life, apart from the one they yearn.  If one party were to have a change of heart and actually be happy with someone else, we may even frown upon it!  How strange this “love” is!

And yet, if we do have true love that is unchanging, then what value is it?  If your partner has no choice but to love you, would that not cheapen it?  Isn’t it greater when your partner has a choice and yet chooses to
love you, to be faithful, to honour and cherish you.  Not because you are the best or the loveliest, but because he or she loves you?  But we want to believe that we are the best in our partner’s eyes.  And sometimes it is.  For some days anyway.  But perhaps it is when on the worse days, when your partner sees the worse in you, when he or she has a choice to choose better, and yet despite these, he chooses to remain faithful to his choice, that makes that fragile, changing love even more meaningful and worthy.

Love.  Dependent on conditions it arises, without which it ceases.  Fragile.  Destructible.  Ever changing.  Empty of any inherent, substantial existence.

It is precisely because it is dependent arising, empty of any intrinsic substantiality, that makes it so precious and unique.  Knowing thus, we should not and do not take it for granted.  We cherish it.  But at the same time, we know that it is subject to change, so we do not affix to it any fixed form or state.  It must be like this or like that.  This love between us and the joy therein must be so and shared between us only.  Forever.  No, we stop making such internal dialogue.  We realise that this is impossible.  We do not cling unto such deluded distorted fantasy.

We know that love must be nourished and sustained.  And it will change.  So we do not hold onto it and try to shoehorn it into a size 7 glass sandals when it is bursting to become the size 10 that it has become.

We learn to love and not hold onto love.  We learn to care and not wait for care to come to us.  We seek the welfare and happiness in others that we love, and not cry for the world to hold and love us.

Oh, my heart has changed, has been changing.  Have yours changed?