Monday, September 18, 2017

Reflection on Jia Hui's sharing "The 5 Important Truths about Life"

Yesterday was my first visit to SBMY, and I must conclude that it was an enriching experience. The teachings of Buddha are one where discussions are allowed, one where questions could be raised. It was through these processes that we affirmed our faith, where we acknowledged the “truth” that Buddha discovered. Unlike other theistic religion which proclaims themselves as the ultimate “creator”, Buddha made no such claims. He discovered the “truth” of this universe and decides to share the truth and the various pathways to the final enlightenment. Therefore, our relationship with Buddha is a “teacher- student “relationship, and as students we are proud to say, one day we can be someone like Buddha too.
Jia Hui made an interesting sharing titled “The 5 Important Truths about Life”, based on this article. It was a thought-provoking session not because of any complex theories or ideologies, but the fact that a simple thought, a straightforward advice, could be the most arduous act for us.

#1-Worrying is useless
“If you want to be happy, do not dwell in the past, do not worry about the future, focus on living fully in the present.” As another quote goes: “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” While it seems clear that worrying changes almost nothing most of the time, why do we still worry? The answer seems to point towards the fact worrying is almost an innate tendency or part of our psychological reaction. A simple chart below that I saw on the net sometime back seems to provide us with a good solution to the “worrying” problem.
While Buddha provides us with the various explanations that “worrying” is futile (For example: What we perceive with our senses are impermanent/ just a “delusion”, therefore our various attachments to these perceptions should be slowly withdrew over time), these explanations will just remain as a theoretical explanation if not applied in real life. What makes Buddhism precious and unique from other philosophies is the fact that these theoretical explanations could be practically applied, slowly in due course. As the saying goes:” One would only know if the water is hot or cold if that person drinks it personally.”

#2- One must see reality in order to be happy
Jia Hui noted a good point on “avoiding avoiding negativity”. We need to be a little “scientific” here in appraising what is negativity. Firstly, is the situation truly negative or truly positive? Buddha tells us that the things we lose might not be entirely negative, while the things we gain might not be entirely positive. As a result, there are very few things in life that can be conclusive of being “truly negative” as negativity and positivity are ultimately relative. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” As disciples of Buddha, we should not be afraid of negative situations or sufferings. Drawing back to the previous point on bridging the theoretical explanation and practical application, when a negative situation arises, it is time for us to face the problems and our true selves courageously. For example: “Repeatedly asking ourselves why am I feeling angsty when I saw my ex with my good friend together?” Is it because of the insecurities? My ego/pride? Who or where is this person that I am feeling angsty about? Is he/she worth it? Is he/she even truly there? Why do I feel angsty then? Why is there a tsunami in my inner self when only a breeze of wind passes by? These self-inquiry, together with the wisdom that Buddha taught us would make us closer on the path of enlightenment. Without negative situations with just positive situations would not make us grow exponentially regardless of spiritual or character development.

#3-We need to accept change
Change is always happening. Buddha tells us that even our bodies, our cells, they are rapidly changing every second. Everything that can be observed in this world or universe, is forever undergoing a change. Therefore, even the “now” moment does not actually exist. The present moment in Buddhism refers to the state of mind where there is no “internal” clinging to the “external” world in the past (The past no longer is), the now (The now is ever changing) and the future (The future has yet to come) (from Mahayana Diamond Sutra). The teachings that we are exposed to since young is a relative form of teaching. Internal to External, Good to Bad, Positive to Negative, Past to Present etc. These relative forms of teaching allow an easier functioning of the human society as a whole, but as an individual across millenniums, these relative concepts and schemas become deeply rooted within, resulted in us encountering so much difficulty in uncovering the Buddha’s nature that are existent in everyone. The path of being a Buddhist is going through a process of conversion or transcendence, a process of recycling. Aka Change!

#4-The root of suffering is pursuing temporary feelings
Emotions in psychology are sometimes referred to just neuro activities occurring in our brain. Science tells us that these neuro activities are never lasting. Neurochemicals released like dopamine could make us “feel good” when we are exercising at that moment. Beyond that moment when dopamine is inhibited, physiologically we do not “feel good” anymore. This modern-day discovery is aligned with what Buddha taught two thousand over years ago.
Does that mean we stop pursuing our goals? Or even “happiness”? No. Being a Buddhist is NOT when one become sceptical in life. Even Aristotle strives for the state of Eudaimonia that enshrines happiness. We should continue pursuing our dreams, our goals, our girlfriends/boyfriends, our good quality of life as long it does not violate the moral and country law. BUT at the same time, internally we possess the tranquillity, the insight and the true wisdom that surpasses and transcends ourselves whether we are in the state of “suffering” or the state of “happiness”. An abstract metaphor here to relate is the nature of the Lotus Flower. “Where the flower come out of the dirty mud unsoiled, emerged unstained from the filth.”

#5-Meditation is the path to reducing suffering
I am still a beginner in meditation, but my few experiences in meditation tells me that meditation is incredibly important in knowing ourselves. When we do not meditate, we might not know how much thoughts are racing in our mind every second. It is almost like a crazy monkey sometimes! But when we truly meditate we realise, how far we are from attaining true tranquillity. It is like we do not know how dusty our table is until the sunlight shines on the table next morning. At least we would not be living under the delusion that the table is clean as speck and we will start cleaning the table from then on!

I will end my long ranting with two Buddhist poems made by two renowned zen masters when they were asked to explain the “Buddha’s nature/heart” by their teacher.
  1. 身为菩提树,心为明镜台。时时勤拂拭,勿使惹尘埃.
“The body is the wisdom tree. Your heart is the stand of mirror bright. Frequently wipe it.  Don't let it be dusty."  
  1. 菩提本无树,明镜亦非台。本来无一物,何处惹尘埃.
“There is no wisdom tree; nor a stand of a mirror bright, since all is void, where can the dust alight?"
The second poem made by 慧能 (Hui Neng), later become the sixth and last patriarch of Zen Buddhism in China. Their teacher 弘忍(Hong Ren), the fifth patriarch of Zen Buddhism, set this “exam” back then to decide which of the two to pass down the lineage. Food for thought: Why the second poem was considered to be the one that exemplifies the deeper understanding of Zen as compared to the first?
By Jordan.