Dharma Talk: What Is Right Effort?

What is Right Effort?

We put in effort to strive for this and that.  We are energetic when it comes to going for pursuits in our life.  We pursue our education, our career, and our entertainment.  We pursue to have a good life with our family.  We strive hard.  Is this Right Effort?  Or is it not?

But what is Right Effort?  What makes it “Right”?

Join me @ 730pm tonight at

Awareness Place Well-Being Centre
Waterloo Centre
Blk 261 Waterloo Street #01-42
Singapore 180261

See you all then! 🙂

Meditation as An Antidote for ADHD


The above article is about a study on using “Meditation against ADHD”.  In case the link ever fails, just google for “meditation adhd” and you should find a list of articles about the subject.

According to wikipedia, ADHD, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is “a neurobehavioral developmental disorder[1][2][3] affecting about 3-5% of the world’s population under the age of 19″.  If you are living states-side, you would have heard of it for awhile, but if you are in Asia, this may be a new ‘thingie’ in recent years.

As the good doctor prescribed, ADHD is a medical condition (whether neurological, psychological or physiological or XYZlogical) and needs a treatment.  If you have met a child or teenager with ADHD, he/she will tell you that he has inability to learn in class or focus and requires medication, therapy and a special class.  He will also be unable to cope emotionally or intellectually with his peers. He may be frustrated internally, being unable to deal with these problems, and so may exhibit some anger or tantrum, and we should be understanding.

Meeting Michael

I met one such teenager when I was in US.  I was at the Albuquerque airport (ABQ International Sunport), New Mexico picking up a fellow brother monk coming back to the monastery (Fa Yun Monastery) in Taos.  The teenager, let’s call him Michael (not his real name … ok, it’s been years, and I cannot remember! :p), was with his girlfriend and girlfriend’s friend, and was also waiting for a friend to return home.  They got curious and came over to say hello and ask about me being a monk and all.

It is not uncommon to see folks going around in costumes, but still not so common to see someone dressed as a shaven monk wearing chinese garb!  Ok, so I was in my winter robes and brown slip-on sports shoes (try wearing the traditional Chinese monastic shoes/sandals in winter up in the mountain!), and maybe the sunshades got him curious.  In any case, we started talking and I shared with him about Buddhism and stuffs.  He asked about the monastic life of a Buddhist monk and I tipped him in on the daily practices we did.

The chat came around to meditation and we decided to just do a short one there and then in the airport. Guiding them through like 5~10 mins of meditation, we stopped and shared their experiences of it.  Interestingly, the girlfriend and her friend both felt calm and were able to focus on their breath fairly well except for occasional drifting away of the mind.  Michael on the other hand, felt that his mind was constantly on the run and was unable to focus much.  He did however observe the breath for awhile in the session of meditation.  Then he shared that his ADHD condition prevents him from focusing and so he is unable to meditate.

What is Normal?

If you are unable to focus like Michael did, you may feel inept to meditate.  You may even feel that you have a medical condition such as ADHD where you are not able to focus like ‘normal’ people.  Guess what?  ‘Normal’ people can mostly focus for awhile before drifting away into their thoughts as well.  If you
cannot focus easily, I think you are quite normal.

In schools, the “in phrase” nowadays is “short attention span”.  The solution?  Shorter lessons with breaks in between so that the students can focus.  Come again?  Let me draw a parallel.  You go for yoga class.  The yoga instructor goes through the sets with you but after a few sessions, you tell him that it’s too tough.  So she skips the difficult poses for you.  After a few sessions, you still tell him that it’s too difficult.  She stops asking you to stretch yourself or to maintain those poses beyond a few seconds while others maintain them for minutes when required.  This continues until you are just lying down on the yoga mat for the whole session.  Ah … now you can do yoga without breaking a sweat nor feel any stretch.  Is that still yoga?

The solution to have shorter session may produce short term results.  Students may appear to be able to focus, and indeed they can, within their limited ability to focus, their ability to sustain their interest.  But doing this does nothing to improve or extend their focus.  You don’t become better at something by lowering the bar.  You stretch yourself and apply effort to improve.  You strengthen your mental strength to focus in class.

We’ve got to stop this madness!

The mass media is tuned to tap into whatever little attention span we have, in order to sell us things.  News network sell us political and social ideas, advertisements sell us products while tv and movies sell us entertainment.  Even documentaries or science programmes are perpetuating this cycle to ever shorter attention span.  I remember documentaries that go for an hour with one or two commercial breaks.  Documentaries with stuffs, made to educate and open up our minds.  Most of these are gone now.  In their place are popular tv science shows.  In our whole society’s frenzy into making a dime out of everything, even science shows have to vie for viewership!  In the end, we have 30 mins shows with 15 mins of advertisements and 10 mins of content repeated in fragments throughout the timeslot.

We’ve got to stop this madness!

The way to slow down this trend and possibly reverse it has to come from ourselves.  We have to start.  And having shorter of everything is not helping.  Books -> magazines -> web sites -> blogs -> 140char tweets … have we really come down to this?

No, I will write long articles with long sentences.  That was short!  Now even longer sentences are seen as taboo and unreadable by some.  We must realise our march towards the cliff and turn this around before we start communicating only in bits of 1s and 0s.  *yikes*

Start meditating today.

Learn to focus, training the mind gradually.  Learn to be ok with the ‘boring’ breath.  Remember, this ‘boring’ breath is what keep us alive!  And while we meditate, the ‘monkey mind’ can be our source of reminder to be mindful.  When it leaps around, grasping onto this and that, we learn to watch it and not identify with it.  Observe the present tendency for it to move.  Note it.  Gently apply effort to observe the bodily sensation of the breathing itself, be it the contact of the breath with the nose-tip, the chest, or the abdomen.

When we get bored, don’t just think “I’m so bored, this is so boring”.  Recognise how “boredom” feels like.  Boredom is actually active as well.  It drives us to want to do something.  It can become the cause or intention to do something else.  Out of boredom, if we are not mindful, our mind may unconsciously think of this and that.  Or it may come as an urge or impulse to move.  That’s causality, that’s normal.  We don’t have to be frustrated or to give up.  Instead, challenge ourselves this way.  What if we don’t act on the impetus arising?  What if instead of just succumbing to boredom, we just watch it, note it but not act on it.  See what happens?  We don’t have
to act on every single impulse or urge that arise in us do we?

Many have tried and succeeded, and so can you.  If only you apply effort and try.  Over time, we can conquer boredom, recognising it as merely another mental formation that we do not have to identify with or act upon.  Mindfulness becomes strengthened and attention span longer.

But don’t think it’s easy.  No, it’s not. Like doing yoga, it is harder to stretch ourselves compared to simply laying on the mat and sleeping (not the sleeping yoga!).  Meditation initially will require us to apply effort and it is not easy or trivial but the fruits will be long term welfare and benefit.

Stop ADHD today!  Start meditating!

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.



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


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.