SGC – 20180401

Weekly Spiritual Group Cultivation (SGC) on 1 April 2018
Ask Me Anything: Qing Ming and Buddhism

What significance does Qing Ming hold for you?
Are the customary prayers in line with Buddhist teachings?

Catch the full Youtube video at https://youtu.be/jkXX3C8QxT8. 

Come join us every Sunday 1pm to 3pm.

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Of Teleportation and Self-Driving Cars

When we read about teleportation, we think “Beam me up, Scotty!” ala Star Trek.  Teleportation is no easy task, some would say it is rocket science or more.  Well, it is at up till recently pure sci-fi, until scientists were able to teleport a quantum of data.

Most recently, in July 2017, Chinese scientists set the Record for the Farthest Quantum Teleportation.

Chinese scientists have just shattered a record in teleportation. No, they haven’t beamed anyone up to a spaceship. Rather, they sent a packet of information from Tibet to a satellite in orbit, up to 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface.

https://www.space.com/37506-quantum-teleportation-record-shattered.html

While teleportation of living organism, especially sentient ones, is still some way to go, teleportation of material objects maybe in the foreseeable future.  A few key pieces of technology still need to be invented though, like a way to digitise every quantum bits of material, and do it fast enough such that we can use it effectively as a form of transport technology.  The first breakthrough is how to digitise one quantum of any material, the remaining part is improving the process.

A little like how the first digital camera takes 23 seconds to create one photo that is 0.01 megapixel

The World’s First Digital Camera by Kodak and Steve Sasson

Ok, so if all that is done, then what?  I say, go for the low lying fruit.  If Teleportation of Inanimate Object (TIO) is possible and is commercialised, supply chain, logistics and its line of support industries will go through massive shake out.

Imagine, ordering from Taobao and not waiting for a week or two for delivery, but a few minutes for them to teleport the item to your home or nearest TIO kiosk.

Groceries?  Done.  Shopping?  Done.  Travelling?  Check in your luggage and it will be shipped via the TIO terminal.  Your luggage will be waiting for you at your destination.

What has this to do with cars?

Imagine driving to work or shopping and not have to find parking?  Reached your destination and check in your car to the TIO parking station.  Your car will be teleported to some remote part of Singapore or the world.  Perhaps some offshore floating TIO barges or something.  Maybe a TIO warehouse in some off-world planet?  Costs more to transport, but cheaper to store.

No more parking lots needed throughout CDB or residential areas.  When you are done, just collect your car from the TIO parking station and drive off.

Just imagine.

But wait, what about self-driving cars?

While teleportation of macro objects is still some years or decades away, self-driving cars (SDCs) are already a reality.  With Tesla, BMW, Volvo and practically most major car manufacturers clamouring to have a hand in this new area, self-driving technology is experiencing a boost like never before.

https://www.theverge.com/2016/9/22/13019688/singapore-self-driving-car-nutonomy-grab-ride-hail-test

https://www.smartnation.sg/initiatives/Mobility/self-driving-vehicles-sdvs–future-of-mobility-in-singapore

While tesla has been receiving flak for its self-driving horror stories, it is a question of when and not if, self-driving technology can be solved.  It is here and will only get better.

TESLA NOW HAS another fatality to hang on its semi-autonomous driving system. The company just revealed that its Autopilot feature was turned on when a Model X SUV slammed into a concrete highway lane divider and burst into flames on the morning of Friday, March 23. The driver, Wei Huang, died shortly afterwards at the hospital.

https://www.wired.com/story/tesla-autopilot-self-driving-crash-california/

While it is all fun and cool to have the car drive itself, we should know that between take off and landing, commercial planes have been flying and navigating by themselves for decades already, with pilots monitoring and on alert.

Beyond the fanfare of self-driving cars, what does it do for us?

Solving Parking

Compared to teleportation, self-driving becomes a lot more down-to-earth.  With self-driving car, one could instruct our cars to park at other areas that are cheaper and not in the city area (CDB).  Or better still, what about a grab-mode for cars?  When you arrive at work, why not get your car to work for you?  Activate grab-mode and your car can go out and make some bucks for you while you work, instead of bleeding parking fees.

Think about all the cars that are sitting in parking lots every single day.  This would be a thing of the past.  Parking lots might well become a page in city planning history.  Why have parking lots when perhaps cars do not need to ever park except perhaps after 12am?  Would we all need to own a car to begin with?  What we are concerned about is transport, getting from point A to point B.  It’s like buying groceries.  We don’t really need to experience the going through aisle and queuing up at the cashier counters.  In fact, we would rather choose not to have that.  Now, I do know a friend or two who enjoy the NTUC experience and it is therapeutic for them.  And so they do not use redmart or honestbee.

With SDCs, we solve transport without the hassle of driving, parking and car ownership.  Perhaps this can then mean that we really keep car population to a reasonable cap while making cars available to most Singaporeans at an affordable price.

There will be those who still want to get their hands dirty and want to drive themselves around, feel the wind in their hair and breathe in the smog … haha

So there could be multi-tiers of car users

Tier #1 – Conventional car owners.  Buys a car and is still subject to COE.
Tier #2 – SDCs that open for Grab services, and can be owned by individuals, state-owned or by companies like Grab or cooperatives by grassroots or communities.

Cars under Tier #1 can be charged a premium while Tier #2 should be made much more affordable as it becomes more like public transport.  This can reduce ownership of cars.

Car owners under Tier #2 would own cars but would contribute their cars to a Grab pool for other users’ usage but have priority access to their cars.  Not everyone will buy this idea, and there could be a potential loss in revenue from COE, but it can potentially improve the overall transport experience.

After all what we need is transport, not cars.

Think about it.

 

Dharma learning and Application in Daily Lives

A common request by students is to learn how to apply the Dharma in their daily lives.  This is heartening and reflects the pragmatic approach of Singaporeans.  If it is as good as it claims, it better work in my life.

While wanting to apply Dharma in our daily lives is great, some are unwilling or impatient to go through the process of learning Dharma.  They want to quickly learn to apply it without learning what it is first.

It is like wanting to apply mathematics in life without taking the time to know or understand what mathematics is at the first place.

Then there are those who wants to be able to understand it at the get go.  Why are we ready to spend hours, days and years mastering a field of study, a sport, a hobby, but wish or demand the way to enlightenment to be spontaneous and instantaneous?

There’s a sequence of cultivating wisdom in Buddhism, namely

  1. 聞 Hearing
  2. 思 Contemplation
  3. 修 Cultivation

Stage One is Hearing.  Hearing is termed the first stage, as this is the first exposure to the concept or principle.  It reflects the oral tradition of learning prevalent in the Buddha’s time 2600+ years ago.  Today, it would include learning through various forms of media, such as reading a book, a blog (like what you are doing now), listening to a podcast, a video on youtube, etc.

From ‘hearing’, we gain an idea of what the principle is.  A crucial aspect of this stage is retention.  If we hear something and shortly after, forget about it, then it is as though we have not heard of it.  To develop this into knowledge, we need to Remember it.

Sometimes, we receive request to learn in a ‘collaborative’ way, to have discussions and skip the ‘lecture’ part of learning.  Is it truly possible to figure things out simply by discussion without prior knowledge of some fundamentals or principles?

If we try to understand something without having any knowledge of it, what exactly are we understanding? haha

So ‘hearing’ and remembering leads to knowledge which forms the basis for the second stage.

 

Stage Two is Contemplation.  After gaining knowledge of something, we need to contemplate on it, to pour through its details in our mind, to ponder over it, figure it out.  To understand it.

We may even have a discussion with others on what we know (from stage one) and what we understand of it.

Through contemplation on our own or discussion with others, we develop our knowledge into an understanding, leading to the next stage.

 

In Buddhism, it is insufficient to merely conceptualise or theorise the teachings.  We need to also cultivate accordingly and to verify it.

The teachings of the Buddha comprises two broad aspects, Dharma and Vinaya.  Dharma refers to the teachings and Vinaya, the precepts.

Within Dharma and Vinaya, we can group them into Principles and Practices.  Principles refer to principles of the practices and principles of reality.  Practices refers to the actual steps to be undertaken, such as the three stages of

  1. 戒 Precepts
  2. 定 Concentration
  3. 慧 Wisdom

For each of these three stages of cultivation, we apply the three stages of hearing, contemplation and cultivation.

For example, we first hear of the precepts, the undertaking of training rule to abstain from killing.  We hear about the way to observe it, its support and the fruits of observing it.  We hear of the way one transgresses, its support and the fruits of transgressing it.

Hearing it and retaining it, we know about it but we may not fully comprehend why it is so.  If we observe the precepts at this stage, it is out of faith that we do it.  This is not ideal, but serves as a start.  Through contemplation on our own and discussion with our friends and teachers, we have an understanding of it.  With an understanding of it, we become more convinced why observing such and such precepts is the compassionate thing to do and meaningful way of life.

Then as we observe the precepts in our life, we verify the process and consequences of observing or transgressing the precepts as described in the teachings and understood by us through contemplation.

Seeing it for ourselves, then we are affirmed in our knowledge and understanding.

The same goes for concentration via samatha meditation.  Samatha 止 is the meditative techniques that still and quieten our mind.  We first hear of the way to meditate and the fruits of meditation.  And if we do not meditate, the result of it.  We learn of the supporting conditions for us to meditate, develop quietude and calmness in our mind.  We also learn of the counter conditions that obstruct such cultivation.

When people just dive in and meditate without any understanding, we may have doubts.  And with doubts, we may unconsciously put in only half-hearted effort, resulting in a failure, forming a vicious  cycle.

Others may dive in without first having any knowledge or understanding.  This is called 盲修瞎煉 blind cultivation.  Instead, one need to put in the time and effort to learn from a proper teacher on the ways to meditate, to contemplate on it, discuss and to seek clarifications if we still do not understand.

But all these learning is again, for naught if one does not put it to practice.  Here, it means to actually meditate according to what we’ve learnt and understood from the teacher, and not through some methods we think up on our own.  After meditating, we may have some observations and experiences that go beyond what we have learnt.  We should then repeat stage 1 and 2, to ask the teacher about how to progress.  In this way, we gradually develop competency and eventually mastery of concentration.

 

While observing precepts purify our bodily and verbal actions, the practice of samatha-meditation purifies the mind.  It frees the mind of discursive thoughts and drowsiness, sensual desire and hatred ill-will, albeit temporarily.  With the power of Jhana, the five hindrances are suppressed.

With the mind purified in this way, one can then observe and see the reality of the body and mind, material and mental processes.  And in so doing, we verify the knowledge we have heard and the understanding from our contemplation.  When we have our first glimpse of how the mind and body arising and existing due to conditions with no permanent unchanging entity that persist, we see clearly for ourselves that the resultant notion of a self, an identity that persist actually do not exist.

We directly see through sakaya-ditthi, we verify the absence of a self. #1  In this way, view is purified.

Whatever doubt we may have in the Buddha, the Dharma (teachings) is removed.  More correctly, the doubts that used to be present, do not arise anymore.  Doubts that there is such a thing as enlightenment also ceases as we ourselves has attained first fruit.  There is no more doubt in the Sangha. #2

As we consider the path we have taken, we see clearly the path that worked, the impediments and defilements removed consequently.  No more doubts in the precepts and practices arise.  #2  We also see how peripheral practices are just that.  Peripheral and non-essential.  We no longer cling onto or get caught up with rituals, rites and practices that do not lead to the awakening of truth. #3

 

Collectively, this is the removal of the three lower fetters, sakaya-ditthi, doubt.

First fruit, sotapanna has been attained.  One has entered the stream, and would attain Nirvana in at most seven future rebirths as a human.

Congratulations! #phew

 

#sotapanna #streamenterer

References

  1. Ten Fetters
    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ati/tipitaka/an/an10/an10.013.than.html
  2. One in Training
    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.086.than.html
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch-22_(logic)

Q&A: Why do temples strike the bell 108 times during Chinese New Year?

 

A devotee asked me why temples strike the bell 108 times during Chinese New Year.
Here’s some sharing on it.

Within the Buddhist teachings, hearing the sound of the bell, one is reminded of the teachings and become mindful of one’s body speech and mind, quelling the defilements and agitations of the mind.

In the Chinese Mahayana tradition, there’s the following verses that are recited and reflected upon as aspirations before striking the bell.

願此鍾聲超法界  鐵圍幽闇悉皆聞
May the sounds of this bell transcend the (ten) Dharma realms,
To be heard even in the far reaches of the remote and dark outer rims

聞塵清淨證圓通  一切有情成正覺
Hearing thus, may all purify the dust (of defilements), attaining to complete mastery,
and all sentient beings attaining to Buddhahood.

聞鐘聲  煩惱輕  智慧長  菩提生
Hearing the sound of the bell
Defilements lighten, Wisdom grows, Bodhicitta arises

離地獄  出火坑  願成佛  度眾生
Departing from Hell, exiting from the fiery pit
Aspiring to become a Buddha, liberating sentient beings

108 corresponds to the defilements that arises due to the 108 types of feelings/sensations [1].

The striking of the bell is done on days like CNY … to mark our aspirations to work towards quelling our defilements and suffering.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Reference

Buddhism in the New Millennium

Grateful for the opportunity to share at the International conference “Buddhism in the New Millennium” coorganised by World Fellowship of Buddhists and the Buddhist Union.

Below are the pdf for the slides delivered at the conference for the two panel discussion.

Moments captured of the conference on facebook.