Q: Many people said, “Life is short, if we do not enjoy life to the fullest, we would be wasting our lives.” Can Buddhists enjoy life?
A: There are two aspects of enjoyment – spiritual enjoyment and material enjoyment. Normally, enjoyment in life refers to material enjoyment, which relates to pleasure of the senses, such as indulging in food, drink and having fun.
The teachings of Buddhism do not state that Buddhists cannot enjoy life. However, as there are benefits as well as drawbacks in enjoying life, to do so or not depends on each individual’s understanding and confidence in managing it. For example, with respect to enjoying food, some would say, “As one would eventually die whether he controls his diets or not, we might as well enjoy eating to the fullest.”
But we must know that there are also two different kinds of death – pleasant death and unpleasant death. The former refers to peaceful death with equanimity, and the latter refers to painful death which is nether calm nor tranquil. An unpleasant death usually has a cause-and-effect relationship with enjoying life, and it can be avoided or alleviated.
How to avoid or alleviate unpleasant death? If we think about it carefully with right mindfulness and right wisdom, we would be clear about its relation with eating. If we eat unhealthily, we may fall ill as the toxins in the food we eat cause blockages and become a burden to our body. This is the principle of blockages cause pain, theorized in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. For example, if we take in unhealthy cooking oil, scientific experiments show that the ill effect and discomfort it causes to our body could last as long as 5.5 to 7.5 years. Is it worth it to tolerate the harmful effect for so many years just because we indulge ourselves in eating? If we continue to do so without control, the result could be serious illnesses or even death.
Thus, it is not to say that Buddhists should not enjoy life, but how to enjoy it with wisdom. Before we pursue any form of enjoyment, we should be clear about what we are in for and by making appropriate choices, we keep the associated adverse impact and pains to the minimum. In this way, we would not suffer unnecessarily and would be able to truly enjoy life.
翻译：Yeo Hwee Tiong
Question: How do we maintain our mindfulness in our daily lives when we are still or in motion, so that we are not disturbed by our mental afflictions?
Answer: We can practice the four foundations of mindfulness (body, feelings, mind, and dhammas (or phenomena) as taught by the Buddha. In our daily lives, we must make an effort to observe the activities of our body and mind. Through such attention, we can observe the reactions of our six senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind) to the six sense objects (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mental formations) resulting in greed, hatred, delusion, arrogance and doubt which disturb our mind.
When the body and mind is still, we can focus our sight in front of us at about one foot, and make an effort to minimise the disturbance caused by sight, sound, smell, taste and touch through focussing on the breath and the movement of the abdomen, and pause a few seconds before breathing out. Meanwhile letting go of all deluded thoughts and attachment to people, affairs, things so that the body and mind can be at peace. This enables us to see the arising and ceasing of things clearly and transcend the notions of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, right and wrong. In this way, we can reduce our afflictions.
When our body and mind is in action, we must try our best to notice our reaction to the external stimulus and remind ourselves to remain alert. As mentioned in the “Song of Enlightenment” by Master Yong Jia: “Walking is Zen, sitting is Zen; speaking or silent, active or passive, the essence is at peace.” What it meant is that regardless of whatever state we are, be it walking, standing, sitting, lying, talking, silent, moving or still, we must always maintain our mindfulness and peace of mind.
Question: Do Buddhists Follow the Practice of Picking Auspicious Dates and Time in the Conduct of Activities?
Answer: The practice to pick an auspicious day and a good time to carry out certain activities is an old Chinese tradition with deep cultural roots. The purpose is to determine a suitable date and time to perform a certain activity, so that by combining the best conditions of timing, circumstances and human resources, the activity is accomplished smoothly, achieving a propitious outcome without adversities.
From the scientific perspective, the picking of auspicious dates and time is a methodology developed by our ancestors basing on experiences accumulated over a long period of time. However, from the Dharma angle, any decision should be based on the changing causes and conditions, involving factors relating to human, events, circumstances, locations and objects. Thus, the methodology may not be applicable to all people and activities, and it should be applied flexibly instead of rigidity.
Therefore, Buddhists should not pick auspicious dates and time blindly. From the wisdom angle, being adept at observing causes and conditions, Buddhists are not against carrying out certain activities on certain dates. On the other hand, from the compassion angle, mindful of the feelings of the elders and without causing any adverse consequences, sometime Buddhists may go along with the customary selection of dates.
Buddhists understand that all things in this world are subject to the laws of impermanence, dependent origination and emptiness. So long as we maintain the state of right mindfulness and analyse problems with right wisdom, we would have clarity of our current conditions and long-term vision, as well as rigour and meticulousness in problem solving. By taking into consideration all factors concerning ourselves and others, the big picture and the minute details, as well as the subjective and objective viewpoints, we would be able to make appropriate decisions, bearing in mind both the best and worst possible outcomes. Therefore, we would be making the best choice in picking an auspicious date so long as we are clear of the various causes and conditions, and do our best in the deliberations.
Q: How to avoid greed that leads to mental afflictions in our daily life?
A: In our daily life, in order to avoid greed that leads to mental afflictions, we can apply the method of being mindful of our mental states as specified in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. This will allow us to maintain constant mindfulness and self-vigilance. Mindfulness can quickly become aware of any thoughts of greed that arise in the mind, then through blinking the eyes, breathing becomes at ease and the mind calms down to deal with the situation, thus, mental afflictions naturally cease. The Dharma practitioner should keep his mind continuously in a state of mindful vigilance in his daily life.
For beginners, when the six sense faculties come in contact with the outer six sense objects, it is extremely easy to fall back into the mental affliction of clinging-attachment. For example, being attached to the sound of praise from others or good music, being attached to beautiful and comfortable sights, being attached to the taste of delicious food, being attached to the smell of fragrance, being attached to the feeling of touching something soft, and so on. At that moment, the mind has unknowingly lost the vigilance of mindfulness and becomes confused by the outer six sense objects of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and mental objects. The practice process produces many obstacles and as a result, nothing can be figured out. Confused!
Thus, the Buddha taught his disciples to constantly ‘guard the six sense faculties’ and be aware of the body while walking, standing, sitting, laying down, as well as while breathing, so as to constantly keep the mind in the state of vigilant mindfulness. Hence, the Dharma practitioner should live a simple life, dress simply, adopt a simple diet, stay away from sensual pleasures, and spare no effort to avoid listening to unnecessary verbal arguments and bad environment.
Buddha said that a Dharma practitioner is liken to hay and all sensual pleasures and disputes are liken to fire, and when hay and fire come together, it will certainly cause an uncontrollable fire disaster.
There are too many temptations in modern living environment and excessive desire often causes the insatiable mind to fall into the mental affliction of clinging-attachment. This is the source of all suffering. Therefore, maintain a state of vigilant mindfulness, with a calm and sharp mind, naturally one will not be poisoned by greed, anger and delusion.
翻译：Venerable Fa Rong
Q: What is the crucial point of practice for Buddhists?
A: Buddha said, "Avoid all evil deeds, engage in all virtuous deeds, and purify one's own mind. This is the teaching of all Buddhas." This shows that the crucial point of practice for all Buddhists is to purify our own mind. What does this mean? When we are dealing with situations and considering what to do and not to do in our daily life, are we able to constantly bring ourselves back to the present moment and, maintaining the state of awareness in watching our state of mind and discerning but without being attached to the arisen thoughts and afflictions, realise that they do not exist in reality as they are both impermanent and illusory. If the answer is affirmative, we are purifying our mind. If not, we would need to reflect upon the failing and find out the problems, such as where have we strayed. Once we have identified the problems, we would be able to make improvements.
Therefore, we must learn to bring ourselves back to the present moment and abide in a state of mindful awareness. In so doing, we are clear about our generation of thoughts, and do not slip into the clinging of our afflictions. We should aim to maintain such a state of mind in our daily life, including in our dreams at night, and even at the time of dying so that we would be free and removed from delusions and dreams. This is the essence of practice for all Buddhists.
Question: How do we know which Dharma method from the 84,000 Buddha discourses in the Three Baskets (Tripitaka) of the twelve scriptural divisions is most suitable for modern people to practise?
Answer: All the Dharma taught by the Buddha are inseparable from the threefold training of ethical discipline, meditative concentration and wisdom that leads to liberation from cyclic existence.
Since the Buddha's time, 2500 years ago till now, all the Dharma centres worldwide have followed the teachings of the Buddha to engage in training, and lay disciples can choose either to work on the four foundation of mindfulness or the other Dharma methods at their chosen time and environment for the achievement of peace of their body and mind.
Generally, we tame our body, speech and mind by upholding the precepts in our daily life, as well as bringing our mind back to the present moment to watch our mind state, practise meditative concentration and wisdom.
Everyday we should try our ultmost ability to maintain right mindfulness, cultivate the habit of watching our body and mind, guard our six sense faculties (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind) against the six external defiling sense objects (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and mental objects) and train ourselves so that our emotional well-being will not be easily affected by people, circumstances and things.
The Platform Sutra states: 'Externally to be free from the grasping of form is meditation; internally to be free from distraction is meditative concentration.'
Yong Jia's Song of Attaining Enlightenment states: 'Walking is meditation, sitting is meditation; whether it is speaking or not speaking, moving or not moving, all abide and rest in the state of calmness.'
The teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni is to guide sentient beings to discover their own innate "buddha nature" or "Tathagata-garbha", and get to understand the origin of the mind is "impermanent, conditioned and non-self." There is a need to let go of all dream-like thoughts, preventing one's mind from sinking into delusion; that is, to bring the mind back to the present moment, returning to "buddha nature".
Always turn the mind inwards to watch the mind, and constantly dispel all distracting thoughts. Through this, strengthen your wisdom (prajna), transcend all conceptual notions of dualism, such as good and evil, right and wrong, and thus, be rid of mental afflictions.
Through the threefold training of moral discipline, single-pointed concentration and wisdom for the purpose of liberation, we can polish our mind to mirror-like clarity, and thus, our mental discernment can be sharpened to see the actual nature of all matters of people, circumstances and things, and understand that all mental afflictions are "impermanent, conditioned and non-self," thus, entering into the state of liberation.
Question: What is the meaning of cherishing one's good fortune?
Answer: What is known as good fortune? The opposite of good fortune is misfortune. What is known as misfortune? Misfortune refers to disasters and calamities. Normally, if there is no disaster and calamity in one's life, then it is considered good fortune. Unfortunately, there are people who live in good fortune, but do not appreciate it. They do not think that it is good fortune to live a safe life without any disaster, but instead, their minds lack contentment and only desire for more. They seek for more good fortune, including fame, gain, power and status. They plunder to own and have incessant desires. In the process of pursuing, they think of all ways to get what they want and fear to lose what they have gained. Constantly worrying about personal gains and losses, and hence, they fall into a mental state of anxiety and unrest.
There is a need to cherish the good fortune we have! How should that be done? Firstly, there is a need to curb our desires by having contentment. Secondly, there is a need to live this life without over indulgence by being frugal. There is a limit to life, but there is no limit to desire. If we allow our desires to go untamed, getting into trouble will be a matter of time. There are too many "go-getters" in our society, expanding their business blindly in an endless pursuit, and at last, it is like blowing a balloon, over inflating it and "pop", bursting it into pieces! Think about the consequence!
Living life too extravagantly is like treading on a rope in space, and it is not fun falling from it. The basic purpose of eating a meal is to fill our stomach or at most, fulfill our taste buds. Wearing clothes is to cover our body and of course, it is ok to dress well, but it will be overly extravagant if we are like the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos who possessed over 4000 pairs of shoes. There is an ancient saying: Treasuring one's good fortune is treasuring one's clothing and food, but not referring to treasuring one's wealth. If we think about the labour and sweat put in by the farmers, we cannot help but treasure a half bowl of leftover rice. Even though a piece of tissue paper does not cost much, but when we think about how much natural resources were used to make one, we cannot but treasure it. A person who holds such a view will naturally know how to cherish his good fortune.
However, in cherishing one's good fortune, there is a need for wisdom in order not to experience more losses than benefits. For example, putting food out in open for too long, inappropriate storing of food in the fridge and improper heating up of food may cause bacteria growth that leads to food poisoning when consumed. This will result in losing a big fortune (health and wealth) while treasuring a small fortune (some food). Thus, it is necessary to be able to discern, weighing the pros and cons and make the right choices. This is what it means by truly cherishing one's good fortune.
Question: Can learning the Dharma improve interpersonal relationships?
Answer: In order to improve one's relationship with others, we must first understand that our interaction with others is like playing back a ball. How hard we hit the ball determines how strong the ball will return. The kind of attitude we use to treat others, others may also return us with the same attitude. Therefore, we should radiate more goodwill towards others, in order for others to treat us the same. When both sides treat one another with sincerity, we will naturally be able to get along happily. The philosophy of cause and effect in Buddhism has the benefit of improving interpersonal relationship between people.
The Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng said, “For the common people who practise the Dharma, there is no impediment; always look for one's own faults, one will act in accord with the Dharma.” This means that for those people in this world who wish to practise the Dharma, there will be no contradiction in whichever Dharma methods one practises; if one constantly examines one's own faults, one will not stray from the path and will be able to build good relationship with others.
Therefore, in our daily life, when we are talking and working with people, we should pay more attention to our body, speech and mind. Always self-reflect and self-examine areas whereby others are not satisfied with us. Be determined to improve and humbly learn from others. Listen more to others' opinions. Always remind oneself that ego-grasping is that which ruin our relationship with others. Whenever others criticise us, observe if anger arise in our mind. We should learn to tame all our negative attitudes, such as our pride.
Whenever others need our help, if it is within our capability, we should initiate to lend a helping hand. Such an attitude of getting along with others will naturally enable us to build good relationships widely and establish good interpersonal relationship with the masses.
翻译：Yeo Hwee Tiong
Q: What is the meaning of “nan mo fo”（南无佛）? Why is it pronounced as “nan mo fo” instead of “nan wu fo”?
A:“南无”in Chinese is the phonetic translation of the word “Namo” in Sanskrit, preserving its original pronunciation. Certain parts of Fujian province in China still preserve this original pronunciation. The meaning of “Namo” is to pay respect, hence“南无佛”means to pay respect to the Buddha .
Why do we need to pay respect to the Buddha? It is because the Buddha is an enlightened and wise being. He realized that life contains compulsive sufferings (the truth of suffering), and these sufferings in life are caused by our mental afflictions (the cause of suffering). The Buddha has reached a transcendent state free from suffering (the end of suffering) and has found a way to end our suffering (the path leading to the end of suffering). That is why the Buddha is worthy of our homage.
“Namo fo” also means paying homage to our Buddha nature, the awareness nature of our mind. We all possess Buddha nature but because of grasping to our emotions and thoughts, mental afflictions occur, our Buddha nature is obscured. That is why we need to maintain our state of awareness and not indulging in day dreaming, carrying unnecessary afflictions baggage in our life. When we encounter situations, be it pleasant or unpleasant, we must be aware and alert, realize the situation; think it all out in order of importance and urgency and to deal with it rationally. In doing so, we will live in peace, at ease and justified. This is the true essence of paying homage to the Buddha.
翻译：Yeo Hwee Tiong
Q: How do we reduce our vexations in daily life?
A: First of all, we need to cultivate the habit of awareness (to be in a state of mindful reflection). This will allow us to have a clearer understanding of the arising and cessation of our vexations.
In our day-to-day life, when vexations arise, there is no need to eliminate it. As long as we are aware and calmly observe its arising, our body, speech and mind will not be led astray, our vexations will gradually cease.
When we reflect upon our vexations, we will discover its impermanent nature, and that it arise and cease due to causes and conditions (non-self). Therefore when we talk about ceasing our vexations, there is nothing substantial to cease. The important thing is to develop the habit of awareness (mindful reflection). As long as our mind is not disturbed by our vexations, they will gradually cease. This is the method to cease our vexations. By doing this, we learn to transcend and break free from our mental bondage.
翻译：Yeo Hwee Tiong
Q: Why is it necessary to observe noble silence?
A: The problem lies in our state of mind, which is used to being restless and constantly having thoughts. Without a calm mind, we are unable to see the source of a problem. Imagine there are jewels in a bowl of water, but if the water is murky, would you be able to see the jewels? Certainly not! Similarly, if the water is being stirred, we would not be able to see the contents in it clearly. Instead, if we allow the water to become still, we can then see what’s in it clearly.
To observe noble silence does not mean that speech is prohibited, but refraining from making idle speech. The objective is to train ourselves to focus on the present moment and look inward whenever we are faced with problems or in vexation. If we let our mind stay calm, like the murky water settling down, we would be able to see the rise of our emotions and thoughts clearly. By listening to our mind, we can then see the crux of our problem and resolve it with the best solution.
When we settle down and become calmer, we would be less affected by our emotions and thoughts, and be able to see things more clearly. We would be more perceptive and more empathetic, and as such we would be more effective in helping others by understanding their problems.
Hence, the observance of noble silence allows us to focus on the present moment, stay calm and reflect upon ourselves, so that we can assess the situation clearly, say only what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done. In this way, not only can we benefit ourselves but others as well.
翻译：Yeo Hwee Tiong
Q: What is the significance of the “The Four Doctrines of the Buddha”?
According to the Sutra, “Buddha” means mindful awareness. The four doctrines are:
- The Doctrine to Introduce Mindful Awareness
- The Doctrine to Expound Mindful Awareness
- The Doctrine to Experience Mindful Awareness
- The Doctrine to Stay in Mindful Awareness
i. The Doctrine to Introduce Mindful Awareness: In this doctrine the Buddha expounded on the sufferings (Dukkha) experienced by sentient beings which include the following:
- Association with the unbeloved is dukkha
- Separation from the loved is dukkha
- Not getting what is wanted is dukkha
- In conclusion, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha
The Buddha chose to abandon his comfortable lifestyle and free himself from the bind of lusts, and sought the way to transcend aging, sickness and death by engaging the path of cultivation.
ii. The Doctrine to expound Mindful Awareness: In this doctrine the Buddha taught sentient beings the various means of meditation and contemplation with the objective of leading them towards Buddhahood. The methods of cultivation taught by the Buddha invariably centred upon ridding one’s attachments and returning to his innate awareness.
iii. The Doctrine to expound Experience Awareness: In this doctrine, the Buddha taught us to maintain awareness through our body, feelings, emotions and thoughts, generate thoughts and contemplate that all external objects, events and people as well as our internal body, feelings, emotions and thoughts are subject to impermanence, causes and conditions, and they are empty in nature. This is how one transforms afflictions into an enlightened mind.
iv. The Doctrine to stay in Mindful Awareness: In this doctrine, the Buddha expounded on the realization that all external objects, events and people and our internal body, feelings, emotions and thoughts are subject to impermanence, causes and conditions and are empty in nature. Unless we reached the state of complete awakening, we may still be influenced by the three poisons of greed, hatred and ignorance, which thrust us back to the state of having attachments. This is why it is important to stay in Mindful awareness.
翻译：Yeo Hwee Tiong
Q: Why do we need to chant the Buddha's name?
Our mind is constantly in a state of flux as, habitually, our thoughts arise from moment to moment in a random manner. WHen this happens, we are easily lost in our thoughts. Chanting the Buddha's name is a means to recapture our mindful awareness. By doing this, we become aware that our thoughts and all matters in the external world are impermanent in nature, they arise and demise subject to changes in causes and conditions, and they are empty in nature. Because of our attachment to our thoughts and external forms, our mind becomes deluded and we will be wasting our life in pursuing material things to satisfy our incessant craving and desire.
How to keep our mind from becoming lost? By focussing on chanting the Buddha's name, it is easier for us to be aware of the arising and passing of thoughts. We would be able to see more clearly that our thoughts and all external matters are in reality impermanent, arising from causes and conditions, and are empty in nature. With such awareness, we would be more willing to let go of our attachments. This will in turn free us from our vexations arising from such thoughts. When the need arises, we will exercise our mind to remain calm and think in a clear and objective manner to analyze the situation from a larger perspective. This will often result in a win-win situation that is beneficial to all parties. When there is no need to think, we abide in chanting the Buddha's name and remain in a state of mindfulness. In this way, we will not waste our precious time and lead a meaningful and fruitful life while maintaining an equanimous mind.
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翻译：Yeo Hwee Tiong
Q: Why are there eighty four thousand Dharma ways for Buddhist practitioners?
The Buddha uses different teachings in order to address the different requirements of sentient beings. Because of differences in background, customs, education etc. of sentient beings, the Buddha utilises various expedient means to help sentient beings to resolve their different problems. For example, for those with higher wisdom, the Buddha taught them to seek enlightenment by understanding one's mind. By reflecting on the true nature of our mind, we realise non-self directly. For others, the Buddha uses a gradual and systematic approach to allow them to practice methodically.
All the methods taught by the Buddha can be reduced to 2 modes of cultivation i.e. developing calmness and insight.
(A) "Calm abiding" is the practice of ceasing our stray thoughts by focussing and stabilising our mind. When we achieve this, our mind becomes sharp and observant and we can penetrate the true nature of things without being affected by subjective emotions which include good and bad, true and false, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, love and hate etc. Abiding in a calm mind is also known as "Mindfulness".
(B) "Insight" requires us to utilize our thinking mind to analyse our thoughts in order to eliminate our afflictions relating to greed, hatred and delusion. The practice of insight is also known as right comprehension.
For example, the contemplation on causes and conditions help us to realise that all phenomena arise due to causes and conditions and cease due to changes in causes and conditions, nothing remains constant.
Through the practice of "Calm abiding" and "Insight", we will be in a better position to understand the true nature of suffering and use this practice to eliminate our afflictions of greed, hatred and delusion in our minds.