More Q&A About The Teachings

Question and Answers

Below are some questions that I received from a student and my short replies.

1) Does the concept of realms (6 realms, 31 planes of existence) belong to the Relative Truth (in the 2 Truths)?

The teaching on the realms comes from what the Buddha observed and is part of the conventional truth.
While seeing ultimate reality or ultimate truth is what gets us enlightened, we must also not forget about conventional truth or dismiss it.

eg, the driving convention in Singapore follows the left sided driving, where we drive on the left side of the road, and the driver is seated in the right side of the car.  It is not an absolute truth that driving must be done this way and is in no way morally more superior or wiser than the other driving convention, such as the one used in US.  But if one drives on the right side of the road in Singapore, one is sure to get into a lot of trouble! 😉

2) In the 2nd of the 4 Seals of Dharma, it states that All contaminated phenomenon are unsatisfactory ( in the nature of suffering due to Karma and mental afflictions), how can realizing of Emptiness have an effect on negating this ‘unsatisfactory-ness’?

Four seals?  Are you referring to impermanence, suffering, no-self and emptiness?

It states that all conditioned (not contaminated) phenomena are suffering.
Realising emptiness, one sees that the objects of craving and attachment are as illusory as fleeting clouds in the sky, ephemeral, insubstantial and … that even if one wants to cling onto, there is nothing that one can cling unto.

Conceptually, one may understand it but one may still be form attachments.  It is when one truly sees that there is really nothing permanent, independent, substantial or inherent out there, that one’s cravings and attachments gradually and ultimately ceases.  With that, one stop having unrealistic expectations of how things can or should be.  Worry, disappointments, stress etc ceases consequently.

3) What is the difference between exhaustion of negative karma and purification of negative karma? What happens to the negative karma when it is purified? If karma can be purified, then why didn’t Maudgalyāyana purify his negative karma and had to ‘pay’ with his life? What happens to a person’s karma when he reach Enlightenment? Must a person’s ‘Negative Karma bank’ be emptied before he can attain Enlightenment?

Good question!  Exhaustion of karma, negative or positive, refers to the ripening of them while purification of negative karma refers to 1) repentance of negative karma, ie acknowledging the err in those actions and making a resolve not to repeat.  This resolve is the mental state that does not resonate with the negative karma and hence does not nurture the existing negative karmic seeds / imprints nor trigger their arising / ripening.

The negative seeds are still present but are not nourished nor ‘activated’.
In this way, there is purification of negative karma.

One’s “negative karma quota” does not need to be emptied before attaining enlightenment. But if a karmic seed has
already reached maturation and ripened into a fruit when the person reach enlightenment, then the results will be experienced by the enlightened one nonetheless.

4) All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have Pure land right? Is it against the Buddha’s teaching if one does not believe in Pure land? In the 18th of the 48 Fundamental Vows of Amitabha Buddha,  It promises that he will take all sentient beings that recite his name sincerely to his Pure Land when they die, what happens to our negative karma then?

All Buddhas have purelands.  Purelands are basically the result of the vows of the Buddhas to have a suitable place for sentient beings to learn and cultivate the Dharma.  More like a retreat centre than a heaven.

The negative karma has no condition to ripen, hence no suffering while in pureland.  But when a person cultivate up to a certain level, one returns to this world as a Bodhisattva and those negative karma, given the right conditions, may still ripen.  At that point, unlike an unenlightened being who will fret and be upset or filled with fear, an enlightened one would face the fruit with calm and equanimity.  He will willingly “repay” whatever wrong he has done.

5) If sentient being exist in different forms depending on their karma, does that mean there is a finite number of sentient beings, just that they take different form when they go through rebirth. (This was a question from a friend who majored in Maths! He said that if being reborn is to take different form only, surely there are a fixed number of beings around, minus those being who gained Enlightenment along the way). I remember at the end of the movie ‘Little Buddha’, a few kids was identified as taking the manifestation of the person who passed away, so one mental continuum could be reborn into a few bodies right?

The question of finite or infinite sentient beings is not answered, though in our Bodhisattva vows, we undertake to liberate innumerable sentient beings!

Whether or not there are finite or infinite sentient beings, if we have unrealistic expectations based on incorrect perception of ourselves and this world, then we are bound to suffer.  The reverse is true, of not suffering.

The movie “Little Buddha” … is a movie.  😀

6) Arhat exist within the 6 realms right? Can an Arhat accumulate negative karma? If they do, what will happen?

Arhats are those who are free from defilements.  In their final life after enlightenment, they would not accumulate negative karma anymore.

7) Does Karma exist outside the 6 realms?

As far as unenlightened beings are concerned, there are only the 6 realms that exist.
So the question is invalid to some extent.

Purelands can be seen as existing within the 6 realms, but not subject to the same nature of suffering, so some classify it as beyond the 6 realms.

In that sense, Karma do not function outside the 6 realms in pureland the way it applies for us.

8) There are 3 or 4 kayas/bodies, I find it quite confusing, could you help to explain it in a simpler way…

For a start, leave the kayas alone.  Focus on the teachings that help you work with your defilements, the challenges in your life.  That is more pertinent and helpful.

9) Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva dont want to gain Enlightenment because he want to help sentient beings, why is it that he can’t help when he is a Buddha? What can a Bodhisattva do that a Buddha can’t do?

It is not that Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva don’t want to gain Enlightenment, he has already attained Buddhahood many eons back.  Now the condition is for Bodhisattvas to help to teach, so the Buddha manifest as a Bodhisattva.

When there is still the Buddha’s teaching, like in our
world now, no second Buddha will appear because it would be redundant.
Buddhas only arise when there is no more Dharma teachings in this world.
Apologies for the delayed reply!!

Have a blissful year ahead!!  🙂

Faith & Society: Leadership Amidst Controversy

Shared at “Pathways Institute 2013 in Singapore” this evening.
Faith & Society: Leadership Amidst Controversy (At NUS campus)

My talk was “Forgive and Forget: Can we truly put our past aside and have Peace and Harmony?

We often hear the adage Forgive and Forget.  But if we forgive because we forget, then when we remember the incident, long gone hurt may rise again.

Instead, we should try to forgive but don’t forget.

Buddhist approach is to learn to use Wisdom, Love and Compassion to see people or things that irritate us. That way, even if we remember something that used to irritate us, we would gradually and ultimately not be irritated. 😉

In this way, we can forgive without forgetting. The way the Buddha’s Love and Compassion encompasses all sentient beings unconditionally, with equanimity. 😀

Today, I also picked up a few valuable things during the Q&A session:

1. Is it possible to learn and practise Buddhist meditation without dropping one’s faith / belief.  (Yes.  Many Christians & Jews worldwide are practising Buddhist meditation and benefiting from it without denouncing their religion.)

2. The muslim community made a statement denouncing the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues.  (Perhaps we should establish closer ties with fellow religious heads, so that such voice of reason can be heard over
the chaos)

3. The muslim community hope to reach out to the Buddhist community in Myanmar to help resolve the conflict in Rohingya and promote peace.  Participant gave a good example of how the Dalai Lama’s effort in North India helped in restoring peace in that region.  (Again, some means to foster inter-faith peace talks is needed.  Perhaps it is even more important to do so before conflict arise.  Fortunately for Singapore, we have IRO since 1949!  IRO for every country, anyone?)

4. Christians do not try to convert others, ‘cos in their belief, conversion is strictly speaking done by God and not by human; they are only sharing their faith.
(Hmmm … maybe it’s just me?  IMO, it seem to border on “換湯不換藥”。Calling it “sharing” and not “converting” just means that *unsolicited* “sharing” is inappropriate and distasteful.  Hmmm … …  :s )

5. A nice reminder about how South East Asia was once pre-dominantly Buddhists.  Eg the Borobudur temple in Indonesia.  (I like the suggestion to give a balanced coverage of both positive and negative incidences.)

6. Religious beliefs is just one belief in the sea of beliefs that people have.  Should it be treated differently?

My sharing focused mainly on negative incidences as these are points of contentions, which are detrimental to peace and harmony.  My thoughts were that if we manage to overcome the negative incidences, then positive ones would naturally build on those successes!

Note to self:  I must mindfully moderate the level of positive and negative info for interfaith talks in future. 🙂

Thanks to John and Asha from Pathways Institute and the participants for having me this evening.  We really overrun the schedule with Q&A!  Special thanks to Farid for the link up, without which I would not have shared tonight.

Sabbe satta sukita hontu!
May all beings be Well and Happy! 🙂

Q&A: Laziness and Internet Addiction

2) Can the venerable give me some advice on how to cope with laziness and internet addiction?

Hmmm … laziness and internet addiction. Quite an interesting pair … ‘cos laziness is inactivity, while addiction is not.

We can be lazy about many things. For example, I’m “lazy” when it comes to killing mosquitoes. So I’ve not killed one (in my knowledge) for many many years. I’m also “lazy” with making money. So I’ve quit my job and become a monk, and have not made any cash for all these years; the up side is that you cannot be retrenched as a result! :p We are lazy about some things and passionate about others, even to the point of being addicted to them. The difference between the two, lies in interest.

We are lazy about things that do not interest us. Life, unfortunately and frequently, requires us to do things that are less than interesting. Take work for example. Most of us are not interested in our work. Really. We are driven mostly by what it can bring us or others. Sometimes that is monetary gain, sometimes it is a sense of satisfaction derived from identifying ourselves with the profession. Without the motivation behind, we would naturally be lazy, and I say that without condoning or condemning it.

To fight laziness, one would then need to find the value in the thing or activity. This value may then generate interest and in turn drive and energy. Cutting internet addiction on the otherhand, would require one to see the effects such an addiction brings you. You may need to share with me the extent which the person, with internet addiction, is surfing the internet. The frequency and duration etc. Is it serious enough to be considered an addiction? How is using the internet affecting the persons’ life? Is it hampering his normal daily activities such as studies, work or personal life? These information would be
helpful for a start.

Let me know how this work out and we can follow up on it.

Q&A: Respecting Books

Below is part 1 of my reply to an open question posted on Leave a Message

1) My dad says that we must respect books because some divine beings might be living inside it, if we disrespect the book( e.g stepping on them, putting them in an untidy manner etc.), we will not get good results in examinations and will not gaining enough knowledge. Is that true?

So there are two parts to your father’s claim:
1. That there are some divine beings living inside books, and
2. By disrepecting them, there will be some consequences, such as poor exam results and being knowledgeable.

First off, there sure are beings living in books, but divine or not, I know silver fishes lives in books, especially the old ones.  There are some legends that some spiritual beings or guardians protects books, and that they may get pretty angry if anyone mistreat the books they protect.  Such legends probably evolve or develop from earlier legends about guardians of knowledge or wisdom, which books are the physical representation of.  These latter legends may themselves have been derived from the view that knowledge or wisdom is sacred and thus should be respected and held in high esteem.

Knowing this probable origin of such claims can help us relate to books in a proper manner.  Consider how paper, printing and publishing were pretty scarce in the past.  An attempt to preserve the books and inculcate a healthy attitude towards books may spin off into legends and myths quite easily.  Such development of legends can be found not just in Asian societies but in almost all countries that exist long enough for folklore to develop.  So we should perhaps see and understand this claim just as other claims from other culture or religions in a similar light, and understand the original
intention when the legend began.

The second part of the claim is that there are consequences to showing disrespect to books.  I have to agree that there are consequences here, although the consequences may not a) be due to divine being’s retribution on us and b) be the same as claimed.

To get good results, one just have to do one thing: get the right answers to the examination questions.  Even if one were to put the books on an altar and perform all the world’s religious rituals and treat it with the most respect, one will not be any better off at answering the examination questions.

Gaining knowledge from a book is done by reading, analyzing, contemplating and reflecting over the content, the meaning of the book.  To me, that is the right way to “respect” books.  Conversely, the way to show “disrespect” for books is to neglect them, and not read them.  That is one sure way to be closed to whatever the book may offer, and would thus make oneself ignorant (as far as the book’s content is concerned), and in the case of school textbooks, a potentially poorer examination result.

Just a casual note, “stepping on books, and putting them in an untidy manner” … why would anyone be stepping on books, never mind whether you respect them or not?  As for tidiness, I for one will attest to having had an untidy “organised mess” of computing reference books and yet, I say without boasting, that I excelled in programming nonetheless.  My seemingly untidiness definitely did not hinder my learning.  (ok, maybe I may become the president scholar I never was, but there is no way to find out, is there?)

I am not encouraging anyone to be untidy, but to me, it is a matter of preference.  As long as such preference do not hinder the goal of learning or result in hygiene issues, then I’m pretty ok with it.  Whether your parents are ok with it, is a different story altogether!

Howto: Sleeping Well

Recently I’ve been thinking, that since many people in the city suffers from bouts of insomnia, I could share my thoughts about it and how one could potentially deal with it.

First of, I don’t suffer from insomnia.  The one major time I couldn’t sleep was when I downed a whole tin pot of coffee-tea brew that my good friend Ivan (NTU Hall XI, you know who you are! :p ) made for me.  He did it with the best intention and in a twisted way, I’m grateful for his intentions, but boy I only managed to catch a wink at 5am only to have to wake up at 7+am to do an exam paper for Japanese.

Then there was the other time … … hmmm … … either my memory is failing, or I really don’t have problem with sleeping.

Seriously, I rarely have problems with sleeping.  But I’ve met people who face this difficulty (in some part of the world, they call it a medical condition) and here are some common traits I observe:

  1. Anxiety or worry (about some matter or their lack of sleep itself!)
  2. Bad pre-sleep habits
  3. No sleeping habits

I’ll deal with 2 and 3 first.  Then we’ll come back to 1.
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