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Volume 6 no 2

Venerable Shen-Kai Answers
The Bliss Compass
The way to bliss and happiness
Happiness is man made. So is suffering. Can we have just the happiness and avoid the suffering? Of course, we can. But, we need to understand how events transpire in life - that whatever we do, say and think will produce effects, and that these effects can come today, tomorrow, next month, next year or even in our next life. Then, we need to take a good look at our actions, words, thoughts, habits and temperaments - do they give us bliss and happiness that last or are they short-lived and momentary? We need guidance - the Bliss Compass. The Bliss Compass is the way to bliss and happiness as light is to vision in darkness.

1. Should people talk about other people's undesirable habits and self-serving temperament if they themselves have not yet terminated their own undesirable habits and self-serving temperament?

Talking about other people is not a good habit.

If a person does not stop his undesirable habits and self-serving temperament, it is because he does not know that he has such habits and temperament. Therefore, he talks about other people and that itself is not a good habit. If he is aware of his own habits and temperament and he feels a sense of repentance about them, then he will not talk about other people's undesirable habits and self-serving temperament.

2. How do we stop our undesirable habits and self-serving temperament?

Observe your own conduct, not how other people conduct themselves.

First, we need to observe our own undesirable habits and self-serving temperament, instead of observing other peoples' undesirable habits and self-serving temperament. Treat other people's undesirable habits and self-serving temperament with ample understanding and humility. When we constantly reflect on our conduct and ensure that they are ethical and virtuous, undesirable habits and self-serving temperament will not emerge. Over time, these will be terminated.

3. I feel disturbed of late, and I do not know why.

Unfulfilled desires cause disturbances.

All forms of greed produce disturbances. We are happy when we fulfil the desires of our greed. On the other hand, we will be disturbed when they cannot be fulfilled.

4. Mara always disrupts the cultivator, what should one do?

Shut the doors of our undesirable habits and self-serving temperament.

The Mara is a very troublesome thing. It is always destroying that which is good. When a person's career encounters Mara, then he will not be successful. When Mara intrudes into the family, the family breaks up. As a Buddhist, when we encounter Mara, we lose our wisdom-life. Where is the Mara found? It resides in the heavens of desire (devalokas). The king of this heaven is King Mara. Moreover, there are armies of Mara, the children and grandchildren of Mara, female Mara and many others. Nevertheless, regardless of how strong and mighty the Mara is, there is no need to be afraid. Human beings have a weakness - the fear of Mara.

All Maras intrude through the doors of our undesirable habits and self-serving temperament. Whatever those habits and temperament are, so long as they are not fully eradicated, the Mara will enter from there. For example, the Mara will enter a person through his habit of drinking alcohol. Similarly, it enters a person through his negative habits and temperaments such as sexual misconduct, telling lies, being materialistic, being lazy and refuses to learn or work.

The best way to counter Mara, is to shut the doors of our undesirable habits and self-serving temperaments. Hence, when we set the objective of learning and practising the Buddha's teachings to eradicate our undesirable habits and self-serving temperament, it is to prevent the Mara from entering us again. Without the troubles caused by Mara, we will succeed in all our endeavours, be they our studies, career or building a blissful family.

Many people leave the doors open for Mara, and people in the society, by and large, are unaware that they have been invaded by Mara. When Mara takes effect, it can cause people to become bankrupt, families to break up and even the loss of lives. Now, this is the secret - eradicate our undesirable habits and self-serving temperament, thereby shutting the doors through which the Mara enters. In this way, the Mara will not be able to do you any harm.

5. As a businessman, I often say things that are not true; is it permissible for me to undertake to observe the Five Precepts?

You should undertake to observe the Five Precepts.

It is permissible; moreover, you should undertake to observe the Five Precepts. This is because you have realised your wrong doings and now wish to mend your ways, therefore you should undertake to observe the Five Precepts.

6. Is abortion an act of killing?

It is the killing of one's own flesh and blood.

Abortion is not only an act of killing, it is the taking of a human life. Moreover, it is not only taking a human life, but the killing of one's own flesh and blood.

7. I am fearful even when I am home; what is the reason?

It could be the result of your own doing; practise compassion to ward off fear.

The probable reasons for people to be fearful could be because they have, in their present or past lives, committed mostly improper deeds that are dark and terrible. If people are always honest, open-minded and above board in whatever they do, and they abide by the principles of Buddhism in all their dealings, then naturally there is no fear in the field of their eighth mind-consciousness.

A person may still wonder why he is fearful, even though he has not committed any misdeeds, or done anything that might have harmed other people. Actually, this may not have anything to do with the present life. The karmic seeds that have been planted in the aeons of his many past lives could have brought such fear to his present life. However, it is quite a simple matter to correct the fear in our mind. As a start, we could recite the name of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Guan Yin Pu-sa). Then, we need to cultivate a compassionate mind and do more good deeds to benefit others.

This is because the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is the giver of fearlessness, and when we recite the name of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva at the time when we are fearful, we will similarly be fearless. However, we have to emulate Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva in treating all people with loving-kindness and compassion. It is only in this way that we are in communion with the great vow of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. When we have the compassionate mind, we will not think of harming others. On the contrary, we will think of benefiting them. Naturally, in this way the fear in our mind will begin to transform. A Chinese saying has it that "as long as a person has not done wrong, there is no need to be afraid of a knock on the door in the middle of the night." Thus, there is nothing to fear when we have not done anything wrong.

It is hoped that you will practise according to the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva method, quickly cultivate your compassionate mind, and do more good deeds to benefit other people. Naturally, the fear in your mind will diminish and you will not be fearful anymore.

8. I am not healthy and I feel tired and weak most of the time. Is this due to the negative karma that I have committed? Will reciting the name of the Buddha help?

Be with Buddha.

When a person is not healthy, it is due to the obstacles of his karma. But, it is important that people maintain a healthy lifestyle. The way to a speedy recovery is a combination of a balanced diet and a relaxed frame of mind. It is not necessary that a person is cultivating only when he recites the Buddha's name. The teachings of the Buddha are found right in the course of our daily life. Constantly be with Buddha and cultivate being with Buddha; this will help you to lessen the obstacles of your karma.

9. Are there differences between the 'obstacles of karma' and 'retributions of karma'?

Yes, and they are the result of what people have done, said or thought.

As human beings, we create a lot of karma. For simplicity these can be categorised into three types - those committed by our action, our speech and our thoughts. The obstacle of karma refers to the karmic obstructions (obstructions that arose from what we have done, said or thought) that prevent us from achieving good things. For example, they come in our way when we wish to learn and practise Buddhism, or when we want to pursue certain promising prospects and we cannot progress nor accomplish those wishes.

The karma that people commit can be virtuous or evil. These will bear virtuous or evil effects respectively in time to come. These effects are called retributions of karma.

10. When life is not smooth, is it always due to the obstacles of karma?

That life is not smooth is not necessarily due to Karmic obstacles.

When a person does not have a good life it is not necessarily due to the obstacles of his karma. The obstacles of karma are created by what a person has done (karma), that is, by the kind of deeds that he has committed, the kind of speech that he has said and the thoughts that he had. When the karma which were committed in the past life are not corrected in this life, they obstruct a person's promising prospects when these prospects present themselves. Therefore, these prospects cannot materialise. This is called the obstacle of karma.

11. We understand that our undesirable habits arise from our ignorant thoughts. From where do the ignorant thoughts come?

Ignorance can arise from innumerable sources; in summary they stem from causes and conditions.

We all have ignorance, yet we don't understand what it is. To understand ignorance, we need first to know where does it stem from. It can arise from the ear, when we overhear somebody passing a remark and immediately think that that person is scolding us. Then, the ignorance begins to grow in our mind. It can arise from the eyes, when we see a very well dressed person and all kinds of wild thoughts begin to play in our mind. In this way, ignorance commences. It is obvious that the ignorance of human beings is simply innumerable. I can only say that according to Buddha, ignorance arises from causes and conditions[1].

12. How do we apply Buddhism in our daily life?

Emulate Buddha, be with Buddha.

"Be with Buddha," means to apply Buddhism in our daily life. For example, people like to listen to words that are pleasing to their ears. Therefore, wherever we are, we do not scold others, use coarse or obscene language, or use words that are hurtful. Instead, we praise others or use words that console or encourage. The face of the Buddha is serene, peaceful and pleasant. Therefore, being with Buddha also means maintaining a serene, happy and pleasant face at all times. The Buddha does not talk unnecessarily. Therefore, we should emulate the Buddha and say only what should be spoken and refrain when it is unnecessary. This is a very important point. When we maintain our happiness and serenity, and our mind is pure then we are in harmony with all the Buddhas. Sentient beings like all Buddhas, and therefore they will naturally like us when our mind is with Buddha.

When we do as described, we are then applying Buddhism in our daily life.

13. What remedial actions can we take for the evil deeds that we have committed in the past?

Buddhism will show you the way.

The Three Periods refer to the past, present and future. This is the characteristic of time in this universe. When you understand the principle governing the past, present and future, then you will understand that causes (or actions) created in the past will bear fruit (or consequences) at some point in time. A phrase in Buddhism says, "Planting seeds of melon leads to harvesting melons; planting seeds of bean leads to harvesting beans". Therefore, we harvest sweet melons when we plant seeds of sweet melon. Similarly, we harvest bitter melons when we plant seeds of bitter melon. We cannot expect to harvest sweet fruits when bitter seeds have been planted, unless we alter the conditions in the process. For example, the only way that we can taste sweet apricots after having planted a wild apricot tree is to graft a stem of a sweet apricot tree on to the wild apricot tree.

It is the same with human beings. If in the past we have created evil causes by committing evil deeds, then in future we are bound to face with evil retributions. If we wish to receive joyful rewards, then we have to change the causes and conditions[1]. In this regard, learning and practising the Buddha's teachings is the best thing to do. Although we have done wrong in the past, we now realise our mistakes, let bygones be bygones, and from this moment on, do all that are good and virtuous. When we learn and practise the Buddha's teachings diligently, repent our wrong doings, and rectify and create virtuous causes and conditions, we will then reap virtuous rewards in the future.


[1] Causes and conditions: colloquially thought of as fate; primary causes and secondary causes - for example, a seed is a primary cause; rain, dew, sun light and farmer are secondary causes, or conditions, resulting in a plant.

Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre