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Volume 7 no 1

Venerable Shen-Kai Answers
The Bliss Compass
Birth is like a ship leaving port. Life is like a voyage. Death is like the end of the voyage. Rebirth is like the next voyage. In between departure and arrival, there is a great deal of living to be done. Naturally, we all wish this to be an enjoyable and pleasant journey. We all wish the next port of call to be a paradise. How do we prepare ourselves for this voyage? How do we navigate through the treacherous ocean, the high winds and the storms, and the many pitfalls to arrive at the shore of paradise? A compass is an essential instrument for a meaningful journey through life. We call it the Bliss Compass - guiding human beings to a Bliss Culture.

1. The Lotus Sutra states that the Saha world (the world that we live in) is filled with evil, such as the Five Negativity's, Four Maras, Impermanence, etc, which surround us. In the short life span of a few decades, how can one cultivate according to the Dharma, and liberate from the cycle of life and death to attain Nirvana?

Liberation is a spontaneous attainment.

The average life span of human being in the present era is only about a few decades. However, in other periods, people on earth lived up to eighty-four thousand years of age. The life span of human beings in some other worlds is much longer, and is calculated in terms of kalpas. (1 small kalpa = 16.8 million years; 1 medium kalpa = 336 million years; 1 great kalpa = 1.344 billion years.)

When we consider the life cycle of a butterfly: from an egg to a caterpillar, cocoon and into a butterfly, and the butterfly then lays her own eggs and so continues a ceaseless life cycle. Alas! How short its life span is! When celestial beings view our life span, it is the same as our view of the butterflies.

If we wish to be liberated from all afflictions in this brief human life span, we need to have faith as the foundation to heed the guidance of virtuous teachers and a determination to practice with zeal and progress in mind. With these, liberation is not a difficult matter. Besides, liberation is a spontaneous attainment.

Historically, there is no lack of examples of people attaining enlightenment and the saintly fruit of Nirvana. However, if one aspires to become Buddha, it is not a matter of one or two lifetimes. Sakyamuni Buddha was able to attain Buddhahood in his lifetime because he had cultivated through the aeons of his many past lives.

2. What should we do if we do not understand the words in the sutras?

Continue to cultivate.

If a person does not understand the meaning of the words in the sutras, he could consult those who know.

Alternatively, he could look up the dictionary. However, many words in the sutras cannot be found in the dictionary.

The most effective way to understand the meaning of the sutras is to cultivate. When a person cultivates diligently, he will eventually understand the sutras. There are many old folks who know how to recite the Diamond Sutra even though they do not understand the meaning of the words. But they continue to do so, and after many years of recital they eventually understand the sutra. Hence, cultivation requires perseverance and patience. Without which, literacy is of no use. Thus, literacy is not a pre-requisite to cultivation; a person who is illiterate can also cultivate.

3. Why are there so many obstacles when one starts to cultivate? How should these be removed?

Cultivate diligently.

We created such obstacles in the past, but we are not aware of them before we embrace Buddhism. However, as soon as we begin to learn and practise Buddhism, we gradually purify our minds and begin to feel that the obstacles exist. But, there is nothing to fear. As long as we believe wholeheartedly and work hard to rid ourselves of self-serving and bad habits, such obstacles will be removed.

4. Which sutra should a married couple chant to achieve permanent marital bliss?

The important thing is to maintain happiness and harmony at home.

The meaning of the word sutra is "the way", or the correct path. It is best for a married couple to be fellow cultivators of the same path. Then, they will have harmony. There are many couples with different religions. Because one is a Buddhist and the other a Christian, differences in religious opinions often lead to disputes in the family. Since married to be husband and wife, there should not be so many problems. As long as one upholds one's role and performs one's duty sincerely and conscientiously, there should not be disputes due to religious differences. The important thing is to maintain happiness and harmony at home.

5. The sleeping Buddha is a symbol of Nirvana. What is the meaning of the standing Buddha?

It symbolises walking on the Bodhisattva Path.

In all Jen Chen Buddhism places of learning and practising the Buddha's teachings such as monasteries, Viharas, Dharma halls and churches, other than for special reasons, only standing images of Sakyamuni Buddha are used for consecration. This is to symbolize that we have to walk or practise the Bodhisattva Path.

6. Besides learning the Buddha's teachings, can a Buddhist practitioner learn other teachings from teachers such as Confucius, Mencius, Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed?

First, set a strong foundation in Buddhism.

It is of course a very good thing if a student of Buddhism knows how to cultivate himself according to the Buddhist sutras. Buddha once said, "The Dharma that has been expounded numbered like the dirt in the finger nails, while those not yet spoken numbered like the great earth." This means that those teachings that had already been expounded are many orders of magnitude lesser than those yet to be spoken.

With regards to a practitioner of Buddhism studying other religions and scriptures, there is no harm as long as the person is clear in his mind that he is a Buddhist, and that the purpose of his learning widely is for the sake of spreading the Buddha's teachings for the benefit of all beings.

However, if the person does not have a good understanding of the Dharma and he is doing this for the sake of pursuing many religions, then he may become mixed up and confuse one religion with another. In that case this is not a right thing to do.

7. What is the meaning of practising Buddhism honestly, earnestly and in a down-to-earth manner? What must one do to be considered so?

Focus on learning from one teacher.

There are many people who like to learn and practise Buddhism but they do not do so honestly, earnestly and they are not down-to-earth. They wander from one teacher to another; they don't know how to learn and practise Buddhism the way it should be done. In fact all Buddhist teachers are equally good. A person only needs to focus on learning from one teacher and cultivate accordingly. If a person has a little knowledge about the Buddhist teachings and brags about them to the world, then that is not correct. All the patriarchs of Buddhism encourage their disciples to practice Buddhism the way as it should be - honestly, earnestly and down-to-earth.

8. What is an unorthodox religion?

One that teaches superstition.

An orthodox religion is one that teaches people to avoid all evils, perform all good deeds and to purify their mind. It is the teaching of enlightenment and liberation which is beyond the notion of religion, and that is Buddhism.

On the contrary, an unorthodox religion is one that teaches superstition and the worship of deities and spirits, and to kill other sentient beings to offer them to these deities and spirits.

9. How do we help people to abandon an unorthodox religion?

Promote the teaching of the orthodox religion.

If nobody in the world believes in the unorthodox religions, they will become extinct. If people are bent on believing in a teacher of unorthodox religion, then even if he dies, his disciples will carry on. In that case it would be very difficult for people to abandon the cult.

Thus, the best solution is to support the promotion of the orthodox religion so that people have the right understanding and right views and are able to differentiate right from wrong, good from evil. In this way, this will help people to abandon unorthodox religions.

10. The Buddha says that sentient beings were originally pure. That being the case, why do we dream?

They stem from mental defilement.

Sentient beings are pure by nature; thus, originally they did not have dreams. However, when mental defilements arise, they induce delusions. And, because of the presence of the five aggregates - form, sensation, cognition, formation and consciousness, together with other causes and conditions, dreams result.

11. What is the difference between feeling and awareness?

Feeling comes from the body, awareness comes from wisdom.

'Feeling' refers to what our body feels. For example, we don't feel well when we are ill, or we may feel that something is amiss with a particular person. These are feelings. They are the responses of our body when our six sense organs (six roots), namely, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body or mind come into contact with sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and the occurrence of a phenomenon (six dirt's) respectively.

Awareness does not depend on the six sense organs but on our own wisdom. A person who has awareness is aware of all matters and phenomena. Awareness takes notice of all matters and phenomena but it does not give rise to any mental delusions. When all delusions have been purified, it gives rise to a kind of brightness and this is called brightness-awareness.

12. How to "give up that which is hard to give up"?

Pay no attention to the thoughts that arise in the mind.

It is not to ask you to give up, but to pay no attention to the thoughts (the inner sentient beings) that arise in your mind. When they are ignored, they will naturally go away.

Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre