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Volume 6 no 3

Venerable Shen-Kai Answers
The Bliss Compass
The way to bliss and happiness
All humanity seeks happiness and bliss, but how do we go about parting with suffering to be happy and blissful? The answer is simple – sharpen your awareness nature. No time to cultivate? Learn about the method of “cultivating amid your actions”. Feeling frustrated because people are not responding to your kindness? Cultivate to unfold your wisdom. When you have wisdom, you will be able to reach out and help others.. Let the Bliss Compass show you the way to the culture of Buddhism – a Bliss Culture.

1. What is meant by “to become enlightened”? What is the realm of enlightenment like?

It is like turning on the lights in a dark room and he who is enlightened knows it best.

To become enlightened is like turning on the lights in an otherwise completely pitch dark room, and it becomes brilliantly lit. To a cultivator becoming enlightened is to realise and unfold his own innate wisdom and brightness, thereby lighting up his mind. If a person does not cultivate, he cannot become enlightened. It is as if he does not know how to operate the light switch; and, even if he were to meddle till the switch becomes broken, the lights still cannot be turned on.

What is the realm of enlightenment like? My answer is, “He who drinks the water, knows for himself how warm or cold the water is.” Let me tell you a story about enlightenment:

There were two Zen masters who lived and practised cultivation in the mountains. One day, while the younger Zen master was digging for yam, the hoe hit a pebble, which then sprung off to hit a bamboo nearby. On hitting the bamboo, it made a “pop” sound. On hearing that, the young Zen master became enlightened. No one knows what he had realised from enlightenment.

During the New-Year festive period, the young Zen master went to the neighbouring mountain to pay his respects to the older Zen master. The two masters exchanged greetings and the senior master asked the junior one, “How is your harvest this year?” The younger master replied, “Ashamed! Ashamed! Last year, I was poor, but I still had a tiny little piece of land to stand on. This year, I am poor, so poor that there is not even that tiny little piece to stand on.” Then, the two masters laughed heartily, this is probably his realm of enlightenment!

2. How do we eliminate our distracting thoughts?

There are many methods, for example, by reciting the name of the Buddha or Bodhisattva or by practising sitting meditation.

There are many methods to eliminate distracting thoughts. We may use two types of water as analogies. For instance, we collect two pails of water after a heavy downpour. But these two pails of water are muddy and cannot be consumed. They have to be purified. If we need to use the water immediately, then we have to treat it by adding a certain sulphate (salt) to it. Due to the effect of the sulphate, the water will become clear in a short while. In the same way, when the mind is confused and unsettled, we can recite the name of Amitabha Buddha or Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, or indeed any other Buddha or Bodhisattva. When you continue to recite for a while, your mind will become calm and pure.

The other method, particularly useful for people who do not know how to recite the name of the Buddhas, is to practise sitting-meditation. The mind will become calm and pure too. if instead of the sulphate treatment, the muddy water is allowed to stand undisturbed, the particles will settle to the bottom. The water will become clear too.

The method of cultivating by reciting the name of the Buddhas is like the method of using sulphate to treat unclean water. While the other method is cultivating by practising meditation, when one is able to remain unmoved, the mind will become still.

When your mind is unsettled, mixed and full of distracting thoughts, it is because you are still not very skilled in your cultivation. As your practice reaches a certain stage, your mind will become more focused, and, naturally, the mixed and distracting thoughts will go away.

3. I am a taxi driver; can I cultivate while driving?

You can cultivate, of course.

It is possible for you to cultivate while driving a taxi, but you have to practise the appropriate method. You can practise the method of speech restraint. The sitting meditation method is not advisable. You may cultivate amid your actions and maintain an illumined awareness such that you are aware even of a speck of dust flying pass. In this way your driving is safe. When one cultivates to a stage where he is even aware of a flower blooming in another world, as though it is occurring in his palm, then he has become a Buddha.

4. I have taken refuge in the Three Treasures and embraced Buddhism, can I continue to pray to my ancestors?

Pay respect to ancestors but do not be superstitious.

To mark the death anniversaries of ancestors, people may make offerings of flowers and fruits as a symbol of respect for them. The children should be taught to solemnly respect and remember their ancestors. It is for the memory of your loved ones; we should not be superstitious in this practice.

5. How can people be liberated from birth-and-death?

Abandon their pride and ego.

To be free from birth-and-death, people must be able to let go or abandon their pride, attachment and ego. If you choose to be a person who think highly of yourself and have a strong ego, a person who cannot bear to let go and who cannot afford to let go, then you will not be liberated from birth-and-death. Because many people do not know how to go about to be free from birth-and-death, they think that it is only after a person dies that he is liberated from birth-and-death. In fact, we have to know how to be free from birth-and-death while we are living.

If a person who is yet to be liberated is being scolded by another person, and he reacts by rolling up his sleeves and starts to fight, then it is not possible for him to be liberated from birth-and-death. If a person were to scold another person who is well cultivated, he would think that he was scolded because he has done something wrong and he would offer his apology immediately. If the scolding continues, then he would perhaps think that maybe that person is not feeling well today, or that he has had a bad day. If after all these, the scolding persists, then perhaps he would think that this person is immature, and it is better to let the matter rest. In this way, a person can liberate himself from birth-and-death.

This is just an analogy. A person who understands the Buddha-dharma may infer that in life, we have to learn to be a well-liked person. We need to know that the Buddha-dharma is indeed profound and wonderful.

6. Shall people wait until they are old before they learn and practise Buddhism?

People should embrace Buddhism through their mother even before they were born.

It is neither right nor wrong. If a one-hundred-year old person is taught to chant the name of the Buddha and he is able to do that diligently, then that is a good thing. However, if we wish to learn more than just chanting the name of the Buddha, it is advisable to start young. It is even better for people to embrace Buddhism by taking refuge in the Three Treasures, through their mothers, even before they were born. In that way, at least they know that they had already embraced Buddhism before they were born, and therefore they know that they should abstain from committing negative actions.

7. How can I reach out to people and encourage them to come and learn Buddhism? It is very difficult to convince some people; do we just give up on them?

Cultivate to unfold your wisdom.

We have to cultivate ourselves first before we can reach out and guide others. If we are able to cultivate ourselves well, then we will be able to guide others. How do we cultivate ourselves? First we have to eliminate the inner sentient being that is inside us. The human mind is constantly busy with redundant and illusory thoughts; this is our inner sentient being. When the inner sentient being is extinguished, then our wisdom will unfold. When you have wisdom, you will be able to reach out and help others. Otherwise, the very people whom you are trying to reach out to may even think that you have an ulterior motive and become suspicious of your good intentions. When that happens, you can forget about reaching out to them. Therefore, to reach out and guide others requires wisdom. With wisdom, you will be able to reach out to anybody you wish.

8. What is liberation?

Freedom from attachments.

Liberation means to be free from restraints and attaining freedom. It is further classified as lesser liberation and greater liberation. The lesser liberation refers to treating whatever we encounter in our daily life with the notion of freedom and ease. (Freedom from mental attachment and anguish) We achieve true liberation when we put that notion into practice. When we practise in this way through the aeons of our many lives, eventually we arrive at the state of Buddhahood. In this way, we attain the greater liberation. The greater liberation also means the ultimate purity and ultimate nirvana. [1]

9. I do not have the time to cultivate; what should I do?

Cultivate amid your actions.

Let me tell you about a method of cultivation; it is called “cultivate amid your actions”. This method of cultivation does not require time and also does not waste any time. Using this method you may cultivate at any place and any time.

10. What is to “cultivate amid actions”? Is there any difference between this and “cultivate amid tranquillity”?

Jen Chen Buddhism advocates cultivating amid our actions.

To cultivate while in tranquillity means not doing anything else besides practising sitting meditation, prostrating before the Buddha, or reciting the sutras. Indeed, some practitioners of this method of cultivation can practise sitting meditation for an uninterrupted stretch of several days at a time.

Jen Chen Buddhism advocates that people cultivate amid our actions. The times have changed. Because of the need to earn a livelihood everyone has to work; everyone is working and is constantly engaged in some kind of activity. However, even though we are busy and in action, we also have to cultivate. It should not be that because we are busy doing something, therefore we do not cultivate.

No matter how busy we are, we cannot be as busy as Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Guan Yin Pu-sa). Just imagine that each day in this world there are so many people seeking Guan Yin Pu-sa’s help to deliver them from their woes. Guan Yin Pu-sa is very compassionate and merciful and he responds to their cries for help. He is indeed very busy. Does is it mean that because Guan Yin Pu-sa is so busy, he does not cultivate? As a matter of fact, he is also cultivating while he is attending to cries for help. We cultivate while we are in action and in the midst of our bustles. That is emulating Guan Yin Pu-sa’s cultivation.

We all need to talk. To cultivate amid our actions means that we should use soothing words in our speech, words that carry compassion, love, encouragement and the Buddha-dharma. In this way we are cultivating in the midst of our actions.

Whatever we do in the course of our daily life, we remain aware that we do not engage in illusions or day dreaming; and we constantly uphold brightness and illumine awareness. This is cultivating while in action.

For people who do not know about cultivation, they are either scolding other people or gossiping whenever they open their mouth. On the other hand, for a person who cultivates, regardless of how busy he is, he is sensible in whatever he says and in accord with the Buddha-dharma. He does not engage in lying, slander, harsh speech and idle speech. There are numerous examples of cultivating while in action and this is just one of them.

11. Every person wishes to part with suffering and be happy, how should people cultivate to distance from suffering?

People need to have the awareness nature.

In order to distance from suffering, people need to have the awareness and enlightenment nature. You only need to have awareness and enlightenment, and you will be able to distance from suffering. For example, because you have awareness you know that gambling is no good and therefore you do not indulge in the vice. Then, you don’t have to part with your money and you don’t have to risk selling your house. And there will be no quarrels. But, if you do not have this awareness and enlightenment nature, you will follow what other people do blindly and jointly commit common karma, then eventually together you will be crying out in suffering.

When you have this awareness and enlightenment nature, and you constantly uphold brightness and illumine awareness in the course of your daily life, then you will be able to anticipate the outcome of your many encounters. Therefore you know exactly how to deal with them. In this way, you can be assured that you will have no suffering.

It is said that, “Bodhisattvas are wary of causes, sentient beings are wary of consequences.” Bodhisattvas know about cause and effect. Because of this, they are wary about the kind of causes that they commit. Therefore, they do not sow seeds of suffering. Then, naturally there will no be painful consequences. Let’s learn to be Bodhisattvas.

Sentient beings, on the other hand, are only wary about consequences of their actions. They are not concerned about creating negative or evil causes. For example, they pick fights with others and then plead for mercy when they are about to be sentenced to jail. It is too late to realise the mistake after having sowed the evil seeds and tasted the bitter fruits.

If you have awareness and enlightenment nature, and understand the principle of cause and effect, you do not sow undesirable seeds and therefore there is no need to bear with the consequences. That is distancing from suffering and attaining happiness.

[1] Nirvana: liberated from existence; liberation, eternal bliss; complete extinction of individual existence.

Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre