Attitude on Practices

Below is an excerpt from an email I wrote, some thoughts about practices.  Thought it may be useful.


After reading your email, here are some thoughts to share with you on Om Mantra chanting.

Over the CNY period, I met a couple of lay buddhists and while chatting, we touched on the topic of practices. It turned out that one was learning the lam rim teaching while others were doing Om mantra chanting. So I quizzed them about their practices and asked them something. While we do all forms of practices, be it Mantra or Buddha name recitation, Buddha recollection, sutra recitation, meditation (Samatha or Vipassana) etc, we may want to consider how it is linked to our daily defilements and our learning of Dharma.

Let’s leave non Buddhist and nominal (Read: non-practising) Buddhist aside for now. When some people start attending Dharma classes, they get caught up with the knowledge of Buddhism and Dharma, but fail to see the application or link of Dharma in their daily lives. Then there are those who busy themselves with chanting, offering and even meditation without grounding themselves with the teachings. Sometimes, we may even do all forms of practices but not be able to link it with our lives, with our defilements, or rather, the reduction or removal of our defilements. Granted, these are phases that most people go through, but it is important not to get stuck in them.

Ask ourselves this simple question: How have my practices helped reduce the defilements? How does the four preliminaries help in the reduction?

Don’t start thinking of model answers. I know them. We all know them. We must ask honestly and answer honestly whether our present experience is actually so. If it is, we should (hopefully) know how it helped, and if it is not helping, we should also know why. That way we then know what other practices we lack, and need to do.

Sometimes we still do not know after reflection. Then we should seek our teacher for advice and guidance. Again honesty helps. If you give your teachers model situations, your teachers will only give you model answers. Give your teacher the actual situation you are in, and you are more likely to get the right advice for your problem.

Besides our practices, we should not forget the teachings of the Buddha. Again, we should strive to see the defilements, the wholesomeness and unwholesomeness in our daily lives, our interaction with people and our experience throughout the day. Then we should try to apply the teachings and see how our experiences and responses changes. That way the teachings become linked with our lives.

Further, the teachings ARE linked to our practices as well. Depending on the practices we do, we should know whether it is linked to one teaching or the other, whether it is a preliminary or primary practices, whether it is supportive to definitive. Take Om chanting or Dabeizhou chanting for example. As I understand it, both are linked to Great Compassion and Great Loving Kindness (usually flipped in Chinese: 大慈大悲). At the preliminary level, we chant, focusing only on the sound or the words. Doing this can helps us develop some form of concentration. If we only do this, it is better than not. But if we can move further to reflect on loving kindness and compassion, on why we should have both, and actually develop both, then it is better. Then when we chant either Om Mani Padme Hum or 大悲咒, we first immerse our mind (some like ‘heart’ better) with loving kindness and compassion, then proceed to chant, we slowly connect with the
teaching of loving kindness and compassion. We start to embody both qualities.

But being unenlightened, we are forgetful and selfish. So while we can embody both qualities while chanting, we forget soon after and think only of ourselves. So why 1M or for that matter, 1 billion? So that we strengthen these qualities in us through repetition and effort. It might as well be a trillion times or it can be just ONE. If we can embody these qualities with just one recitation, it does not matter. But most of us (like say, ALL of us unenlightened beings) cannot, so it is helpful to chant for long continuous durations. As Mike put it succinctly, the number of times don’t really matter. As I know it, what matters is whether we embody 大慈大悲.

If a person actively reflects on his body, speech and mind, and embodies 大慈大悲 within his three karma, then he is chanting Om Mani Padme Hum. An mp3 player can ‘chant’ a trillion times of it and be nowhere nearer or further from Buddhahood.

Remember, whether you 念(chant or recite) or 唸, you need to use your 心(heart or mind).

And again, Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu on all your endeavours on the path to Enlightenment!

With smiles & metta,

Shi Chuan Guan (Bhikshu)
aka ZhiXing

I Cannot Do It Yet So I Am Not Learning It

Just the other day, I was talking to a Dharma class student  and he was telling me that things are stressful at work.  I mentioned to him about how our last Group Practise* session was on the quality of Patience, the Perfection of Patience or Forebearance, and that he should have attended.  His reply was that he did not attend it precisely because he cannot do it yet**!

I really do not know to laugh or to cry.  Why do people cling onto such an obstinate and obsolete view that you have to be good at something before you attend the Dharma classes or Group Practises.  This is ABSURD!!

This reminds me of the time when an aunty tells me that her son cannot become a monk because he still have defilements.  I’m like … thinking “Duh!  If he is perfectly free from defilements, he wouldn’t need to be a monk, now would he?”

It is an upside down view that people seem to have and does not help anyone here.  We should strive to be more energetic in our learnings and practices!

Take Away Piece

It is precisely because you do not know about something, that you go attend a class to learn it.

It is precisely because you have not mastered it that you go attend a regular Group Practise* in order to master and perfect it.



If someone ask you do something you do not know, that is for you to learn.


If someone ask you to do something you already know, that is for you to practise.


If noone ask you to do anything, and you do it, that is revision.

* Group Practise

Time for some blatant advertisement.  ^_^

Join us at SBF on the first three Wednesdays of every month for a quiet time to do some puja, meditation and listen to the sweet song of the Buddha’s teachings.  Then close the evening with Dharma discussion and merits dedication.  7:30pm ~ 9:00pm.

SBF  – Singapore Buddhist Federation is at 59 Geylang Lorong 24A.

如何消除煩惱 How to Remove Defilements?

煩惱為何義    何故欲消除    能擾亂其心    不得安樂住    發動諸惡業    令招感苦果    故一切佛子    應除滅煩惱

What is the meaning of ‘Defilement’,

For what reason (that we) desire its eradication?

(Defilements) can agitate the mind,

causing it not to abide in happiness (at ease),

evoking various harmful karma (actions through body, speech or mind),

causing (one) to experience painful fruits (results),

Hence all disciples of the Buddha, should eradicate defilements.

During Group Practise @ SBF yesterday, I shared the above verses and we discussed what defilements were.  The Chinese word “煩惱” captures the meaning rather succinctly, but it appeared to the group that the word ‘defilement’ seem quite alien to most people.  When quizzed for a meaning of ‘defilement’ outside of the Buddhist teachings, we found that most people (within the group) do not use it frequently enough.  We later settled for “that which ‘soils’, ‘dirties’ ” … ‘tarnish’ perhaps?

Defilements literally means ‘that which defiles’, or the impurities within or without (outside of) an object that makes the object impure, dirty, soiled etc.  The pali word is ‘kilesa’, ‘klesa’ in Sanskrit and is typically translated as defilement.

The group described defilements as troubles, problems, anxiety, anger, stress, jealousy etc.  While all these describes what defilements are or at least situations linked to it,  they are more like types of defilements, than describing what defilement really is.  I like the above Chinese verses as it quite nicely captures the common qualities of ‘defilements’.

In forty characters, the above verses describes the two question about defilement, what it is and why we should remove it, then it describes the qualities of defilements, and finally leading to the conclusion that henceforth, all disciples of the Buddha should eradicate defilements.

So what are the defilements you see either in yourself or people around you?  Care to share?

Buddhist Interact Club @ Manjusri Secondary School

In May 2009, Venerable DingRong and me conducted a Students’ Heart Corner Programme (quite wordy in retrospect!) at Manjusri Secondary School.

The Students’ Heart Corner Programme (SHC) is a pilot programme aimed at giving the students at Manjusri Secondary School an additional avenue to interact with members of the Buddhist Sangha (monastic) community so that they may learn to cope with their emotions and be able to better handle stress and pressure in school. Structure and Duration

The pilot programme ran successfully every Friday for a group of 10 to 15 students, for the month of May, 2009. The programme included activities such as: Simple Awareness Meditation • Group Dialogue • Sharings • Hymns • Each session was conducted by us venerables and was assisted by Mrs Cheng and Mr Ng. The sessions was conducted at the Dharma / Multi-purpose Hall and lasted over 1.5 hours each.

Photo collage from the second session

Photo collage from the second session

One, … Two, … Three …. Yum! or Learning to Wait

For a while now, whenever I am invited for a meal at my parents’ place, I would play a little game with my niece and nephews.  I would give them a cookie or bread or something, but before I give them, I would hover infront of their mouth and count to them “One, … Two, … Three … ” before they get their treat.

My point to my sisters (mothers of my experiments) is that kids these days are too conditioned towards instant gratification.  My count down approach is what I think would train them to learn to wait.  Interestingly, my niece J would wait patiently, even when I sometimes delay the count down with 2.5, 2.75 etc … she (four years old now) would giggle and know that I am playing with her.  My nephew R started off being rather haughty, refusing to open his mouth when I start the countdown.  Granted, he is 1+ years younger than J, so perhaps he is slowly developing patience.  Furthermore, the mental development of boys and girls are known to start at different ages.

Today, I read an interesting article about just that.

Don’t! – The secret of self-control. by Jonah Lehrer

In the article, there is mention of a marshmallow experiment conducted to study how kids delay gratification.  An interesting concept highlighted is “metacognition” in which one is knows one’s knowing or thinking.  The ability to be aware of one’s thinking or way of thinking, its implications and to think of ways to deal with it.

“Their desire (for marshmallow) wasn’t defeated—it was merely forgotten. “If you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is, then you’re going to eat it,” Mischel says. “The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place.”

Mental Redirection

The above example is what in Buddhism is commonly known as “轉依所緣境”, or “to change one’s mental focus”.  In meditation, we do that all the time.  When the mind wanders away, or it becomes distracted, we direct it away from the distraction and back to the object of meditation.  In the Mahasi tradition, one do not redirect, but instead channels one’s mindfulness onto the process of distraction, and not the distraction itself.  So, instead of thinking of something, we become mindful of the thinking; instead of pondering about a sound or cough, as to who is the one coughing, why is he coughing, we direct mindfulness to hearing itself.  So this is in a way, still a change in focus, from the subject to the process, from the content to the mechanism.

In 念佛法門, Buddha-nama recitation school, when one’s mind wanders away, we basically redirect the mind back to the Buddha-nama recitation.  Again, it is a redirection.  In the Contemplation of Fouliness, the mind is directed away from sensual visible datum towards the foul aspects of the body, as a direct counter for sense desire.  This is not just redirection, but redirection towards the opposite of the original object.  Such redirection makes use of another characteristic of the mind: that the mind cannot be in opposite states simultaneously.  If the mind is filled with love, it cannot hate; if filled with foul contemplation, lust cannot arise; filled with generosity, one cannot stinge; filled with wholesome, unwholesome thoughts naturally cease.  Hence, the various Buddhist practice of metta-bhavana, foul contemplation, practice of dana and wholesome aspirations.

Mental Transformation & Direct Seeing

Another technique mentioned in the article that resounds with standard practices in Buddhism is to modify the perception or conditioning the kids have of the marshmallow or candy.

But Mischel has found a shortcut. When he and his colleagues taught children a simple set of mental tricks—such as pretending that the candy is only a picture, surrounded by an imaginary frame—he dramatically improved their self-control. The kids who hadn’t been able to wait sixty seconds could now wait fifteen minutes. “All I’ve done is given them some tips from their mental user manual,” Mischel says. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.”

In the Diamond Sutra, chapter 32, the Buddha said “一切有為法,如夢幻泡影,如露亦如電,應作如是觀” “All conditioned phenomena, is like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, an image (or shadow); like a dew and like a flash of lightning, thus should one reflect and observe”.  The Buddhist technique is broader in ways of application and differs at the later stage.  At the earlier stage, one may not have seen how that is possible, but may adopt the teachings as a new way (Mental Transformation) to look at things, thereby reducing attachment, whereas at the later more developed stage, one truly see (Direct Seeing) that all conditioned phenomena is indeed like a dream, an illusion etc, at which point attachment and craving naturally falls away.

Awareness of Mental Drift

The above list out various techniques that one can develop and use should one’s mind stray away.  Prior to that, it is also important to develop mindfulness so that when the mind should stray or drift, we can know that it has, and not simply be swept along for the ride.

The names may differ, but the act of labelling or mental noting found in the Mahasi tradition, anapanasati (meditation) tradition, Zen meditation tradition or 念佛 Buddha-namanusati method all trains the mind to be aware of the present state.  The object of focus and precise technique may differ, but they all lead to mindfulness of the present state of the mind.  Through these techniques, when the mind wanders away, one is then able to more effectively ‘detect’ the wandering and then apply the appropriate mental counter-measures.  Initially, one’s mind simply get sweep away by the torrents of mental proliferation, but slowly, the mental noting or awareness of this wandering becomes stronger and one’s attention and awareness builds up.  It takes time and practice, but it does get better as one proceed.

Application to daily affairs

We often think about our family at work and about work when we are with our family.  We know that it is not helpful in both cases, but we cannot help it.
Well, we can.  Using the two techniques mentioned above, 1. Awareness of Mental Drift 2. Mental Redirection, we should train ourselves to be mindful of whatever we are doing at the present moment, the conversation we are having, the person we are talking to etc.  When there is Mental Drift, we should be aware of it.  We may note it quickly and redirect our mind towards our present activity.  Do this often enough, and it becomes a mental habit to refocus, to redirect.  Over time, we can become more attentive and “in the moment”, instead of “worrying about the future, or clinging onto the past.”

With this mindfulness, one can in time, observe and see directly, the common characteristics, anicca (Impermanence), dukkha (Suffering), anatta (No-self).

Learning to Wait

Instead of succumbing to our thoughts and emotions, we can live a more wholesome and meaningful life through the practice of Buddhism.  We can slowly learn to master and manage our emotions instead of letting it run and ruin our life.

“We should say, ‘You see this marshmallow? You don’t have to eat it. You can wait. Here’s how.’ ”

Next time we desire something like the kid for the marshmallow, maybe we should say that to ourselves:

“You see this INSERT_YOUR_CRAVING? You don’t have to have it immediately.  You can wait.  Here’s how.”

Tried it before?  Tell us how it work or not work for you.


Edited for highlight and flow